Prey Universe (Ezra, Seven)
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"Where are we?!" Buck snapped in frustration. He was tired of looking at the same tunnels over and over again.
"We're close," Nettie replied, unwilling to back down.
"We should stop for a while, Nettie, and regroup," Chris said, knowing everyone was frustrated with the lack of results, the dark tunnels, and the lack of sunlight. Even Nathan and Josiah were becoming short tempered and aggravated with themselves.
"We can't give up," she pleaded, looking at the men. "You don't understand how important this is."
"We'll find her," Vin comforted. He reached out and touched her shoulder.
"We have to." Nettie turned and looked him in the eye. "We have to."
Chris furrowed his brow and nodded more to himself than anyone around. "Let's stop for a little while and regroup, then we'll start again."
Reluctantly, Nettie nodded. She pointed her flashlight down the dark tunnel, wishing she'd see her niece coming to greet her, but deep inside she knew she wouldn't. Jones was a powerful man, a man that would not release Casey unless forced to.Nettie felt Vin's hand on her shoulder and she smiled despite herself.
"We'll find her," he promised.
"We have to, we just have to."
"What's so special about her, other than the fact she's your niece," JD quickly tried to recover.
Buck slapped the kid on the shoulder, shoving him off to the side. "Think before you speak," he corrected.
"I, she keeps sayin'."
"It's okay, JD," Nettie responded. She followed Josiah and Nathan into a small cavern and continued to explain her story. "Every community evolves differently, depending on the environments we live in. 'Our kind' are few and our inability to procreate has at times been threatened, mostly because our childbearing years are only a few."
"Casey can reproduce longer than others," Nathan surmised, sitting on the ground next to his backpack.
Nettie nodded: "I believe so," she responded, sitting on a length of dirt that had been dug away and made into a bench. "She developed later than most girls, later than most human girls. She's smart, strong, and pretty, she's a glimpse into our future."
"Is that why Jones wants her?" Chris asked.
"I believe so," she admitted sadly.
"How old are you, Nettie?" Josiah asked, a slight smile tingeing his lips.
"103," she replied firmly.
The room went silent, and everyone looked at her in awe.
"We age in stages rather than time, "
"I've often wondered about that," the big man spoke up softly. "I've reached my 3rd stage, haven't I?"
Nettie laughed for the first time in days. "In a matter of words, yes."
Casey released Ezra's waist and quickly shut the doors behind her. She pulled her jacket closed when a brisk chill hit her skin. The smell of mildew, dirt, and rotting compost filled her senses. She tried not to let the darkness scare her, but feelings of uncertainty became overwhelming. "We don't have any flashlights," she whispered, carefully repositioning herself under Ezra's arm and around his waist again.
"Keep walking straight," Ezra replied harshly, leaning heavily into his aid. From past experiences he knew it would only be a matter of time before Jones realized they were gone, and from there he wouldn't stop searching until they were found.
"How far do we have to walk?" she asked, wishing she had a flashlight.
Ezra ignored her question. "These tunnels were built in 1872 by Chinese railroad workers." He groaned when he moved wrong, but he kept walking.
"Opium dens?" Casey asked, glad to keep her mind off of the darkness.
"Yeah, " came the harsh reply.
There was a long uneasy pause before Casey grew the courage to ask, "Are we like them?" She stepped into a puddle of water. Unseen mud and debris splattered onto her pant legs.
"The Chinese?" Ezra asked, placing his hand on the tunnel wall to follow.
"No, the new species that was in the news a few weeks ago."
Ezra's face contorted with pain and he hissed, trying to gather his breath. "Yes," he answered, "we're like them."
There seemed to be no end to the long damp tunnels. Casey did her best, keeping Ezra upright, but the further they walked the weaker he got. He started stumbling, and his breathing became harsh and irregular. Tears ran down Casey's cheeks in unseen lines. She hid her fear as best she could, but the man beside her knew.
"We're not going to make it," she gasped, wiping her nose and eyes on her jacket covered shoulder.
"You are," Ezra replied. He stopped in mid-stride, and tried to take a deep breath. "Follow the tunnels until they stop." He allowed himself to slip to the floor, too weak to continue any further.
"I'm not leaving," Casey spoke quickly, fearfully. She squatted down in front of him, seeing only the vague outline of his form."We can stop for a while, and you can rest up for a bit, just until you catch your breath."
Ezra rolled his head back and rested it against the dirt wall. "Casey," he sounded calm, "it's imperative that you leave here."
"Because Jones will not stop until he has you." He wished he could see her, but he knew what she was feeling, all those fears racing through her veins. "You've got to go."
"I can't leave you," she cried, feeling suddenly alone. "There's got to be another way."
Ezra struggled to his feet, trying not to use the help being offered to him. His chest burned, his skin felt as though he were on fire, and sweat continued to pour from his body. He grasped his abdomen, feeling moisture of some kind soaking his clothing. He didn't know if it was blood, sweat, or leakage from his wounds, he didn't care. He placed his hand on the wall above his head, feeling the world spinning out of control. Thin arms were wrapped around his middle. He leaned heavily into Casey, knowing he wouldn't make it much further.
"You have to go, " Ezra gasped, reaching out for the wall again.
Casey nodded, knowing he was right, but fearing the strength of her own voice to acknowledge it. "Are there any dens close by, something you can hide in, until."
"Here," Ezra interrupted, he listed slightly to the right and Casey had no choice except to follow his lead.
The room was small and narrow. Casey helped him sit on a makeshift bench and he quickly lay down onto his side. She shoved her jacket under his head and wiped his brow, feeling the heat radiating off his body. She unrolled the blankets, letting the cot legs hit the floor with a clang and gently she tossed the blanket over his body. "I'll come back for you," she spoke softly, her voice choking with fear and tears.
Ezra chuckled; her intention was good. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing. "Go," he ordered.
"Go," he ordered, his voice growing faint.
Casey rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands and collected her breath. "I'll be back, I swear it." She had to be strong for not just herself, but Nettie and Ezra as well. She turned, using the wall as her guide, and headed back out into the dark tunnels.
Ezra listened to her go, feeling unjustified in letting her go alone, yet praying she made it out. He closed his eyes again and didn't wait as darkness pulled him in.
