Copra Cabana

Chapter One






He mahi kai te taonga
Survival is the treasured goal.
Maori proverb

Prolog

The island had no name.

Before the 1800s; few travelers wanted to settle on it since the only landing on it was through a treacherously narrow passage on the east side of the rocky volcanic cliffs that formed the rest of the land. Other islands had easier access and greater proximity to the trade routes and Sub Pacific gyres, so for hundreds of years the little island with its volcanic freshwater spring and bowl shape was visited only by birds as the years passed.

Wildlife made its way to the island in the gradual fashion of luck, migration and accident; monsoon survivors drifting from other islands or the occasional shipwreck added a few new species over the years. In the century when masted ships crossed the ocean, the island gained a name on a few maps: Mota. It was a name shared with several hundred other islands in the general vicinity, and early cartographers did little to differentiate this one from the other small atolls across the Pacific. Even later mapmakers did little more; merely adding a number and listing it as Mota 1108.

When steam-powered ships began to chug across the ocean, bringing modern ways to ancient civilizations throughout the South Seas, Mota 1108 was briefly explored and exploited for coconut farming. The Von Dressel family of Austria bought the island along with several others, and in optimistic hope of establishing a thriving commercial venture, built a small plantation there, including a limestone house and several drying bins carved out of the volcanic rock. But between the typhoons which destroyed the crops and Spanish influenza which killed off the workers, the enterprise died a quiet little death, and once again the island was uninhabited.

Even through World War II, Mota 1108 was bypassed by both the Axis and Allied forces: it was too small, too difficult to access, remote and of no strategic value. While other islands were utilized, inhabited and eventually developed, Mota 1108 sat in tropical glory for decades, forgotten by everyone.

Until--


*** *** ***


Chapter One


In hindsight, maybe taking the jet through the storm was a bad idea. A spectacularly bad idea, actually, but then again Tony knew he was noted for those. Usually he got lucky in that inverse way engineers do: the worse an idea sounds at first speculation, the better it becomes when instigated. A tried and true principle.

Not this time.

He had no clue that Pepper could still look cute when hurking up her lunch, or that she could do it so damned neatly. There they were, bouncing around in the main cabin, putting the seatbelts through a good workout when she hastily picked up one of the gift bags from the Ambassador of Singapore and daintily vomited into it.

“Yeah I didn’t like that carving either,” he told her, just to make her feel better. The two of them were going through more ups and downs than a rollercoaster, and Tony felt a disquieting vibration in the cabin that worried him. Mentally he calculated the stressors on the welding and wasn’t sure his money should have been on the metal over the typhoon. He was glad he’d sent the Suit homeward on a different flight, now.

“Tony, this is in-SANE!” Pepper moaned at him as she wiped her lips with a tissue, she was so pale that Tony could see every freckle clearly, even in the low lighting. “Can’t we go higher, over this storm?”

“Let me check,” he told her. Joe had assured Tony prior to take-off that he could get the Lear through it in one piece, and back on the ground Stark had faith in the pilot, but at this point it felt like Joe had miscalculated badly, and that the three of them were going to crap out in the Earhart Lottery. Tony undid his belt and scrambled towards the cockpit, guiltily glad to be away from the stink in the gift bag, and yanked on the door.

Joe Mueller looked busy. REALLY busy with his hands gripped tightly on the controls trying to keep the jet stable. Tony didn’t want to interrupt him, but he had to know so he asked, “We gonna live through this?”

“Trying, Mr. Stark, although we may have to—”

There was a serious shriek of ripping metal right then and the jet lurched sideways, tipping to forty-two degrees. All around them clutter fell and clattered towards the lower side.

“Christ! Okay, now we DEFINITELY have to ditch!” Joe bellowed. “You two get ready for a water landing!”

Tony couldn’t reply for a second since coppery panic had his mouth sand-dry and his balls yanked up nice and snug.

