Disclaimers: Not mine no money made
Thanks: Mitzi...her help as always... my sister, her encyclopedia and for her unselfish and unknowing donation of candy in support of my tireless, devotion to research.
Spoilers: Borrowed a line from the Ep. Witness.
Warnings: It's Halloween...
Acknowledgments: Mars Candy factory for the jokes of course....Scooby Doo Where are You Mystery cartoons......Mitzi for the name Apollyon. MOG she created this sandbox
Webmaster Note: This story was formerly hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in September 2013.
Vin shifted slightly easing the pressure off his forearms and elbows. He took a breath and then refocused down his gun sights. The sharpshooter drowned out the babble of voices that hailed over the tiny mic. which sat nestled inconspicuously in his ear.
A chill settled his bones. The tiny hairs on the back of his neck refused to lay flat. His stomach muscles remained tense without any conscious thought. Vin wanted to scrap the meet. He wanted to go home, get out of the rain and the cold.
He had been wet and cold before but something dark seemed to pervade the area. Vin didn't like it.
With practiced ease, he swiveled the gun allowing his magnified scope to sweep the land. A cold drizzle drenched the area, sapping everything caught in it of body heat.
Tanner attempted to chuckled when he found his focus on Standish. Tanner ignored the twisted limbs and branches of the knotted maple tree that tried to obscure his view. The southerner stood on a cracked and heaving slate walkway. The dirt road that led to this desolate area rested bathed in the stretching fingers of shadows, just to the left of Standish. A Victorian style house sat to his right. Its gabled roofs speared the sky with sharp intent. Five brick chimneys poked from the different peaks offering the hopes of warmth....Vin didn't think any amount of fire could warm such a place.
A chill twisted his spine. He grit his teeth.
The first floor windows sat behind wrought iron bars. The bars had not protected the aged glass from vandals. Even from this distance, Tanner could tell the majority of the glass had been smashed. Probably kids.
The front door stood as a black hole. An emptiness that almost seemed to warn visitors away instead of welcoming them. A brass knocker rested a third of the way down. The brass had long ago become smothered in rotting necrotic moss. Movement to the right had Vin refocusing his attention on one of the main floor windows. A curtain waved from a small break in a window.
Tanner did not feel appeased. He wanted to gather up the team and go. It wouldn't happen yet not until after the bust, so Vin turned his attention to the man standing at the front yard gate of the dilapitated house.
The Undercover agent stood hunch shouldered in the rain. He turtled his neck into the upturned collar of his double breasted, wool, mid calf, tailored coat. Vin had to admit the coat was well made and sharp looking. Tanner noticed, even with his hands gloved, Ezra still burrowed his fists into his coat pockets nearly up to his forearms. Good manners and etiquette fell by the wayside when one was cold.....and wet.
Vin couldn't help but think Ezra appeared so out of place in front of the house......just so alive.
The background sounds of moans flickered and crackled over his ear piece. JD told another rotten joke.
Tanner turned his attention toward the Tank. Josiah's suburban sat nestled back into the woods. Not far but far enough off the beaten rutted dirt road to afford the other few men cover. The last incident with the ATF van had the motor pool hesitant about requisitioning them another vehicle. So the Ford Van came back looking like a screen door...it certainly wasn't the fault of Team Seven.
Josiah offered his truck instead, to keep the peace.
Chris had been in a foul mood lately. Standish had been walking a fine line between insubordinate and obstinate....and Buck, well he just kept egging people toward Chris. Larabee was going to blow a gasket very soon. Heck just today he had nearly put Standish through the conference room wall. Had left a body print. When all had been said and done....Ezra had won Seventy bucks off everyone....everyone but Chris. Who would have thought that Standish could bring Larabee into a maddening rage in under five minutes? Guess the rest of them should have...even Nathan had to hand over some money. Jackson had commented he was just donating toward the Ezra Standish co-op/pre-pay for his sooner rather than later Doctor visit. Standish had a poorly disguised cold. Perhaps it had been affecting his common sense.
Now under the slicing insult of a freezing drizzle Tanner turned his eye in the direction of the Suburban. Buck hadn't been running his usual gambit of interference like he normally did when Chris found himself buried in a foul mood. The sharpshooter couldn't quite figure it. Buck deflected most of the office shenanigans away from his old friend but this week, Wilmington had all but encouraged the others. Worse, Standish played into it. The southerner, of all people, knew when to tip toe and skirt issues. The man had the fine art of tap dancing around people and subjects down to an art form. Attorneys either loved him or hated him. This week he flaunted and paraded his flamboyant style and language almost as a distraction. It seemed he goaded Larabee on purpose. It had been amusing right up until today. Today things turned an ugly corner. The only thing that saved Standish was this meeting tonight.
Their target had a warped sense of location. Ezra didn't like the gun dealer. If pushed, Vin would be more apt to say the gun dealer had Standish scared. The deal would go down early this evening and after that at Inez's Tanner had every intention of pinning Buck down.
Vin adjusted his grip on his rifle. His eyes quickly darted around the tree tops. The encroaching darkness seemed to roll in on them with heavy cloud cover. Something watched them. The sharpshooter leveled his eyes on the Suburban. He took comfort in its presence. Knowing that the Fantastic Four sat cramped and uncomfortable with all the surveillance equipment brought a warm smirk to Tanner's features.
Buck, JD, Josiah and Nathan sat nestled within the confines of the truck with all their technical gear. It was a tight fit but everyone seemed willing to accommodate and put up with the tight squeeze.
"Damn it JD you tell another rotten joke and I'll strangle you,," Buck's voice sounded tinny over the headpieces.
"You promise,," Ezra's hoarse remark had Tanner smiling. The sharpshooter had worried that Ezra might have pushed Chris too far this afternoon. Whatever was eating at Chris did not deserve the wholesome badgering the team inflicted. The good natured fun had fallen from the others when Larabee had whispered just how useless Standish actually was....his value lay only in his ability to lie. Everyone had quieted down at the comment. The conference room had never seemed so devoid of sound. They could hear the building settle or so it had seemed. Standish's smile had stayed but his eyes had hardened with a familiar defensive look. He had pushed for it and got what he always expected was true. Vin didn't think Seventy dollars was worth the remark. It seemed to have worked though. Larabee had let Ezra go, the tension that had squared his shoulders for so long seemed to have had left him this afternoon. Ezra had collected his money from the others as they had exited. He had nodded at their words and promises that Chris hadn't meant it. To the outsider it seemed as if Standish had thought nothing of the comment and just found pleasure in the money that graced his steady hands. Tanner knew better, but Standish had pushed too far this time. He might have even deserved it.
Vin swung his head around trying desperately to see into the suffocating blackness that seemed to suddenly engulf the area. His shoulders and back tightened.
"Ahh Ez, yer jist pissed cuz Chris's makin' you stand in the rain,," Nathan remarked from the front seat of the truck. The team had a second bet running...would Standish end up at Dr. Murray's door step because of his cold or Flu or would Chris put him there first. It seemed as if Larabee was hedging his bets.
The Chemist wiped the passenger side windshield with his hand to get a clearer view of the undercover agent. Jackson hoped Vin had Ezra covered. This place just seemed wrong. The trees grew twisted and gnarled. Leaves had long ago fallen from skeletal branches. Even back here within the woods, a thick feeling of unrest enveloped the area. Nathan had half a mind to ask Chris to call off the bust.
"Brother some day you should learn not to badger people when they're upset,," Josiah's schooling voice echoed solemnly over the small wire. The preacher's eyes remained focused on the small figure of a man before the looming monstrosity of a house. A shudder ran through the anthropologist. He toyed with the decorative cross that lay over his chest.
"Can't teach a dog new tricks....least not when he's making a profit off the old ones,," Buck's chuckle lacked any real humor. His eyes darted from the undercover agent to the thick forest surrounding the truck back to the area Chris stood and watched. Larabee did not seem anymore at ease this evening. Wilmington had begun to wonder if his ploy might have backfired back at the office.
Larabee kept Standish in his sights. Not ten feet above Chris lay, Tanner. The sharpshooter looked more apart of the tree than one of the natural branches. In his perch, the Texan seemed nearly invisible. Larabee knelt below him on the ground amongst the sweet smell of rotten vegetation. The leaves had fallen prematurely around here. The discarded yellow leaves curled and browned, pooling water within their centers. The drizzle slipped and ran down Larabee's neck between his shoulders blade to the waist of his pants. A shiver tensed his torso. He blamed it on the rain.
Maybe it would be best to just call off the whole thing. Pack it in and go home...call it a night. It had been a bad morning, a worse afternoon...damn Standish, the evening was not shaping up to be any better.
Larabee pulled his coat collar tighter around his neck. He found his eyes falling to the empty black windows of the three story house that stretched over Standish.
"Ok...ok...I've got another one,," JD's statement sparked more groans and pleas for him to refrain. "No...no...this is a good one.....ready?," Despite the numerous 'No's' the young agent plowed ahead. "What does Scooby say when he eats a Hot-dog?"
Silence reigned for a few seconds.
Finally, a disgusted, congested, southern voice spat out, "Oh come on...Please tell me you imbeciles don't know this one?,"
"Who's he calling an imbecile?," Buck's voice countered. Wilmington sat forward as something caught the corner of his eye deep in the forest. Probably a deer....right? His hand dropped to his service revolver.
"Judging by this afternoon's stunt...I'd say Chris," Jackson replied. The Chemist turned his head sharply to the right. He cupped his hands over his eyes trying to get a better view of the forest. Something moved just out of his vision. He knew it...felt it almost. The medic unsnapped the strap on his sig.
"Well JD?," Josiah leaned forward over the steering wheel. If Chris did not call Ezra in soon, he would. Sanchez couldn't ignore the unsettled churning in his gut.
"It's a dog eat dog world,," Ezra's outraged cracking southern accent beat JD to the punch line.
" 'Ey!,," JD's disgruntled tone hid his unease. The young surveillance agent checked his thermal readings again. It only showed Ezra outside in front of the house. Chris and Vin to the right of the Suburban. Something felt wrong. Dunne ran through his equipment again. All green lights. It didn't fit. While his fingers ran across his key boards, Dunne kept talking trying to ease his own unexplained fright, "you been eatin' Snickers too Ez?,"
Tanner quickly snapped his head around to peer over his shoulder. Nothing but thick black forest. The grey trunks rose in a torturous fashion from the ground, stretching in a painful manner toward the sky. A thick almost physical blackness wove between the saturated trunks. His eyes found nothing to focus on. He could feel it, though. He wanted nothing more than to curl his legs underneath himself and keep his feet out of reach of whatever watched them.
"Musketeer bars, JD,," Vin whispered despite himself. The sharpshooter turned his attention back toward the undercover agent. Gawd how his own back felt exposed to attack. For a brief moment, the Texan feared something would land on top of him and rip his spine open. "He's been helping himself to Buck's Musketeer Bars.,"
"Hey those are under lock and key,," Wilmington cupped his hands to the back windows. He had half a mind to push the old fashion door lock down.
"Your point?," Nathan's comment seemed lost in the engulfing blackness that followed sunset.
Chris checked his watch. He let his eyes quickly flash to the time piece before bringing them immediately back to focus on Standish. The man suddenly appeared as bait and not the middle man for a gun trade. It was time to call this off before ......
"Did you gentlemen see that?," The soft southern tones were directed at no one specifically.
"See what Ez?," Buck faced out the back window trying to catch a fleeting glimpse of something that stalked them from the cover of the forest. His cautious whisper rang low over ear sets.
Nathan kept his eyes toward the right trying desperately to penetrate the claustrophobic darkness that seemed to encase the van. Maybe Ezra saw what he saw.
Vin instinctively checked over his shoulder. IT was closer....almost up on him.....
"Someone's in the house,," The undercover agent stepped through the wrought iron archway. Thick tangles of Ivy choked and knotted its way up over the arch.
Vin swiveled in his perch trying desperately to catch a glimpse of what approached him from behind. He turned back in time to see Standish put more distance between himself and safety. The undercover agent almost appeared to be out of their reach, beyond their realm of protection.
Darkness settled heavier. Things stilled. Paralyzed almost...
With unspoken apprehension, they watched as Standish approached the front door.
The arched entrance way stood unusually tall and wide. No windows graced its front.
"Brother ....,"Josiah's soft warning went unheeded. He clenched the small symbol with white knuckles.
Ezra tried to gaze through one of the windows but the bars prevented him from getting a decent view.
"Maybe you shouldn't go in there Ez,," JD kept checking his thermal readings. Only one figured registered....as it should. It was a mistake. JD knew it.
Wilmington took a quick peek over his shoulder at Dunne. The kid's tone indicated something was wrong. Did JD see something? The Ladies Man caught movement from the corner of his eye...again he swiveled his eyes back to the woods that seemed to swallow the suburban but it was gone.
Vin tightened his grip on his rifle.
Larabee squeezed tighter into the tree and gained his feet. He brought his weapon up at ready as his eyes locked on second story of the house. Don't go in there Standish....Damn it...Don't go. Your worth more to me than another successful bust.....
Ezra tried the door knob. A claw clutching a woodchuck. A bit macabre but ornate. Standish pushed down on the thumb lever with a manicured finger. The heavy black oak door swung open easily.
The hinges moaned in deep protest.
Standish stepped over the thresh hold and disappeared from sight.
Josiah wiped at the fog that clouded his window. His heart beat frantically in his chest. This was wrong...terribly, dangerously, wrong.
You gentlemen should see this place, Standishs awed whisper floated across headsets.
Ezra get back here, Chriss order hissed with unexplained tension.
In a moment, They could hear Standishs shoes clump with hollow thuds as he moved through the first floor of the house.
Sanchez fought to even out his breath as he pushed the keys back into the ignition
JDs fingers flew across keys as he ran diagnostics through his equipment.
Buck locked the back door without realizing it.
Vin pulled his feet in and focused down the barrel of his gun.
Nathan quietly pulled his revolver.
Theres no glass on the floor, The simple statement had not struck anyone at first.
Then JD spoke up, The windows got broken from the inside? Then he saw it. Second floor. Not a heat signature. Not the reds and yellows associated with living beings....no this was cold shimmering hues of blue.
The wind seems to have picked up, Standishs voice sounded muffled over the sounds of paper swirling in the air.
Vin checked his surroundings. Not a branch moved.
Nathan didnt notice a leaf stir.
The temperature seems to have dropped quite a bit too, A hesitation had crept into Standishs words. A tinge of unease.
Ezra get out of the house, Josiahs demand rang across head sets.
Ive got movement...second floor.....moving fast, JDs cool rapid tones hid his rising panic.
Ezra Get Out of the House! Sanchez turned the key over.
Larabee stepped from the tree with his revolver pulled.
Yes...I think you might be right, A hint of panic seared Standishs voice.
Ezra backed toward the door.
Nathan swiveled his attention from Josiah wrestling with the key, to the hazy image of the open front door, to the view out the passenger window. His heart raced, his pulse roared through his ears.
Hurry Ezra!.....Gawd damn it....It's almost on top of you! JD followed the shifting hues of blue. It's moving fast...too fast.....coming up on your left......Can you see it? You should see it....
Ezra! Get out of there! Josiahs holler rocked the suburban. The key snapped off in the ignition. Jackson flung open his door his gun at the ready.
Chris made it to the suffocating wrought iron arch.
The front door suddenly slammed closed. Gunfire split the night, from inside the house. Six rapid fire shots and then one lone shot....A hoarse strangled scream......Then something slammed into the front door with enough force to bow it outward and crack the oak.
Ezra! Larabee bolted for the ruined front door. He pushed on the handle to no avail. JD! call for back up! Chris threw his shoulder and hip into the door, battering it with his body.
Josiah bailed from the truck heading for Larabee, Wilmington hot on his heels.
JD jumped to the front seat and keyed the radio. Nothing. He played with the buttons....still nothing. Not even static. Radios out..... the quiet whisper sent chills through those that heard it. Dunne noticed he sat alone in the truck. Menacing darkness engulfed the vehicle. With a blind rush of panic, he fled the Suburban to the others.
+ + + + + + +
Vin you see anything? Nathans soft voice grabbed at the sharpshooter. The medic stood under the tree covering Tanner. Something sat waiting...waiting just out of sight.
See anything?....No....But, Tanner checked down his scope trying to get a fix on anything in the house. Even his infrared scope failed to detect anything.
Yeah, I know, Jacksons soft admissions did nothing to put Tanner at ease, Come on.
Tanner slung his rifle over his shoulder and never felt so relieved to abandon his post.
+ + + + + + +
Chris tugged and pushed furiously at the door handle. Nothing.
Buck check the windows Wilmington did not bother questioning Sanchezs order. The larger man turned at the sudden approach of hurried footsteps. JD raced up the ruined walkway. The agent looked no older than a scared kid. Behind him jogged Vin and Nathan. They held the image of experience but they too smelled of fear.
What have you got JD? Tanners voice had Dunne whirling around.
At the sight of the two agents JD relaxed only slightly. The young man stepped to the side and faced the others. He gazed down at the small hand monitor. Its screen blank.
Nothing, The young agent checked his readings again. How could that be...just thirty seconds ago he had Ezras thermal reading and ......something else.......now nothing.
Chris and Josiah worked on the front door together. Between the two, the handle would not budge.
Try the hinges, Tanner handed over his Leatherman tool.
Sanchez used the screw driver top to work the top hinge up. He succeeded in raising it a few centimeters. It seemed as if they had found away inside.
Buck get back here, Chriss voice had Wilmington at their side on the stoop.
Just as Sanchez reached to take the loosened part of the hinge down, the hinge part slammed back into place with enough force to snap the screwdriver tip.
People jumped back startled.
Chris stared at the door. The split wood and slight outward bow marred the solid black coloring. The squinting eyes of the snarling wolf decorative knocker stared straight at Larabee, daring him to enter.