Chris slipped his backpack on and watched as his men did the same. He looked at Nettie and asked, "Were we all born with identical siblings?"
Reluctantly, she nodded. "When we," she spoke of all women like her, "find ourselves with child for the first time our bodies change, not unlike human women, but when we give birth we bare four children, there is usually a small child, the 'runt' if you will."
"What happens to them?" Nathan asked.
"Some were abandoned, some died, others, " she shrugged, "I couldn't tell you."
Buck stepped out into the dark tunnel and flashed his light up and down the long aisles. JD and the others soon followed him out and once again they were making their way.
"Where will you go when you find Casey?" Vin asked, keeping a watchful eye out.
"This is my home, I was born here, and I'll die here," Nettie spoke softly, "I'll fight for what is mine."
"What about Jones?" JD questioned.
She was quiet for a moment, thinking about her family. "That, I reckon, is something you boys should decide."
"Hush!" Buck raised his hand and listened quietly into the distance. "There's someone up there." It could have been an animal, but something inside him was telling him it wasn't.
Nettie's heart raced in her chest and she tried to concentrate on her senses. "Casey," she whispered, moving forward, past the six men. She flashed her light down the tunnel, watching as the moisture in the walls glistened.
"Stand back, Nettie, it could be someone else," Chris said, stepping forward. All his senses were on alert as he tried to identify the high pitched wheezing.
"It's Casey," Nettie replied firmly, she moved down the tunnel with the six following her. Her light moved back and forth, and her heart raced, feeling as though it would burst from her chest.
"AUNT NETTIE!" Casey screamed past a tear-clenched throat, and rushed for her aunt.
Nettie dropped her flashlight just in time as her niece threw her arms around her and sobbed. Nettie pushed her back and clenched her face between her hands. "Are you hurt?" Tears wet her eyes as she looked Casey over from head to foot. Her clothing was worn, dirty, and bloodstained. Nettie reached out and grabbed her shirt in a panic. "Are you hurt, is this your blood?"
Casey shook her head and quickly grabbed her aunt's hand. "You have to help him," she pleaded, dragging Nettie forward.
"Who?" Chris asked, unsure of what he was seeing.
"He helped me escape, he's been hurt real bad, there's a man after us, Jones, he's."
"Calm down, Casey," Nettie pulled her to a stop. "Who are you talking about? Did Jones help you escape?"
"No," Casey cried, feeling all of her emotions come crashing forward. "He said his name was Ezra and Jones beat him and kept us in a room."
"Where is he, Casey?" Nettie pushed, knowing Chris and the others would be getting anxious.
"He couldn't go on so I left him in a den, I promised him I'd come back."
Nettie gently squeezed her niece's hand. "Take us to him."
"Buck," Chris said sternly, "start looking for a fast way out of here, if Jones is looking for Casey and Ezra, then there's a good chance we won't be able to get out up ahead."
"What about the way we came in?" Buck asked, already digging through his backpack in search of the map.
"I'd be willing to bet, Brother, that the military is searching that area pretty good," Josiah snickered, after all, they had left their muddy footprints all over their white clean floors. He continued to walk side by side with Buck as they continued their way down the tunnel.
Nathan was thinking about all the emergency medical treatments he could offer in case Ezra needed it. His mind raced with possibilities. Did he bring enough supplies? Was the Southern born so bad off that he'd need fluids? Nathan hoped not, he hadn't had room to bring any.
"He was having trouble breathing," Casey spoke up, moving quickly down the tunnel, never letting go of Nettie's hand.
"What did Jones want with you," Chris asked, trying to make sense of everything.
"Here," Casey stopped suddenly, not bothering to answer the question. She turned suddenly into a small den, or cavern.
Nathan moved past her with Josiah right behind him. The big man flashed his light on the pale, lifeless form that slept on the mound of dirt. The others tried to get inside but they couldn't quite fit, and as a result they waited patiently outside.
Nathan kneeled down beside the Southerner and cursed when he felt the heat radiating off his body. Ezra's breathing was harsh and irregular, sounding as though his lungs were filling with fluid. In frustration, the doctor ran his hand over his face, wishing he had the knowledge he needed about the men around him, and those just like him. The dominants' body was different than humans, so where did that leave Nathan?
Nettie released her niece's hand and moved in beside the injured soul. She opened her bag and retrieved a couple items. "We need to get him out of this damp environment," she stated matter-of-factly. She placed her hand under Ezra's neck and turned his face toward her. She smiled tightly, thinking of her own boys. Gently, she placed the rim of a glass vile between his lips and poured the contents.
"Butchers," Nathan muttered, pushing Ezra's shirt up. He applied dressings as best he could, praying it helped.
"How is he?" Chris asked, peaking inside.
"Bad," Nathan replied. "Buck, find a way out?"
"We're working on it."
"Hurry," Nathan said with worried eyes, "He doesn't have much time." He returned to his task.
Nettie patted the Southerner's cheek, wanting some kind of a response. He struggled to open his eyes but failed, the older woman nodded slowly and looked up into Josiah and Nathan's eyes. "We need to move him out of here." She recollected her things and slipped her backpack on and moved out of the way, wrapping loving arms around Casey.
Josiah moved forward and looked to Nathan. "What do you need me to do?"
"Chris," Nathan called.
The detective poked his head in the room and nodded. "There's an unused exit about fifty yards ahead, Buck thinks he can find it."
Nathan nodded and looked up at Josiah. "We need to keep him elevated, keep his chest up so he doesn't drown."
"He that bad?" Chris asked, concern lining his features.
"The fluid in his lungs is there because of his elevated fever," Nettie said confidently, having seen it many times before.
"What's causing the fever?" Chris questioned, looking toward Nathan for an answer.
"He's been cut up pretty bad," the doctor responded, shaking his head. "They don't look infected."
"The fever's caused by the amount of blood he's lost, our bodies compensate by working harder, producing more blood, " she raised her eyebrows, "his body's trying to produce more blood, only there isn't any more to draw from." She reached out and touched Ezra's forehead. "He'll make it, if we get him out of here, and start him on some fluids."
