He woke when he started to choke on dirty shallow water. He raised his head out of the rapidly refilling shallow puddle that had emptied when his body impacted the soft mud. Dirty water dripped off of his chin and the tip of his nose. Blinking the sludge out of his eyes, he took in his situation. His gun lay near his right hand where it had fallen; it too, soaked. Pulling himself up to his elbows, he let fly a yelp followed by a deep groan when the weight was brought to bear on his left shoulder. The good news? It wasn't dislocated. Anymore, he added to himself. He rolled to his back, uncaring of the state of his attire. The wetness of the soft ground seeped into his jeans and shirt, into the lining of his jacket.
Cradling his left arm with his right, laying flat on his back, he looked up above him… and saw nothing but clear night sky.
Where the fuck am I?
He sat up slowly, working his way around so that he was leaning against the wall. He looked up again, this time less dazedly. Why am I in a hole? He rotated his shoulder gingerly, wincing at the discomfort the movement caused. That was going to be sore for a while. He blew out a long breath and leaned his head back against the wall and bent his right knee to rest his arm on it and left his left arm resting in his lap. Small crumbles of dirt loosened and tumbled down the collar of his jacket and shirt as his head made impact. Dirt. Hole. Mud. Why was there mud? It wasn't raining, in fact it had been pretty dry all day today and the ground had been unremarkable. How deep was this hole then? Glancing along the edge of the opening above him, made difficult to see due to the lack of light, he surmised it was about eight feet long, by maybe four feet wide, and felt like it was about seven feet dee- Oh shit.
It was an open grave.
"Well, fuck me." His Southern drawl was absorbed by the deep layers of earth as he closed his eyes and rested his head against the dirt wall a little harder than was necessary.
Vin ran for all he was worth after Mikey Delaney. The guy was supposed to be getting them connected with his supplier, but instead he had alerted the bigger fish to the ATF's presence and took off like a rabbit. Vin and Ezra both went after Delaney, while Buck had taken off after the connection.
Delaney was fast as hell. Young enough guy, clearly a runner's body and stamina, and nimble on his feet. When he took the left into the cemetery to try to lose the agents, he made the sharp turn at a full run. Vin had used the cast iron fence to help make the same turn, but had to slow considerably more than Delaney. Ezra was right behind him, never more than a step or two back.
In the cemetery, the already dimming streetlights faded into black, and the three quarter moon shone down brightly. Vin stumbled once over something (he didn't really want to dwell on what it actually was) before his eyes adjusted to the lighting change.
The gravestones that the three men hurried by were both old and new: early area settlers' headstones marked their resting places, the names now barely discernable due to age and wear, while new marble headstones, some elaborately engraved, heralded their owner's names in large, ornate fonts.
Ezra had lengthened his stride to come beside Vin, gesturing that he was going to try to head for the other end of the yard to cut off Delaney. Vin had nodded and kept on his original path as Ezra veered off into the shadows.
Now as Vin neared the other end of the cemetery, Delaney hopped the wrought iron fence and landed soundly on his feet, pausing only to look back and gauge where his pursuer was. He smirked at seeing that Vin was a good thirty yards behind him, his teeth flashing in the edges of the closest streetlight.
"Mikey!" Vin yelled, breathless.
Delaney took off again, Vin's view of his path obscured by the large dying rhododendron bush trying vainly to hold onto its blooms in the late season.
God dammit! Vin thought as he altered his stride and leapt at the wrought iron fence, foot landing soundly on a crossbar in between two of the spears that shot towards the sky, vaulting the fence at his full height and hit the ground running.
Ezra's eyes adjusted to the darkness quickly, even thought there was not much to see. He could tell by how he had landed that the grave was very fresh; it did not contain the cement crypt yet. That was a good thing, considering; landing on that would have broken something, or worse.
Although, on the other hand, the crypt would have given him a step up and out of the hole.
Ezra sighed, deciding it was about time to leave this prison. He got to his feet shakily, slipping in the mud beneath him. At his full height, he was still a good foot and a half or so below the lip of the hole. Normally, he could get a pretty good leap and grab at the top. But his arm ached miserably and his footing was slippy at best.
"Vin!" he shouted, hoping in vain that he would be answered. "Wishful thinking," he muttered, shaking his head when nothing answered him back. He was going to kill Delaney. They really should have known that this thug, with no ties to Denver, would try to bolt at his first chance. But Chris had been insistent.
"Fuck him too," Ezra said under his breath, as though he feared the reprisal of the blond while six feet under.
