The Economics Of Fear
(Meta 7)

by Cyc

Warning: This story contains non-consensual sexual acts and telepathic brutality.

Back to: House Of Cards (Part Two): Watching Them Fall

Chris paused to glower at his watch before continuing to pace back and forth across the worn church floor. The impatient stamp of his boots echoed up high in the rafters. It had been three hours since Buck, Josiah and Vin had left to help Nathan and JD see Mary to safety. They should have returned an hour ago.

The pinkish first light of morning peeking through the church's high windows only added to Chris' tension. If it wasn't for Ezra, he would have left the church an hour ago. Leaving any of his people unprotected wasn't an option -- but the longer he waited, the more he felt his imperatives shift. With every second that passed, Ezra grew stronger in his sleep while the possibility that the others may need help grew more pronounced.

Cursing under his breath, Chris decided to give them all a half hour longer. He briefly considered checking in on Ezra but knew the illusionary telepath would still be sound asleep. And the sight of Ezra curled up on his bed unsettled him in a way he'd rather not dwell on. There would be time for thinking about Ezra and all those irritating feelings later. At the moment, he had --

His train of thought ground to a halt as he heard something clatter in the alley outside. It sounded like someone had knocked over the pile of crates at the alley mouth and the noise had echoed all the way down to the front of the church. Moving quickly to the door, Chris powered down the lights and slipped silently outside into the shadows.

Pressed hard against the wall behind the permanently overflowing dumpster Vin hated, Chris listened to the clumsy approach someone was making towards him. Every now and then, he thought he heard a hushed word or two but he could only ever make out one set of stumbling footsteps.

He was about to risk a quick glance around the side of the dumpster when a familiar voice called out softly in the darkness. "It's just us, cowboy. Don't go barbequing anyone."

Chris looked around the edge of the dumpster to see Vin's vague silhouette moving cautiously down the alley. Behind Vin, two tall figures Chris took to be Nathan and Buck were helping a third, unsteady figure, JD, steer around the alley's many obstacles while Josiah loomed in the rear.

"What the hell took so long?" Chris growled, stepping out from behind his cover.

Before he could go on, or anyone could answer him, JD stumbled and fell to his knees but pushed Nathan and Buck away when they tried to help him up.

"I'm all right," he said in a slightly slurred voice while staggering to his feet. "I ain't no telepath. Them alpha wave guns can't hurt me much."

"JD, even you ain't this clumsy," Buck sighed just before Nathan spoke up.

"You may not be a telepath, JD, but you still got a brain and those things were built to scramble them. Now take it easy."

"I'm easy, I'm easy," JD returned hazily.

"We ran into some trouble on the way back," Vin explained while Chris opened the church door, powered up the lights and punched in the security code. "Mary got away safe but there was a bunch of fellas roughing up some folks on the Eastside. They must have had a telepath with them because they targeted Nathan with an alpha wave shot right off. If JD hadn't of jumped in when he did..." Vin trailed off with a shrug. They both watched Nathan and Buck steer an alarmingly pale but loudly complaining JD off to lie down.

"Meta Cops?" Chris asked low as Josiah came in and shut the door behind him.

Vin shook his head. "Looked like some of the Judge's goons to me. I figure he's finally lost his temper with us after what we did to Ella Gains."

"It's only a matter of time before they terrorise enough people and find out where we are," Josiah added.

"Hell," Chris cursed. The day just kept getting worse and the sun wasn't even up yet.


Ezra was having one of those great dreams, the kind you never want to end even after you realise it's just a dream.

He had never really got a good view of Chris naked, never felt that warm mouth licking and sucking his length, but his imagination was doing a magnificent job at conjuring up this rather unlikely scenario. He couldn't remember exactly how the dream began, something about Chris getting soaked by a giant sea wave and stripping out of his wet clothes, but right now he didn't care. As long as Chris' mouth kept moving over him like that, he didn't care about anything. Lord, he was going to --

"Ezra," a voice said by his ear.

Ignoring it, Ezra concentrated on the feel of that hot mouth. Only Chris was here with him. Nothing else mattered... but, wait a minute, if Chris' mouth was otherwise engaged, how --

"Ezra," the voice repeated and the dream Chris was suddenly kissing his ear, whispering his name huskily. "C'mon, Ezra. Man, you sleep like the dead."

"Stop it," Ezra murmured back, trying to ease the dream Chris back down his body even though he could feel consciousness pulling him in the opposite direction.

"Ezra! Up. Now." Someone shook his shoulder. "You're wanted."

Dragged into reluctant consciousness, Ezra squinted up to see Nathan looming over him.

"You awake?"

"Well, I'd hate to be dreaming this," Ezra returned bad temperedly, elbowing up to blink around him. "To what -- This isn't my room."

"No, it's Chris'," Nathan returned with a sigh. "He brought you here last night, remember?"

Vaguely recalling the events of the night before, Ezra nodded. Sleeping in Chris' bed would certainly account for the realness of that dream. He shifted his legs uncomfortably and blinked away from Nathan's concerned gaze.

"You all right?"

"Fine." He nodded again, not wishing to protest too much about the morning erection he suspected Nathan had already noticed. "To what do I owe the honour of this wake up call?"

Nathan continued to frown for a moment before answering. "We're getting ready to leave. Chris wanted me to check in on you, make sure you can look after yourself while we're gone." He studied Ezra as if trying to get an empathic feel of him. "You ain't sickening after that trance are you?"

"I assure you, I'm fine." Ezra stifled a yawn as he sat up. "Where will your good self and the redoubtable Mr Larabee be heading off to? I take it Ms Travis escaped safely enough?"

