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Caught in an Ebony Web

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Bill put the phone back on the hook with a heavy sigh. Why was this happening here of all places? He took his hat off and set it on his desk, then leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his hair.

“Nothing?” Gary asked, passing over one of the mugs of coffee he had brought from the break room.

“It doesn’t look like it,” Bill confirmed, graciously accepting the mug. He blew on it a little, then took a drink, grateful for the comforting heat.

“Maybe it’s time you call your friend you keep mentioning,” Gary suggested, sitting down in the desk across from Bill’s.

“He’s not my—“ Bill grumbled a bit. “Melanie is the one who went to Space Camp with him. He’s her friend.”

“Still,” Gary shrugged. “You talk about him like he’s some sort of expert and we need all the help we can get.”

Bill groaned. “You’re right.”

“I know,” Gary smirked, taking a swig of his coffee.

**

Lex felt his phone vibrate in his pocket and winced, hoping it wasn’t loud enough to tip off the FSB operatives he was currently hiding from. In a broom closet. Closer to Stiles than he ever wanted to be.

Stiles glared at him, the expression still obvious even in the sparse light of the small room.

You didn’t turn off your phone?’ Stiles mouthed.

Sorry?’ Lex mouthed back, shrugging. His phone buzzed again and they heard the agents outside the door pause their conversation.

Turn it off!’ Stiles silently snapped.

Lex shifted as quietly as he could and pulled his phone out. He turned the screen on and light filled the small space, blinding both him and Stiles. After his eyes adjusted, he looked and saw he had two messages from Melanie. That was nice. He hadn’t heard from her in a while.

“Hurry up!” Stiles hissed, as soft as possible.

It was Lex’s turn to shoot a glare as he opened up the messages.

Melanie: Hey Lex, sorry to bother you but Bill is having a hard time with a case and thought you could help him if you have time. Don’t feel pressured though! We both know you’re busy saving the world. Hope to hear from you soon!

Melanie: Oh! And here’s Bill’s work number. Thanks! 620-555-0822

Lex raised an eyebrow. It must be serious if Bill was asking for his help. He started to type a message back to Melanie when Stiles grabbed the phone out of his hand. Stiles powered it down, then handed it back to Lex, frowning.

Put it away,’ Stiles mouthed.

Lex huffed, but put the phone back in his pocket to deal with later.

**

“Did he reply?” Bill asked Melanie over the phone.

“Sweetie, he’s probably busy,” Melanie assured her husband.

“Or he doesn’t want to help,” Bill concluded, his anxiety starting to get the better of him. “He deals with much more exciting stuff than helping a Kansas Sheriff Department.”

“He’ll text back,” Melanie declared. “He always does.”

Bill sighed. “Alright. Call me when he does. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Melanie replied, then hung up, prompting Bill to hang up as well.

“So, who is this guy anyway?” Gary asked once Bill was off the phone.

“He’s, um…” Bill looked around to see if anyone else was in earshot. “He’s CIA.”

Gary’s eyes widened. “You have a spook contact?”

“He’s not like that,” Bill waved his hand dismissively. “He’s a hacker. Breaks into security systems and makes people new identities. That sort of thing.”

“That’s so awesome,” Gary grinned, awed.

“He’s not awesome,” Bill huffed, straightening up in his seat and getting back to some reports he had left and needed to finish. “Trust me.”

**

“Stiles, before I press this, remind me how awesome I am,” Lex looked over his shoulder, finger hovering above his keypad.

“You’re awesome. Whatever,” Stiles sighed. “Now can we please get the hell out of here?”

“One distraction coming right up,” Lex grinned and turned back around, bringing his finger down and pressing a single key.

Stiles pressed his back up against the door leading out of the office, then turned his head to see if he could hear what was happening on the other side. An alarm started to blare and voices started shouting in Russian. He could hear the voices starting to get farther away from the door and he turned back to Lex.

“Come on,” Stiles ordered, opening the door cautiously. Lex stuffed his laptop in his case and followed the agent out of the room. The way out was thankfully clear due to the alarm Lex had set off in order to provide a distraction. Even though he was confident in Stiles’ ability to get them out safely, Lex only let out a relieved breath once he slid into the passenger’s seat of the Jeep they had left parked outside the embassy building.

“Buckle up, sweetheart,” Stiles chided, then threw the jeep into gear.

“Oh, darling, it makes me all tingly when you—Woah!” Lex pulled his laptop close to his chest with one hand, and used the other to grip the frame of the vehicle.

“There’s a gun under your seat!” Stiles informed Lex, then looked over when he noticed the hacker hadn’t moved. “Oi! Gun! Under seat!”

Lex looked at him incredulously. “Nuh-uh. I don’t do guns.”

“You what ?” Stiles yelled.

“They make me uncomfortable,” Lex explained. “They kill people.”

“No, idiot,” Stiles sighed, pulling out a pistol from his vest. “People with guns kill people.” Gunshots rang out and Lex ducked down as he heard a few bullets hit the jeep. “And those people with guns are trying to kill us!”

“I’m a lover, not a fighter!” Lex yelled, his voice muffled by the case and his legs.

“Well, you better be a driver, because I need you to steer!” Stiles snapped, popping a few shots off behind him, blind. Lex set the case down securely by his feet, then grabbed the wheel and peeked his head over the dash, just high enough for him to see. Stiles let go of the wheel, then twisted his torso around so he could shoot at their persuants more accurately. Lex heard a few shots go off from Stiles, then the sound of tires screeching and metal crunching against the ground. He assumed that was the other vehicle rolling over, but he was satisfied with not confirming that with his own eyes.

“Alright. We’re clear,” Stiles said, turning back and taking the wheel again. “Get out of my lap, Lex.”

“Right,” Lex sat up, then grabbed his case from by his feet and clutched it to his chest. They rode in silence for a while until Stiles cleared his throat.

“Hey, you were good out there,” The agent complemented.

Lex scoffed. “Don’t strain yourself.”

Stiles chuckled. “Well, if it makes you feel better, you can check your phone now.”

“Oh!” Lex dug into his pocket and pulled out his phone, then turned it on. He quickly texted Melanie and let her know that he’d help, then punched Bill’s number before hesitating a moment. “What time is it in Kansas?”

“Central time? Like 2200,” Stiles replied.

“Yeah,” Lex closed out of his phone app. “That’s grumpy deputy time.” He opened his texts back up and sent Melanie another message saying he’d call once he got back in the States. Satisfied with his answering, he decided to open up a game while Stiles drove.

“Are you seriously playing Pokemon Go right now?” Stiles huffed.

“Certain pokemon are continent specific, okay?” Lex shrugged. “Terri plays it too.”

“Only because you wouldn’t shut up about it,” Stiles retorted.

“The Valor assholes in finance keep taking the gym,” Lex explained, “and I needed someone else besides Haisley and Joshua in Mystic to help me out.”

Stiles looked over incredulously. “Haisley plays too?”

Lex rolled his eyes. “Yeah, except for him, most of the analysts are Instinct, the art department is Mystic, and finance is Valor. Keep up.”

“You’re all nerds,” Stiles sighed, returning his focus to driving.

**

“It’s been a week?” Lex sighed. “You know that outside of 24--”

“We’ve received proof of life,” Bill interrupted, opening the evidence files on his computer so Lex could see them remotely. Several pictures popped up of two blond boys around the same age, holding newspapers with different dates and front pages.

“Hmm,” Lex pondered, then sighed over the phone. “Can you send these to me? It’s possible they were altered.”

“I can’t do that,” Bill hissed. “It’s an open investigation. No one but Gary and Melanie know I’m talking to you about it.”

“Ugh, fine,” Lex huffed, and Bill could hear him typing on his keyboard in the background. “I’m coming there, then.”

“What!?” Bill snapped and noticed a few of his coworkers looking at him. He lowered his voice and continued. “Even if you come here, I won’t be able to show them to you.”

“You will if I have the right credentials.” A smile was present in Lex’s voice and Bill groaned. “I’ll be there in the morning. See ya soon, Billy-boy.”

“Don’t call me--” Bill heard the line go dead before he could finish his sentence, then hung up his phone. He frowned at it for a moment, then looked back at his screen. After staring for a moment, he opened his desk drawer and pulled out a paper sealed in an evidence bag. He knew he wasn’t supposed to have taken it, but it helped remind him what was at stake. Bill flipped the paper over and bit the inside of his cheek as his eyes scanned the page of writing. They landed on the most relevant line.

“The auction is in three weeks.”

**

Lex pulled up to the Jericho sheriff station in his rented Corvette, and parked as close to the door as he could. Circling the car, he carefully opened the passenger side door, unbuckled his laptop case, then slung it over his shoulder. He wrestled with smoothing out the suit that he wasn’t used to wearing, then took a breath and walked into the station. Inside, it wasn’t anywhere close to busy, so he walked up to the nearest deputy.

“Hi. I’m looking for--”

“Bill, right?” The deputy flashed him an easy smile. “I’m Gary, and you must be Lex.” He held out his hand to shake and Lex took it.

“Oh, he’s mentioned me?” Lex asked, smirking and puffing his chest out a little.

“More like complained, but yeah,” Gary shrugged and Lex quickly deflated. “He’s back here. Come on.” Lex followed Gary back to a secluded room where Bill was hunched over a table, looking at photos. “Bill, your CIA guy is here.”

Gary! ” Bill hissed, rushing past them to close the door. “No one else knows he’s CIA. He’s posing as a…” He looked over at Lex. “Who are you supposed to be?”

“Alexander Qualles, DEA,” Lex grinned, pulling out his badge and showing it to Bill. The deputy grabbed it and raised an eyebrow.

“This says FDA,” Bill handed the badge back to Lex, who stared at it, baffled.

“Shit, I must have mixed it up with the last cover I did,” Lex groaned, but put the badge back in his pocket. “Guess I’m FDA then.”

Bill sighed and led Lex over to the table full of photos and case documents. “Well, regardless of whatever government agency you’re pretending to work for, this is what we’re dealing with.”

Lex scanned the table, then picked up a particular photo that peaked his interest. It showed a blonde, shaggy haired boy in red shorts and a tee shirt. He was sitting in a chair, but his hands were bound behind him and his mouth was covered with tape. However, it wasn’t the boy that had caught Lex’s attention.

