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Approaching Kirkwall

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Hunching into her jacket against the chill sea air, Jess heads back up top, two steaming mugs of tea clasped in her hands. "Here," she says softly, holding one out to Logan. "I sweetened it how you like it."

Logan smiles as he takes the mug from her. "Thanks," the heat quickly warming his hands. "The fog's terrible this morning. That's Kirkwall over there," he says, gesturing at the coastline slowly coming into view, "but you can only make out the very tops of a few buildings."

She sits down next to him, careful not to spill her tea. "How big is it, do you know? I can't remember if Antony said." It doesn't matter, at this moment; she just likes hearing Logan talk in that deep rich voice of his.

"About ten thousand, I think," Logan says, letting his shoulder casually nudge against hers. "But Antony said he figured most of them fled right away. They knew there wouldn't be supplies or help coming this way so they went south while they still could."

"And south..." Jess blows out a breath. "Yeah." Yeah, they all know how well south worked out. "North," she says with a firm nod. "North is for us." She's got to hold onto that hope or she can't keep going.

"Definitely," Logan agrees, eyes narrowing as the fog lifts a little and sound starts to carry towards them from the shore. "Fuck," he whispers under his breath.

She looks up in surprise, and the distant moaning hum strikes her ear as well, chilling her more than the wind. "That's-- that's not--" She shuts her mouth before she can complete the denial, but then looks at Logan in desperate hope. "Maybe it's nothing. A distortion of the waves and... I don't know. Something else."

Logan shakes his head. "I don't think so. Can you get Antony, have someone else take over the wheel? We need to anchor well off-shore."

"Oh, shit," she mutters, her chest filling with dread. She grabs both their empty mugs - ever the caretaker - and heads back down to find Antony. He's lying on his back flat on the floor, and when she approaches his eyes fly open so fast that she wonders whether he was even asleep at all. "Logan needs you to come up," she whispers, because it's still early. No sense in waking and panicking everyone else before they have to.

Antony rises and follows Jess back up to the top deck, something awful coiling in the pit of his stomach. Fuck. "What's up?" he asks Logan when they reach him but it's only a second later that the wind shifts and he notices the noise coming from the shore. "Fuck me," he murmurs. "Can you see anything?"

Logan hands over the binoculars. "Not much, but it sounds like a lot of them. The fog's still too thick to tell. We're going to have to anchor and then wait for it to burn off."

Antony scans the shoreline, catching bits and pieces of it as the fogs shifts. He can see there's at least a couple of boats though, their masts breaking through the thick white. What he can't tell is whether anyone's on them and whether they can get to them. "Okay. Let's get closer, reverse thrust the engines when we hit the edge of the fog and drop anchor then."

Jess ducks back down to the main deck and creeps around as silently as she can until she finds Clive, who's dead asleep with Keira in his arms. She hates to disturb them, but... "Clive," she whispers, reaching out to touch his shoulder.

"Mmpf?" Clive blinks open his eyes and struggles for a second to focus his vision. "Jess?" he whispers. "What's wrong?"

"Antony needs you up top," she answers, pointing.

His brow furrows but he gently shifts Keira and sits up.

Sam stirs, hearing the whispers, sitting up to see the shadows moving nearby. "What's up?" he whispers.

Jess struggles with words for a moment, then puts it simply: "We're almost to Kirkwall. It doesn't sound good."

"Shit," Clive mutters, getting to his feet.

"Fuck," Sam murmurs as well, easing out from under the blanket he's sharing with Ryan. "I'll come up too."

Ryan sits up, scrubbing a hand over his face. Checks his gun then gets up to go check on the kid. "Hey," he says softly, and gently nudges Fady's foot. "You all right?"

Fady sits up and rubs his eyes. He's sore from sleeping on the wooden deck - the thin blanket didn't add much comfort - but realizes regardless he slept better than he has in weeks. Safety in numbers, right. "I'm fine."

Ryan nods. "Okay. Looks like we might have some trouble up ahead, so stay alert, yeah?" He gives the kid a half smile of encouragement and turns away. "Oh. Grab a snack while you can."

Antony turns his head when Clive and Sam join them on the top deck. He doesn't need to tell them the situation. He's sure they can hear it for themselves. "We're going to drop anchor in a few minutes. Wait for the fog to burn off."

The wind shifts, and fuck it's eerie to be able to hear the walkers from so far away. "There must be a lot of them," Clive murmurs. "Probably don't need to worry about people anymore."

"You'd hope not," Sam says, shaking his head, wishing they could have had at least a couple more hours of peace and quiet. "Can you imagine being stuck out here all this time with that." He gives a shudder.

Down in the galley, such as it is, Jess starts lining up ingredients for breakfast: instant coffee powder here, tinned peaches there. If they're heading into a fight, at least they'll have fuel.

"Hey," Eva says softly, not wanting to surprise her. She hitches a shoulder in the direction of the wharf. "You can hear them."

Jess nods, "Yeah," and busies her hands again. It's the best defense against reality she knows.

Eva watches her for a long moment, then nods. "Let me help you."

Surprised, it takes a moment before Jess hands over the can opener.

As the fog slowly burns off, they get a better look at what they're dealing with. The harbour is overrun with walkers, the piers teeming with them, although someone seems to have erected a few barriers towards the end of one pier. As far as ships go, they're spoiled for choice, as long as they can get to one and it's not carrying its own awful cargo. The guys and Keira all confer, pointing out the pros and cons of the different boats. "Whatever we choose," Antony says, "we're going to have to get there, clear it, sail it out here, anchor it beside this one and transfer our cargo on the water. I don't want to risk mooring the ferry." Not when they're outnumbered by the hundreds.

"I'm a strong swimmer," Ryan offers, "if we can get a little closer in to start. Once you choose a ship, I mean." He doesn't relish the idea, but he'll do it because they need him to.

Antony nods. "I don't like the idea of sending you alone," he says. Or putting Ryan in the water. So far from what they've seen the walkers just sink but still. "We could use one of the lifeboats though," he points out. "Have you and Sam check out whichever boat we choose, and then we'll break up a couple of the benches, use them as gangways."

"I'll get started on that," Clive says. He's not really a planner in the group, but brute strength he can handle.

Alex nods from where he is, off to the side on the edge. "I'll help you." It'll be good to feel useful again, to finally start to shake off his injury.

"Any opinion on the boats?" Antony asks everyone. He points towards what looks like a roughly 33-metre steel ketch which he suspects probably has five or six double cabins. "Day tripping that one would probably handle fifty to sixty people so it can definitely handle all our supplies but it'll have way more maneuverability than this thing, and if we time our trip right, it should only be a few hours across to Auskerry, a few more if the weather hates us."

Ryan nods, surveying the yacht in question. "Can we get a little closer?" he asks, measuring the distance with his eyes. And likewise noting how near the infested dock it is.

"A little," Antony says, doing what he said earlier, taking them in closer and reversing thrust as they near the yacht. "Anything closer and we'll want to use one of the lifeboats. I don't trust being able to get this thing turned around if we're too far into the harbour."

"No, definitely don't risk it," Ryan agrees.

Sam and Logan anchor the ferry, getting Ryan and Antony to help them lower one of the lifeboats into the water. Sam sticks a gun in his shoulder holster and makes sure he has his knife and a couple of grenades just in case.

"Wait wait wait!" Jess exclaims, emerging back onto the main deck just in time to catch them before they leave. "Eat. Both of you," she orders, shoving bowls of food at Sam and Ryan.

Ryan ducks his head on a smile and accepts the offering. It's been a while since he's felt mothered and liked it. "Yes, ma'am," he tells her, his eyes dancing.

"Thanks," Sam says, making quick work of the food, his stomach rumbling, grateful for the sustenance. He hands the empty bowl back with a smile, waiting for his lover.

"That's better," Jess mumbles, stepping back.

Ryan looks back over his shoulder at the dock, then at the yacht. Then back at the dock. "Hey, c'mere," he tells Sam. But he doesn't wait for compliance, just grabs his lover and drags him in for a deep kiss.

Sam groans into the kiss, wrapping his arms around Ryan and kissing him back just as passionately until someone - he doesn't know who - clears their throat and they both draw back, slightly sheepish but totally unrepentant. "Wish us luck," he says.

"Luck," Clive murmurs, because who could begrudge them that?

"Be careful," Alex adds with a glare just for Ryan.

Ryan throws him a mocking salute and clambers over the side into the lifeboat, nearly toppling himself in an instant. He gains his feet and checks his weapons, then shields his eyes against the early morning sunlight.

"It looks quiet enough," Sam says, joining him. He takes a seat and picks up the oars, starting to row them slowly over to the yacht, trying to keep an eye on everything at once - water, dock, boat - fuck, the walkers on the pier snarling even though he doesn't think they've actually noticed them yet.

They float closer and Ryan eyes the boat in suspicion, but Sam's right, it seems quiet. "If you can get us to where the deck is lowest, I'll climb up," he says softly, and slings his rifle back over his shoulder once more. It's going to be a tough climb, but without a ladder or someone aboard to help them, that's as good as it will get.

