ATF Little Britches Universe
Disclaimers: The boys don't belong to me, more's the pity. *sigh*
Webmaster Note: This story was previously hosted at another website, and was moved to blackraptor in October 2012.
"Go now, my pet. Find the one which I seek," the voice commanded. And the beast with glowing eyes turned obediently to do his mistress' bidding.+ + + + + + +
Josiah Sanchez hummed softly under his breath as he walked across the grounds of the small Catholic church. He couldn't say exactly why he had decided on this little detour on his way to work, but the beauty and the peace of the place had called to him and he responded. As he approached the entrance to the sanctuary, he noted an elderly nun sitting on a bench next to the pathway. "Good morning, Sister," he intoned. The woman's head raised and milky white eyes seemed to peer directly into his soul. Before he could say another word, a surprisingly strong hand had gripped his wrist.
"You must guard the one with eyes that See. Evil walks this night and those that shine brightest are as beacons to the ones that walk in Darkness."
Shocked, Josiah could only stare at the nun as she released her grip and returned her sightless gaze to the ground. When she said nothing more, he hesitantly continued on to the church, glancing back occasionally and rubbing his wrist. The earlier peace he had felt was shattered, replaced by a strange feeling of dread. Unsettled, he approached the priest who looked to be rearranging the announcements on a bulletin board in the vestibule. "Excuse me, Father," Josiah began.
The priest turned and smiled. "Good morning. How can I help you?"
Josiah gestured behind him. "I was wondering if you could tell me about the nun sitting outside. She said something strange to me as I passed by."
Frowning, the priest looked out beyond Josiah. "I'm sorry, I do not know of any nuns visiting our church today. Where did you see her?"
Impatient, Josiah turned and pointed at the bench. "Right there..." he trailed off. The bench was empty. He scowled. "Well, that's odd. She was sitting right on that bench--a blind nun."
At his words, the priest returned his gaze to Josiah, studying him intently. "A blind nun, you say? My son, I believe you have been visited by Sister Catherine. You would do well to heed her warning." And then he turned and strode away, leaving a bewildered Josiah to stare after him.+ + + + + + +
Chris slammed down the phone, cursing under his breath. It wasn't unheard of to have an unscheduled evening meeting pop up, but it certainly wasn't one of the things he enjoyed about his job. And especially not when it conflicted with something he would much rather be doing--taking his foster son trick or treating. He closed his eyes as he thought of Vin. The eight-year old wouldn't complain, he would simply go quiet and stare up at him with those soulful blue eyes. Chris sighed. Sometimes, he thought, he'd rather have the screaming tantrums of JD than the silent disappointment of Vin.
There came a soft knock on his door and then Buck poked his head in. "Hey, stud, Nathan brought in pumpkin muffins, if you're interested. They're in the break room." Then he got a look at Chris' expression and felt his own smile drop. "What is it?"
Rubbing his eyes tiredly, Chris looked up at his oldest friend. "I can't take Vin out tonight." He gestured at the phone. "Mandatory administrative meeting tonight."
"Damn," Buck sighed.
"Yeah," Chris agreed, then stood up. "Guess I'll come have a muffin."
"I could take Vin to the party with JD," Buck offered uncertainly.
Chris snorted. "I have a feeling that, for Vin, that would be worse than staying home."
Nodding in agreement, Buck followed his boss down the hall. "Can't argue with that. Room full of noisy kids and a bunch of adults he don't know sounds pretty close to Hell for that boy."
Nathan and Ezra glanced up as Chris and Buck entered. "Problem?" Nathan asked, catching just the tail end of Buck's comment.
Before Chris could respond, Buck answered for him, "Chris has a meeting tonight. Can't take Vin out trick or treating as he'd planned."
"That's too bad, Chris," commented Nathan. "He'll be disappointed for sure."
Ezra was silent for a moment as he sipped his cappucino. He watched the glum expressions on his comrades' faces and thought of the sad face that his "nephew" would have. Before he even realized it, his mouth was opening and spoke, "I could take Mister Tanner out tonight."
For a moment, the room was quiet and then Buck's face broke out in a broad grin. "Well, I'll be, Ezra, that's a mighty fine offer and I'm sure Vin will be pleased as punch."
Chris studied his undercover officer carefully and then a smile slowly began to form. "Thank you, Ezra. It'll be much appreciated. I'll let Vin know this afternoon when I pick him up after school. Do you know what time you can pick him up?"
Blinking, Ezra thought quickly. What time did one take a child out on Halloween? "What time had you planned to leave?" he hedged, only now realizing just what he had volunteered himself for.
Chris' eyes crinkled in amusement as he saw the reality dawn on Ezra. But there was no way he was letting him get out of it now--it was the perfect solution. "Six or seven. I have to be back here for a meeting at six thirty, though, so if you can arrive at six, that would be great. Earlier, if you want to eat with us."
"Ah... no thank you, I believe I will dine before hand. I am certain that Mister Tanner would prefer to have some time alone with his father, especially as you will not be accompanying him for his first foray into the here-to-fore unknown ritual that is trick or treating," Ezra declined. "Six o'clock it is."
Chris nodded his head in acknowledgment and stood to refill his coffee. "I'll be working on reports today, I expect you boys will be doing the same," he stated calmly and then returned to his office.
Buck slanted a glance at Ezra. "Thanks again, Ezra. Vin's been looking forward to this night for weeks now."
"Yes, I do believe I have heard reference to it a few times when I have seen Mister Tanner and Mister Dunne. I believe Mister Dunne is otherwise engaged tonight?"
"Yep. All the kids in his grade are having a party at the school. I'm one of the chaperones," Buck proclaimed proudly.
"And are you dressing for the occasion?" Ezra asked.
