Deep Roots

The Best Part of Believe is the Lie

Entering the dimly lit penthouse, Jason threw his keys in the small bowl on the desk and began hanging up his leather jacket. It took him a moment to realize something was strange. It was a subtle thing that caught his attention—the complete absence of noise in the living room. Wednesday nights Lost came on, and Spinelli usually was propped up on the couch with a complicated spread of soda, chips, and whatever other junk food he had come across in his daily journey, indulging in the program with rapture. Jason looked at his watch. The show was supposed to be on in 15 minutes and the hacker was nowhere in sight. When Jason asked Spinelli once what was so special about the show that it required almost a religious diligence on his part, Spinelli had simply looked at him.

"It's Lost, Stone Cold," had been his reply. It was his ritual every week, something not even Maxie Jones seemed to have any sway over when it came to Spinelli viewing the program. In fact, she had watched it with him a few times, and Jason was confused as to why he wasn't stumbling over her stilettos in his floor. It was just weird, a Wednesday night with no Spinelli waiting with baited breath for the opening scenes to blow his mind.

Looking around the room, Jason spotted one of Spinelli's hoodies thrown haphazardly across the back of the desk chair. The kid needed to learn how to hang up his damn stuff. He sighed. Maybe Spinelli had chosen to watch the show at Maxie's apartment tonight. Heading upstairs, Jason noticed light coming through the bottom of Spinelli's door. So, he was holed up in his room. Maybe there wasn't a new episode tonight. One mystery solved.

Just as he was going to knock and ask Spinelli why his evening plans had changed, Jason's phone rang. He dug it out of his pocket and saw the Caller I.D.

"Carly, what's wrong?" Jason headed across the hall to his own bedroom. What new disaster could she have gotten herself into this time?

The sun must have slipped down from the atmosphere and gently placed itself inside of his chest; its warmth stretched through his veins and cells and particles. Spinelli felt yellow-orange perfection on the tip of his tongue, in the corners of his eyes, at the tips of his fingers. Something was carrying him, or perhaps he was only being cradled by the sun. He was secure and beloved in whatever grip held him now, silk softness wrapped around his wrists.

Spinelli blearily opened his eyes and spotted shapes moving, but the sunshine wasn't bright enough inside his mind to let him really see.

"Greetings, all…" Spinelli muttered, the words tingling in his throat.

The shapes morphed and moved in response to his words. They spoke to each other in a hot fury, speaking phrases he did not know, or perhaps just could not understand in the midst of the sunset in his ears. Instincts that were not quite quelled made Spinelli brace himself as if dangers were nearby, but he did not understand the fear. The warmth was so comforting, what could be so bad?

A form drew nearer; faceless and nonthreatening. Spinelli smiled at the shadow. "Hello." Was this who he could thank for the tender fire?

Something less pleasant, a twinge in his arm, and then the sun shone brighter.

Daybreak flitted through the cracks of Jason's bedroom window and hit his eyelids, the warmth agitating enough to wake him. He groggily looked around his quiet fortress before settling his gaze on the digital clock on the small bedside stand. It was just six-thirty. Jason sighed and tried without avail to go back to sleep before dragging himself out of bed to begin his day. He threw on a clean shirt and pants, laced up his boots, and treaded out into the hallway with the intent of partaking in the best cup of coffee he could manage at such a cruel hour.

Just as he was passing Spinelli's bedroom, he registered that the light he had seen streaming underneath the hacker's doorway the night before was still on. In Spinelli's world, six-thirty AM simply did not exist, so it was a complete mystery to Jason why in the world his friend would be awake at that time. Jason weighed the pros and cons of getting ensnared in a complicated Jackal debate so early but decided it was too out of character to ignore for Spinelli to be up and about at this hour.

He tapped lightly on the woodwork. "Spinelli?"

Jason waited a minute before knocking again, waiting for a reply the typical enthusiastic response Spinelli would give at being summoned by him. There was still no response. Knocking once more, loudly, Jason turned the doorknob to Spinelli's room and braced himself to walk into any number of awkward circumstances ranging from a guilty looking blonde scantily clad or Spinelli sprawled out practicing some sort of Eastern stretching. It surprised Jason when he found neither scenario, nor any other, waiting for him as he swung the bedroom door open.