Josiah reached out and slipped his arms beneath the Southern born's back and knees. Nathan helped him position Ezra in such a way to keep him predominantly upright. Josiah placed a hand between the dominant's shoulder blades causing Ezra to rest his chin in the crook of the big man's neck. "Let's go, brothers."
Buck flashed his light on the tunnel walls and ceiling, searching for the escape route. Vin walked beside him, looking for signs as well. Nobody spoke, instead concentrated on finding a way out, and listening to the sounds of gravel and dirt moving beneath their feet.
Nettie and Casey walked arm in arm, each holding onto each other with the strength and stamina of a thousand men. Without words they communicated, speaking with feelings and emotions only they understood.
"I'm sorry," Casey said softly, "for acting like I did."
"It's hard to stand by and watch you grow, and as much as I want to, I can't keep you under lock and key."
"What will happen to us now?"
"Like all the times before, we'll survive."
"Stop," Vin spoke loudly, harshly, causing everyone to halt. "We're not alone."
All the flashlights were turned off, blanketing everyone in darkness. Nervous breaths filled the air as weapons were readied.
"How in the hell are we suppose to find anyone when we can't see."
"Shut up, Buck," Chris snapped.
The sudden burst of gunfire caused everyone to drop to the ground. Chris and Vin both turned on their flashlights and tossed them across the way, enabling them to see into the distance without giving the enemy their location.
"Show yourselves, there's no point in trying to hide from me!" the strong voice yelled.
"Standish is a dead man anyway! Leave him and the girl, and walk away!"
"Jones," Casey muttered. "He doesn't work alone."
"Buck," Chris said, before firing a round from his weapon into the distance, "where's the exit?"
"It should be about ten feet ahead," Buck replied, keeping his weapon pointed into the distance. "You want me to make a run for it?"
Chris thought a moment: "JD and I are going to cover the rest of you while you start moving out"
"And what if it's light outside?" Buck challenged. "They'll see us and start shootin'."
"Not if they've got JD and I shooting back, just get these people out of here, Buck, that's your responsibility!"
Buck nodded in understanding, knowing his effort hadn't been seen. Gently, he grasped Nettie and Casey's shoulders and told them to stay low. They crept across the flooring until Buck pulled them to a stop and immediately searched for the boards heading toward their freedom. When his hands met moist ground, Buck started pushing up on the ground until he came in contact with plant roots and decayed wood. Debris fell around him, landing in his eyes and on his face, as the exit to the outside world came into view. The smell of fresh air hit him in the face like a boxer's gloved fist. He could see stars shinning in the dark sky and the brilliant moon glistened in the heavens. A blessed sight if there ever was one.
Shots quickly rang out, piercing the ground with a violent force.
"NOW, BUCK!" Chris yelled out, returning gunfire. JD hid beside him, firing his weapon as well. Together with the use of the compacted dirt walls they had managed to find sufficient cover. However, shots from Jones and his men continued to pummel the ground at an unforgiving rate.
Before Casey could object, Buck grabbed her around her tiny waist and hoisted her upward toward the exit. She grasped the loose dirt and grass with her fingers, digging her nails into the ground like claws. Using her feet and the dirt wall she managed to push herself up, and then without being asked she reached down for the next person to exit.
Nettie reached up and grasped her niece's hand and thanked her species for the strength they'd been blessed with as Buck hoisted her upward. She wasn't a big woman by any means. At barely five feet tall and thin as a rail, a big wind would pick her up and blow her away. Once she was up, she and Casey both reached down for Nathan, who came up without much effort.
The doctor stood up and looked around for a brief moment, thinking about a safe way to get Ezra up. He could hear Chris yelling for Josiah and the others to get ready, while the sharp sounds of gunfire echoed through the air. Quickly, Nathan lay down on his belly and watched Buck and Josiah's movements with the light of the moon.
Josiah maneuvered Ezra within his arms and gently lifted him upward with Buck's help. Three sets of arms reached down and pulled the injured man through the exit.
Josiah then looked at Buck and smiled: "You're next, Brother."
"Ain't gonna argue with you, big man," Buck replied. He was up and out of the tunnels in seconds, and then ready to pull the others up.
"JD!" Josiah yelled, keeping his position under the exit. The kid jumped up from his position after Chris gave him the go ahead and he charged for the big man. Josiah grabbed the back of the kid's calf as he carefully placed his foot on Josiah's thigh and JD leapt up, grasping strong hands and he was quickly pulled from the dark cavern. "Chris! You're next!"
"Get your ass up, Josiah!" Chris replied, moving toward the exit hole while he finished firing off his clip.
Unwilling to argue, Josiah reached up, standing on his tiptoes, clasped hands with Buck and Nathan and allowed them to pull him up. The night air was still, like death, and it was only the distant sounds of the night owl and coyote that relayed their reality back to them. Josiah stood up when he reached solid ground and looked out over the land. They had found themselves in a small valley surrounded by trees. He looked back toward the hole as Buck and JD leaned over, anxiously awaiting Chris' escape. White hands appeared like magic out of the depths of darkness and clasped tightly onto friends. Buck and JD pulled Chris up when he yelled out in pain.
Shots continued to be fired from below and Jones had moved toward the hole, shooting at anyone he could.
He no longer cared.
JD reloaded his weapon with his last clip and returned fire after pushing Nettie and Casey back. Buck had grabbed Chris and pulled him from the hole, covering him with his own body, while Nathan and Josiah protected the still unconscious Ezra.
"We need to move!" JD yelled between shots, watching as his friends fought for their lives.
Buck grabbed Chris' arm and placed one hand around his waist and hefted him up. The blonde took in a sharp breath but continued on, all the while looking back to see if everyone else was following. Josiah had once again lifted Ezra into his arms and was walking hastily behind them. Nathan followed, making sure JD and the women were all okay.
They needed to get behind the cover of trees before they stopped to collect themselves. Buck and Chris knew that Jones wouldn't come after them, not with the military searching the tunnels for the individuals that had left muddy footprints throughout their 'research center'. No, Jones would go back into hiding, and search them out when it was convenient for him.
Everyone's lungs burned, but welcomed the crispness of the air. Legs moved through long buffalo grass, creating a song of their own. The subtle sounds of quail rushing through the grass, crickets chirping, and frogs croaking let everyone know they were close to some kind of a water source.
