Chapter 12: The Family
beta'd by the lovely chiroho
Waited for reparation from his plundering claws:
That shadow of Death hunted in the darkness.
"What did you do? I told you to watch them, not kidnap them!"
"You wanted 'em taken care of, dintcha? I left a trail a blind badger could folla; they'll be along soon to git him."
Morgan wasn't sure if he was dreaming, except he thought his head hurt too much for this to be a dream. The two quarreling voices seemed to be coming from far away, and his aching skull felt like it was wrapped in cotton. His hands were bound in front of him, and a few half-hearted tugs showed him the ropes were solid, the knots tight. He started to open his eyes, but the light was blinding, and he screwed his lids shut with a whispered curse.
Carefully slitting open one eye, he tried to take stock of his surroundings. A cave, maybe? But snug and warm, lit with old-fashioned oil lamps and roughly furnished. He couldn't see the two men who'd been arguing over him only moments before, and he supposed they'd either stepped outside or moved deeper into the cave. It looked like a wooden partition separated the space into crude rooms.
A howl floated in from outside. Whatever was making that noise was close, Morgan thought; closer than he liked to consider.
"You are a trial to me, boy!" the first voice barked. "Get out there and shoot that damn thing. It's carryin' on fit to wake the dead."
"Cain't git close enough," the second, sullen voice returned. His accent was thicker; the first man spoke as though rigorous schooling had purged most—but not quite all—of his Tennessee mountain twang.
"It's clever. I tole you that. And, Pop—"
"Right," the older man interrupted, "it's clever and you aren't, that's what you're sayin'?"
Silence. Then, the hard crack of flesh on flesh, and a whimper. "Kill it, or don't come back. You hear me, boy?"
"But…." The objection trailed off. Finally, "Yeah, I hear ya."
There was a scrambling sound, and Morgan saw a dark figure scuttle from the cave. One on one: the odds were improving.
"I know you're awake," the man said. Suddenly he was looming over Morgan, a dark silhouette in the quiet room. "What's your name, boy?"
Morgan flirted with the idea of taking offense, but he didn't think the man meant it that way. It was just his preferred form of address. "Where am I?" he asked, refusing to be intimidated by the man's size—or his smell. He struggled to sit up. "Are you the guy my partner saw in the woods yesterday? And what the fuck is making that noise?"
The man's head cocked toward the howl. "Nothing to concern you. Though if that boy of mine left a trail like he said, it might be of some concern to your friends. You think they'll come after you?"
"You know they will. And they're armed."
He laughed, and Morgan caught the glint of lamplight on teeth. "You gonna tell me your name so we can talk like civilized men, or am I gonna have to get pushy?"
"Morgan," he said between gritted teeth. "Derek Morgan."
"City boy name. I'm Earl Walters."
"Chicago, actually. But I have a feeling you knew that." He kept his voice steady; he knew the man was looking for a reaction to his name, and Morgan refused to cooperate.
Earl took his time settling into one of the solid wooden chairs that sat around an equally solid-looking wooden table. "What brings you all the way to Tennessee? Sight seeing?" He annunciated the last word carefully, exaggerating the g in an affected way.
"I have a feeling you know that, too," Morgan said. He didn't flinch away from the penetrating stare, and after a while the other man grunted.
"You should know—that professor you're looking for's dead. Been dead. Y'all wasted your time comin' up here."
Morgan blinked. "Are you planning to kill me?"
"I didn't plan any of this. Problem is, your friends are on their way here now, and I can't have that. If they…." He trailed off; shook his head. "I might have to," he said at last.
"My wife knows where I am. Chief Hotchner's men know where he is. Ranger Jareau's do, too. You think no one'll come looking for us?"
He sighed. His eyes drifted toward the cave's entrance, and he said musingly, "That boy ain't got two brain cells to rub together, but he understands the most important thing: we protect our own. Chief Hotchner, Ranger Jareau, they don't get that; never have. Around here, you either play along, or you punch out."
"What's he hunting out there?" Morgan demanded.
Another long, steady stare. "You don't want to know. Trust me on that."
"Trap," Prentiss voted.
"Absolutely trap," JJ said.
"The trail was way too obvious. Definitely a trap," Hotch agreed. "But what choice do we have?"
"We can't just go rushing in there, guns blazing," Prentiss said. "I'm usually all for that approach, but it's too dangerous this time. We have no idea how many people are in there, or how deep that cave goes. We're deaf, dumb, and blind, and there's not a pinball machine in sight."