Only a junk filled room with regrettably pink walls greeted him, it's occupant absent. The lighting fixture in the center of the room glowed in a most innocent way, and Jason's instincts began quietly murmuring to him. Spinelli hadn't been home that night. Well, that was no big deal, he was probably with Maxie. He glanced down at his watch. Oh, right, it was pretty damn early. It would probably be better to wait an hour before calling Spinelli. First, a cup of coffee to kill the time.

Jason pushed his whispering instincts to the back of his mind, instincts that were gently reminding him that his Zen preaching, nature loving, go-green conservationist roommate would never, ever, leave a room without turning off all the lights.

Spinelli felt a gentle tug on his bottom lip, a coarse hand maneuvering his jaw open. He opened his heavy eyes and stared dully at the annoying fiend who interrupted his apathetic worship. Rough looking hands were in his immediate vision, gripping a small chipped coffee mug close to his lips. Spinelli was urged to drink, and his thirst was intense. There was water in the mug, stale and warm, but he gulped it down anyways. He tried to do two things at once, drink the water and look into the face of whoever was helping him, but he simply couldn't keep his eyes focused. The orb of warmth wasn't strong anymore, but he still could feel a slight balmy breeze drifting through his veins. It was pleasant enough, but a voice in the back of Spinelli's mind told him it was important that he try to pay attention.

Much too soon, the mug of water was empty. "More?" he begged blindly, but no one answered him. Spinelli cracked open one eye, finding it much easier to see that way. The rough handed figure with the mug was backing away from him, going to stand with a shorter man a few feet away. Spinelli watched them both quietly, not understanding what he was doing there. Where was Jason? Wasn't he supposed to meet with Jason? Everything felt so numb and…dissolved…Had he been in an accident?

"What…" he managed to begin, but couldn't finish his thought. The two men ignored him and spoke to one another in low voices, speaking a language he didn't know. The man who had given him the mug of water started doing something with a lighter. Spinelli's eyelid shut again, unable to keep focus any longer. He listened to their voices and was almost lulled to sleep by the repetitive cadence of their speech. However, just as a grey fog of sleep slipped through his mind, Spinelli felt something being stuck to his face. Heart pounding, Spinelli realized that thick tape had been pressed tightly over his mouth. Sobering up quickly, his eyes flew open in panic. The black gaze of the other man, the one who had stood back, glared darkly into Spinelli's eyes.

"Mmphh." Spinelli's words of fear were muffled by the tape. His breathing started going rapid pace. Spinelli might not know what was going on, but there was nothing, absolutely nothing, good about someone trying to muffle your cries. Someone had to help him. Jason, Sam, someone had to find him. Maxie, where was she? Weren't they supposed to do something that evening, like every other evening? Faces of people Spinelli knew raced across his mind, and he was pretty damn sure the two men in front of him weren't in either the "friend" or "foe" categories of his acquaintances. No, they were "strangers", and more importantly they were strangers with ill intent. Spinelli made a motion to move, to struggle, whatever he had to do, but the signals for escape and evade weren't sent to his appendages. All he felt was a surge of horror through his muscles, but they wouldn't act.

The black eyes rolled in their sockets, annoyed with Spinelli's sudden clarity. Behind him, the other man, the one who had just been giving Spinelli water, was dragging a wooden crate loudly into view. He pried the lid of the crate off with a crowbar and tossed it to the side haphazardly, throw a quick word over his shoulder. Spinelli's heart sank, frightened of what was inside the barred enclosure. Before he could contemplate what new darkness awaited him with the arrival of the mysterious crate, the black eyed man was tugging on his arm. Spinelli looked down at his appendage just in time to see a needle sink beneath his flesh at the crook of his arm.

That did it. He surged with energy, kicking his legs out, trying to jerk away from the grip of this disgusting thing. The dark eyed man howled, slamming Spinelli's head backward against the wall. He saw stars and slumped over, watching as the man pressed the plunger down. The liquid inside slipped beneath the surface of Spinelli's skin, burning in his veins.

It wasn't long before Spinelli felt the dull buzzing in his veins slowly intensify into a generous warmth directed at his center. Both men lifted him from the ground and drug him to the crate. He couldn't focus much anymore, but the fear of what was residing within the confines of the wooden box tickled his mind.