Buck struggled momentarily with Chris' weight, knowing his friend was hurt but unable to find out how bad. They only had a few yards left to go. Nettie and Casey seemed to move as one unit, and once they were behind the protection of trees they stopped and looked at each other, thankful they had each made it. After a quick embrace, they set off to help those that had helped them.
Buck gently got Chris set up against a tree. Chris in turn tried to catch his breath and found it almost impossible. He was surprised by his body's unwillingness to cooperate. He felt weak, and exhausted, as though he hadn't slept in a week. He didn't want to think about the chill that had suddenly taken claim in his bones.
Using the light of the moon, Buck took a look at the freely bleeding wound high on Chris' thigh. "Nathan!" he beckoned, applying pressure to the gunshot wound.
Nathan jumped up from Ezra's side and rushed for Chris. Using all of his years in the medical field, he assessed the wound. He didn't speak; he only worked, ripping Chris' jeans at the bullet entry sight to allow him access to the injury. The hole bled freely, and gapped open with brutalized muscle and tissue. The exit wound was only a few inches away, indicating the bullet had hit the leg at an angle.
Nettie tapped Nathan on the shoulder and handed him a rag with a sweet smelling, dark brown, substance spread upon it. "Wrap his leg in this, and make sure it's tight." It was an order, and one to be taken seriously.
Nathan took the item and did as he was instructed. He knew without a doubt that he could learn from Nettie, and he hoped she would be willing to teach him. Chris tried his best to keep his tremors down, but he failed, finding for the first time in his life that he couldn't control this. Buck pulled his blanket from his bedroll and threw it over his friend's shoulders, trying to offer some kind of relief. Nathan quickly wrapped bandages over Chris' leg to insure protection during transportation.
"How's it look?" Buck asked, squatting down next to the doctor.
Nathan nodded more for his own good than Buck's. "Once we get him someplace stable and warm I'll have a better chance to see how bad it is." He looked at Chris. "How do you feel?"
Chris shook his head and rested it back against the tree he was sitting against. "Tired," was his simple reply.
Nathan nodded again and gently slapped Chris' good leg. "I'll be back in a minute, let's get him ready so we can get out of here."
Chris reached out and pulled the doctor to a stop. "How's Ezra?"
Nathan frowned and gently shook his head before getting to his feet and heading toward Josiah who was trying to keep the Southern born upright.
Chris looked at Buck with questioning eyes.
"He ain't good," Buck responded honestly.
Nettie continued to pour fluids down Ezra's throat while Josiah maintained him in a sitting position, allowing him to rest his head on his shoulder. Violent tremors caused Ezra's legs and arms to clench tightly and he pulled them toward his body for protection, though it wasn't helping. Nettie gently pushed Ezra's hair back away from his forehead, feeling the heat from his body within the palm of her hand. His hair was wet and clingy, his face pale beneath the soft moonlight.
"Will he make it, Aunt Nettie?" Casey knelt down beside her and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"Only he knows that," the older woman responded gently. "Jones has to be stopped." She looked hard at Josiah. "Otherwise, this, inhumanity will continue." She reached up and wiped Ezra's mouth and chin with a cloth and started to replace her supplies in her bag.
JD stepped up behind them and cleared his throat. "I just talked to Buck and Vin, both think we need to get going." He squatted down and bowed his head at the condition of the Southerner, and Chris who was only a couple feet away. "Vin's arm is good, he ain't feeling any more pain so he's willing to carry what he can. Buck and Nate are going to carry Chris if you can carry Ezra?" He looked hard at the big man, and saw the worry in his eyes.
"Yeah," he sighed, "I've got him."
JD nodded and smiled tightly. "Mrs. Nettie, Casey, you'll walk with me, Vin's going to get us all back to the trucks." He looked up as the bounty hunter came closer to them, carrying three backpacks.
"Y'all ready to go, or do you need more time?" Vin asked, standing with weapon in hand. He had a mission to complete and he intended to do it.
"We're ready, Brother," Josiah said, carefully lifting Ezra, making sure his head and chest was elevated so he wouldn't drown.
JD took Josiah's backpack as well as Buck's and carefully positioned them and his over his shoulders. He looked at Casey and smiled as she wrapped her arm around Nettie and as though they were all working of one mind, they started walking, hoping and praying they made it home alive.
Josiah followed Nettie into her home, amazed by the intricacy. Old family pictures hung in antique frames on the walls that had been painted a soft hue of chestnut. Homemade rugs and quilts decorated the floors and furniture, while live plants hung from the ceilings and rested on counter tops and tables.
"Put him in the reclining chair," Nettie ordered, moving toward her kitchen. "Casey, have Buck and Nathan put Chris in my bedroom," she yelled slightly louder as she disappeared behind a wall. The sounds of cabinets opening and closing echoed like a machine with perfect timing.
Josiah quickly got Ezra as comfortable as he could and then he quickly removed the dirty blankets. Without instructions only motivation, the big man grabbed the pair of scissors that had rested on the nightstand and quickly cut away the long sleeved tee shirt Ezra had been wearing. Josiah had to sit back on his haunches as he looked at the blood-soaked bandages that were in desperate need of changing. Ezra's chest heaved as he struggled for breath, moving up and down in a struggled fashion. His body would shake and then stop and shake again. Josiah reached up and pressed his hand against Ezra's forehead and said a quick prayer.
"How is he?" Nathan asked, after leaving Chris with Buck. He squatted down on the other side of the recliner and assessed the situation.
Josiah shook his head, unsure of what he was seeing or doing. He watched as Nathan carefully examined Ezra's wounds. The big man looked up when Nettie reentered the room with a bowl full of steaming water, washrags, and a bottle of amber fluid. Casey followed her with supplies of her own.
"Would you mind startin' a fire, Josiah?" Nettie asked softly, taking his place beside the recliner.
Josiah stood up and looked at the old fireplace. Running a hand through his graying hair, he took a deep breath and proceeded to start a warming fire.
"Any medical supplies we need I can get from the hospital," Nathan offered.