"Yeah, we saw Mary off fine," Nathan returned, heading for the door before turning back to face Ezra as he opened it. "But we ran into trouble from the Judge's men. We're going to go end it before anyone else gets hurt."

Ezra stared at Nathan's determined expression. Surely, he hadn't just heard what he thought he had. Surely, Nathan didn't mean to imply... "You're wh-what?" he managed to stutter out in time to stop Nathan leaving the room. "Did you just mean to say..." Words failed him. His mind slipped into stunned disbelief as Nathan nodded.

"We know the Judge is at his compound on the docks. We know a way in to --"

"No you don't!" Ezra startled himself into action. Still not believing what he was hearing, he threw himself out of bed and almost ran out the room and down the corridor. Heedless of his half-dressed, sleep rumpled state, he exploded into the church hall to find Chris and the others getting ready to leave. "Are you insane?" he demanded of Chris. "Tell me you're not really going through with this, this lunacy!"

Chris looked back at him levelly and Ezra's heart sank. "Too many people are getting hurt. We have to end this."

"End what? Your lives?" Ezra yelped, feeling as if he was losing his own mind. "Have you any idea what the Judge -- Well, obviously you don't or you'd commit yourselves to an asylum before going anywhere near him!" He glared around at the others as Nathan went over to stand by Chris. "Travis is not just your common or garden telepath; his abilities are off the scale. He makes Ella Gains look like amateur night at kindergarten. He can crush your minds just by looking at you, for fucksake. Don't you get it?" Ezra shouted at them but he might as well have been addressing the church roof for all the affect it was having. "You can't stop him," he concluded desperately. "No one can."

Chris looked around at the others, gauging their resolve before meeting Ezra's gaze. "No one's asking you to come along. This is something we have to do."

"These people trust us to protect them," Buck said low. "We have to stop this if we can."

"But you can't!" Ezra returned, wanting to beat their heads against the same brick wall he was running into. "Don't you understand? He'll know you're there before you do. There's no secret way past his security because he controls his security in every detail. If you know some secret way in, it's only because he wants you to know it."

His words echoed then silence fell.

Chris walked slowly towards him until he was just a stride away. "You sound like you know a lot about the Judge, Ezra. Do you know something you're not saying?"

Trapped by Chris' penetrating gaze, Ezra could only blink rapidly and shake said his head. "I was just, I mean, it doesn't take much wit to realise what a telepath of his ability must be capable of."

Chris continued to study him. "You've never met the Judge?"

Ezra swallowed against his dry throat. "Yeah, I've met him," he began -- but then his nerve deserted him. "In my worst nightmares."

Chris' gaze narrowed another fraction before he nodded and made to turn away.

"Don't do this." Ezra couldn't stop himself reaching out and grabbing Chris' arm.

When Chris turned back to meet Ezra's gaze, his expression had softened as if he had heard the silent 'please' Ezra dared not add. "It'll be all right," he said softly. He then took a warm if brief hold of Ezra's wrist before stalking back to the others.

Then they were leaving, filing out into the bright sun and Ezra could do nothing but watch them. JD was the last one to leave; his disappointed look was the last Ezra saw of them before the door closed with a hollow thud.


Ezra rubbed his wrist, the same one Chris had held, and knew nothing would 'be all right' ever again.


"Didn't expect Ezra to act so scared like that," JD said as they reached the end of the alley and turned north towards the docks. "I thought he might want to come with us."

"Everyone has their limits, JD," Josiah replied. "Seems Ezra's wise enough to know his."

Chris frowned back at Josiah but couldn't find any reproach in his friend's calm gaze.

"He's probably still suffering the effects of that trance," Buck said almost apologetically. "You should have seen him, JD. I thought I was carrying around a dead man for half the night."

"He can sure fool a body," Vin added, making Chris wonder why they all felt the need to excuse Ezra's reaction.

However, a moment later, he felt the bruising coming up on his forearm where Ezra's fingers had dug in and he knew the answer. From a distance, Ezra's behaviour could be written off as a mixture of nerves and exhaustion, but, up close, it was a different story. Chris had seen the stark fear in Ezra's eyes, fear and something else he couldn't quite place no matter how he tried.

He was nowhere nearer an answer by the time they reached the roof of the old fish factory that overlooked the heavily guarded warehouse complex that made up the Judge's compound.

"Great, I'm going to be smelling fish for a week," Vin sighed as he crouched down beside Chris.

"Looks like our information's right," Chris said with a nod to where a group of dockworkers were unloading crates into one of the Judge's warehouses.

"Yeah, looks like," Vin returned dryly. "Let's hope there ain't no surprises."

"Well, we're fresh out of options either way," Chris said before turning to the others. "All right, boys, fast and low, just like we planned."

As the others moved off, Chris looked back to find Vin frowning at him. "What?" He scowled.

"Nothin'." Vin shook his head. "Let's go if we're going."

Following Vin across the dock, Chris put Ezra to the back of his mind to concentrate on the matter at hand. When everyone was in position at the most thinly guarded length of high, chain-link fencing, Vin gave JD the signal to begin.

What followed was an almost comical display that proved just how smoothly JD, Buck and Nathan worked together. While JD distracted the first guard with one of his lightning fast stone throws, Buck bent up the base of the fence as if it was tinfoil and crept up behind the confused man. As Buck rendered the first guard unconscious, Nathan guided JD to where the next guard was, feeling the man's suspicion even before he was aware of it himself. And so it went on, like clockwork until all six guards were unconscious and Nathan gave the all clear.

"I'm not saying you were slow," Buck was saying to JD as Chris, Vin and Josiah joined them. "I'm just saying you were slow for you." He winked at the others while Vin crept up the side of the nearest warehouse to check the lie of the land.

