Credits: Mirisch owns the Seven, I, unfortunately do not. All other characters are of my creation. "Please Remember" is done by Lee Ann Rimes off the Coyote Ugly soundtrack. Much thanks to my wonderful beta Kerry, who gave much help and encouragement.
"No" Nathan Jackson said, walking down the hall of the Denver ATF Building.
"All I am asking, Mr. Jackson, is that you consider the idea. I am not asking for an answer immediately."
"I considered it and I said no," Nathan stated. "You're only in it for the money. Why should I ruin other people's lives just so you can further your own?"
"I am appalled that you would see myself in such a manner," Ezra sputtered in outrage. "I take umbrage at that remark!"
"Yeah, well whatever you take, it ain't me!" he said adamantly as he slammed his office door shut, leaving one shell-shocked Ezra Standish floundering in his wake.
Standish continued down the hall towards his own office. 'Is that what they perceive me to be? A con, someone only in it for the money?' Deep down in his heart he knew it was true. He knew how little they trusted him, even though he had proved himself to them many times since that first assignment. 'The money would definitely be a nice incentive, but that is not why I wish to play. How can I make them see that?' Suddenly, a thought flashed through his mind. Judge Travis. If he could convince the Judge that this exercise would be a valuable team building experience, than maybe he would order them to go… The hard part would be convincing him.
"What do you mean this is an order?" Chris Larabee fumed. He knew who was to blame and was going to take it out of his hide personally. "Listen Judge, I don't know what Ezra said to you, I don't even want to know, but I do believe that no good will come out of this!"
"Regardless of what Agent Standish said to me, I believe that it will be a valuable experience for you all," the Judge responded. "Besides it's a very good way to show the country what their tax dollars are helping to fund some of the best law enforcement in the nation." The Judge leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms as he continued his train of thought. "Keep in mind, Chris, most of the citizens of this great nation find it hard to completely trust and believe in the law. If we can show them that our agents are able to do whatever it takes to keep them safe than the better for us. Since we were already going to be sending in some officers, why shouldn't it be the best the ATF has to offer? Agent Larabee, you have less than twelve hours to prepare for your new mission. I suggest that you use them wisely. You are dismissed," he concluded as he diverted his eyes back to the waiting stacks of papers.
With each step that he took back to the seventh floor, Chris grew angrier and angrier. 'How dare Ezra use the agency as a means to further his own personal gains.' The thought made him sick to his stomach. He thought that he knew Ezra better than that, but a little voice in the back of his mind reminded him that he always felt Ezra might do something like this. He abruptly thrust that thought from his mind as he neared the conference room where the rest of his team was waiting. 'Maybe he would let the others beat the crap out of Ezra first, and then he could finish him off! Now that would be teamwork.' He was still scowling as he roughly pushed through the heavy wood doors to face his team.
"Gentlemen, you may thank Agent Standish for our new assignment," Chris bit out as he took his seat at the head of the table. "We have been ordered to become the newest contestants on that "Survivor" show that's on television." His announcement was met with loud groans emanating from the five men to his right. Ezra had been relegated to the furthermost corner of the room where he sat inspecting his perfectly manicured left hand. "Thanks to his misguided insistence, he has convinced Judge Travis that it would be a good idea for us to partake in this absurd game in order to improve our team building skills while at the same time give the American public a reason to believe in its law enforcement officers."
"Since we have no choice in the matter, we might as well accept our fate and get this over with. I suggest that you wear comfortable clothing, and think carefully about what your luxury items will be. We have to be ready to leave in …" he said glancing at his diving watch, "… just under twelve hours from now. We'll meet back in the garage in seven and a half hours to leave for the plane. That's all." He shoved back his chair and stalked out of the room. He knew that now was not the time to castigate Ezra. He had taken note of the unfavorable reactions from the others as they listened to his orders. Ezra would have been dead by now if the looks from the other five agents had been actual daggers. He was glad that he had placed that order for no one to carry his firearm into the conference room after the last fiasco that occurred involving that inept FBI investigation team. He did give Ezra credit for not flinching once during the heat of battle. He met each disgusted look with his cool emerald stare.
Ezra leaned over the teak railing, quietly observing the pod of dolphins frolicking in the turquoise waters, as the ship steadily made its way towards what would be their new home for the next thirty-nine days or so give or take a few. The quiet breeze accompanied by the sharp sea air had a calming effect on his spirit. He had stoically withstood all of the hardened looks, sharp comments, and animosity that had been handed to him these past hours. He felt each stab ripping his heart to shreds while he faced all of them wearing his mask of indifference.
He shot a covert look over towards the group of six men who had clustered together near the bow of the ship. Placing themselves as far as possible from the man they blamed for their current misfortune. The tension was so thick it had become almost unbearable for him to take a breath. He knew that his associates felt he was only doing this for himself. He shook his head slightly, as if to banish the thought. He believed, sadly, that they would never recognize his true motives for this adventure.
The quiet was broken when a voice came over the intercom, summoning all the contestants to the main deck. Ezra turned on his heel and headed towards the meeting site. Now the time has come to begin what would determine the next course of his life. His footfalls sounded ominous as he crossed the wooden deck, studiously avoiding the looks of his friends.
After receiving their final instructions, the group was herded to the edge of the ship in preparation for their debarkation. 'The game is alive and afoot' was Ezra's last thought as he plunged into the warm, inviting water.
On the one hand, Larabee had been relieved that Ezra had kept to himself and out of his reach because he felt sure that he could have killed the errant agent with his bare hands. On the other, he disliked the fact that his team had been split. Their success was based solely on the fact that they worked as a team - all seven of them together. He was concerned that they would have to rely solely upon themselves - not rely on the strong team foundation that they were famous for. One comforting thought came to mind, he had Buck, Vin, and JD as part of his tribe. He felt confident that they would succeed in their mission to survive. Wryly, he wondered just how long it would take until Nathan or Josiah gave into their urge to kill Ezra.
As Ezra set foot upon his new world, he thought of how fate was cruel yet kind. He had not been upset upon learning that Josiah was to be part of his tribe. It was Nathan's presence that had him worried. The ex-medic's animosity towards him was plain to see. He knew that it would become unrestrained here in the wilderness. Hoisting his survival pack over his shoulder, he resolved that he would not let that thought ruin his time here on the island.
The two tribes divided and set out to begin to set up their respective camps. Ezra dropped the dark bag to his feet and turned to face his eight teammates. Shading his eyes from the fierce sun, he announced, "I think our first course of action should be to build some sort of shelter." He glanced around their section of the beach before continuing. "It would seem that the wisest course of action would be to place it amongst the shade of those trees." He looked to his tribe-mates for their approval to his plan.
"No," Nathan interjected. "I think it should be further down the beach back in the jungle more where no one would see it. That way it would be protected."
"Of course, if we placed our shelter there it would indeed be protected," Ezra said smoothly, "but that site would make it too difficult to reach. Thus, erecting our structure would become a very complicated endeavor. If we construct it in the shade of the trees, than we gain protection as well as easy access…"
"You're just saying that so you have less work to do…" Nathan said snidely. "We wouldn't want to overtax you now, would we? What is it you say about 'menial labor'? Oh yeah, that's right, you 'won't debase yourself by engaging in menial labor'."
"Fine," Ezra retorted. "We shall leave it to the rest of the tribe to decide. They shall have final say as to where our shelter will stand." Ezra stepped back and looked over to the remaining six members of the Betau tribe expectantly.
"I think your plan will work best for us, Ezra," said a dark-haired beauty as she gracefully rose from her seat in the sand. "I think under that tree right over there should do it. What do the rest of you think?" One by one, the others nodded their agreement. She then fixed her chocolate eyes on Nathan, searching for any sign of challenge, but saw that there was none. "Well, let's get started then!"
Chris was getting very sick of listening to the bickering of his fellow tribe-mates. It annoyed him at how much they sounded like Nathan and Ezra. Ezra, if he could only get that name out of his head. Ever since he heard of the Judge's order, that was all he could think about. Why couldn't Ezra have dropped the subject after everyone said no. Well, everyone except JD that is. Why was it that Ezra had this over compelling need to compete for the damn $1,000,000 prize? And why he did he have to do so at the ATF's expense. Frustrated with the lack of progress, Larabee stalked away from the group, heading down the deserted beach.
"Should we go after him?" Buck quietly asked Vin.
"Nah," Vin said, shaking his shaggy head. "He just needs to clear his head. He'll be fine once he calms down. He'll come back and life will go on - until we see Ezra," he smirked.
"You're probably right," Buck agreed. "You know, I knew that Ezra wanted that million bucks but I never really figured that he'd use us and the agency to get it. Course, maybe I shoulda expected it."
"I dunno, Buck," the long-haired sharpshooter said. "I figured that he was finally fitting in with us. Surprised that he pulled something like this. Don't rightly understand it," Vin added, looking out over the water. "He was pretty insistent on playing this game, but I can't figure out why. I never pegged him for the rough outdoorsman kind of guy. Guess people can surprise ya!" Buck nodded in agreement.
"Suppose we ought to give them a hand in coming up with some sort of a plan," the tall man replied, turning back towards their group.
