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Storm Clouds

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It had been a long, hot, unpleasant day, and the evening was not much better. The crowds who had gathered earlier in the day had been on the point of riot, and getting the Rabbi away in one piece had meant most of the disciples staying on shore and trying to get away surreptitiously, while Jesus and a smaller group made for the other side of the lake by boat. Unfortunately, no-one had realised until it was too late that Judas had all the money, and Simon the Zealot had most of the food. The discovery had not improved anyone's temper, already frayed by the hot wind from the south.

"I don't like the look of the weather," James said, stubbornly. "There was too much yellow in that sunset."

Peter looked irritated. "Don't be such an old woman. The moon's up, and it's perfectly clear. Anyway, it's not like we've got all that much choice. We need food, or money, or both, sharpish. It's all very well for the Rabbi to say, trust in God, but –"

"Well, it wouldn't kill us to wait till morning, would it?" said John, in what was intended to be a reasonable voice, but which Peter obviously interpreted differently, since he said impatiently "At this time of year, the fish come closer inshore at night. As you ought to know, if you call yourself a fisherman. Or did your dad's men do all the dirty work?"

"Shut up, all of you," Andrew broke in. "Here come Matthew and the Rabbi. I'm not explaining why we've spent the last twenty minutes fighting."

"I wasn't fighting, I was disagreeing," muttered James, but shut up nonetheless.

"Sorry to have kept you," said Jesus, as he stepped on to the beach, "we ran into one of the elders of the synagogue, and he wanted a theological argument."

"Did he get one?" John began to hoist the sail.

"No. There's a time and a place for arguing, and this isn't it. There's fishing to be done." He looked at the disciples with an open, guileless expression that made James and Peter shift uneasily; not for the first time, John found himself wondering if Jesus was just a really good judge of character and expression, or if he actually could read minds.

Peter, as he usually did when he was uncomfortable, changed the subject. "All right. Matthew, Rabbi, stay out of the way of the tiller, watch out for the boom, and don't sit on any ropes."

"Peter, I know I'm a landsman, but I have been in a boat before. Several times," said Jesus, but he looked amused.

"I've been once," said Matthew, morosely. "Me and a few of the lads – it was when I was still a tax-collector – decided to go for a pleasure trip from Joppa. Some pleasure trip. It came on to storm, and I was as sick as a dog."

"God's judgement on collaborators," muttered James.

"James" said Jesus, in irritated tones, "I've told you before, leave God's judgements to God, and don't be too keen to condemn other people unless you're sure your own behaviour's impeccable."

James looked contrite. "Sorry Matthew. Sorry, Jesus."

"Are you sure you two want to come?" said Peter. "Night fishing's not much fun."

"I'm going if the Rabbi's going," said Matthew, with an undertow of grim purpose that John managed not to laugh at, and Jesus said, "Oh yes. As you know, Peter, I'm a landsman-" Peter grinned awkwardly – "and I've never been night fishing before."

"It'll be cold and uncomfortable, and it really isn't that interesting."

"Oh, nonsense, Peter. Nothing in God's world is boring, if you look at it carefully."

"You wouldn't say that if it was the job you'd been doing all your life," said Peter.

"Yes, I would," said Jesus, in the tones of unshakable certainty no-one knew how to doubt. "Anyway," he added brightly, "I've brought a couple of cushions. Would you like one, Matthew?"

"All right," said Peter, "Push her off, and then all aboard that's going aboard."

They slid the boat into the water, and scrambled aboard.

"Don't worry, Peter," said Jesus easily, as they settled themselves in the stern. "You lads are the professionals. I'll just sit here quietly, and if Matthew's sick, I'll make sure he's sick out of the boat, and to – what's the word? Leeward. With the wind, not into it," he added, turning to Matthew.

"I know," said Matthew, darkly. "You only make that mistake once."


The first watch of the night was, indeed, uneventful, to the point that Matthew, who had initially been sitting very stiffly and quietly, and occasionally muttering bits of Psalm 22, began to relax and allowed himself to be distracted by John's explanations of how to find north using the stars. The fish, however, remained obstinately hard to find.

Jesus was curled up, his head on his cushion, in the stern.

"Are you all right, Jesus?" said John. "That looks uncomfortable."

"I'm fine," Jesus gave him a tired smile. "I'm just looking at the stars. They really do look rather good, don't they?"

His tone was oddly satisfied, like a man taking quiet pleasure in a job well done. John felt a prickling at the back of his neck, for reasons he wasn't quite prepared to think about.