"Be careful and throw me down a rope as soon as you're up there," Sam says, rowing to where it'll be easiest for Ryan to scale the side of the boat.

Getting to his feet, Ryan takes a moment to find his balance. Then he leaps, gripping a porthole and seeking purchase for his toes. He hauls himself up like he's scaling a rock wall, the climb arduous and slow.

"Oh, my god," Jess whispers, watching him through the binoculars. He's going to fall, she's sure of it, so she hands the binoculars back to Logan and turns away. She doesn't want to watch.

Sam keeps the boat under Ryan the best he can, ready to grab his lover if he falls. At the same time, he tries to keep an eye out for anything around them, any change in the mood on the docks.

"He's good, it's okay," Logan says, taking the binoculars and watching Ryan make his way up the boat. "He knows what he's doing."

Launching himself over the side, Ryan hits the deck and crouches, immediately bringing the rifle to aim. There's no one else around, though, and he slowly gets to his feet. In a few minutes he tosses a rope over the side for Sam to anchor the lifeboat, then goes in search. A check of the bench cupboards turns up a safety ladder, and after securing it to the deck he unrolls it down the side for Sam.

Sam climbs up the side, ducking down as the walkers on the pier turn his way, Ryan covered from their view by a sign on the dock advertising pleasure cruises. "Not anymore," he mutters to himself, slowly peeping over the edge again and scrambling onto the deck when they look away. "Jesus Christ," he whispers to Ryan. "I know they can't get on the boat but I really don't want them bringing every other fucking walker down here."

"Yeah," Ryan sighs in agreement. He does risk a quick wave at their crew, though, just to reassure them that all is well. Then he ducks down too. He slips inside the galley, which proves to be attached to a lavish dining room that could easily seat twenty, and his eyes widen. "Sam," he whispers, barely making a sound. He points at the food wrappers and tins spread out on the wide table. It's recent trash by the looks of it, no dust collected.

"Fuck," Sam mutters again. "Cabin by cabin," he whispers. "Want me to take point?"

"All right." Ryan nods and pulls out his Glock. He really doesn't want to have to shoot a living person. But fuck only knows who they're about to meet. Putting his back to the wall, he steps out of Sam's way.

Sam pulls out his Beretta and screws a silencer on the end of it. Push comes to shove he doesn't care what kind of noise they make but with the crowd outside, if he can help it, they'll stay as quiet as possible. Both of them on either side of the first cabin doorway, he shoves it open, aiming his gun at the interior. Nothing. "Clear," he says softly, enough light coming from the porthole to verify that.

Ducking his head in, Ryan takes a quick glance around. It's a spacious cabin, luxurious to match the dining room, and it's clearly been ransacked. With a sigh he steps back and makes his way to the next door, moving to flank it.

Cabins two and three are similarly empty, Sam's nerves stretching tauter with each and every door. It doesn't feel like walkers and there's none of the usual noises to indicate it is, but he can feel there's someone still here, and that means there's probably some asshole waiting behind one of the next two doors to blow them away. He signals to Ryan, asking if he's ready, then shoves the fourth door open, his gun aimed inside. Fuck fuck fuck. He signals they're clear this time and points at the last door.

His jaw tight with tension, Ryan moves into position. They both know this could get really bad, really fast. He looks at Sam and finds that he's suddenly got a lot to say, and this is no time to say it all. Fuck. Taking a breath to steady himself, he brings his gun up, then nods at his lover.

Sam shoves the final door open, thisclose to squeezing the trigger when he sees the people inside. Adrenaline firing on fear and instinct. But the guy in front holds up his own gun, everyone raising their hands. Fuck.

"Please," the guy whispers, shaking, the gun held high in the air. "Please don't hurt my family."

"Jesus," Ryan breathes, consciously trying to turn down the dial on his own anxiety. "We're not here to hurt you," he tells the group, totting up the two young teenagers and the elderly man in the cabin bed in addition to the man and a woman who's obviously his wife. "Put your gun down, and we'll lower ours." Reassuring them is one thing, but trusting them is something else entirely.

The guy slowly puts the gun on the floor, pushing it towards them with his foot. He's obviously still freaking out, his hands shaking, his face pale and drawn, but he's not a fighter or he would have already taken them out.

"That's good," Sam says, using his own foot to bring the gun closer to him until he can safely crouch and pick it up. Tuck it into his waistband. "Is there just the five of you?"

The guy nods. "Please... please..." he says. "We'll do whatever you want. Just don't hurt us."

"We don't want to hurt you," Sam says. "We want your boat but you're welcome to come with us." Anything to keep them calm. "Have any of you been bitten, scratched? Is he sick?" he asks, nodding at the old man in the bed.

"We're all sick. We ran out of fresh water two days ago, but it's hitting Grandfather the hardest. I'm Malcolm, and this is my family," the man says, slowly lowering his shaking hands. "None of us have been bitten or scratched. We've been out here..." He tries to calculate, and ends up just shaking his head, "A while."

"Why do you want the boat?" the girl boldly asks, although her mother immediately tries to shush her.

"Because we're getting out of here, and the ferry we came on isn't meant for a crossing," Ryan answers. Finally he relaxes his posture, and glances aside at Sam. "We need to let them know we're okay," he murmurs.

Sam nods. "Go signal to them," he murmurs back. "I've got these guys." He nods at Malcolm. "We've got supplies, meds as well. There's women in our group too," he says, hoping that might help everyone relax a little. "Is the boat still functional? Do you know?"

"As far as we know," Malcolm says. "But none of us sail and we didn't know where to go. We were on holiday when it all started."

Ryan retreats down the hall then carefully emerges onto deck once more. He raises one hand for their crew, and gives a thumb's up for good measure in case anyone is watching through binoculars. Ducking back into the cockpit, he checks the fuel gauges. There's still petrol left in the tanks and so he weighs anchor, turning them away from shore.

They can feel the boat moving and Sam sees the panic in Malcolm's eyes and on the face of his family. "Seriously," he says quickly. "You'll be safe with us. We've got plans in place, an island to go to, you'll be far better off with us than here."

Lining up the yacht with the ferry is a very tricky business. Ryan takes it as slow as he can, all the better to not attract the attention of the walkers on shore.

"Oh my god, they did it," Jess breathes, watching from the ferry. She shakes herself from her reverie and gets back to work, unbolting the benches so they can break them up for planks.

"We need your help in cleaning up this place," Sam explains to the family, hoping they're not too far gone. He hands over the one bottle of water he has on him and a couple of protein bars. "We have supplies we need to move over here and we're going to need all the room we can get. Once they've got the planks in place, I'll help you across to the ferry, we'll get some food and water in you, and then we need you to work."

"I don't think Grandfather can move," Malcolm's wife says, dividing one of the protein bars between the two teens.

"Then he can stay here and you can bring him back something to eat and drink," Sam says, watching her try to feed the old man with little success. "Try the water first. The bars are pretty dry."

She takes his advice and switches tactics, easing the old man gently up and trying to dribble some water over his lips and down his throat. He blinks his staring eyes at her, which she takes for a good sign.

Ryan cuts the engine when he's still a ways away from the ferry, letting the momentum drift them closer. The hordes on shore don't seem any more stirred up than they were before -- which still isn't good enough, but at least it's something. And they're a good safe distance out.

"Okay, everyone out," Sam says, gesturing them out of the cabin. "Onto the deck. I'll have someone come over and keep an eye on him." Waving at their friends back on the ferry as they step out into the now bright sunlight. "We're going to have to tie the boats together," he tells Ryan as his lover joins him. "If we just go with the planks, they'll shift apart, even anchored."

Ryan nods agreement, then raises an eyebrow when Malcolm's wife darts back down the hall to the cabin. "I can't just leave him," she says in passing, and he shakes his head in rueful acceptance. He gathers up the extra coils of rope he's found and passes one to Sam, then sets to tying them securely on the cleats.

Across the divide, Clive holds out his arms. Catches the coil Ryan tosses, although he nearly stumbles with the effort. But soon the rope is tied off to the ferry as well, Alex preparing to do the same with Sam's rope.

It takes Sam two throws, the second reaching Alex. "Sorry," he mouths, shaking his head at himself. The two boats fairly stabilized, they set to working the planks across, Sam still not happy with how unsteady they are. "Do we have any more rope?" he asks Ryan, Antony now out on the opposite deck, talking to Logan and the others.

"Maybe on the ferry?" Ryan suggests, and eyes the father huddled together with his two children on the deck. Then he looks up at the zombies milling around on shore. Some of them seem to have noticed the activity on the water, and it's stirring them up a bit. As he watches, three break away from the herd and shamble right off the dock. "Shit."

"It's okay. We're too far away for them to get to us and it's too deep here anyway," Sam says, gesturing to Antony for more rope and mimicking them setting up a guide line alongside each plank.

"Looks like they found more strays," Clive murmurs, tying a coil of rope off tight and standing to shield his eyes against the sun.

"Oh, no. Shit," Jess mutters, blinking back a sudden flush of panicked tears. She swipes the back of her hand across her face, and nods. "They've got kids. Of course we have to..." Turning away, she hunts up a sack and starts filling it with bottles of water and granola bars. The bulk of it will follow.