"Sure am. JD and I are goin' as cowboys," Buck stated.
"Really..." A sudden thought struck Ezra and he stared at Buck in horror. "Tonight... I am not expected to disguise myself in some manner, am I?" he asked.
"Naah, you just walk with Vin around the neighborhood. Just stand at the sidewalk and let him go up to the door himself. He'll get his candy and you move on to the next house. Piece of cake," Buck assured him.
Relaxing, Ezra allowed a small smile to form on his lips. "I do believe I can manage that just fine, Mr. Wilmington."+ + + + + + +
Looking up at the building apprehensively, Josiah finally convinced himself to get out of his Suburban. He always felt somewhat ambivalent about his visits with his sister, and today was no exception. Institutionalized since her early twenties, it seemed that Hannah was never going to "get better." And yet, sometimes, Josiah could swear that she knew more than he could ever hope to learn... that she had some special insight into how the world really worked. That was why he was here now. He hadn't planned on this visit, but after his strange encounter with the nun in the morning, he was hoping maybe his sister would be able to shed some light on what it meant. Lord knows he hadn't had any luck figuring it out himself. He'd spent the whole day at work on the computer searching for any information he could find on Sister Catherine, and was both amazed and a bit frightened to find that she had appeared to others, as well.
"Hello, Mr. Sanchez," one of the nurses greeted him warmly, and Josiah blinked in surprise as he noted that she was dressed as Dorothy from "Wizard of Oz."
"Ah, hello," he replied. Belatedly recalling that it was Halloween, he had a sudden thought. "Is it all right if I visit with Hannah for a bit? I forgot about the holiday... are there group activities planned?"
"You go right on up. The party starts in about half an hour. You're welcome to join us, you know, even though you aren't exactly dressed for the occasion," the nurse teased, indicating his business casual attire of khakis, button down shirt, and blazer. "I'll give you fair warning though, many of the patients are a bit wound up tonight." She shrugged. "Maybe they're excited about the party. Anyway, remember to compliment Hannah on her costume. She was very pleased with the way it turned out."
"Thank you. I'll be sure to do that," Josiah said, nodding as he headed for the elevators.
Stepping out onto Hannah's floor, Josiah noticed that the noise level in the ward did seem much higher than usual, and occasionally a patient would skitter by him, giggling merrily. He was a bit surprised by both the variety and quality of the costumes he'd seen, but that hadn't prepared him for the sight of his sister as he knocked gently on her door and then opened it. "Hannah?" he called out softly, and gasped as she turned around.
"Josiah!" she exclaimed, beaming. "I knew you would come!" She clapped her hands happily.
"You look beautiful," Josiah said, striding forward and taking both her hands in his own much larger ones. And it was true. Her silver hair gleamed and set off the gold tones of her dress perfectly. The crown and wand completed the transformation of his sister into Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.
"Thank you, kind sir," Hannah replied and curtsied gracefully. The she looked into his eyes and her expression changed. "You're worried."
Sinking into the chair next to the door, Josiah nodded. "Yes. Something strange happened this morning," he declared.
Hannah cocked her head, her eyes narrowing as she studied him, and then she slowly nodded. "Warnings are never given lightly," she said.
Startled, Josiah looked back up and into his sister's knowing eyes. Yes, this was why he had come. "What can you tell me?" he asked.
Taking a deep breath, Hannah turned her gaze away and seemed to stare off into space. After a few minutes, she began to speak, her words given in a monotone and almost a whisper. "On this night, the Dark Ones hunt a boy-child. One whose soul is pure and burns brightly."
Josiah gasped. He wasn't sure what Dark Ones his sister might be referring to, but he had enough experience with the evil in the world to know that men were capable of just as nefarious deeds as any demons. Boy-child. Pure. JD! Suddenly feeling a sense of urgency, Josiah surged to his feet. "Thank you, sister. You have been a great help." He kissed her forehead and rushed out of the room.
"His deep blue eyes hold the wisdom of the ages and he can see right into your soul," Hannah continued and then she blinked and looked around. "Oh dear, I must find that sweet Dorothy and help her to find her way home," she said casually as she skipped out of the room, brandishing her wand.+ + + + + + +
Chris smiled at the assortment of creatures and characters that came streaming out of the school building. Some he recognized and others he just shook his head at. Finally, the one he was looking for, his own little Robin Hood, came running toward the truck. He opened the door to help Vin into the back. "Hey, cowboy, or I guess I should say Robin, huh? How was your day?"
Vin beamed. "Good. Mostly did fun stuff today. No homework, neither," he said happily.
"That's good. 'Fraid I have some bad news, though," Chris started as he fastned the boy's seatbelt, and Vin immediately froze. "Not real bad," Chris tried to reassure the boy, "just kind of disappointing." He looked up to find Vin's large blue eyes staring up at him anxiously. Sighing, Chris dropped his head. "I can't take you trick or treating tonight, cowboy. I have to go to a meeting." Vin remained silent and Chris looked back up at him, unsurprised to find tears brimming, but not quite falling. "But you're still going out. Ezra is going to pick you up and take you around Nathan's neighborhood just like we planned, OK?"
Vin nodded slowly and sniffed a few times, but still no words were forthcoming.
"I'm really sorry, cowboy. If I could, I'd get out of it, you know that don't you?"
Vin nodded again and then turned to look out the window, his hands clenching into the green tunic of his costume. Chris covered the hand closest to him and was relieved when Vin didn't flinch in response. "It's just the two of us for supper, though, and I thought we'd pick up a pizza on the way home," he offered. He was rewarded with a tremulous smile as Vin turned back to him.
"OK," Vin agreed quietly.