“Do you have digital copies of these?” Lex asked, not looking at Bill, but bringing the photo closer to his own face in an attempt to examine it better.

“Yeah,” Bill nodded. “Gary, will you get those for him?”

“On it,” Gary tipped his mug toward Bill, then left the room.

“What is it?” Bill furrowed his brow, concerned at Lex’s sudden seriousness.

“I don’t think this is your run-of-the-mill kidnapping,” Lex explained, sitting down on a stool and pulling out his laptop. “I’ve seen this before.”

Bill paled. “ You ’ve seen this before?”

Lex nodded. “And I may need to phone a friend, Regis.”

“Friend?” Bill frowned and crossed his arms. “I’m already taking a hell of a risk bringing you in.”

“Trust me,” Lex smirked. “This guy won’t be an issue.”

**

Feels good, doesn’t it?”

Griff shook his head a bit, trying to get the voice out of his head. He knew the demon would never really go away, but he’d learned to control it. As he pushed the temptation down, he rounded the corner, holding his gun at the ready. This was his last test. The only thing standing between him and returning to the field. Suddenly, Griff saw cardboard pop up out of the corner of his right eyes and his instinct took over.

“KILL.”

He whirled around and fired off three shots in quick succession. All found their mark…Right through a civilian woman’s heart. A buzzer sounded and Griff ripped his headphones off as the lights came on.

“Better luck next year, Krenshaw,” his S.O. said, voice echoing through the PA. That was it, then. Another year behind a desk.

"It doesn’t have to be…”

Griff clenched his fists until he got to the locker room. Once he knew he was alone, he reared back and yelled as he punched one of the lockers. It resulted in a sizable dent and Griff pulled his arm back, panting. He looked down at his now bloodied fist and he became mesmerized. The red liquid bubbled out and over his knuckles and for a moment, he wished it wasn’t his blood but instead—

A phone rang and Griff was pulled out of his trance. He realized it was his and he flicked the excess blood off of his hand before opening his locker. When he saw who it was, he sighed, but answered.

“Krenshaw,” he greeted, pulling out a few of his anti-psychotics, popping them in his mouth, then swallowing dry.

“Dude, Griff, my man,” Lex started, clearly excited. “I need your help.”

“With what?” Griff asked, holding the phone between his ear and shoulder as he wrapped his hand.

“I’m working on this new case and I need you to come to Kansas, like, ASAP because—“

“I can’t,” Griff huffed, then ripped the tape with his teeth. “I’m a desk jockey for another year.”

“What if I told you it’s related to the Atlanta case?”

Griff froze. “It’s not possible…we…”

“I thought so, too,” Lex sighed. “But the M-O is the same and look at the pic I’m sending you.”

Griff pulled his phone away from his ear and opened the photo message that he received. Once it loaded, he knew. “I can’t be there in an official capacity.”

“Do you think I’M here in an official capacity?” Lex scoffed. “Please.”

“Also, I’ve been having trouble with…”Griff hesitated. “Him. I’ve been hearing him more often.”

Lex was quiet for a moment. “We’ll handle it. I took him down once. I can do it again, no sweat.”

Griff allowed himself to flash a small smile. “Yeah, alright.” He grabbed his duffel bag and closed his locker. “So, where in Kansas are you?”

“Nowhere else but Jericho, baby.”

Lex hung up his phone and smiled up at Bill. “He’ll be here tomorrow.”

“You said this guy is FBI?” Bill had been pacing for the last 10 minutes and at this he stopped, took off his hat, and ran a hand through his hair.

“Cool,” Gary commented, taking a sip of his coffee.

“Griff is the best,” Lex assured him. “Trust me.”

“How can I when you haven’t even told me what we’re dealing with?” Bill snapped.

Lex sombered and cleared his throat. “First, I need to see the note.”

Bill’s breath hitched. “What note?”

“You know what note,” Lex narrowed his eyes. “I’m not fucking around here, Bill.”

“Alright,” Bill deflated a bit. “It’s in my desk.” He walked out of the room and Lex turned back to his computer.

“What note?” Gary asked, confused.

Lex turned his laptop screen toward Gary and pulled up several image files. “The traffickers always leave notes about the auction to taunt us. It’s part of their M-O.”

Gary looked over all of the photos and whistled low. “How many times have they done this?”

“Four that we know of,” Lex explained. “I came in on the second because Griff realized the auction was held online. The amateurs at the FBI couldn’t make it past the first set of encryptions.” Lex smirked and sat up a little straighter. “I was able to get close enough for a location, but they caught me my first two attempts. The last time, we finally found them, shut them down, and brought the kids home.”

“So…” Gary clicked his tongue. “How are they back?”

Lex turned his laptop back and sighed. “I have no idea.”

“Woah, Bill.” Gary stood up and went over to where Bill had just walked in. “What’s wrong?”

The deputy was leaning back against the closed door for support and looked like he had seen a ghost. He held up the evidence bag, hand shaking a bit. “The note changed.”

“It what ?” Lex quickly stood up and snatched the bag out of Bill’s hand. This time, the note read that they pushed the auction up a week. “When was the last time you looked at it?”

“Last night, after we talked,” Bill admitted. “I haven’t even opened that drawer today.”

“Shit,” Lex breathed, setting the note down on the table. “That means they have someone here, on the inside. We have a mole.”

“In Jericho?” Bill came back to himself quickly. “No way. I’d trust any of these people with my life.”

“Unless you can figure out a way that note,” Lex pointed at it as he glared at Bill, “magically changed overnight without the help of someone who works in this building, I’m considering everyone a suspect.” Lex sat back down in front of his computer and started typing rapidly. “This changes everything. From this point forward, the only people we can talk to about the case are Griff and the people in this room.”

“What about the sheriff?” Gary asked.

“No,” Lex declared, shaking his head. “We can’t rule him out.”

Bill furrowed his brow. “That’s too far, Lex.” Bill walked over and slammed the laptop closed, barely missing the hacker’s fingers. “You’re not looking at this clearly. I shouldn’t have called you.”

Lex looked up at Bill with fury in his eyes and ripped his laptop out from under Bill’s hand. “Calling me is the smartest thing you’ve done this entire case.” He stepped up closer to Bill and chuckled maliciously. “You know, I told Melanie she was marrying below her IQ, but I didn’t realize how far until now.”

Bill clenched his teeth and dug his nails into the palms of his hands. “Get out.”

“You need me,” Lex retorted.

“I said,” Bill could feel his blood pressure start to rise and his body start to shake. “Get. Out.”

“Bill, I know he’s an asshole, but we--”

“I want you out of Jericho before sunset,” Bill ordered, turning and opening the door. “Tell your friend we don’t need him either.”

Lex shoved his laptop back into his bag and threw the strap over his shoulder. “The blood of those kids is gonna be on your hands.” He shoulder checked Bill on his way out and Bill shut the door behind him before collapsing onto all fours.

Gary rushed over and pulled a repurposed Tic-Tac case out of Bill’s shirt pocket. “Breathe, buddy.” He grabbed one of Bill’s hands and pressed it against his own chest. “Match my breathing.” Bill’s breath was still shaky but started to slowly even out. Gary popped two pills out of the case and put them in the hand that was on his chest. “Take these. Do you want some water?” Bill nodded as he took the pills and swallowed them. “Can I leave to get it?” Bill paused a moment, then nodded again, giving Gary permission to leave for water. Gary came back after a few moments and set the water down. “I need you to sit up to drink.” Bill’s breath was still unstable as he sat up, but after a few sips of water, he started to visibly calm.

“Thanks,” Bill avoided Gary’s eyes and stared at the ground. “Sorry you had to see that.”

“We’re partners,” Gary shrugged. “That’s why we talked about this stuff.”

“Yeah,” Bill gave a small smile. “I don’t think anyone else except Melanie would know what to do.”

Gary grinned. “Are you saying I’m your work-husband?”

Bill shot a glare at Gary. “You are not my husband in any way, shape, or form.”

“But darling!”

“I want a divorce.”

***

Melanie looked up from her book when she heard someone pull into the driveway. A red shape shone through the curtains and Melanie frowned, wondering what Lex was doing back already. She walked over and opened the front door before he had a chance to ring the bell.

“Did Bill send you back for something?” Melanie guessed. She hadn’t looked at her phone for a while and wouldn’t be surprised if she missed a call or message.

“Yeah,” Lex stormed past Melanie and into the house. “My things so I can get out of town.”

Melanie sighed and closed the door. “What did you do?”

Lex spun around. “What did I do? You know I’d never--”

“Lucas, you can pull that innocent act with everyone else, but I can see right through it,” Melanie huffed, crossing her arms.

Lex’s entire body tensed at the name Melanie said. “Don’t call me that.”

Melanie relaxed and walked over to Lex, putting a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry. Really.” She gestured over to where she had been sitting. “Come on. Sit and tell me what happened.”

“He just…” Lex sighed and stayed standing as Melanie sat. “He doesn’t trust me, even though I’ve dealt with these exact people before.”

“That doesn’t seem like him,” Melanie frowned. “He’s stubborn and set in his ways, but if it’s for a case, he looks at all options.”

Lex crossed his arms. “There’s a mole in the station. He doesn’t believe me.”

Melanie’s eyes widened. “No. All of those people have been there forever. The newest one there is Gary, but even he’s been there at least a year.”

“You too?” Lex groaned. “Bill said something similar. That’s what started it all.”

“Well, what makes you suspect a mole?” Melanie asked, trying to process.

“Evidence was tampered with,” Lex pulled out his phone and showed Melanie the comparison pictures of the note. “It was being stored in Bill’s desk.”

“Okay, I get why Bill would be concerned and upset at you accusing our friends,” Melanie gave Lex a pointed look, “but kick you out? It had to be something else.”

Lex crossed his arms and looked at the ground. “Well, maybe I might have possibly done something…” Melanie raised an eyebrow, “But he started it!”

“Did he now?” Melanie smirked a little.

“I was typing on my laptop, okay?” Lex sat down and used the coffee table to mime typing. “And he just closed it!” He slammed his hand on the table. “Almost on my fingers!” He looked over at Melanie and lowered his voice. “He. Closed. My. Lap. Top.”