Ezra was never so grateful as he was by the time night arrived. He was dead on his feet. He had to admit, though, it was a good type of tired feeling. He knew that Nathan was shocked by the way he threw himself into the task of helping the others in building the shelter. He knew that Nathan thought he would be the one who would sit back and observe while the others sweated over their creation.
As he laid on his pallet, he discretely pulled out his one luxury item. During the course of the afternoon, the others had disclosed what luxury item they had deemed necessary to survive on this desolate island. He had declined to join in that conversation, keeping the identity of his item to himself. He overheard the whispered snippets of conversation between Nathan and Josiah, learning that they both believed he brought either a pack of his cards and a piece of his expensive clothing as his luxury item. He, of course, did not step forward to prove otherwise. He held firm to the belief that the two men would believe whatever they wished and he could do nothing or say anything that would change that belief. He looked at the item longingly in the dim light, closing his eyes in an effort to halt the barrage of emotions that threatened spill. A small sob escaped, causing his slight form to silently shake as he quickly fought to stifle the rest that threatened to follow. At that moment, he was grateful that he chosen to sleep far away from the others. He couldn't help wondering what his mother would say if she saw him displaying such raw emotions. He clutched the item in his hand, forcing the thought away.
"Hey, Josiah," Nathan whispered, "You awake?"
"I am, Brother. What do you wish to discuss?"
"Ezra. Why do you figure he's doin' this? It just doesn't make any sense. He's not the outdoors type, and he rarely lifts a finger unless he is forced to. Something just doesn't add up. I know that there's the money, but other than that…" he drifted off.
"It is not ours to judge Brother Nathan. The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways."
"You just need to accept that it is not ours to ask," Josiah said. "Now go to sleep, tomorrow is going to be a long day."
The sun rose early, awaking both camps to the sight of light dancing across the crystal bay. After their morning ablutions, the tribes received their immunity challenges from the tree mail. The sun had climbed higher in the sky by the time the two groups met on the sandy shore of the ocean.
"This is your immunity challenge," their guide, Jeff said. "You will take the rafts out to the buoy, load up your supplies and swim back to shore. Once you reach the shoreline, you are to then pick up the raft and carry it the five hundred yards to the finish line. First tribe there wins immunity from tonight's Tribal Council. After tonight you'll be one person less. Good Luck!"
"Good luck," Chris sneered at Ezra. "I hope you enjoyed your little excursion, 'cause it will be your last!" Chris added with his legendary Larabee Glare.
"We shall see Mr. Larabee." Ezra tossed back, raising two fingers in a silent salute.
The whistle blew and they all took off for the rafts. The tribes had remained equal for the first part of the event. They were quickly separated, with the Betau tribe outdistancing their opponents. By the time the Makai tribe reached the beach, Ezra's team was three-quarters of the way to the finish line.
"Congratulations, Betau!" Jeff exclaimed. "None of you will have to face the Tribal Council tonight. Makai, you, on the other hand, will be voting the first person off the island tonight. Think about it and we'll see you at the Tribal Council!"
The long afternoon wore on in the humid air as the Betau tribe set themselves to complete their shelter. By the time evening arrived, their shelter was complete and full of exhausted workers. The need for food and water became apparent, forcing the weary souls to their feet to begin their search for their evening meal. They divided into two smaller groups, setting one group to the task of following the map to the water supply while the other half set off in search of food.
On the other side of the island, the Makai were setting off on their trek through the jungle unaided by anything other than an internal compass to attend the Tribal Council. Upon reaching it, they rang the gong and entered the council area.
Looking around the group at his friends and other tribal members, Vin thought, 'How can eight strangers who've only been together for a day, who don't know anything about one another, cast their votes that will change someone's live if they are voted off.' One by one, he caught their eyes, searching carefully, trying to find the guidance he needed to make his choice.
Each one, except for Chris, Buck, JD, and Vin, walked up to cast their votes, knowing that it could very well be their first and only one. The four agents knew that their friends would be sure to keep them on the island together for as long as possible before giving them up to the real world. Chris watched as each person returned to their seat, carefully looking at everyone but the person they voted off. He strode confidently to the voting booth when the time came for his turn. Once there, he faltered slightly, when he realized that he had no idea who to vote against. How could he choose? There hadn't been enough time to get to know the other four. Hastily, he scribbled down a name and sat back down between Vin and Buck.
"I'll go tally up the votes." Jeff said, leaving the tribe in silence to await his return. About ten minutes later, Jeff returned to the council area, and began to reveal the score. "The first vote is for…Buck." Chris sat stony-faced, but knew exactly who cast that vote, Sheena, the poor little red-head Buck had been chasing mercilessly since this venture had begun. "Buck. Sheena. Beth. Mark. Sheena. Sheena. And Sheena. Sheena, if you would please bring your torch over here. Sheena, the tribe has spoken, you are the first person voted off the island."
'It's too bad' Chris thought. He kind of liked the cute redhead, she seemed nice and willing to work hard. After he spared one glance at Buck, he amended his thought. 'Maybe her leaving was a blessing after all.'
The remaining members of the tribe silently walked back to their campsite. Chris' thoughts treacherously wandered to the other side of the island, to where his other friends resided.
As Chris and the remaining members of the Makai tribe settled into their camp for the night, Ezra sat at the tide's edge allowing the water to lap at his feet just out of the line of sight of his tribe mates. He glanced down, his eyes caressing his luxury item he held in his hand as the moonlight glinting off its surface. The wind tickled his face, brushing back his chestnut hair with invisible fingers as he stared out over the water's surface. He remained there for some time, watching as a storm began to form and grow on the horizon, making its way slowly towards them. Finally, He sighed heavily as he pushed himself to his feet and silently made his way to the shelter and his empty bed. 'Maybe things will being to look up tomorrow,' he thought. But, with one look at Nathan's sleeping form, he added, 'Maybe not.'
By mid-morning, Ezra knew he was right about his thoughts from the night before as he glanced over at Nathan. The ex-medic never seemed to stop glaring at him. He wiped the sweat out of his eyes with a blistered hand, but continued working on the shelter. The tropical sun beat down upon his body mercilessly, but he refused to stop his labors and take a well-earned break. He looked over to where the other members of his tribe sat relaxing. He did not resent their rest break, he knew just how hard the work was that they had set out for themselves to complete. Earlier that morning, after a morning repast of rice and water, the tribe took stock of the sleeping arrangements and had agreed that they would need to enlarge their current structure after seeing that it could not comfortably hold them all. Ezra continued toiling away, heedless of the exhaustion that seemed to seep deep into his bones until he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to find Josiah standing behind him.
"Stop and rest for a while Brother. Rome wasn't built in a day, you know."
Ezra smiled at the statement, but continued lashing the palm fronds together that would eventually create a part of the roof. "Come on Ezra. It won't kill you to stop working for a short time. If you pass out from heat exhaustion, then what are you good are you going to be to the tribe?"
"Then, I suppose I should take a small respite. You shouldn't worry about me, Mr. Sanchez. Besides, a little work never hurt anyone as you are so fond of saying."
"It never hurt anyone, but when you're doing all the work it does. Come Ez, just a small five minute break then we will all go back to work." Reluctantly, Ezra dropped his creation to his feet and he headed for the shade of the trees. Josiah watched him reach his destination, then turned to walk over to Nathan and sat resting his back against the tree.
"Stubborn southern cuss. He's gonna get sick or get himself killed just for the money," Nathan muttered, staring over to where Ezra sat with his eyes closed.
"Now, Brother Nathan, just because he's set his mind and working so hard doesn't mean its just for the money," Josiah replied.
"After all, there are seven other people to consider. What's good for one must be good for all. I think our reticent brother is realizing that, and therefor is working to help us all out for the good of the tribe."
"Or just making sure that when it's time vote someone off, it won't be him," Nathan hotly retorted. "That man never does anything without an ulterior motive."
"You gotta give him credit where credit is due. He's been an asset to us all. He has stepped up and helped bring all of us together. Without him we would all be slightly lost," Josiah quietly intoned. "I think that we are too quick to judge, focusing on past mistakes and not being willing to accept the present as it exists."
"Well, no matter what you say, I know that he's up to something. I haven't figured out what it is yet, but when I do…" Nathan said, watching Ezra shove himself back to his feet and return to his self-appointed task.
"You'll leave him alone, Nathan." Josiah let the seriousness of the statement hang in the air as he got up to return to his work. Nathan couldn't believe that Josiah had said something like to him. It wasn't like his friend to be so harsh. Reflecting back over the past few days, Nathan began to wonder if maybe he was being a bit harsh on Ezra.
"Need some help?" Ezra looked up, into the eyes of the exotic woman who had stepped forward and helped to end the argument of the previous evening. She smiled, her eyes shining brightly and extended her hand, "I'm Atalanta, by the way."
"Ezra. Ezra Standish. I am pleased to make your acquaintance." She picked up the knife and started cutting strips that would eventually be used to strap the palm fronds together.
"Friends of yours?" she asked, gesturing slightly at Josiah and Nathan.
"In a way," Ezra replied. "We seem to be having a difference of opinion at the moment."