Giving Vin's hand a firm squeeze, Chris returned to the driver's seat and started up the truck.+ + + + + + +
Ezra turned off the engine and took a deep breath. 'Just what were you thinking, Ezra, volunteering to take a child trick or treating? What could possibly be in it for you?' Maude's voice echoed in his mind and he winced. There were times when he really wished he could tune out the subconscious critic that his mother had installed within him throughout his years of childhood. Although, since joining Chris Larabee's ATF team, the voice had grown softer, and with the addition of his two adopted "nephews," it's criticisms had begun to decline in frequency. Every once in awhile, however, it would sneak up on him... 'All right, enough of that.'
Before he reached the door, it opened and any doubts he had about the night disappeared as he saw Vin standing there dressed in a Robin Hood costume. A flush of pleasure swept through him at the sight. "I see you took my suggestion to heart, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said.
Vin nodded, staring up at Ezra with shining eyes. "Chris says you're taking me trick or treatin'?" he half-asked, half-stated.
"That's right. It will be a first time for both of us. What do you think of that?" Ezra asked.
A puzzled frown developed on Vin's features and he gave Ezra a doubtful look. "You never been trick or treatin' either?"
"No, I have not had the pleasure. However, tonight we shall remedy this appalling lack in our cultural education," Ezra stated firmly as he accompanied Vin inside the ranch house.
"Ezra," Chris greeted as he finished stuffing some files into his briefcase. He turned to Vin. "You'd better go get your bag and jacket." As Vin ran off, he shook his head and looked back at Ezra. "Hope you're well rested. He's a bit excited."
Ezra smiled in return. It was good to see the normally quiet boy exhibit some childlike exuberance. "I'm sure I'll manage," he said.
Vin came running back in and in addition to the jacket and bag, he now carried a small bow with an accompanying quiver of arrows.
"All set?" Chris asked, looking him over approvingly.
Vin nodded and looked to Ezra.
"Why, Mr. Tanner, you cut quite a dashing figure as Robin Hood," he stated, receiving a giggle from the boy in return.
"OK, what are the rules?" Chris quizzed Vin.
"Stay with Uncle Ezra and don't eat any of the candy until Uncle Ezra says it's OK."
"Good. Well, I need to get going. You two have fun tonight." Chris knelt down and gave Vin a hug, which was a bit difficult considering the boy had his hands full. "I'll see you tonight and we can look through your loot together, all right?"
Vin nodded again.
Standing back up, Chris addressed Ezra, "I plan to be back around nine or so. If you could have Vin back by then, I'd appreciate it."
"I shall endeavour to do so," Ezra assured him and then he turned toward Vin, holding out his hand. "Shall I relieve you of some of your encumbrances, Mr. Tanner?"
Vin handed over his jacket, keeping a firm grip on his bag, bow, and quiver. "'Bye, Chris," he said softly.
Chris watched the two walk out to Ezra's Jag, feeling a stab of wistfulness that he wasn't the one going with Vin. Then, he took a deep breath, grabbed his briefcase, and went out the door.+ + + + + + +
"OK, Vin. Just let me get a couple of pictures for Rain and then you two can head out," Nathan said as he stepped back from adjusting the quiver on Vin's back.
Ezra watched with amusement as Vin fidgeted, anxious to get going. Having his picture taken was not one of the boy's favorite activities. He was just grateful that Nathan had offered the use of his garage for the Jag for the duration of the night's activities. Just the thought of egg on the paint of his beloved car made him cringe. However, since Rain had a shift at the hospital, her bay was free and the Jag would be safe and sound as they toured the neighborhood on foot.
"Ezra, come stand next to Vin." Nate's words intruded into Ezra's thoughts and he looked up, startled. He ruefully admitted to himself that getting his picture taken wasn't something he enjoyed, either.
"Geeze, the two of you look like you're getting a mug shot or something," Nathan complained. "Say 'trick or treat.'"
Once he'd taken the shot and studied the result in the view finder, Nathan nodded in satisfaction. "All right. Looks good. You can tell Chris I'll e-mail him the pictures." He gave them both a level look. "Now, remember, only go to houses with the porch light on, don't eat anything until it's been looked over, and don't eat too much, you hear?"
Both Ezra and Vin nodded solemnly, and Nathan grinned. "Good. Now, out you go. Have fun." He ushered them out the door.+ + + + + + +
Buck stared around him at the chaos and wondered just what he had gotten himself into. Everywhere he looked, little critters were running around and screaming. He felt a bit dazed as, once again, something slammed into legs. This time, it was round, fuzzy yellow thing with little triangular ears. "Pika pika!" it screeched and then tore off in another direction.
"First time?" a woman's voice suddenly sounded in his ear and he looked over in surprise to see Catwoman eyeing him with amusement.
"Uh... yeah," he stammered, uncharacteristically tongue-tied.
She smiled. "Don't worry, you'll get used to it. There'll be a bit more order shortly, as they line up for the costume contest. Do you want to get a seat? Once they announce the line up, the good seats fill up fast."
Regaining his usual equilibrium, Buck smiled broadly. "Well now, darlin', that sounds like a mighty fine idea. Why don't you pick out a seat and I'll go rustle up some grub for us." He watched with appreciation as she walked away, the leather catsuit accentuating her assets quite nicely. Whistling under his breath in appreciation, Buck turned toward the food table.
"Buck, Buck!" JD shrieked happily as he ran up, and Buck quickly dropped to his knees to gather the little boy in a quick hug.
"Well, hey there, Li'l Bit. Having a good time?" he asked as he released JD.
JD nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah! Me'n Tommy are going to bob for apples," JD said, gesturing to the other side of the room where Buck could see a small pirate watching them, shifting from foot to foot impatiently.
"Looks like you'd better head on over there, pard. I think Tommy is a mite anxious to get started," Buck suggested.
