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Chimera Fic: Into the Bolivian Sunset 10/15

July 22nd, 2011 (07:25 am)

A/N: We're closing in on the climax here :) Thanks!  Previous parts here.

 

CHAPTER TEN

There had been a time when Stefan had considered if God existed, if He had some kind of so-called plan in his magnificent omniscience. Or maybe it was something like fate, the universe working its way to some perfect, definable destination.

Stefan wasn't averse to tossing a prayer or two God's way when things got sticky, but this? Wasn't so much divine providence or a twist of fate as it was plain hard work.

Harder than studying at college. Way harder than knocking heads for Konstantin.

All night, Ava and Stefan went over the satellite images, ruling out square foot after square foot. Some facilities too small; some not well enough fortified. When they found a candidate, they ran it by Saul, who cross-referenced the suggested address with his list.

There had been a number of possibilities. Each one progressively ruled out. Some places hadn't been sold recently enough; others by buyers that simply checked out.

"But maybe that's the thing," Stefan finally said. It was dark outside, but he wasn't sure if it was night or morning. They had been working relentlessly, no breaks, no nothing.

Ava groaned, sitting back in her chair and looking at the ceiling. "The thing is that every buyer has a strong alibi?" she asked tiredly. She threw a hand in the air, sarcasm dripping from her words. "Brilliant!"

"No, think about it," Stefan said, working past the suffused weariness in his body with a growing surge of adrenaline. "They're trying to hide. They won't want to leave a trail."

Saul pinched the bridge of his nose. "I know, that's why we're looking for buyers with squeaky clean histories but no substantial background." He shook his head, looking at Stefan. "We're looking for that."

Stefan's brain was working, putting the pieces together as best he could. It was late - too late - and the hand of God or the workings of fate, Stefan had to get this. Standing, he looked over the pictures, shaking his head, following the train of thought as it slowly unraveled in his mind. "But we're not looking at places that haven't been sold recently."

"That's because the Institute has only been in Bolivia a year at most," Saul reminded him. "Unless you think we imagined the place in Florida we broke into last time."

"Yeah, but just because they moved here doesn't mean that they bought it," Stefan pointed out.

Ava sat up again. "Renting."

Saul's face showed slow understanding. "Renting procedures wouldn't show up the same way on an assessor's statement," he said thoughtfully.

"But they'd still be registered as a tenant property," Stefan said, feeling butterflies flitting in his stomach. "How many properties have we identified with a tenant option available?"

Saul flipped through his notes quickly. "Rental properties," he muttered. "No, no - wait." He stopped on a page, holding it closer. He shook his head extracting the page and holding it out. "Someone double check me, my eyes can hardly see straight anymore."

Tension mounting, Stefan snatched the paper, eyes scanning it quickly. The size, the location. When it was last purchased. No major liens against the property. Up to code, maintained documented inspection from the government. Legally registered as a rental property.

It was a squeaky clean property. "This one," Stefan said, still processing all the information. "It's just west of the forest, near a paved access road. Outside of Mineros."

Ava quickly riffled through her papers, searching for the right one. "Yes, we considered this one," she said, holding a paper aloft. "It has the space and the right amenities."

"Who's the renter?" Saul asked.

Stefan's eyes scanned it further. "A...J.M. Barrie," he said with a shrug. "Any history on the guy?"

Saul frowned.

Ava's brow furrowed. "Wait, who?"

"J.M. Barrie," Stefan repeated. "You know him?"

"Not personally, but he's a writer. British, early nineteenth century," she said.

"Well, I'm sure there's more than one J.M. Barrie in the world," Saul ventured.

But there was something off about this. "What did he write?" Stefan asked.

Ava chewed her lip. "It's been a long time since my Brit Lit class," she said. "English was my double major in college with journalism."

"So you don't remember anything he wrote?" Stefan prompted.

"Just Peter Pan," she said with a shrug. "I'd have to look up for more-"

Stefan's breath caught in his throat. "Peter Pan?" he asked, voice strained and barely a whisper.

Stefan remembered the names. John, Michael, Peter, Wendy. One of Jericho's demented twists, naming his genetically engineered assassins after children in perpetual childhood. Ironic, of course, since Jericho's machinations had deprived his own lost boys and girls from any childhood whatsoever.

Coincidence? Probably possible, if he had to consider the odds. But not likely.