Pepper. He had to get back to Pepper. Frantically, Tony turned and clambered back to the main cabin, trying to remember where the emergency raft was. He’d flown in this jet for years; he should know where the damned thing was---

He didn’t see her at first, and a further surge of panic hit Tony hard. “Pepper!” he bellowed. The lights were flickering now, and the sickeningly swift descent was making his ears hurt as the cabin pressure fluctuated. “Pepper!”

“I’m here!” she yelled back from the little hallway leading to the suite. Tony noted she was struggling with a closet door, pulling bright yellow life vests out. He quickly made his way towards her, stepping amid the clutter, reaching Pepper just as the plane gave another deep lurch.

Her heels gave her no stability, and Pepper cursed, gripping the edge of the emergency closet, her ponytail whipping around her pale face. Tony lurched towards, her, trying to brace her against the wall with his own torso, but a sudden twist of the plane threw her against him, knocking the breath out of Tony’s body as her elbow jabbed his solar plexus.

“Jacket!” Pepper ordered, thrusting one of the vests at him. Tony fought to catch his breath, looped his right arm through it, then grabbed her as well, hooking his grip around her waist. Pepper tugged on something else in the closet, and yelled again, her voice bright with controlled panic. “Raft! We need to get to the hatch!”

Tony understood and scrambled with her towards the rear door of the plane. Together he and Pepper began to turn the wheel that sealed the cabin, releasing the remaining pressure with a menacing hiss.

That was the last thing Tony remembered for a long time.


*** *** ***


Pepper’s head hurt. A lot. She opened her eyes to find herself lying on her side in wet sand, with the glare of bright sunshine nearly blinding her. Struggling to sit up, she fought back terror and twisted, looking around wildly, trying to figure out where the hell she was.

Sand. Trees. Beach. Water. Scattered around her in the shallow water were wet clumps of nylon, floating luggage and a string of yellow life vests; in a rush of adrenaline Pepper remembered the storm and the crash.

She let out a pained moan, curling up tightly and rocking for a moment, overwhelmed by the fight or flight response tensing hard through her entire body. How long Pepper sat in the tide pool she didn’t know, but gradually she relaxed a little, the warmth of the sun beginning to dry her shirt and hair. It wasn’t quiet; the breeze ruffled the trees behind her, there were bird cries, and out in the distance Pepper could hear the roll of the surf somewhere.

But it was peaceful, and that helped.

“Tony,” she whispered to herself, sparking a shuddering moment of hot tears. Gradually, Pepper savagely wiped them away from her face and drew in a breath, looking around, moving her gaze from right to left.

She was on the edge of a lagoon of some sort; a wide semicircle of blue water ringed with fine white sand and behind it, thick jungle foliage. The sun was high and bright; the sky cloudless. All along the edge of the lagoon she saw wreckage and knew she was looking at the remains of the Lear scattered along the sand, with darker, bigger pieces out in deeper part of the lagoon. Pepper got to her feet and assessed herself as she tried to brush wet sand off. No broken bones, lots of bruises though, and her head pounded with a painful throb that told her she probably had a mild concussion.

Gingerly Pepper felt the side of her head and found the tender lump just over her left ear, wincing a bit when she touched it. Other than the blurriness and headache, she seemed fine, although her suit was ruined, and one shoe was gone. Pepper absently pulled her ponytail holder out and fixed her hair, then kicked off her one remaining high heel.

“Okay, get it together, here—what to do first?” she asked herself.

Find Tony, Pepper thought immediately.

She patted her pocket, mourning the loss of her small, electronic friend, and then moved towards the water, fishing out a bobbing suitcase, recognizing it as one of Tony’s. Pepper set it up out of the water, then looked around again. The majority of the debris was off to her right, and grimly she began moving that way, hoping to find either Tony or Joe—

--And worried that she would.

The curve of the lagoon was wide, and Pepper strode along just above the tiny waves, where the sand was firm. Walking felt good; it had purpose and she might have enjoyed it if she hadn’t been so worried. Flashes of information ran through her head, little clips of what Pepper knew about survival training. She knew she needed to find drinkable water, and get out of the sun soon, but those could wait for a while.