"OK!" JD yelled and then took off running towards Tommy.
Buck just shook his head as he stood up and continued on his way to the food.+ + + + + + +
Vin looked at the house apprehensively. The porch light was on, and two jack o'lanterns were lit and positioned on either side of the steps. "I just knock on the door, say 'trick or treat,' and they give me candy?" he asked doubtfully. Chris and Buck had earlier explained the procedure several times to him, assuring him that it was safe and expected, but he had a hard time believing it.
"Yes, I do believe that is the proper method. Here, let's observe how it's done, shall we?" Ezra suggested as he noticed a small group of youngsters approaching with a chaperone. He nodded politely to the other man, most likely the father of one or more of the children, and was nodded to in return.
Vin watched quietly as the other children marched right up the steps and rang the doorbell. The door opened before the bell had stopped ringing and a smiling woman appeared with a bowl. He heard the loud almost shouts of 'trick or treat,' and then the woman started dropping things into the children's bags. Then they all turned and trooped back down the steps, returning to the man who waited at the sidewalk for him. He bit his lip. It didn't look hard. With one last look at Ezra, he sucked in a breath and walked as steadily as he could up the steps and rang the bell.
When the woman appeared again, Vin was momentarily at a loss and stared up at her blankly.
"Oh look, it's Robin Hood!" she exclaimed. "Come to take from the rich to give to the poor?" she asked with a wink.
Blinking, Vin remembered what he was supposed to say. "Uh... no ma'am... umm... trick or treat?" he asked hopefully.
"Here you go, sweetie," she said, dropping a handful of various candies into his bag.
"Thank you, ma'am," Vin said, and then turned and ran back to Ezra, his heart thudding in his chest.+ + + + + + +
Chris scowled as the new forms were handed out. The emergency meeting was about new report forms?! The aid who was unlucky enough to catch Chris' eye as he passed by paled and visibly gulped at the expression on the forbidding blond's face. He'd heard stories about Larabee, and he had no desire to find out if any of them were true, so he scurried away as quickly as possible. Chris smirked as the man just about tripped over his own feet. It was petty, but he figured those around him could suffer along with him. One of the other team leaders chuckled, shaking his head.
"Now, as you can see, the forms have been rearranged so that..." Chris tuned out the boring explanation of the new form layout. What, did they think the forms weren't self-explanatory? Bureacracy--gotta love it. Not.+ + + + + + +
Buck had learned that Catwoman, whose real name was Nancy Williams, was a single mother and a paralegal. Her daughter was currently Tinker Bell and had been enthusiastically throwing glitter on everyone with whom she came into contact. Buck, himself, had been the recipient of one such attack of pixie dust as the girl giggled happily and told him 'now you can fly!' before skipping off to dust someone else. He was just about to ask Nancy if she'd like to have dinner sometime when a familiar voice boomed next to his ear.
"Brother Buck!" Josiah greeted as he laid a warm hand on his friend's shoulder.
"Josiah?" Buck said in confusion. "Something up?"
Josiah shook his head, taking a seat. "Just wanted to stop by and see JD in costume," he stated, scanning the room for threats but finding nothing amiss.
"Last I saw of him, he was about to duck his head in a barrel with a pirate," Buck drawled.
And, sure enough, a partly damp JD was happily munching on an apple next to an similarly moistened pirate. Josiah chuckled, relieved that his worries had been for naught. 'Of course they were,' he told himself. 'Good thing I didn't mention the nun to the boys, they'd have laughed themselves silly.' Still, he decided to stay and keep his eyes open, just in case.+ + + + + + +
For the third time, Vin glanced back behind them, his face scrunching up into a frown as he muttered to himself.
"Mr. Tanner? What is it?" Ezra asked. He looked back, as well, but couldn't see anything that might spook his young companion.
Vin shrugged. "Not sure, but I think somethin's followin' us," he said. "Feels like somethin's watchin'... waitin'..." he trailed off, shivering a bit.
Frowning himself, Ezra tried to peer into the darkness but there was nothing he could make out. "Well, how about we finish this street and then call it a night?" he offered. It was getting close to the time he had planned on calling it quits, anyway.
Nodding, Vin started down the street but then stopped as a large dog suddenly appeared in his path, growling. He froze, staring at the dog with wide, frightened eyes.
"Vin," Ezra instructed, careful to keep his voice low and calm, "don't move." Cautiously, Ezra reached for the small gun he had secreted under his sweater. As an undercover agent, he'd learned that it was always a good idea to be prepared for trouble. Before he could get ahold of it, however, he heard a rustling sound behind him and then something smacked him on the back of the head. As he fell into darkness, the last thing he heard was Vin screaming for him.
"Uncle Ezra!" Vin cried out. He'd heard something behind him and turned just in time to see Ezra collapse into a heap. A black-cowled figure stood behind Ezra and several more were advancing on the boy. The dog growled again, but then launched itself past Vin and at the closest approaching figure. Torn on whether to stay with his uncle or flee, Vin lost precious seconds to indecision. Finally turning to run for help, Vin was suddenly swept off his feet. He screamed again until a cloth covered his nose and mouth and then the world faded away as a peculiar odor overpowered his consciousness.+ + + + + + +
Chris felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and a sense of foreboding descended upon him. He stood up abruptly, shoving the new forms into his briefcase and clicking it shut.
The man who had still been droning on about the new report forms paused to frown at him. "Agent Larabee..." he began, but Chris cut him off.
"I have to go. You can send me a memo," Chris remarked shortly and then he stalked out the door, leaving everyone at the table to stare after him in bemusement.