"Everything we need, I've got right here," Nettie replied confidently. With her sleeves already rolled up to her elbows, she placed a rag into the bowl of steaming water and carefully rang it out. "Casey, take those herbs and start cleaning Chris' wound, make sure you pack the entrance wound with aloe, bayberry bark, and sweet clover."
"I know, Aunt Nettie," Casey replied confidently. She quickly left to help Buck with Chris.
"What would you like us to do?" Vin asked, standing next to JD who seemed slightly out of place.
"We're going to need more wood cut, beds will need to be made up, clothing laundered, and belongings gathered."
"We can't go home," Vin surmised, watching as Nettie laid a steaming cloth across Ezra's abdomen.
"Not for a while," came the soft response. She removed the now cool cloth and grabbed a large round jar and opened it. Placing her fingers in the creamy substance she applied the salve to Ezra's injuries. The Southern born never moved, he just lay back in the comfort of the chair with his eyes closed.
"What is that?" Nathan asked, preparing the bandages.
"Smells good doesn't it?" she replied with a smile.
Nathan nodded but quickly shook his head. "Some of these wounds are pretty deep, Mrs. Wells."
"Nettie, call me Nettie."
Again, Nathan nodded: "He should have some exploratory surgery done, just to make sure there wasn't any significant organ damage done, considering where these injuries are located." It was the doctor in him that was appearing.
"He's not human, Nathan, he never will be." She reached up and placed her hand on Ezra's forehead. "The honey, white pond lilies, and bitter root will work like antibiotics do for humans, and it'll help stop the bleeding."
"Who taught you this?" Nathan questioned, applying the bandages with tape.
"My mother," Nettie replied, gently cleaning Ezra's arms and chest.
"I want to take a look at his back as well."
"I thought as much." Nettie watched as Nathan gently pulled his patient forward, gently placing his arms under Ezra's.
The Southerner's chin rested on Nathan's shoulder and he grunted in pain at the movement. A tremor crept its way through his body and he felt someone pressing on his middle back.
Nettie quickly cleaned the area and applied her special salve and then a bandage. Nathan carefully repositioned Ezra in the recliner, making sure his chest was elevated. Nettie grabbed a heavy quilt and quickly tucked it all around him as Josiah finished with the fire. The flames flew upwards while growing in size. Heat bloomed outward, warming everyone in its path.
Chris tiredly looked up as Nathan and Nettie entered the room.
Casey carefully wrapped the wound with gauze. "He stopped bleedin' sometime ago," she said softly, finishing off the bandage with a piece of tape.
Nettie grasped her shoulder and nodded in approval. Buck sat on the other side of the bed with his face buried in his hands. They were all tired, hungry, and in need of some time to realize what they were up against. "How are you feelin', Detective?" she asked, looking toward Chris.
"Weak," came his simple, yet explanatory answer.
Buck looked up and sat erect. "He lost a lot of blood." He pointed to the jeans Chris had been wearing and the pile of blood soak rags resting nearby.
"Our Achilles heel," Nettie sighed, shaking her head. "Go get yourself cleaned up, Casey."
The young woman stood up and quietly excused herself from the room.
"You okay, Buck?" Nathan asked out of concern. He looked him over, seeing exhaustion written all over Wilmington's face, but even more so in his eyes.
"How long's Chris goin' to be down?" he asked, avoiding the question.
"Couple days," Nettie responded. "I'll get you something to drink." She grabbed another quilt out of the closet and gently tossed it over the bed, allowing it to balloon out and float gently downward. She watched Chris' eyelids droop, and fall completely shut. Unlike Ezra, he was free of a fever, and thankfully, hadn't lost any more blood than he had.
Buck looked at her and nodded.
Things had definitely changed.
Everyone but Ezra and Chris sat down at the large kitchen table. Casey's hair was still wet but brushed, and she'd changed into some comfortable clothing. Josiah had also showered, seeking some kind of release from their recent battle in hell. Nathan looked over an old natural healing book that Nettie's mother had given her. Pencil and pen marks decorated each page and bookmarks stuck out from all directions. JD nibbled on a slice of bread. Though he was hungry, he didn't feel like eating.
"What're we supposed to do?" Buck asked, leaning back in his chair. "Kill those like us, and hide from those who want to be us?"
Nettie shook her head and looked at the uneaten food on her table. "Not all of us are like Jones, and he is the only one you need to kill." She looked up and met his eyes.
"How do we know there won't be more like him?" JD questioned.
"I think we've earned the right to try and live our lives without men like Jones tryin' to run them. Most of us want to live in peace, live with humans, not against them."
"So how do we kill Jones, or better yet, how do we put him out of commission?" Vin inquired, turning in his seat to watch Ezra.
"If I knew the answer to that, Vin, we wouldn't be here discussing it."
"One of us should get down to the station," Bucks said, looking at JD, "let Travis know that we still work there."
"You shouldn't go alone," Josiah said firmly. "Maybe we could call him from the pay phone down the road, keep things, ambiguous for a while."
Nathan nodded in agreement. "Might be a good idea, at least until we know more."
"I wouldn't suggest going back to the way things were," Nettie spoke softly, sorrowfully. "Everything about you has changed and it will only be a matter of time before someone discovers who you are, and what you can do."
"But if we get Jones?" JD started.
"Jones isn't the only one you have to worry about," Nettie replied, looking toward Ezra.
Buck sighed and cursed softly, "Shit." He stood up and headed into the bedroom where Chris rested.
JD shoved his plate away from him and shook his head. "Where does that leave us?"
"When one door closes, another opens," Nettie tried to think positively. "You should all try and get some rest." She stood up and started collecting plates and untouched food.
Casey stood up to help, but a quick hand gesture from Nettie let her know not to, so instead she said, "I'll show you where you can sleep."
Nettie reached up and wiped Ezra's brow, trying to collect some of the moisture that continued to gather on his skin. His fever was still high, but thankfully it had reached its peak, now it was just a matter of waiting it out. His tremors had stopped, and now it was just an occasional shake. Nettie had thrown a couple more blankets over him, tucking them tightly around him. She'd seen severe cases of trauma within her own kind, and she knew how to handle it, but it was cases like these that troubled her. Ezra had been lucky, he had people out looking for him, some of the others hadn't. Though few had died, many had suffered life long injuries.