"You're so full of crap, Buck," JD grumped in response. "You're the one moving like an arthritic sloth."

"No more guards on this side," Vin said with a confirming nod to Nathan as he returned. "All the others close enough are watching the dockworkers."

"All right." Chris met his friend's gazes one last time. "You know what to do." He nodded then headed off with Vin and Buck towards the refurbished works office the Judge called home.

Moving fast and low in a circular route across the compound without being seen was not much of a challenge with Vin's senses guiding them. However, the closer they go to the Judge's residence, the more uneasy Chris felt. He couldn't put a finger on it but something seemed off. It was all too easy somehow, but they were soon around the back of their target building and there was work to be done.

Hidden with Buck behind a pile of loosely stacked crates, Chris waited for Vin to give the all clear from his vantage point to the left. Seconds passed and the signal never came. From where he was, Chris could see Vin frowning as if he was struggling to hear something that was just out of range.

Then everything became clear as Josiah suddenly stepped out of the backdoor of the Judge's house, followed by Nathan, JD, and two telepaths Chris recognised as being particularly ruthless bastards. The last person out the door was an older, neatly dressed man that could only be 'Judge' Orrin Travis himself.

"Oh, shit," Buck said as he met Chris' gaze. "It's really hit the fan this time."

"I'd have to agree with you there, Mr Wilmington," the Judge called across to them. "Or do you mind if I call you Buck?"

Buck didn't respond to the taunt; he just continued to meet Chris' gaze, waiting for Chris to come up with a plan to get them out of this.

"And what about you, Mr Larabee? You don't mind if I call you Chris do you? And Vin, is it?" the Judge went on. "Come, come now, gentlemen. Don't be shy. I've been waiting patiently to meet you, the men who would be my downfall."

Seeing no percentage in staying hidden from a man who could read their minds, Chris nodded to Vin and they all slowly emerged from their hiding places.

"There now." The Judge smiled at them. "Isn't that better now we can all see each other?"

"I liked the view of them crates better," Buck admitted.

Vin nodded. "And that fish factory smelled cleaner."

The Judge's smile broke into a grin as he shook his head. "What about you, Chris? Don't you have a courteous word for me? I have been waiting for you in particular, you know."

Chris wasn't sure if it was something in the Judge's tone or something in the sneering expression of the telepaths that made the cold shiver run down his spine, but a heartbeat later an overwhelming sense of betrayal welled up inside him. "Where is he?" he ground out.

The Judge blinked in surprise. Chris didn't know why and he didn't care; he just waited for the confirmation he didn't want to hear. The Judge clapped, slow and sarcastic. "Oh, bravo, Chris. You are a quick one." He then half turned back to the house. "Come out, dear boy. Don't be shy."

They stood in silence, waiting. Chris could feel his friends' questioning glances but he ignored them all, his gaze fixed on the Judge.

"Don't try my patience, Ezra," the Judge growled and Chris felt something inside him break.

He barely heard the others echo Ezra's name in surprise; he just looked over to see Ezra walk around the far corner of the house to lean against the wall in a mockery of his usual grace. Chris tried to meet Ezra's gaze but those clear green eyes refused to look his way. Then two more telepaths and a few guards appeared and the others were being herded off.

"Don't worry," the Judge said, pre-empting even Chris' thoughts. "They will be treated well. For now." He gave Ezra a meaningful look before addressing Chris once more. "As long as you behave, of course."

Chris tried to meet Ezra's gaze again but Ezra paid him no heed. "What do you want from us?" he asked the Judge low.

"What do I want?" The Judge almost laughed.

"If you're going to kill me, do it already." Chris glared at Ezra.

"Oh, don't be so melodramatic. I have plans for you." The Judge sobered quickly. "People of such proven abilities don't come along every day. Ezra?" He looked over and Ezra met his eye. "Why don't you head back over the way and we'll continue our conversation after I've had a word or two with Chris here."

Ezra hesitated. For a moment, Chris thought he was about to look over at him, finally look him in the eye. But then he just turned and left.

"Mr Larabee?" the Judge said and Chris looked up to see he was holding the door open for him. "If you would care to step into my office."

Swallowing the bile rising up his throat, Chris complied and was ushered down a short corridor to a richly decorated office where he and the Judge were left alone.

"I'd appreciate it if you would do me a favour, Chris," the Judge said conversationally as he sat behind his large, oak desk. "I want you to attack me. You may use your pyrokinetic abilities if you wish, or even good old fashioned fisticuffs if you'd prefer."

Chris just stood watching the Judge smiling at him.

"I am not a man to keep waiting."

Remaining still, Chris waited until the Judge was about to sigh before quickly focussing on the deep fury that always fuelled his powers and -- Nothing happened. There was nothing there. Despite his shock at the impossible void inside him, he tried again. Still nothing. He met the Judge's gaze with a new kind of trepidation.

"Ah, now isn't that better?" the Judge asked reasonably while motioning Chris into the chair in front of the desk. "I find it helps to overcome any homicidal tendencies early on in the proceedings, gives everyone a clear picture of exactly where they stand."

"What did you --" Chris began only to break off at the feeling of intense burning on the outside of his left thigh. A moment later, he was slumping down into the chair, gasping in pain as the heat increased and his jeans began to smoulder.

"I bet that hurts," the Judge commented flatly and the burning died down to a steady throb.

"How'd you do that?" Chris growled, examining the two-inch hole in his jeans and the reddened flesh beneath it.

"Oh, just a little trick I picked up recently. Don't worry," the Judge continued as Chris met his gaze, "I haven't stolen your powers or anything so comic book villain-esque."