“Alright,” Melanie threw her hands up. “Message received.” She pointed at Lex. “That still doesn’t answer what you did.”

Lex gripped his knees and looked down. “I maybe said you married below your IQ?”

“You said what ?” Melanie stood up and towered over Lex. “Remember when you said that to me?”

“Yes,” Lex replied, meekly.

“And what did I say?”

“I’m an asshole and IQ is a meaningless construct created by elitists to make them feel better than other people and I’d understand that if I’d ever had feelings for anyone that wasn’t from one of those Japanese dating games I play.”

Melanie squirmed a little, guilty that what she had said made enough of an impact for Lex to remember it word-for-word years later. “Let’s focus on that first part.”

“I’m an asshole?” Lex guessed, looking up with a nervous smile.

“Yep,” Melanie put her hands on her hips and sighed. “I’d kick you out, too, but those kids need you. You have to apologize.”

Lex leaned back on the couch and let out a breath. “I know. He seemed pretty serious, though. Red-faced, shaking, and everything.”

Melanie’s eyes widened and she rushed over to pick up her phone. Sure enough, there was a text from Gary saying that Bill had an episode, but it was small and he was alright. “You gave him a panic attack!” She waved the phone at Lex and his eyes grew to the size of tea saucers. “He has an anxiety disorder!”

“I-I didn’t know,” Lex stuttered. “I was just so upset--I--”

“Over your stupid computer!” Melanie snapped.

“Melanie, please,” Lex pleaded. “I’m so sorry. I mean it. If you and Bill really want me to leave, I will.”

Melanie stepped away and ran a hand through her hair as she took a deep breath. “No. You don’t have to leave.” She turned around and sat down on the couch next to Lex. “I’m sorry I snapped. The important thing is that he’s okay. You couldn’t have known.”

“Tell me what I need to do,” Lex requested softly. “I fucked things up everywhere, so let me make it right.”

“There’s only one way to make amends in Jericho,” Melanie smirked. “Good old-fashioned barbeque and beer.”

“Do, uh…” Lex rubbed the back of his neck. “Do I have to make the barbeque or is there another way that doesn’t involve me ruining perfectly good meat?”

Melanie giggled. “Tell you what. You foot the bill and help me in the kitchen, and I’ll call us even.”

“Sounds good,” Lex let out a breath of relief, then noticed Melanie furiously texting on her phone. “What are you doing? I thought you used your computer to write novels.”

“Just inviting a few people over,” Melanie shrugged. “Can’t have a three-person barbeque. That’s just wasteful.”

“So, like a few extra people?” Lex asked.

“Yeah,” Melanie smirked. “A few.”

***

Melanie had texted Gary the plan, and while he had relayed most of the plan to Bill, he strategically failed to mention that Lex was still in town and, specifically, in his house.

“What the hell?” Bill growled when he pulled up in front of his house and saw Lex’s rented corvette in the driveway. “I told him to get out of here.”

“You were pretty riled up,” Gary shrugged. “Maybe he just wants to apologize.”

“Guys like him aren’t the apologizing type,” Bill grumbled, turning off the car.

“Might as well hear him out,” Gary insisted. “Asshole or not, he could be really useful in finding those kids.”

Bill gripped the steering wheel tight but sighed and released it. “Yeah, you’re right. Plus, beer and barbecue? We already know Melanie has prepped him.”

“Good point,” Gary opened the door and got out, putting on his hat as reflex. “Did Melanie invite the entire town?”

“Probably,” Bill got out of the car, donning his hat as well, and closed the door. “I bet she made Lex foot the bill, too.”

“Hell of a smart woman you have there,” Gary grinned.

“That she is,” Bill smiled back, then made his way around the house to the backyard as Gary followed. As they approached, familiar voices started to emerge and soon came into view. Stanley stood vigil at the grill, taking a sip of his PBR every once in a while as he turned the meet. Jake and Jimmy stood near him, shooting the shit and drinking beers of their own. Mimi, Mary, and Emily were arguing over what the proper way to make a martini was. Finally, Bill spotted Melanie, chatting with Margaret as they brought food out from inside. After setting the platter down, she looked up and saw the two deputies. A grin broke out on her face and she walked over to Bill.

“Welcome home,” Melanie gave Bill a hug, then they pulled away for a chaste kiss. “Hungry?”

“Yes,” Gary answered, grabbing the plate of deviled eggs from Melanie and walking over to the food table.

Bill rolled his eyes but gave a smile. “Yeah, I am. But--”

“Lex, I know,” Melanie pulled away and lead Bill further into the yard. “We talked. I yelled some. He’s ready to apologize.”

“But he--”

“Listen,” Melanie interrupted. “You don’t have to like each other, but all of us know you need him and his friend to catch these people.”

Bill sighed. “Yeah. And he is your friend. I should treat him better for your sake.”

“Oh, no, honey,” Melanie shook her head. “I would have kicked him out, too. He may have gone to MIT, but he’s dumber than a box of rocks.”

Bill burst into laughter and grinned. “You’ve got that right.”

“Now, let’s get you a beer, then I’ll send him over.” Melanie guided him to the buckets filled with ice and beer, and let him pull one out.

“I’ll be over by the guys,” Bill informed, giving Melanie a kiss on the cheek.

“He’s in the house and still shaking in his boots so, I’ll try and talk him down,” Melanie smirked and headed back into the house. Once she got inside, she saw Lex sitting at the counter, working on what looked like his third sno-ball.

“That can’t be good for you,” Melanie declared, taking the box away from him and putting it atop the fridge.

“I can still reach that, you know,” Lex argued. “Plus, they make me feel better.”

Melanie turned around and put her hands on her hips. “You know what would make you feel even better? Apologizing to my husband.”

Lex pouted a little, but slid off the bar stool, grabbing his water bottle from the table. “Alright, alright. I’m going.” He walked out the sliding glass doors and quickly spotted Bill...surrounded by all of his friends who were probably all ready to kick his ass. Lex swallowed thickly, then carefully made his way over to the group of men by the grill. The slimmest one noticed him first and smirked.

“Hey, Bill,” Jake nodded his head toward Lex. “This the guy?” The rest of Bill’s friends started to eye him up and Lex immediately felt like he was an inch tall.

“Yeah,” Bill sighed. “Give us a sec, will ya?” They all nodded and the one manning the grill set his utensils down before joining the others in walking out of earshot. “So. You’re still here.”

“Melanie had a hand in that,” Lex admitted, still not looking Bill in the eye. They stood quiet for a moment until Lex bit his lip and spoke up. “I’m sorry for what I said. It was uncalled for.”

Bill sighed. “You’re right, it was but...I shouldn’t have been so pig-headed either.” He shrugged. “It’s just a hard concept to grasp, you know?”

Lex finally looked up. “I do. We had a mole at the CIA and it turned out to be…” He stopped himself. “Nevermind. Point is, Melanie loves the hell out of you, and I only hope I can find someone to have as solid of a relationship with as you two do.”

“I appreciate that,” Bill held out his hand. “Care to stay here a bit and help us catch these guys?”

“Hell yeah,” Lex grinned and took Bill’s hand, shaking it.

“Now, this looks much better,” Melanie said, appearing next to Lex, holding a bowl of potato salad. “Everything good now?”

“I think we can make it work,” Bill replied, smiling.

“Good,” Melanie looked past them and sighed. “You better let Stanley back over here though. He’s itching to check those burgers.” She waved Bill’s group of friends back over to them and set the bowl down before coming back to join them.

“So, this is Stanley,” Bill pointed to the larger man taking care of the grill. “This is Jake.” The man who first acknowledged Lex tipped his head. “And that’s Jimmy.” A heavyset man in a deputy uniform waved shyly. “Everyone, this is Lex. Melanie met him years ago at space camp.”

“Nerd alert!” Stanley hissed behind his hand at Melanie.

“I’m a nerd, too, Stanley,” Melanie raised an eyebrow and the man flushed slightly.

“I only mean, like…” Stanley huffed a little. “You’re like, a cool nerd. This guy is a nerd nerd.”

“I drive a Suzuki Bandit back home,” Lex smirked. “Not exactly a nerd bike.”

Jake grabbed Lex’s shoulder and turned him toward him. “Really? You like it better than the GSXR?”

Lex scoffed. “Oh yeah. It…”

Bill turned to Melanie and tuned out Lex and Jake’s conversation. “So, good coaching.”

“I know,” Melanie smirked, giving Bill a peck on the cheek. “Now that it’s over, catch us some bad guys, huh?”

“We’ll be unstoppable,” Bill smiled.

**

It had been a great party and Lex felt even closer to Melanie and Bill after spending the day with their friends and hearing countless stories about them.  He settled himself on the pull-out in the den and pulled his laptop out of his bag. Even though he was “officially” on vacation, he decided to check his emails before bed, just in case. As he expected, there was a bunch of junk announcements from administration and a few personal emails, but one in particular really caught his attention.

After Olivia, Lex had decided to start his own sort of “dating site”, specifically for hackers. The only way to contact another user was to hack into their profile, made with their own specific code. Upon success, the profile owner would be contacted with an email, and they would decide to initiate contact.

This was the first email Lex had ever gotten.

Lex opened the email and scanned it, eager to see who this person was. He was sure that no one was ever going to be able to hack his profile. In fact, he had made it on a whim and, even though he had hoped someday he’d receive an email, he was never sure what to do when he got one. The hacker’s username was “Lucky_Strike” and as he browsed the lines of coding and backdoors they had slipped through, he had nothing but respect for whoever this person was. Their hacking style was graceful somehow, maneuvering through Lex’s carefully laid traps as if they already knew where he had placed them. The front of Lex’s boxers twitched under the blanket, and he couldn’t blame himself getting extremely interested in getting to know whoever this was. He sent off a message to “Lucky” and waited to see if there was a response. Just a couple minutes later, he received a reply.

[Lucky_Strike]: Well hello, 00Lex. You’re not an easy profile to hack. ;)

[00Lex]: Lex is fine. I’m interested to know how you did it? Did you have help?

[Lucky_Strike]: lol no, of course not. That would be cheating, and I like to show off what I can do on my own. Sharing credit isn’t exactly my thing.

[Lucky_Strike] : I’m Alyss, by the way.

Lex grinned at his computer screen. Alyss .