Once they've got the planks set, the ropes tied off, Sam sends Malcolm and the kids across. "One of us should stay here," he says to Ryan. "Do you want to go over, let Antony know the situation?"

"Yeah, all right." Ryan nods, meeting his lover's eyes for an instant before striding off. He carefully makes his way across the length of the planks, testing the guide rope with as much weight as he dares -- figuring if anyone's going to fall, it might as well be him. Reaching the deck, he observes the small family for a moment, watching the way they interact with Jess. But he doesn't let himself hover. They've all been investing more of their trust in each other.

"Did they give you any trouble?" Antony asks, stepping up, everyone already at work bringing out their supplies.

"No. They're half-dead," Ryan answers softly with a shake of his head. "But they're not bitten. There are two more back on the yacht, one's too sick to move." He raises his head to meet Antony's eyes. "We can't leave them here. They'll die on their own." No more strays, they'd all agreed, after things got way too close with Clayton and Rebecca. Ryan hadn't thought to go back on those words so soon.

"You're sure they weren't bitten?" Antony asks. "Did you check them out or did they tell you?"

Ryan hesitates, then blows out a breath. "I didn't check them," he admits quietly. Stupid, stupid mistake. "I'll go do that now."

"Jess?" Antony calls, since she's already making nice with the dad and two kids. "Can you help Ryan?" Adding to Ryan under his breath. "Have her check the women. You stay in the room but turn your back. She can do the same with the guys."

Ryan lays his hand lightly on Jess's back, nudging her towards one of the cabins. "We need to check them," he says softly. Her eyes widen but she nods understanding.

"Malcolm, we can just-- oh honey, don't eat that so fast," the wife admonishes, watching her teen boy in dismay. "You'll make yourself sick.

"Josh always was a hungry one," Malcolm says wryly.

"Yeah, about that." Ryan pushes open a door and gestures the man down the narrow hallway. "We need to check to make sure you haven't been bitten or scratched."

"I told you we didn't--"

"I know." Ryan holds his hands up. "But we have to be sure. This is the price of our protection. And frankly, it isn't much."

Malcolm hesitates, then nods and gives a quick hug to each of his kids. "I'll go first."

Sam oversees cleaning out the cabins, even the one the old man's in, Malcolm's wife focused on her dad. There's a box of garbage bags and everything goes into those before being transported back across to the ferry. They could just dump it into the water but even now he hates the idea of polluting that way. With the boat in decent shape, everyone starts bringing the supplies across.

It takes some doing, and a lot of trips back and forth, to slowly transport the supplies between the two boats. The staterooms on the luxury yacht are huge for the craft, and Clive ruthlessly packs in their provisions and tools. Maybe once they get on their way there will be a chance to enjoy some of the yacht's finer comforts, he thinks, pausing for a minute to stretch his arms and look around. But for right now, it's all about work.

Jess and Ryan unload their backpacks on deck to be distributed, and he leads the way down to the last cabin. "How is he?" he asks Malcolm's wife, looking down at the old man.

She sniffles and raises a shoulder. "He can't eat. I keep trying to get something in him, but..." She collapses in tears.

Jess shoots Ryan a look and intervenes. "What's your name?"

"Lois," comes the watery reply.

"Lois," Jess echoes, and takes the woman's hand. "Ryan is a doctor. We'll do everything we can to help your father. Will you stay here with me while Ryan examines him?"

Everything moved over, Sam helps Antony do a last check of the ferry, the plan to leave it anchored right where it is. They cross back to the boat, cutting ropes and pulling in planks for future use. The fog's completely burnt off now and Sam's taking a good long look at the shore and the mess of milling snarling walkers when he thinks he sees a weird movement at the end of one of the docks. Fuck. "Do you have your binoculars?" he asks Antony.

Antony hands them over. "What do you see?"

"Maybe nothing," Sam says, wondering if his brain's just playing tricks on him but no, there it is again, a yellow scarf waved from behind a concrete barrier. He's just about to put it down to fabric blowing in the wind when a hand comes up and then a head, a person waving frantically at them. "Fuck," he says again, out loud this time. "There's someone over there."

"Lots of someones," Alex mutters, squinting into the distance. "Oh, shit. You mean living someones."

"They're not going to make it," Eva says, crossing her arms and glaring at the flash of yellow. "Is it even possible to help them now?"

"We can't not help them," Jess whispers, her stomach sinking.

"You said no more strays. We all said it," Eva snaps.

"We're all strays," Logan says quietly but firmly. Thinking about what would have happened to him if the group had taken that stance back then. "If you all are willing to wait, I'll take the row boat and see if I can get to them."

"Do you want me to come with you?" Alex asks, his hand automatically going to the Beretta on his hip.

Logan thinks about that for a second, aware Alex is still healing, but then he nods. "Yeah, I'd appreciate that. If you can keep the boat steady, cover me while I try to get to them."

Alex nods, and reaches out for Luke.

Jess swallows hard, watching them. She steps up and puts her arms around Logan. Whispers fiercely, "Come back to me."

"I will," Logan promises, staring into her eyes for a moment before giving her a quick kiss.

"You too," Luke says with a smile, pressing his lips to Alex's. "You stay in the boat and you come back to me."

Smiling a little, Alex nods again. "I love you," he whispers, the words for Luke alone. He squeezes his lover's hand and steps back, determined not to limp while he gets into the rowboat. Aware of everyone's eyes on him and Logan.

"We're going to have to check these guys too," Antony says to Ryan, watching Logan and Alex row over to the other pier. "Head to toe. We can't take any chances."

Ryan nods grimly. "Where's that sniper rifle? We can at least give them a little backup."

Antony grabs his rifle and hands over the one Logan was using earlier.

"I'll spot you guys," Sam offers, taking Antony's binoculars, scanning the horizon, the piers, for any unusual movement.

"A little more east," Alex says softly, watching the pier closely while Logan rows. "There's a break in the pilings there. If they've seen it, they might be able to climb down to the water's edge." Even the air feels tense, the unholy groaning increasing in volume as they get closer.

A couple more walkers fall into the water ahead of them and Logan watches closely, following Alex's direction, waiting to see if they become a threat of any sort. Thankfully they sink, slowly, but they sink and a shudder runs through his frame as they pass the spot where they entered the water.

Slowly Alex raises his hand, making eye contact with one of the human stragglers hiding behind the rocks. He points towards the break in the pilings, signalling them to climb down.

Nodding her understanding, Gemma holds out a hand to Helen, cautiously helping the older woman down the slope, Christine following. They stay low to the ground and move slowly, each step deliberately placed.

Logan rows closer, against the current, working hard to keep them in place. "Ask them if they've been bitten or scratched before you let them on. Tell them they'll be shot if they're not honest with us."

Alex frowns but doesn't argue. Fuck, he hates this world. "Are you bit?" he asks the women once they're in hearing. Leveling his pistol at them.

"Jesus! No, we're not," Gemma replies, holding up her hands automatically. Then stepping back to make sure Helen's got solid footing.

"Have you been scratched? Tell me the truth. Are you sick in any way?" Alex glances sharply to the side; a pair of walkers is getting closer, looming over the tall stones. One manages to scramble up to the top, only to slip and thud down to the water's edge with a splash. Switching his gun to his left hand, Alex reaches over and unceremoniously stabs the thing between its eyes. "Don't waste our fucking time. I will shoot you if you lie."

"We're not lying!" Gemma hisses back, her face chalk white. "Just please, take us with you!"

"Get in," Logan whispers fiercely. "Hurry up. There's more of them coming," a whole group working their way to them now. He stabs an oar into the sand and rock and reaches forward, offering his forearm for one of them to grab onto.

Gemma walks Helen down the steep path and helps her take hold of the man's arm. Once Helen is safely in the boat, Gemma waves Christine in.

"Hurry," Alex urges, watching up slope as the traffic increases. Two walkers spill over the edge and tumble down, one catching up on outcropping, but the other landing just feet from the boat.

It grabs Gemma's ankle and she screams. She kicks out and goes down hard, slipping half into the chilly water.

"Motherfucker," Alex growls, reaching out to grab the woman and trying to shut his ears to the sound of the other women's screams. Between him and Logan they're able to drag her, wet and kicking, into the rowboat. But the walker still has hold of her and it damn near capsizes them, rotting teeth gnashing the air. Alex shoves the young woman out of the way, takes aim, and blows its head apart, then kicks at it with his bad leg until it splashes overboard. "Go, go, go," he grates out, gritting his teeth against the pain, wary of the other dead beginning to clamber over the edge of the rocks in search of them.

Logan rows like he's never rowed before, shoulders, arms and chest aching, burning, his lungs struggling to fill as he drives the oars through the water again and again until they're safe, far enough from shore the walkers can't reach them. "Jesus Christ," he whispers, letting momentum carry them towards the sailboat. "That was close."

"Christ," Alex mutters, shutting his eyes in relief for a second. "Much too close." He eyes the women. "How long were you there?"

Gemma swallows hard. "Three days. We got down to the docks but then couldn't get out, and then we couldn't get back to where we'd come from, either."

"How long were you on the island?" Logan asks. "Or are you from here?" Starting to gently row again, his heart rate calming a little with each passing minute.