"Some difference of opinion," Atalanta said. "I've seen the way Nathan looks at you! Whatever you disagreement you have must be over something huge!"
"A million dollars huge," he muttered.
"What?" she asked, leaning closer.
"I was just agreeing that it was quite large," Ezra said, amending his prior statement.
"You know, you were right ….," Atalanta said, as she reached for her bottle of water.
"About the shelter being too small," she clarified. "I'm just sorry that you were the one who had to sleep out in the open when you worked just as hard or even harder to get this thing built."
"That's quite alright, my dear. Sleeping out under the stars never killed anyone," he smiled. "Besides, I found it to be quite peaceful." Atalanta nodded in agreement. She could feel the heartache that was radiating from the troubled man. 'How long before it shows?' she thought.
Later that evening, Ezra once again found himself sitting alone on the beach in the golden twilight with the waves lapping at his bare feet. Nostalgically, he pulled his luxury item out of its protective plastic and absently rubbed his fingers over it, as if he was willing the strength and emotion it exuded to cast its protection on him. In his mind, he could hear LeAnn Rimes singing her song from Coyote Ugly. He smiled slightly as he remembered how Buck had dragged the whole Team to see that movie. He had stubbornly resisted, not believing that he would enjoy it. Surprisingly, he found himself having a good time. He had to admit he rather admired the girls and their story. Looking at the item, he felt past memories assault him but didn't bother to stop them.
Time, sometimes the time just slips away and you're left with yesterday. Left with the memories.
His first raid with the guys…
I, I'll always think of you smile and be happy for the time I had you with me.
The fishing trip…
Though we go our separate ways, how old we'll get so don't forget the memories we made.
The first time he played football…
Please remember, please remember. I was there for you and you were there for me.
Working in conjunction with his old team from Atlanta…
Please remember our time together, the time was yours and mine and we were wild and free. Please remember, please remember me.
Goodbye, there's just no sadder word to say and its sad to walk away with just the memories.
When he almost died after being ambushed in the warehouse…
Who's to know what might have been. We leave behind a life and times we'll never know again.
All the get-togethers at Chris' place…
Please remember, please remember. I was there for you and you were there for me.
His supposed betrayal of his Team and the supposed drug use.
And remember, please remember me. Please remember, please remember I was there for you and you were there for me. Please remember our time together, the time was your and mine and we were wild and free.
Lenny - good old Lenny…
And remember, please remember me. And how we laughed, and how we smiled, and how this world was yours and mine, and how the dream was out of reach I stood by you, you stood by me.
We took each day and made it ours, we wrote our names across the sky.
The best damn ATF team …
We ride so fast, we ride so free, cause I had you and you had me. Please remember… Please remember…
'Ironic,' Ezra thought, that he would think of such a thing. He trusted them with his life, yet they still didn't completely trust him.
He stiffened as he felt a cool hand on his shoulder. "Mind some company?" Atalanta asked, sitting next to him. "What are you
"The past. A very interesting place to dwell in my life."
"They must have been some memories," she offered quietly.
"Why do you say that?" he asked, turning to look directly in her brilliant blue eyes.
"Because, you didn't even notice that it has start to rain." She said laughingly.
Ezra looked up, finally becoming aware of the warm rain falling down his sunburned face. "Oh, yeah."
Atalanta, looked over and noticed the piece he held lovingly in his right hand. "May I see it?"
"If you wish," he replied, handing the object over to her, carefully shielding it from the wet weather.
"It's very beautiful," she said, running her fingers lightly over its surface. "They must mean a lot to you - your friends that is."
"That they do, although sometimes it may seem that they don't warrant the privilege, but I can assure you that they do."
"How long have you know them?"
"I joined their ranks approximately two and a half years ago," Ezra answered, staring out over the rolling waves.
"Two and a half years and you've already become quite a family." She noticed his started look, and hastened to explain, "It's easy to tell just listening to how you speak about them. Whatever has come between you will work itself out, that I promise."
"You seem to know an awful lot about me, but what do I know about you?" he asked her. "All I know about you is that you are a hard worker, possess wonderful people skills and that your given name is Atalanta. I believe that turn about is only fair. You owe me the right to all of your life's secrets. It's only fair as you seem to know most of mine."
"Well, since you put it that way, I would be delighted to share my life story with you!" she impishly replied. "I was born in Indonesia. My father was in the army and met my mother there during his tour. He married my mother after I was born and we moved to the States when I was about three. I grew up in south Chicago, helping my father to raise my other five siblings after my mother died when I was fourteen. From there, I went on to own and run my own bookstore. Now, here I am, sitting on this deserted island conversing with a very handsome gentleman. There you have it. That is the Reader's Digest version of my life story."
"Ah, that is a most interesting tale indeed," he said, inclining his head in her direction. "Yet you did not explain what exactly brings you to take part in this island game?"
"I had a feeling that you might need a friend!" she responded dryly. "What about you?"
"Look at that fool sitting out there in the middle of the pouring rain and not moving one whit," Nathan grumbled. "If we weren't on a tropical island, he would catch his death of cold. What is he thinking?"
"Now Brother, leave him be," Josiah said, watching over his wayward friend. "He's having a conversation with a beautiful lady, that's what he's doing. There's nothing wrong with that, now is there?"
"Maybe not, but he's acting like a damn fool!" Nathan said. "I will never understand that man. I swear, sometimes he does things just to aggravate us, me especially."
"And you don't return it in kind? Leave it be, Nathan," Josiah said. "He's done a lot more work than any of us have since we arrived here on our island paradise. I think he's proven himself more that we have any right to expect him to."
"Yeah, and how long will that last?" Nathan asked the humid air. "The only thing he's proven is that he's willing to work if the money is right…"
"That's enough, Nathan," Josiah bit out sharply. Nathan looked over at Josiah quizzically, before he headed over to his pallet. Nathan laid down, burrowing into the soft leaves as he mulled over what Josiah said. 'There was always tomorrow…' was his last conscious thought.
Ezra was surprised to realize that he actually felt completely at peace for the first time in many days. If he was completely honest with himself, he would admit that this fact was directly attributed to Atalanta. Uncharacteristically, Ezra found that he didn't even care that he was sitting on a sandy beach, completely soaked by a summer storm that caused his clothes to be plastered to his damp body. Shaking his head at the direction he found his wandering thoughts headed, he simply conceded that regardless to what tomorrow may bring, right now he just knew that he felt good. Ezra stood up and brushed at the clinging sand granules and glanced down at Atalanta. He held out his right hand, and asked with a roguish smile, "Have you ever been dancing in the rain, my dear?"
"No, but there is a first time for everything." she grinned up at him as he grabbed her by the hand, pulling her to her feet. The rain started to come down even harder, just as their bodies met causing them to burst out in unrestrained laughter. Peering out of the shelter, their tribe mates joined the dancing pair in their obvious happiness. They made quite a couple dancing in the dark with the rain washing over them. Josiah smiled knowingly as he watched them complete the intricate dance to the music that existed exclusively in their heads. 'Maybe, just maybe, this won't be such a bad thirty-nine days,' he thought.
On the opposite side of the desert island, the situation that faced the Makai tribal members wasn't as promising. As much as Chris loved the outdoors, the thought of having to spend one more night sleeping with the rats that inhabited the island annoyed him. He had spent the better part of the morning watching as the other three remaining members of the tribe argue as to the best way to construct a shelter.
Disgusted, he looked over to where Buck, JD and Vin had been lounging in the warm sun. "What do you say we start building without them?"
No words were needed as the four friends got up and walked towards the jungle. Silently, they picked out several stout trees that had fallen during the recent storms and carried them back to the beach. The agents dumped their load to the side of the clearing and started working while their other team members looked on. Before they could fully immerse themselves in their project, their second immunity challenge arrived.
The two tribes found themselves facing one another across a crudely constructed table, intently studying their opponents. Several sets of eyes widened as bowls of beetle larvae were placed in front of them.
"Your challenge is this. Each of you has to pick one of the delicious beetle larvae and eat it. The first tribe to have all their larvae eaten will win immunity." Jeff declared. "Bon appetite!"
One by one, each person hesitantly selected their larvae and begrudgingly ate it with varying degrees of grimaces dancing across their faces. Afterwards, each person submitted to a quick examination to prove that they had had indeed swallowed their meal.
"I thought you all might like that, so here's how we are going to break the tie," Jeff said. "Each team will choose a person from the opposing team who they think is the most squeamish. Then, those two will have to pick another larvae and eat it. The first one done with the snack wins immunity for their tribe. You have one minute to make your choice!"
The two tribes immediately huddled together, trying to decide who their victim would be. At Jeff's cry of time, the teams revealed that the lucky contestants would be Buck and Ezra. Both men met at the table, picked their larvae and placed it on their plates.
"When I say 'Go' you two are going to eat it. The first one done wins!" Jeff said. "Go!"
Buck and Ezra snatched their respective morsel and shoved it in their mouths. With his poker face firmly in place, Ezra rapidly chewed and swallowed his morsel while Buck was still trying to finish his without gagging.
"Betau wins!" Jeff shouted. "Makai, I'll see you once again at Tribal Council."