"You know where they are in my head," Chris guessed.

"And I can tap into them." The Judge nodded. "You are a quick one, Mr Larabee." He watched Chris for a moment. "Which is why I'm surprised you fell for Ezra's charms so easily, gifted little whore or not."

Chris didn't know what surprised him more, the flash of anger he felt or the waves of jealousy and disgust that quickly followed.

"Oh." The Judge frowned in his examination of Chris' expression. "I do believe I err. Our dear Ezra didn't seduce you at all, did he? Come, come, now, Chris, a little rushed frottage and a kiss or two does not a seduction make. You really have no idea what he's capable of, do you?"

"I think I know enough," Chris returned bitterly.

"I don't think you do." The Judge sat back in his chair. "Ezra's abilities only stop at his imagination. His potential is quite literally limitless."

A kernel of suspicion popped into Chris' mind but he buried it away as the Judge went on.

"It's just a pity he has no stomach for my business."

"You're surprised he came back." Chris frowned.

The Judge's gaze narrowed. "You'd do well to mind your tongue. After all, you did come hear to murder me the same way you did poor Ella Gains, did you not? You forget that Ezra delivered you to me as a peace offering. You have no say in your fate."

"Which is what?" Chris sneered. "You talking me to death?"

"Believe me, Mr Larabee, if I wanted to kill you I wouldn't need to say a word."

Chris waited silently for the Judge to continue.

After a moment, he did. "The only thing I demand is order, Chris. Order must be maintained by fear. To maintain fear, I need men willing to carry out my orders. Simple, isn't it?"

"We won't work for you," Chris growled.

The Judge gave him a cold look. "I don't believe I asked you to." He then stood up and walked around the desk to perch casually on the corner nearest Chris. "I don't need to ask you because I know the fear that drives you. All men have one great fear, Chris, and yours is letting people you love get hurt, letting them down."

Chris flexed his jaw and said nothing.

"It's a rather admirable trait, I suppose." The Judge sighed. "It's the one that makes you so intense, so apparently fearless, and it's what is going to make you see things my way." He smiled smugly. "The simple truth of the matter is, you can't win. There are no alternatives, no escape plans waiting in the wings. I can see your mind, Chris. Your duty is to protect your men and you will do that by persuading them to come into my service."

Without waiting for Chris to respond, the Judge looked towards the door and, after a beat, two telepaths came into the room.

"Gentlemen," the Judge addressed them, "if you would be so kind as to escort Mr Larabee to where his friends are being held, I believe they have much to discuss."

Dismissed, Chris stood up and left the room without protest. It wasn't until he'd been marched to the other side of the compound that he let the only useful suspicion he'd gleaned from the Judge's rant surface into his thoughts: not even the Judge could read Ezra's mind.


Ezra sat in the sumptuous sitting room of the Judge's living quarters watching the ice cubes slowly melt into the generous glass of whisky he'd poured for himself. Behind him, a long-case clock chimed the quarter hour. There was no other noise in the room. Muffled behind Lord knows how many layers of proofing, the sounds of the compound seemed very far away. Ezra wished he was very far away.

He took a sip of whisky and tried not to think.

After a moment's silence, he rattled the ice in his glass and a few drops of whisky splashed onto his thigh. He watched them sink into the dark material.

He wondered if the Judge would let him keep his clothes on.

A headache started to throb above his left eye. He took another sip of whisky then rubbed at it wearily, wondering for the hundredth time how he managed to get himself into these messes. His edict for a healthy life was an easy one. It was twofold. It went: 1) Don't ever go near the Judge again, 2) Don't ever, ever go anywhere near the Judge again. So, where was he?

He closed his eyes, scrunched down into the deep, leather armchair and tried not to think about. He had no sooner started studying his eyelids when he heard the sitting room door open and close. He held himself perfectly still, listening as someone crossed the carpet towards him. A few seconds later, he felt a presence standing by the left arm of the chair.

"Comfortable are we?" the Judge asked wryly, bending down to take Ezra's glass away. "I trust you haven't drank too much?" he continued in that vaguely threatening tone Ezra had grown used to. "While we may have settled the matter of the money you took--"

"It was my money," Ezra broke in without opening his eyes.

"There is still the issue of you taking your leave before we had finished our studies," the Judge continued as if Ezra hadn't spoken. "And, while I don't hold you responsible for Ella's unfortunate demise or the loss of those young telepaths, there is also the matter of the diamonds which also went missing on that night."

"If I had the diamonds, I'd be across the border by now." Ezra sighed.

"Quite," the Judge replied. "However, failure while executing the act does not negate the punishment for attempting it, now does it?"

Ezra finally opened his eyes to find the Judge watching him, probably waiting for him to beg off or come up with a stream of excuses. However, the Judge was going to be disappointed because he was too tired to do either. Resigned to the fact that the Judge was going to hurt him no matter what he did, Ezra sat in silence, numbly wondering what the Judge's disappointed expression would look like.

If the Judge did look disappointed, Ezra never saw it. Unfortunately, resigning yourself to being hurt wasn't any defence against screaming agony ripping your mind and body apart then pitching it together again only to repeat the exercise a moment later. Between the bouts of racking pain that seemed to go on forever, Ezra became acutely aware of the fact that he couldn't get any air into his lungs. It was as if the Judge's telepathic blasts to his nerve centres removed him to a plane of existence where breathing was impossible.

Then, suddenly, the pain died down to a shuddering echo and Ezra realised he was curled up on the carpet at the Judge's feet. He felt the Judge move above him but was too exhausted to do anything but gasp in great breaths of fluff-filled air. After a few lungfuls of plush carpet pile, he started coughing hard enough to break a rib.