"Rabbi?" he said tentatively.

But Jesus was asleep.


Not long after that, things began to happen. The wind changed, and strengthened, and ominous rags of clouds blew with it.

"I told you–" James began, and then bit it off. "Peter, we need to get to shore."

Peter merely nodded, and said "Haul in the sheet, there."

The groundswell had changed; the waves were coming in, short and choppy, and the boat was flung around.

"Steady, there," said Peter, and Andrew, at the tiller, gasped, "I'm doing the best I can."

Matthew, who had been turning steadily greener, was suddenly and noisily sick over the side.

"All right, Matthew?" shouted James over the wind. "Better get down if you can."

Matthew nodded miserably, and huddled down beside Jesus.

"I don't believe it," he said, "the Rabbi's still asleep!"

"Wish I was. On shore, in bed," muttered Andrew, and the boat heeled over violently, and shipped water. Peter and John flung their weight over, and the boat righted herself, only to be flung round again. Then there was a loud crack, and the sail went, the broken rope catching James in the face and cutting him across one cheekbone.

"Hell," said Peter, "That's… row, boys! Get her head round!"

The boat was twirling around, and quite a lot of water had come aboard and was slopping about in the mess of wet canvas. John, bending over to bail, saw with incredulity that the Rabbi was still asleep, though how anyone could be passed his understanding.

"Rabbi," he said desperately, "Rabbi! Jesus! Wake up!"

Jesus opened his eyes, and blinked. "What's wrong?" he said, rather foggily, and Matthew, who was shaking, either with cold or fear, or both, almost screamed, "Rabbi, don't you care that we're about to die?"

"Oh," said Jesus, and sat up. Then he gave a funny half smile, and said, "It's all right. No one's dying tonight. It's not our time yet… Why are you frightened? Where's your faith gone?"

"Rabbi," growled Peter from behind an oar – and it was obvious that he would have yelled had he had breath – "It is my professional opinion that I'm perfectly justified in being bloody terrified, because we are all going to die very soon unless some sort of miracle happens."

"Oh you of little faith," said Jesus, sounding vaguely disappointed. "Doesn't my professional opinion count for anything?"

And he stood up in the boat, ignoring Matthew's panicky attempts to make him sit down, and said, in a crisp voice, as if he was talking to a horse or an over-excited dog, "Be still!"

The wind dropped, and the waves were still and glassy. Peter let his oar drop, and John, who had been bailing frantically, stopped dead, and whispered, "Jesus… you… what?" Healings were one thing, but to bring order to chaos like that… as God did in the times of Jonah… John swallowed, hard.

James, who had turned pale, whispered to Andrew, "Tell me I'm not dreaming… but what sort of man speaks to the wind and waves and they obey him?"

Jesus raised his eyebrows, but did not seem disposed to answer.

There was a long, awkward, silence, which was broken only by Matthew being sick again.

Jesus laid a hand on his shoulder. "Cheer up, Matthew. The storm's over… Give me that oar, Peter, I've slept most of the night."

They rowed back to shore in silence. The storm had driven them well out into the lake, and it was well after dawn by the time they reached the beach they had started from. Thomas and Philip were waiting for them, a bag of food at their feet. Philip was triumphantly waving a small money bag.

"We healed a woman yesterday, and she gave us a whole lot of bread and cheese and a honeycomb, and," Philip added impressively, "as we were coming through the village, one of the elders of the synagogue came creeping out of his house, said 'You belong to that rabbi, don't you?' and then he said 'I like prophets who have their priorities straight,' and he gave us this to give to you… What d'you suppose he meant?"

Jesus smiled wryly. "Giving a high priority to fishing, I think. It's funny what impresses some people."

"Oh." Philip frowned. "You all look half dead. Were you caught in that storm? Is everything all right? Nothing happened to you, did it?"

"The sail's bust," said Peter tiredly. "As for the rest… Depends what you mean by 'happened', I suppose. I feel like I could sleep for a week."

"Well, the storm's cleared the air, anyway," said Thomas. "We've got bread and honey, and there's a well nearby. Let's have breakfast, you'll all feel better for it."

"You have your priorities straight, too," said Jesus, and grinned. "John, it's your turn to say grace."

"So it is," said John, looking Jesus full in the face for the first time since that most unsettling calm had fallen. The Rabbi looked the same as ever.

Which, when you came to think of it, didn't make matters any less confusing.