Chris, Buck, JD and Vin lingered behind their other teammates, talking quietly amongst themselves as they headed back to their beach. "I can't believe that Ezra just ate that thing like that," Buck stated emphatically. "Never in a million years would have never expected him to do it!"
"Me neither, Buck," JD said, trying to console his big brother.
"You never know about a person until they eat a bug…" Vin said.
"Where the hell did you come up with that crap?" Buck asked, shoving him into a nearby tree.
"Dunno, just made it up!" They all laughed at Vin's remark.
"So, who do you think it should be?" JD asked, looking over to Chris.
"Well, that big girl, what's her name, has been a pain in my neck," Chris answered thoughtfully. "She hasn't chipped in one bit. The most she's done is complain about how hot it is, how miserable she is, as she sat there on her fat …"
"Yeah," Vin agreed. "She ain't a strong team player."
"Hey, JD," Chris said, "what is that girl's name? Wouldn't want to vote off the wrong person at the Council."
"Her name is Amanda," JD said.
"Okay, Amanda is out a here!" Buck said, sticking his two cents in.
Gentle sprinkles of rain fell on the tribe as they made their way once again to the Tribal Council. They entered the area beginning the ritual for a second time. The difference this time was that no one really had to struggle to over their choice. Everyone seemed to know who would be leaving next. One by one, they cast their vote to evict yet another member of their ill-fated tribe. In the end Amanda was excused from the Tribal Council by a vote of six to one. 'Ironic,' Chris thought, 'that the person who he had figured would be up for expulsion hadn't even faced the Tribal Council yet. Namely, one Ezra P. Standish.'
The remaining six members left the area and returned to their beach to spend another cold and miserable night without the benefit of food, fire, or shelter. 'Sometimes,' Buck thought as he searched for a comfortable sleeping spot in the scratchy sand, 'Fate is a damned bitch…'
Inside their shelter, Ezra watched as the firelight danced across his tribe mates' faces. It had been pure luck that they had established the fire well before the rain started. Even though, they had only been together for a few days, they were beginning to form the a strong basis of friendship through hard work and trust in one another. For once, Ezra even felt that he fully belonged to a group without any second-guessing that seemed to follow him throughout his entire life.
"Hey, Ezra. How many of us will you need tomorrow to complete the other shelter?" Ezra looked up from his musings to see who was talking to him. It was Matt, the college student from Maine. He found that he had liked Matt from the first. He had proven himself to be hard working and inquisitive but, very easy to get along with. The young man was a bit shy at the beginning of their adventure but soon was found to be willing to take the reins of leadership if needed. Ezra knew that he was well liked amongst everyone.
"I believe I will only need the assistance of two individuals to complete our task. As I have noticed that our supply of drinking water is running low, the rest are yours.
Matt nodded, accepting the responsibility that Ezra offered him. "I was thinking, we might try our hand at fishing."
"Good thinking," Ezra complimented him. "It would definitely provide a little variety from the delightful course of rice we have been partaking in for breakfast, lunch, and dinner." The group laughed because it was true they were getting tired of eating rice all the time.
"It's settled then. Gemma, you, Nathan, and Carly can procure us a fresh supply of water," Ezra directed, handing out the next day's assignments. "Becky and Josiah can try their hands at fishing while Matt, Atalanta, and I can complete the second shelter. Is that alright with everyone?" he asked, looking at each of his companions. Everyone nodded their agreement to the plan. The group lingered around the fire a bit longer sharing small talk.
One by one, each drifted off to their pallets for some well-deserved sleep, leaving Ezra alone by the fire. Reflecting over the past few days, he basked in the warmth and welcome that he had received from all of them, finding that it left him feeling happy and content inside. He liked to listen to Carly talk with her Australian accent, especially when she said 'no'. It always sounded like 'noa'. He smiled, thinking of Gemma's infectious laugh that enveloped all in sound range. Shaking his head, he remembered how Becky laughed so hard that she began to cry at the dumb jokes Matt was always spouting out. His thoughts then turned to Atalanta. For once in his life, he found himself at a loss for words. He couldn't begin to describe her with the words that would do her justice. She just defied everything that had been ingrained in him from childhood. He knew that he had been reluctant at accepting the friendship she had generously offered him from the start. He had always felt comfortable near her because she was always willing to listen to him, putting him at ease. Surprisingly, he found that he was enjoying himself immensely even though they were all supposed to be playing against one another. He thoughts jumped ahead of his control, forcing him to think about what would happen when the thirty-nine adventure would come to an end… Slowly, he put out the fire and then joined his tribe mates, no, he quickly corrected himself, his friends in slumber.
"The days have flown by," Ezra thought as he packed up his things in anticipation of the move. There were only ten contestants left now, and the two tribes were preparing to merge into one group. The thought of moving to a new beach and leaving behind all their hard work was difficult, but they would make their way through it. Ezra thought back with sadness at the loss of his team members as well as the other players. The Makai had lost Jessica, and then his team lost their first member, Becky. He wished she could have stayed, but even though she was great at catching fish, she was not very adept at much else. Although, God knows that she tried. It was mutually decided that she would be the first to go by everyone including herself. She had wished them all good luck, and then silently walked away from the Council. After that, Karolina of the Makai, and Matt left. Ezra was truly saddened with the loss of Matt. The young man had sprained his right ankle, becoming a serious liability to the tribe. So now, here they were the last ten on the island moving towards their final home.
Eyeing each other warily, the tribe members began to set up their things on the empty beach. Immediately, the separation between the two former tribes became very evident. Members of the former Betau gathered around Ezra, while the remaining members of the Makai rallied around Chris. Ezra found it ironic that the last Makai members would consist of his friends. He turned his attention back to his tribe mates and slightly shook his head, as if clearing away the cobwebs.
"Mr. Larabee," he called over to the other group. "Would you all care to join us?" Chris scowled at the Southerner's interruption, but made his way reluctantly to join Ezra's group. "One of the first things that we will need to do is construct a new shelter. Because there are ten of us, I think we should make two, that way we would be more comfortable." Ezra looked around the group and was greeted by several nods of agreement to his plans. "We will also need fresh drinking water and food. Therefore, Gemma, why don't you take Nathan and go find us some food. Mr. Larabee, you and Josiah can fetch us a new supply of water. The rest of you will assist in building the shelters. Let's get going!"
"How's it been going, Josiah?" Chris asked as he filled a canteen.
"It has been an interesting few weeks, Brother," replied the ex-missionary.
"Nathan and Ezra are acting like they usually do except that Ez hasn't been antagonizing him. He's been keeping his mouth shut," Josiah said.
"Probably, because everything that was said is true," Chris said. "Go on."
Josiah stopped filling the canteens and turned to give Chris his full attention. "Chris, Ezra has worked incredibly hard to keep the tribe going…"
"You mean keeping himself on the island," Chris sniped. "But, anyway…"
"It just has been interesting, I think that everything will come into its own now that we're all together," turning back to his task.
Chris nodded as he stared out over the water. "We'll see," he thought.
"Surprised you haven't been kicked off yet."
Ezra looked up from his self-appointed chore of cutting the timber to look up at the invading person. Ezra wasn't totally surprised to see that it was Buck.
"I've been holding my own as you can see, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra dryly responded as he continued to hack at the timber.
"Yeah, well now you're going to have to account for everything you do. You may have been able to hang on to your position by acting like you care, but you're among people who know how and why you ended up here. Just remember that, the next time we go to vote someone off it's probably going to be you!" Buck spat at him.
"If that's how you feel, Mr. Wilmington, then that is entirely up to you."
Atalanta looked up from where she was lashing the palm fronds together, sensing something was wrong. Her eyes came to rest on the tense scene that was being played out further down the beach. She saw Buck's angry gestures as he continued to tell off Ezra. She dropped the project onto the sandy ground and headed over towards the two men.
"Excuse me," she said breathlessly, rushing up to Ezra. "Ezra, could you give me hand for a minute?" She flashed her brilliant smile at Buck as if apologizing for her interruption. Ezra and Atalanta turned and walked back over to where she had been working.
"You have impeccable timing, my dear," Ezra praised her. "Thank you. I thought I would never be able to get away from him."
"You're welcome," she smiled at him. "I thought you might need a bit of rescuing when I looked over at the two of you."
Realizing that his quarry had left indefinitely, Buck stalked back to his work. Begrudgingly, he had to admit that the shelters were taking shape quickly under Ezra's direction. However, it annoyed him that he had to take orders from Ezra of all people. At least this new tribal set up may have some possibilities! The woman who interrupted them was quite gorgeous. He would have to find out her name.
With a hot meal settling in their stomachs, the ten remaining contestants relaxed around the campfire. Chris surreptitiously watched as the other tribe members gauged one another. He took special notice as to how they interacted with Ezra. He was amazed as to how they seemed to respect him. The former members of the Betau's respect and friendship for the conman rivaled that of their own ATF team's before this whole fiasco started. An overwhelming sense of nostalgia crept into Chris' thoughts, causing him to long for the days before they even played the game. When the seven of them were a family - not strangers.