[00Lex]: I hate to do this, Alyss, but I have to get to bed. Big things to do in the morning.

[Lucky_Strike]: It seems we both have big days tomorrow. Till Later, Lex.

He stared a few more times at the messages, then closed his laptop. It was already late and Griff was expected in the morning. Lex smiled as he settled into bed.

Alyss.

**

Surprisingly, Lex was up before Bill, and already was seated at the breakfast nook, drinking coffee and munching on a bagel that was half hanging out of his mouth as he typed on his laptop.

“You usually an early riser?” Bill asked, pouring his coffee into his travel mug.

Lex put the bagel down and set it on his napkin. “I usually sleep as late as physically possible, but unfortunately, the time change got to me,” he sighed. “Good for the case, I guess. Look at this.” He turned the laptop toward Bill and pointed out a specific letter on the ransom note that Bill had received. “That font is copyrighted and can only be used by a regional fishing magazine out of Wichita. That means they’re close.”

Bill clapped Lex on the back and the hacker made a pained noise. “Good catch.”

“Well, it gives us a starting place at least,” Lex raised his arms up and stretched his back out, yawning.

“Hey, when is your buddy supposed to get here?” Bill took a sip of coffee as Lex checked the itinerary on his phone.

“Oh shit,” Lex hopped off of the stool and grabbed his leather jacket from the coat rack. “His flight is getting in early. I’ll meet you at the station in like…” He looked at his phone directions then sighed. “Five hours? Why do you live in the middle of nowhere? How is--You know what, never mind,” he waved his hand. “No time for all my questions. See you later.” He left Bill in the kitchen and took off out the front door.

The ride to Hays was mostly uneventful, only broken up by the occasional roadkill on the side of the road. Of the few vehicles that passed him going the other way, it seemed to be mostly farm trucks or equipment. How Bill and Melanie could live in such a secluded place was beyond him. He needed constant life flowing around him, the sounds of cars or people laughing on the street at all hours of the day and night. It was soothing and comforting for him, knowing that at any time, he could go out and find another human to connect with. It was necessary sometimes in his line of work. It felt good seeing the actual people that he kept safe every day.

Once he got to the small, county airport, he parked his rental, then headed over to baggage claim to meet Griff. When he got there, the plane had already landed and baggage was being distributed. Lex scanned the crowd, then walked up behind a man in a suit.

“I’d recognize that surly, mildly depressed demeanor anywhere,” Lex said, causing Griff to turn around. “How are you, man?”

“Better now that I’m out of that tin can of a plane,” Griff stretched his neck and sighed. He spotted his bag, walked over to grab it, then came back. “So where to?”

Lex grabbed Griff’s carry-on and started walking out of the airport. “Jericho. It’s about two hours away.”

“And this was the closest airport?” Griff scoffed. “How small is this place?”

“About two thousand people, and that’s on the high end,” Lex shrugged. “It’s...quaint?”

Griff frowned. “I can’t believe you dragged me all the way out here.” They reached the car and Lex popped open the trunk. “A Corvette. I don’t know what else I expected.”

“I have to bring a little bit of life to that podunk town,” Lex smirked, setting Griff’s bag in the backseat, and getting in the driver’s seat. “Come on, I’ll even let you pick the tunes.”

Griff rolled his eyes, but closed the trunk and got into the passenger’s seat. This was going to be a long trip, but it was going to be worth it. He had to believe it was.

**

“So, I assume that Lex got you up to speed on the way here?” Bill asked, once introductions had been made at the station. He quickly pulled everyone into the conference room that they had reserved for the case and Griff started to look over the evidence almost immediately.

“Yes, and he was right to call me,” Griff picked up a picture to examine it closer. “This evidence is extremely compelling and has a lot of similarities to the other cases we’ve dealt with.”

“Similarities?” Lex scoffed and crossed his arms. “You and I both know this is exactly the same M-O. These are the same people, Griff.”

“I’m just as upset that they got away as you are, but we have to be objective,” Griff put the picture down. “I’ve had a lot of cases relating to human behavior and even though patterns may stand out, the truth is, people just think the same way sometimes. Especially the horrible ways.” He looked up at the deputies. “How much time do we have?”

“The latest note said two weeks,” Gary answered.

“That doesn’t leave us a lot of time,” Griff pulled out a bottle of pills and popped one in his mouth, swallowing dry. “How many men do you have?”

“Um,” Bill blanched a little. “About ten?”

“Ten?” Griff blinked incredulously. “Isn’t this a county sheriff’s office?”

“Yes, but Jackson is out on maternity leave,” Bill started to count on his fingers, “Hannedy is out east visiting family, and...” he huffed, “honestly, not a lot really happens around here and we kinda like it that way, alright?”

Griff threw up his hands in defense. “You got it.” He shrugged. “Guess we’ll make do with what we have. Let’s figure this out.”

**

Brooks shivered and pulled his knees closer to his chest in an attempt to warm himself even slightly. The place they were holding him in was obviously underground. It was constantly cold and clammy, and there were no windows. The only way he knew how many days had passed was by how often they fed him. He quickly found out they weren’t going to kill him after the woman they called “Spider” told him that he’d make them a ton of money.

There was another boy in the cell next to him, but he didn’t talk. They had taken pictures together to prove they were alive, but since he had gotten here, he hadn’t said a word. Brooks had tried, and still sometimes said things, just to make even one-sided conversation. It seemed better than nothing. When they brought him in, it was by “Ridley”. He assumed he was the boss of the operation. That's what everyone kept calling him anyway.

So far, he’d seen Spider, Ridley, and two other people that were part of who was holding him. “Kentucky” was the one that brought their meals and checked up on them. It almost seemed sometimes that he felt bad for them, but whenever Brooks tried to talk to him, he’d snap and tell him to get back. The only other one was a doctor that they simply called “Doc”. He was the nicest one. Spider had brought him to Doc to be examined and even though he was scared, Doc was nice and sympathetic. It seemed to upset Spider and told Doc to remember his contract, but when she left the room for a minute, Doc went back to being nice. He hoped he’d see Doc again.

Brooks sighed and looked over at the other boy. He seemed older than him, but not by much. He didn’t recognize him either. “Did you ever go to summer camp?” Brooks asked, not expecting an answer. “Last year we saved mine.” He looked down at his dirtied and worn Kik-a-kee shirt. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. Some people were gonna tear it down. I really hope I get to go back.” He heard a sniff come from the boy and Brooks assumed he was listening. “I’m from Jericho, Kansas. I’m not sure if you know where that is.” He shuffled his feet against the concrete floor. “I just figured I’d let you know in case you make it out and I don’t.” Tears started to sting at his eyes again. He wasn’t sure how many times he had cried while he was here, but he could feel his cheeks starting to get dried out and flakey.

“New Bern,” Brooks heard the boy say in a rough tone. “I’m from New Bern.” He coughed and cleared his throat a bit. “I know where Jericho is.”

“That’s,” Brooks giggled a bit, still teary-eyed but glad he had gotten the other boy to talk. “That’s really close.”

“I’m Miller,” the boy said. “I...I’m sorry I wasn’t talking, I just…”

Brooks nodded, even though Miller couldn’t see. “Yeah. I know.”

The cellar door creaked open, and Brooks pulled himself tighter against himself, not knowing how to react until he knew who had come down to see them. He heard a man talking and a woman giggling, and immediately knew it was Ridley and Spider. Brooks clenched his jaw and squeezed his eyes tight.

“You’re still feeding them, right?” Ridley asked.

“Of course,” Spider replied, “I can’t have them getting too skinny. You know they like the boys with a little meat on their bones.”

“Have you been exercising them?”

“Not yet. I thought it was too soon.”

“I’ve moved the auction up. It’s in two weeks.”

“Two weeks? I can’t have them ready in time!”

Brooks opened his eyes a little, but regretted it as soon as Ridley slammed a hand against his bars. “You’ll have some muscle on them by week’s end, Spider, or I’ll leave you for the pigs.”

Spider chuckled. “That one hacker, I wouldn’t mind.”

“Are you trying to make me jealous?”

“Is it working?”

All Brooks heard was Spider squeal, then laugh as only one pair of heavy steps ascended the stairs. The cellar door opened and closed again, and he felt he was safe enough to open his eyes again. He hated when Ridley came by, because it always meant something was going to change. Apparently this time, it was that they had just two weeks left in this place. Where they were going, he didn’t know.

“You okay, Miller?” Brooks asked.

“Yeah,” Miller sighed. “You realize what they mean right?”

“We get out of here in two weeks?” Brooks guessed.

“They’re auctioning us,” Miller clarified. “We’re gonna be sold to people.”

Brooks crawled over to where his cage was next to Miller’s. “Like the Civil War?”

Miller shrugged. “Well, more like pre Civil War, but you get the jist.”

“So we’re gonna work for whoever buys us for free?”

“If we’re lucky, working is all we’ll do.”

**

[Lucky_Strike] : Are you busy?

Lex looked down at the message that popped up on his laptop and smiled. Sure, he was currently running a scan on the dark web for any sign of the auction, but was he busy?

[00Lex] : Not really.

[00Lex] : Why?

[Lucky_Strike] : I’m bored and I wanted to see if you wanted to play a game. ;)

He raised an eyebrow and smirked. A game, huh? Lex looked up at the rest of the room and saw that the rest of the team was busy on the phone, or focused on reviewing evidence and leads. He clicked his tongue and smiled.

[00Lex] : What kind of game?

[Lucky_Strike] : I wanted to see if you could find me before I found you.

[Lucky_Strike] : You in?

[00Lex] : I’m not home. I’m visiting friends so it wouldn’t be accurate.

[Lucky_Strike] : Well I am too, so nothing to lose, right?

Lex pulled up a new browser window, bringing up the dating website code.

[00Lex] : Gonna give me an email to start with?

[Lucky_Strike] : Now that wouldn’t be much of a challenge, would it?

[Lucky_Strike] : Good Luck~

With that, Lex quickly got to work, bringing up Alyss’ profile and starting to scan her code for insecurities. He was just as impressed as the last time he looked over it and grinned. As secure as the code was, he found a small hole, and probably would have missed it if he wasn’t so determined to find this amazing girl. It was weird, but he thought the coding seemed familiar. Everyone had different styles, like handwriting, and he was sure he had seen this before, but he couldn’t place it...