The hours of work and lack of rest fell by the wayside; Stefan's resolved hardened again, solidified by the growing rage within him. The Institute had manipulated so much, played all their cards, and Stefan was ready to lay it all on the line and win back the pot. It would be a winner takes all proposition, one he didn't intend to lose.

Jaw set, Stefan walked over to Ava, looking at her satellite image. "This is the place," he said.

"But how can we be sure?" Ava asked.

He lifted his eyes to hers. "I just am."

Maybe it was the tone of his voice, maybe it was the hard glint in his eyes, but she seemed to know better than to disagree.

Saul stepped closer. "The location may be remote, but it's actually not that well fortified," he observed. He pointed to the perimeter. "That fencing looks pretty conventional and there aren't good points of observation that provide a holistic view."

"They probably have security measures in place," Ava concluded.

But Stefan shook his head. "This place isn't the fortress they had before," he said. "They've been tracking us, so they think they have the leg up on us. There are measures in place, but two to one, they're not like they used to be."

"Yeah, but you saw the video feed of Michael's capture," Saul pointed out. "Maybe they've just updated their security protocols."

The thought made Stefan cringe. Wendy's presence had been an unexpected element, but Saul was right. It wasn't coincidence that she was in the field to capture Michael. Jericho had probably been so concerned with getting his asking price for his little assets that he didn't consider how valuable they could be for his own protection. Not even Michael had stood a chance against Wendy. With one little girl, Stefan figured the Institute could keep the other kids in check and successfully protect against intruders. After all, one thought, and Wendy's security detail was complete. No messy protocols, no paying of extra staff, no stockpiling of weaponry.

"It doesn't matter," Stefan said. "Traditional security, updated protocols - we attack it all the same. This forest will give us ample cover so we can get close enough. We'll cut through the fencing, and sneak up on the back, to this door here." He indicated a door on the backside. "If it looks too heavily guarded, we can easily slip around to another side."

"Without much prep time, we won't know what kind of doors we're breaking down," Saul said.

"Look at the age of this building," Ava noted. "It's hardly new construction and the renovations last year were minor."

"Which means we're probably looking at a more antiquated system," Stefan concluded.

Saul straightened, crossing his arms over his chest. "Lucky we loaded up on explosives, then."

"It also means that there should be plenty of places to round everyone up," Stefan said. He rubbed his chin. "My main goal will be to get Michael. Saul, can you take care of the security?"

His forehead scrunched thoughtfully. "The old fashioned kind, yes," he said. "I mean, once we get to the security headquarters, it shouldn't be hard to short things out and block off communications. We can also control the locking mechanisms from there, I figure."

"What about the staff?" Stefan asked.

Saul shrugged. "Taser them and lock them up. Let the authorities do the real cleanup."

"Good," Stefan said. "And then if we have the security headquarters, we should be able to secure the kids in their rooms, right?"

"I would think," Saul said. "But we won't know for sure until we get in there."

Stefan nodded, looking over the schematics again. "Then I think we're good to go."

"But what am I going to do?" Ava asked.

Stefan looked up at her, surprised. "Run your story and make sure the authorities are on time."

She looked a little dumbfounded. "I'm going with you."

Stefan was almost grateful when Saul intervened. "This is going to be a pretty hard core operation," he said, almost gently. "We're talking heavily artillery, with likely hostiles on the inside."

What Saul conveniently didn't say was that there was a chance they wouldn't be walking away from this. It was a fact they weren't willing to voice, but Saul knew the odds as well as Stefan did. They had invested themselves a long time ago into this mission, even if it was a suicide run, and that was that. Ava had been an integral part of the planning, but Stefan had not considered her risking her life for this.

Ava, however, in true Ava form, seemed to have different ideas. "I know that," she said curtly, her shoulders squared and her tone bristled. "But I'm a part of this, now."

Stefan sighed, looking at her. "Ava, you've been amazing. We couldn't have gotten this far without you-"

She shook her head, defiant. "I get that you have more on the line, Stefan, I do," she said. "But you're not the only one willing to lay down their life because something is right. You want to get Michael back, but this is more than that, and even if you can't see it, I can. I'm going."

Stefan gaped, not knowing quite what to say. Finally, he managed, "Do you even know how to use a gun."

Her expression darkened, almost perturbed. She picked up the Glock Stefan had discarded hours ago on the table. In swift, easy motions, she unloaded it, checked the cartridge, before snapping the ammunition back on and prepping the weapon.

When finished, she looked at Stefan plainly.