"I agree," Hotch said. His brow furrowed as he stared across the small clearing toward the cave entrance. "Let's split up," he said. "We can scout the area and meet back here in ten."
"Splitting up didn't work so well for us last time," JJ said.
"I don't really think I should go blundering around in the woods on my own," Prentiss said. "I'd probably end up wiping my ass with poison ivy or something."
"This is a recon mission, not a bathroom break…but point taken. You stay here and keep an eye on the cave. If we're not back in ten minutes, get the hell out of here. Follow the trail back the way we came, and then keep going toward the Hanging Tree until you get a signal on the satellite phone." He handed his over to her and pointed out the direction she should go.
"Ten minutes. Got it." But she wouldn't meet his eyes.
"I'm serious, Prentiss. You said it yourself: it's way too dangerous to rush in there, especially alone."
Finally she locked her gaze with his and nodded. "I'll give you fifteen, and then I'm outta here."
"Good. JJ, let's go."
The Ranger gave Prentiss' arm a parting squeeze before they disappeared from sight. She strained to hear, but after only a few moments the sounds of their passage were gone. She settled in to wait, eyes trained on the cave entrance and senses alert for any signs of movement around her. The only sound was that damned howling, and it had been coming far less frequently in the last few minutes.
Prentiss did a quick weapons check. She fidgeted. Stifled a yawn. Adjusted her sock. Glanced at her watch. Less than five minutes had passed during what felt like an eternity of waiting. What if they were torturing him in there? What if he were already dead? Or, worse, being killed right now while she stood outside staring at the cave like an idiot?
Hotch would kill her if she tried to go in there alone. But Hotch, for all that she'd grown to both like and respect him, wasn't her people. Morgan was. They'd been partners a long time, and the thought of just standing here while something horrible was happening to him…. Gripping the rifle, Prentiss made up her mind. She darted quick glances around the clearing, but it seemed deserted. With a deep breath, she took a step out into the moonlight—and was promptly hit by a runaway locomotive.
Or at least something that felt like one, she thought dimly. The rifle had flown well beyond her reach in the fall, and there was no way she could get to her ankle holster from where she was, especially with that thing on top of her. She had the impression of gnashing teeth and the overwhelming tang of animal. She tried to grip the creature, to throw it off, but its skin was smooth and she couldn't find a hold. It screamed, an almost human-like sound, and Prentiss realized she was whimpering. Its teeth moved closer to her face, and she cringed away in disgust. Hot breath bathed her skin; warm wetness dripped from its mouth and ran down her cheek.
Emily Prentiss knew for a certainty she was going to die, and she'd just begun to accept it when the shots rang out.
The man went still. "You hear that?"
"Shots. Sounded like two of them." The sound had been muffled, and Morgan realized they weren't as close to the cave entrance as he had thought. The howling had been misleading.
"Shit. Maybe that boy shot the little bastard after all!"
"Or maybe that was one of my people, shooting your boy," Morgan offered.
He looked briefly disconcerted before his expression smoothed and he grunted again. "Would serve him right if he were that stupid."
"He's your son?"
"That's what she said, but with some women, you just don't ever know. Know what I mean?" He leered.
Morgan decided to keep his mouth shut on that particular subject. "Don't you think you should go out there and check?" he said.
"What, and leave you alone? You got ideas about escaping, boy?"
Now Morgan was offended, but he refused to let it show. "Escape how? Come on, man, I'm tied up. I don't see any sharp surfaces around here. Plus, I got no idea where I am, and I don't know jack about the woods."
"I'm not goin' anywhere, so just get that idea outta your head." He sat back in his chair as though to reinforce his words, but he kept casting glances toward the front of the cave. "Besides, he should be back with that thing's nasty gray hide any minute."
Gray hide, Morgan thought, like what Prentiss saw last night.
The man squirmed a bit. Suddenly he rose and grabbed Morgan roughly by the shoulder. He pulled a rifle down from a shelf Morgan hadn't noticed before and pressed it against his neck. "One move and you're dead. Hear me, boy? Nod if you hear me; I don't wanna hear your voice again."
Morgan nodded. The man grunted and pushed him forward. "If my boy's dead, so're you. You better start prayin'."
He wasn't generally a praying man, but a rifle to the back of the neck just might change his mind.
Reviews? Pretty please? :)