If the Judge said anything to him, Ezra never heard it; he was only aware of being propped up into a sitting position on the floor while the Judge rubbed his back. When his breathing eased, the Judge put the whisky glass to Ezra's lips and encouraged him to take a few sips. While Ezra drank down the whisky, he mentally ordered the Judge to take his concern and shove it somewhere painful -- and the same went for the hand that was burrowing greedily under his clothes. However, the whisky went and the hand stayed to be joined by the other. Ezra neither helped nor hindered the Judge's removal of his clothes. No words were said until Ezra's upper body was stripped bare and the Judge wanted him to stand up.

"C'mon, up you get," the Judge said as he pulled Ezra to his feet.

It took Ezra a moment to realise that the odd, hoarse softening of the Judge's voice was due to barely tempered lust. The realisation made him want to retch. Trust Travis to get turned on by inflicting pain. While the Judge continued to strip him of his clothes, Ezra stood unsteadily, feeling dizzy and disconnected, wondering what the Judge would do if he threw up.

"There," the Judge commented satisfactorily when Ezra was naked.

Dully, Ezra watched the Judge look him up and down. His brain felt like that stodgy oatmeal breakfast his Aunt used to make him eat. Everything felt so surreal -- until the Judge took a harsh hold of his chin and looked him in the eye.

"Snap out of it, Ezra. You've had your punishment now there's work to be done."

Ezra didn't have to guess at the kind of work the Judge wanted him to perform while naked. Maybe if he thought about Chris...

"You're testing my patience," the Judge growled, his fingers digging into Ezra's jaw. "Start with your charm power, now, before I lose my temper."

Ezra didn't respond but his charm kicked in a moment later as if trying to save itself from another frying. The Judge's eyes immediately snapped shut and his hands moved across Ezra's chest to pinch his nipples roughly.

"Good, good," the Judge said low. "More."

As the Judge's hands continued their hungry stimulation of his chest, Ezra tried to think about the situation objectively. It wasn't easy, especially when the Judge's hands moved over his stomach, and lower, but it was all he could do to stop himself pushing the Judge away.

Shoving the Judge off him was an idea he should have considered the first time he had used his charm power on the Judge and discovered this strange reaction. While he had guessed that his charm might have very little influence over such a strong telepath, he hadn't expected the Judge to be all over him like a horny teenager. At the time, he'd just chalked the result up to genetic idiosyncrasies, but the Judge wanted to know more. Hence, the 'experiments' began.

At first, Ezra thought it was a fair deal: he could pay off the money he and his mother had swindled from the Judge's minions quickly and easily -- and the Judge would grow tired of feeling him up eventually, right? Wrong. Not only did the Judge become addicted to their experiments, he was always pushing Ezra for more, trying to heighten the experience. It wasn't long before the Judge was forcing Ezra to use his illusionary telepathic abilities to boost the sensations. He would make Ezra feel the pleasure that coursed through him when they touched then 'persuade' Ezra to find illusions that magnified the intensity of that feeling. While any thoughts coming from the Judge's mind were laced with a disgusting edge of brutality, Ezra found he could deal with their sessions -- that was until his last time with the Judge.

Even now, with the feel of those hated hands working on his reluctant erection, Ezra couldn't bring himself to think of that last session. Mind-numbing humiliation didn't even begin to describe it. But then the Judge hit him with a telepathic request for an illusion and Ezra complied, even though he knew they were heading in that same ominous direction again.

He tried to think of Chris, tried to make the hands on his body Chris'. It didn't work. With the Judge's thoughts pushing their way inside his head, everything seemed vicious and cruel.

Keeping up the strong illusion of hot tongues licking every inch of the Judge's body while trying not to dwell on it himself, Ezra became acutely aware of the feel of the carpet between his toes. He was curling his toes into the thick pile, wondering if the Judge was ever going to come, when the old bastard hit him with a blast of reflected sexual pleasure that almost made him come on the spot. The result was as if someone had injected him with 100ccs of pure lust.

Even though he knew this was exactly what had happened during that last unbearable session, Ezra couldn't stop the uncontrollable need that shuddered through him. In a blink of an eye, the Judge was the embodiment of everything he had ever desired. The impulse to please the Judge and be pleasured in return was so strong that he couldn't even remember how they got to be in that desperate, kissing embrace, he was just suddenly there, rubbing himself against the Judge's clothed length and moaning for more.

The unbelievable flood of pleasure that coursed through him when the Judge kissed him back was only matched when he was stroked and fondled and manoeuvred into bending over the thickly padded arm of the leather armchair. Fervent anticipation tingled down his spine as the Judge's hands caressed his back and hips. Those touches were followed by an eternity of impatience before the slick head of the Judge's erection pressed against him. The shiver of pure ecstasy that ran through him when the Judge's hard length began pushing inside was worth all the waiting in the world. As the Judge eased in more deeply, the initial pain of entry was quickly overtaken by his own intense orgasm.

While some part of his mind registered his sputtering release onto the soft leather, most of it was focussed on the delicious feel of the Judge settling all the way inside him. It was a sensation that contrasted oddly with the feel of the Judge's clothes rubbing across his skin. He could hear the Judge panting above him; feel the hot breath across his shoulders. Then the thrusting began, hard and purposeful. He dug his fingers into the leather and pushed back into the powerful strokes.

Soon, the Judge's rhythm grew erratic, his breath caught and his body started quivering. As the heat of the Judge's orgasm pushed into him, Ezra became aware of the pain those last few thrusts brought to his abused muscles. Suddenly, everything hurt in a way that went far beyond the physical. He moved up to throw the Judge off him but the rancid old bastard stepped quickly away, leaving Ezra to slump breathlessly onto the floor beside the chair.