“Hey Lex, I--”

“Not now, Griff,” Lex snapped, fingers flying across the keyboard. “I almost got her.”

“Uh,” Griff raised an eyebrow. “Almost got who?” He leaned his head over to look at Lex’s screen but couldn’t make heads or tails of what he was seeing.

“This…” Lex gritted his teeth. “Girl.”

“Girl?” Griff’s eyes widened. “Wait, are you seriously hacking into some girl’s profile right now? Isn’t that a little creepy...AND illegal?”

Lex rolled his eyes. “She wanted me to, okay?”

Griff crossed his arms but didn’t do anything to stop Lex. “Isn’t this a little off-topic from what we’re trying to do here?”

“Yeah, I know but…” Lex groaned a bit at a small setback in the code. “I swear, I’m almost there. I almost got...it...so...close! YES!” He pumped his fist up in the air as he used his other hand to point at a string of numbers. “There it is. Her IP.”

“What’s going on?” Bill asked, looking up from his file.

“Lex found a date,” Griff sighed.

“It’s not like that!” Lex protested, looking at Griff and Bill’s disbelieving expressions. “Okay, it’s kinda like that but...ugh let me just send this message and I’ll get back to--”

“Saving children?” Gary finished for him.

“Yes, okay, I get it,” Lex frowned and opened up the chat between him and Alyss.

[00Lex]: Found you!

[Lucky_Strike]: Ooo, you are good, huh?

[00Lex]: You’re in New Bern?

[Lucky_Strike]: Yeah and it looks like I just found you too

[Lucky_Strike]: Jericho? That’s the next town over!

[00Lex]: Maybe this is a little forward but

[00Lex]: Do you wanna get coffee tomorrow?

[Lucky_Strike]: Meet me at Kate’s. 10am. Wear a scarf.

[00Lex]: I can’t wait

An alert suddenly came up on Lex’s screen, saying that the program he had been running to search for the auction site got a hit.

[00Lex]: c u tmw g2g

Lex backed out of the chat and pulled up the program. “Guys! I got a hit!” Quickly, everyone in the room came and crowded around his laptop, staring at the monitor. Lex brought up the website, and it looked like a very simple layout. Pictures of kids were listed along with their current price and amount of time before the auction ended. The kids weren’t even named. They just had their gender, age, and race. Lex scrolled down and saw the kids that they were looking for, their auction ending in just one week.

“This is disgusting,” Bill turned away, running a hand through his hair.

“Do you have a location yet?” Gary asked, studying the site intently.

Lex sighed. “Not yet. It’s going to take some time with all the security. Last time was at least 24 hours.”

“He’s right,” Griff stood up straight and stretched. “There’s nothing more we can do here tonight. Lex, start the encryption, and everyone else, let’s get some sleep.”

Lex started running the encryption program for cutting through the website’s firewalls as everyone else gathered their things to go home for the night. He left his computer open, then grabbed his jacket and bag. As the last one out of the room, he turned off the lights, leaving the glow of his monitor the only thing illuminating the area, and locked the door.

**

Lex glanced down at his watch for the third time that minute, it seemed. It was only 9:50a and he was already almost finished with the large hibiscus tea he had ordered. Would Alyss expect him to order again when she got there? Oh god, he should have waited. Stupid! He fidgeted with the sheer scarf he had borrowed from Melanie and tried to loosen it around his neck. It wasn’t exactly constraining, but it still felt like he needed more air for some reason. He glanced out the window a moment, hoping people watching would distract him for just a small while.

“Are you Lex?”

Quickly, Lex turned to see a short, red-headed girl with thick glasses that she pushed up her nose with her middle finger. She was dressed in a dark hoodie over a shirt with some odd quotes, slightly baggy jeans with a few holes in them, and beat-up Chuck Taylors. The one thing that really made her stand out was her unusual makeup. A normal passerby would likely think that the red, black, and white markings she made on her face were some odd David Bowie tribute. Lex recognized them immediately though. Anti facial recognition makeup. For his day job, it was the bane of his existence but on Alyss, it made his respect for her deepen. She knew her stuff. It was like someone had gone into the deep recesses of his mind and pulled this girl out, creating her out of everything he didn’t even know he found attractive about someone.

“Uh, yeah,” Lex stared for a minute before remembering himself and standing up. “Yeah, I’m Lex. Alyss, right?” He held out his hand and she took it.

“That’s me,” Alyss grinned and Lex felt his knees want to collapse.

“Do--Do you want something to drink?” Lex pointed his thumb and the counter and Alyss nodded. “You stay here. Have a seat. I’ll get it. What do you want?”

Alyss took a seat and pulled her computer bag into her lap. “Just an iced caramel latte?”

Lex smiled. “You got it.” Luckily, the line was short and Lex only left Alyss for a few minutes, coming back with her latte and a refill of his tea.

“Thank you,” Alyss said, grabbing her drink and taking a sip. “So, Lex. Let’s get down to it. What do you do?”

“I’m a greeting card writer,” Lex lied expertly, taking the top off of his tea and stirring with the tea bag. “Not a very demanding job so, I have time for hobbies such as coding and hacking.” He laid the string over the ring of the cup to let it steep and looked up at Alyss. “You?”

“Oh,” Alyss shrugged. “I work with kids, but I don’t suggest it.” She chuckled. “I’ve been doing it for a long time, so it gets easier, but it’s still work.”

“Do you like the kids you work with?” Lex asked, chancing a sip, but cringing at the still too hot temperature.

“Well, my current set are just priceless,” Alyss smiled. “You said you were visiting friends out here. Where do you actually live?”

“DC,” Lex replied. “It’s alright. I like it out here but, really miss my bike.”

Alyss raised an eyebrow. “Like a 10 speed or…”

Lex laughed. “No, like a motorcycle. I’m not really an exercise kinda person.”

“Could have fooled me,” Alyss winked and Lex could feel his cheeks heating up.

“Actually I--” Lex was cut off by his phone’s message notification and he sighed. “Sorry, I have to check this.” He pulled out his phone and noticed it was a message from Griff.

Koehler found a new note on his desk. Look.

Lex opened the picture message and saw a note similar to the others, but this time it was a threat, telling them that their search was useless. The boys would be sold anyway and we couldn’t stop them. This wasn’t normal. This wasn’t part of the pattern.

“Are you alright?” Alyss asked, concerned. “You look like you saw a ghost.”

“I, um,” Lex stood up and started to gather his things. “I have to go. Emergency.” He jotted down his public cell number on a napkin and handed it to Alyss. “Call me later, or text me, or…” Lex took a moment to look at her properly and grinned a little stupidly. “God, you’re pretty.”

Alyss flushed a little under her makeup. “Thanks, and I will. Don’t worry. I hope everything is okay.”

“It will be,” Lex winked, then grabbed his tea and headed out the door.

**

Once Lex got back to Jericho, Griff and Gary had already managed to calm Bill down enough that they could go back to being more objective about the case. As he walked into the room, he heard a loud beeping and all eyes turned to him.

“Finally,” Griff sighed. “Your laptop has been going off for an hour.” Lex bee-lined to it and opened it up.

“Guys, I…” Lex typed a bit more. “I have a location.” He spun his laptop around and on the screen was a map of Jericho with a blinking red dot on the outskirts. “How fast can we get a team together?”

Gary stepped forward and looked at the map a little closer. “I know where that is. We can get everyone together in what? An hour?”

“That sounds about right,” Bill nodded. “I’ll let everyone know. We roll out in 60.” Bill frowned a bit as he made his way to the door. “Uh. That was weird. Forget I said it like that.”

As Bill left, Lex whipped his computer back around to try and get more precise coordinates. “I honestly didn’t expect to get these so fast. Usually the only way that happens is if there is a pathway that had been previously used or opened to the destination.”

“Do you think that could be something the mole did?” Gary asked.

“It could be,” Lex shrugged. “I don’t have the time to trace it so, let’s just be glad it was there.”

“I’m useless here, so I’m gonna give Bill a hand,” Gary said, putting his hat on and heading to the door. “Get us whatever information you can.”

Gary left the room and Griff sat down next to Lex. “Hey, what are your thoughts on that guy?”

“Bill’s partner? Seems cool,” Lex replied, then turned to look at Griff. “I already ran a check on him, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“I don’t know,” Griff sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. “Something about him just doesn’t sit right.”

“Sure that’s not the other guy talking?” Lex suggested.

Griff narrowed his eyes. “I think I know the difference.” He shook his head and sighed. “I’m probably just being paranoid though.”

Lex and Griff sat around for a while, waiting for the backup team to be assembled. Griff double-checked his gun and ammo, and both of them put on the kevlar vests Bill brought in for them.

“Ugh,” Lex shifted in his vest and tugged on it, trying to get it to sit right. “These things are so uncomfortable.”

“More comfortable than a bullet in you, that’s for sure,” Griff remarked, slapping the velcro in place.

“I mean, yes, but…” Lex rolled his eyes. “You’re so dramatic.”

“Alright, we’ve got about 8 people for backup,” Bill announced as he came in. “They know only as much as they need to know. Gary and I will go in first, then Lex and Griff will come in behind us.”

“Sounds good,” Gary nodded, holstering his pistol. “Let’s get a move on, then. Best not to give the mole a chance to inform anyone.”

The group murmured agreement and made their way out into the parking lot of the station. Lex turned to go to his Corvette, but Griff grabbed the nape of his vest, jerking him backwards. “No way you’re taking that flashy thing. You’re riding with me in a squad.”

Lex opened his mouth to argue on instinct, but quickly surrendered. “Okay, good point.” He followed Griff and got into the passenger seat of the squad car they had been allowed to use for the operation, and watched as Bill and Gary got into the car in front of them. His heart started to race as he pulled out his laptop. It was normal for him to get nervous before a mission, but those were different. This situation was personal.

“You alright, Lex?” Griff asked, mildly concerned for his friend.

“Yeah, just…” Lex looked up and noticed the team starting to leave the parking lot. “Let’s go. We need to finish this.”

Griff nodded and took off, following Bill and Gary till they were out of Jericho and headed to the location. Lex kept watch on where they were going and could see the blinking dot getting closer and closer. Finally, they were practically on top of it and Lex looked out the window to spot a large, likely abandoned barn.