She reached out and grasped his hand when he struggled to free his right shoulder and arm. Her gentle touch seemed to comfort him. She watched the flames of the fire; their mesmerizing motions and flickers. Even the sound seemed comforting in the darkened room. She leaned back in her chair, still grasping Ezra's hand and she watched her niece as she slept on the sofa. They were so fortunate. Things could have turned out much different.
Nettie knew more about these men and their kind than they did. Though their devotion to their job and the issues was astounding, they needed to learn who they were before they started searching for answers they may not understand. Ezra knew, he knew the horrors their kind was capable of, but he needed to learn the goodness they embraced as well.
"You and Casey, should leave, here," Ezra spoke roughly, feeling the soreness of his throat. He kept his eyes closed, leaning his head against the back of the chair.
Nettie shook her head and quickly gathered the cup of honey herbed tea. "Uproot my life because of Jones?" She carefully placed the cup in Ezra's hand. "I'll kill the man myself before I leave my home."
Ezra turned and looked at her, still feeling weak and unsteady. "You, may have to."
"Drink that," she responded, "You're in no condition to fight me." A subtle grin appeared on her face and she leaned back in her seat and watched his slow methodical movements.
Ezra sipped at the sweet fluid, thankful for the comfort it supplied his throat. "She's not the first," he spoke of Casey. "Jones said she was the first of our kind with her ability, but she's not."
"I never thought about it," Nettie replied, watching him closely. Slowly, she nodded as though agreeing with herself. "I should have known it would only be time before we adapted to our circumstances, " she looked hard at Ezra and spoke softly, "Casey's mother was human, her father, my brother, was not."
Ezra nodded, and closed his eyes for just a moment, gathering his strength.
"I'm not a dumb woman, but what did Jones want with her, was it for her gift?"
Reluctantly, he nodded. "Jones wants the future, and Casey holds a key."
"Did he, harm her?"
"Did you?" she had to ask, despite his inability to drink by himself.
Ezra turned surprisingly and looked at Nettie, his eyes full of skepticism and distrust. "No."
"He wanted you and her to, "
Ezra turned his face away, not comfortable with the conversation.
"Like I've said before, Ezra, I'm not a dumb woman." She smiled and reached out and patted his arm before getting to her feet. "I'll make you some more honey tea." She took the cup from his hand and left for the kitchen.
Ezra looked toward the sleeping Casey and then toward the fire.
Chris woke feeling stronger than he had the night before. His body still felt unfamiliar, but he was no longer chilled or surprisingly weak. He knew on instinct that he'd be back to normal within the next twenty four hours, it was just a gut feeling he had, as though an outside force was telling him so. He could hear snoring coming from within the room and he knew for a fact it wasn't himself. He turned and looked at the source and shook his head with a smile.
Buck slept in an overstuffed chair with his feet kicked up onto the edge of the bed. His arms rested comfortably over his chest and his head rested against the wall. Someone had come in during the night and tossed a blanket over him, but he'd apparently wrestled with it, and he won.
Suddenly, as though on cue, Buck snorted and woke, jerking himself upright and pulling his feet from the bed. He ran a hand over his face and stretched, drawing his arms upward and then out, puffing his chest and rolling his head around on his narrow neck. "Damn," he muttered, before looking at the figure on the bed. "How long you been watchin'?"
"Long enough to know you ain't the prettiest thing I've seen in the morning."
Buck grinned: "Could be the couch twins sittin' in here watchin' your sorry skinny ass."
"I'm afraid to ask," Chris chuckled, relieved to be feeling better.
"You know, those two sisters that lived down the road from me a few years back, they had asses so wide it took up a couch, couch twins. Damn, have to explain everythin' to you." Buck stood up and walked across the room to look out the window.
"How's Ezra?" Chris asked, changing the subject.
"Nettie said he spoke a little last night, drank a few cups of tea and went right to sleep. She thinks he'll be right as rain in a few days, it's goin' to be slow for a bit though."
"But?" Chris pushed, knowing his friend had more to say.
"What now, what are we, as a people, going to do with our own government trying to kill us with tests." Before Chris could say anything Buck continued, "how are we supposed to live?"
"We can't change who or what we are, Buck."
"So that's it? We just take it in the ass while everyone else continues to run their lives?"
"Think about it, Chris, We can't go back to work without givin' away what we know. Once someone figures out it was us that got Ezra out of that hell hole it will only be a matter of time before they figure out we're just like him."
Chris pushed himself up against the headboard. "I don't know what to tell you," he sighed, running his hand tiredly through his hair.
"I want my life back," Buck whispered.
Josiah stepped out onto the back porch and looked out over the land. The sun was starting to peak up over the horizon and the beginnings of a new day looked more promising than they had in a while. He could hear Nettie and Casey cooking in the kitchen, their laughter could be heard throughout the house, simple indications of how much they adored each other.
Josiah took a deep breath, allowing the fresh air to enter his lungs with a chilling force. Life was complicated enough without his over analyzing the little things. Jones was a problem that would be dealt with, one way or another. Josiah smiled, seeing Vin walk up from the tree line, looking as though he'd spent the night meditating in the woods, if there was a look one could sport. The bounty hunter smiled and nodded, taking a seat on the steps. His long hair blew gently around his neck and shoulders.
"Got to thinkin' 'bout Jones, the things he's done," Vin sighed, looking out over the land. "Someone like that ain't gonna stop, reckon he'll hunt Ezra an' Casey down, 'till one or both of 'em are dead."
"Yeah," Josiah agreed, "I suppose you're right about that."
Vin nodded and was quiet for a moment. "We need to find 'im, Josiah, for all our sakes." He turned and looked in the window toward Nettie and Casey. Though he didn't know them well, he wanted the opportunity. "I knew things would change, but this?"
"I don't think anyone could have prepared us for something of this magnitude, but we'll find Jones, stop him, and make a life for ourselves."
"You make it sound easy," Vin chuckled, running his fingers through his hair.
"It'll only be as hard as we make it," Josiah responded softly.
JD moved out of the way as Buck and Chris slowly made their way into the living room. Chris looked long and hard at Ezra as he continued to sleep on the recliner that had been pulled out so he could lay almost flat, but keeping his chest elevated. He was wrapped in blankets from shoulders to toes, his head resting slightly to his left. Sweat still poured from his brow, damping his hair.