Something was wrong. Chris knew it. He had only felt this way once before... He pulled out his phone as he began to jog to the parking ramp, a familiar chill starting to settle around his heart. Listening to the ringing, he snapped the phone shut when he was shunted to voice mail. Chris hit the exit at a dead run.+ + + + + + +
Frowning, Josiah glanced around, but could find no reason for his sudden sense of unease. JD was standing proudly on the stage with a few other children, the winners of the pumpkin carving contest.
Buck leaned over. "Boy, kind of wish Chris and Vin were here to see this. Li'l Bit's about to burst his buttons," he stated, grinning broadly.
Vin. Josiah shut his eyes. Had he been guarding the wrong boy? Why had he automatically assumed it was JD in danger? He dredged up a sickly smile for Buck and nodded in agreement, though he could tell the other man had noticed something was wrong.
"You all right, there, Josiah? Eat something that didn't agree with ya?" Buck asked, concerned.
"I'm fine. Think I'll call it a night, though. You tell JD I'm very proud of him, all right?" Josiah stood up, somewhat unsteady on his feet. What should he do? Vin was with Ezra trick or treating in Nathan's neighborhood... He'd go to Nate's house. And then his friend could laugh at him and tell him that Vin and Ezra were just fine. Trying hard to convince himself of that, Josiah stumbled out to his Suburban.
Buck watched the older man leave, eyes narrowed in concern. Josiah might have said he was fine, but he sure hadn't looked it. In fact, the profiler had almost turned green. Before he could consider it further, however, there came a tugging on his hand.
"Buck, Buck, look! I got a ribbon!" JD exclaimed joyfully, holding up a red ribbon. "Second place!"
"I see that, Li'l Bit. Good job, pard. We'll hang it up when we get home, OK?"
JD nodded excitedly. "Yeah! I can't wait to show Vin and Chris. And I get to keep my pumkin, too!"
"That's real good, JD. We'll set it out on the porch and light it to keep away the scary monsters," Buck promised. He looked around, noticing that the crowd was beginning to thin out as parents came to collect their youngsters. "Is the party over?" he asked.
"Uh huh. I just gotta get my bag of treats and my pumkin," JD stated.
"Why don't you go do that, then, and I'll meet you by the door. I think it's about time for good cowboys to get to bed," Buck said with a wink.
JD wanted to argue that he wasn't tired, but Buck had already stood up and was walking away. Heaving a sigh, JD went to retrieve his stuff.+ + + + + + +
Wet... slightly slimy... Ezra twitched, then frowned. This time, something cold and wet poked at his cheek and his eyes flew open. There, right in front of him, was the muzzle of a very large dog. A dog that, just a few minutes ago, had been licking his face. "Ugh," Ezra moaned, scooting backwards, and then the pain in his head let itself be known. "Argh..." He clutched his head as he tried to figure out just what was going on, and then all thoughts but one flew out of his head. Vin! "Vin!" he called out, looking about frantically. Vin's bag of candy and bow were a few feet away, but of the boy himself there was no sign. Ezra closed his eyes, denying both what his eyes told him and the tears that were forming. "Mr. Larabee is going to kill me," he muttered under his breath and then he began scrabbling for his phone.
He didn't even notice when the dog moved closer and began leaning against him. Waiting impatiently for Nathan to answer, Ezra began a litany in his mind--'Please let Vin be all right. Please let Vin be all right."
"Jackson residence," Nathan's voice was a welcome sound in Ezra's ear.
"Nathan! Vin has been abducted," Ezra stated, wincing at the slight quiver in his voice.
"Ezra? Now just hold on, where are you? Are you hurt?" Nathan asked, anxiety tightening his voice.
"I'm not sure..." Ezra peered around, finally making out the street sign on the corner. I'm at Beechwood and Temple. Hurry, we need to find Mr. Tanner."
"I'll be right there. You want to call Chris?" Nathan asked, even as he was grabbing his medical kit and jacket.
'No, I don't want to call Chris!' Ezra screamed in his head, but he remained outwardly silent except for a deep breath. "I shall inform Mr. Larabee post-haste," he said flatly and ended the call, dropping his chin to his chest. That's when he noticed the warm body pressing up against him. "Good Lord, you're shedding all over my cashmere sweater," he told the dog, who simply stared blandly back at him, making no move to change his position. 'Ezra, you're losing it. Forget about the damn dog, you need to find Vin. But first, better to get it over with...' Mentally bracing himself, Ezra hit Chris' number on the speed dial with a trembling finger.
Ezra winced at the cold tone, and figured it would be glacial by the time he finished speaking. "Ahh... Mr. Larabee..."
"Where's Vin?" Chris snapped.
Blinking, Ezra tried to organize his thoughts, as the interruption had completely derailed his train of thought. "That's what I was calling about... that is to say... I mean, we were attacked..." Ezra realized he was rambling, but he couldn't seem to help himself. The way the world kept slipping in and out of focus certainly didn't help. "The dog is here," he stammered as said animal promptly licked his nose.
Ezra looked up in relief as Nathan came running up. "Tell him they took Vin," he pleaded, holding the phone out, just before he tumbled to the ground once more.
"Damn it!" Nathan exclaimed, recovering the phone. "Chris, someone took Vin and Ezra just passed out. From the looks of it, he's been bashed over the head," Nathan said as he gently probed the back of Ezra's head. We're at the corner of Beechwood and Temple."
"I'm on my way," Chris said and ended the call.+ + + + + + +
Vin moaned softly. He felt awful. Blinking his eyes open, he peered around blearily, but didn't recognize his surroundings. It was pretty dark, but there were a few candles flickering weakly on the other side of the room. He went hot and then cold and turned to his side just in time to lose the pizza that he had enjoyed so much earlier in the evening. Whimpering as he continued to heave after everything had been evacuated from his stomach, he finally noticed that his hands were bound together with some kind of plastic fastener. He levered himself up with his elbows and took a closer look around. Was he in a basement? How did he get here? Scooting away from where he'd been sick, Vin moved to place his back against a wall as he tried to get his bearings. He frowned, trying to remember what had happened. Uncle Ezra! His eyes darting frantically, he could find no trace of his adopted uncle. 'Please let him be OK,' he pleaded silently.