Taking a deep breath to steady himself, knowing it was going to hurt, he made as good a leap as he could for the edge of the hole above him. His hands touched grass and he was able to hang on for about one whole second before yelping in pain and falling gracelessly back down. His feet hit first and slipped out from under him, and he landed flat on his back, knocking the wind from himself.
Fuck that, he thought as he tried to drag in a breath.
Vin was in decent shape, but he wasn't meant to do cross country sprints like this. Delaney was. Vin continued to keep up the pursuit, not losing ground, but not gaining either. Even though he had gained a little in his vault of the fence, is wasn't enough to end this. Not for the first time, he thought about pulling his gun out and shooting the son of a bitch. Not to kill of course, but just to stop his dash for freedom. And yeah, maybe to hurt him a little.
Delaney took a left down the next street he came to, and Vin drew upon hidden reserves of energy when he heard the collision of a body and what he thought were garbage cans. As he came around the corner, Buck stood there, breathless, holding his arm at the elbow. Delaney lay in a panting pile next to a pair of overturned barrels and their contents.
Vin pulled up and stopped, leaning over and bracing his hands against his thighs as his breath came in heaving pants.
"You all right there, Junior?"
Vin looked up at Buck, who looked a little winded himself. He nodded, straightening himself as he answered, "Fast son of a bitch."
"Sucks getting old," Buck answered with a smile.
Buck smiled as he reached for his handcuffs and leaned over the now groaning body. He managed to wrangle the man into cuffs before he became too coherent.
Vin noticed now that Buck was favoring his left arm. "You ok there old man?"
"Yeah," he groused.
Vin shrugged at him, asking what happened.
"This guy," he jerked his chin towards where Delaney lay, "come flying around the corner, and my first instinct was to clothesline him. Think I jerked my arm a bit."
"How'd you know to be here?"
"I lost the other guy almost right away. Turned and saw you two go into the graveyard. Figured I would go around just in case. Where is Ezra, by the way?"
Vin looked behind him, as though the Southerner would magically appear as if summoned. His brow furrowed in confusion. "Ezra?" he called out into the night behind him. Looking back at Buck, he lowered his voice to normal. "We separated in the cemetery, trying to head this fool off."
"Ezra!" Buck hollered a little louder in the same direction.
"I hope he didn't fall and twist his ankle or somethin'."
"Let's call a car for this idiot," Buck said, getting Delaney to his feet, "then we'll backtrack."
Ezra's arm ached miserably, angry at its abuse. Aside from that, and the fact that he was just now getting his breathing back to normal, he was doing splendidly. Covered in mud, cold, aching, and now without enough breath to really shout to gain the help he needed. And lying on his back in an open grave.
Worst case, he reasoned to himself, if he got left in this hole and not found, the person it was dug for was obviously dead. The service was planned. And there was still the matter of installing the crypt. That was done a few days before the funeral, right? So he'd be stuck here, at absolute worst, what—a day or so?
The thought brought little comfort.
The two agents stood at the spot in the fence where Vin and Delaney had jumped.
Buck looked at Vin expectantly. He gestured to the low fence. "Shall we?"
"Not a fan of running through a graveyard," the Texan answered.
Buck shook his head. "Never figured you to be afraid of ghosts, Junior." He started climbing over the fence.
"You disturb a spirit's resting place, they get pissed," Vin replied as Buck landed on the inside of the fence. Vin lay his hands on the crossbar in between two of the spear shapes, let out a sighing breath and jumped over the fence smoothly, landing solidly on the other side.
Buck chuckled softly. He gestured back to the fence as they started walking into the graveyard. "Look like you done that before."
"Yeah, well. Been known to jump a fence or two in my day," he replied, smiling.
"I'll bet." Buck raised his hands to his mouth. "Ezra!"
Ezra quirked his head to one side, thinking he heard something. It was faint right now, but as he closed his eyes and tried to focus on the sound it became clearer.
It was… squeaking?
High pitched and almost… chittery.
Oh shit. He jerked up to his feet quickly, shoes sloshing in the mud, and spun in the direction of the sound. In the pale light offered by the moon and clear sky, he could make out several small black blobs that would scamper towards him, then stop, putting their noses in the air.
He fucking hated rats. Give him a gunrunner or a crazy moonshiner… hell, a bomber instead of rats. Nasty little creatures that carried plague and pestilence, diseases… and they ate their own. They would eat people if given the chance. What was that movie, The Bone Collector? JD and Vin had made him watch that. And the bit with the rats was enough to give him nightmares.
And don't even get him started on people who kept the vermin as pets…
The black blobs seemed to realize they were not welcome, so they continued to come closer.