Larabee hefted his Sig. He tore his gaze from the mottled stained brass, Ok we search in pairs, He stared at each man in turn. keep radio contact at all times, understand me?
The others nodded. Whoever finds him, gets to strangle him.....after me.
Forced smiles and humorless chuckles followed.
They started to turn when JD noticed something thick seeping out from under the front door, pooling just at Chris and Josiahs feet, Whats that? In his heart he knew. Oh gawd Ez.
Nathan shined his flashlight on the flagstone entrance. They all recognized it, all realized what it was even before Jackson knelt down and tapped a finger into the congealing liquid. He gazed up at the others. His eyes landed on Chris, Blood.
The men split into pairs.
+ + + + + + +
Chris and Vin circled around the house. Dead shrubbery clung to the white chipped paint. Grey patches of exposed wood sat unprotected and seemingly impervious to the elements. A large Maple tree leaned over the wrought iron fence. Its twisted limbs stretched and scarred over head. Long finger like branches tapped and screeched against unbroken glass of the second and third floor.
The two men walked along the house keeping a step from the shrubbery but well away from the fence. The side yard though narrow seemed to squeeze them in, force them closer to the house itself.
The barred windows offered no port of entry. Black flat paint chipped and flaked from the bars but the iron itself remained unaffected by the passage of time. The swirled, barber pole, pattern left the edges sharp and grooved at cold hands when they tugged at the bars themselves.
The drizzle had turned into a down pour.
Tanner couldnt honestly attribute the bone cold chill that raced through his midsection toward the weather.
Hey Chris check it out, The soft Texas accent seemed obtrusive. Vin almost wished he had not spoken at all. His voice carried. It felt as if he had some how disclosed their location to the unseen enemy.
Larabee followed Vins outstretched hand. Funny, the sharpshooter didnt really extend his hand at all. A blind fear kept ones hands close to the body itself.
A lagoon sat just kitty corner to the far corner of the house. The fence wrapped around the small black body of water. An old carriage barn sat half way between house and pond. The back yard had spread out into a tall grassy exposing field. Dark woods circled its perimeter. A thick cloak of darkness entangled the tree trunks almost like a physical wall. The black fence bled off into the distance.
The two men headed for the carriage shed. Drawn toward it really. It stood two levels. The windows just as black and dead as the house. No bars graced the glass. Vandals never dared venture this deep.
Larabee searched the upper windows. He could feel eyes staring back at him. Something watched them from the second story. Chris tightened his hold on his Sig.
Their boots crunched on the brittle grass. Rain beat the ground and skulls with chilling intensity. Shoulders started to get soaked through despite the coats.
Tanners eyes lay on the black water. It seemed as if the pond swallowed light. It reflected nothing back. Vegetation failed to thrive around its edges. A lone small dilapitated dock stretched like a severed tongue out into the inky midst. The sharpshooter watched the water. It neither moved or made sounds. It sat stagnant as if waiting....
The two wandered farther from the house, more distance from their friends and possible help.
+ + + + + + +
JD followed closely on Bucks heels. The brittle grass almost seemed to snap under their feet. The young agent pressed his free hand against the small of Wilmingtons back. The warmth and close proximity offered only little comfort.
Buck didnt mind the touch.
Hey Buck what did Scooby use to carpet his dog house? The tight humor and attempt at diversion was welcomed by everyone. The young man kept one eye on the lurking blackness that enveloped the woods just on the other side of the fence. JD couldnt squelch the feeling of being trapped.
Nathan smiled tightly to himself as he and Josiah still played with the front door.
Vin quirked the corner of his mouth at the question and Larabee wondered how JDs mind worked so effortlessly to maintain some normalcy in a situation so out of control.
I dont know kid? Bucks whispered response rang through six pairs of headphones. The Midwestern agent found a steep set of concrete stairs. They led to a basement. Wilmington shed his light on the blood red door. It stood slightly ajar.
The warm hand that sat nestled at the small of his back had suddenly turned cold and sharp.
Shag carpet, The rough hollow voice did not belong to JD or any of the others.
Wilmington whirled around just in time to be catapulted down the stairs by something other than JD. Buck slammed into the sharp edges of the stairs. His head crashed into the cement door stop. The flashlight skittered and bounced from lax fingers. His body crumpled and slid passed the door.
It slammed closed with deafening finality. Silence reigned.
Josiah pushed on the door handle again.
"Well JD?" Jackson thought he knew the answer to this one. Too many seconds had passed. JD couldn't sit on a joke this long.
Josiah and Nathan stared at one another.
"JD?.....Buck?" Jackson started backing away from the door in order to search for the missing two.
The front door swung open under Josiah's relaxed hand. The two men stood torn.
Nathan fingered his ear piece, "Vin? Chris? we lost contact with Buck and JD but we got the front door open."
Chris's voice sounded over the ear pierce, "Find Ezra, we'll check on the other two."
Josiah nodded his agreement and stepped through the door with Jackson hot on his heels.
The puddle of blood was gone.
+ + + + + + +
Vin started to follow Chris away from the direction of the water. The tracker refused to turn his back on it.
Then he heard it. The soft, chattering sounds of a southern accent. "Help me Vin....it's so cold....please help me...." The soft plaintive voice barely carried.
"Ezra?" Tanner stopped. He stepped in place turning in a circle, searching the surrounding area. "Chris you hear that?....I hear Ez."
Larabee had walked a few more paces and then stopped. He listened intently but it seemed the more he strained the more he picked up background noise.
"I don't hear anything." Larabee took a step toward Tanner. The tracker didn't look right.
"Gawd Vin it hurts...please....so cold...Help me....Please Vin..." The childish painful sound tinged the accented words. Tanner turned and started jogging toward the water.
"Vin?" Larabee pushed his ear piece further into his ear. He couldn't hear a thing....not a thing...... "Josiah?.....Nathan?" Silence.
Chris felt his heart lurch. He gazed up and found Tanner further from him and nearly at the water's edge.
A warning screamed deep within Larabee. A primal instinct so basic it nearly kept him from running toward the blackened pond.
"He's in there Chris!" Tanner started out onto the dock. The sharpshooter turned to gaze over his shoulder. It was then he noticed how far he had separated himself from his partner and friend.
Survival instinct kicked in, fear scored through him like a bolt of electricity.
The voice sounded again, "Cold Vin....so cold.....help me...." Tanner cocked his head to the side. Under the pleading, under the southern accent lay a cold calculating force.
Vin moved to step from the edge of the wooden dock. He backed from the edge a half second to late.
Something grabbed his ankle. A clenched fist ensnared his leg in an icy grip and yanked him off balance and into the water. Tanner clipped his head on the edge of a board. He slid without resistance into the murky depths. The black surface rippled in two small circles and then smoothed out completely. Its placid surface showed no sign of having devoured something or someone.
Chris slowed. Through the driving rain he watched as Vin's outline suddenly toppled into the pond.
Larabee sprinted toward the dock. A force knocked him flat onto his back. Chris leapt to his feet and tried to circumvent the invisible barrier. A harsh wind picked up. A swirling cloud of dry leaves and sticks battered and whipped him forcing him back step by step. The leader of team seven found himself pushed and brutally shoved toward the carriage house.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah and Nathan stood in the foyer. Two large rooms lay to their left and right. A grand winding staircase snaked its way to the second floor. The agents chose to go to the right. A billiard table sat in the center of the room. A chandelier hung from wood beamed ceiling. White sheets and drop clothes covered furniture. Cobwebs and dust seemingly clung to everything. The drop cloth over the billiards table had been peeled back slightly.
Standish would always be undeniably drawn to all gaming things.
Ezra had been there only moments earlier. Where was he now?
Josiah fingered his medallion again. His fingers twitched and fumbled with it, twirling it on the leather thong that secured it around his neck. The little piece of metal seemed to shimmer with heat. Almost too hot to touch.
"Ezra?" Jackson's voice sounded intrusive, frightening. Their position suddenly revealed.
"Brother I think he would have been waiting here for us if he could," Sanchez whispered hoping to keep Jackson from making any more loud noises.
"Josiah it's not like this place is haunted....come on...there has got to be a perfectly good scientific explanation for what's going on." Jackson's words seemed unnaturally loud. His tone more confident than he truly felt at the time.
Josiah waited patiently for a rebuttal from Buck or JD or at least Vin, something from Chris maybe. Silence......
"Brother Chris?.....Vin?" Josiah stared meaningfully at Nathan. The ex-preacher searched the room with a critical eye. The opulence that lay under the grime and disrepair chilled his soul. Nothing kind graced this house.
As the silence stretched over the head pieces, the two men slowly made their way back toward the front door.
Josiah tried to fight the urge to run. His friend was in here somewhere....lost, possibly hurt. Yet something deep down inside....something that drove the body and spirit to survive when the brain shut down, shoved him toward the door.
Fear raced through his veins.
Sanchez stared at Nathan and saw his own terror manifested within his friend.
They pulled and shoved each other toward the foyer.
The door slammed shut with enough force to rattle windows. They both whirled around expecting to face.....something. Nothing physical stood before them. Their unease escalated. They were trapped.
"Any great scientific explanations....Dr. Scully?"
"Shut up Josiah."
+ + + + + + +
JD blinked. What the hell? He realized he lay flat on his back.....on wet grass....in the dark... He moved a leg...then the other one and finally his hands. Everything worked..or seemed to work ok.
His head drummed mercilessly.
He blinked up at the rain. A house towered over him. Tree branches scratched and clawed at the siding of the house. Finger like in their intensity to do harm. Twisted dead shrubbery lay to his right near a cement stair case.
The youngest member of Team Seven then remembered where he was.....
"Buck?" his whispered words drowned in the sound of pelting rain.
The young agent rolled onto his hands and knees. He faced the back of the house. The deep hollow to his left led to the basement door.
JD started pushing himself to his feet and made it to a three point position.
Suddenly something encircled his left foot. A vice like grip snapped his leg out from underneath him sending him crashing back to the soggy earth.
Dunne tried to claw his way free. He kicked and sheared with his other foot at whatever held him. The grip fastened tighter, pinching off the circulation to his toes.
Terror seeded itself firmly in his mind. JD scratched the ground with toes and fingers alike trying to escape.
Despite his best efforts, he felt himself get dragged toward the house.
He fought. He wiggled and screamed, or so he thought he screamed but he heard nothing. A branch wrapped around his neck and cut off his air.
Terror seized him completely. In a blind panic spurred by the undeniable urge to live, the young man fought. He clawed and arched, twisted and gnawed at anything he could.
He left furrows in the soggy earth where his fingers had dug in, in an attempt to prevent him from sliding out of sight...to halt his forced entry into the basement level windows of the house.
The choking force around his throat did not lessen even when the fight had been suffocated from its victim.
+ + + + + + +
Vin struggled and fought the current that sucked him to the bottom of the pond. He waved his arms pushing against the water, kicked his legs madly trying to regain the surface.
The force of the current sucked him to the bottom. Silt clouded the disturbed water but Tanner's closed eyes saw none of this. The sharpshooter struggled and fought.
His lungs burned, his mind screamed to take a breath. He grit his teeth against the over desiring urge to open his mouth and swallow a breath....to take a gasp of air.
He clawed at the the sooty bottom. Raked his finger tips through the weedy debris that waved and slapped against his body.
The chill of the water had been forgotten in his blind state of panic.
Fingers dragged through the soil, grasping to no avail at weightless plant life. Flashes of light speared the periphery of his blackened vision. With no control over his body he felt himself try and drag in a breath of air.....Just as he was sucked down and through a metal corrugated tube.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan followed Josiah through the house. This was not real....not what it appeared to be...not possible. There had to be a logical explanation for everything. Jackson peered over his shoulder with his gun in hand. The sickening feeling of not being alone crawled up his spine.
"Ezra!" Jackson hollered out again. He'd be damned if he fell into the hysteria that followed strange sounds and unusual occurrences. Out of defiance and to reaffirm his own logical beliefs, he called out for Standish....Ghosts and Goblins be damned.
Josiah let out a tiny squeal and whirled around. The sudden urge to strangle someone focused entirely on Jackson. "Brother," Sanchez's low whispered voice nearly screamed with warning.
"What?" Jackson found something he could practice and prove his fearless defiance.
"You do that again and you'll be the next missing body," Sanchez closed his eyes trying to will his heart back into his chest.
"Josiah ain't no such things as ghosts, or ghouls, mummies, or whatever else you think is running around this house." Jackson moved off away from his friend to the other side of the oak kitchen table. An inch of dust easily sat on the surface. Nothing had disturbed this area in ages. Large spider webs stretched and arched from hanging pots to barred windows. Sinks sat empty of pots and pans yet bodies of spiders lay balled in tombs of dirt and dust.
A wooden knife holder sat empty on the marble counter top. Jackson brushed some of the dirt away. Under the beam of his flashlight the chemist marveled at the skill and craftsmanship that had been dedicated toward the house.
Ezra had been right...this place was amazing. "Ezra!" Jackson called out again.
Sanchez cringed....next time he would pair up with Buck or JD.
"You know that dang fool is probably hiding in here somewhere laughing his fool head off at us." Jackson's eyes followed the cut of the beam as his light splayed over the ceiling. Amazing carpentry work indeed. What a waste.
"Perhaps brother, but I think Mr. Apollyon scares Ezra....and Vin's spooked," Josiah held Nathan's gaze from across the darkened room, "and that doesn't happen often."
Nathan broke eye contact with his friend and found his gaze wandering out the barred windows. "Wonder what they were trying to keep out?" His soft whispers floated across the room and over headsets. This really could be a pretty spot if someone took the time to care for the place.
"Wonder what they're trying to keep in?" The harsh crackling voice had Nathan's blood freezing in his veins. The Chemist couldn't move at first. He stood rooted, eyes closed and heart drumming wildly.
He exhaled a cautious breath.
The Nathan slowly turned. He did not bother calling out to Josiah. The ex-preacher stood across the room engrossed in something on the counter. Josiah didn't hear it.
Jackson turned and came face to face with his own gun. He never even knew the Sig. had left his hand.
Wide eyed and speechless, the Chemist watched mesmerized as the hammer cocked itself backward. The small silver lined swirled barrel aimed unwavering at his forehead. It hung suspended in mid air. He was going to die.
Oh God, Oh God....oh God......
A taunting laughing voice crackled through his head, "Never any help when you need him....or Her...perhaps It?.....What do you believe Mr. Jackson?.....In facts...logic....Science?" The voice wrapped itself around his mind like a cold tendril.
Nathan had never been so absolutely frozen in all his life.
Josiah caught his breath. He felt it. It was in the room with them. Dust swirled and spiraled on the counter tops. Fright draped him like a suffocating blanket.
Every instinct in his body told him to remain still...not to draw attention to himself.
Sanchez slowly swiveled his head to gaze at Jackson. Nathan had to feel it...had to sense the anger and maliciousness that suddenly invaded the room. No science could explain such horrific pure sadistic intent.
The medallion at Josiah's chest began to burn. Its heat wafted smoke from his coat. His chest had begun to sear under the intensity.
Sanchez turned to see Nathan facing his own gun.
A shadow stood just before the chemist. A black silhouette of malintent swallowed any light that strayed toward it. But in creating its own dark shadow it stood out amongst the greys and soft blacks of a normally darkened room.
Something vicious stood ready to gun Jackson down.
Sanchez acted. He unconsciously gripped his burning medallion and dove for Nathan.
He hit the chemist just as the gun flashed with a roar.
Nathan thought himself dead. Knew it with an almost certainty. Knew it as confidently as he knew that JD would constantly have a line of bad jokes, knew it as well as he knew Ezra had a nasty cold and Chris foul moods.
Jackson didn't want a die but he was a man of facts. A gun just inches from his face had fired on him in a dreary kitchen in the middle of nowhere. He had no time to react.
So....why was he sliding out of control down a metal chute yelling incoherently entangled in the protective arms of his best friend?
Nathan Jackson had no logical, scientific explanations...but he would find them.
Their wild descent came to a crude teeth rattling abrupt stop. Nathan caught Josiah's knee off the back of the head. The preacher tumbled over the back of Jackson and slammed into cobbled stone floor.
A bored voice across the room sounded slightly irritable.
"Oh look honey visitors."
"Shut up Ezra," Nathan felt blood pool in his mouth.
Chris Larabee slammed into the wall of the Carriage shed with enough force to lose his breath. His head rebounded off the shingled wood wall only to get slapped back.
Coup, Counter Coup. This was bullshit!
Larabee covered his eyes with his arms as the gale force wind pinned him to the side of the building. Debris scratched and scoured his hands and face. Rain beat at him with merciless intensity.
He rolled down the wall fumbling for the door. He nearly collapsed through the entrance. The door slammed into the side of the wall smashing the glass.
Things suddenly fell silent.
Chris stood flush to the inner wall and caught his breath. Rain dove into the large room in near horizontal sheets.
"Vin?..." Larabee cupped one hand over his ear piece hoping to pick up any sign of his team. "Josiah?...Buck?" Silence answered his inquiries.
Larabee felt anger boil.
He pushed from the wall intent on going back out into the weather. He would dredge the pond with his bare hands if he had too. He had every intentions of driving Josiah's suburban through the front door if need be...things stopped now.
As he stormed for the door....something caught his eye.
A white bundle. It stood out amongst the dark greys and shadows. Not just one white bundle but bales of them. They stood shrink wrapped and stacked in the back of the building.
Chris holstered his gun and made his way to the bales'.
+ + + + + + +
Buck knew he was in hell. There could be no other explanation as to why he felt so cold and wet all at the same time. His head hurt and his shoulder burned despite the chills that wracked his body. In fact everytime he shivered his shoulder protested more.
"Hey he's coming around," JD's voice? Dang kid had a way of stating the obvious. Least ways he weren't telling anymore of his rotten jokes.
" Ey Nathan....What does Scooby make at the copy machine?"
So much for small wonders.