"Helen and I got here about three weeks ago," Gemma says, her voice soft. "Christine and Brian--" she breaks off and glances at Christine, who stares steadfastly out to sea. "Well, they got in about a week ago. Where are you all coming from?"

"John O' Groats," Logan supplies before Alex can answer. "Before that, we were from a bunch of places. How did you get here?" he asks, curious how they all ended up on the island. Although that might explain why only the ferry had been left.

"Helen and I came in on the ferry; we caught one of the last trains from Inverness. Christine came from Aberdeen, over the water. We're just trying to find some place they're not," Gemma explains, her voice quavering a little.

"How did you last so long here?" Alex asks. He has yet to holster his gun. The memory of Luke helping clean up a blood-drenched Logan is too fresh.

"We haven't eaten in days," Helen says, drawing herself up with chilly dignity. "We were hunkered down, hoping we could escape their attention until they wandered off. But then we saw you."

"It's funny that so many of them are here," Logan comments, more to himself than anyone else. Curious as always. "Everywhere else they're headed south."

"Yeah." It's all Alex has to say on the subject, aside from his deep frown. The fucking things are everywhere. He quirks a brow at the women, focusing on Gemma. "You weren't worried about getting picked up by strange men?"

Gemma stiffens. "Of course we're worried. We'd have to be fools not to be. But we're not fucking helpless," she adds, her tone edged.

Alex's lips curve in a faint memory of a smile. "You've got nothing to fear from us. Or our group. So long as you've told us the truth."

"Are you armed?" Logan interjects. "Guns, knives, anything?" The 'not fucking helpless' comment concerning him. Things are volatile enough. Especially while they figure out where these new additions fit in.

Gemma swallows hard. "We have knives. And we know how to defend ourselves." She shrugs as-if casually, but the brittleness in her eyes gives her away. "You looked like the lesser of two evils."

"We are," Alex tells her, glancing back over his shoulder at the docks, then finally clearing the bullet from the chamber of his gun.

When they reach the boat, Logan sends the women up the ladder first - Gemma and then Helen with Christine and Alex helping her. He nods for Alex to go up and then follows himself, tying the rowboat to a cleat at the top for the moment.

The crowd gathered on the deck, watching them all climb up, is intimidating to say the least. But relief floods Gemma in an instant, leaving her weak. "You have women," she whispers to no one in particular, holding tightly to Helen's hand.

Ryan frowns in worry as they clamber onto deck, his grip tight on his rifle. "I'm a doctor," he tells the new arrivals. "I need to check you over. But Jess and Keira will be with you the whole time, you've got nothing to fear from us."

Keira points them towards the interior of the boat, directing them to one of the cabins. "We had a really awful experience with a couple we picked up a few days ago. One of them had been scratched or something and we didn't find out until it was almost too late. Now we check everyone."

The three women stare at her as they huddle in the cabin. "So, what? You want us to just...?" Christine is aghast.

Jess nods, her jaw tight. "Yes." She too vividly remembers Logan drenched in blood. "Just long enough for Ryan to look you over, and we'll stay with you the whole time. He won't hurt you, and he won't take advantage of you." It's more assurance than she got.

Gemma swallows hard, and lifts her hands to the hem of her shirt. Hesitates.

"If it helps, he's fucking one of the other guys."

Quirking a brow, Gemma eyes her incredulously. Then matter-of-factly strips down to her skin, leaving on only her boots.

Feeling cornered, Ryan does a perfunctory circle around her, striving not to notice her breasts or... or anything else. He gives her a shaky nod of affirmation, and she pulls her clothes back on.

But Helen stands firm, lifting her chin. "You can't be serious."

"We are," Keira says. "You get checked or you get off the boat," she adds bluntly, softening a little when she compromises with, "If you want, you can go last and only one of us will stay in with you and Ryan, but you're getting checked. It's for everyone's safety."

"It makes sense," Christine murmurs. She reluctantly gives in, pulling off items of clothing. They've all been dressing in layers against the brisk chill, Autumn closing in fast.

Ryan repeats the inspection routine, and Jess takes the two younger women back up on deck.

"You could be my grandson," Helen says crisply.

Ryan nods. "If it helps, I'll be sure to think of you that way once we're done here. Also, I really am a doctor."

"This way," Jess directs, leading Gemma and Christine into the galley. During the rescue she'd been too terrified to do anything but watch and pray, so now she gets back to evaluating the space and packing supplies away. "Here," she says, coming up with granola bars and bottles of water for the two women.

Having talked to Antony, Logan goes looking for Jess and finds her with two of the women they'd rescued. He nods at everyone. "Antony wants us all to have a meeting. Explain to our new members what we're doing and getting everyone onboard with plans. Hopefully we'll still be able to leave today but we might have to stay overnight and leave in the morning. We're pretty sheltered here and the wind's picking up."

Reaching out, Jess grabs his hand. And his words float past her like so much remembered music, until she shakes her head, then nods. "Okay." She turns to Helen. "We have a plan to get out of here. Come with us?"

Christine blinks back tears, and nods, taking Gemma's hand and squeezing it.

Gathering everyone together except the old man, Antony lays out their plan. He's very clear that life on Auskerry will be isolated and austere with awful weather for a good part of the year and back-breaking labour required to get a real life going there. The only real plus? That that life and getting there will be free of walkers. And of predatory humans. "We're right on the edge of winter weather," he points out. "When we get there, we're going to be stuck there until next spring. There won't be any coming back until then. So if you don't want to come with us, you can be transferred to the ferry and you can make your way back to the mainland or wherever you want to go, but if you come with us, you're committed to our plan and to following my orders." He takes a good long look at the group assembled. "Any questions?"

Ryan has heard a few variations on this theme by now, and he thinks Antony's getting better at it every time. Concise, informative. No bullshit. He cocks a brow at Gemma and Christine, figuring Helen is likely to follow them whichever path they choose.

Gemma takes a deep breath and glances at her companions. "You're talking about a future without them? Away from walkers and psychopaths?" she asks, looking Antony dead in the eye.

"We'll have to keep vigilant about anyone among us who gets hurt or sick, and we'll have to trust that everyone in our group is as we think they are, but yeah," Antony nods. "No walkers. No psychopaths."

Gemma meet's Christine's eyes, then Helen's. Then she nods. "Yes. So long as none of you are..." She swallows hard and nods again.

"We're not," Jess says softly, mentally filling in the blink with a dozen treacherous options. They're not, whatever Gemma fears.

Ryan raises an eyebrow at Malcolm's family, and the father nods. "Yes. We agree as well."

"Good." Antony nods. He checks his watch, takes a good look at the sky and tests the wind. If they stay here another night, the weather could change completely on them. "I know you were on this boat, but was it yours? Do you have any actual sailing experience?" he asks Malcolm.

"No," the man answers with a shake of his head, "or we would have gotten out of here already."

Alex wants to pipe up and ask what the man and his wife can contribute, but he caught the way Antony looked at the sky. And he can feel it, too -- the cooler breeze heading in from the west. He won't waste their time right now.

"Okay." Antony thinks for a moment. "I want anyone who's got sailing experience on deck. Everyone else, inside, unless you need to be out here for an actual reason. Jess, Keira, can you figure out sleeping arrangements? I hope we'll be there before nightfall but we might still need to anchor offshore tonight and land in the morning."

Jess nods and looks over Malcolm's two teenagers. "Do you want to stay with your family?" she asks, and the two young people nod in answer. "I think we'll leave your grandfather where he is. Don't want to bother him with uprooting if he's so sick," she decides, and anyway, it's the logical choice. "Come to the galley now and help me unpack the supplies," she suggests. "You can pick what you want for supper."

The girl steps forward. "You mean we have a choice?"

Jess glances back, her smile quirking for an instant. "Yeah. It's not a restaurant, but you've still got some choice. Choose for your family, too."

Keira sorts everyone else too, distributing sleeping bags to those who aren't getting actual bunks, taking into account they'll have to sleep in shifts anyway.

"Are you sure we shouldn't scuttle the ferry? Or some of the other boats?" Logan asks Antony as they get ready to leave. "What if someone tries to come after us?"

Antony stops what he's doing and takes a good long look at the port. "I don't think there's anyone left to come after us and even if someone tries to come to Auskerry, they're going to have to deal with the same shit we are and we'll have plenty of notice. Getting rid of the boats now'll just delay us and I don't want to take the chance we miss our window." Logan nods. Antony's reasoning makes sense to him and he busies himself doing what's needed to get them on their way.

Back on deck, Ryan digs through the bundles of supplies until he finds the stash of medications he's looking for. He's not looking forward to this next bit, but it's inevitable and he figures he might as well get it over with. Pacing down the hall, he knocks on the door that Malcolm's family has laid claim to.

Lois's been struggling to get her dad to take anything. A few drops of water but otherwise he's refused all food, any of the juice or soup they were given. The knock startles her and she shifts on the edge of the bed. "Yes?"

"Hey. It's just me," Ryan says, entering the room and shutting the door behind him once more. He crouches down next to the bed and lays his hand across the old man's forehead with a frown. "Is he getting worse than he was?"