“There!” Lex pointed. “That’s it!”

Griff grabbed the speaker on his shoulder and tilted his head to speak into it. “All units, the location is the large barn just to the east of us. Over.”

“Ten-Four,” Bill’s voice said over the speaker, crackling through the walkie. “All units, approach with caution. We don’t know what we’re walking into. Over.”

The group of cars formed a semi-circle around the barn entrance, and everyone got out, using their doors and vehicles for cover. Bill and Gary cautiously stepped out from around their cars, guns raised. They slowly approached the barn and when they got to the door, signaled for Lex and Griff to move toward them. The two agents quickly moved forward, and Bill and Gary opened the barn door. Lex held up his riot shield and Griff cocked his gun, preparing to see a full-scale operation.

“Police!” Griff bellowed. “Put your weapons down and place your hands on your head!”

As the dust from the opening of the door cleared, Lex squinted and saw nothing in the barn but a blond boy sitting on a wooden chair in the middle of it. He seemed to be of age, but his demeanor was far from it. They walked closer and noticed the boy rocking back and forth, mumbling under his breath, and wringing his hands in his tye-dye t-shirt.

“I should call this in,” Gary decided, already walking back to the squad.

Bill stepped toward the boy trepidatiously and slowly lowered his gun. “Hey there. Are you hurt?”

“Hurt?” The boy looked up at Bill with wide eyes. “No, no, please don’t! Not again!”

“Woah, nobody is gonna hurt you,” Bill holstered his gun and kneeled down in front of the boy. “We’re here to help. What’s your name?”

The boy quieted as he was reassured and looked just past Bill as he kneeled. “Tan.”

“That’s your name?” Bill asked.

“I think he means your hat,” Lex offered.

“Your aura,” the boy looked Bill in the eyes again. “It’s tan.”

“I didn’t know that. Thank you,” Bill replied, trying to talk softly to the boy.

“I don’t remember my name,” the boy started to get nervous again, clutching his arms. “They called me The Oracle. It’s been so long, I…”

“Who’s ‘they’?” Lex set his shield down and kneeled down as well.

The Oracle turned to Lex and cocked his head. “Turquoise.” He reached out his hand to Lex and grasped the air, then let go, staring at his palm. “She’s the same. Yours is brighter though. Hers is dark. So so dark.”

“Was this woman keeping you somewhere?” Lex tried to school his expression so he didn’t seem as weirded out as he actually was.

“Oh, no,” The Oracle shook his head. “Ridley was never gonna let Spider keep me. He’s too jealous.” He grinned at Lex. “You’re making him jealous.”

Lex froze when he heard the names and looked up at Griff, who had the same expression. Griff quickly holstered his gun and left the barn without a word. Bill watched the exchange with a confused look.

“What’s going on?” Bill whispered to Lex, not wanting to alarm The Oracle. Lex held up a finger to Bill, stopping him in his tracks.

“How long have you been sitting here?” Lex asked. “Are they nearby?”

The Oracle shook his head.  “No, no, no.” He held up a small device with an antenna and a blinking light. “I’ve been here since yesterday. They said to push this button when I saw the sun come up. Was that bad?” Tears started to well in his eyes. “I was just doing what they said. If I don’t do what they say, they get so so upset. I didn’t want to be hurt again. I just--”

“Hey, hey, hey,” Bill reached forward and tried to put his hand on The Oracle's shoulder. The boy jerked away and Bill pulled back slightly. “We’re not gonna hurt you, remember?” The boy nodded cautiously, still nervous. Bill lowered his hand and turned to Lex. “We need to get him back to the station. The boy looks like he hasn’t eaten in a week and probably hasn’t washed up since then either. We can question him more after that. We don’t need anything else immediately.”

Lex clenched his jaw and looked back at The Oracle, then nodded. “You’re right. Let’s get him back and let forensics take care of the barn.” He held out his hand to the boy. “May I have that?” The boy nodded and handed him the remote. Lex turned it over and opened it up, looking over the mess of wires and circuits. “Yeah, just as I thought. A dummy ISP. Shit.” He stood up and walked away, leaving Bill with the boy.

“Do you want to come with us and get something to eat?” Bill asked, softly.

“Am I allowed?” The Oracle replied, eyes wide.

“Of course,” Bill smiled. “You can have whatever you like.” He stood up and held out his hand. The boy carefully took Bill’s hand and stood up, not letting go.

“Will you...Can I keep holding your hand?” The Oracle requested, childlike in his actions and demeanor. The boy was obviously in his twenties, but he acted as if he was ten or younger. It puzzled Bill, but he knew better than to upset him.

“Yeah,” Bill nodded, leading him out of the barn. Griff met up with them once they reached the cars.

“Your partner went ahead to the station to get things prepared for…” Griff narrowed his eyes at the boy, who was staring at him frightfully. “Him. I suggest we get back and have Lex try and track the organization down again. He may be able to find something with that remote they left.”

“I’ll ride in backseat with him,” Bill tipped his head to The Oracle, who moved closer to him, keeping his eyes on Griff. “He’s scared. They really messed him up.”

“Fine,” Griff walked off quickly and Bill felt a tug on his shirt sleeve.

“What is it?”

“His aura. I’ve never seen a black one before.”

**

“Perfect,” Spider grinned and hung up the phone on her desk before turning to the man in the room. “You’ve done well, Kentucky.”

“I still don’t think it was a good idea getting rid of The Oracle,” Kentucky commented, stuffing his hands in his rugged, tan jacket. “That boy ain’t right. They’re gonna chew him up and spit him out in the real world.”

“Aww,” Spider stood up fluidly, reaching out and brushing her fingers down Kentucky’s face, causing his eyes to flutter closed. “You cared about him?” He lightly nodded and Spider slapped him. “The only reason you should care about these kids is because they’re worth their weight in gold. This was always the plan with The Oracle. We only kept him around because of his party trick.” Spider sat back down and turned to face her monitors, all bathing her face in an artificial glow. “Now, go. It’s their feeding time, isn’t it?”

Kentucky rubbed his face with his palm, then nodded. “Yes, Ma’am.” He ducked his head, then left the room, making his way to where they kept the children. As he walked the halls, he clenched his fists in his jacket. He had joined up with them to get out of Harlan and make some money doing it, but he never thought it was going to be like this. Sure, a little human trafficking was just normal in this sort of life, but Ridley and Spider were on a whole other level. They liked to play with the law and got off on outsmarting them. It was like nothing he’d ever experienced.

He reached the area outside the holding cells and put together some trays of the food that they were supposed to give to the kids. It was a mix of MREs and survivalist crap, but Kentucky tried his best to make it as appetizing as possible. These kids were going through enough. He sliced up some potatoes and added it to the “chicken soup” that he’d prepared, hoping it would cut the saltiness a bit. He’d learned that on Chopped. Finally, he cut up some bread and added it to the plate, in case they were up for eating something more solid.

After taking a deep breath, Kentucky grabbed both trays and opened the door. He looked over and saw the younger one was sitting up on his air mattress, but the older one was laying down, possibly sleeping. As he approached, the younger one stood up and clambered to the bars.

“Sir, please,” the boy begged. “Miller is really sick. He barely ate what you brought him last time.”

Kentucky looked over at the older boy who groaned, clutching his stomach. “Alright. I’ll send Doc down.”

The younger boy’s face lit up. “Thank you so much.”

“Just…” Kentucky looked away before he could show any emotion. “Take yer damn food.” He shoved one of the trays at the boy and took the other one over and slid it into the older boy’s cell. Once he was done, he left the room as quickly as possible, shutting the door behind him. He pulled off his yellow cap and sighed, clutching it in his hands. “Shit.”

**

“Ohio?” Lex raised an eyebrow and leaned back in his chair when Bill said they had found where the boy was from. “We never tracked them to Ohio. There was never any activity there.”

“This changes everything,” Griff mumbled, arms crossed and pacing the room. “It means they can be undetected if they want to be. Whenever we found them, it was only because they let it happen.”

“They’re toying with us,” Lex sighed.

“Well, The O--” Bill looked down at his paperwork, “Oliver Michaels’ parents were killed when he was taken. We can’t find any relatives.”

“He’s of age, isn’t he?” Griff asked. “Let him go.”

Bill looked at Griff incredulously. “That boy has the mental state of a ten year old. He can’t just be let out into the world.”

“The state can take care of him,” Griff turned away and walked over the the evidence to take a closer look at what had come from the barn.

“That…” Bill tightened his grip on the folder in his hand and looked back down at the information. “No. Melanie and I will take him.”

Lex smiled. “It will be like coming home with a puppy, but instead it’s a socially and developmentally stunted adult.”

“She’ll understand,” Bill nodded. “You know she wouldn’t be okay turning him over to the state either.”

“Well, better go tell her instead of springing it on her,” Lex suggested, turning back to his laptop.

“Good point,” Bill turned to walk out of the room as Gary entered, carrying a box of various sandwiches.

“Hey, got everyone these, seeing as we haven’t really eaten since like...yesterday,” Gary set the box next to Lex’s laptop and Bill quickly grabbed one.

“I’ll take mine to go, seeing as I have to convince my wife to adopt a grown child,” Bill smiled nervously, then left the room.

“What’s that about?” Gary asked, opening a turkey sandwich and taking a bite of it before sitting next to Lex.

“Bill’s taking Oliver home,” Lex shrugged and looked over the sandwich choices, ultimately deciding on salami. “Didn’t just want to hand him over to the state.”

“Huh. Interesting, but I meant that,” Gary pointed at Lex’s screen at a flashing URL that had just popped up.

Lex turned his attention back to the screen and tossed his sandwich aside as he sat back down. “I found the new website. This means I can track them again.” He didn’t spend any time on the website this time and went straight to trying to break through the encryptions. As he typed, he noticed that new walls were going up as soon as he took them down. “Damnit.”

“What is it?” Griff walked over and stood behind Lex as he worked.