He dreaded the thought of the immunity challenge tomorrow. Looking at the faces bathed in the firelight, he wondered how he would choose. Carly, the Australian born camp counselor was nice and could start a fire swiftly. Not only that, she did cook pretty well under these conditions. She would get a reprieve for now, Larabee decided. He then turned his attention to the recently immigrated British flight attendant. Gemma had a very positive outlook, coupled with a great laugh that was infectious to all those around her. She was also strong and helped tremendously in collecting the large amount of food they had needed without complaint. She was pretty much responsible for the banquet they feasted, he conceded, so she deserved the chance to stay.
Frowning slightly, he realized that his choices were narrowed to that of his friends and Ezra. Chris wanted Ezra off the island but there was JD to consider. The youngest member of the team was usually the first to defend anybody, especially Ezra. But lately Buck's negative attitude was rubbing off on him. Chris decided that the Kid could wait a little longer for the world to rob him of his innocence. Besides, he and Ezra had a good friendship going and Chris didn't want to see that ruined based purely on Buck's prejudices. Based on that, Chris decided that JD would be his first vote at the Council tomorrow.
Ezra covertly watched Chris as he struggled with his decision. The southerner instinctively knew that he was struggling with the Council vote tomorrow. He watched the blonde man's pale green eyes finally settled on JD. "So, that will be his first vote," Ezra thought. "Sacrifice the innocent lamb for the sake of the lions." Ezra shuddered inwardly as the thought rushed though his consciousness. "If Josiah only knew…" He frowned as he thought back over the day's events, coming to rest on Buck's words.
After all these days, the first communication with one of his "friends" was one that was full of hatred. God, how would he survive these next few days? Ezra straightened his shoulders, coming to the conclusion that he would survive just fine on his own, relying only upon himself and Atalanta. He just hoped that it would be enough.
Ezra opted to sleep in the warm sand under the bright stars instead of inside one of the newly constructed shelters. He couldn't stand the thought of sleeping in either shelter. In both, he slept with enemies were former friends, a thought that shredded his insides. Silently, he reached for his luxury item, pulling it carefully from its protective sleeve. Longingly, he ran his nimble fingers over its slick surface. He lurched to his feet and headed away from the shelters as he felt the tears that were threatening to spill down his cheeks. After walking about fifty yards or so, he broke into a full run. Tormented, he pushed himself at a harsh pace until he felt as if his lungs would burst. When his body rebelled from both mental and physical exhaustion, he fell to his knees as the tears fell like a torrential rain. He felt as if his world was falling apart. As if his friends were being torn apart. Even JD was looking at him with contempt and loathing. Dismayed by his inability to make things right again, he grasped his luxury item in both hands and pulled if violently, splitting it in two. He continued the destruction until it was completely destroyed, lying in a pile in the golden sand.
And how we laughed and how we smiled,
And how this world was yours mine.
How we took each day and made it ours,
How the dream was out of reach,
I stood by you and you stood by me
He turned his anguished emerald eyes skyward, and yelled, "Why God, why?" After dragging in a few uneven deep breaths, he dejectedly pushed himself to his feet and dragged an arm across his eyes to remove any remaining tears from his eyes and headed back towards the shelters.
As the tired man's form melted from her sight, Atalanta crept out from her hiding place in the bushes, and she walked over to the pile Ezra had left behind. Warm salty tears silently streamed down her heart-shaped face as she remembered the look on his face as she watched him destroy this precious item. The woman knew when he destroyed this seemingly trivial item; a piece of him was destroyed as well. She knelt down and gathered up the tiny pieces and placed them in her hip pocket. "Hopefully," she thought. "He will want this again." Silently, she followed the same trail Ezra had taken back to join the others.
The group arose the next morning to find cloudy skies that forecasted a storm that was brewing on the horizon. Wordlessly, Ezra prepared the breakfast for the tribe. Everyone noticed but no one commented aloud on the ghostly look in his red-rimmed eyes. As they all set about building a better camp, JD stopped him. "What's the matter, Ez? Is the past catching up to you? Demons haunting your sleep?"
"Something like that Mr. Dunne," he intoned wearily.
"Good. Maybe you'll learn your lesson this time!" JD spat and turned on his heel, heading towards Buck's direction.
"Maybe, I already have," Ezra agreed silently. Ezra plodded away from the group with steps as heavy as the feeling that resided in his heart. He did not even notice Josiah, who was only standing a few feet away and who had witnessed the entire unpleasant scene. His eyes closed as he thought of the affect it had had on Ezra. "Strikeout JD," he thought.
To everyone's relief, Jeff arrived with their next immunity challenge. They were to swim out 300 yards from shore and wait for their next set of instructions. Once all ten arrived at the designated spot, Jeff issued the next set of instructions. "You're going to have to hold your breath underwater for as long as possible. The three people who hold it the longest will advance to the second stage towards winning immunity from tonight's Council. On your marks. Get set. Go!"
Like participants of a synchronized swim team, all ten dove beneath the surface of the aqua-colored water, straining to remain submerged as long as they possibly could. Not surprisingly, Carly was one of the final three. Because she had earlier experience as a lifeguard, she was almost guaranteed to win a spot for the second part of the game. Atalanta achieved the second spot.
Surprisingly, Vin, the soft-spoken Texan, grabbed the third spot with an astounding demonstration of his massive lung capacity. The three finalists swam out further to continue on.
"Your next challenge is similar to the first, but instead of remaining stationary underwater you will have tasks you must complete. You're going to hold your breath and swim along the ladder you will find along the bottom. You can use the rungs to pull yourself along. Each rung has a buoy attached to it that you'll have to release. The person with the most buoys released in the allotted time wins immunity from tonight's Tribal Council."
The remaining seven, watched as one by one the three gave the challenge their best shot. In the end, it was Vin who was victorious, winning by the count of just one buoy over Carly and Atalanta. Chris released a sigh of relief at the hard-earned victory of his best friend. 'At least his team would remain fairly intact after the Council with the exception of JD,' he thought. If he had his way about things, the kid would be departing the island tonight.
The storm that had been threatening since dawn was still quite as ways off by the time the tired individuals headed to the Tribal Council. They found their chosen spots and mentally prepared themselves for the upcoming vote. As each person voted, they stated their reasons for voting their choice. Josiah voted first, "JD" he wrote. "To keep you from ruining the best thing in the world…."
Chris also wrote 'JD'. "To prevent you from finding out just how scary the world is without friends…."
'Ezra' was the name Buck wrote, "Because you're a self-serving son of a bitch!"
Atalanta did not hesitate as she wrote 'JD'. "To keep you from killing any more of him."
It was no surprise to anyone that Nathan wrote 'Ezra'. "You know why…"
Carly wrote her choice quickly as she added, "Because since you've come along, you've tried to undermine him at every turn. I know that it's everyone for themselves but sometimes you have to protect the right people…"
Ezra's choice was difficult but, in the end, his choice came down to JD. "You have proven that you are not nor ever will be a friend…"
Gemma wrote her choice deliberately, adding "You have no authority here, get off!"
JD didn't feel as if he needed to think about his decision. He scrawled "Ezra' on his ballot. "Why I was friends with you I don't know, but you don't deserve my friendship. See you in the States…"
Vin picked up his black marker and wrote down his choice. "Because you don't belong here any more!"
Jeff tallied up the votes and returned with the final count. "The first vote is for Ezra. JD. JD. JD. Ezra. Chris. JD. Chris. Ezra. And finally, JD. JD, if you would bring me your torch. JD, the tribe has spoken…"
As they arrived back at their beach, Ezra glanced around at the others. He flinched at the murderous stares that were being thrown his way from Buck and Nathan's directions.
"What kind of person sends one of their friends away? Oh wait, I know, the kind who wants a million dollars and would do anything for it. You disgust me. Tell me how you got your girlfriends to vote JD off? What did you promise them in return?" Nathan spewed vehemently.
"I can't believe JD ever trusted you and counted you as a friend." Buck spat. With the fury that was welling up inside of him, Buck landed a right hook upside of Ezra's jaw, knocking him down.
"Come on Buck," Nathan said, pulling him away. "He ain't worth it!"
In the glow of the twilight, Chris sat at the water's edge allowing the tide to lap at his feet feeling helpless. He wanted to keep his team together but it was falling apart rapidly in front of his own eyes. He wanted to have everything the way it was before any of them had even heard of this stupid game. He just did not know how to bring everything back to as it was before. He didn't even know if it were possible. He looked down the beach to see Ezra sitting by himself. He wanted to go over and talk to him. To straighten him out but with JD gone, his main concern now was keeping Buck from killing Ezra. Maiming might be explainable, but out and out murder was definitely not. He just couldn't understand why, in times like this, did he have to be the one in charge?
Further down the shore, Ezra sat looking out at the diminishing horizon, aware that Chris was watching him but he simply didn't give a damn anymore. Buck and Nathan both blamed him for JD's departure. It was bad enough that he had to deal with Nathan's animosity but now he had to worry about the other two as well? With odds like this, he might as well give up. He could hear his mother's voice, berating him 'Ezra, we are not quitters. Never fold with a winning hand.' Taking strength from that thought, he hardened his resolve and vigorously shook the offending thought from his head. There was quite a bit hanging on his winning that million dollars. He couldn't afford to lose. His face hardened into his familiar impenetrable mask. Failure was not an option!