Shivering as much from fear as from the coolness of the basement, Vin stared about him, searching for a way out. There were stairs near the candles and a small window on the wall adjacent to him, but it was too high for him to reach. He had just decided to explore the rest of the room in hopes of finding something to stand on when he heard a door open and then the creak of stairsteps. Freezing in place, he stared with wide eyes as first high heels and then a pair of stockinged legs came into view. He blinked in surprise as a woman with longish brown hair and a tight-fitting black dress approached him.
"Awake are you? That's good. We wouldn't want you to miss the party, now would we? Especially as you are the guest of honor... Vin," the woman said silkily, a sly smile upon her lips.
Vin shuddered. At first glance, he would guess that she was pretty, in an unnerving way. But as he continued to look at her, it almost seemed as if her image... rippled... and what was underneath was not nice. And her eyes... to Vin, they seemed as black pits, reflecting nothing but endless night.
"Nothing to say? Well, according to all reports, you are the quiet one, aren't you? Ah well, silence is much preferable to endless prattle, anyway. Do you know why you are here, my dear?" she asked.
Shaking his head, Vin continued to stare at her apprehensively while simultaneously trying to inch away from her. She laughed and stepped closer, placing one perfectly manicured nail under his chin and pressing just hard enough to draw blood.
"You, little boy, shall serve a dual purpose. First of all, you will make a very tasty treat--all of that power that just leaks from your soul..." she paused as she brought her finger up to taste Vin's blood. "Mmmm... delicious. But, and this is the best part, once I have it, the one I truly want, the one who is to be my mate, will be unable to resist me once I've made your power my own."
Chris! This crazy woman wanted Chris! Vin shut his eyes and turned away, unable to prevent a few tears from slipping out.+ + + + + + +
Josiah was just about to pull into Nathan's drive when Chris' black Dodge Ram raced past him. Without another thought, he stepped on the accelerator, following right behind him. Two streets down, the truck came to a screeching halt and Chris bolted from the cab. Parking his own vehicle a bit more sedately, Josiah was nonetheless running as he approached the group of three next to the sidewalk. "What happened?" he asked, but with the absence of Vin and the small bow and Halloween bag abandoned on the grass, he had a pretty good idea. He was just praying he was wrong.
"Someone attacked Ezra and snatched Vin," Nathan said. He was closing up his med kit and trying to keep an eye on Ezra, who was still none too steady but insisting on helping in the search for Vin.
Josiah closed his eyes. He had been warned, but he hadn't been where he was needed. "Ezra all right?" he asked quietly.
Sighing, Nathan shook his head. "I'm pretty sure the dang fool has a concussion, but he refuses to go to the hospital."
At that, Nathan snorted. "What do you think? First thing he did was insist we keep it to ourselves for the time being. Doesn't want the locals or the Feebs to kick us off the case."
Glancing over at where Chris was examining the ground, Josiah nodded. "They would, you know. We're too close."
"I don't like it. The first few hours are critical. Hell, Vin could be miles from here by now," Nathan protested.
"He's not," Chris stated firmly, coming up and glaring at Nathan.
"Chris..." Nathan started, but Chris held up a hand.
"Nathan, trust me. Vin is still close by. I can feel it," he said.
Nathan bit his lip, but nodded in agreement. He still didn't like it, but he wasn't going to go against Chris, not in this, at least not yet.
"What do you want us to do?" Josiah asked.
"Anyone call Buck yet?" Chris asked, unsurprised to be answered by two negative responses. "Josiah, let him know what's going on. Tell him he should stay with JD, just in case this is revenge against us by some dirtbag we've put away." Josiah nodded and took a few steps away, digging for his cell phone. "Nathan, this is your neighborhood, have you noticed anything strange lately? People you don't know, vehicles parked in odd spots, that sort of thing? From what I can tell, there had to be at least three involved, maybe more."
Ezra walked up to them as Nathan was frowning in concentration. The big black dog staying right next to him. "Immediately prior to some aspiring ball player practicing on my head, Vin intimated that we were being watched. He felt as though someone was following us," he said, unconsciously fisting his hand in the dog's fur.
Cocking his head, Chris studied the other man for a moment and then let his gaze move down to the dog. "Who's your friend?"
"What?" Ezra asked, his face screwing up in confusion, and he winced as the movement made his head pound even more. Following Chris' gaze, he was somewhat startled to find he was apparently clutching the dog that had frightened Vin earlier... and had licked Ezra's face as he was coming around. He scowled down at the animal. "I have no idea," he stated, nonplussed.
Chris raised an eyebrow but let it drop. He had more important things to worry about. "Do you remember anything else?"
Starting to shake his head, Ezra stopped. Both because it hurt and because something had occurred to him. "There was one thing odd... I'm not sure if this is significant or not, but Vin refused to approach one of the houses."
That grabbed everyone's attention, but especially that of Chris and Josiah, who had just rejoined them. Nate frowned in confusion, looking from one to the other.
"Did he say why?" Josiah finally asked, breaking the silence that had fallen.
"Not really, just said he 'didn't like the looks of it.' Which I thought was somewhat perplexing, as it was a very nice looking residence. Jack o'lanterns on each step, a very realistic looking witch in a corner on the porch, and the children who did go up seemed especially pleased with their plunder," Ezra said.