“Their hacker,” Lex replied through gritted teeth. “They’re active and fighting back.” He typed as fast as he could and furrowed his brow, getting frustrated, but finding something familiar about the coding and style. “Could you guys find something else to do? Needing some space here.” Lex could feel the space around him lighten as Griff and Gary moved away, and he let out a breath of relief before throwing himself back into the fight. It was seriously bothering him as he tried to figure out where he had seen this style before. At first he thought it was just from fighting them so many times, but the memory that was trying to surface was a pleasant one. Dwelling on it was causing him to wain in his attack, so he sent it to the back of his mind and focused on the battle instead.

Lex could feel both of their resolves starting to decline and at this point, he was just hoping he could hold out longer. He was so close he could almost taste it. Just a little further...He clenched his jaw and leaned forward a little, knowing he was going to break through at any moment.

Just one more line and--

“NO! FUCK!” Lex pushed himself away from the table so that he wouldn’t take his rage out on his laptop. The only thing on his screen was a black skull and crossbones on a red background. He had been kicked out of the server. “I was so fucking close!” He stood up and paced the room, tugging on his hair with both hands. After a few moments, he suddenly stopped and returned to his computer. “I can do it again. I can get back there. I can beat them. I--”

“Stop.” Griff clapped a hand on Lex’s shoulder, pulling him out of his mania. “Go walk it off. Take a ride. Just get out of here and do something else.”

Lex’s breathing started to even out and he nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll just…” He stood up and ran a hand through his hair, smoothing it out. “I’ll be back in a few hours.” Grabbing his jacket, he pulled it on and walked out, single-minded as he went to his car. He sat down in the driver’s seat and pulled out the keys, but stopped, not even knowing where he’d go. It wasn’t the first fight he’d lost but, this one may have been the most important. His trance was broken when he felt his phone buzz in his pocket. He pulled it out and smiled faintly at the message.

Alyss: Hey you. :)

Lex: Hey. Are you busy right now?

(...)

Alyss: No. What’s up?

Lex: Wanna meet at Kate’s? I really need to get out of here for a little bit.

(...)

Alyss: Yeah. See you in 10. <3

Lex smiled and started up his car, finally having somewhere to go. Alyss would definitely help clear his head. On the way to New Bern, his thoughts returned to trying to the familiar hacking style he encountered. The memory was fading, so it was harder, but it still bothered him greatly. He made it to Kate’s and saw Alyss in the window as he pulled up. She spotted him as well and waved, causing Lex’s heart to swell a bit. God, he hoped that they could pursue this once they had both left the state. He got out of the car and walked in, turning to see that there was already a steaming cup of tea at Alyss’ table.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Alyss smiled. “I remembered your order from last time.” Today, she traded in the hoodie for a blue and black plaid oversized flannel, and her make up was a bit more geometric and blocky, with blue and neon green squares around her left eye and on her right cheek.

“No, that’s…” Lex chuckled a bit as he sat down. “That’s awesome.”

“So, what’s going on?” Alyss asked as she took a sip of her latte. “You said you had to get out of...wherever you were.”

“Just stressed out,” Lex shrugged, then blew across the top of his tea to cool it down. “I was...playing a game and I lost.”

Alyss raised an eyebrow. “You must be pretty competitive, huh?”

“Well, I’m really good at this game so when I lose, it’s kind of a shock and upsets me,” Lex attempted to explain.

“Alright,” Alyss sighed. “I have to do this.”

Lex looked up at Alyss, confused. “What?”

“Lex, listen,” Alyss reached across the table and grabbed Lex’s hand. “I have something important to tell you, and maybe make a proposition.”

“Uh, I usually don’t do that kind of thing until the third date but we are on limited time so--”

“No,” Alyss huffed. “I know the game you’re playing. I’m your opponent.” Lex’s eyes widened and he tried to pull his hand away but Alyss grabbed his wrist. “I’m Spider.”

“Impossible,” Lex breathed. “You...You’re…” Everything suddenly connected in his mind. That’s why the coding was so familiar. Why he recognized the style. “You’re a child trafficker.”

“I prefer black market entrepreneur, but I can see how you’d be confused,” Spider shrugged. “The point is, I don’t want to hurt you. I actually like you and you’re pretty cute.”

“Likewise,” Lex growled, tugging on his wrist slightly, but knowing better than to make a scene. “Maybe we can take this outside. This isn’t a conversation meant for the middle of a coffee shop.”

“Promise you won’t run away on me?” Spider pouted, tilting her head a bit.

Lex looked away. “Yes. I’ll hear you out.”

Spider smiled. “Good boy. Let’s go.” She stood up, still holding onto his wrist, and Lex got up with her. She wrapped her arm around his waist and grabbed his side tightly. “Now, put your arm over my shoulder so we can walk out like a cute couple.” Lex was hesitant as he reach over, but put his arm where she instructed. They walked out together and moved to the alleyway, where they wouldn’t be seen.

Lex quickly stepped away and backed against one of the walls. “Now, what do you want?”

“I want you to come with me,” Spider explained, shedding her flannel to reveal a tight, black top underneath. “Join me and Ridley. He already said it was okay.”

“Why on earth would I want to join you?” Lex scoffed as he watched Spider walk toward him.

“Because I think we both can feel this connection between us,” Spider said, pressing her body against Lex and running a hand through his hair. “I haven’t met anyone like you before.”

Lex placed his hands on her waist and closed his eyes as her hand carded through his hair. “Why don’t you come with me instead?” He opened his eyes to see Spider frowning. “If you tell us everything, you’ll get off easy. Maybe only a couple years in jail.”

“You know I can’t do that,” Spider sighed, leaning in and nosing Lex’s cheek. “Last offer.” She whispered to him, her breath over his ears causing a shiver to cascade through his body. “We run away together. I leave the organization. You leave the CIA.” She pulled away slightly, bringing a hand to his cheek. “It would just be us.” Spider leaned in and pressed her lips to Lex’s.

Lex’s grip on her waist tightened and he pulled her closer slightly as he deepened the kiss. If this was the only time he was going to be able to kiss her, he was going to take advantage of it. Tears even started to sting at his eyes, mourning the potential of being with her. After a moment, he pulled away, taking a breath. “I can’t do that, Alyss. You know that. I have to take you in.”

Spider looked down and dropped her hand. “I know.” In a flash, she covered her mouth with a cloth and held up a small aerosol can to Lex’s face. “Sorry, babe.” She sprayed Lex with whatever was in the can before he could react and he fell to the ground, unconscious.

**

Lex woke up slowly, groaning at the headache that was currently pounding in his head. He went to reach up and feel if he hurt himself but noticed he was strapped down.

“Oh, hey! You’re awake!” A surprisingly chipper man in a white lab coat and bright pink shirt stood over him, smiling. “Good morning. I’m Doc, and I will be your um...babysitter, I suppose.”

“How long have I been out?” Lex asked, noticing that he also wasn’t able to move his head. “Where am I?”

“You’ve been out a few hours. It’s currently…” Doc looked at his watch. “About six am? Okay maybe more than a few hours. As for where, um…” Doc moved out of his line of sight and Lex heard him rummaging around a bit. “I can’t tell you EXACTLY where, but we are in a bunker in Kansas! Probably not for very much longer though.” He came back, pulling a chair with him and sitting next to Lex’s head. “Ugh, I really do hate when they use this stuff. There are so many more safe ways to knock someone out. I’ve offered to get them Zopiclone before but do they listen?” Doc brought out a pen light and checked Lex’s eyes. “Nope. Just keep using GHB.” He sighed and shook his head. “Do you need to vomit again?”

“Again? I--” Lex suddenly realized that his throat felt raw and cleared it. “No, I think I’m okay.”

“Good,” Doc nodded. “Any history of Asthma, COPD, smoking, etcetera?”

“No?” Lex frowned. “Why--”

“Side-effects,” Doc stood up and removed the strap holding down Lex’s head. “Let’s have you sit up and we’ll see where we’re at.” He took off the strap across Lex’s arms and chest, then held out a hand to help him up. Lex took it and slowly sat up, quickly feeling dizziness set in.

“Woah, I--”

“Yep, just wait a moment and we’ll see if that goes away,” Doc said, supporting Lex’s back with his other hand.

Lex blinked a few times and the world started to right itself. “Alright. I’m alright.” He looked around and saw that he was in some sort of medical room, but it was makeshift and all the equipment looked mobile.

“Good!” Doc smiled. “Oh, you’re doing so well. Spider will be happy to hear it.”

“Spider?” Lex looked over at Doc. “She brought me here? What does she want with me?”

Doc shrugged. “I assume you’re meant to be her new pet. She didn’t show it, but she was very sad when The Oracle had to leave. Makes sense that you’d be the replacement.” He turned to type a little on his computer and Lex took the chance to remove the straps from his legs. Slowly, he slid off of the table and made his way to the door as quietly as he could. Once he was there, he turned to open it and it wouldn’t budge.

“Oh,” Doc sighed. “Yeah, you can’t get out. We’re both locked in here in a way.”

“You’re locked in here?” Lex walked back over. “Why? Aren’t you part of them?”

“Ehh…” Doc lifted his hand and made a noncommittal gesture. “I don’t approve of what they do. I used to work in a type of prison and that’s how I met Ridley. He was a guard there. He told me of his plan, of Spider, and I just...I know I can’t take care of those kids once they’re sold, but when they’re here, I do what I can.”

“So, you care about these kids, right?” Lex assumed, grabbing a stool and sitting by Doc.

“I try not to but,” Doc smiled faintly. “Guess I’m just a bit of a softie.”

“If you really want to help them, you have to get me out of here,” Lex insisted. “We’ll arrest them and if you talk, immunity might be on the table.”

“I can’t,” Doc turned away. “These people may have done terrible things but, I haven’t stopped them. Hell, I’ve even helped! There’s no redemption or immunity for me.”

“Doc, listen to me,” Lex appealed. “I get it. I do. You’ve just been trying to survive, and people will understand that. The thing is, you have a real chance to help these kids by helping me leave. Not just the ones up for auction now, but any future ones they may kidnap. That’s dozens, maybe hundreds of kids.” Doc looked back at Lex. “Please. Please help me get out of here and I’ll help you.”

Doc looked at Lex for a moment before standing up and going over to a file cabinet. “If this is happening, I need you to promise me something.”

“Anything,” Lex assured.

