Chapter 22

After several hours of tossing and turning Jim's eyes flew open. He bolted up and looked over at Ariel's cot where she lay still fast asleep. Jim let out a breath of relief and relaxed his tense shoulders. He rose from his own cot and looked at Ariel once again before stepping out of the tent. The inside of the cavern was now very dark, the only sources of light coming from fires spread throughout the campsite. Jim saw John sitting in front of the fire, Wendy with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders with her head in his lap.

Jim cautiously made his way towards them, making sure there was no one around to overhear their conversation. The guards that had been posted were in a deep slumber near their own fire several yards away so Jim took a seat next to John in silence. After several moments of listening for anything in the darkness with no sound coming to their ears John spoke,

"So obviously we both want to get out of here, I have Wendy and you have Ariel. Right now Jasmine and Aurora know nothing and I'm fine with keeping it that way, we don't need any more stragglers. I love Wendy to death, but I know she'll slow us down and your ginger doesn't look like she can hold her own either."

Jim nodded his head,

"Not in a fight, she's got her ankle. What about you? Any experience?"

"I was an explorer for a while, saw a few planets here and there, but mostly they were like this one, no high tech and such. I know how to fight, but not handle these guns they're using if it comes to that." John sighed,

"Look, I don't need to really know anything about you. I can tell just by looking at you that you have some serious training. I just want to get my sister home. I'm pretty sure you have something similar with your girl."

"She's not my girl. We're just friends." John blinked a few times n let out a small laugh,

"Please, just friends my ass. I see the way you look at her. You're mister protective over there with her and melt the second she smiles your way." Jim thought about objecting, but it was hopeless.

"It's that obvious?" John smiled and patted him on the back.

"Yes, but that's ok. She'll get the picture soon if she hasn't already." Jim nodded, knowing he would have to try harder to hide his feelings.

What if I don't want to?

Shut up! Jim gave a small growl and John chuckled.

"Like I said, your life is none of my business. Do with it what you will. Right now though, we need a plan to get out of here."

"Right, you have any ideas or notice anything like any guards that have some drinking problems that we could drug, quietest time of day, anything?" Jim asked. John leaned his head back in thought for a minute before speaking.

"They have the place pretty loaded, there's a dock with a few small boats near the mouth of the cavern and a separate tunnel that looks like where they keep supplies. Right about now seems like the quietest time. From what I've seen in the old prison the guards know when Silver wakes up and get up just before then so between about one and five in the morning. Their leader gets up before sunrise and Silver just after. During the day we weren't too heavily guarded, but here there's everyone everywhere all the time." John looked back at Jim, determination shining in his pacific blue eyes.

"Right," Jim said, absorbing John's information.

"So based on what you've told me the best method would probably be to try to sneak out the boats at around two and sail out. It's too late tonight, but we have to move out tomorrow, you never know if they might move us." John nodded his head in understanding,

"It's not much, but it has to work." Jim nodded his head just as he heard a breath behind him.

"Great, about time we got out of here." Jim spun around to come face to face with a girl maybe two years older than him with midnight hair flowing down her back, deep brown eyes, bronze skin and a jewel centered on top of her head like a crown. John almost cursed under his breath.

"Jasmine, don't sneak up like that!" He scolded in a harsh whisper. "Do you want to wake the guards and get us caught?

"Of course not, but you're not leaving me behind. I can carry my own weight so there's no reason to not let me come." The guys looked at one another and Jasmine rolled her eyes.

"Look, I just want to get home just like everyone else. Now take me willingly or I'll just follow you, willingly we're less likely to get caught, but I am coming." John gave a deep sigh and Jim groaned.

"Fine." Jim muttered under his breath and Jasmine smirked.

"Great, two tomorrow. Until then." Jasmine slowly moved back toward her tent.

"Looks like she's got the right idea." John said and Jim nodded his head as he rose. Just as he was stepping back toward his tent he saw Wendy shiver out of the corner of his eye and John pulling the blanket more tightly around her. Jim smiled, knowing how lucky that little girl was to at least have someone that cared about her so much. He had his mom and that's why he did what he did, so people like John and Wendy could stay together as a family.

Family, Jim sighed. Sinbad was not part of that mental picture; it was him and his mom. Jim could not imagine Sinbad in his life so simple, he wasn't his father. With that resolved in his mind Jim entered the dark tent and saw Ariel sitting up in her bed.

"Jim! Thank goodness! I woke up and I didn't see you here and I got scared that you'd left..." Jim went straight toward her and sat on the edge of her cot.

"Ariel, it's alright. I'm sorry I left for a little while, but I'm back now. I promise you, I'm not gonna leave you." Ariel sniffed and Jim took her hand and massaged it in his for that quiet moment.

"Thanks Jim." Ariel whispered and Jim smiled in the darkness.

"Now get some more sleep. I'm not going anywhere. You'll be safe." Ariel muttered something incoherent and Jim chuckled,

"Sleep well Ariel." He let her head fall back to her pillow, her head in a pool of her blood red hair and laid her hand by her face gently. He watched her for a minute, just to look at her angelic form resting was one of the most beautiful sights he'd ever seen, but not long after his exhaustion began to overcome him and he went to his own cot and drifted into dreams of the little mermaid.