"Temper, temper," the Judge said, straightening his clothes as he crossed the room towards the whisky decanter and glasses. "Petulance is never an endearing trait."

Ezra closed his eyes and ignored the taunt, knowing the Judge wouldn't hesitate to hurt him again just for the fun of it.

"You know, I do believe your talents are improving," the Judge went on conversationally. "I really find affecting your elusive mind quite addictive. Don't you find the fact that I have to use your own powers against you rather ironic?"

As the Judge went on gloating, Ezra pulled his scattered thoughts together. What the Judge had done was no surprise and it was time to get on with his plan. Ignoring the stickiness between his thighs and the burning that accompanied it, Ezra concentrated on the few fragile tendrils of thought that still linked him to the Judge's mind. He didn't really know if they were there for sure, he just imagined that they were. He also imagined that he found a little spot of sleepiness inside the Judge's head, which he encouraged to grow stronger.

"I really do --" the Judge stopped abruptly in his lecture to stifle a yawn.

Ezra looked up to seem him frown at the whisky glass in his hand.

"Hmm, perhaps I should heed Mother Nature's intimation and rest for an hour or two." He smiled down at Ezra. "Care to join me?"

"Not in this lifetime," Ezra growled back.

The Judge grinned. "We are really going to have to work on that attitude problem." He stifled another yawn. "But not just now." He put his whisky down and turned for the door. "Please feel free to use the bathroom facilities and such in my absence."

Ezra didn't respond. A moment later, when the door shut and the Judge had gone, he climbed gingerly to his feet. His head swam with a sick dizziness but there was no evidence of blood on him -- unless you counted the finger-sized bruises coming up on his hips. Everything else would wipe away. His plan was working perfectly, he told himself grimly.

He didn't believe a word of it.


"Hell, I didn't see any of this." Josiah glowered down at his own pair of the fancy, anti-tamper handcuffs they all wore. "Guess I've been drinking too much coffee again."

"Ain't none of us had much sleep," Nathan said, glancing bitterly around the bare, concrete walls of the stripped out armoury that was their temporary prison. "But that guard had no reason to lie with us locked up in here and those telepaths outside."

"Damned if we do, damned if we don't." Buck met Chris' gaze. "Pencil-neck said the cuffs would explode if we tampered with them or tried to walk out the door. He didn't say nothin' about us making our own door." When Chris didn't respond, Buck looked over at Vin. "How thick do you reckon that concrete is?"

"Thick enough," Vin returned. "But it ain't the wall that's worryin' me, Bucklin. What if it's not the door but a proximity alarm that sets the cuffs off? If you're wrong, ain't none of us'll be playing piano again and the Judge will still have us."

"Well we can't just sit here." JD looked at Chris. "I'd rather die trying to get out than work for the Judge."

"We all feel that way, son." Josiah sighed. "But hopefully other choices will present themselves. It's not over yet."

"Josiah's right," Chris agreed. "We go along with the Judge for now."

Buck shook his head. "The man knows we hate him, Chris. He ain't gonna be fooled for long."

"I don't need to fool him for long," Chris said low. "Just long enough."

"Long enough for what?" Buck asked warily. "Don't be thinking what I think you're thinking," he almost growled. "We got into to this together and we'll out of this together. There's no choice about that, you hear me?"

Chris didn't respond. No one else spoke. For the first time since he had joined them, an uneasy silence settled over the room. No one mentioned Ezra. He doubted if any of them ever would again. However, he'd get them all out safely even if he had to take every telepath on the docks to hell with him doing it. The Judge be damned. There had to be a way to get around that old bastard's telepathic block. There had to be.

"Nathan," Chris began, only to stop abruptly when Vin signalled for silence.

"Someone's outside," he said softly, cocking his head a little as he listened. "Talking to the guards."

"The telepaths are leaving," Nathan said with a frown. "But I can't pick up anything from the newcomer."

"It must be the Judge," JD whispered. "You said he's the only one you can't feel, Nathan."

"This'll go down fast," Chris warned them as he concentrated on his pyrokinetic abilities and found them sluggish but responsive. "Get out and take as many down as you can but don't stop for a fight. Without the Judge the whole set up will fall."

If anyone felt like arguing, they didn't have time. Chris' words had barely left his mouth when the door started opening. A split second later, the Judge began stepping into the room. The corner of one shoulder was all Chris needed. Concentrating hard, knowing he only had the moment it took for the Judge to realise his intent, he was just about to ignite the old bastard from the inside out when there was a sudden impact against his chest and he was tackled hard to the floor.

The pain lancing around his ribs may have broken his concentration on his powers but it didn't stop him lashing out at the man pinning him down. Not until he realised it was Vin.

For one crazy moment, Chris thought the world had turned upside down, that the Judge had somehow gotten to Vin and was controlling him. But then Vin was moving back defensively, twisting out of the way to let Chris see the Judge close the armoury door -- because it wasn't the Judge any longer. It was Ezra.

"I caught his scent just before he changed," Vin explained, but Chris barely heard the words. All his attention was focussed on Ezra who was stepping cautiously towards them.

"Well, I'm glad someone recognises a friend even in these trying climes." Ezra tried to speak lightly as he knelt down to release Buck's handcuffs but even a blind man could see he was running on nerves and little else. He was pale and dishevelled with the walking wounded air of a mourner at a funeral.

As if wary of breaking a spell, no one else spoke until Ezra had freed Buck and JD then turned to use the small, electronic release key on Vin's restraints.

"Ain't it kind of dangerous doing an impersonation of the Judge with all those telepaths around?" Vin asked with a frown just before his handcuffs clicked open.