"Not worse but not any better either," Lois says, watching Ryan, eyes flickering between the man and her dad. "He's only taken a few drops of water and I can't get him to take any other liquids or food."

"Was he sick with anything before you got trapped on this boat?" Ryan asks, listening to the cadence of the old man's breathing. "Any information you can give me will be helpful. Let's sit him up a bit," he adds, enlisting her help to adjust the pillows so that the man isn't fully reclining. Ryan doesn't like the look of the situation, but he's hoping for an out, some glimmer of hope before he has to inform a woman that her father is essentially dead weight.

Lois shakes her head. "He has type 2 diabetes but he wasn't on insulin or any medication for it and he had some blood pressure issues but I can't imagine the way we've been eating and the weight he's lost hasn't put paid to that." She bites at her lip for a moment, brushing a strand of hair back from her dad's forehead. "He really started going downhill in the last two weeks. He was handing over most of his food to the kids, even when I told him not to."

Ryan nods, frowning. "You're right, we need to get some food in him," he says quietly, unable to tell whether the man can hear them or not. "I'll see what we've got for fresh soup. While that's cooking, try to get him to swallow some water, or any of the juice, okay? Just keep doing what you've been doing. What's his name?"

"Burt," Lois says quietly. "What if he won't eat?" she asks.

Ryan's mouth tightens. He looks into the woman's eyes, searching them for understanding. "He needs to eat," he says softly, and lays a hand briefly on her shoulder before he turns away.

Everything -- and everyone -- in its place, the day growing darker by the minute, they finally pull anchor. The wind picking up actually works in their favour and they quickly gain speed, Luke helping Antony monitor the various instruments. It's hard to believe they're finally on their way, finally on the last leg of their journey, this close to gaining a measure of freedom and safety they've been missing for months. "I can't believe we're so close," he says to Antony, unable to help voicing his thoughts.

"I know," Antony nods. "I just hope it's going to be enough. People will forget really quickly how awful things were on the mainland."

"You really think so?" Jess asks, overhearing the last as she steps into the cockpit. She hands Antony a mug of tea. "I'll be happy just if the nightmares ever stop."

"Thanks." Antony flashes Jess a small smile. "And yeah, I do. If we can get everyone on the same page, agree on rules for the community, we might be able to minimize it, but the moment the real threat is gone, we'll go back to complaining about each other."

She frowns slightly and steps to the window, staring out at the choppy sea for a moment. "I'll get out of your way," she says quietly, and disappears back below decks.

Antony watches her go, kicking himself for saying anything. Just because he believes in telling the truth doesn't mean everyone wants to hear it. "I'm an ass," he says to Luke, shaking his head.

"No, you're not," Luke says with a laugh. "But you might need to censor some of what you're telling us. Most of us aren't soldiers. We're happy to have you sugarcoat things."

"Sugarcoat... what?" Clive asks, peeking around the doorframe. "I was just coming up to check if you need anything, but...?"

"Jess overheard Antony saying we'd all forget how hard things were on the mainland once we're on Auskerry and go back to being assholes to each other," Luke supplies helpfully.

"That's not quite what I said," Antony protests.

"Close enough," Luke says with a grin. "She asked him if he really believed that and he said yes. I said he should've lied."

"Ah." Clive thinks it over a moment, then shrugs. "I wouldn't worry about it. Jess is... well, she's made of stronger stuff. So you're good up here? We're on track?"

"We are," Antony nods. "Although those clouds have me worried," he adds, gesturing in their direction.

Clive raises an eyebrow. "Worried, like, I should double-check that everything's tied down below? Or worried, like, we need to start deciding who to toss overboard to appease the gods? Because if it's the latter, I vote for Alex," he says, and shoots Luke a sly grin.

Luke laughs. "I'm telling him you said that," he threatens but it's clear he's kidding.

Antony smiles. "The first one but I'm also wondering if we should anchor off of Shapinsay and make the rest of the journey tomorrow."

"If you're not sure we can make it in the storm, then we should definitely stop wherever," Clive says, growing serious once more. "But how crowded do you think it will be there?"

"Shapinsay?" Antony clarifies. "There were only about 300 people to start with and I'd expect a lot fled south while they could. I wasn't planning on making land though. I thought we'd just anchor offshore. Close enough to protect us from the wind and storm but far enough to avoid dealing with the locals." The dead locals.

Clive nods. "Sounds good to me."

"Can you let everyone know?" Antony asks. "I don't want people wondering why we're stopping and I'd prefer anyone who doesn't know what they're doing stays inside."

"Yeah, I'm on it," Clive agrees, ducking back outside.

Down below in the galley, Jess is busy trying to cobble together dinner. "Ow," she exclaims, and frowns down at the can opener. "Damn it." She raises her cut finger to her lips and glares at the stubborn tin.

Eva's eyes widen at the sight of the blood, and she abruptly drops her knife and heads up to the deck. Again, god help her.

"Everything okay?" Keira asks, having witnessed Eva's rush to the surface.

"Yeah." Jess stops sucking on her finger and looks around for a clean cloth. "I think the sight of blood makes her queasy. I mean, everything makes her queasy, but you know what I mean." She waves a hand at the table. "We've got a decent amount of beans and tinned tomatoes. I think it should stretch to feed everyone tonight."

Keira's eyes widen. "That's not all of it though, is it?" Suddenly freaked that they've added all these extra people to stores that are supposed to last them months until they get things going on Auskerry.

"No, there's more," Jess answers, automatically trying to soothe. "This is just for tonight. Here," she says, looking at Keira closely. "Let me just--" she lays her hands on Keira's shoulders and rubs, seeking out knots of tension. "It's okay. We're okay."

"No, we're not, we're idiots," Keira says. "Some of these people are useless. It's a wonder they've even survived at all and now we're going to feed and fucking babysit them."

"Everyone can work. Well, mostly everyone," Jess murmurs, thinking of the ancient man in the cabin below. "And we're preserving our humanity by bringing them," she says, continuing the massage. "And we can risk that now, right? We're almost safe."

Keira blows out a breath. "You're right," she says, relaxing a little as Jess keeps working her shoulders. "I just - maybe it's because we're so close. I'm more scared right now than I think I've been the whole time."

"It feels like a huge hand might burst out of the sky and snatch everything away," Jess says quietly, with an inkling of what Keira means. "But Antony will get us there. Together, I mean-- we'll all get us there."

Keira nods. "He will. He always does," she agrees. He's never let them down. She smiles at Jess. "How are you and Logan doing?" Wanting to change the subject.

"Good." Jess ducks her head on a smile. "He feels... safe. To me, I mean. He's strong and I think he could be scary but he makes me feel protected," she answers, trying to explain.

Keira's smile widens. "I'm so happy for you. He seems like a great guy."

"We're not engaged or anything," Jess mumbles, blushing. Although the idea of an engagement is probably an absurd anachronism now anyway. She smiles at Keira, turning it back on her. "And how are things with Clive?"

"Great," Keira says but her smile's not as bright as it was. "I think he feels like he's competing with a ghost sometimes but being with Cal seems like a whole other lifetime. Or an alternate universe."

"Definitely an alternate universe. A whole different reality," Jess says, giving the thickening soup a stir. "One with normal nightmares." She glances over her shoulder. "Hey, Ryan."

"Hey." He gives her a quick smile that fades instantly. "Oh good, you're cooking. I thought I smelled something good." Stepping closer, he drops his voice. "Know any herbs to give a diabetic?"

"Diabetic? Jesus," Jess murmurs. Then shrugs. "You're the doctor. I'd just try to feed him more vegetables. You do mean the old guy, right?"

"Yeah. He's not in good shape." Ryan frowns at Keira, bringing her into the conversation. "Any ideas?"

"Is he type one or two?" Keira asks, eyes wide at the news.

"Type two, or I don't think he would've even made it this long," Ryan says quietly. Jess simply shakes her head at the news and begins dishing up soup into gilt-edged bowls she found in the cupboard.

"If he wasn't on insulin then you probably just need to get him eating again," Keira suggests. "Small equal meals."

"Here, I tried to strain this one to mostly broth, if you want to bring it to him," Jess offers, holding out a bowl.

"Let me grab one for Lois while I'm at it," Ryan says, and leaves the galley with full hands.

"Keira, hey," Clive says, on Ryan's heels. "I was looking for you. Got a minute?"

"Sure," Keira touches Jess's shoulder and mouths a 'thanks' at her before going to Clive.

He leads her out into the dining room, unoccupied at the moment, and brushes her hair back from her face. Opening his mouth as if to speak, Clive shakes his head and pulls her into his arms, covering her mouth with his.

Keira melts into the kiss, clutching at Clive's shoulders. His broad and steady shoulders. "What was that for?" she teases when they finally part.

"I missed you," he says gruffly. "It's been a hell of a day." He wraps his arms around her and buries his face in the hollow of her throat, breathing her in. Steadying himself thereby.

"I missed you too," Keira says, wrapping her arms around Clive in return. "I was just having a nervous breakdown on poor Jess."

"Jess can take it," Clive murmurs, and kisses her again. "But now that I'm here," he sits down on a cushioned bench and pulls her into his lap. "There. Break down on me."