"Shut up kid," Buck tried to roll onto his stomach. It was then he realized he had been laying on his back. Nausea and lingering aches convinced him his position on the floor was just fine. He stayed put.
"Paw prints," A raspy southern voice answered the inquiry with tired resignation.
"Buck you doin' ok?" Nathan suddenly moved beside him.
"Hell no...some ghoul shoved me down a flight of steps.....and JD's still spoutin' off his lousy jokes," Wilmington raised a shaky hand to his forehead. He unpeeled an eyelid....its twin unpeeled itself. The wonder of reflex. It took a bit but he found himself staring at a cobbled ceiling. Moss and fungi seemed to grow and latch onto every available crevice and surface. He let his eyes fall to Nathan.
Jackson smiled tightly back at him before sliding back out of his range of view.
"It weren't no ghoul," Jackson reiterated for the thousandth time. He would choke his teammates.
"How can ya be so sure Nathan....I mean it weren't me that shoved Buck down them stairs...and something sure as hell beat Ezra half senseless....I mean look at him," At JD's insistence Wilmington couldn't help but turn his head left and then right. He laid his questionable sight on the Undercover agent.
Standish lay on his side slightly curled in his full length coat. Blood covered part of his face and his arms were hidden behind him.
Buck try to form the words that would make a question but JD prattled on in his harried excitable manner, "an look at Vin...something sucked him into a pond...called to him an everything...said it sounded like Ezra...weren't Ezra though....was it Ez?"
Ezra tried to formulate an answer to the question but JD spoke right over him, "No way weren't you...and what about You and Josiah, Nathan, ...How does your gun just levitate in mid air and go off by itself...and what about Josiah's Crucifix thingy...huh? Dang near burned a hole through his coat and shirt...Not to mention you guys just spill out of the wall into here."
JD leaned back against the stone cut wall and rubbed at his neck. Ain't no way they were in a good spot. Nothing at the police department or School taught him for this....hell they needed the Ghostbusters or something. "Maybe the house is built on sacred Indian Burial Grounds...." the soft words hailed with nervous fearful energy.
"Perhaps a Pet Cemetery," Ezra's dismissive sarcasm lost its way in the hoarse sounds. He tucked his chin closer to his chest. "and would someone please unbind me." His exasperation rang with crystal clarity around the room.
"Sorry Ez, don't gut my knife on me," Vin volunteered, "Lady of the lake must've picked my pocket."
"Probably groped your ass," Buck snickered. It jarred his shoulder reminding him to keep still, "you probably didn't even notice."
"Nope too busy drowning," Tanner sat back and rested his head against the moldy rock and closed his eyes. A soft smile laced his face at JD's next words.
JD stared wide eyed at the Undercover agent as images ran rampart through his mind, "Yeah....maybe....a pet cemetery..." Dunne dropped his hand unconsciously toward his missing gun.
Vin shifted his position carefully and sat up surveying the dank confines of their stone prison, "Or maybe an Indian Pet Cemetery," The steel determination in his eyes had the others wondering if he were serious or not....right up until he winked at Buck.
"Shut up you guys..." JD's failed to be wounded, "It's just.....this ain't natural...not at all." Let them think what they will.
"JD why would a ghost need to tie Ez up with Duct tape?" Nathan tiredly tried again to show is less than stellar team mates that nothing supernatural had occurred this evening. Why did he bother? The others just egged the Kid on.....
"Cuz he's a pain in the ass," A Texas mutter ached across the room. Tanner rubbed at his chest. He had puked his guts out when he had been catapulted from the pipe onto a drainage cover. Unseen hands dragged him in here. He had still been hurling black water from his system and never had a chance to see who or what dragged him around like reeled in Cutthroat.
"And you're the image of cooperation and aggreeablility," Standish's sarcastic words scratched over a raw throat and chapped lips. The southerner turned his attention toward the others, "could one of you gentlemen please undo the tape...." he wrestled furtively with his bindings with no success.
Nathan ignored the two and continued in trying to lead JD back onto the path of reality, "All I'm saying is.....why catch us one at a time and dump us in here?.....It has got to be a clue. "
"Well Thank you Velma," Buck's tired voice silenced the room.
"Would that make Mr. Dunne Scrappy Doo?" Standish tried to bend his legs up and slip his wrists under the soles of his shoes to bring his hands to the front. His coat hampered is efforts greatly.
"Shut Up Ezra....or should I say Daphne?" Dunne hit Vin with a smile.
"Kid has a point Ez.....you're always causing trouble...and don't really do much to help cept make lots of noise..."
"I don't know Brother Vin...I was always under the impression that Daphne and Fred had something going on...."
"Oh No way!" JD stared at the oldest member of the team as if he had lost his mind.
"Come on JD you can't be that blind......" Buck delicately shifted his position...piercing bolts of pain lanced his shoulder....Wilmington stared at their computer expert... "or maybe you can."
"Shut up Buck."
"Don't move around too much Buck I think ya broke your collar bone," Jackson leaned forward away from the wall trying to get a better look at the Ladies' Man.
"All I'm sayin'...is that Fred was always sending Shaggy and Scooby and Velma off together....jist seems to me it gave him and Daphne some time together." Wilmington would never understand where JD's innocence came from.
"So you sayin' Vin's like Daphne?"
Things paused. JD's eyes widened in shock.... "That ain't what I meant..."
"Sure sounded it to me," Buck rolled his head slightly "Sound that way to you Ez?"
"It's ok JD," Vin answered quietly, "we all know who wears the purple dress amongst us."
"May you rot in Hell Mr. Tanner," Ezra regretted the words the second they left his mouth.
+ + + + + + +
Chris dug out his baling twine knife. A pocket knife really...as dull as melted butter and useless for most things except flipping up soda tops and sawing through twine. The etching on it had disappeared long ago. He kept the knife because it had been a Christmas gift from JD years ago. Buck had told Larabee later that the choice had come down to a video game or the knife. Buck had steered the kid in the direction of the knife...Vin had pushed for the game.
Larabee gazed at the white bales and then drove the knife through the shrink wrap. He spread the split plastic. Even in the dim light and shadow cast barn he could make out stacks of paper money.
Chris let loose with a low whistle as he pulled a stack of twenties from the pile. He ran his fingers over the edges of the money. Something seemed off.
Larabee sat on the ground of the shed and dug out his lighter. Under the protection of a canopy he ignited the small flame to get a closer look at the money. The color appeared good. The texture wrong. Chris held the flame to the corner of the bill. The Twenty caught fire immediately. Flame rushed up the new fuel and curled the bill. Larabee quickly dropped it.
He stared at the bales...there had to be dozens of them.
Damn them and their luck.
A counterfeiting ring. His damn team ran into a gun dealing counterfeiter. Where's the flippin' Secret Service when you need them?
+ + + + + + +
"How fitting you should say that Mr. Standish," Mr. Apollyon entered the room. The temperature immediately dropped. His clean cut almost sterile appearance cast angry harsh angles about his lean frame. A Camel's hair coat rested easily on his shoulders. Its tailored cut accentuated the money and power he exuded. He slid deeper into the room having no fear of the men that sat unbound on the floor.
Buck tried to wiggle his way closer to JD but the kid moved first. Damn him for his loyalty. Dunne put himself between his best friend and threat that faced them.
Josiah fingered the medal at his chest. It grew hot. Nathan forced himself to hold his own ground where he sat though every instinct in his being told him to create distance from the man' before them.
Vin eyed the intruder without moving. The sharpshooter avoided eye contact. This was what had stalked him while he sat in the tree....this is who called him to the pond. He didn't know how Nathan's science could explain what made this being. A man did not lurk under those clothes or behind those eyes.
Mr. Apollyon stepped with confidence through the stone room. His gilded heeled boots rang hollow against the stone. He slid by Wilmington and Dunne. JD shrunk back from the cold draft that seeped through his clothes. The arms dealer ignored Jackson and Sanchez who sat stiffly against the wall.
Josiah sucked in a breath as his chest began to blister under the heat of his talisman.
Tanner tried to shuttle himself closer to Standish but a hard glare from Apollyon stopped him dead. His limbs frozen in place, trapped like a frog on the dissecting table.
Standish couldn't help himself. He shrank back when the arms dealer knelt before him.
"You can leave now if you wish......you are not one of them...." Pale blue eyes, so pale almost white, bore into the Undercover agent, "join me freely and never want for another thing."
Standish shuttered at the close proximity of the thing in front of him. He trembled at the chill that seeded his very insides. The undercover agent skittered back against the wall hoping the stones would give way and grant him more space.
"Leave'im alone you bastard," Wilmington struggled to sit up. JD levered himself under his friend.
"He's as much as one of us as the rest of us," JD hotly defied the power before them.
"Seven does not work.....it does not make for equal parts," The voice took on a low mesmerizing singsong cadence. The eyes never strayed from the southerner.
Standish found himself staring into soulless eyes. He suddenly felt tired, exhausted, as if the cold had sapped him of his strength. Somewhere off in the distance he could hear Vin shouting at him.
The Texan's voice sounded far off, "Don't listen to him Ezra....We're right here, Ez...."
"Don't look at him Brother...."
"It ain't real Ezra....none of this is real...."
Standish shuttered again, his last thought wrapped around how Nathan could reach him from so far away?
Chris checked his weapon and his extra clips. His foe lived and breathed like normal human beings. Things were looking up.
Larabee headed for the door and paused. A deep chill hit him. He shuttered pulling his coat closer. For a brief moment, dread filled his soul. As quick as it came, it dissipated.
+ + + + + + +
The voice belonged to Buck
"Can't find nothing wrong with'im,"
Nothing wrong? I'm freezing half to death, my head pounding and my throat feels like I've swallowed cut glass....and you can find nothin' wrong?
"Would someone please free my hands," a weak scratchy voice moaned out pitifully.
"Ez?" JD's youthful voice had Standish blinking and trying to sit up at the same time.
Two sets of hands held him back, "Jist lie still Brother, you've been out for some time."
Standish found his eyes focusing slowly on Josiah and then Nathan. "What happened?"
"Think Apollyon wanted ya to sell ya soul," Tanner's voice held some levity, "but like ya normal stuffy self...," Vin offered the slightly bewildered man a wink, "Ya come at too high a price."
"Ya should've seen it Ez," Dunne tried to peer around Nathan, "Josiah got pissed and started chanting some stuff......and..."
"I think the technical term is mumbojumbo," Wilmington added. Someone had finally propped him against the wall. He had been leaning heavily on JD. Dang kid couldn't sit still for a second maybe he was better off laying back down.
"Whatever..." JD dismissed Buck and tried to get a better look at Standish. Ezra had them scared when he had passed out and just curled up shivering. Nathan had said it were a fever caused from his stupid cold.
The others didn't believe it either.
"JD," Sanchez's deep voice softly warned the youngest, now was not the time for retellings.
The others exchanged glances. No one had an answer.
Buck finally spoke, "Fred's out gathering clues...only thing is he don't have his trusty side kicks with'im."
The humor came across hollow but the others appreciated the attempt.
+ + + + + + +
Chris started from the Carriage house. The wind whipped the rain in freezing torrents. Larabee searched the area left then right. The pond stood placid despite the storm that bent trees and caused the wind to moan.
The leader of Team Seven sprinted toward the dock. He had to find Vin.
Hunched low and shoulders curled against the icy rain, Larabee ran his eyes over the water's surface. Nothing.
He lay flat on his belly and with only minor hesitation reached a hand into the black depths. His heart raced with the terror of feeling a soft water logged body...a floater. He half expected something to grab his wrist and pull him under...
Again nothing. He swept the edges of the dock and bent over the sides peering under the structure.....Nothing....
Larabee slowly pushed himself to his feet. He wouldn't be able to find Vin, not now, maybe tomorrow they would have to dredge the lagoon.
Larabee stood in the freezing rain, gun down by his side and stared accusingly at the house.
The house itself felt like an entity all its own. The darkened windows glared back at him, mocking him with lifeless eyes. Somewhere within those black depths was his undercover agent.
Larabee had every intention of gathering his team and going home. He ignored the lagoon behind him.
Vin Tanner was not dead.
Movement to Larabee's left garnered his attention. Two forms slipped into the carriage house. The height and sizes were not familiar.
Finally some answers.
+ + + + + + +
Two men stared at the torn bale. Sweet God they were dead men. Mr. Apollyon had said he would take care of the Federals but had promised painful deaths to those around him if the money were discovered.
The carriage house seemed like the perfect place to store it.....most people with any sense, would not dare venture this far into the territory. The House better yet Mr. Apollyon walked as if Death itself were his closest companion.
The workers did not like their boss they feared him. He seemed to embody every horror they had ever imagined or witnessed. He spoke to them while dissecting their souls with his whitish eyes.
A noise behind the two men had them spinning around, terrified their boss had found them.
"Not a sound," The voice rang softly and decidabley human.
The two men sighed. Perhaps the Federales would protect them from the monster that directed them.
"Step away from the bales and put your hands where I can see them." Larabee hid within the shadows until the two men complied.
"Put your arms around that pole and put these cuffs on."
The two men shuffled toward the pole and did as directed. The blond slipped from the shadows only briefly to hand them the cuffs. The two captives began to thick perhaps they had fallen from the frying pan and into the proverbial fire.
The two men did as directed.... they had nowhere to run.
Larabee slipped out of sight with his back to the wall. He kept the door in his line of vision as well as the two men.
"Now you're going to tell me where my men are and what's going on." The blond's voice conveyed terrestrial threats and anger. Somehow it promised a miserable death comparable if not worse than their immediate boss and enslaver.
Apollyon would kill them in the most heinous way imaginable...but may just maybe this Federale would be able to save them. The lithe blond had avoided capture thus far. Death by El Diablo or this earth spawned demon it seemed to the two captured men's fate toyed with them mercilessly.
"He is El Diablo," The first man's voice shook and trembled with fear. The word rolled from his tongue as the captive's eyes darted about the dark room searching impenetrable recesses.
"Si....El Diablo....," The second man confirmed he shuffled closer to the post trying to keep body parts close to Self.
Larabee ran a hand through his wet hair and sat back against the wall. The Devil.....figures.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra wiggled, pulling and straining against the tape that bound his wrists behind his back, "I don't see why I'm the only one who is bound like a game hen." He rolled onto his stomach, careless of the wet fungi and slime that covered the ground and now the front of his coat and suit. "Why must we always be held in the dankest most vile of prisons.....why not a penthouse suite...or something with at least a dry atmosphere....this is reprehensible." Ezra flexed and extended his wrists trying gamely to create room between his skin and tape, "I was destined for greater things..." his soft muttering whispered around the room landing on tired ears.
"Ezra quit squirming around," Nathan did not need to crack open an eye to know that Standish had once again rolled in a fruitless attempt to get his wrists free.
"Ya know pard' if it were a rope I'd ve had ya outta there in no time," Vin felt a pang of sympathy for the struggling man but stifled it easily. Tanner tilted his head to the side, "Ya know Ez, I think yer finger tips are turning blue."
"Mr. Tanner," Ezra rolled back onto his side. His shoulder and hip complained, "you are absolutely no help."
"Hey Ez, I was wondering, How come only you got tied up?" JD sat against the wall. Buck drifted on an off to sleep. Every fifteen minutes or so, JD and Nathan would wake him up. The last few times he had been pretty groggy and disoriented but it straightened out if they talked to him enough.
"Oh more theories from Scrappy Doo," Standish rubbed his face and forehead on the shoulder of his coat. Gawd he felt miserably cold.
JD ignored the barb. Ezra didn't take being tied up and confined too well. Better than Vin....heck Vin would have gone ballistic by now. Ezra though, he just got more mouthy. "Jist thinking why a ghost would want to tie you up and not us."
Josiah interrupted before Ezra started a retort.
"He's not a ghost JD," Josiah noticed Vin pop his head up. The clear blue eyes of the Tracker held silent mixed disagreement. Tanner didn't think their gun dealer was a ghost but Vin trusted his gut enough to have figured out he weren't human. "Though I think we might be better off if he were." The low voice rumbled with regret at alternative possibilities that face them.
"Please Mr. Sanchez, don't keep us in suspense," Standish attempted to sit up but muscles fatigued, from being cold too long, refused to obey. He slid back to the stone floor. His eyes even burned.
"Apollyon," Josiah eyed each man seriously, as he held his talisman at his chest, "Is the Angel of the endless pit....Zoroastrians called him the Angra Mainya or Lying Mind," Sanchez stared at Ezra. The one sided argument Ezra had had with Chris earlier that morning sprang to mind. Chris had called him the team liar...the team cheat. Not flattering namesakes and meant to hurt....and they had...they had hit their mark with frightful accuracy.
"What is the point of this fascinating genealogy of names," Standish broke eye contact with the older man dropping his gaze to the stone floor. It was what he was good at....cheating and lying...how else could he succeed at undercover work. His whole base for employment rested on his ability to deceive. They all knew that...expected it from him....
"Ezra," Jackson warned tiredly. He had no doubt that in the morning they would find all the strings and wires that made this night feel so ghoulish and demonic.
Josiah pressed on understanding Standish's reluctance to hear the words, "He was later personified as Ahriman......The Muslims call him Iblis...."
JD latched onto a name he recognized, "Like Count Iblis from Battle Star Galatica," Dunne searched the other's faces hoping they too recognized the name. "You guys remember....a two parter...."
Vin chuckled slightly, "I was thinkin' the same thing Kid." Tanner had no idea who Count Iblis was or what the heck Battle Star Galatica was all about...but JD could use an ally.
"Your point, Mr. Sanchez," Ezra rested his head back down on the wet cobble stone in resignation, "you do have a point....."
Sanchez nodded and sighed, "Iblis is the Evil One.....better know as the Devil....The Greek's"
Standish interrupted him with uncertainty, "Greek for Slanderer or false accuser."
"The one and only," Josiah leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. Moisture seeped through his clothing and chilled his skin. It didn't match the cold ache in his heart.