As he was brought closer, Spinelli realized what was inside the crate…Nothing. It was absolutely empty.

Sonny had been anticipating this interaction. He'd been enjoying a steady supply of soothing scotch all day in preparation for the encounter, in fact. It was inevitable, and it played out exactly as Sonny knew it would. All the proper lines were spoken, the blocking of the scene was superb, a standing ovation was deserved really.

Act One…Enter Jason, with his concerned eyes, asking if Sonny had seen Spinelli. Sonny had gracefully replied in the negative and asked what was wrong. Why did his dear friend seem so concerned? Jason quickly muttered his lines, using only a small piece of the stage for his part of the scene.

Sonny took the opportunity to be more dramatic, swilling his scotch in one hand, the perfect prop in his opinion. Spinelli? Seen him? Nah…Kid doesn't come around here too often, Jason, you know that. What are you so worried about, does he always check in with you? When Jason and the invisible audience realized that Sonny simply had no information for him, there was dark acceptance on Jason's part.

Like all great theater performances, a ringing cell phone almost ruined the entire thing. Sonny admitted he had anticipated all possible scenarios for this discussion, but a cell phone interrupting the climax of the story must have been only in the director's cut.

Time for a little improvisation. Sonny held up a finger to Jason, needing a moment to answer the phone ringing in his pocket. Jason sighed heavily but nodded, allowing for a little soliloquy on Sonny's part.

"Corinthos," he spoke quietly into the phone.

"Your package is prepped and ready for shipment," a thick accented voice darkly replied him.

Sonny swallowed, wondering if this was where a bit of Shakespearean fate took a hold of his story. Jason watched him impatiently from across the room. He rolled his eyes at Jason, implying the call was no big deal.

"Then the shipment should be on its way," Sonny quipped. Nothing too important in that statement.

"No change of plans then, Corinthos? All sales are final."

"None, whatsoever."

With that, Sonny shut the phone and slipped it back into his pocket, turning his attention back to the drama at hand. Jason was shaking his head and looking off into space.

"It's just not like him to not be in contact with anyone…" Jason shrugged, backing towards the door to leave.

"If I hear anything, I'll let you know," Sonny took another swig of his scotch, giving Jason a friendly nod.

End scene, standing ovation, roses thrown to the stage. Encore, encore.

The wood, with its tiny splinters, pressed into his face painfully. Sticky sweat dripped down his scalp, running over his nose and eyes, burning the irritated flesh of his cheeks where the side of the crate insisted on making an already terrible situation that much worse. Every slight shift of his head caused the wood to scrape from his temple to his chin. Spinelli tried not to move, but he was struggling to breathe with the tape over his mouth. Even worse, he'd been packaged in the wooden prison in a contorted fetal position, his knees drawn up to his chest, making it hard to expand his lungs. It wouldn't be so bad like that had Spinelli been able to shift his arms, but they were literally stuck to one side of his head where the tape had unraveled and fastened to his hair. He didn't have the energy to tear the tape away and knew even if he could a large portion of his hair would rip out with it.

The floor beneath him vibrated steadily like an engine or some sort of motor was close by. Dimly, Spinelli speculated he was being transported like cargo, a mean delivery, crammed into a wooden crate without even the luxury of packing peanuts for comfort. Sonny, his mind lit up in fury. Blinking rapidly, Spinelli tried to keep his eyes open, but his eyelids drooped shut. Taking a single painful breath, he channeled the rage he felt against Sonny to focus on spying through the small slit in the crate. The endeavor wasn't worth the energy; he couldn't even see that much light through the crack. Spinelli was properly caged and tethered.

"Don't worry," a sharp, clear voice that wasn't quite his own spoke inside his head. "Jason will find out, he will know you are in trouble, and he will find you."

Yes, that's what Spinelli had to keep telling himself. Jason could find anyone. Spinelli knew that. All he had to do was ask around or look at some security footage. "Oh god," Spinelli's heart sank. The security footage wouldn't be there. Sonny had asked him to disable the cameras and he had obliged him, eager to please the man who always had a short temper with him. Sonny probably found it hilarious to have Spinelli destroy the evidence necessary to find him. Besides, the only person who knew how to get hack such information was pressed into the corners of a wooden confine.