Keira blows out a breath. "I just seem to be losing my cool the closer we get to the island," she explains softly, feeling kind of stupid, her arms wrapped tight around Clive's shoulders still. "Now that it's within reach, I'm so scared it's going to be taken away from us. That if I let my guard down for even a minute..."

"We're all scared, love. It's not just you," he says, brushing a piece of hair back from her cheek and tucking it behind her ear. "We've all worked hard to get to this point, you and Sam and Antony most of all. We're risking a lot, but then..." he shrugs lightly. "Our survival is worth all the risks. And it's not all on your shoulders. We're partners, the group of us."

Keira nods. "What if we don't have enough food?" she asks quietly. "We've just taken on nine extra mouths in a matter of days."

Pursing his lips, Clive nods. "I think that's on everyone's mind," he says just as quietly. "We need to ration, surely. It's going to be a hard winter. But..." he sighs. "Would you have been all right with leaving them behind?"

"Yes," Keira says with a straight face but then she smiles. "No, of course not. I just hope they prove to be useful. We need people but we don't need dead weight."

"Yeah." Clive sighs. "Maybe we'll discover they've got hidden talents. What's-his-name used to work as a butcher, and his kids can tell the future. Eva's baby will be the messiah and have perfect pitch." He combs his fingers through her hair again, just for the pleasure of it.

Keira gives a soft laugh and lays her head on his shoulder. "I love you," she says quietly.

He blinks, wondering at first if he's heard wrong. Pulling back so he can see her eyes. "I won't ask you if you mean that," he murmurs. To do so would be an insult, despite his doubts. Taking her chin in his hand, he gently presses his lips to hers.

Keira kisses Clive back. Wondering if she made a mistake in saying it. If it's too soon despite everything. And maybe, just maybe, Clive doesn't feel the same way.

It's too easy to get lost in Keira's mouth, in the welcoming press of her body. Clive moans softly and threads his fingers in her hair, deepening the kiss. Pulling her thighs tighter around him.

Logan comes through, blinking hard at the sight in front of him. "Um. Sorry to interrupt. Clive, you're needed up top," he says. "We're dropping anchor for the night."

Clive glares at him, then gives in with a roll of his eyes. "Right," he whispers, studying his lover. "I'm not done with you. Remember that," he adds, lifting her out of his lap.

"Okay," Keira nods, uncharacteristically quiet.

Clive gets to his feet with a grimace, and pauses for a necessary adjustment before attempting to walk out. Time with Keira is at a premium, and he hates to lose any.

Looking green, Eva sits down on one of the padded benches, her hands wrapped around a mug of steaming tea. "Are we there yet?"

Keira shakes her head. "We're stopping for the night. Anchoring off-shore. Antony doesn't want to risk the storm."

"Oh god, it's going to storm," Eva groans, dropping her head between her hands.

"Yeah, a big one. Take these," Alex says, ducking into the room with an armful of guns and shoving them at Keira. "I've got to get back out there before it hits."

"You should go lie down," Keira suggests, opening up the storage under the other benches, which are already full. Fuck. She sets the guns down in one corner, leaning against the wall. "I can bring you some food once we're settled."

Eva opens her mouth to protest. But then she shuts it again and slinks off, miserable.

* * *

Sure enough, the moment they anchor the rain starts to pour, the wind whipping it wildly against the boat and the crew still on deck trying to move as much as they can inside and tie down the rest. "Godfuckingdamnit," Antony growls, tightening the ropes on the tarps over some of the supplies they didn't have the time or room to move inside.

Alex joins him, hunkering down and pulling the ropes taut. "Got to get inside," he says, loud enough to be heard over the howling wind. "We're all going to get soaked and freeze."

"Go ahead," Antony says, gesturing for Alex to go ahead. "Get everyone else inside too. I'll make sure we're locked down tight."

But Alex stands firm. God knows Antony takes care of all the rest of them. "I'll wait for you," he says, pulling down a flapping tarp edge.

Antony looks at Alex, starting to insist before he nods, actually thankful for the offer, the company. "Get inside," he yells at everyone else. "We've got this." Tying down tarps as he goes.

Rain slicks the deck and Alex picks his way carefully through their stacks of supplies, securing them so that they won't shift with the waves or wind. He's focused on getting it done right but fast, the storm blowing in even quicker than he'd anticipated from the clouds. "Son of a bitch," he mutters when a cord gets away from him, whipping in the gale wind. Reaching over the boxes he manages to grab it back and tie it down securely. "Let's go!" he yells, hoping Antony is ready to get inside and get dry.

"Last one," Antony yells back, doubling up on the ropes around some particularly heavy boxes. But then they're slipping inside, sopping wet, shivering in the warmth of the interior, a warmth made and sustained by the body heat of more people than would usually be on this vessel. "Fuck."

"Eat something," Jess orders, pushing steaming bowls of soup into their hands. "Then get into dry clothes. Ryan's got enough patients already."

"Thanks," Antony grits out, fighting the sheer cold seeping into his bones as he makes quick work of his soup. "I don't even know where my things are." He'd been too busy taking care of everything - and everyone - else to worry about his own shit.

"Well, surely it's here somewhere. Probably in one of the staterooms," Jess guesses, narrowing her eyes in worry. "I'll help you look if you want."

"If you can't find it, you can borrow my clothes," Clive says, even though they've really only got one change each, and he's got at least 4 inches on Antony. What's important is that he and Alex get warm and dry again. "Are we anchored securely? Not going anywhere for a few hours?"

"Thanks," Antony says to both Jess and Clive. "We're not going anywhere until morning. This won't pass quickly and it'll be too dark to risk the crossing by the time it does." He sets his empty bowl with the others and quickly dries off with a towel Logan hands him. "It's a black pack with a Kiwi flag patch on it," he tells Jess, ready to get out of his still wet clothes.

Kiwi flag? Jess is pretty sure she knows which pack he's talking about. "I'm on it," she tells him with a nod, and disappears down the hall.

Alex finishes his soup with a slurp, setting the bowl aside. He pulls off his dripping sweatshirt and shivers, looking for a place to dump his wet things. The shower stall might be best for now.

Antony follows Jess, his clothes dry enough that he's not going to track water everywhere.

"Here," Luke says, coming in from the other room. "I'll take them," he offers, having already scrounged up a change of clothes for Alex which he hands over now along with another clean dry towel.

"Thanks," Alex whispers, and gives Luke a quick kiss to hide how much the simple action discomfits him, even as it warms the chills away. He's not used to having someone take care of him, and it feels really good. He strips out of the rest of his clothing on the spot and scrubs the towel over his body until his skin is pink.

Sam sticks his head around the corner and whistles. "Show time," he grins.

With a snort of laughter, Alex spreads his arms wide. "First time is free," he tells Sam. "Next time, I'll charge you."

"Yeah yeah, you don't need to see that," Ryan mutters, stepping up behind Sam and covering his eyes with his hands. "He'll ruin you for mortal men."

"Says my boyfriend who's built like a god," Sam says, laughing and leaning back against Ryan.

A bashful grin curves Ryan's lips. He's not sure Sam's ever referred to him as his boyfriend before the others before, and he realizes he likes the sound of it.

Shaking his head, Alex pulls on the dry clothes Luke brought him. He wraps his arms around his lover and holds him tight, explaining, "I'm shivering. I need the body heat."

"I'll make you warm," Luke promises, snuggling in close.

Jess and Antony make their way through the first two cabins, digging through the piles of people's bags and belongings. "I know I had it on the other boat," he says, gritting his teeth to keep from shivering. Fuck.

Stopping in place, Jess pulls off her hoodie and thrusts it at Antony. "I'm sorry," she says, crossing her bare arms across her tank. "I should've thought of it sooner. We'll find your stuff, promise."

Antony shakes his head. "Thanks but you need the warmth too," he says, handing the hoodie back, his gaze going to her bare shoulders... and lower. He quickly glances away. Fuck. "Next cabin. If it's not there, I'll borrow from the guys until we can find it."

"Are you sure?" she asks, automatically taking the hoodie back when he shoves it at her, although she doesn't understand why he's refusing it. She sighs. "Okay. Black pack, Kiwi flag. You take that door and I'll take this one." She enters the stateroom to find a jumble of packs and supplies, and it doesn't take long to locate the right one. "Antony! Clothes!" she calls over her shoulder, lugging the pack out of the pile. It seems like it weighs a ton, and she wonders that he carries it with so little effort.

"Thank god," Antony murmurs. "Thank you," he says, taking the pack from her. He pulls out clean (well, relatively) jeans, underwear, socks and a black sweater and starts stripping down, wet shirt pulled over his head and dropped on the floor.

Holy shit. Jess's eyes widen at the sight of his bare chest. She's not sure she's ever seen that much muscle definition in real life, and she swiftly turns her back to give him some privacy. "I'll just-- Oh my god," she mutters when Antony's wet jeans hit the floor with a splat, and she does not look, just gathers up the wet clothes into a plastic sack.

"Thanks," Antony says again, shivering harder as he gets into the clean clothes, his body taking a moment, a long moment, to make the adjustment. He curses under his breath, pulling on socks and digging through his pack for a pair of runners to wear while his boots dry out. "How's the old man?" he asks her.