JD gazed around the room, "Dang Ez...ya pissed the devil off so bad he taped yer hands together...."
"Mr. Dunne will you please desist from...."
"Devil must not be all knowing...." Sanchez's deep voice silenced the others.
Tanner sat up and stared at Josiah in questioning.
Sanchez continued with a smirk, "cuz if he were he would've taped Brother Ezra's mouth shut."
"You gentlemen are insane...you know that....out of your....." Standish wrestled with his bound wrists again.
"Could be his way of inflicting Hell on us," Nathan pointed out softly.
"Don't really explain why he tied Ezra and not the rest of us," Tanner remarked quietly.
"Maybe he figured Ez would be more likely to run," JD spoke without looking up.
Ezra stopped moving and dropped his gaze to the mildew floor. Past transgressions had away of biting you in the ass time and time again. He rested his head against the wet stones and closed his eyes.
"JD ain't sayin' ya would've Ez," Tanner's quiet Texan voice rang softly around the room.
Standish merely nodded without gazing up at anyone.
Nathan directed his attention away from his now distant friend curled on the floor. Jackson turned to Buck, he knew how to comfort physical ailments.
"I'm awake Nathan," The tired resignation in Wilmington's voice matched Standish's face.
"I got another joke," JD forced a smile trying to create some levity. "What'd Shaggy say when he couldn't find Scooby?"
"Please Mr. Wilmington do not let your young roommate purchase any more candy bars," Ezra pushed himself back against the stone wall. The cool texture felt good against the heat. Damn it was hot in here. If only he could remove his coat.
"Yer the only one who knows the answers," Buck wondered just how many candy bars he had left in his locked desk drawer.
"We don't know JD...What?"
Before JD could answer, Ezra cut him off, "Dog-gone."
Chris left the two men handcuffed to the pole. Neither man offered to holler out for help. Neither cried out or screamed in hopes someone would hear them...Truth be told Larabee got the sense these two feared attention from anyone or anything.
Larabee eased out the side door of the Carriage house. The wind whipped rain against the side of the building as if in an attempt to bring down anything in its path.
Chris stood impervious to the howling wind and brutal rain. With gun clutched tight, the leader of team seven strode purposefully toward the house.
El Diablo or not, Chris Larabee had every intention of retrieving his men and seeking retribution.
Larabee gazed up at the house as he drew closer. The wind and driving rain buffeted and pummeled him trying to beat him back.
Chris hunched his head and curled his shoulders. Leaning forward he marched into the storm and toward the house.
Wet boots crunched and dug into brittle brown grass. Leafless branches of long dead shrubbery tore and grabbed at his clothing. Nothing could obtain purchase. Twigs and sticks screeched and scratched on windows over head. The house towered unfazed by the abuses wrought up on it by nature itself.
Larabee doggedly made his way toward the front door.
+ + + + + + +
Vin skirted the circumference of the room. JD shadowed the tracker searching the stones and corners for any indicator of a way out. Josiah watched them with a curious eye.
Wilmington dozed quietly, his head rested on Dunne's coat and Jackson's jacket covered him like a blanket. His right arm had been secured in place by Ezra's suspenders. The undercover agent quietly allowed Jackson to take the accessories from him. Not like he could have done much to prevent it either.
"There has got to be a secret switch or lever or something," JD mumbled to himself as he ran his hands over the stones. He pulled and scratched at loose mortar, he pushed and shoved at stones that might have appeared slightly different than its neighbors. As of yet, they had found nothing.
"I'm hopin' so Kid," Tanner stood back from the far wall and stood in the middle of the room. He scanned the stones enclosing them, carefully like one would examine a radiograph or an expensive painting.
"Brothers, do you suspect that Apollyon is not after us at all but perhaps Brother Larabee?" Josiah pushed himself to his feet. His knees felt rusty and his hips complained. The large man straightened slowly favoring the small of his back. The damp cold did nothing to soothe aching bones and tense muscles.
Ezra pushed and pulled himself into a sitting position. It made him lightheaded at first and stars flashed briefly at the edges of his vision. "An intriguing possibility," Standish rolled his neck. His left shoulder ached considerably.
"How come though?" JD pushed on another stone to no avail.
"Everything seems to point to Ezra, there," Vin added casting his gaze up at the ceiling. If something is not obvious then search for the obtuse.
Standish seemed to shrink back at the words, creating distance from himself and this team mates.
"Deception," Josiah thought out loud working the alternatives out as he spoke, "Brother Ezra is a deceiver," Sanchez nodded his head at the undercover agent. He smiled sadly as Standish tried to square his shoulders and show the world that such things did not bother him. "But he acts only as directed....his deceptions are for the benefit of those around him."
"Not gunrunners," JD chuckled, he ran a finger along some chipped mortar hoping to find a loosen block. Nothing.
"You guys really aren't falling for this supernatural stuff are you?" Jackson's exasperated disbelief hung heavy in the air. The other four exchanged glances unsure if they should take that step and admit that maybe they did think something beyond their reasoning was at work...And how much did they believe was unterrestial and how far did this belief go? Nathan read their unsure expressions and gauffed.
"Just because we might not want to believe in something that is beyond our natural laws we cannot discount it completely." Josiah reasoned cautiously. He tapped and played on dangerous and thin ice. His team mates and friends had their feet firmly planted in their beliefs. They found fault within themselves and their fellow man. Bad things happened, unfair and unjust things befell the innocent because of the work and actions of others. No supernatural deity controlled their world or forced their hands.
JD stared at the others in shock, "Why can't it be true? What's so hard to accept, I don't see nuthin' logical about tonight," Dunne stepped away from the wall and stared at each man individually and then let his eyes fall to Buck, "That Apollyon isn't normal, he isn't like you and me....heck he just walked in and out of this room as if the walls don't exist," JD turned and faced Nathan, "Science can't even cure the common cold....it can't even save people from diseases." Dunne slumped back against the wall and regarded the others, his eyes flashing with his determination, ".....and I can't see how physics and stuff can explain that Apollyon guy.....or what happened to Ezra, or Josiah and you, Nathan, or even Vin...and something sure as heck grabbed me in the yard.....thought I was dead.." the unease in the young man's voice spoke volumes of his fear.
Vin licked his lips and eyed the ceiling once more, "I don't know..."
"I'm more inclined to side with Mr. Jackson," Ezra tilted his head slightly toward the chemist, "but I am woefully unable to completely discredit everything else no matter how unbelievable."
"Exactly," Sanchez walked across the small room. Change his perspective. From the far corner where Vin had once sat Sanchez surveyed his team mates. Wilmington still slept uneasily with JD's coat nestled under his head and another supporting his injured shoulder that lay strapped across his chest with suspenders. Nathan's coat had slid but covered him somewhat. Jackson stayed by Buck's side but watched the others with a scrutinizing gaze. Vin turned in a tight circle running his practiced eye over every inch of wall and now ceiling. The sharpshooter would not sit for confinement. JD tested the walls pushing at the boundaries set before him...and Standish sat apart from the others...watching them with a wary eye and a touch of guilt.
Seven did not make equal pairs. Apollyon spoke a degree of truth under certain circumstances. Six did, and here six men sat within a small dank room and still one separated himself from the rest. Six worked only if the pairs matched. Standish kept changing his stripes, his colors because he did not want to fit within this group to tightly...he didn't want to belong only to be cast aside further down the road. He accepted their friendship on his terms and conditions but remained unwilling to accept the level of devotion and loyalty the others presented. He had been conditioned far too long and had taken too many lumps on his own to venture forth into the realm of security the others offered.
They had all suffered as Standish had at one time or another...all fell through the hollow floors of false friendships and loyalty and tragedies and all had survived.
A feeling JD had yet to live through and experience but one the other five had floundered through and escaped. They had made it out of their self imposed isolation to find a niche within the confines of the others. Buck found JD, Vin and Chris one another, and even Nathan had slowly let go of his anger and blind immersion in his work to find a friend in Josiah. Sanchez himself had finally recognized and recovered from his own past to see what the others presented and latched on...Standish had yet to pull himself from his river of self deception and solitude. He had yet to close the door on the pains still too fresh to speak about and so still kept himself aloof from the others.
Deception....Apollyon, Iblis, Devil, they were deceivers slanders, and false accusers.
Had they all not felt such pain in their own life times...had they not all been deceived or falsely accused or slandered.
JD, maybe he amongst the group, had escaped such curses...but not the others. Not Buck, not Vin or Nathan or even Josiah...but all had found a cure, a salve to place on wounds that had festered long ago.
Standish accepted no such healing. He still snarled at a world that sometimes turned on him in ways he should have recognized but failed to see until too late. He struck first at times in an attempt to pre-empt a blow that was sure to reign upon him. A deceiver. He smiled and laughed at those that wished to punish him...he mocked others that had the resources and strength to hurt him.
He struck at Chris verbally this morning, drew first blood, before Chris's foul mood could strike. Standish acted before he had to react.
His deception was directed inward.
Sanchez let his eyes linger on the undercover who sat curled in his coat visibly shivering but asking for no support. Not because he didn't think he would garner any help...but because he feared the help would be readily offered...then what? How does one keep their solitude if friends stood just outside waiting to rush in with aid. He didn't ask for a coat or a jacket or any aspirin simply because he deceived himself enough to think he did not need or want any aid. Worse yet what if he accepted the proffered items....lose some of his independence. Ezra P. Standish watched out for number one. Depended on himself for most things.....the important things.
"Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Sanchez?" Reddened green eyes swiveled around and returned Josiah's stare.
"It's not you he wants," Josiah almost wished it was not true. If Apollyon had come seeking to steal Standish's soul a fight would ensue. A fierce battle would be waged and maybe all would be lost....maybe all but in that battle Standish may have seen that others were willing to defend and help him outside of work. Better yet, Ezra would have to ask for help...he would have to seek out aid and depend on his friends and teammates in order to survive. The others would lay everything on the line, their lives...their souls to defend him. Ezra knew it. Maybe that responsibility frightened him enough that he tried to physically separate himself from it.
Apollyon wanted Standish to join him, asked him, but did not demand it. Ezra had defended himself as he had done so many times in the past....simply ignored the situation. He couldn't walk away, his sarcasm failed under the sore throat, he fell asleep. A maddening reaction at best for Apollyon. No fight...no tension.....no fear....Standish had ignored him.
"How very reassuring," Standish turned his attention back toward his own shoes. He sat with his knees drawn up to his chest in an attempt to trap body heat. A tremor tensed his body.
"It's Chris," Tanner turned and faced Josiah. Fear screened his blue eyes.
Josiah nodded solemnly.
"Then will someone please untape me," Standish found no relief in the exchange between his two team mates. Losing even one of the other six terrified him. It would be by the grace of God that he got killed first or maimed instead of the others...not that he desired anything such as that to occur. But if it should come down to that he hoped that the Powers That Be found it in their calculating hearts to spare the others. The world stood a better place with the likes of the Buck Wilmington's, Chris Larabee's, Vin Tanners, Nathan Jackson's and JD Dunnes. It could stand to lose a Standish...the world had lost one already and no one but himself seemed to have suffered.
"Ain't gut no knife Ezra," Tanner searched the ceiling again, "Sides Ez, I think yer the bait."
Sanchez stared at the young man trying to unravel what the tracker seemed to see clearly.
"Why's that Brother?"
"Chris was feelin' a might bad about this morning...been fightin' with himself since our meeting," Tanner backed up a step and cocked his head to the side. The one awkward stone he saw didn't pan out.
"I provoked him," Standish admitted with only a touch of regret...the closest he would come to an apology.
"Ya kiddin'?" Tanner's sarcasm rang heavily around the small room.
"Mr. Larabee was drowning in his personal woes...Mr. Wilmington.."
"Oh you ain't gonna blame Buck for your mess are ya?" Nathan wiped some blood from Buck's chin.
"Blame him... no," Ezra felt his heart darkened. The others should know him well enough that he would stand and be held accountable for his actions amongst them, "he had mentioned in passing that Billy Travis had borrowed one of Adam's Halloween costumes this season...."
"Damn near broke his heart," Buck's soft whisper spoke with deep regret, "if I had known it would've affected him like that I never would have let the kid borrow it." Wilmington had gathered up and saved all the small personal reminders Chris had thrown from his house those black weeks that passed immediately following that fateful car bombing. Buck had saved them hoping that some day Chris would be able to look back on them and not feel the devastating loss that nearly consumed him...had consumed him for almost three years. " I set Ezra up....hoped Chris took the bait....didn't want him going through another holiday in a bottle."
"I walked willingly into the trap Mr. Wilmington," Ezra spoke softly. He recognized the path and the snare easily enough. His mother was indeed an excellent teacher. Instead of avoiding the setup, however, he boldly stepped into it. Buck Wilmington took loyalty to unattainable levels. Standish had been curious as to what it would be like to be apart of something such as that..... and with a macabre sense of belonging sprung the trap.
"How would Apollyon know about that?" JD's quiet question silenced the others.
+ + + + + + +
Chris depressed the thumb lever on the front door and threw his shoulder and hip into the effort. The black, unscarred, door opened with a groan.
Wind and rain whipped into the dark foyer.
He stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind himself. No one would leave without his permission.
Chris took in his surroundings. Two rooms. One to his left and one to his right. The drop cloth over the billiard table had been pull back. He shook his head and smiled. Predictable, damn man, couldn't resist even the most blatant temptations.
Larabee headed for the other room. The dining room.
JD shivered and stepped away from the wall as if he had been scalded. The temperature suddenly plummeted.
Dunne quickly took up position next to Buck. Wilmington floundered in the hazy grey of semi awareness.
Vin stepped back with Josiah and flanked either side of Standish. The undercover agent shimmied himself against the wall and struggled to his feet. The strong hands of the other two practically hauled him upward.
"You gentlemen could at least make the pretense of trying to undo my hands," His whispered words brought a smile to Josiah and a smirk to Vin.
"We tried Brother when you were sleeping....can't find the ends."
Apollyon slid between the stones as a frigid breeze. One moment the space before them was empty and now the gunrunner loomed before them.
Apollyon stepped toward the three standing men. Standish slid back slightly. His heels hit the impenetrable stone wall behind him.
Josiah shifted just enough to offer his shoulder and upper arm as a partial barrier for the younger agent.
Apollyon smiled. Perfect white teeth flashed from behind slowly peeled lips. His well tanned face crinkled and folded under the seemingly harsh movement. Pale eyes narrowed and darkened as if shadows rolled behind them.
"He's searching for you," With a subtle indicator of his hand, he brushed Josiah to the side. The large man tumbled to the left as if shoved.
Standish couldn't tear his eyes from the pale gaze that seemed to skewer his soul to the wall behind him.
"Chris ain't gonna give up til he finds us," Despite every instinct in his body, Tanner held his ground and kept Standish somewhat behind him. To his left Josiah struggled groggily.
Nathan and JD had raced to their feet but found themselves pinned to the west wall.
"He'll make an adequate Pawn," Apollyon turned his heated gaze toward the Tracker.
Tanner felt his blood freeze. Standish started to slump toward the ground as if he had been suddenly freed of a restraining grip.
"You," Apollyon raised a hand to Tanner's neck. Vin felt icy hands suddenly constrict his neck. His larynx began to spasm and air ceased to flow toward lungs. Gagging, choking noises gurgled forth under a trickle of bubbling saliva.
"Leave'im alone!" JD's young voice split the area with the righteous indignation of someone who clearly saw the difference between right and wrong. Dunne carried the tone of someone one confident in the good will of their fellow man. A naive soul believing that all people worked for the benefit of their fellow man....despite his profession. Apollyon laughed. A crackling sound that made the air brittle. It worked to mock its target. The gunrunner turned his head to face the boy'. The speed and smoothness of his motions suggested something other than human. A hungry leer stretched his features distorting it in a hideous fashion.
"You will make a grand prize," Apollyon redirected his attention to Dunne. Tanner slid to the floor in a boneless heap.
Jackson struggled and squirmed against the unseen force that kept him pinned to the wall.
Buck tried to sit up, his eyes glassy and motions blurred, but under the confusion, instinct directed him to move...to protect JD.
"Mr. Dunne is not an option," Ezra tried to worm through the lethargic haze that had engulfed him. He tried to keep his legs from folding under him. He snatched out a shaky hand and gripped the gunrunner's shoulder to whirl him around....redirect the man's gaze from the younger agent.
"Bait has no right to make demands."
Apollyon whirled around on Standish.
+ + + + + + +
Larabee's blood froze as a harsh scream ripped through the night.
Chris tightened his grip on the revolver. A scream rent the air again. An agonized sound that left one's throat tight and spine tingling with fear.
Larabee recognized the voice. Anger boiled, heating his blood with murderous intent.
The leader of team seven stood stock still waiting for the next spine curdling scream to rip through the night. He needed to get his bearings..get a fix and destroy whatever or whomever caused such anguish.
A third full force scream shattered the darkness. Shadows and the dim light caused by shifting nightly greys seemed to wither and shrink from the searing sound of human torture.
Larabee cut through the dining room, ignoring the hanging crystal chandeliers that hung shrouded in dust and cobwebs. He paid no mind to the cherry wood dining room table that could easily seat a dozen visitors in its fine soft leather upholstered arm chairs. He gave no heed to the oriental rugs with designs muted under ages of grime and disuse.
Instead, Larabee marched through the house as a mad patron. Chris Larabee strode purposefully through inky blackness and cold spots as if his anger alone could heat his soul. His own brand of insanity and tight control bled any lingering fear from his mind.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra arched his back again and let loose with another agonizing scream. He collapsed to the floor as hot spears of pain lanced his head. His eyes drummed with his pulse. He arched backward the back of his head nearly touching between flexed shoulder blades. He curled his legs instinctively trying to protect himself from a pain that started from within.
His own cries of anguish drown out the calls of his team mates. He never heard Josiah scream in his defense. Never noticed Vin wrestling with the unseen force that renewed its pressure and kept him pinned to the wall.