Bile rose in his throat. Spinelli tried to swallow it back but he couldn't and he began choking. The tape over his mouth made it impossible for him cough or breathe properly. He was going to suffocate on his own vomit inside a wooden crate and be dead before anyone got the chance to save him. Spots appeared in front of his eyes. Surely someone could hear him struggling, anyone, even the dark eyed man from before. Spinelli wasn't ready to die, not here, not like this. Struggling inside his confines, Spinelli tried to kick the side of the crate or make some sort of commotion, but his energy was miniscule.

Light flooded the crate. The lid had been roughly lifted off. For a moment, Spinelli thought maybe his prayers had been answered and Jason had found him like he found every other person who needed him in times of trouble. His eyes adjusted enough to see a hand reaching down. He was lifted up, and someone was tugging the tape off of his mouth. He could breathe finally, and choke appropriately. The person who had dug him out of the crate swatted him on the back a few times, helping him get through the fit he was having.

"Lo siento, amigo," the person said quietly to him, and Spinelli despaired that it was not the voice of Jason or someone he knew that was greeting him. Something salty reached the edges of his lips and Spinelli realized he had been crying without realizing it. The man lowered him back into the crate gently. Spinelli tried to protest but couldn't form the words. After all that, the choking fit, this person was going to put him back inside the wooden prison? Would no one help?

He got his answer when the man quickly pressed an injection into Spinelli's arm, then replaced the lid of the crate.

The night was coming fast, and Jason's fears were growing even faster. There were certain things you learned when you befriended a person—their habits, traits, personality flaws and quirks. Quirks Spinelli had plenty of, as well as habits and traits and flaws. One thing Jason knew was that it was not a good sign that the entire day had passed without him hearing from the young hacker.

Speeding down the back road, Jason drove his bike down a detour to the overpass. Spinelli had mentioned going up there to think every now and then, and it was the last place Jason new to check. Though he first suspected Maxie Jones might hold the key to Spinelli's whereabouts, it turned out she hadn't heard from him either and in fact was quite startled that Jason couldn't locate him. Through a lot of deduction on Jason's part with some assistance from Maxie, Jason realized that no one had heard from or seen Spinelli since breakfast the day before, and only then it was in passing. Jason remembered bustling past the kitchen and spotting the back of Spinelli's as he poured milk into some cereal just as he was headed out the door.

It didn't bode well, Jason thought to himself as the overpass came swiftly into view. Jason squinted, trying to see if he could spot a small figure leaning against the metal railing, but there was no one, not even a hopeful mirage.

He slowed his bike to a stop and paused for a moment to think and regroup. This had been his last idea, and it led him nowhere. No calls, no threats. The feds hadn't arrested him, Mike hadn't served him lunch, Kate hadn't kicked him out of the Crimson offices. Jason had even tried Sonny, knowing the last place Spinelli would be if he had the choice would be anywhere near the Corinthos compound. It was freezing out today, contrasting with the mild weather of yesterday, but Jason even noted that Spinelli's heavy jacket was still on the hanger in the penthouse closet.

Stranger even was that Spinelli's messenger bag was tossed haphazardly next to his bed. Only one of his laptops was gone, but the messenger bag that always clung to its owner's frame was left behind, as if Spinelli had hurried off without much thought. That would explain the light bulb being left on in his bedroom. But where would Spinelli bustle off to?

Jason leaned just sat there on his bike for a moment trying to ignore the sickening feeling of dread building inside of him. He had a terrible suspicion the hacker had been lured away on false pretenses. By whom and for what reason, Jason couldn't say just yet, but the horrible thought couldn't be silenced. It was beginning to look as though Jason's chosen career path might have affected another person he cared about.

Gazing out across the overpass, he could see small lights out on the edge of the sea horizon. A small freighter crept along the water in the distance. Jason watched it mutely before revving his bike back to life, soaring again along the long dark stretch of road.

Author's Note: Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed the next chapter, the next part of the story is much darker. Please be prepared. Questions & comments will be answered in review replies. I adore your responses!

Next Chapter: Spinelli has a sunset in his veins.