And what was Stefan going to say? Was he going to play the chivalrous guy? Tell her that she couldn't stake her life? Was he going to say that he cared about her, that he didn't want to see her hurt? Maybe just tell her that this was his fight, and his alone?

The answer was none of the above.

With a short nod, he took a breath. "Okay, then," he said. "You're with Saul. We'll crash for a few hours, but we need to be on the road in the morning. We've got a drive ahead of us."

Ava nodded resolutely. Saul made a noise in the back of his throat, shaking his head. "At least the lack of sleep will mirror our lack of preparation in every other part of the plan," he grumbled.

Not that it mattered. Stefan didn't think he'd be able to sleep, not even if he wanted to. His mind wasn't preoccupied with the trip there or their lack of experience or the insurmountable mind was on Michael, his brother, who he was going to get back.

Tomorrow. He would see Michael tomorrow. One way or another.

-o-

He was tired.

Such a feeling actually was not common for Michael, something he'd learned to attribute to his enhanced DNA. He's often outlasted Stefan during all-night movie marathons, always vying for another round of cards or snacks when Stefan was whining and complaining about wanting to sleep.

Still, he'd been tired before. He knew what it was like to want to rest. Sometimes after he ran a particularly long route or played back to back games of tennis, he'd had the urge to lay back and recuperate. In the mornings, he was often prone to lamenting his lack of wakefulness to Stefan, dragging his feet in a moderate display of tiredness to milk his would-be brother for some pancakes and eggs, or even some sausage.

However, like so many things in his short life, Michael's understanding of tiredness had been in theory only.

At least, it had been.

Now Michael was tired.

His entire body ached with a lack of true rest, his consciousness weary to what might have been his very soul, if he had such a thing. He was tired in the deepest recesses of his brain, not just in need of sleep but in need of refuge. Sleep would not fix the pervasive weariness in his mind and soul.

In fact, Michael wasn't sure anything would fix it.

No, that wasn't true. One thing would fix it. One inevitable out. A week ago, he would have dreaded the prospect of death. Now, it was a coveted prospect.

The eternal rest. Where there was no torture, no helplessness. No loss, no regret.

No brothers.

No joy.

Nothing.

He had been born of scientific obsession and he would die as a footnote in the name of advancement. Fitting end to a failed project.

Michael no longer looked at the clock on the wall. He no longer counted the beats of his heart. He simply was, tied to the world by the tethers on his wrists and feet.

The hallucinogenic had worn off a while before, a process that had left Michael retching and confused. People from his life came and went. Peter, with his red hair. John, with the question to leave. Anatoly, with his reserved love. Raquel, with her chest out and face composed. Stefan, asking him why.

Dr. Bellucci had not left this time, staying making notes while Michael finished detoxing. The doctor went so far as to tilt Michael slightly to the side so he would not choke on his vomit, but he had done nothing to clean any of it up.

After some period of time, possibly hours, maybe days, maybe only seconds, the doctor stood again, looking at Michael with a quizzical expression. "It has been some time since your last hallucination," he observed. "Am I correct?"

Michael looked at him blankly.

"Michael, please, remember the lesson here."

Michael merely blinked.

"I will have my answers, one way or another," Dr. Bellucci said patiently. "You can choose how fast this ends."

Michael could not control a tremor through his body.

"So, I ask again," Dr. Bellucci said evenly. "You are no longer hallucinating, correct?"

Michael nodded obediently.

Dr. Bellucci's face broke into a smile. "Very good," he said. "I must say, that last experiment was quite informative."

Michael's throat was dry. He did not know if a reply was desired from him.

"And I do appreciate your work in it," Dr. Bellucci continued. "So I think, perhaps, our work here is almost done."

The promise of a reprieve was foreign, almost impossible to comprehend. He wondered briefly if this was another hallucination, something conceived by his subconscious to trick him into a response. A test, just like one of Jericho's. Maybe just a sign of pure psychosis. People lost their minds in torture, this much Michael knew.

But he did not hallucinate for his pleasure. None of the others had offered hope. And while Michael knew in the doctor's kind tone was a condemnation, he also understood the words as a salvation.

Blessed and undeserved. But much welcomed.

"I do, however, have one last test I'd like to try," Dr. Bellucci said.

Michael's heart lurched in his chest.

Then, the doctor settled a hand on his shoulder. "And let me tell you," he promised, a brightness twinkling in his eyes like a child's on Christmas morning. "This one's going to be fun."