Standish never saw Nathan struggle to gain his own freedom from something he refused to belief in...never saw the tears of frustration and fear stream down JD's cheeks.
Ezra only felt fiery fingers constrict and twist his guts, could only focus on the searing pain that tore through his skull just behind his eyes. Just when he didn't think he could take any more, it stopped. He lay panting for breath, could feel sweat stream down his face and back. He caught his breath like a drowning man. Pink tinged saliva strung from partial parted lips.
Then the pain started up again. Like a jolt of electricity, a sharp twisted lance speared his side. A scream issued forth before he could even register where his body had been brutalized. He curled this time into his midsection muffling sobbing cries of tortured pain. His eyes remained squeezed shut. What could make it feel as if his entrails were being pulled from a small rent in his midsection? How could it not be true?
He shook with terror and pain...wishing for it to be over.
Something,then, skewered his back. A burning bolt of pain shot between his shoulder blades toward his skull. Once again, he arched back as if a knife had laid him open on a surgeons table. His cries had become hoarse. He curled and struggled with his bound hands. Fought to loosen them if only to clutch at the agony that dissected him with slow agonizing intent.
He never felt his shoulder pop. Never realized that he struggled so profoundly and desperately that he dislocated his own shoulder.
As quickly as the unseen torture started, it stopped.
On this cold stone floor, damp to the skin, hands taped behind his back, he lay unprotected and alone. Standish tried to bury his head into his coat. Anything to shield him from the agony that burned him from the inside out.
Again he lay panting on the cold floor. He rested his pounding head and dirty sweat soaked hair on the solid cobble stones. Pink stained spittle foamed from tooth torn lips. With his eyes closed and breathing erratic, he lay curled smashing himself against the stone wall trying to create as much distance from himself and whatever ripped him apart.
An icy laugh cut through the red haze. Standish cinched closer to the wall, burrowing deeper into his coat.
+ + + + + + +
Larabee found a stairwell. A frigid draft seeped up the stairs like an invisible current. It flowed and pooled around his ankles. Icy tendrils climbed and circled up his legs. No banister graced the stairwell, no lights, no amenities.
Cut cobbled stone lined the sharp incline. Moss clung to the ever present moisture.
A small whimper curled up the stairs on the chilled air.
Chris never hesitated. Intent with only saving his undercover agent, Larabee slid down the stairs in a manner near as stealthy as the air that escaped to the ground above.
+ + + + + + +
Apollyon toed the body curled before him. Standish no longer reacted. Instead, the undercover agent peered back at him, over the collar of his coat, with glazed but wary eyes. Blood streamed freely from both nostrils and one ear.
"Leave'im alone," JD's anger nearly matched Larabee's. The Kid's hazel eyes darkened with warning.
"You are not one to be making demands," Apollyon's voice had deepened and resonated around the room. He whirled on the younger man. A hungry leer split his ever paling face. His once pale eyes darkened with a maroonish hue. "You will be my prize." Apollyon raised a hand in the direction of the youngest. In the direction of the most naive and innocent soul in the room. The only one unjaded by the constant cruelty of others.
It almost felt as if an icy hand reached around his heart and squeezed. JD swore his heart paused, unable to beat, confined within a hostile unseen grip. Stars filled his vision.
"You're not real," Nathan's voice strong with his confidence but tinged with a degree of guilt. "JD he ain't real, this ain't happenin'." The medic struggled to make his way to the paling agent. Dunne's face had frozen with fear.
"Oh I'm very real, Mr. Jackson...Or should I say Velma?" Apollyon whirled his attention on Jackson and pinned the chemist harshly to the wall.
JD gasped beside him, clutching his chest and sliding down the wall in a heap.
Josiah continued his low mesmerizing chant. It had started softly at first, drowned by the wailing screams of agony that had erupted from the Southerner. As seconds ticked by, Josiah's voice grew in strength. As his volume rose so did his gaze. Soon Sanchez was staring Apollyon in the eyes.
The gunrunner's gaze burned deep red. He peeled his teeth back over sharpened yellowing teeth. His perfect face slowly lost its crisp false beauty. Sleek white hair, grew darker and tangled. Manicured hands slowly transformed into gnarled heavily knuckled fingers. Long claw like nails twisted and arced away from cuticles.
"You will not win Preacher," The carefully cultured voice had slipped away and the articulation of a hissing snake sounded. Undisguised hatred permeated every word.
Tanner freed from his invisible prison squatted ready to pounce.
Without turning, Apollyon simply swung his arm backward in the sharpshooter's direction.
Vin found himself suddenly lifted and flung harshly into the wall behind himself. His head connected solidly with the stone. He slid bonelessly toward the floor.
Josiah's monotone continued in strength and speed. The large man slowly climbed to his feet. The talisman at his chest burned brightly. The hypnotic cadence of his voice seemed to fill every crevice in the small room.
Apollyon's lip curled and twisted themselves into a grotesque smile. With a simple cocking of his head, the talisman around Sanchez's neck began to spin. It spun on its rawhide necklace. Spun so fast that it began to quickly cinch itself tighter and tighter to the Anthropologist's neck. The low whirl of rapidly spinning material undermined the crescendo of Sanchez's voice.
Josiah never stopped his recitations. Never gave a show of fear. The large man stood tall, shoulders squared quickly spilling words from bluing lips.
The rawhide pinched the trachea, twisted through pinched skin and brought blood running down a straining neck.
Josiah's lips lost their red color. His legs began to quiver. Shaking hands clutched at the leather thong easily strangulating him, but still the words poured forth.
Appollyon laughed outright, mocking the preacher and his tenuous grip on faith. "The Boy is mine," he cast a dismissive gaze at the bleeding man still curled on the floor, "you'll always remember you were the bait that led to their destruction." The gunrunner laughed as the undercover agent struggled to move. Apollyon made a fist and torqued it never letting it leave his side.
Another Southern cry pierced the night. Standish curled tightly into his midsection trying to appease the vicious unseen force that twisted his guts.
Apollyon laughed. Josiah's chanting had become hoarse and almost a dull whisper. His knees had betrayed him and allowed him to slink toward the floor. He clawed desperately at the leather thong that now worked its way through his skin.
"You're not real," Jackson's plaintive denial only brought about another dismissive chuckle from Apollyon. Nathan slowly mimicked Josiah's chant. He did not understand the meaning behind the latin phrases but he recognized the words. Though he lacked the hypnotic cadence and intimidating crescendo, the medic put his faith in Sanchez. The words tumbled and strung themselves in a faulty hesitant manner but still they flowed forth. Jackson would not cower before any other human being....never again....a promise he had made to himself long ago. Never again. The words spilled forth with growing conviction.
"Larabee will be here to save you," Apollyon's hissed voice vibrated around the room. His blood colored irises stared through each man, freezing them where they were pinned. "He will give his soul to save you," he stared at the southerner, "even you." Again pale lips slid apart revealing sharply pointed teeth, "the boy will be mine to harvest."
Buck long since ignored, pulled JD down beside him, shielding him from something none of them fully understood.
Jackson's voice echoed in the background, never giving ground or credence to the threats spewed before them.
Apollyon chuckled again and simply vanished from the room. The icy vestiges of death slowly seeped out of the room. Silence hung heavy between the men as they tried to fathom what had just occurred.
Nathan moved first. "Buck?....JD?" They were the closest to him and he was not forced to raise his voice. His low timbers had Wilmington raising his eyes slightly. The Ladies' Man smiled weakly, his features pale and pained. He nodded a few times in Jackson's direction. Buck would take care of JD...Nathan needed to check on the others.
Jackson understood the simple communiqué and started pulling and pushing himself to his feet using the wall for support. Nathan smiled when he heard Buck start speaking to Dunne. Leave it to Buck to find humor in the most grim situations. One of his many gifts to the men around him.
"Don't worry kid," Wilmington smirked at the kid, "Fred and Velma always solved the case," Buck felt JD shift slightly closer to him, an unconscious act of a little brother seeking immediate comfort in the close proximity of an older brother. Neither one would ever admit it ever happened. The woven strength of single strands re-affirmed their position.
"Course, Velma was better looking in the cartoons." Wilmington smirked pointedly at Nathan.
"Hey," Jackson warned as he kneeled next Josiah. The Chemist didn't spare a glance over his shoulder at the dynamic duo but marveled at Buck's ability to heal others without medicine.
Josiah allowed a small smile to crease his face. He couldn't picture Nathan dressed in a high necked orange sweater or short orange skirt with knee highs pulled up to his knees. A chuckle rolled forth.
"Don't even start," Jackson's smile smoothed his warning. He could almost read his thoughts. Josiah had regained his breath. A small red bleeding wound encircled his neck, marking where his talisman had simply twisted and dug itself into his flesh in an attempt to strangulate him.
Sanchez let his grey eyes travel to the mop of dirty brown hair that peaked from the collar of the wool coat. Taped fists were still clenched white knuckled. Nathan followed his gaze and reached out a steadying hand to the coated shoulder. Standish hunched silently away from the touch.
Josiah watched the reaction and shook his head at Nathan. Leave Standish to him. Buck and JD's conversation rang softly in the background.
"Watch his shoulder," Nathan's soft whisper barely reached Josiah. The medic slapped his friends knee in reassurance and started toward Vin.
Dunne stared at Buck as if he had lost his mind. After a bit the computer whiz chuckled, "you're nuts Buck ya know that?"
"Yup...and I've been thinkin'," Buck's forced commentary was cut off by a halfhearted chuckle from JD.
"Since when?" Dunne smiled slightly and closed his eyes as he leaned his head back against the stone wall. Somehow he hurt...right through to his innards...everything ached and throbbed.
Vin rolled onto his stomach moaning. His lunch suddenly erupted onto the stone between his shaking hands. Jackson was by his side before Vin's stomach finished heaving. "Easy Vin...yer gonna be ok...jist ride it out."
Tanner's response was muffled under a bout of dry heaves.
Sanchez sat beside Standish. Every overture the older man made had the undercover agent inching deeper into his coat and against the wall....creating distance. "Please Mr. Sanchez let me be." The hoarse words held firm in their conviction. He worked to separate himself until he could catch up to the events around him. Josiah stared at the agent who did not dare ask for help or even accept it when it obviously was needed. A deceiver...but only toward himself.
"Brother," Josiah's soft voice had a better chance at reaching Ezra than any physical attempt. Sanchez edged closer to the younger agent hoping his close proximity would offer some comfort, "JD and Chris are going to be fine." Sanchez smiled when Standish merely nodded his head in agreement. Josiah continued undaunted. Ezra would slide back into line with them when he deemed it necessary. "Apollyon can't win," Sanchez smiled again, "his first mistake was keeping us together....his second was leaving Chris prowling around loose." The big man paused noticing he had the others attention as well, "Besides Buck will tell you....Shaggy and Scooby always save the day."
The ploy worked in its own fashion. Standish smiled weakly and shut his eyes as exhaustion draped him like a blanket.
Vin sat heavily against the stone wall with Nathan's help, "Long as I get to be Shaggy." The Texas drawl seemed to brighten the room.
"Hell Vin, I thought we already decided you for Daphne," JD piped up a coy smile on his face.
"Yeah well this Daphne is gonna kick your little scrappy ass when we get out of here," Tanner returned playfully. A wave of nausea and vertigo swept through him.
"As I was saying," Buck intervened with indignation. The others were coming back around, getting a grip on a situation nearly out of their control. Josiah had the right of it....They were most formidable when they were working together.
"You were talking Buck?" Nathan settled himself beside Vin. The medic rested a reassuring hand on one of Standish's curled legs. The undercover agent eased out from under the touch, bringing his legs closer within the confines of his coat. His only visible shield from the world just outside.
"As I was sayin'," Buck stared at the four men sitting somewhat kitty corner to he and JD, "that Josiah's kind of like Scooby Dumb."
Sanchez raised an eye brow and rubbed at the stubble that always seemed to cover his chin no matter if he shaved that day or not. He nodded thoughtfully, "That just might be accurate."
"Ya think?" JD turned his head without lifting it.
"Yup," Josiah stared at the other faces and smiled, "If I remember correctly Scooby Dumb solved all the mysteries he was involved in....isn't that right Brother Ezra?" The big man dropped his gaze to the man laying beside him.
"Ezra, how is it you know so much about cartoons?" Jackson shifted his position trying to accommodate more of Tanner's leaning frame. He pictured Ezra reading the Wall Street Journal from the time he shook off diapers.
"Cousins," Standish answered tiredly. He sighed. Hiding would gain him nothing. With a coarse groan, he struggled to sit up. Sanchez grabbed an upper arm and gently guided him to a sitting position. Standish hissed in a breath that seared his throat when his left shoulder shifted on its own. The undercover agent hid his face trying garner some composure and some warmth. "my hands, gentlemen, perhaps one of you could loosen my bindings for me?"
Dunne ignored Ezra for the moment. The tape would only come off with a knife. Vin and the others had already tried after Ezra's first encounter with Apollyon. JD instead, planned on taking Ezra's mind off his tied hands. "Hey I got another joke."
Assorted groans greeted the admission. JD ignored them and plowed on ahead undaunted and under the belief that this one would be funny.
"Why does Scooby Doo solve every mystery?"
No one answered. Dunne searched the group of men that seemed to gain strength as they talked amongst themselves. His excitement grew at the prospect of finally being able to tell his own punch line. His hopes were dashed when two people spoke up.
"Cuz he works like a dog," The strongest reply did not come from the form huddled in the wool over coat and did not have a southern accent.
All eyes stared up in surprise at the newcomer.
"What the hell are you doin' in here?" Larabee's tone carried the same icy chill that blew in with Apollyon.
Five voices started talking at once. Chris took a breath and held it. He had been frightened half to death. Thought Ezra maimed or tortured, Vin drowned...Buck and JD, who knew, same with Josiah and Nathan...and yet here they sat like they were having a picnic. "Shut up." Larabee surveyed the room and then squatted in front of Buck. "What happened to you?"
"A demon shoved him down a flight of stairs...dragged'im in here," JD spoke up from beside Wilmington. Buck still struggled with the questions, "Nathan thinks he busted his collar bone and scrambled his brains some."
Larabee quirked an eye at the mentioning of a Demon. He held his tongue.
"Vin?" Chris moved his way over to his sharpshooter. He knelt before Tanner and stared at the dazed features.
Nathan jostled his shoulder trying to roust the fading sharpshooter. At the continued silence, the leader of team seven turned his attention to the most grounded of the group, "Nathan?"
"Well Daphne here, got pulled into the lagoon by the lady of the lake. Darn near drowned him....JD and Buck said he spilled out the wall here...breathing ok...but got his bell rung."
"Daphne?" Larabee quirked and eyebrow.
"Well, Daphne always hangs with Fred," JD offered helpfully.
Larabee slid a weary eye at the youngest agent and wondered if he too hit his head.
"He ok?" Chris turned back to Jackson.
"A concussion I think," Jackson wiggled his shoulder again, trying to draw Vin out of his haze.
Chris nodded, "he get that when he fell into the lake?"
"No Apollyon slammed him into the wall," The medic could see the dark anger that simmered just below a cool exterior.
Larabee took in his sharpshooter's slumped, sopping appearance. Tanner would need help walking as would Buck. He turned his attention to Sanchez and Standish. He skittered toward them, keeping his squatting position.
"I'm fine Mr. Larabee," Standish pre-empted. His hoarse thickened accent indicated otherwise. The undercover agent refused to meet Chris's eye. Blood had dried to the side of his head and ear and trickled in rivelets down his neck.
Larabee raised both eyebrows with unmasked disbelief. Chris sighed and shimmied a step forward. Larabee tilted Standish's head by the chin. He scrutinized the gash. He could feel the fever through his fingers. Damn man and his non-existent colds.
"Josiah?" Chris ignored the Southerner's protest. Ezra would hide a severed limb from you and ignore the bleeding stump...if they were in trouble. If the situation was normal...a paper cut became a mortal wound...in need of an MRI or CT or at least an excuse for an early day or late start.
"Better than Brother Ezra," Josiah couldn't keep the confidence from his voice. They were seven strong. The winds of change and fortune had blown in with Larabee.
"Chris how'd you get in here?" JD shifted Buck off his side a bit. The big man was getting a bit heavy.
"The door JD, I used the door," Larabee pushed himself to his feet and made his way back to Dunne. He reached down and pulled Buck upward, "Come on Buck time to go."
"What door?" JD struggled up helping Buck and Chris.
"That one," Larabee jerked his head in the direction behind him, "You keep yer feet Buck, I'm not gonna haul yer ass out of here." Chris let go of Buck's good arm, "you got him JD?"
Dunne nodded, struggling under the added weight, but kept peeking behind Larabee. Sure enough, shifting in and out of focus stood a heavy planked wooden door. Iron studs graced its front as sharp elongated metal hinges stretched inward from the edges. JD could just make it out.
Damn, How'd they miss that? Dunne rubbed his head.
Josiah smiled. If Chris said there was a door....then so be it. Chris found a way in and out. Better yet he could see a door. Larabee had entered the room of his on volition, a conscious decision. Nothing or no one had snatched him, nothing kept him prisoner. Josiah wondered if this was why the others couldn't find one. They had been brought here and kept prisoner and made to think there was no exit. Their fear of Apollyon though raw and undeniable paled considerably in the face of the faith that they held in their leader.
Larabee had led them to the gates of Death time and time again and each time he had brought them back whole...brought them back as Seven.
If Chris said he used a door then it must simply exist.
Larabee had walked through it. He intended on walking his men out through one as well. Josiah wanted to laugh out loud. So simple...such a simple explanation.
Apollyon, the greatest deceiver and con artist of all. He imprisoned them with their own fears and his brand of illusion. He misdirected them to hide his limitations in power. His control over them suddenly seemed superficial in the face of Chris's presence.
Josiah did chuckle. Larabee tossed the Profiler a side long glance. The man had a bizarre sense of humor.