Over at the fire, the three women were talking animatedly about the day's events. "All right," Atalanta said. "We need to discuss how we're going to vote. We seem to be faced with a few problems."
"I'll say! I like it when men hit on me and I understand that we're the only women on the island but that Buck is really annoying me! Everywhere I look, there he is throwing a pass at me!" Gemma exclaimed.
"Same here," Carly interjected.
"I think that for the next vote, if he doesn't get immunity, we jointly vote him off," Atalanta proposed. "We'll all be more safe once he's gone!" Gemma and Carly agreed to the plan enthusiastically. "Why don't we all try to get some sleep. I'm sure tomorrow's challenge will be much more difficult than today's. We're going to need all the sleep we can get for that and for avoiding Buck!" They bid each other goodnight and headed off to bed.
The sun beat down mercilessly on the tribal members as they stood balancing on a stack of boards in the middle of the bay for their next immunity challenge. They couldn't touch one another. They could only stand there until one remained upright.
"So how long ya gonna stand there, Ez? I'm surprised ya ain't passed out from all that menial labor you hate so much." Buck taunted.
"Hey Buck, you're wrong. He's just gonna have to piss like a race horse soon from all that water he drank earlier," Nathan retorted. Ezra calmly ignored them as he mentally reviewed his Tai Chi exercises. Atalanta, on the other hand, was getting mad. Two hours had passed and no one had fallen off. Besides Buck was getting on her nerves.
"Hey, Carly!" she said.
"Duck. I wanna take my shirt off, but I don't want to hit you and have you fall off."
"Okay, go for it!"
Buck suddenly became very interested as he listened to the two girl's exchange. He turned a little too abruptly and lost his balance, falling into the water. He came up sputtering.
"On second thought, it's too cold!" Atalanta said laughingly.
Buck bristled as he swam to shore, "What they wouldn't do for Ezra," he thought contemptuously.
Eight hours had passed and the field had narrowed down to Ezra and Atalanta. Both were tired but struggled to hold on. They shared the remaining board as the other ones had been removed. Finally, Ezra turned to Atalanta, "Don't say I never did anything for you, my dear," he softly told her before he jumped off into the refreshing water.
"Okay." She replied falling backwards into the water. Upon reaching shore, she was rewarded with the immunity necklace.
A few hours later, the group was trekking back through the jungle once again to Tribal Council. The votes were cast and tallied ending up with a count of two for Ezra and seven for Buck. The tall man wordlessly left the Council but the look in his eyes relayed to Ezra that this matter was far from over. As they walked back to camp, a thunderstorm broke overhead. "The perfect ending to a perfect day," Ezra dryly thought.
The next morning they were awoken to the wonderful smell of sizzling bacon and scrambled eggs. Emerging from the shelters, they were greeted with an amazing sight that proved that what they smelled actually did exist. A massive banquet of bacon, sausage, eggs, juice, coffee, doughnuts and croissants was laid out underneath the shelter of two festively colored patio umbrellas. "Good morning!" Jeff cheerfully welcomed them. "As you can see our chefs have prepared a little surprise for you. Please, have a seat and relax, but don't touch any of it. You get to sit here with all this delectable food assaulting your senses as you watch me eat it. The one who holds out the longest wins immunity for tonight. Oh, and if you think that the food will turn disgusting after awhile and you will be able to avoid this challenge by trying to outlast it, just know that our chefs will be by often to refill the serving dishes. Bon appetite!"
It took fours hours but, one by one, they succumbed to the craving for food that did not consist of fish or rice. After seven hours, Ezra was the only one who held out. "Congratulations Ezra! You have immunity for tonight. As your reward, our chefs will prepare any dish you wish. So what would you like?"
"Belgian waffles," he immediately replied with a dimpled grin. "Belgian waffles smothered in strawberries and whipped crème with a café caramel to drink." Ten minutes later a plate full of waffles appeared along with a bowl of strawberries and a can of Readi-Whip. Ezra thought, he never tasted anything sweeter as he dug into the food with gusto. Maybe there was Heaven on Earth after all!
Jeff reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black cell phone. "Each one of you gets to make one five minute phone call to whomever you choose," he said, passing around the phone. Not surprisingly, Chris called Buck. He passed the phone to Josiah who then placed his call to JD. Nathan gratefully accepted the phone from Josiah and called Rain. Carly and Gemma each called their parents. Then it was Vin's turn; his call was to Nettie Wells. Atalanta received it next and excitedly called her sister. Finally, when the phone came to Ezra; he purposefully pushed the buttons on the worn keypad. His voice carried over the distance, "Hello Angel-girl!" He talked for the full five minutes before reluctantly hanging up. Afterwards, he felt better than he had since he stepped foot on the island. There was even a genuine smile gracing his suntanned features.
Nathan found himself faced with a hard decision to make. Since Ezra had immunity, who was he going to vote for? His problem was that he liked all the possible choices and didn't want to see any of them go. As he agonized over his choice, he heard Josiah speak up.
"Before you make a decision," he said addressing everyone. "I would like to ask that you vote me off."
Chris jumped to his feet, and shouted "Josiah!"
"Let me explain, Brother. I came here, accomplished what I wanted to, and now I would like to go home. So at tonight's Tribal Council, please send me home. It's my time to go." He looked seriously at all of the faces, relaxing as they all nodded their agreement to his request.
As the group went their separate ways, Chris approached him. "I wish you have said something sooner. Why didn't you mention this before?" he demanded.
Josiah reached up and squeezed Chris' shoulder. "Just know that when I leave, the game will truly begin. You'll have to watch carefully or you'll miss it. For tomorrow, it will all change. All I ask is that you respect my wishes. I'll see you later, Chris." He turned away, leaving Chris stunned, trying to make some sense out of his words.
At Tribal Council, Josiah's wishes were respected and he left mouthing the words, "Play nice." As the seven tribe members walked back, Josiah's words echoed through Chris' mind. It was almost as if he was trying to forewarn the group of impending danger.
The heat was sweltering as they stood in the middle of the jungle on a worn trail. "Trust," Jeff stated bluntly. "Trust is very important in daily life - especially here. Although blind trust is probably a better phrase."
"Gee Ezra, I guess this counts you out, don't it? That's something you can't do." Nathan whispered. Chris frowned but let the comment slide because he knew that he couldn't say it wasn't true.
"This challenge is what I like to call 'Blind Trust'. What you do is run this trail to the end and that's it. You may start whenever you're ready." They all took off as a pack with Ezra quickly dropping behind to study the situation. He knew that there was something Jeff hadn't said. He knew his thoughts were correct when he saw the others balk and come to a complete stop ahead of him. Suddenly, the challenge made sense to him. One had to trust blindly that something would be there where ever the trail led to. Gritting his teeth, he ran past them, ignoring their cries as the ground disappeared from beneath his feet. He gave a yell as he dropped several hundred feet down into a crystal clear pool below. Jeff was there waiting for him as he hauled himself out.
"Congratulations Ezra on trusting me. For that, you once again have immunity. As for your tribe-mates they haven't learned yet." Jeff handed him a towel as they walked up the trail to the top of the cliff.
"Obviously, you aren't really trusting people," he said addressing them all, "Because if you were, you would have realized you were meant to keep going. Ezra here, didn't balk like the rest of you therefore he has immunity once again. I'll see you all later tonight!
Chris watched as the three girls put their heads together, whispering all the way to the Tribal Council. He didn't know who or what they were whispering about, but once the votes were tallied it was clear, the answer was him. The final tally was four votes for him, one for Nathan, and two for Atalanta. They had conspired and succeeded in getting rid of him. As he handed his torch to Jeff, Josiah's words came rushing back to him with final realization. "…When I leave the game will truly begin. You'll have to watch or you'll miss it…" It wasn't the overall game that Josiah was speaking of. It was the game that was occurring between his friends.
Instead of witnessing it first hand, he would have to watch from the sidelines. He knew, however, that being an outside observer had it advantages. At least he could watch with less bias. "Josiah knew," he thought as he walked away. "Josiah knew, and I'm only now figuring it out." He smiled to himself, knowing that the next few days would prove interesting.
Nathan felt like an endangered species, which, in actuality, he was. As he reviewed the situation before him, he noted that he and Vin were the only remaining members of the team. He no longer counted Ezra as a member after this stunt. He accepted that his number was going to come up very soon. He splashed through the water out to where Vin was standing in the bay fishing. "Vin, we gotta talk." he said.
"I'm listening. What about?"
"Us and remaining on the island. I don't know how he's done it but Ezra's got those girls voting so that we're bein' systematically voted off. We gotta do something or we're going to be leaving very soon."
"What makes you think that this is all Ezra's doing?" Vin asked his friend.
"Think about it, Vin. We were furious that he got us tangled up in this game. We all laid into Ezra pretty hard, so he felt hurt. Now he's getting his revenge by getting rid of us. Plain and simple, he's cheating!"