"You sure he's going to make it?" Chris asked, moving closer to the recliner, careful of his injured leg, he took a seat in the chair next to Ezra and reached out to touch his forehead.
Nettie moved across the floor and motioned for Buck to take a seat at the kitchen table where the others were eating for the first time in days. She sat opposite of Chris and gently wiped Ezra's brow, hoping to get a response out of him. "He's slow in healing," she spoke softly, "slower than I'd like to admit."
"Is that bad?" Chris asked, pulling the blanket Buck had thrown over his shoulders closer to his chest.
Nettie shrugged: "It's not that he's not healing, he's healing slow."
"How bad off is he?"
"Considering what he's been through," she shook her head and sighed, "he should be dead."
Chris looked hard at the older woman, seeing her for who she was. "How long do we have before Jones comes looking for him and Casey?"
"Don't fool yourself, Chris, " Nettie wiped Ezra's face, "he's already looking." She smiled when sleepy green eyes showed themselves for the first time in eight hours. Without effort she'd placed her hand behind Ezra's neck and lifted his head just enough so he could drink the honey tea she'd made him. "We'll get you a bath today, get you into some clean clothes."
Ezra didn't respond, he just closed his eyes and sipped the tea. As soon as he finished, Nettie pulled the cup from his lips and pressed her hand to his cheek, feeling the fever that refused to relinquish its hold.
"His lungs don't sound any better," Chris noted, nodding in thanks to Buck who handed him a plate of food.
"All in its own time," Nettie replied, getting to her feet. She gently patted Chris' shoulder before heading back into the kitchen.
Chris sat in the chair and just watched the Southerner, watched him breath, fight for every breath, watched him sleep, hoping and praying he healed. If anyone knew where to find Jones, it was Ezra, but they needed him alive for more than just that.
Buck took a seat on the sofa and watched his long time friend. "You need to eat," he said softly, taking a bite of toast.
Chris sighed and leaned back, pulling the blanket tighter around his chest. "Any thoughts?"
"Yeah," Buck responded, "you need to eat."
"You know what I mean," Chris snapped.
Vin cleared his throat, leaning against the wall while looking out the window into the back pastures. "Why not wait him out, " he said softly. "Jones doesn't do anything on a large scale, like Nettie said, why not wait here until Ezra heals up some, you too, Chris, Then, we go after Jones."
"We could be here awhile," Josiah spoke up, scratching his head. He looked hard at Ezra and sighed.
"Why don't we give him what he wants?" JD said, squeezing a tennis ball in his hand.
Buck, Vin, Josiah, and Chris turned angry eyes toward the kid.
JD shrugged: "Not really, damn, I mean set him up."
"But what about his 'senses', wouldn't he be able to tell?" Nathan asked.
Nettie shook her head and moved past the men and into the bathroom. Everyone could hear her start the bathwater and they watched as she pulled several towels out of the hall closet. "If you want to catch him, you need to know more about him," she said bluntly, "and the only way you're goin' to learn about Jones is through him, " she nodded toward Ezra before reentering the bathroom.
"She's right," Vin said, rubbing his brow.
Ezra caught a chuckle in his throat as he started to cough. He leaned forward and the chair jolted upright. "The only way to stop Jones, is to kill him, " he sighed, leaning back tiredly.
Nettie came out of the bathroom and placed her hand against his forehead, pushing his head back against the chair. "Josiah, " she looked up and smiled, "could you help him into the bathroom?"
Josiah nodded and quickly lifted the Southern born and carried him into the lavatory. The others watched momentarily before looking at each other.
"So we just wait?" JD asked, sighing in disappointment.
"For now," Chris replied, crossing his arms over his chest, feeling unsure about all things.
"So we wait until Ezra gets better and then go after Jones, run him down on his own turf," Vin suggested, unwilling to just lie down and let it go, wait for Jones.
"We'll go after him, Vin," Chris reassured, "and we'll find him."
"But it's never goin' to be the same," Buck offered, "we ain't never goin' to be able to pick up where we left off."
Chris nodded in agreement. "No, we won't." He thought about Mary and Billy, his wife and son, his home and his job, his life in general. All of that was gone.
Nettie stepped out of the bathroom and closed the door behind her allowing privacy to Ezra. She looked at Nathan and nodded, "I'm sure Josiah could use your help," she said softly. "The steam in the bathroom will loosen up the fluids in Ezra's lungs, he'll cough a lot," she warned, "and he'll need a lot of fluids." She motioned toward the pitcher of honey tea she'd made up earlier that morning. "Make sure he gets it."
"How long before he's able to help us?" Buck asked, leaning against the wall of the living room.
Nettie shook her head and headed toward the kitchen. "As long as it takes," she said sternly. She patted Chris' shoulder as she walked by them, knowing they were all unsure about their futures.
Ezra leaned against Josiah and the bathtub wall, allowing the hot water to soak through his chilled skin and bones. A towel had been thrown into the tub, soaked, and then pulled up over his shoulders. Josiah did his best keeping Ezra from slipping down into the bathwater by allowing him to rest against his shoulder. He coughed almost violently in long drawn out spasms. He'd drawn his legs up to his chest, using his left arm to brace them.
Nathan entered the room with a pitcher of honey tea and some warm clothing. "How's he doing?" he asked softly, trying desperately to understand the dominant physiology.
"Weak," Josiah replied. "He seems to be coughing up a lot of fluid."
Nathan nodded and laid the items he was carrying on the counter. The steam had fogged up the window and mirrors, and hung heavy around the lights. Small bottles of homemade lotions, shampoos, and soaps decorated the shelves. He turned and watched as Josiah dumped the wet towel back into the hot bathwater and reapply it to Ezra's shoulders, it seemed to help with the chills his body seemed to embrace.
Nathan knelt down and placed his hand on Ezra's forehead, searching for recognition and the reduction of his fever, he found neither. "Nettie said we should get plenty of fluids down him." He reached over and turned the hot water on, to reheat the water in the tub. He watched as Josiah pulled the towel from Ezra's back and then dumped it into the heated water again.