It takes her a second to snap her brain back into gear. "Sick," she says quietly, wary of being overheard. "Ryan's not happy."

"We can't risk him turning," Antony says just as softly.

"Yeah." She chews on her bottom lip, worry in her eyes edged with fear. "You should talk to Ryan. See if he's got some kind of grip on the guy's daughter at all. If he thinks she'll be trouble." Her gaze skates over him. "I guess it'll ultimately depend on how much they saw, before they got stranded out here. Whether their expectations are realistic."

Antony nods. "Where is he? With the old man?"

"I think so. I think he's trying to figure out how to feed him." Lightning crashes overhead and the boat quakes violently. As they do so often, Jess immediately looks to Antony for reassurance.

"We're anchored and sheltered," Antony says quickly, recognizing that look. "It'll be a really rocky night but we'll come through it."

"Okay." She reflects, as she has before, that the lot of them probably put too much on Antony's shoulders, and she opens her mouth to say something else... Then shakes her head with a little smile, hoisting the wet clothes and heading back for the galley.

Antony watches Jess go, wishing for a moment that he hadn't been so gallant when they first met and had spoken up before Logan arrived on the scene. Still, he thinks the two of them are better suited to each other than he ever would be and he's already got so much responsibility for the whole group, without favouring any of them. Christ. He rubs a hand over the back of his neck, hair still damp, aching to sit down and rest, but first... Ryan and the old man.

He makes his way to the last cabin and knocks softly, sticking his head in the door a second later. "How's it going?" Ryan and the old man's daughter hovering over the bed.

Ryan glances up to meet Antony's eyes, his jaw tight. His patient lies in a glazed silence. "Lois, we need to talk about what happens next," Ryan murmurs, trying to catch the woman's attention, but she's so wrapped up in worry that he suspects she might not even be hearing him. "It's time to think about your children."

"What about them?" Lois asks, her head coming up.

"We need to protect them," Ryan says gently, and nods towards the hallway. "Will you come out and speak with me?" Mindful as ever that his seeming-unconscious patient might not yet be past hearing their conversation. And he has too much compassion to flatly state the man's death as a sure thing in front of him.

"Sam?" Antony calls out as he spies the other man by the first cabin. "Can you come watch Lois's dad while we talk?"

"Yeah, sure," Sam says, moving down the hall to where they are. "Anything you want me to do?"

"Just keep him company," Antony says, well aware of Lois right behind him. "He shouldn't be left alone," he adds, giving Sam a pointed look and hoping he'll pick up on it.

Shit. "No problem. I can do that," Sam nods, brushing his hand against Ryan's as he moves into the cabin and closes the door behind him.

Ryan's fingers flex, his hand jerking back to grab for Sam's before he forces it to his side.

"Lois," he begins, searching the woman's watery blue eyes, "your father's very ill, as you know." He takes a breath and steels his courage -- this was always the hardest part of his job. "He's too weak. I don't think he'll last the night."

Lois stares at them. "What are you saying?" Because she's certainly not going to give voice to the words, to the thought, to what she thinks they're suggesting.

Ryan takes a breath. "I'm saying he's going to pass on soon. Probably within the next few hours," he explains, listening to the man's labored breathing through the thin door.

"And we can't risk him turning," Antony interjects. "You and your family need to say your good-byes and then I'll sit with him until he passes."

Christ. Ryan blanches at the harsh truth of Antony's words, even as he's grateful that he himself didn't have to say it out loud.

Lois's eyes instantly well up with tears. "No. We've come too far to lose him now. He's survived too much to die like this."

"You can't keep him alive," Ryan says, gently laying a hand on her shoulder. "It's his time. But there's still a chance for you all to tell him you love him."

"No," Lois insists, covering her eyes.

"We're not going to kill him," Antony says, reaching out to touch her shoulder. "And we'll keep trying to feed him, but you and your family can't be in here with him. We have to minimize the risk. Someone needs to be here when he passes. Someone who won't hesitate to give him mercy before he turns."

"Mercy?" she echoes in disbelief, searching Antony's face.

"You don't want him to end up like them," Ryan says. "You know you don't."

"And he'll already be gone," Antony promises. "He won't suffer. I'll make sure of it."

In the face of such stalwart yet sympathetic opposition, Lois tears up again, until Ryan worries that she might yet derail the whole plan. But he's wrong. "Okay. Okay," she says finally, patting Antony's hand. "But let the kids come in first. Let us say goodbye."

"Of course," Ryan says soothingly, like it was all her idea in the first place. "And I'll do whatever I can to make him comfortable." Which won't be much, but it seems to comfort her a touch.

Sam switches places with Antony, watching as Lois shepherds her family into the cabin for their final good-byes. "I'm going to stay with Antony," he says quietly. "I know the old man's not a threat now but when he turns, he will be, and Antony's already exhausted. He needs some sleep and I can spot him."

Ryan nods understanding and reaches for Sam. He threads his fingers through his hair and holds him in place for a long kiss. "Be safe," he whispers. "I'll stay with you until he passes."

"Okay," Sam nods. "Just - make sure you don't hesitate if anything happens."

"Okay." Ryan steps back from the door as the two teenagers spill out of the room. One is crying openly, and one surreptitiously wipes away tears -- Ryan nods at them, and tries to smile comfortingly. But fuck all if he knows how to do that right now. "It's good that you said goodbye. He'll go in peace."

The teenagers glare at him, at both of them really, and scurry back down the hall. "They'll get over it," Sam says softly. "They'll have to."

Gnawing on his bottom lip, Ryan nods. He waits another long moment, then enters the stateroom. He immediately wishes he hadn't.

"We were fine before they got here," Lois snaps at her husband. "You should never have let them on the boat! It was ours!"

"If you hadn't let us on, we would have taken it," Antony interjects quietly but firmly. No patience left for this bullshit, regardless of the woman's grief. "And you weren't fine. Your dad was already sick and dying and you'd be in the same position but having to do this yourselves."

Lois stares at him like she's never seen him before, then bursts into sobs again. She hurries out, her husband in her wake.

"Oh, thank fuck," Ryan sighs when Sam quietly shuts the door behind them. "It's always easier to deal with the patients themselves than their families," he explains, and crouches down to take the old man's hand in his.

"Did you try sugar water?" Antony asks, quickly clarifying, "Not that I'm telling you your job."

"Tried apple juice and broth," Ryan answers. "Couldn't get him to swallow." He frowns and starts counting respirations.

"Fuck." Antony sighs. "Is he suffering at all? Can you tell?"

Glancing away from his wristwatch, Ryan lays his hand across the man's forehead. "We don't know for sure. But I suspect he's too far gone." The man's rapid breathing abruptly stops altogether, and Ryan finds himself holding his breath in sympathy until it resumes some seconds later. "He's almost gone. Like, minutes," he says, taking the old man's hand once more.

Antony unsheathes the hunting knife he'd brought with him. "Anyone have any idea how long it takes for someone to turn naturally?" He's never seen it himself, only heard rumours but enough of them to trust it's true. That everyone who dies now turns.

Ryan shakes his head. "I've seen it happen in hours, I've seen it happen in ten minutes. Better safe than sorry, right?" His breath catches again and he waits, silently counting as the figure on the bed takes on an almost imperceptible stillness. Ryan bows his head over the body for a long moment, then pushes to his feet to stand by Sam.

Antony steps in, saying a small prayer for the man even though he doesn't really believe in it. "I wish this could have been different," he says quietly, pressing the tip of the knife against the man's forehead. "And I wish you peace, wherever you are." The blade shoved into the man's brain and twisted just so.

The crunch of brain makes Ryan wince, even though he's expecting it. It's just not a noise he's gotten used to -- and he really hopes he won't. When Antony steps back, Ryan tugs a blanket over the man's face, and they all three stand in silence for a moment. "What are we going to do with the body? Overboard?"

Antony nods. "We'll wrap him in these sheets and have a small ceremony in the morning, once the storm dies down and before we leave."

Sam wrinkles his nose. "What about this cabin?" he asks. "The family's not going to want to sleep in here."

"Have them trade - take the first one," Antony says, already wrapping the sheets around the old man. "A bunch of our people can come in here."

I fucking hate this, Ryan thinks, but he doesn't speak the words aloud. What the hell good would it accomplish? "I'll talk to the family," he mutters, shooting a look at Sam before he leaves.
Sam watches Ryan go and then helps Antony with finishing his task. "Where are we going to put him for now?" he asks.

Antony blows out a breath. "There's storage under the bank of seats by the engine room," he suggests, unsure if it'll work but it does, the boxes already in the space moved to a vacant corner. "You'd better go see Ryan now," he says, having definitely caught the look the other man gave Sam before heading off to talk to the family.

"I'm sorry," Ryan says yet again to the grieving family, and he really truly is, but his being sorry isn't helping anyone. He ducks his head and quietly shuts the door to the stateroom. He leans his forehead against the doorjamb. Looks up when he hears Sam's step in the hallway, and crosses the distance between them in three long strides. He grabs Sam's jacket and jerks him forward, hungrily pressing their lips together.