Ezra scampered back into the corner as far as he could go, kind of like when Rain had seem a mouse and jumped up on a chair, squealing in terror. He didn't squeal, but he was flailing trying to get away from the rodents now much like she had then. He swore he would apologize to her for making fun if he ever got out of here.
One came close enough to him that he lashed out at it with his foot. He connected, sending the little body back to hit against the opposite wall, making a small thud.
And tell your friends, he thought to himself.
Buck and Vin walked among the gravestones, backtracking Vin's pursuit.
"Where did you guys separate?" Buck asked.
"No idea. I wasn't really paying attention to the landmarks," Vin drawled back.
"Ezra!" Buck yelled.
"Ezra!" Vin echoed.
When there was no response, Vin shook his head. "You don't think he fell and knocked his head or somethin', do ya?"
Buck shrugged. Not until you mentioned it, he thought to himself. "I'm sure he's fine. He's a big boy. Hell, maybe he's playing a trick on us."
"No," Vin shook his head. "Not his style."
"Yeah, you're right. Ezra!"
Vin stopped and held his hand out to stop Buck. He squinted off to their left, peering into the darkness.
"What, you see somethin', Junior?"
"I dunno." He pointed in the direction he had been looking. "Looks like a person over there, don't it?"
Buck looked, but couldn't see shit. "I don't know. I can't really see anyth-" He broke off as he saw a figure, clearly human-like, move away from them.
"Shit, let's go," Vin said, starting a trot towards the shadow and drawing his gun. Just in case it wasn't Ezra.
Ezra stayed in the corner, trying to ward off any further attention from the rats. Where were they coming from?
There had only been a couple at first, but now there seemed to be double or triple the amount. He had already booted a few that got too close, but now it seemed that the small group was getting braver.
"Fuck off," he croaked, his voice and lungs still not up to full capacity from his fall earlier.
Desperate to scare them all away permanently, he drew his gun from where he had holstered it earlier. He pulled the hammer back, praying that the ammo hadn't gotten wet when he fell.
He took a breath and held it, sighting on the closest rodent and squeezing the trigger.
Vin and Buck stopped in their tracks. "You heard that, right?" asked Vin.
"Ezra!" Buck shouted, a little more frantic this time.
The shadow they had been following stayed just out of their reach, remaining a shadow rather than becoming clearer. When they stopped, it stopped.
"You said you lost that other guy, right? The connection?" Vin asked tentatively.
"Jesus Vin, you don't think that guy followed us, found Ezra now do ya?" Buck asked frustrated.
Vin waved his unholstered gun towards where the shadow had stopped. "You don't think that might be who we're chasing?"
"Fuck, Vin," Buck said, "I don't know what we're chasing. This place creeps me out."
The shadow danced back and forth, baiting the two men to resume.
Buck and Vin exchanged glances and started after the shadow again.
The one shot had been so loud, that Ezra wondered if he had deafened himself with it. His ears were ringing. You should never shoot in small spaces because the sound reverberates, but fuck those rats! He wasn't even sure if he hit any of them, but he hoped so. They all seemed to scatter at the noise anyway.
Ezra breathed a small sigh of relief. Maybe the shot would work twofold: the rats were dispersed for now, and maybe Vin or Buck would have heard the shot and could come and drag him from the crypt.
It was now eerily silent. Ezra chuckled to himself. Silent as the grave.
He leaned over and rested his hands on his knees, his back still to the corner. He looked up as a small shadow caught his eye. It was close to him. Too close. The fucking rats were back. He raised his gun again immediately, aiming for the small rat leader, who looked either smug or pissed, Ezra couldn't decide. The filthy rodent would look dead in a moment.
He pulled the trigger. And nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing. God damn bullets in the clip had gotten wet, but not the one in the chamber. He kicked at the furry little beast and sent him flying. He threw his gun at the beast's little friends and turned and jumped upwards, his injury be damned.
Buck and Vin slowed to a walk as the shadow slowed.
"I'm not doing this anymore," Buck huffed out. "Fuck that guy, or thing… whatever."
"So what, you're just gonna leave Ezra out here?" Vin asked him, knowing the other man wouldn't.
"Are we actually gonna look for him or chase shadows all night?" he snapped back.
"We are looking."
"Why did you follow that asshole into a fucking graveyard?"
"So it's my fault? Blame that fuck Delaney. He went, we followed," Vin answered calmly.
Buck huffed. "You go that way," he pointed, "I'll go this way. Fuck that shadow. We find Ezra, we get the fuck out of here, and I sleep with the lights on for a week."
"So just stumble around aimlessly in the dark?" Vin growled at him.
"You can be in the dark," Buck started and reached for his keys, turning on the small flashlight that hung between his house key and car key, "I have a light." And with that he turned and started to walk away from Vin.