The glare was making her squint, along with the tears that kept slipping out.

She was scared and hurt and now she was getting angry. Good and angry. How Tony had managed to talk her into flight anyway?

With his damned charm, Pepper told herself bitterly. As always.

She’d been working for Anthony Stark for years and still had no real immunity to that sweet, wheedling tone and those big puppy eyes that he used shamelessly to get his way.

It had been a working vacation, this trip to Southeast Asia, and even though she’d managed to get some sightseeing and shopping in, the bulk of it was taken up with meetings and merger discussions that ran from midmorning until midnight most days. Tony had worked her hard, sure, but he’d pushed himself harder, and consequently by the end of the last meeting in the Philippines, both of them were eager to get home.

“A quick flight to Hawaii, then home,” he’d promised her. “Come on, Potts—I’ve got a craving for good old American beer.”

Then came the typhoon warning, and Joe’s assurance on take-off that it would be far to the south of them . . .

As she rounded an outcropping of dark volcanic rock along the waterline, Pepper stopped, drawing in a sharp breath. She’d nearly stepped on a hand. Scooting back she almost tripped, and braced herself against the huge rock as she looked down.

Tony.

He was very still.

He lay sprawled on his back, hair wet and curly, one arm twisted; tangled in one of the life vests and what looked like the tablecloth from the dining booth in the jet.

Pepper whimpered; he was so pale. The arc glowed through where his wet shirt clung, and she noted blood trickling from a scrape along his nose.

Blood.

Blood flowing meant still alive, she realized, and Pepper dropped to her knees, touching him. “Tony!” she whispered, shaking him lightly, and then a little harder. “Tony!”

“Shhhiiiiiitttttttttttt!” came the low, pain-filled mumble. “Love you Potts, but don’t do that again, okay?”

She fought the urge to smack him, her relief in finding Tony alive in immediate conflict with the desire to take her frustrations out on him right NOW.

Business as usual, Pepper told herself as she brushed his bangs back. Tony gave another groan, interrupting her thoughts, and tried to sit up. “Ohhhh not good. Got a problem here.”

Pepper looked him over and realized what it was even as he struggled. His right arm hung oddly, the angle unnatural. ”You’ve got a dislocated shoulder.”

“Oh goody,” he hissed, trying to sound brave. “I always wanted one of those. Hurts like a sonofabitch.”

“I . . .” Pepper hesitated, running a gentle touch over his chest. “I can reset it, but it’s going to hurt a bit more, Tony.”

*** *** ***

He stared up at her, trying not to look as alarmed as he felt inside. Just seeing Pepper, alive and whole, was helping calm things a bit, and Tony took in a deep breath, which was a mistake. It made his chest hurt and he coughed.

That didn’t help either. The ache all along his shoulder and chest was stabbed through with bright, hot twinges of deep pain now, and he gritted his teeth. “They teach you that in Personal Assistant school do they?”

“No,” Pepper replied, not rising to the sarcasm. “My brother wrestled in high school, and it used to happen to him a lot. He taught me how to pop it back into place.”

“Really?” Tony blinked, as startled by the idea of Pepper having a brother as much as the concept of her actually twisting an arm back into a socket.

Pepper nodded, and he noted that her hair was tidy.

“How do you DO that?” Tony demanded weakly. “I mean, we have JUST come through a crash landing in the middle of God knows where and you look like you’re ready to step into a board room.”

“Trade secret,” she murmured with a flash of facetiousness that quickly faded. “I’m serious, Mr. Stark, this will hurt, but I’ll try to be as quick as I can, okay?”

“Go for it,” Tony shot back, feeling a wave of nausea, “because I’m not going to be able to do jack shit until it’s back in place anyway, right?”

“Pretty much,” Pepper agreed, and then hesitated.

“What?” Tony demanded, feeling impatient now. “Just do it . . . whatever it is.”

“Usually I do this up against the wall—“

“—Kinky, Potts. I like kinky.”