"There's no rule that says you can't make alliances. Did ya ever think that it might be the girls by themselves?" Vin responded thoughtfully. "Think about it. When JD was voted off the votes cast weren't just between Ezra and JD. There were two votes for Chris. Look at the way they distracted Buck during the immunity challenge. That wasn't just for Ezra. Buck wouldn't leave 'em alone so they probably voted to get him off so they wouldn't have to deal with him. And take Josiah. He asked to be voted off. Ezra didn't finagle his leaving"
"But what about Chris?" Nathan countered.
"I think the two who initially voted to get rid of him that first night, swayed the third one and that's how Chris ended up being voted off."
"I suppose, but I still think Ezra has a hand it," Nathan stubbornly said. "Anyway, what I came to talk about was I think we should vote the same way. That way we'll at least counteract part of their vote and it may help us stay on the island longer."
"Who were you thinking of?"
"Well, Atalanta seems to be the leader of their little group. I think, if we can eliminate her, the voting will be a little more balanced. What do you think? Will you do it?"
"I suppose," Vin agreed, turning his attention back to the water.
"Alright. I'll let you get back to your fishing now. See you later Vin," he said, splashing his way back to shore with a smile. "Let's see you squirm your way out of this, Standish," he thought.
Perched high above the beach in a swaying palm tree, Ezra watched the interaction of his two work associates with interest. "Seeking alliances now, Mr. Jackson?" he thought. "How well does an alliance work, if you don't have a partner?" Ezra smiled as a thought came to mind. It shouldn't be too hard to accomplish his idea. In fact it would be perfect…
Nathan smiled as they headed to Tribal Council. He couldn't wait to see the look on Ezra's face when they eliminated his strongest ally. 'It was mean and heartless,' Nathan thought, 'but nothing compared to the ruthlessness Ezra had employed throughout the game.' One thing bothered him though; they hadn't had an immunity challenge yet. If they didn't have one tonight, than he would have to change his vote but that left him with no way to communicate the change of plans with Vin. The six of them all silently sat facing the fire at Tribal Council as they waited for Jeff to appear. When he finally arrived, he held a stack of index cards in his hands.
"Tonight, instead of voting first we're going to have our immunity challenge. Did you think you would go without having one? Sorry to disappoint you!" He said as he took his place behind the dais. "Your immunity challenge is going to be Survivor Jeopardy. I'm going to ask you ten questions and the person with the most correct answers wins immunity. If you have the answer, shout it out, but make sure that you are positive about it because your wrong answers do count against you. First question: Who was the first person voted off the island?"
"Sheena Martin." Vin shouted.
"Correct. Second question: What was Matt Howse's occupation?"
"College student." Ezra said.
"Correct. Third question: Karolina's heritage was predominantly…"
"Norwegian." Nathan yelled.
"I'm sorry, that's incorrect. Karolina's heritage is…"
"Swedish." Ezra said.
"Correct. Fourth question: Becky Burrow had a nickname, what was it?"
"Dizzy!" Carly said laughingly.
"Correct. Fifth question: What was Amanda's last name?"
"Mills…Milton…Miller! It was Miller!" Gemma screamed.
"Correct. Sixth question: Jessica was given a nickname by one of her tribe-mates, what was it?"
"Freckles?" Atalanta tossed the answer out.
"Correct. Seventh question: Chris Larabee lives in what city?"
"Denver." Nathan said smiling.
"Correct. Eighth question: Buck Wilmington's best friend is…"
"JD Dunne." Ezra shouted a second faster than Vin and Nathan.
"Correct. Ninth question: The first thing Carly plans on buying when she gets back to the States is…"
"Several pints of Ben and Jerry's." Ezra said.
"Correct. Last question: What is Ezra Standish's luxury item?" Silence greeted Jeff as they sat trying desperately trying to think of what it was. "Anyone have a guess?"
"It's something they haven't seen." Ezra informed Jeff.
"Well, I guess that's true. Since no one knows, we'll continue. Looking at the totals, Ezra has the most correct answers; therefore he once again has immunity. Now comes the not so fun part. Voting." One by one they each got up and submitted their vote. After the sixth vote was cast, Jeff quickly tallied up the votes.
"The first vote is… Atalanta." Nathan was smugly satisfied as he listen to Jeff read her name aloud not once but twice. "Vin." The feeling was squelched as he heard Jeff read Vin's name three more times. "Damn." he thought as he watched Vin carry his torch to Jeff and have it extinguished. Now, he truly knew what it felt like to be totally alone in the world.
The castaways were awakened to the sound of beating drums. It seemed to them all that the last two days had flown by. Nathan,
Ezra and Atalanta were the last three, after having evicted Carly the night before. Stepping out of the shelter, they saw Jeff pounding on a pair of tom-toms.
"Good morning. I hope you all slept well. If you would, follow me. Our day is about to begin," he said, leading them into the jungle.
After what seemed like hours, the procession finally stopped at the base of a volcano. Jeff reached down and grabbed a handful of mud. "Slather it on, trace designs, whatever you want. This is your war paint for today."
"Oh look Ezra, it's mud! Not something you'd ever willingly touch, is it?" Nathan taunted. After casting a baleful look in the ex-medic's direction, Ezra bent over and grabbed a handful. A mischievous smile crept over his face and with a malevolent gleam sparkling in his eyes; he threw it without any warning to its intended victim. The mud ball smacked right in the middle of Nathan's chest with a splat. Shock traversed across Nathan's face as he looked down at his dirty shirt and back up to see Ezra salute him in his own unique fashion. He quickly reached down to grab some mud with the thought of retaliation. As quickly as the thought had crossed his mind, it left when he realized that his opponent was more than prepared to defend himself. "Smart ass son of a bitch," he grumbled to himself.
After they had covered themselves in mud designs, Jeff led them to the other side of the island. "When I tell you to, you're going to walk between those two totems, across the coals, and on to your final immunity challenge."
They each stood proud and strong, walking with dignity and courage across the coals and down the strip of sand to their final challenge. After receiving their instructions from Jeff, they all climbed onto the logs that stood up on end and placed one of their hands on the immunity idol.
"Your final immunity challenge is one that will test your strength and determination to its very limits. You've all managed to last thirty-seven days and that shows a lot about all of you. But tonight, the thirty-eighth night, only two will be left standing on the island. The hand that you have placed on the immunity idol must stay there, never leaving it or you lose. The last person's hand that is touching the idol will win immunity for the last time. Good luck!" Jeff called up to them as he walked back down the beach.
Two uneventful hours passed as the sun beat down upon them drying the mud they had slathered on earlier, leaving a cracked trail down their bodies. Looking down the beach, they watched Jeff return with something in his hands.
"Ah, you're all still standing I see. I have brought you a gift. I thought you might like some orange wedges but you can't have them now, so I'll set them over here. But before I do, I thought you might like a little whiff of how delectable these oranges are," he said, waving the plates under their noses. "Doesn't that smell good?!" He set the wooden plates down and walked back down the beach.
Another two hours passed and Jeff returned, bearing three glasses of cold ice water garnished with a lemon wedge. Atalanta looked at the dripping glasses and back to her fellow tribe-mates. In her heart, she knew what she needed to do. "Ezra, we've been together since day one. We've always watched each other's back. You did me a favor that day when we were balancing on the boards. Now, I am just returning the favor," she said as she let go of the idol before dropping in a sweeping bow. She stepped off the log and reached for the water and her plate of orange wedges. She smiled at Ezra, her eyes communicating the message,
"Because you are my friend." Jeff got up from his seat in the sand and approached the two.
"To make this more interesting we're going to change positions. Ezra you'll go where Nathan is standing and Nathan you'll stand where Ezra is. Make sure your hand doesn't leave the idol!" he reminded the two men. "Carefully now, move to your new spot."
Gingerly, Ezra stepped off his perch and walked to where Nathan stood making sure that his hand never left the idol. Nathan stepped from his position onto the sand but as he walked to his new spot, his hand dropped from the idol. He quickly put it back and glanced over to see if Jeff noticed the slip up. Jeff simply shook his head at him, silently telling him that he hadn't missed the trick. Jeff walked over to Ezra and placed the immunity necklace around his neck once again. "That was close Nathan. So close but, I'm sorry. Ezra, congratulations again, for the sixth time. I'll see you all tonight at Tribal Council." Nathan stared in disbelief as Jeff walked back down the beach. "He almost had immunity, but it had literally slipped from his grasp. How could he have been so careless?" Nathan thought. He knew that tonight would be his turn to leave. The somber knowledge weighed heavy in his mind as he looked over at the two friends. He was without any friends, alone and lost. At that moment, he wished he could take back everything that he had ever said and done to Ezra. He needed a friend. Desperately.
Firelight danced across Nathan's somber face as they attended the final Tribal Council. He now knew how Ezra must have felt. It was hard enough on him to have been without his friends for five days. To be without friends for thirty-eight days was beyond his comprehension. The silent reverie was broken as Jeff began to speak. "This Tribal Council is the hardest. Nathan and Atalanta's votes will automatically cancel one another out since they can't vote for themselves so, for tonight, Ezra you are the king of the island. Their fate rests in your hands alone. That's an awful big responsibility, so I'll give you a moment to think about your choice. After you have made it, I will need for you to bring it over to me." Ezra looked deeply into both sets of eyes. In Nathan's, he found acceptance of what he had determined his fate to be. In Atalanta's, he saw his choice. He could feel her sending him a message. With the answer firmly locked in his mind, he wrote his choice and handed it to Jeff. Nathan and Atalanta sat spellbound, waiting for Jeff to reveal the name.