"I believe a wise man once said that you take a risk getting out of bed in the morning," Ezra returned wryly. He didn't look anyone in the eye as he moved on to release Josiah. "As for the telepaths, I sent them all over to an impromptu meeting on the other side of the compound along with most of the guards."

"Where's the Judge?" Chris demanded as Josiah went to join the others by the door and Ezra quickly unlocked Nathan's handcuffs.

"He's not a factor for the moment so I suggest we make good our escape," Ezra replied, moving to release Chris. "The--"

"Where?" Chris growled, trying to make Ezra meet his gaze -- but Ezra seemed to be having trouble unlocking Chris' cuffs. Before he could respond, Nathan called out that something was wrong just before Vin confirmed that there were guards heading their way.

"Get going," Chris told them as Ezra cursed over the handcuff lock.

"We'll leave a route open for you," Buck said. "Meet you back at the factory." He returned Chris' nod and then kicked open the door.

A moment later, the heavy armoury door was hanging open on broken hinges, leaving Chris and Ezra alone as the sound of gunfire erupted outside.

"What's wrong with it?" Chris snarled as the key ran through yet another sequence of code but his handcuffs stayed tight.

"Damned if I know!" Ezra huffed. "I think you may have fried the release mechanism while you were rolling around the floor with Mr Tanner."

Chris scowled down at the stubborn lock then over at the open handcuffs lying abandoned on the floor. "Are the unlocked ones still synchronised with mine?" he asked urgently.

"No." Ezra shook his head distractedly, still trying to get the key to work. "They were disarmed as soon as --" He stopped and looked up to finally meet Chris' gaze. "Now wait a second, I said I think you might have fried it. You --"

"Stand back," Chris said, and Ezra immediately backed off.

Hoping he was right in the assumption that if he had accidentally fried the lock without setting off the explosive that he could disintegrate the entire handcuffs in the same manner, Chris concentrated on doing just that. However, when he reached for his power, there was nothing there.

He was looking into Ezra's eyes when, a rapid heartbeat later, the Judge stepped into the armoury doorway.

"Well, what have we here?" the Judge said while casting a casual glance around the room. "It seems some of our prisoners have escaped. Ezra, really, you are a naughty boy."

Ezra, who was standing with his back to the door, had kept his gaze fixed on Chris until the Judge had said his name. Then he had closed his eyes and shuddered as if a cold breeze had just blown through the room.

"Get out of his head, you sick bastard," Chris growled.

The Judge glowered back at him. "Why don't you try and make me, Mr Larabee?"

Grinding his teeth, Chris made to step forwards but found his feet were rooted to the spot. Again, he tried reaching for his power only to find a hollow void. He watched the Judge return his gaze to Ezra and smirk, saw Ezra shudder, felt his impotent fury build. Then, in a blink of an eye, the tension in the room shifted. Suddenly, the Judge's expression changed from smug cruelty to confusion. He had no sooner switched his attention from Ezra to Chris than his chest exploded in a ball fire.

Chris could do nothing but stare as the Judge stumbled to his knees, choking and clawing at his throat as the flames lapped at his face. Unable even to scream as the fire consumed him alive, the Judge moved blindly forwards as if begging for help.

Only when the Judge collapsed face down on the ground and lay there lifeless did Chris dare reach inside himself and confirm what he already suspected. A moment later, the flames disappeared and the Judge was lying on the armoury floor without so much as a scorch mark on him.

"Ezra?" Chris reached out to gently touch Ezra's shoulder. Wide green eyes blinked open to meet his own.

"Is he dead?" Ezra asked softly.

Frowning, Chris immediately moved over to crouch by the Judge's side and roll him over. Blank eyes stared up at him from a death mask twisted in frozen horror.

"He's dead all right," Chris confirmed, nodding as Ezra turned around to look. "C'mon, lets get out of here." He stood up and disintegrated his handcuffs just as JD appeared at the door.

"Chris, we've got the --" JD began breathlessly only to stop and stare at the Judge's corpse. "You got him?"

"Ezra got him," Chris returned sharply as he and Ezra joined JD by the door. "Everyone out?" he asked, squinting around the deserted compound.

JD nodded then turned to lead the way out. "Buck's waiting for us by the fence," he told them as they backtracked fast and low. "Everyone else is back at the factory. I came back for you because Vin says the Cops are on their way."

The words had no sooner left JD's mouth than the telltale whine of a Meta Cop siren could be heard in the distance. However, a few seconds later, they were at the fence with Buck waving them under it. "Took your own sweet time," he complained good-naturedly. "Next time you two can hold up the fence while I do the heroics," he continued before following them back across the dock to the safety of the factory roof.

Chris had no sooner crouched beside Vin at the edge of the roof than the Meta Cops arrived at the compound and began shooting everything that moved.

"You can see why they get a reputation for being trigger happy," Vin commented dryly. "Wonder how the Judge is gonna handle this."

"The Judge is dead," JD said from where he sat with Josiah, Nathan and Buck. "Ezra killed him."

"He killed himself," Ezra corrected and Chris looked over to where Ezra sat a little apart from the others, nursing his whisky flask. "Don't fool yourselves, gentlemen. The Judge could and would have crushed us all like so many flies on a wringer."

"But you beat him." JD scowled. "I saw his body."

"He beat himself." Ezra took a drink of whisky then looked up to meet Chris' gaze. "They say the greatest fear is fear itself. The Judge's greatest fear was being unable to stop his own death."

Nathan frowned before shaking his head in disbelief. "Are you saying you made him think he was dying and he made it come true? He was that strong a telepath that he killed himself with his own mind?"