"Think he's been through this before?" Josiah asked softly, wondering why a being like Jones would want to inflict harm on someone that was already in need of help.
"Not like this," Nathan replied softly, pouring some tea into a cup and squatting down beside Josiah again.
Carefully, they maneuvered in a way to get Ezra to drink, and he did, almost craving the sweetened tea. It took both Josiah and Nathan to lift him from the tub and get him dressed. Still too weak to move on his own, Josiah carried him back into the living room where Nettie had covered the recliner with heavy blankets and a heating pad.
Chris watched from the sofa as the Southerner was covered, almost cocooned in blankets and surrounded by soft pillows.
Chris wasn't sure what he was doing, or why he was doing it. The life he'd known was gone, shadowed by a past he didn't understand. The men standing around him, some injured, others unsure of themselves or their futures. He wasn't sure if he'd forced this on them unintentionally or if he did it on purpose, having had a 6th sense of what was to come. As of yet, everything was still a blur, a puzzle that needed to be finished, and at the moment he needed every mind available to him.
Ezra lay submerged in comfort and warmth for the first time in what seemed like years. Every muscle seemed relaxed, as though coma had seduced them beyond normal relaxation. Though his chest still burned and his throat raw from abuse, he could breathe easier. He felt a slight chill reach his chest when the blankets on his chest were pulled back exposing his skin and a heavy moist cloth was placed over his upper body. Immediately he could feel the medicinal attributes embedded in the cloth soak through his skin and enter his body down to his spine. It felt good, and his breathing eased with every passing moment.
Nettie reached up and pressed the palm of her hand to Ezra's forehead and smiled. "He'll be back on his feet in no time," she said softly, pulling the blankets up over the mustard pad she'd placed on his chest.
"You should eat something, Chris," she said, looking at him.
Slowly he nodded in agreement, looking at the plate in front of him. He then watched her move toward the kitchen, and he paused on each of the men around him, men that had quickly become his friends, his family.
Dawn's early rays started peaking through the trees in the distance. Buck snorted in mid snore when he rolled onto his side, wanting to sleep just a few minutes longer. JD kicked out from the sleeping he'd claimed as his own, trying desperately to silence the ladies man. Vin chuckled from the window where he'd been standing since pre-dawn.
"I do believe Mr. Wilmington is tryin' to alleviate his discomfort with his impertinent, snorin'."
Vin smiled and nodded as he headed to the chair next to the recliner. "Reckon you're right," he said softly, "How're you feelin?"
Ezra raised his eyebrows and pushed himself forward in the recliner, allowing the blankets and pillows to fall around his waist. "How long have we been here?"
"Four days," Vin replied softly, and smiled when Ezra threw him an unbelievable look. "Nettie said you were pretty bad off, nearly lost you a couple of times."
Ezra nodded, he believed that.
"We're hopin' you can help us find Jones?"
"Jones isn't the only one you have to worry about," Ezra sighed, having experienced the brutality of humans.
Vin nodded in understanding. "You hungry?"
Ezra nodded: "Starvin'," he replied, freeing his legs from the confines of the blankets. He stood up slowly, noticing for the first time what he was wearing: sweatpants, socks, and an oversized sweatshirt.
Vin waited until he was sure the Southerner wouldn't fall over before making his way into the kitchen. "Guess Nettie's sleepin' with Casey in her room, Chris's sleepin' in Nettie's room. Josiah an' Nate crashed in the guest room, couldn't stand Buck's snorin'." He smiled and placed the pan on the stove-plate to warm the creamy soup.
Ezra carefully slipped onto the stool next to the counter in the kitchen. "What about Travis?"
Vin sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "He accepted Chris' and the others' resignations without question, seems the military's got some crazy idea that there is a problem with the mayor's handling of the 'new species' rumor."
Ezra nodded, understanding the implications.
"Nate sent his resignation in as well, no questions asked, seems they were ready to fire 'im anyway because of all the time he's missed from work."
"Ain't got any right now, other than makin' sure Jones don't get no more ideas about takin' folks like us and teachin' them how to kill, an' stoppin' the military from doin' more research on live bodies." He looked at Ezra as he spoke, knowing he'd understand.
"Paranoia will feed everyone's mind, Vin, you have to stop the disease."
The bounty hunter chuckled: "That's what Josiah said." He placed two bowls of soup on the counter with some bread and took a seat next to Ezra. "So how do we start?"
Ezra ran his fingers through his hair and then grabbed his spoon. "Was Mr. Larabee ever in the military?"
Vin shrugged: "Think so, Josiah was I know."
"We start there."
Chris took one last look around the house that he'd called home for so long. He held in his hand a single duffel bag, filled with just a few personal items: a picture of his wife and son, Adam's baseball glove, a few changes of clothing, and nothing else.
"Ready?" Vin asked, opening the door to the pick up truck.
Reluctantly, Chris nodded: "Yeah." He shut the door to his home and locked it, knowing he would never be back. He'd left flowers on his wife and son's graves that morning, wishing things had been different.
"Nettie just called," Vin motioned to his cell phone, "said we could use that old abandoned house on her property up north, at least until we work out a plan."
"Sounds good," Chris replied, tossing his bag into the bed of the truck. "The others?" He slipped into the passenger seat of the old truck.
"Nathan's tryin' to learn all he can from Nettie and that book her ma left her, and the others are tryin' to pack up everythin' we'll need." Vin started the engine and slowly backed out of the driveway.
Chris took one last look at his home, finding it hard to say goodbye. How strange to think his whole life had been built up within those walls, his wife, his son. "Think we'll make it?" came the unexpected question.
Vin took a deep sigh as he watched the road, watching as time took on a different meaning, as life had changed so drastically. "Yeah, we'll make it."
"Figure he's got as much reason to find Jones as any of us," Vin sighed uncomfortably. "He's gonna want to shut 'em all down though, not just Jones."
"Well then, " Chris took a deep breath, "looks like we've got plenty to keep us busy."
"Reckon so," Vin replied softly, "reckon so."
I'm not too sure where to take it from here, though I have a few ideas most are incomplete. I would love to hear from you, share your thoughts, or even better, take it upon yourselves to write it. Thanks for reading!