“I’ve been keeping a secret record of all the kids that I’ve treated,” Doc returned to Lex with a file folder about a half inch thick. “This has as much medical information I could ascertain from them while they were with us. Names, birthdays, blood types, identifying marks, everything. I know that if they find out I helped you, they’ll kill me and burn everything in here. I need this to get out there.”

“Doc, I--”

“It’s Bennett, by the way,” Doc smiled sadly. “Doctor Miles Bennett. I haven’t made a lot of great decisions in my life, but I hope this will be the best and most important one.”

Lex took the folder from Doc and nodded. “I’ll make sure this gets to the right hands, and they’ll know it was you.”

Doc looked up and took a deep breath, but smiled when he looked back at Lex. “Let’s do this. Ridley is away right now and Spider is sleeping. Kentucky won’t be an issue.” He led Lex to the door and pulled out a key to open it. “I can take you as far as the bunker entrance. There should be a four-wheeler out there with enough gas to get you back to Jericho. Go south.” Doc put a finger to his lips and opened the door slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible. He took Lex through a series of hallways and stairs that the hacker would have never been able to navigate on his own. Finally, they reached a door that looked more secure than the others. Doc opened it and shooed Lex out, urging him to leave quickly. Lex looked back a moment, locking eyes with Doc and nodded before spotting the four-wheeler and starting it up.

Doc closed the door, then turned around, leaning back against the door and let out a breath. Finally. It was about time he made a difference. It had been too long.

“Doc,” Spider stepped out of hiding and Doc’s eyes widened. “You just let my toy go. We should talk.”

**

Lex thanked the gods that Doc had been telling the truth as soon as he saw civilization that looked a lot like the podunk town he had been staying in the last few days. It had taken close to two hours to get back to town on the four-wheeler and that was only because the effects of the drug were still filtering through his system. As soon as he reached the sheriff station, he parked and ran inside, clutching the folder. He charged though the bull pen and into the back room where he knew everyone would be.

“Lex?” Bill stood up first, followed by Griff and Gary. “Where the hell have you been? You didn’t come back last night! It’s hours until the auction! I swear--”

“I…” Lex bent over and panted. “Kidnapped...Escaped...Folder…”

Griff walked over and grabbed the folder out of Lex’s hand as Bill got him a chair. His eyes widened as he started to page through it. “Holy shit.”

“Yeah,” Lex nodded in thanks as Bill handed over a water bottle.

“What is it?” Gary asked, walking over to Griff.

“It appears to be records on all the children that this organization has ever captured and sold,” Griff surmised. “It’s very detailed. It looks like there have even been children that died before being able to be sold.”

Gary clenched his jaw and looked over at Lex. “How did you escape?”

“They have a doctor there,” Lex explained. “Miles Bennett. He helped me. He was the one who kept those records too.”

“This is major,” Griff set the file on the evidence table and started to go through it, page by page. “Every one of them could get life just for what’s in this folder.”

“I have something better,” Lex smirked as everyone looked to him. “I know where they are. I can take you there.”

Griff looked at Gary, then Bill. “You heard him. Be ready to leave in an hour.”

**

Lex’s directions were a little vague, but Bill knew the area well enough to know where he was going. North of Jericho was this abandoned doomsday bunker that had been built in case of a nuclear disaster. Since it was incredibly unlikely, most people even forgot it was there. Luckily, Bill had been out there a few times in his younger days with Stanley and the rest of his friends, so he knew exactly where it was.

They reached the bunker in less than an hour and parked the squad about a hundred feet away from the entrance, just in case. Lex and Griff knew what these people were capable of and they didn’t want to risk anyone unnecessarily.

“Everyone ready?” Griff asked, holstering his last mag of ammo.

“As we’ll ever be,” Lex grabbed his shield and sighed.

“You have a gun on you, right?” Bill wondered, a little concerned about Lex.

“Unfortunately,” Lex pointed to the holster on his hip. “I don’t plan to use it though. I hate guns. That’s your thing.”

Bill shrugged and looked over at Gary who nodded. “Let’s get in there.”

Griff led the squad to the door, then stepped aside to let the SWAT team blast it open. It turned out that the hatch was already unlocked and Lex looked at Griff nervously. They knew they were coming. Griff took point again and Lex stayed right behind him, whispering directions and trying to remember where he was going. As they drew closer to the room that Lex was held in, they started to smell smoke. SWAT opened the door that it seemed to be coming from and it was clear that there had recently been a fire in there.

“Oh no,” Lex walked in with a mask held to his face and saw Doc’s body on the floor. He had been stabbed repeatedly in the chest, but his face and hands were sliced up deliberately. “That was him. Doctor Bennett.”

Griff clapped a hand on Lex’s shoulder. “We’ll make sure people know how he helped, but we can’t do anything now. We need to move on.”

Lex nodded and turned back to the hallways. At every fork, they split off, and the four of them lost all but two SWAT members by the time they had reached what looked like the server and computer room. They waved the last SWAT members on to keep looking leaving Bill, Gary, Griff, and Lex. Griff waved him in and Lex set his shield down, prepared to shut down the auction site.

“Hey, baby,” Spider came out from behind a server. “Wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

“It’s over, Spider,” Lex smirked. “This organization, and the two of us. I don’t date jailbirds.” He turned to Gary and motioned to her. “Gary, will you do the honors?”

Gary walked over to Spider, keeping his gun trained on her. Spider watched him intently and smiled when he stepped behind her to handcuff her. “You know, I didn’t think it would be this easy.”

“Well, after I escaped, that was really the--”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Gary looked up at Lex and pointed his gun at the hacker.

“What the hell are you doing?” Bill took a step forward and Spider pulled a gun out from behind her and pointed at the deputy.

Gary chuckled. “You see, Lex here was right. There was a mole.” He walked closer to Lex and shrugged. “They call me Ridley. You and Krenshaw here have been a pain in our asses for so long, but finally, after doing some research, an opportunity presented itself.”

“You’ve been living in Jericho for over a year,” Bill argued. “This doesn’t make any sense!”

“It was a long con,” Lex realized. “They found my connection to Melanie and knew that I’d come running if they showed up in Jericho. He had to gain your trust so he could be close to the investigation. If he was your partner, he would know everything about you and the case. That was a hell of a risk, though.”

“You’d think so, but I made sure that he had credentials and recommendations and everything that would pass a background check,” Spider grinned. “Once he got the job, it was just a matter of time.”

“How’d you know I’d show up?” Griff asked, keeping his gun on Ridley.

“It just made sense,” Ridley shrugged. “We knew Lex would call you up once he realized what was going on.”

“What was the point of getting close to me?” Lex wondered, staring at Spider.

Spider laughed. “I was just having some fun. I like when Ridley gets jealous.” She backed up against her partner and Ridley wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her close.

“I’m a little possessive,” Ridley looked down at Spider a moment before turning back to Lex. “I may shoot you just for touching my girl.”

Griff could feel his heart rate start to speed up and his hands started to shake. “Shoot them. Shoot all of them.” He shook his head and brought a hand to his head. “Fish in a barrel. Fish in a barrel.” The voice laughed and Griff growled. “Shut up!”

“The hell is wrong with you?” Ridley asked, pointing his gun at Griff instead.

“Oh, shit,” Lex backed up against the wall a little bit. “Griff? Griff, I need you to fight it, man.”

“Fight what?” Ridley walked up to Griff and shoved the gun in his face. “Are you crazy or something?”

Griff looked up at Gary, his eyes bloodshot. “Get. Away.”

“Shoot him. SHOOT HIM. KILL HIM.”

“You really need to get away from him.”

“Rip out his throat. Feed it to the girl.”

“He looks like he’s about to collapse. I think I can handle it.”

“KILL. KILL. KILL.”

Griff dropped his gun and reached up to grab the wrist Ridley was holding his gun with and snapped it, causing his gun to drop as well.

“SHIT! What the fuck!” Ridley dropped to his knees and clutched his wrist. Griff pulled out his other gun calmly and shot Ridley in the head.

“NO!” Spider shouted, turning her gun to Griff and shooting it without aiming. No shots reached Griff, but Bill got one through his left bicep. She shot until she was out of ammo and kept clicking the trigger, sobbing for Ridley.

Griff looked down at himself, then up at Spider and raised his gun, shooting her in the head as well. He turned his gun on Bill next, but a shot rang out and he dropped the gun, noticing blood pooling on his right shoulder. Turning to see the shooter, Lex stood, panting and holding his gun with both hands.

“I’m sorry, man,” Lex lowered his gun and ran over to Griff as he sat down, holding his shoulder.

“I--” Griff blinked a few times and his eyes started to return to normal. He looked down at his shoulder, then up at Lex. “Did you shoot me?”

Lex shrugged. “I had to. You were gonna shoot Bill.”

“You used a gun,” Griff gave Lex a half smile.

“That’s what you got out of this?”

“I’m gonna mark this in my calendar.”

**

After Lex had made sure that Griff and Bill were being taken care of by the paramedics, he went over to check on the kids that had been brought out of the holding cells. The younger one was definitely in better shape than the older one, but they both seemed to have gone through a lot.

“How are they?” Lex asked one of the medics.

“Shaken up,” She replied. “A little malnourished and dehydrated, but they’ll both be fine in a few days.”

“Good,” Lex smiled, then put his hands in his pockets and started to walk back to the squad cars.

“LUCAS!”

Lex looked up, wide-eyed, and saw Melanie headed for him. He looked for somewhere to hide, but it was no use. She had him cornered and she was furious.

“You got him shot!” Melanie pointed at Bill. “I have a grown child at home now who would be even more traumatized if his new father was killed! Did you think of that? Obviously not.” Melanie threw up her hands, then set them on her hips. “I knew I shouldn’t have called you here. You’re nothing but trouble.”

“For the record, It’s his job?” Lex smiled nervously and received a punch in the arm. “Hey! He is fine! It’s a through and through so, it will heal in no time!”

Melanie took a deep breath, then wrapped her arms around Lex. “I was so worried about both of you.”

“We’re fine,” Lex hugged her back and kissed the top of her head. “We saved those kids and that’s what really matters, right?”

“Yeah,” Melanie pulled away and smiled. “I’m proud of everyone. You all did great work. Where’s Gary, by the way?”

Lex put his hands in his pockets and let out a breath. “Get ready for a hell of a story.”