Chris and Nathan eased Vin to unsteady feet, "Vin?" Larabee tried to get a look at his partner's slack face.
"I ain't Daphne." A Texas mumble whispered up.
Chris knitted his brow, "I'm happy for you Vin." Larabee turned his attention from his sharpshooter to his Profiler.
Sanchez had already eased Standish to unsteady feet careful of the shoulder. "He could be Daphne....but Ezra did wear the Purple Dress." Josiah's humor seemed bared for all to see. A toothy grin split his face. The deception created by Apollyon slowly dissolved for the preacher. Why could Chris walk amongst them in this room and not suffer the same terror and fear that had gripped them? How come Chris seemed impervious to the illusions that ensnared the others? Sanchez gripped the Southerner tighter as his smile spread. Chris was the key to their safety, yet again.
Larabee sucked in another sharp breath. He found his men alive....just insane.
"We're good to go Brother...just lead the way." The profiler noticed the ever shortening of Chris's patience.
"Mr. Larabee if you would be so kind as to undo my hands," Ezra turned slightly exposing his taped hands behind his back.
"Sorry Ez, ain't got time," Chris turned his attention back to the others, "we got counterfeiters to shut down....let's go."
JD struggled under Buck's shifting weight, "Counterfeiting....Count Iblis counterfeits too?"
Chris cocked his head to the side and stared at Dunne. Perhaps some sort of drug or gas?
"JD switch with Josiah," Larabee couldn't see how the kid would get Buck up the stairs.
"I'm fine Mr. Dunne I do not need assistance."
"Shut up Ezra," Chris eyed his men again. Tanner leaned heavily on Jackson. Josiah supported Buck and JD kept a grip on Ezra. Time to leave.
Chris headed for the unlocked door.
The wooden door slowly shimmered and formed out of the background of rock. Sanchez stared at it, a niggling of doubt still wavered perhaps it was all a mirage...another illusion.
Apollyon suddenly stood on the threshold. Six of the seven saw him.
Chris stepped through the door as if nothing barred his way. Sanchez furrowed his brow.
Apollyon hissed snaking his lips over his teeth. He struck out at Larabee...to no avail.
"Brother Chris?" Josiah angled himself and Buck beside JD and Ezra. Nathan dragged Vin to the rear. The medic whispered reassuringly to the dazed man in his protection.
Things started to fall into place for the Profiler. Chris had met Apollyon before. He had his first run in with Apollyon that fateful day a car bomb tore Larabee's wife and son from him. In those dark days and months and even years that followed, Chris met Apollyon at the bottom of every whiskey bottle and glass. For three dark years, Larabee ran amongst the shadows of demons. He had faced the worst kind of fear imaginable and survived. He courted with the minions of a dark underworld and in the end shunned them. Chris had started to pull himself from the quagmire that nearly destroyed him. In forming the team he had survived. He turned his back on Apollyon long ago.
The Deceiver had no power over him. He left Chris alone because he could not reach him, could not tear at him as an individual. To gain Larabee as a prize, he had to single out the others. Apollyon had his talons in the remaining members of the team.
Larabee turned and faced his men. The six stood stock still, frozen in place, like deer in spot lights. "Let's go,"
"He's here...." JD's whisper carried the full brunt of his fear. Dunne wanted nothing more than to hide behind Ezra. The young computer expert, however, brushed his shoulder before the undercover agent. Standish teetered for a moment but leaned forward recapturing his balance.
He simply side stepped JD's attempt at shielding him, "we are partners Mr. Dunne, your demise would do more harm to myself than any physical torture this beast may wrought on my person." Anger sparked the weary voice.
"Ezra, JD shut up and git over here," Larabee stood hipshot and impatient. He had every intention of getting his men out of this house.
"It seems as if our departure is blocked," Ezra mumbled out.
Chris stepped back toward the door, toward the room and Apollyon. The Deceiver curled his lips and hissed again. A curdling scream rent the air.
The ATF agents took involuntary steps backward toward the center of the room.
"Damn it you guys let's go," Larabee reached out and grabbed a fist full of JD's jacket, keeping the younger agent and Ezra from sliding away from him back into the room.
"It's' the devil Chris...." JD whispered out again, afraid to garner the attention of the monster that stood between them and freedom, "he's standing right there....don't ya see'im." JD latched onto Chris's wrist like a life line.
Chris stared at the doorway of the room. He faced his men but saw nothing else. The space between them empty.
"JD, I've met the Devil...more than once," Larabee's voice held a sharp unforgiving edge, "n'he ain't beat me yet." Chris made a point to stare around the circumference of the room, "now let's go." He physically hauled JD toward him, over the threshold of the door.
Apollyon reached out for Standish and Dunne. Both agents tried to pull back. Larabee tightened his fisted grip.
"Ezra you don't get your ass in gear, I'll shoot it full of holes," Larabee tugged them forward again.
"Always blames me...you notice that Mr. Dunne." Ezra leaned gently into Dunne but kept his eyes on Larabee, avoiding Apollyon. JD smirked and nodded. Both men started to side step the gunrunner' before them.
"Because you are to blame," Apollyon's cold voice chilled the room.
"Truth hurts, huh, Ez?" Buck's voice chuckled from behind them. The big man leaned heavily on Josiah.
"And what truths might those be Mr. Wilmington?" Standish returned turning his chin over his shoulder but not letting his gaze wander from Larabee. "Who really clogged the men's room drain on the sixth floor...so a certain secretary would have the afternoon off?....or are we speaking about...possibly.....who put the snake in Mr. Tanner's desk?" Ezra paused still keeping his eyes on the blond just mere feet from him. "Shall I continue?"
"Truth is layered like an Onion," Sanchez added with his own strange ability to muddy already turbulent waters. The Preacher's son stared at the form before him. Realization dawned on him like a warm sun after a heavy rain, "you can't take seven as a group...you can't take what we don't offer..." A hearty laugh rolled through the basement of the house. "He can't hurt you JD...not unless you let him.."
Apollyon stepped forward reaching for Dunne. The pale eyes had sunken to deep maroon, smooth skin had cracked and rolled like thick leather, bared yellow teeth flashed in sharp contrast to blood red skin. A beaten and gnarled hand reached for Dunne's chest.
"Chris you ain't seeing nothin'?" JD's voice held a quiver, "that right?" Dunne tightened his grip on Larabee's forearm, hoping Chris would not let go of his coat. The young computer whiz kept his eyes wide open, hoping Chris could protect him from the icy grip of Apollyon.
"That's right JD," Larabee paused squinting his eyes, maybe there was a flicker or shimmering of light...something just beyond his focus, "nothin's there JD." Chris tried a new tactic, "JD, Ezra's hurt and sick..." Larabee turned his attention to his undercover agent, "shut up Ezra," Seeing compliance Chris spoke to JD again, "So are Buck and Vin...your holding us up."
Dunne tightened his grip on Ezra's upper arm, steadying himself. A chain of sorts, with Chris reeling them in, away from danger. He felt Josiah squeeze his shoulder reassuringly. "He can't hurt you JD...not unless you let him." Apollyon had already ripped Chris's world apart, had already devastated Larabee and still Apollyon had lost. He would lose again tonight.
Nathan stood behind JD a hand resting on the base of his neck.
"We're with ya kid," Buck's voice gave the tiny shove he needed.
JD swallowed, shut his eyes and stepped forward, gently dragging Ezra along with him.
They passed through a shower of bitter cold air.
Apollyon ripped the air with a soul shattering scream. He clawed and slashed at the six, bit wildly at the forms that stepped through him.
The six men shuffled and step purposely from their captor toward Larabee. Apollyon roared again, a harsh cruel laughter followed on his heels. "You will not win tonight Larabee! You are mine this time!" Then an eighth figure presented itself.
A small figure wavered in mid air in the space between the six ATF agents and Chris. It took solid form and a small voice spoke up, "Pa?" A small boy dressed in a green furred dinosaur costume stepped forward. Yellow furred spikes traced from the stuffed tail up and over the back to the head. The hood had been pulled back revealing a very young Adam Larabee. "Pa?" The soft childish voice silenced the room.
"You Bastard!" Buck roared at Apollyon trying desperately to reach the devil that revisited this hell on his oldest friend.
"My God," Josiah's deep voice bounced off the stone walls
Nathan tightened his hold on Tanner. The sharpshooter sensed the sudden chill and knew some sort of pain would befall one of his team mates. Tanner worked to act against it.
"Pa? I can't see you...I'm scared Pa....take my hand," A small delicate hand reached out. Young unmarred fingers opened and stretched seeking a touch.
"Ohmygosh...Ezra," JD readjusted his grip on the southerner.
Larabee stared at his men. They watched something he couldn't see.
"It's Adam....Ohmygosh it's Adam.....Chris?" JD's haunting anguish washed the room.
"No it's not JD," Larabee's angered voice brought six pairs of eyes to him, "It's Not Adam...not here in a place, not like this, not now, so let's go...we don't have time for this." Chris shook JD roughly. The leader of team Seven stepped forward through the dinosaur clad child and grabbed Standish by the lapels of his wool over coat, "I said let's go." His demand offered no leeway or hesitation. He pulled his two agents passed the 'child'.
Adam turned on the other four in a fury. His young face bled away as a fierce inhuman scream erupted from his metamorphosing mouth. The blue eyes, blonde hair and delicate features melted giving way as Apollyon's features took Adam's place. He roared at the other four swiping for them as they hurriedly shuffled past him.
The voice rose in intensity. Vibrations shook the air. The floor bucked and heaved and walls bent and arched. Stone dust filled the air. Chunks of mortar fell from the ceiling.
Josiah cast a quick backward glance. How many times more would Chris have to face this brand of Demon? Falling debris forced Sanchez to turn his attention back to Buck and escaping.
Apollyon might not give up so easily.
"Come on," Larabee shouted, "move it Ezra!" Chris pushed JD ahead and took the young agents place at Standish's side.
"If you had released my hands," Standish stumbled over a loose stone. Chris wrenched his arm keeping him on his feet. Ezra continued unfazed, " I would be able to move with more speed and alacrity," Ezra tripped again dragging Larabee down with him.
"Shut up Standish," Chris's words were drowned under the rapid deterioration of the old gabled house. "Why the hell doesn't anyone ever tape your mouth shut?"
"Perhaps they realize I have something to offer," Ezra retorted as his foot slipped on a moss covered stone step.
"Yeah well Criminals aren't too bright are they?" Larabee hauled his undercover agent back toward his feet dragging him up the stairs.
Nathan gave up pulling on Tanner. The agile Sharpshooter couldn't find the floor with his nose if he had too. The medic in a fit of frustration and fear, tossed the smaller man across his shoulders.
Tanner vomited in response to the abrupt change in altitude and position.
"Figures," Jackson pushed Josiah from behind gently guiding but urging the older man up the stairs faster.
Sanchez slid his shoulder under Buck, grabbed the Ladies' man's belt from the opposite side and hauled Wilmington up the rapidly disappearing stairwell.
Apollyon's screams drowned their own frantic breathing.
+ + + + + + +
Dust and debris fouled the air. JD ran on a few steps but would stop and wait for the others. The choking dust made it difficult to see and breath. Silhouettes of Chris nearly dragging Ezra came into focus. Josiah and Buck hot on their heels and then Nathan. JD panicked for a bit until he recognized Vin over the medic's shoulders.
"Lead the way JD," Chris lumbered forward. Ezra's strength seemed to have faded with the last few steps. "Don't quit on me now Standish." Larabee's labored demand had Standish placing his feet more firmly.
Behind them Josiah's rough reassuring words forced Buck onward, "Almost home Brother...git you to a warm hospital, nurses and pain meds."
Wilmington's soft reply was lost in the shaking of the house. Josiah's laugh mocked Apollyon's unholy noise from below.
Nathan trudged up the crumbling stairs, pulling himself, clawing fingers into the cracks between stones. His quadriceps flexed and burned. Muscle fibers tore and blood rushed through vessels. Never did it enter his mind to stop.
JD dodged through the kitchen. He pushed off an old cast iron wood stove never consciously registering what he passed. Copper pots swayed and clanked as dirt rained from the floor boards above. Beams bowed and creaked. Porcelain sinks bubbled rusty water. Flimsy curtains billowed in an unfelt breeze.
"Come on you guys," JD's fear kept him from shouting too loud. And no one yelled orders to Chris....well 'cept maybe Buck.
Larabee readjusted his grip on Standish, hooking his arm around Ezra's waist. Standish's feet dragged every other step if not more often. "Stay with me Ezra,' Chris followed JD through the kitchen, stealing glances at the others behind him.
"Just a little further Buck," Josiah hefted and shifted Buck's increasing weight.
Nathan bounced upward onto the balls of his feet to free the pinched skin of his shoulders and neck. "Hang in there Vin...Chris is gonna git us out of this mess."
Jackson never gazed back over his shoulder, never once stared down the black maw of a staircase they just clawed their way out of....afraid something closed in on them...afraid to hesitate in case a snaking hand should grab his ankle and suck him back down....
Apollyon's voice still ripped through the night. Agonized screams and unholy sounds erupted from the blackened basement.
Jackson kept his hand on Josiah's back...afraid to lose contact with the rest of the team.
+ + + + + + +
JD rounded out of the kitchen and into the game room. The billiard table sat beneath a chandelier. A pool rack hung on the far wall. Upholstered furniture sat under unmoved dropped cloths. Dunne skidded and slipped on hard oak floors. He scrambled and grabbed for furniture in a desperate attempt to keep his feet.
"Keep going JD," Larabee panted out. Standish hung off him like a rag doll. The toes of his feet scuffed twin uneven trails in the dust laden floor.
Larabee leaned Standish's hip against the billiard table once again readjusting his hold.
"A game perhaps?" Standish's muttered request against Chris's chest had Larabee shaking his head.
"Maybe later," Chris partially lifted his agent, "give me a hand Ezra."
Standish found his feet and managed a few unsteady strides with Larabee. Chris finally gave up and heaved the younger man across his shoulders in a classic fireman's hold.
Josiah had finally been reduced to lifting Buck by his arm and cinching him up with his belt. Wilmington's boots dragged across the floor matching Standish's tread.
Nathan pushed Josiah ahead. An unseen urgency had the medic panicking to escape. Something closed in on them. A wind picked up behind them. Pots and pans swung loose from their hooks and slammed to the floor with a metallic deafening sound. Dust and papers and debris whirled around the room in a maelstrom.
"Hurry up!" Jackson's holler was lost in the rising cacophony.
JD reached the door. He slipped on the old congealing puddle of blood...shouldn't it have dried by now? The young man wrestled with the door handle.
The black door refused to budge.
JD shoved on it again...depressing the lever and pushing the handle.
"Itwon'topen....itwon'topen....ohmygosh....itwon'topen!" Dunne threw his body into the door, pushing it with all his might.
The howling wind lifted drop clothes. Chandeliers swung and clinked from their fixtures in the ceiling. Plaster fell in clumps revealing floor boards from above. Walls buckled and pulsed. Blood curdling screams erupted from the basement. The wood work moaned.
"JD!" Chris stumbled up next to the young agent. Standish slung lifelessly across his shoulders, his hands still taped. "Open the damn door!"
"I can't!" Dunne, to articulate his point, threw his shoulder and hip into the door all the while pressing down on the handle.
"Pull....not push!...PULL!!!" Larabee hugged one of Standish's dangling legs in tight while his other hand fisted a good hold of the coat.
JD stared at his leader for a brief second and pulled on the door.
It opened. Embarrassingly easily.
Dunne stared back at Larabee and smiled sheepishly, "Oh."
Chris merely nodded and motioned the boy out the door. Larabee turned, "Come on Josiah!...Buck!" Chris stepped aside letting the two men shuffle pass. Nathan trotted right on his heels.
"Don't wait Chris...God don't wait," Jackson grabbed a fist full of Chris's jacket and shoved him out the door. Jackson slammed the door closed. Something crashed into it buckling the door outward on its hinges. The door held.
The team staggered across the short dying lawn as the ground heaved and cracked.
The seven men made it out of the yard through the wrought iron arch and into the driveway.
A high pitched wail filled the air. Dark windows cracked and shattered showering glass from the third and second stories. A fierce red glow emanated from the down stairs windows.
A child's pitiful cry floated from the crumbling house, "Pa...don't leave me...Pa?!"
Josiah put a restraining hand on Larabee's upper arm.
Chris gave no indication of having heard the plaintive voice.
In a crescendo of noise, the house collapsed.
Billowing clouds of dust, dirt and debris saturated the area.
The seven men tightened ranks. JD standing in their midst. Jackson unconsciously tightened his grip on Tanner and noticed Larabee had done the same with Standish. Buck leaned heavily on Josiah as if waiting for a chance to fall down.
In a few short minutes all fell silent.
The dust settled revealing only a basement and ruined foundation.
Team Seven stood quietly in the dirt drive. Gravel crunched loudly under their shifting weight.
"What now?" JD's question broke the heavy silence.
As if in response, the red, blue and white flashing of sirens broke the drizzling blackness.
"I would wager five dollars it's the Judge," Ezra's strained voice started the wagering.
Larabee stood silent for a moment, "Ezra if you're awake...how'come you aren't walking?"
"My hands, Mr. Larabee, are bound," the wary voice sounded confident in its answer.
Chris furrowed his brow not understanding the logic. He felt the undercover agent finally slump completely, suddenly increasing his weight.
The Carriage Barn and remnants of the old house rested under harsh artificial lights. Portable banks of field lights shone brilliantly on the mass destruction that once represented a beautiful Victorian style house. Long grey streams of fading light stretched into the surrounding forest pushing the thick blackness away. Columns of bare grey tree trunks stretched as far back as the eye could see.
The harsh drizzle had faded away replaced by a frigid raw cold. Old fractures and long forgotten wounds ached with renewed vigor. Fingers turned red and noses ran despite the sounds of endless sniffles.