“Hush. The ground will do, but . . .” Pepper shot him a no-nonsense look and Tony felt better immediately. “You need to not . . . distract me.”

“Shutting up now,” Tony groaned. Pepper pushed him back down, then startled the hell out of him by tugging up her skirt a bit, and straddling his waist. He felt her settle above his belt line, and Tony looked down, catching a sweet glimpse of panty before she leaned forward, glaring at him.

“I can make this a LOT more painful,” Pepper assured him, her mouth in a straight line.

Tony closed his eyes. “Pure reflex, I swear. I didn’t see anything at all.”

“Lie still and let me do all the work.”

“You keep giving me these lines,” Tony complained, “And then you expect me to behave.”

“Tony,” Pepper sighed. “We’re in a very bad situation right now, and I know this is just your way of whistling in the dark, but please, please, PLEASE just let me get this done, okay?”

Her voice was soft and high, holding back frustration and fear; Tony gave a nod and stayed quiet. He felt Pepper take his arm and bend the elbow to a ninety degree angle. Then she started rotating the entire arm outward, pushing steadily.

That hurt.

Then it hurt a whole fucking LOT, and he fought down more nausea as the pain seared through every nerve from his shoulder to his fingertips. “FUCK!”

“I know, I know, just a little more . . .” she soothed, and with one last twist, they both heard the ‘pop’ as the joint clicked back into the socket. Tony gave a huge sigh, slumping back into the sand, tension draining from him in a rush of relief.

“Okay, first of all, thank you. Second of all, NOT doing that again, EV-ER.”

“I know it hurts,” Pepper empathized quietly. “And it’s going to ache for a few days. If we find any ibuprofen I’ll make sure you take some.”

“I want four,” Tony grumbled. Pepper’s weight on him was damned nice, and he hoped she wouldn’t move for a moment. “Washed down with a gallon of Evian.”

“Yes, water—that’s something we’re going to need too,” she murmured absently. Then her position seemed to dawn on Pepper and she scrambled off of him, crunching away into the sand on her butt, pulling her knees together.

Tony made no move to rise or even sit up. He turned his head to look at her and sighed. “So . . . preliminary assessment, Potts. What are we looking at?”

He sensed the best way to keep them both from panicking would be to keep things professional for the moment. Pepper worked best under fire, and if he could just channel her energy into dealing with their immediate situation, it might give them both the edge in surviving.

She absently brushed a hand across her bangs. “Um, we’re both physically okay . . . we’re going to need water and shelter in the next couple of hours, and then probably food and some sort of signal for anyone searching for us. And we need to look for Joe Mueller of course.”

Tony slowly climbed to his feet, rolling to his left side to do it. He looked around intently, taking in the entire panorama. “We don’t have a lot of time. Tell me, what’s wrong with our picture here, Pepper?” He held out his good arm, and pulled her to her feet in one efficient tug.

Startled by his grim tone, she glanced up and blinked, thinking hard. “It’s not raining?” came her guess.

Tony nodded. “Exactly. We’re probably in the eye of the storm, and that means we’re going to get hit with a second round pretty quick.” He turned to Pepper, reaching awkwardly to cup her shoulders, concerned. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

He looked at her from head to feet as he asked. Pepper’s suit jacket and shoes were gone, and the sleeves of her blouse were ripped. Pepper had a big dark bruise blooming along her chin and she was blinking a lot as well, but she managed a small smile. “Headache, but I’ll be fine. I’m . . . really glad you’re alive.”

The choke in her voice left him hungry to hug her, but Tony settled for squeezing her thin shoulders instead, aware that they were both still in shock to some degree. However, there was no time to do anything else but move forward, so he nodded, and made his way down to the water, splashing some on his face. “Okay, let’s take a look at the wreckage and see what we can salvage. That seems like the best first step.”

He slowly trotted off, Pepper next to him as they began trekking along the edge of the lagoon towards a large section of jet that had ploughed up a deep trough in the sand.



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