-o-

They had made good time.

At least, that was what Stefan was trying to tell himself. It was almost nightfall - the trip had taken most of the day, even with Stefan's somewhat creative interpretation of the speed limit. Fortunately, the Bolivian countryside was not well policed and, better still, the van Saul had purchased (in cash, to be safe) had more horsepower than its rusty exterior may have suggested.

Though they had taken turns driving, Stefan had not gotten much sleep. He was well beyond tiredness, deeply gripped by the need to see Michael, to save him.

The thought that the only thing between the two of them was a stretch of road, a couple of trees, and a chain link fence was a cold comfort.

So that made scoping out the facility even more tedious. They'd driven all night, defied all speed limit laws, trespassed through the woods and were there - outside the facility rented by J.M. Barrie.

It looked like the satellite photo. The forest was dense around it, but easy to navigate with a GPS. The chain link fence was even more unimpressive in person. Though tall, it was clearly not well fortified. The roll of barbed wire at the top was somewhat of a deterrent, but Stefan knew they had no intention of climbing.

The facility itself was more imposing. It was a boxy building, sitting low and wide on the ground. The walls were plain, covered with a crisp layer of tan paint. Windows were sparse, doorways even more so, and the security cameras were plainly visible to the untrained eye. While circling the building in a recon sweep, they'd found the main access road better manned, with a pair of guards at a more impressive looking gate. But beyond that, the grounds seemed mostly barren.

Saul edged in behind him, pressed against a tree trunk. "So you satisfied yet, Smirnoff?" he asked.

Stefan glanced over at Ava, who was tucked behind another tree.

She shrugged. "It's what we expected."

What they expected. Low level security was a sign of overconfidence or an alternative security force. Probably both.

And yet, here they were. Ava's short hair was flat against her head, her figure hidden in the fatigues she was wearing. Saul's face glistened with sweat, his dark eyes focused and his expression pinched.

His friends, both by his side. They'd come so far with him, and now it was up to him to give them that one last final push - knowing it could mean their deaths.

If security caught them, it would only take one bullet a piece. If they ran into Wendy, not even that. They said they were willing to make this sacrifice, for Stefan, for Michael, for what was right, but issuing what could be a death sentence was no small task.

His Uncle Lev had been right. He was soft.

But not that soft.

Because Michael was there. Stefan could feel it. Beyond the fence, beyond the security - his brother was there. The kid had already given up his entire childhood; Stefan could not afford to let Michael sacrifice anything else. Saul and Ava - they had both lived. They'd made their choices, good and bad, and they were willing to give themselves up the same as Stefan was. This wasn't Michael's choice. He'd been taken against his will, and Stefan had to rectify that.

With a tight nod, Stefan pulled his gun closer, his other hand reaching for the wire cutters. "Then let's do this."

They'd made their plan in haste, but executed it with even quicker efficiency. Stefan held his gun at the ready as Ava and Saul worked at the fence. It was a short matter of minutes before a chunk large enough to slip through was removed. Ava ducked under first, coming to her feet with her gun up and ready. Saul followed, and with one look around, Stefan made his way into the perimeter.

From there, the distance to the building was short, and they pressed themselves against the tan exterior, just behind the view of the security camera. With a glance to Ava and Saul, Stefan lifted his gun, waiting until they'd both ducked their heads before he fired.

One clean shot and no one would see them coming.

Heart pounding, Stefan led the way toward the doorway, keeping himself tight against the wall. Seeing the doorway was clear, Stefan signaled Saul over, who went to his knees, pulling a pair of charges from his bag. It would be a little messy, but effective, and they all turned away as the charges went off, small pops in the Bolivian forest, effectively disabling the alarm and undoing the latch.

Guns ready, Stefan led the way, sweeping the inside with quick movements, scanning for any sign of movement.

There was none. It appeared to be a storage room, and a sparsely used one at that. There was a line of shelves along one wall, a few boxes on them, but it was mostly barren, except for a door at the far end.

Heading toward it, Stefan glanced behind him, watching as Ava followed suit, Saul pulling up the rear.

At the next door, Stefan hesitated. Diminished security or not, they were going to run into company - and soon. And that would be when the real fun began.

With a steadying breath, Stefan tested the handle, finding it unlocked. Slowly, cautiously, he turned it, opening it only a sliver at first.

Peeking through, he could see dim fluorescent lights, flickering in an empty hallway.

It would have to do.