Ambulances, Fire trucks and police vehicles of all kind cluttered the area. Their strobe lights cast the land in alternating hues of red, orange, blues and yellow.
Judge Travis stood with his arms crossed a few yards from the ambulances. Close enough to watch over the crews but far enough away not to become embroiled in the scathing threats, innuendoes and flat out promise of physical violence. Mr. Tanner, Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Standish gave as good as they got. It would be a toss up as to who would win.
JD Dunne stood at the Judge's side still speaking. The Secret Service agent in charge stood quietly flanking the Judge from the other side. The two men watched as agents flooded the Carriage barn removing bales of counterfeit money. Below the carriage barn, in an abandon basement, crates upon crates of weapons and incendiaries sat waiting to be categorized and removed. The Laundry room at the basement of the house had survived the destruction and more money that had yet to be 'cleaned' or roughened, lined the walls.
Judge Travis had known there would be trouble. Almost premonition like in the fierce feeling that had him drawn to this wooded area. The brilliant spark of dissention with in the ranks of Team Seven that morning also stood as a good indicator that they might need saving more from themselves than from any gun runner.
Figures it was a joint operation. This Apollyon diversified his operations. Must not be enough money in the illegal trade of weapons...so he dipped his hands into counterfeiting. Something about the man himself had had Travis feeling uneasy. Looking at the smoldering remains of the ruined house, the Judge could only think that Larabee must have felt the same way. The house was in ruins after all
The Secret Service seemed inclined to believe explosives were involved. JD rolled his eyes at the apparent simpleton explanation. The Judge refrained from making any impromptu guesses.
Firefighters and rescue crews stood on the edges of the ruined house waiting to search for bodies. Chris had warned them back. No one had been left inside.
The others six kept silent, not wishing to contradict their leader and not sure if Chris thought he spoke the truth. Maybe Chris had never seen Apollyon after all.
The two would be counterfeiters in the carriage barn quickly coughed up their cohorts. Soon Federal agents were leading strings of defunct criminals out of their hiding places and into waiting vans.
The Judge could not help but notice the relieved looks on most of the prisoners. Strange but they almost seemed grateful.
The Judge brought his attention to the young man practically dancing beside him. Travis had begun to feel a twinge of regret when he asked Mr. Dunne to give him a synopsis of what had occurred this fine evening.
"....Then Count Iblis tossed Vin into the wall," JD continued undaunted by the activity around him.
"Count Iblis?" The Secret Service agent in charged leaned around the Judge and nailed the young ATF agent with a stare.
"Yeah ,can you believe it....Apollyon, Iblis, Devil.... take your pick," JD met the older man's gaze, "Better known as the Deceiver...or Angel of the endless pit, anyways, Ez kind of pissed him off somehow."
"I can't imagine that," The Judge replied under his voice.
"Yeah, was gonna use him as bait," JD gazed up at the Judge relieved to find a rapt listener, "anyhow Buck got shoved down some steps, something dang near strangled me in the yard, Josiah and Nathan spilled down some secret passage and the Lady of the Lake dunked Vin....left Chris out of it...." Dunne let his eyes wander to the house, "Josiah said that's where he screwed up," Dunne paused at the poor choice of language and quickly corrected himself, "messed up...left Chris just plain pissed off and the rest of us together...."
"Young man,... the counterfeiting...." The Secret Service agent tried to nudge the exuberant young agent back into the land of reality. No doubt that the ATF agent had been injured somehow in the destruction of the house.
"Don't know nothin' about the Counterfeiters..." Dunne gave the suit a cursory glance, "That's Fred's department."
"Fred?" The Judge rubbed the back of his neck...how many more people were involved with this mess?
"Fred...Chris...like Vin's Daphne...Nathan...Velma," JD explained as if the Judge should have already known.
"Listen up Scrappy, one more word out of you and this Daphne is gonna strangle your dumb ass." Tanner's drawl cut into the conversation from where he wrestled from a stretcher, "and I don't need to go to some dumb hospital just to have some Doctor tellin' me I hit my head..."
"Shut up Vin," Larabee pushed the sharpshooter back down.
"Scrappy?" The Judge mimicked in disbelief.
"Don't believe everything you hear Judge," Dunne dismissed the question. "'Sides Josiah's more like Scooby dumb....Vin's just pissed cuz Ezra wore the purple dress and sang but everyone knows who's Chris's real..." Dunne let his voice fade not sure how to phrase the next part correctly.
"Real what?.... Mr. Dunne?" The Judge stared at the computer agent curiously.
"Mr. Dunne I wish you would cease bringing up the dress incident," The southern tones sounded tired but ornery, "and will someone please undo my hands!" Frustration dripped from the words.
"Can't Ez, not til we get to the hospital...yer shoulder's out and we don't want to be jerking it around." Nathan's schooling voice sounded strained.
"Mr. Larabee has been lugging me around like a sack of potatoes and you're worried about jostling my shoulder too much?!" An incredulous reply shot back hotly.
"Alright...That's it..." Larabee's low growl had people pausing. The leader of team seven ignored the hesitant glances others skittered his way, "Do you have some extra tape?" Larabee's demand somehow lacked a questioning inflection. A harried EMT didn't bother questioning the 'request' and instead handed over a roll of four inch tape.
Chris mumbled a 'Thank You' and ripped off a six inch strip. He stood up and showed it to Standish, who lay on his side under some blankets. "One more word...." Chris placed the tape on the metal rung of Standish's gurney...just out of his reach.
"You wouldn't dare," Ezra challenged.
"Try me," Larabee almost wished Standish would give him the excuse to tape his mouth closed.
"Judge?" Ezra twisted his head getting a look at Travis, "what about my first amendment rights?"
"Chris? Do I have to ride with him?" Wilmington kicked at the blankets that covered his legs. It bothered him not to be able to move his feet freely.
"Oh, it's not like you're gonna remember any of this Mr. Wilmington," Standish snapped.
"Are they always like this?" The aged Secret Service agent tore his gaze from the six near the ambulances to the Judge and the younger agent. The newcomer had begun to develop and understanding as to why Judge Travis wanted to employ the resources of the National Guard.
"Like what?" JD peered at the senior agent some what perplexed.
The Judge shook his head dismissing the question for now. There would be time enough later.
"Hey Judge, I got a joke, ya wanna hear it?" Collective 'No's' harmonized in the night. JD ignored the hecklers behind him. He turned his attention toward Judge Travis, polite but captive audience, "How come Scooby was afraid to go outside?"
Travis stared at his computer expert as if he had lost his mind. The Judge tossed a gaze to the senior Secret Service agent in silent question. The older man merely shrugged.
Dunne smiled flashing, brilliant, white teeth. Finally he would get a chance to finish a joke.
"Oh for Pete's sakes....." The undercover agent threw the Judge and Supervising agent a disgusted look, "Because it was raining Cats and Dogs." His incredulous expression filled in the missing 'Duh.'
"Ahh Heck Ezra, ya ruined my joke!" JD turned on the undercover agent as the gurneys were being loaded into the ambulances.
"Mr. Dunne your joke was doomed the moment you started telling it." Standish cowered back under his blanket when Larabee reached for the strip of tape. The ambulances were loaded. Chris rode with Vin in the back of one. Wilmington and Standish were loaded into the back of another. Josiah and Nathan flipped a coin to see who had to accompany them. Nathan lost and headed for the front passenger side.
"Come on Brother Dunne, time to follow our injured lambs to the hospital," Josiah wrapped a massive hand around JD's neck and steered the despondent young man toward the Tank.
"Ya think the truck is gonna start?"
"Nope," Josiah chuckled at the slowing of JD's steps, "least not on the first few tries," Sanchez paused and added conspiratorially, "don't want to get to the hospital too early....let's give them a chance to get those three settled....don't ya think?"
JD chuckled, "Yeah, ya might be right." Dunne peered over his shoulder at Travis, "You coming Judge?"
Judge Travis nodded silently, "I'll meet you there," sometimes his loyalty to his men drove him to extremes. Least Evie was there with Mary and Billy visiting with Rain.
+ + + + + + +
JD and Josiah entered the emergency department through the Authorized Only Door. They would have liked to have believed they were allowed entrance through such hallowed doors because they flashed their ID's. Truth be told Security at the hospital recognized them immediately.
The two ATF agents paused when they glanced into the waiting area. Kids in assorted costumes crowded seats and compared candy. Some bartered and haggled trading treasures for greater riches. Frankensteins, Penguins, Cowboys, GI Joes, Cinderella's and assorted other characters jittered and danced as adults sat weary and worn sprawled over hard plastic chairs.
Trick or Treating at the hospital seemed both a blessing and curse all at once. It broke some tension and gave nightly routines a much needed diversion but the constant sound, unstoppable energy of kids taxed everyone they flocked upon.
Josiah pulled JD away from the congregation of monsters and idols.
"Come on Brother time to find the others," Josiah had forgotten he had snapped the key off in the ignition. It took a bit but they managed to get the truck started. The steering column would never be the same but a little duct tape and they were in business.
Josiah pulled Dunne into the working chaos known as Emergency.
"Where the hell have you two been?" Nathan nearly jogged by them. At recognition, he came to a sliding stop.
"Truck wouldn't start," Dunne answered easily enough.
Jackson nodded dismissing the answer, "Yeah well Vin just pulled a disappearing act down in CT. Still ain't got his head on straight and Chris is afraid he's gonna head for home.....They've got Buck pre-meded but he won't sit still says he gotta sit with Ezra...which might not be a bad idea...that dang fool ain't respondin' to his premeds like a normal person....he's wired."
"Brother why don't you and I help Chris find Vin...and let John Dunne sit with Buck and Ezra."
Nathan drew in a deep breath and nodded. The medic turned a cautious eye on JD, "Buck just needs to get down to the Radiology department...they're ready to take him but Ezra's just on the verge of going off the deep end....so move slow and easy and don't let anyone near him....they're looking for Doc. Murray now."
JD frowned and nodded. Nothing new there.
Josiah and Nathan headed for CT. They split at the elevator. Jackson took the stairs.
JD sighed and headed for the far part of the E.D. They never put any of the team up near the entrance or admitting part of the room. Something about scaring or intimidating others. JD didn't quite understand it but figured Doctors were a touchy bunch.
Chris stood down in the basement of the hospital. The musty smell of dank cement filled the area. The dry artificial heat created by numerous driers put a metallic smell in the air. The leader of team seven stood quietly and listened. Tanner wouldn't make a noise to reveal himself, not on purpose. Larabee knew the sharpshooter would be down here. A little used exit stood just behind him.
Chris sat beside it and waited.
+ + + + + + +
JD entered the curtained off area to find Buck slumped in a chair. His light blue hospital gown did little to hide much of anything. Standish lay on the gurney still ensconced in his over coat with his hands taped behind his back.
The wild look in the undercover agent's eye brought him up short.
"Ain't goin' kid....not 'til Ez here figures out what's what," Wilmington's slurred voice gave every false indicator that someone could drag him away from his team mate.
"I'm with ya there," JD inched toward Standish with an out stretched hand. Standish curled back from it, his breathing coming in short panicked pants.
"Oh." JD quirked his mouth to the side and backed up a step. "Bummer....Vin?"
"Disappeared down in CT from what I hear...just got up and walked off."
"No one knows...they never CT'd him."
"Oh." JD stared at his ever slouching friend, "you doin' ok Buck?"
"Oh yeah," The lopsided smile spoke volumes.
Standish watched them with wide eyes.
The curtain to their little cubicle was slowly folded back. Two doctors quietly stepped into their space. + + + + + + +
Josiah made himself comfortable next to Larabee. Vin would slink from his hiding space in a matter of time...if he didn't lose consciousness first.
Nathan had wandered off back upstairs just to be sure Vin didn't double back on them. Josiah accepted his excuse and welcomed the privacy. Chris would be easier to talk to without an audience.
"You ok Brother?" The Profiler didn't bother turning his head to gaze at his friend.
"You have any idea what happened tonight?" Sanchez did not know how far to push or how much to reveal. Hell he didn't even know just how much Chris saw and heard.
"I've met him before, when Sarah and Adam...." Larabee kept his voice low almost a whisper, "if it weren't for Buck....."
Josiah nodded not forcing Larabee to reveal anything.
"I saw him Josiah," Chris dropped his head slightly keeping his eyes on his fingers as they twirled a dirty string by the ends.
"It wasn't Adam," Sanchez reiterated. He understood almost innately as to who Larabee referred too.
"I know...that's just it," Larabee pulled his eyes from his hands and stare down the hallway, avoiding looking at the man beside him, "God I thought I would have given up anything for him...to get him back."
"And you probably still would....but Chris that wasn't Adam down there," Josiah turned and stared at the profile of the man beside him, "...Apollyon would've snatched JD and if Ezra and if the rest of us were lucky, killed us...."
"Then he was human?" A tinge of fear laced Larabee's voice.
Josiah sighed and leaned his head back against the heavily pained cinder blocks, "No. No he wasn't...I don't know what he was...but he wasn't human."
Chris nodded and drew his attention back to the string.
Josiah chuckled, "Well JD's with Buck and Ezra....seems they have a new Intern this fall."
Larabee nodded his head in understanding. The Leader of Team Seven leaned back against the cinderblock wall and closed his eyes.
+ + + + + + +
Doctor Murray stood beside the young Doctor. She kept her hands in her pockets and stared at the coated patient that flickered his eyes over them only briefly.
"The cocktail you used...will work in over 90% of your patients....great sedative effects, wonderful long acting pain killer and a nice touch of disassociative properties," Murray smiled and continued with a sigh, "but in children, cats and the occasional ATF agent you get this..."
"Cats?" JD leaned against the wall with his hands in his pockets as well. It helped keep down sudden movements and kept him from fiddling with anything that might make a sharp or loud noise. Those kinds of things would have Ezra flying from the bed.
"AVet thing," Murray smiled reassuringly. She turned back to her Intern, "so what do we do?"
The Intern fidgeted and worried his lip searching desperately for an answer that would appease everyone and get him out of this mess, "Restraints?"
Both Buck and JD started to move in defense of their team mate.
"I'm guessing that dislocated shoulder is the result of being restrained," She smiled reassuringly at her protege, "don't want him yanking or breaking anything else we might have to fix."
The intern nodded, his heart hammering and his mind whirling with possibilities. Books were so much easier than the real thing. Keep it Simple stupid...KISS, a moniker to live by, "Keep him quiet until it wears off?" The young Doctor shrugged helpless to come up with anything more scientific and 'doctorish'.
"Probably be the best bet," Dr. Murray faced the other two agents, "unless you boys can convince him to let either you or us undo those hands, get that coat and shirt off and get an IV established with a short acting anesthetic on board?"
"Drugs'll be probably gone by then," JD confessed.
"They find Vin yet?" Buck slouched even further in his seat. Both Doctors wondered how he could ignore the broken collar bone....Pain meds of course.
Murray took another deep breath and closed her eyes briefly, " I think Chris and Mr. Sanchez have the laundry room staked out. Security is watching all the main exits...and Mr Jackson already checked out any over sized trick or treaters."
JD and Buck both nodded that would've been a good idea.
"Mr. Wilmington why don't you come with us get the shoulder filmed and then come back here," Murray gave her best disarming smile.
"Ain't leavin' Ez alone."
A new voice interrupted, "How about you let me stay with him while Mr. Dunne accompanies you."
Everyone turned and found Judge Travis's wife holding the privacy curtain in one hand. A pleasant smile graced her elegant features.
"I don't know ma'am," Buck blinked his eyes remaining close a fraction of a second longer than normal.
"Mr. Wilmington please don't let Mr. Standish bear the responsibility of keeping you from proper medical treatment." The smile faltered only in lieu of a small disappointed frown.
JD ducked his head, 'ouch'.
+ + + + + + +
Dunne leaned on the wall outside Radiology. He gazed up at the sound of approaching footsteps, "Oh Hey, Nathan," Dunne pushed himself off the wall, "Ya find Vin yet?"
"Kind of," Jackson slowed down and stood with JD. The chemist read the questioning gaze, "he's in the Laundry room....Chris and Josiah are just waiting him out."
JD nodded in silent agreement.
"Judge's wife is with him, she sent me and Buck down here." JD fumbled with his coat cuff something obviously bothering him, "Nathan?" Dunne paused watching the older man stare down the empty corridor. "Whatcha think happened tonight?" The young voice tapered off unsure of the reaction he would garner from the older man.
"I don't know JD...I really don't know."
"Ya think he'll come back?" JD stumbled over his words searching for comfort without sounding like the dumb kid they sometimes took him for, "I mean..."
"I know what ya mean," Jackson paused and finally muttered the truth, "I don't know...have no idea."
JD nodded and scraped his heel against the tiled floor.
"I'm sure Josiah does though," Nathan chuckled when JD's face lit up.
+ + + + + + +
Chris slowly pushed himself to his feet when they heard a crash and a Texas twinged groan.
The two agents converged on the banks of driers that lined the room at the far end of the corridor.
They found Tanner sitting amongst a pile of warmed, white, blankets, blinking wide eyed and confused.
"Come on Vin time to go back upstairs." Josiah and Chris grabbed either arm and hauled the bewildered man to his feet.
"Head 's' hurtin' a bit," Tanner swayed and allowed the two to lead him toward the stairs.
"Bet it does."
+ + + + + + +
It had taken Evie Travis some time to convince Mr. Standish to trust her. A few minutes of soft one side conversation and her simply moving about the small area, she had managed to cut the tape and gently work the coat from him. Dr. Lauren and her Intern had stood outside silently waiting for her to coax the agent into some semblance of trust.
Establishing the IV line had taken some doing but Mrs. Travis merely occupied his field of vision. He trembled and shied from her at first but after a bit he closed his eyes, trusting her to watch out for his best interest. He never felt the IV slide home, never knew a short acting anesthetic flowed down the plastic line into his arm. He only understood that the Judge's Wife stood next to him. That had to mean that the Judge was near by...the dang old man kept an old Coach gun handy. Nothing would threaten them tonight.