Chris glanced down at the small bow he held in one hand and then looked back at Ezra. "Show us," he commanded. Silently, he added, 'Hold on, Vin. We're coming.'+ + + + + + +
Glancing up, Vin looked hopefully out the window, but there was no one there. He was sure he'd heard Chris... Sighing in disappointment, he returned to his task. The crazy lady had gone back upstairs, but not before assuring him that she'd be back. Vin really wanted to be gone before then. So far, however, he hadn't really found anything useful. The small crate he'd shoved against the wall wasn't tall enough to let him reach the window, and there didn't seem to be any other way out... if he didn't count the door at the top of the stairs. But he was sure he'd heard the click of a lock after the door had closed, so it wasn't really an option, either.
Thumping noises sounded from above and Vin cringed, looking warily at the stairs, but no one appeared. He now held one of the candles in his bound hands and every so often the wax would drip onto his skin. Unfortunately, the meager light hadn't helped him much. The basement was much cleaner than any other one he had ever seen, not that he'd seen very many, but enough to know that it was unusual. The strange markings on the floor bothered him, too, and he avoided walking on them. Creeping slowly under the stairs, Vin wedged himself in as far back in the corner as he could and then blew out the candle. All he could do at the moment was hide and hope that a better opportunity would present itself. 'Chris!'+ + + + + + +
"Are you sure that's the place?" Nathan asked doubtfully.
Ezra nodded. "I am positive, Mr. Jackson. See the witch in the corner?" He pointed at the now darkened porch where a mannequin was barely discernible. The dog, which still had not left his side, growled deep in his throat.
"This is it," Chris stated, glaring balefully at the cheerful looking house.
Nathan opened his mouth to argue, but Josiah stopped him with a shake of his head. He had a feeling that Chris was right... something about that house was just... wrong. It made him feel unsettled.
Sighing, Nathan glanced from Chris to the house and back again, and then threw up his hands. "All right. So, how do you want to handle this? It's not like we just go in guns blazing!" he said.
Ezra looked thoughtful, scratching his chin. "You know, I do believe that an informant gave me a tip about a large shipment of illegal guns being stored somewhere in this neighborhood..." He peered at the number on the house. "And how about that, it was at this address, too!" he exclaimed.
"Sounds like something we should check out, doesn't it boys?" Chris growled, clasping Ezra's shoulder in gratitude.
"I do believe you are correct," Josiah agreed.
"Ezra, you're with me. Josiah, Nathan, take the back," Chris ordered as he strode forward. Vin was in that house. He could feel it.+ + + + + + +
Much too soon, Vin heard the lock being disengaged and the door opening. He didn't move, trying to breathe as quietly as possible.
"Almost time," the woman sang out. "I've had my appetizers, now it's time for the main course," she said, grinning at her own humor as she descended the stairs. "According to tradition, I should wait until the midnight hour, but I just don't think I'm that patient. Your power has been tempting me all night and I can't resist any longer."
Vin wished she would shut up. Or, even better, leave, but that didn't look to be happening any time soon.
"Oh, playing hard to get, are we? That's all right, the hunt will make it even sweeter when I catch you."
Vin held perfectly still, trying to track her movements. He wasn't sure how it happened, but she had managed to leave the stairs without him seeing her. Peering between the stairs, he choked when his ankle was grabbed.
Kicking frantically, Vin tried to get loose, but her grip proved too strong. She dragged him out from beneath the stairs and towards her mouth.
Loud banging suddenly came from upstairs and a voice yelled out, "Open up, ATF!" Almost immediately, crashes followed as both the front and back doors were forced open.
"Chris!" Vin yelled with all of his might.
"Oh no you don't," the woman snarled, pulling Vin closer. "He's too late again."
Vin whimpered as something sharp cut into his neck and then the world began to spin. Pounding feet sounded in the distance and he thought he heard a dog growl and then he once more found himself falling into darkness.
"Vin!" Chris cried out as he heard his son's scream. There came no reply, but the sweet sound of Vin's voice had already cracked some of the ice that had formed around his heart. He was running unerringly toward the basement stairs when he was bypassed by Ezra's dog. There was a short female scream, the yelp of a dog and then silence. Racing down the stairs, Chris stopped dead as he came upon the limp form of his son. "Vin," he whispered. "Nathan!" he shouted as he forced himself forward, almost afraid to touch the pale figure.
"Coming," Nathan said, pausing the briefest of moments to flick the light switch at the top of the stairs. The scene before him made him suck in a breath, and then he hurried down. "Let me see him, Chris," he said gently, moving confidently to place his fingers against Vin's neck. He closed his eyes.
"Nathan? Is he...?" Chris couldn't speak the words.
"He's alive, thank the Lord," Nathan said, examining the boy more carefully now that the most important thing was established.
Suddenly, Chris found that his legs couldn't support anymore and he collapsed to his knees, reaching for Vin's hand. At the familiar grip, the boy moaned softly. "Hey, cowboy, why don't you open your eyes now," Chris coaxed.
He was rewarded when Vin's eyelashes fluttered and then slivers of blue appeared. "Chris?" Vin whispered.
"Yeah, it's me. You're safe now," Chris assured him.
Vin's eyes widened. "Chris! She wanted you! The crazy lady... she wanted to... hurt me... and then she wanted you," Vin stammered out, looking around frantically as he tried to sit up.
"Easy, easy. Who wanted me?" Chris asked.
"That lady! Where did she go? She cut my neck..." Vin started to reach up, but Nathan captured his hand.
"Now Vin, you need to hold still and let me look you over," Nathan chided.
"But, she was here..." Vin protested, but the events of the night were catching up with him and he found he couldn't keep his eyes open. He felt like someone had drained the energy right out of him.
"Vin?" Chris shook him gently, trying to get him to respond.