"Atalanta," Jeff read. The petite woman looked over at Ezra, "message received" her eyes said. She smiled warmly giving both men a hug, handed her torch to Jeff and then walked down the path and out of the game. Nathan couldn't believe that Ezra had given him a reprieve…
The sun was high in the sky by the time Ezra moved to wake Nathan up. "Hey, it's time to get up. We've got work to do," he said.
Groggily, Nathan sat up, faced with the thought that last night had seemed like a nightmare and a miracle rolled into one. Exiting the shelter, he looked over to where Ezra was waiting for him.
"What work?" he asked.
"Collect your stuff and set it far away from camp. We're going to burn this place to the ground." Nathan realized by Ezra's tone of voice that he was deadly serious, so he moved immediately to begin to clear out the shelter. As he was gathering his things, he noticed a bandanna stuck in the far corner of the shelter. The dirty, faded scrap of cloth was tied together at the corners, making him wonder if there was something inside of it. He opened the small parcel carefully, not knowing what to expect. What he found inside of it surprised him. He immediately recognized whom it belonged to. The knowledge tugged at his heartstrings. He didn't even have to guess how it ended up in this state. Stuffing the small packet in his backpack, he exited the shelter and walked down the beach to set his things down. Working together for the first time in weeks, he and Ezra lit several small fires and sat in the sand watching their island home burn to ashes. Nathan didn't question Ezra's decision about the shelter as he already knew the answer and why.
For the final time, the gong was rung as they entered the Tribal Council area. He and Ezra sat side-by-side and watched as their eight former tribe-mates filed in. They no longer had to answer to themselves. These eight people held their future in their hands.
Nathan never felt so glad to see his friends, but his spirits immediately fell as he thought about how all seven men now viewed one another.
"Welcome back," Jeff said addressing them all. "Tonight instead of voting outright, Ezra and Nathan will be allowed to plead their case to a jury of their peers. In turn, you may each ask them one question. Once all the questions have been asked and answered, each man will be allowed to give closing statements. After that, you will then vote for your final choice as the Ultimate Survivor.
Ezra, why don't you start us off."
Ezra looked over at his former tribe-mates, trying to formulate what he needed to say to these people. "Well," he finally said. "I honestly don't know what to say. I think I've tried to do my best and succeeded by maintaining my status on the island. I've played the game by fair means in all aspects. I can only hope that you will all vote how you see fit."
Nathan stood, "I never really wanted to be here and you all know that. But once I started playing, the game grew on me and I wanted to stay. Obviously, I've succeeded in that aspect. I've made some new friends and strengthened past friendships. I hope that when you vote you remember those friendships. I was never in it for the money and can stand here before you all and say that I still am not. I really don't care who gets it, but I think it should be given to the person who is the most deserving."
"All right, jury you may now ask one question of them," Jeff instructed from his seat.
Carly stood and asked, "What do you think was the most important thing that kept you going?"
"I would have to say that would be the friendships I had with my other tribe members." Nathan said.
"Determination." Ezra stated.
Gemma stood next, "Rather than a question I have a couple of comments. First, Nathan, I don't count you as a friend. I have listened as you talked behind other people's backs about them but I didn't say anything. So I'm saying it now. You said the money should be given to the most deserving person, in my mind it isn't you. Ezra, you are a wonderful person to get to know. I liked you since day one. I hope that when you get home you'll remember all the fond memories we shared here."
JD stood, "I don't have questions or comments."
"Neither do I," said Buck from his seat.
"Nathan," Vin said standing to face Nathan. "In your mind, Ezra was the reason that all of us got voted off. You told me that you didn't know how it happened but Ezra and the girls were voting together to eliminate us. Well, I you oughta know that I voted JD and Buck off. After that, every time you had a vote called against you, that was my vote. I don't think a game is worth ruining a friendship over." Vin then turned to look Ezra in the eye, "Ezra, I have ta apologize to ya. Some of the things Nathan said were my fault and for that I'm sorry."
"There's only one thing I want to know," Josiah said. "What were your luxury items?"
"Mine was a letter from Rain," Nathan said.
Ezra looked directly at the others as he said, "Mine was destroyed an accident, so I don't really have one." Nathan's heart felt like it dropped to his stomach as he listened to Ezra. At that moment, he knew that all was lost.
Chris stood, " I don't think that there's anything I need to say."
Atalanta stood and smiled at the southerner. "Ezra, from the very first day, you were my friend. You always respected my wishes and showed me consideration when I asked anything of you. I hope that during your stay on the island you have found some friends to last a lifetime." She then turned to face the other man and continued, "Nathan, I only hope that you have learned the true meaning of friendship. Being without any friends for five days is insignificant. My wish for you is that you never have to experience life without them again." Nathan understood exactly what she was trying to convey to him. When he looked up and caught her eye, she knew that her message had hit home.
After Atalanta reclaimed her seat, Jeff stood up and addressed the two men, "Nathan and Ezra, you each have thirty seconds for any closing remarks and then the jury will vote. Nathan, since Ezra started us off, you'll get to go first this time."
"Well," he said as he wiped his hands on his shorts. "I've learned a lot about myself from what you all said. Umm… It's been an interesting thirty-nine days. I hope you vote as your heart tells you."
Speaking from his seat, Ezra added, "I too have learned a lot, not only about myself but about friendship, loyalty, and trust during my stay on the island. I think that for the most part, the good times shall remain in my mind above the rest. When you cast your vote, I hope that they remain with you as well."
One by one, the eight cast their ballots and then Jeff tallied the votes one last time. Pulling the first one out he read the name, "Nathan." He continued. "Nathan, Ezra, Ezra, Ezra, Ezra, Ezra, and Ezra. Congratulations Ezra, you are the Ultimate Survivor! Not only do you win one million dollars, but you also get a brand new Pontiac Aztec. Congratulations!" The eight surrounded the two men congratulating them on a job well done. During the festivities, Ezra managed to quietly slip away into the night.
Two weeks had passed since the seven had returned home and it had been nearly one and a half weeks since they found out
Ezra had resigned his position with the Team. In his letter of resignation he wrote, "That he had learned quite a few things about himself and the others and found that he felt working for the ATF was not the right job for him anymore." After reading this, Chris stormed that he was just running out on them again. Buck and JD whispered amongst themselves about how they knew he was going to do it all along. The rest of the team quietly sat back and reviewed the situation.
Nathan had a pretty good idea why Ezra left, but wasn't ready to say anything just yet. The healer sat back in his desk chair and began to drink his morning coffee as he reached for the morning edition of The Clarion. He choked on his first taste of caffeine as he caught sight of the large headline. As he struggled to wipe up the lost coffee, he yelled for everyone to get in his office.
"What is it. Nathan?" Chris demanded.
All he could manage to do was point at the headline. "Mercy Children's Hospital gets $1 Mil Needed to Complete Construction."
The article went on the say that the money had been donated anonymously along with a brand new Pontiac Aztec.
"Ezra," Nathan sputtered when he finally found his voice. "This is Ezra's doing."
"How do you know, Nate?" Buck asked incredulously. "He ran on out us. He's probably living it up in the Caribbean, enjoying his million bucks right now."
"No, he's not, you fool!" Nathan hotly contradicted the ladies man. "The only reason he played the game was so that the hospital would get the money it needed to finish the construction. He figured that if he could get on the game, he would have a good shot at winning the money for them."
"And how do you know all this?" Chris demanded.
"I got a call from Atalanta two days ago. She was calling to see if the gift had been taken care of. When I told her I didn't know what she was talking about, she told me the whole story. I didn't believe it at first but then everything started to make sense." Nathan revealed to the Team. "Do you all know what his luxury item was?"
"He never said. He just said that it was destroyed," Buck remembered.
"That's only what he said, Buck." Nathan said as he pulled the bandanna out of his desk and unwrapped it in front of the Team. "It was destroyed on the night that the two tribes merged. You remember, that was the night that you went off on him. I know that none of us were too kind to him either. There we were treating him like shit, when all he was doing was trying to accomplish something he thought was right."
"Jesus H. …," Chris said. He stalked out of Nathan's office, returning a few minutes later with his coat in hand.
"Where're you going, Chris?" JD asked.
"We've got a friend to collect," he said as they all rushed to grab their coats as well.
Chris was not planning to return without his stubborn southern undercover agent. He refused to stand by and watch a friendship be wasted because they couldn't pull their heads out of their asses and see past what happened so long time ago. It was going to take some time and hard work, but Ezra was going to see that his friendship mattered to them all. Besides, he grimly acknowledged, they had thirty-nine days of hell to make up for. This was one debt that Chris was going to see it repaid in full. After all, every day they spent together was a game of Survivor. But for some reason, they always seemed to come out on top.
|On to: Surviving|
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