Evie Travis now sat quietly in a chair very similar to the one Buck had vacated. The chair Mr. Wilmington had left was exchanged for one without body prints left on it. She held her folded over coat on her lap and sat with her ankles crossed. She rested one hand on her coat and the other over the bared hand that supported an IV further up the forearm. Dr. Lauren had left right after she administered the drug. She and her student would wait outside. No sense in frightening their patient if it could be avoided. Mr. Standish had slipped off to a drugged sleep only moments ago. He still lay on his side facing Mrs Travis. The wild eyed expression had slipped away as drugs ran directly into his blood stream.
The rain drenched wool coat she had coaxed him out of lay folded at the foot of the bed in a plastic bag. A detail she had failed to provided him when she took the garment. She had returned the bandage scissors the nurse had lent her. The Duct Tape had cut furious groves in tender wrists. The poor boy. They would need cleaning and possible bandages. With the IV now established and Standish submerged in a drug induced slumber, the Doctors could get their work done.
"How's he doing?" Lauren Murray popped her head around the curtain.
"Finally sleeping," Evie Travis pulled the thin hospital blanket up around his shoulders. The shirt would have to be cut off once he relaxed enough.
"We'll take'im for films and probably the Orthro room," the Dr. smiled calmly, "he'll be back here before he wakes up."
Mrs. Travis nodded, "Have they found Mr. Tanner?"
"In their strange sort of way...yes."
+ + + + + + +
JD swiveled his gaze from Buck to Ezra. He and Josiah had a bet as to who would wake up first. JD bet Buck, Wilmington fell asleep because of the injection in his butt. That was hours ago. They braced his busted collar bone and put stitches in the side of his head. Buck now had a bald spot. Not too bad and hardly noticeable if he wore a hat...JD wouldn't tell him that though.
Nathan had been right about Ezra's left shoulder popping out again. The Doctors secured Ezra's arm across his midsection again. The gash on the side of his head took stitches too. His bald spot didn't look near as bad as Buck's. JD would keep that opinion to himself as well.
Both were covered with bruises. One could almost see where Buck hit every step. Even his legs had deep maroon and purple bruising.
Ezra's back looked like a bad patch work quilt. He must have hit that door at a pretty good clip. Neither had broken ribs. Deep muscle injuries instead.
JD translated that to alot of groans, complaints and " Hey JD get me...." He had an immediate future as a Go For. Such a hassle.
Josiah and Chris had led Vin up from the bowels of the building. He tried to split again once he figured out where he was...fortunately his brain wasn't talking too clearly to the rest of his body. His legs and arms just kind of twisted around themselves. It took next to no effort to get him back down to CT.
Nathan and Chris went with him.
Josiah had decided to stick with Ezra when they wheeled him out of the Ortho room. Buck had been done almost an hour before any of the others. JD stuck with Wilmington.
Mrs. Travis and the Judge hung around just long enough to be sure the others were going to be ok. Evie Travis layed a quiet hand on top of Ezra's head almost as if she wanted to wish him a good night...like a mom does her kid. JD diverted his eyes trying to give her privacy in an open space. Dunne didn't understand what drove Mrs. Travis to see her son in Ezra but that's how she treated him. They all saw it...and when Ezra wasn't puking his guts out or drugged out of his mind...well he saw it too. He treated her kindly, delicately as if afraid to break the frail strands that she had cast his way.
The Judge never made any comment and always stood way off to the side. He watched grim faced. Nothing or no one would ever replace his son. Though Evie didn't want to replace Steven she needed to fill the gigantic hole his loss created. The Judge filled it with his work and doting on his wife.
Dunne wondered if Ezra knew how lucky he was, having someone like Mrs. Travis caring for him. Kind of like Nettie with Vin. No one ever picked on either of them for it. Funny but that was a line they wouldn't cross.
Buck stirred and groaned. JD laughed, "Looks like you owe me a five Josiah."
"Brother Dunne one must remember never to count their chicks before they are hatched," as if on cue Standish suddenly lifted his head off the pillow wide eyed and bewildered.
A toothy grin split Josiah's face, "See,"
"Oh no way," JD complained, "he ain't awake at all....watch." To prove his point JD turned to Standish, "Eh Ez why'd Scooby sleep so long?"
Ezra blinked at him in an exaggerated fashion. He dropped his head back onto the pillow all the while roving his eyes left and right.
Dunne gave Sanchez a triumphant glare.
Josiah leaned over the undercover agent, "Hello Brother Ezra, Welcome back." His greeting was met with a string of incoherent gibberish. "Yup everyone's fine."
"Oh that ain't what he said," JD willed Buck to start moving quicker.
"Ezra...Ezra," Josiah called to the dazed agent. When onion like green eyes landed on him, the profiler smiled, "Why'd scooby sleep so long?"
Ezra blinked and stared at the older man leaning over him, "Daawwgg tired." The words were strung out in a thick confused accent but some how managed to be discernible.
"Dang," JD dug through his pocket for a Fin.
"You can go back to sleep Brother," Sanchez rested a massive hand on Standish's good shoulder, "we'll be here waiting for you when you wake up."
Mary Travis led Billy through the ER. Rumor, from a reliable source, said that Chris and the others were in for another visit. She placed a guiding hand on her young son and tightened it slightly when he tried to wiggle from her grasp. Hospitals were not a place to let children run wild.
The rumors had been correct. She could hear the arguments and shenanigans before she even reached the main floor.
"Damn it Ezra ya got to stay awake," Nathan's impatient voice sounded tired.
"Nathan don't yell at him," Rain's voice schooled in a stern manner, "he's hurt and sick."
"Yeah, well, he wouldn't be if he just admitted he had an ear ache." There was a pause and , "Buck sit your swaying bare ass down on that cot before I slap you silly."
"He could probably do it too Brother," Josiah's laughing tones wrapped around the area.
Billy, hearing the familiar voices, broke free of his mother and ran around the bend into the room. His green tail and yellow spikes bobbed and bounced off the ground. Mary couldn't help think that Billy made and awfully cute Dinosaur.
Billy jumped out from behind the nurses station counter and raised his hands over his head in a claw like fashion, "Roar!" He screamed in his best attempt to impersonate a T-Rex.
His entrance into the room had effected the men like he had hoped but not in a manner he understood.
Seven men stared at the Green furred Dinosaur with yellow spikes with emotion bridging disbelief, fear, and unease.
Mary jogged up behind her son smiling at his antics. He was just too cute this Halloween. She would have to remember to thank Mr. Wilmington. Her smile faded when she saw Seven grown men staring at her son with open mouths.
Billy backed away from the Seven ATF agents, unsure of their reactions. Mr. Buck sat slumped on a gurney. Mr. Vin sat on another gurney leaning heavily against the cool tile wall the bed rested against. Mr. Standish lay on his back kind of dressed with a blanket over his chest.
Mr. Nathan, Mr. Dunne, and Mr. Josiah stared at Billy wide eyed, almost frightened.
"Good Lord," a slurred southern voice mumbled quietly around the room.
"I'm so sorry Chris," Buck's plaintive whisper wrapped around everyone.
Larabee sat by Vin's bed on a stool. He stared at the small dinosaur. The costume fit Billy better than it had Adam...but his son had been younger when Sarah had bought the costume. She had planned on getting a few good years out of it before having to move onto something else. Little boys love Dinosaurs...She and Chris had even planned on passing it off to Adam's little brother...when he came along.
Mary suddenly appeared from behind Billy. The young boy backed into his mother unsure of how to deal with all the stares directed at him. His mother gripped his shoulders and squeezed them reassuringly, "Gentlemen...." Her hesitant tone spoke volumes of the unease that permeated the room. "sorry to have interrupted." She made to steer her son away from inquisitive undisguised stares.
"It's alright Mrs. Travis," Josiah pushed himself to his feet. He patted Standish's shoulder as he left the undercover agent's side and nodded a thankful, understanding smile at Buck. This is what Wilmington had tried so hard to protect or better yet prepare Chris for this ghoulish holiday.
"Let's get a look at you Billy....or should I say T-Rex?" Sanchez knelt before the small boy and offered an opened hand. Even on his knees the Profiler still loomed taller than the child.
"I'm a Raptor," Travis stepped forward forgetting his hesitancy that pulled at him just moments before. He roared again throwing his arms up over his head. Josiah fell back onto his butt as if startled.
"Scary stuff there, Mr. Raptor."
Billy giggled and skirted around the older man and bee lined it toward Chris. The other men watched fearful for the blond that saw someone else in the tiny suit.
"Hi Chris!" Billy never hesitated and started to climb up onto Larabee's lap. Chris hesitated at first trying desperately to control the images and emotions that lay sequestered in a shallow grave of painful memories.
Buck struggled to sit up. He fought to gain his feet and once again run interference for Chris. If Vin had all his oars in the water, the sharpshooter would have done it by now. Between the concussion and near drowning, the Texan had a difficult time putting thoughts together.
Chris noticed the struggle on the other roll away cot. Larabee tossed a sad smile to his oldest friend before turning his attention to the little dinosaur struggling for purchase higher up the tree of legs.
"Up ya go Raptor," Chris easily lifted the boy into his lap, candy bag and all. "I didn't know Dinosaurs ate candy."
"Course they do Chris," Billy stated matter of factly, "Mr. Buck said so...that's how they grow big and strong."
Chris, Nathan and Mary both nailed the Ladys' man with raised eyebrows. Mrs. Travis crossed her arms in a stern fashion...so that's where that argument had come from.
"Shut up Ezra," Buck whispered to the undercover agent.
"You stop picking on him," Rain stood protectively between the undercover agent and the Ladies man.
"Yes Mr. Wilmington,stop picking on me, I am injured and sick." Standish's smug grin was not missed by the Physician's Assistant.
Rain leaned low over the undercover agent, "Don't start Mr. Standish."
Nathan leaned against the foot of Standish's bed and watched Chris and Billy. The medic then turned and stared at Ezra and then Buck.
The one-sided fight in the conference room earlier that day suddenly seemed worth the dues paid. Jackson wondered if Standish really understood how he had helped...if Ezra even admitted to himself at all that he had become disagreeable for the sake of a friend. Nathan figured probably not. The man had contrary down to a science.
How did Apollyon know? Nathan let his eyes swing to the young agent near Buck. JD had made a good point. How could they explain that....maybe Ezra had been bugged somehow...
Jackson did not think he would ever know just how much Wilmington would be willing to sacrifice for Chris. How much had the Ladies' man already divested to keep his oldest friend alive and well. How hard had he worked to protect and cherish the memories of a little family lost and destroyed? Buck would not allow for them to be forgotten no matter how hard the survivor tried.
Jackson was pulled from his musings when Billy started haggling with Chris for treasures back at the Judge's house, at the Halloween party tonight.
Bartering...now where had a six year old learn to haggle so expertly? The Chemist turned his eye on the Southerner who smiled with pride while watching the Dinosaur work an angle to get better goods. Dang fool, of all his gifts, he departs his less than honest ones too the boy.
JD, watched Billy and Chris for a moment. Things seemed ok, Buck had been worried about nothing. Dunne sighed and unwrapped a Snicker's bar he had gotten from the Imaging department.
"Hey guys," Dunne read the back of the label, "How does Scooby-Doo get leftovers home?"
"Please, Mr. Dunne I'm ill."
"Kid, if you don't shut up I'll ram those down your throat."
"Brother Dunne you have yet to master the art of delivering a joke."
"JD, not here, there are sick people trying to recover."
"Go ahead JD," Chris switched Billy to his other knee, "and Ezra keep your mouth shut."
JD smiled and took a breath. He had an audience. Nurses, Doctors and patients alike stared at him waiting for the punch line.
"Doggy Bag," Standish couldn't help himself. He told himself he would pay heed to Mr. Larabee's command. Swore he would keep his mouth shut...Good Lord. Now he wrestled desperately to flee his gurney. Jackson pinned him with a simple hand to his chest.
Josiah peeled a length of porous tape from a four inch roll.
"Ms Rain?" trapped and panicked Standish pleaded with the merciful, benevolent PA at his bed side.
"Sorry Mr. Standish." She smiled sweetly as JD and Larabee descended on the trapped man.
Ezra nailed Jackson with a disfavorable glare. Nathan seemed to have a bad influence on his paramour.
"Least it will be a quiet ride back to the ranch." Josiah crossed his arms and stood near Mrs. Travis.
Mary stood in the background watching her son interact with the grown men...though she sometimes wondered how far back they regressed mentally. She met Mr. Wilmington's eye and smiled a Thank You. Borrowing one of Adam's costumes had worried her from the start. Though Buck had reassured her constantly, she could not hide her doubt. She had spent many weekends watching Evie rifle through her grown sons belongings with tears in her eyes. Mary had watched as her Mother in Law doted on the undercover agent from a distance. It was as if the mother in her would do anything to appease the aching hole in her heart.
Mary did not want to re-awaken or stir any animosity in Mr. Larabee. She did not want to place her son in the position of trying to fill the space of a lost child. Billy deserved better and Mr. Larabee needed more. But Billy had fallen in love with the costume when Mr. Wilmington presented the outfit. How could she refuse...especially when Buck insisted that she use it?
Billy giggled as he followed closely on Chris's heel. "You've been bad again, huh Mr. Ezra?"
"There are degrees of bad Master Travis," Ezra's calm tone belayed the panic in his face. He shoved himself further into the roll away bed trying to disappear within the sheets, "and surely this is a minor infraction....." The rest of his words were muffled when JD and Chris firmly placed tape over the undercover agent's mouth.
Chris wiry, pleased smile graced his face. He turned and addressed the rest of his team as he rested a hand on Billy's green furred shoulder, "should have done that sooner." Larabee kept Standish's free arm effortlessly pinned on the bed.
" 'bout time," Nathan draped an arm around Rain's slim shoulders keeping her from coming to the rescue of the Southerner.
"Let's load up guys, Raptor there needs to get on with his trick or treating," Buck swayed on unsteady feet. JD was at his side in an instant, "We taking the Mystery Machine?"
"Drop you boys off at the office and get these invalids settled at the ranch," Josiah spoke to the room but looked to Larabee. Chris nodded his agreement.
"I'll get Daphne," Nathan eased himself over to the sharpshooter who now laid curled on his cot under a white blanket. Sitting up must have been taxing.
Josiah patted his pockets for his keys. "Don't bother Josiah, ya broke them off in the ignition remember." JD welcomed the weight of Buck's hand on his shoulder. It felt good to help the big guy.
"Hemostats should get them out," Nathan offered as he eased Vin to unsure feet.
Josiah nodded gathering up discarded coats and stray socks.
"Boys ready?" Chris guided Standish to his feet holding tightly to the free arm. Standish tried to rub the tape off on to his shoulder. Larabee ignored him, "Billy you go with your mom and we'll meet you at the Judge's house." Only JD, Nathan and himself would attend this year. Josiah apparently would take the honors of babysitting at the ranch. The nights earlier activities had Chris and Josiah hesitant about splitting the team up into too small a groups. They agreed no one should be on their own, not tonight.
Chris stared at his team. The party at the Judges house should be a quiet affair. At least this year the three pranksters would be sleeping off their injuries. No more green Jell-O explosions, No body parts in the middle of pumpkin pies, and hopefully no plastic rodent bones in the Pecan pie. Bobbing for apples will hopefully go without a hitch and no one will pull up with a shrunken head.
Yes, Judge Travis's ATF Halloween party should go smoother than last year.
With their hospital quota fulfilled for this season, Chris led his team toward the exit. He held tightly to Standish's good arm while the Southern fidgeted to remove the tape. His fever though down a few degrees still warmed his skin. Murray warned them that he would lack endurance for a few days.
JD matched Buck's shuffling steps eager to be of assistance and still trying to dig through his repertoire of jokes...searching for the perfect funny one. The kid could dig to China and not be successful. Wilmington closed his eyes briefly as he slid his feet along the floor. His shoulder and neck should really hurt more than it did.
Nathan trailed the group again with Vin leaning haphazardly against his shoulder. Rain would join them later this evening when her shift was over. Their only normal date happens to be on Halloween...that had to say something about their relationship...
Dr. Murray and her Intern walked the group to the door with a security escort, just to be sure they left.
The Emergency Department personnel wished them luck and hoped not to see them again too soon. Pills rattled and bounced in brown prescription bottles, instructions lay folded in pockets and small business cards for rechecks were placed in wallets. Things would be smooth until the next time.
Chris paused in the parking lot, watching Mary and Billy walk to their car. The little green dinosaur, with bouncing yellow scales, had his hand raised and held snuggly in his mother's grip. The confidence in the child's step exhibited the safety he felt because his mom walked beside him. Mary matched her son's sure step backed by the knowledge that the likes of Chris Larabee and his team protected her. Larabee watched as the two dimmed in the darkness stopping at their car.
JD paused beside them, "Do you think we'll have to worry about Apollyon anymore?"
The question hung heavy in the air. The others stared at one another hoping to find a definitive answer.
"No JD, I don't," Chris couldn't explain why but it seemed as if Apollyon had made his last visit.
"He won't be back JD," Josiah kicked at the bottom of the driver's door to get it to unstick up top, "he's failed too many times," Sanchez let his gaze fall to Larabee. Apollyon never stood a chance against Seven.
Ezra mumbled beside Chris, shaking his head.
Chris sighed, "I'll take it off if you keep your mouth shut." He unpeeled the tape part way.
"This is in direct violation of my First Amendment Rights..."
Chris replaced the tape and dragged his indignant undercover agent toward the back door of the Mystery Machine...or the tank.
Josiah slipped into the front seat of his truck softly singing, "I may not have beat the devil, but I drank his beer for free and then I stole his song." The old Kris Kristofferson tune had Nathan, JD and Chris chuckling.
Larabee shut the passenger door with a slam. He had a Halloween party to get too with a little dinosaur.