Sam groans into the kiss, giving as good as he's getting, suddenly desperate to get his hands on Ryan. "Cabin," he gets out, pushing Ryan towards the first open one, the door locked behind them.

Ryan tears off his hoodie, the shirt beneath, burning with the need for skin on skin. He fumbles with Sam's clothing, getting in his lover's way, then gives up and gets back to his own, crouching to unzip his boots and kick them off.

Luckily the cabin's the one with their stuff and it doesn't take Sam long to locate the small bottle of lube they've been using, his clothes having already joined Ryan's on the floor.

Wrapping himself around his lover, Ryan kisses Sam hard, rubbing against him. He's desperate to forget that sound of when Antony drove the knife in, desperate to remember that the rest of them are still alive and still have something worth going on for.

"Do you want me to fuck you?" Sam asks, in between kisses, the words smeared against Ryan's mouth. Making sure they're on the same page.

"Yes," Ryan gasps, gnawing at Sam's bottom lip. "God. Hard." He tugs Sam back onto the bed.

Sam guesses this means they're claiming the bed in this cabin. Either that or someone's going to be stuck sleeping in their sheets later. Oh well. Nothing except how good Ryan feels really matters in this moment and he doesn't give etiquette another moment's thought, instead slicking his fingers with lube, one and then two worked into Ryan's body as he kisses him again and again.

Ryan hisses and spreads his thighs wider, working to open up for Sam. Ordering his muscles to relax, but it's not that simple. So he tangles his fingers in Sam's hair and kisses him back, losing himself in his lover's mouth and beginning to rock beneath him, cock hard against Sam's hip.

Sam tries to take it easy, gentle, open Ryan up the way he should, but they're on borrowed time, voices in the hall, a jiggling of the door... Fuck. He works a third finger inside Ryan, stretching him open, slicking his own cock as well.

"Not now," Ryan yells towards the door, and figures that should be warning enough -- anyone who doesn't heed it is just going to get an eyeful.

Sam snickers. He can't help it. "We need our own place on the island," he half-teases, knowing it'll be a while before anyone has any real privacy.

Ryan grinds down on his lover's fingers. "Are you asking me to move in with you?" he teases, desperate to get Sam deeper.

"Yes," Sam nods, shifting his fingers just so, the pads rubbing over that bundle of nerves inside. "Will you?"

"Wait, what?" Ryan lays a hand on Sam's wrist, stilling him. Maybe his timing is absurd, but he was only joking. He wants to know where Sam's head is at. "Are we, like, going steady now?" he asks with a little smile. Hoping the answer is yes.

"Yes," Sam nods again, dropping down for another kiss, heart thumping wildly, warning him against making himself so vulnerable, but he can't help it. "I love you," he whispers.

The color drains from Ryan's face at those words. What he feels for Sam is a complicated mix of emotions, and he's not even certain love is the most important one right now. "I love you too," he whispers back, because it's simplest. And true. "And I'll definitely move in with you when we get there."

Sam grins. "Brilliant," he says, kissing Ryan yet again, the joy in this moment entirely overriding the earlier tragedy. For now. "We're gonna have our own fucking cottage." Eventually.

Ryan grins, buoyed by Sam's enthusiasm. "A fucking cottage, indeed," he agrees, pushing Sam's fingers deep inside himself once more.

Sam laughs and yells, "Go away," when there's more rattling at the door, rubbing the pads of his fingers over Ryan's prostate before stretching him open even more.

"God I like it when you do that," Ryan says, still kind of amazed that sex with Sam is so damn good. He brings his knees up to cradle his lover, and closes his hand around Sam's cock.

"I love doing this," Sam says with a groan at the touch. "Love doing everything with you." Not caring how stupid or besotted he sounds. "Fuck..." another groan. "Want inside you."

"Yes. Now," Ryan says, starting to jerk Sam off. Just as eager to get him inside. Arching back, Ryan guides Sam's cock inside himself, bearing down to make it easier.

Sam curses under his breath at the tight heat of Ryan's body, working his way deeper, until he's all the way in. Pushing up on his hands, he stills for a moment, biting at his bottom lip, his cock throbbing, dangerously close already. "Hold on..."

Ryan grimaces and forces himself still. "Now?" he whispers hopefully, flexing once around Sam's cock.

"Yeah," Sam nods, gritting his teeth as he slowly draws back and pushes all the way in again. Fuck.

"Jesus Christ, you're so sexy," Ryan breathes, watching Sam's face. He slides his hands down his lover's back to cup his ass, beginning to move with him.

"So are you," Sam says, pulling back from the edge just enough that he can move more freely, hips rocking, sinking deep again and again. "So fucking sexy."

Ryan groans and arches against the bed. Every thrust feels so deep inside him, taking him over. His hands slip on Sam's skin and so he digs his nails in, marking his lover.

"Fuck, yeah, like that," Sam nods, cock throbbing at the bite of Ryan's nails, his thrusts starting to pick up speed.

"Oh fuck, Sam-- Christ," Ryan grates out, trying to keep up. He's rapidly getting overwhelmed, head spinning and his cock rubbed between their bodies. He slides his weight, getting a hand around himself and that's all it takes-- he goes off like a rocket, spraying hot between them and bucking beneath his lover.

The clench of Ryan's body - and the feel of hot seed on his skin - drives Sam over the edge, his teeth gritted again against a shout that would be heard ship-wise. "Fuck, fuck, fuck..." he whispers fiercely, pleasure shuddering through him as he empties himself inside his lover.

Fatigue swiftly follows satisfaction, and Ryan has to make himself drag his eyelids open. "I guess we should put the other packs in the hall," he says. "And I think then I'm going to pass the fuck out." It's been a hell of a day.

"I'll get it," Sam says, easing out with another kiss. "Go to sleep." Slipping out of the bed to pull his jeans on for a moment and unlock the cabin door. As luck would have it, Luke's passing and Sam suggests that he and Alex share their cabin. That agreed on and sleeping bags spread out on the floor, he moves the other packs to the hallway, drops his jeans again and slips back into bed, curling himself around Ryan.

Well, hell -- if Sam's going to sleep nude then so is Alex. He strips down as well, then curls up in one of the sleeping bags, holding out his arms for Luke. The storm has him more nervous than he'd care to admit, but if he can just hold his lover he might be able to relax.

Lightning lights up the cabin for a minute, almost as clear as day, and Luke shivers as he presses close, wrapping himself around Alex, the boat rocking something crazy. "I don't like this," he whispers. "It's freaking me out."

"It's just a storm," Alex whispers back, trying to soothe. He rubs Luke's back. "We'll be okay. She's a good yacht, certainly been through this kind of thing before."

"I know," Luke says, pressing even closer. "But I don't even like storms on land."

"Ahh, so we found out something you are afraid of," Alex teases, thinking about his own phobia of tunnels. "Bulletproof Luke, scared of a little wind and rain." He hugs his lover tighter.

Luke softly raspberries Alex but he snuggles in anyway. "I just want us to be on the island already."

"There'll be storms there, too," Alex murmurs. "But yeah, not like this." He runs his fingers gently through Luke's tangled hair. "But we'll be okay. We'll be together."

Luke nods at that, tilting his head back to press a kiss to Alex's jaw. Trying not think about how they've put all their eggs in this one basket. Auskerry. "Think we'll get our own room?" he jokes.

"For their sakes, I hope so," Alex snickers. "But you know I'm not above fucking you absolutely anywhere," he teases, slipping his hand down to cup Luke's ass. "And you're going to shout, too."

Even in the dark Luke blushes. But he presses closer still, grinding lightly against Alex. "As long as we don't scare the animals," he murmurs, smiling.

"I could give a shit," Alex whispers back with a grin. He shifts so that Luke is straddling his thigh, and pushes up against his cock. Giving him more to grind against.

Luke whimpers softly. "I'll make a mess," he whispers.

Stretching, Alex snatches up his discarded shirt. "Yeah, you will," he agrees. He licks his finger and probes in the crack of Luke's ass, rubbing his dry hole.

"Oh, fuck," Luke breathes, struggling to keep quiet even as he starts moving against Alex and back on that finger.

Grinning wickedly, Alex nudges his balled-up shirt into Luke's mouth. "Bite down," he whispers, and pushes his finger inside Luke's ass.

Luke does as he's told but he still whines at the penetration, his cock kicking up, precome pearling at its tip, smearing over Alex's skin as he moves.

"Shhh," Alex whispers, but it's no secret he likes Luke loud. He starts finger-fucking his lover, twisting his wrist to rub Luke's prostate.

Luke whimpers into the makeshift gag, teeth gritted against the fabric, caught between thigh and hand, his cock leaking continuously.

"Do it," Alex whispers, his own cock aching now. "Come all over me."

Fuck. Luke whines again, unable to help himself, body tensing hard as his orgasm slams into him, spilling hot all over his lover.

Fuck, yes. Triumph surges through Alex, and he eases his finger out. "You're amazing," he whispers into Luke's hair. "I love you."

Luke pulls the fabric from his mouth and presses a kiss to the underside of Alex's jaw. "I love you too," he whispers back. "So much."