"Don't be doing that. He'll be just fine. Worn out is all," Nathan reassured. But his brow furrowed in bewilderment as he inspected the wound on Vin's neck.
Chris caught his expression and studied the wound himself. "What is that?" he inquired.
"I'm not sure. Doesn't really look like a cut, more like a puncture or a bite, maybe..." Nathan shook his head. "We better take him to the ER, just in case. If it's a bite, he'll need a tetanus booster, and even if it's not, there's no telling whether whatever did that was clean or not."
Nodding, Chris slid his arms under Vin and easily picked the boy up. Once he was standing, however, he looked around in confusion. "Where'd that dog go?" he asked. Then he remembered the cut off scream he'd heard and Vin's claims of a 'crazy lady.' But there was no sign of either dog nor woman.
"I don't see no dog here, Chris, but I think it's time we got that boy out of here," Nathan said impatiently. "Oh, and I don't think you noticed, but there are four unconscious college-age boys upstairs, too. Ezra's going to call the local blue and leave an anonymous tip once we're on our way out."
Chris grunted in response as he climbed the stairs. He hadn't realized, but to him, everything except finding Vin had been inconsequential.+ + + + + + +
The phone didn't even finish the first ring before Buck had it open and to his ear. "Wilmington."
"We found him," Chris stated.
"Thank God." Buck closed his eyes in relief, sinking down into a chair. "Is he all right?"
"He will be. We're leaving the hospital now. Josiah is following, and Ezra and Nathan will be along as soon as the doctor reads the scans on Ezra's head. I'll fill you in when I get there."
"All right. Drive safe," Buck said and then snapped the phone shut. He took a shuddering breath and then got to his feet. He needed to look in on JD, just to convince himself that the boy was where he was supposed to be. Peeking into the room, he felt his expression soften as he took in the small boy sprawled out on top of the covers, his limbs akimbo. Chuckling softly, Buck gently eased JD under the blanket, pulling it up to his chin. Running a hand over the boy's head, Buck turned and left the room just as quietly as he'd entered. The fear that had gripped him since Josiah's call finally fading.+ + + + + + +
Chris came awake suddenly, feeling the weight of someone's gaze upon him. Turning slightly, he cracked open his eyes to find wide blue eyes staring at him solemnly. He smiled. "'Morning, Vin."
An answering smile lit Vin's face and he answered. "'Mornin', Chris."
"Sleep all right?"
Vin nodded. He had been happy to find himself in Chris' bed when he woke up. The last thing he remembered was lying on the floor in that basement...
"Cowboy?" Chris said, noting the change in Vin's expression and how the boy had seemed to tense up. He reached out and gripped Vin's hand in his.
Shuddering once, Vin forced himself back to the present. "It's nothin'," he whispered, looking down as his free hand picked at the blankets.
"Hey, none of that. Remember, you can tell me anything, you know that," Chris chided gently.
Vin raised his eyes, once more meeting Chris' gaze. "I was scared," he admitted softly.
"Me too. C'mere, kid," Chris said, opening his arms and Vin fell into them willingly. Soft sniffles could be heard and Chris rubbed Vin's back comfortingly. The boy's shoulders hitched a bit as he tried to control sobs. "It's all right, just let it out."
Buck appeared at the door, his eyebrow raised in question. Chris shook his head and the other man eased back down the hall way.
Glancing up from the open laptop on the table, Josiah saw Buck approaching with a frown on his face. "Something wrong?"
"Vin's a mite upset," Buck said, pouring himself some coffee.
Josiah nodded his head. "It's to be expected. He's been through a traumatic experience... again."
"I know. That's just it--it's like the kid just can't catch a break," Buck said.
"Oh, I don't know. He has a home with you and Chris now, doesn't he? And a brother and three uncles. I'd say that's quite a big break," Josiah pointed out.
At that, Buck paused, the mug half way to his mouth and then his lips quirked up. "I guess you're right." There was a noise from down the hallway, and his smile grew. "I think Li'l Bit just woke up. I better go corral him 'fore he bursts in on Chris and Vin."
Josiah smiled in return, then his eyes widened in astonishment as a figure stumbled into the kitchen from the opposite direction. "Brother Ezra!" he exclaimed, "I didn't expect to see you until well after noon." A green-eyed glare was the only reply he received, and then Ezra headed straight for the coffee. Chuckling softly, Josiah returned his attention to the laptop.
Slumping into the chair next to Josiah, Ezra took a tentative sip of the coffee, frowning at the bitter taste. "I see you've found the files I managed to track down on that house," he said, gesturing to the screen.
"Yes. Elizabeth Gaynor... and there was no further trace of her?" Josiah asked.
"Elizabeth Gaynor? Is that the name of the bi... witch we're going to track down?" Chris asked, entering the kitchen with Vin propped against his hip.
"I'm afraid that it is most likely an alias, Mr. Larabee," Ezra said. "I could find no other information on the woman. Of course, I plan to do a more exhaustive search once the hour becomes more reasonable."
Elizabeth Gaynor... The name sent a whisper of apprehension down Chris' back, but he shook it off when he felt Vin clutch his neck. Later, he would hunt the woman down and deal with her, but for now, he had a son to take care of.
"We'll find her, Chris," Josiah stated, and Ezra nodded in agreement.+ + + + + + +
"I will have you, Christopher Larabee," the woman swore to the photo in her hand. "And that perfectly scrumptious son of yours, as well." And then Ella Gaines smiled to herself, tiny fangs just peeking out from between her perfectly made up lips.+ + + + + + +
The dog with the glowing eyes whined at his mistress, turning his head hopefully toward the door.
"No, my pet. You've done well, but it is not yet time for you join to the boy. You must have patience," the voice said softly, a hand stroking the sleek black fur.