Vin held his hands up in frustration, then waved dismissively at Buck's retreating back. He turned and started walking the way Buck had directed him.
He didn't make it more than two steps when he heard Buck yell, "MOTHERCHRIST!"
Vin took off at a run towards where Buck had gone. "Buck!"
"Vin! Down here!" he yelled back.
Vin tentatively walked towards the black open grave and peeked over the edge. "Buck?"
Ezra had jumped and hoped to grab onto the grass as he had done earlier, but instead he managed to grab a solid bit of… flesh?
Flesh that he then managed to drag down into the hole with him. Flesh that belonged to a freaked out Buck Wilmington.
"Jesus son, you scared the balls offa me," Buck said after calling for Vin.
"Buck," Ezra croaked, "rats."
"Well, sorry to disappoint there Ezra."
"No," snapped in frustration. "Rats!" He tried to scramble up the walls of the grave as he spoke.
Buck turned his small light towards the rest of the hole. In the small space the small light was very bright. He shined it all around the hole, but there were no rats. There were no holes in the earth where the rats could have gotten in. What was Ezra talking about?
"Buck?" Vin's voice came from above.
Buck turned his light up to Vin, illuminating his face. Vin held a hand to shade his light-sensitive eyes from the direct light. Buck turned the light away. "Found him," he said, gesturing to their friend still in the corner. "Seems ok. A little dirty and freaked out, but ok."
"Rats!" Ezra persisted.
"What's he talking about?"
"He thinks there's rats in here." He shined his light around, showing Vin the details of the hole. "But there aren't. There's no way for them to get in."
Ezra looked around the grave in the light, seeing what Buck saw. No rats, no holes. "There were rats. I saw them. I threw my gun at them. I shot at them." He huffed his breath. "That's why I was trying to get out… they were coming for me."
"So wait," Vin said, laying down at the top of the hole to get ready to help his friends out. "Ezra jumped up and grabbed you, dragging you into this grave at the exact time you were walking by?" he asked incredulously.
"Well… yeah," Buck said, looking up at Vin.
"Ezra, how many times you try to get out of here?"
"Twice. I hurt my shoulder when I fell, so I couldn't do more than that."
Vin looked hard at Buck. "So we were following a shadow that led us right to this spot, at the exact same time that Ezra was driven to jump up and out of here, putting us at the same place at the same time perfectly."
"What are you two prattling on about?" Ezra asked annoyed.
"Nothing," Buck said, not looking away from Vin. He turned to Ezra. "Let's get the hell out of here."
"Please," Ezra replied.
Vin reached down and took a hold of Ezra's one good arm and pulled up as Buck assisted from below, giving the Southerner a boost. Buck then gave the grave one last look around with his light. He walked over and picked up Ezra's gun, tucking it into his waistband.
"Comin' up," he said, and leapt up catching the lip of the hole with his elbows and working his right knee out of the hole to pull himself up. Vin grabbed his belt and pulled.
The three men stood for a minute, looking each other over. They all seemed solid, even though Ezra still cradled his left arm.
"You catch up with Delaney?" Ezra asked.
"Yeah we did," Buck replied.
"He was fast," Vin said.
"Sucks getting old," Buck said again.
"Fuck you," Vin replied smiling.
"This is all very entertaining," Ezra said, "but I want the fuck out of this place."
"No argument here," Buck said.
The three men made their way to the main gate where Ezra and Vin had come in. They closed the wrought iron gate behind them with a squeak, latching it securely.
"What are you smiling about?" asked Buck, seeing Vin's shit eating grin.
"I can't wait to tell JD about this. It's better than a movie."
Ezra snorted in disbelief. "I just want to go home, shower, burn these clothes, and sleep. Tomorrow, I want to throttle Delaney and hit Chris with a chair."
Vin turned his merriment-filled blue eyes to the Southerner as they reached their car. "Sounds harsh."
"Harsh?" Ezra asked. "Harsh is falling into an open grave at a full run, being assaulted by a mischief of rats, getting covered in mud, getting the wind knocked out of you, all for a delinquent who we all told 'Mr. Fearless Leader Larabee' would bolt at the first chance he got. Fuck him, fuck Delaney, fuck rats and fuck you guys for calling it too harsh." He opened the back door to the car, got in, and slammed it shut.
Buck looked at Vin over the roof of the sedan. "Even pissed, he's eloquent."
Vin smiled and bit back a chuckle.
"I'm not gonna give him his gun back until tomorrow."
Vin nodded. "Good idea."
A cool wind blew through the cemetery behind them, rustling the leaves and settling things back to normal.
A/N: a group of rats is called a "mischief".