"Ironic, isn't it?" Ezra returned quietly before taking a deeper drink from his flask.

As they sat on the old factory roof waiting for the Meta Cops to round up what remained of the Judge's thugs, they spoke very little. But Chris had already seen enough to know that Ezra's greatest fear had been 'Judge' Orrin Travis.


Everything was the same but different.

Wrapping his arms more securely around the six-foot-tall stone statue of the Archangel Michael, Ezra looked out across the pink-stained cityscape. This time, the sun was rising instead of setting but, other than that, the church roof, the city and the Archangel himself remained the same.

It had only been a few days.

Ezra closed his eyes and leaned heavily into Michael's embrace. The cold stone offered little comfort but the nightmare visions that ran through his head made sleep impossible anyway. He felt numb, frightened and sick to the bottom of his soul.

The Judge had made him a murderer.

Not that he was sad to see the old bastard dead. If anyone deserved the most excruciating death imaginable, it was the Judge. But Ezra wasn't a killer -- at least not until yesterday.

Shivering against the feel of the Judge's dead touch, he opened his eyes and looked up at the stern beauty of Michael's face. The rising sun lent a warmth to the statue's complexion, making it almost lifelike. Fingering a carved stone cheek, Ezra decided he needed to get away, clear his head and learn to sleep again.

Without a penny to his name, heading across the border wasn't an option but he could always head in country where the Meta Cop patrols were infrequent and half-hearted. Somewhere like... Las Vegas was always a viable option. He grinned at the idea of living in the lap of luxury for a few months. He could certainly use a good, long vacation. Making some money wouldn't hurt either. Even getting tossed out of casinos and threatened by Mafioso telepaths would be fun compared to how he'd been living these last few months.

His mind made up, Ezra leaned up and kissed Michael on the cheek. "Inspirational and good looking too, who could ask for more," he said softly before turning around -- and finding Chris standing right behind him.

If it wasn't for Michael's solid presence, Ezra would have been startled right off the roof into a rather nasty fall. As it was, he half-stepped back against the stone statue and Chris reached out to steady him.

In the eternity it seemed to take Chris to let go of his elbow, neither of them spoke. Then, as Chris retreated a step, the spell was broken. "Didn't mean to give you a start," he said so low it made Ezra's skin tingle.

"Then I suggest you stop creeping up on me," Ezra returned much sharper than he'd intended.

Chris' gaze narrowed as he reassessed the situation. "You all right?"

"Fine." Ezra leaned against Michael with a casualness he didn't feel. "I trust you're up early in order to orchestrate your exodus?"

Chris shook his head. "With the Judge gone, half our problems are solved. The boys voted to take a road trip somewhere until the heat from the Cops dies down."

Ezra raised an interested eyebrow. "The term 'road trip' implies use of an automobile, Mr Larabee."

"We've got three." Chris nodded. "Plenty of room for six. Or seven if you want to come along."

"Indeed." Ezra studied Chris' calm expression but couldn't glean any insight. "Did you take a vote on that too?"

"Didn't have to," Chris returned with an irritated frown and an uneasy silence fell between them. A few seconds later, when Ezra still hadn't said anything, Chris' frown deepened and he turned to go back downstairs. "Offer's open if you want it," he threw over his shoulder as he walked away.

Chris was almost at the access door when something inside Ezra compelled him to call out, "Have you gentlemen decided on a destination?" He didn't realise how hard his heart was hammering in his mouth until Chris turned back to look at him and the pounding abruptly eased. "I was intending to depart for Las Vegas myself," he finished smoothly.

From across the roof, Chris seemed to consider both Ezra and his words before nodding slowly. "Vegas sounds good. Vin'll hate it but there'll be a lot of desert around to lose himself in."

Ezra nodded. "In that case, I believe I will accept your kind offer of chauffeuring services."

"'Chauffeuring services' my ass," Chris returned with a smile as Ezra grinned. "You'll take your turn at the wheel if you get in my car."

"Well, I suppose that's only fair," Ezra said lightly as he walked over towards Chris. Only Chris wasn't moving. Rather than turning to take the lead down the stairs, he just stood watching Ezra's approach. "Something wrong?" Ezra had to ask when he'd stopped a step and a half away and Chris still hadn't moved.

At first, Ezra thought Chris wasn't going to respond, that he was just going to turn away. However, Chris' expression soon hardened with determination even though his words, when he spoke them, were soft. "It wasn't your charm," he admittedly quietly. "That first time in your room, I wanted that."

"I -- I see." Ezra blinked but he didn't see at all. He felt vaguely outmanoeuvred, as if someone had just dumped him into a maze of theme park mirrors and told him to get on with it. Chris' expression gave nothing away. "I didn't remember. What with the Ketamine and all..." he trailed off confusedly.

"I know." Chris' tone darkened. "It shouldn't have happened."

"No," Ezra blurted out, then quickly went on before Chris got the wrong idea. "I mean, I knew what I was doing. I wanted it too." He watched Chris frown. "I did initiate it, after all."

Chris studied Ezra for a long moment before a smile tugged at his lips. "Guess I owe you a kiss then," he said almost playfully.

The change in Chris' demeanour was so subtle yet so profound that Ezra felt entranced by it and never realised Chris' intent until it was too late. He didn't flinch when Chris' hand came to rest just below his ear but couldn't stop the sudden tension that gripped him when Chris moved in close. However, the light touch of warm lips against his own didn't make him want to pull away. He even leaned into it when Chris stepped back.

"We'd best get some breakfast before the locusts attack," Chris said as he started down the stairs.

Ezra grinned as he followed. "This impending natural disaster wouldn't have a personal name or two by any chance?"

Illusions Index On to: En Route

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