Swinging the door open the rest of the way, Stefan led with his gun.

But the hallway really was empty.

Stefan frowned, trying to feel reassured by this. They'd anticipated a lower level of security, so this was expected.

Except Stefan knew what the Institute was capable of. This wasn't lax security, it was different security. Maybe they didn't care who got in because they had confidence that they'd never get out.

Like Michael.

Stefan swallowed hard, and let that thought strengthen him.

Ava and Saul were still ready behind him, Ava at his back and Saul taking up rear, gun trained on whatever might come around the corner.

Without a word, they started moving. Stefan led them around the corner, tense and ready for a foe that simply wasn't there. They passed empty rooms, checking each one, finding it as barren as the last. The first room that looked used was a laboratory of some sort, vaguely reminiscent of the one they'd found on their first run over a year ago.

It was quiet, lights off and equipment stowed. Stefan was sure there was damning evidence there, but he didn't have time for it. The clean up team could do what they wanted with it - Stefan just wanted Michael.

Turning another corner, Stefan found another clear hallway, lined with rooms. Moving to the first door, he tried the handle, surprised to find it locked. Peeking inside the window, it was dark.

"Stefan," Ava's voice was a whisper in his ear. "What-"

Her question was cut short with a strangled gasp as the small eyes of a child came into view. The child was almost impossible to see in the dark, save the whites of the eyes and the pale bicolored irises that seemed to illuminate the darkness.

"I guess we found the kids," Stefan breathed.

"They're so young," Ava said, almost pained.

"Leave the doors locked," Stefan ordered, moving down the hall. He glanced in each room, not surprised to see children in each one. "And if we haven't had any company yet, we will soon."

He was moving quickly now, his voice rough with no pretense of secrecy. He was ready for the guard when he rounded the corner, taking him out easily with a tranquilizer round.

Quickly, he grabbed the fallen guard under the armpits, dragging him back down the hallway, to the supply closet. It took some work to stuff the body inside, but with Saul's help, they got him positioned so it would shut.

Stepping back, Saul eyed it. "You have a key?"

With a dry look, Stefan pulled out his gun, firing a few rounds at the lock until it was marred beyond use. "That should hold."

At the end of the hallway, Ava hissed at them. "I think we're about to have a little company."

Jogging forward, Stefan peeked around the corner, quickly seeing what Ava was talking about.

Pulling back, he grimaced. "Only five of them," he said. "But they're armed. You guys think you can handle it?"

Saul snorted wetly. "Please, Smirnoff," he said. "I wrangled a pair of triplets back in Miami before I hopped the plane down here. Five guards is nothing."

Ava's face scrunched up in distaste, but Stefan had to grin. "You two know what you're supposed to do?" he asked.

"Knock out anything that moves, lock them up," Ava reported dutifully.

"We've got security," Saul assured him. "What about you? You know where you're going?"

There sound of footsteps was getting louder. "Run like hell in the other direction," he said. "Michael's not going to be with security, he'll be someplace else. If we haven't come across him yet, I will soon."

"Once we have the security center, we'll flush out any others," Saul promised.

"Great, oh and one more thing?" Stefan asked, edging toward the end of the hall again.

"Name it," Saul said.

"Cover me," Stefan said, a second before he jumped into the open hallway.

The guards were closer than he'd anticipated, and he sprayed a shower of real bullets at them, too high to do real damage, but enough to send them running for cover. As he broke into a run, Ava and Saul picked up the cover fire, giving Stefan time to make a break for the far end of the hallway.

He sprinted for all he was worth, putting his feet to the linoleum as if his life depended on it. Which, it sort of did.

More importantly, Michael's life depended on it.

And if that wasn't motivation enough, nothing else would be.

The sound of gunfire faded away, growing faint and sporadic. By the time he was halfway down the new hallway, it was over altogether. He had to believe it was a gunfight Saul and Ava had won. There was no time to consider failure.

With that determination, he slowed his pace, falling back into search and rescue mode. These rooms were different than before - medical labs, but less for research. There were no computers, just medical equipment. Machines Stefan didn't recognize, tools he didn't want to understand.

Even from a few yards away, Stefan could tell one room was different.

Light pooled on the floor in front of the room, shining from the windowed doorway.

Stefan's heart skipped a beat, and he gritted his teeth together. He mentally counted the bullets in his gun, stepping slow and quiet as he approached.

He couldn't be sure who it was, but somehow he just knew. It could have been a scientist working late, a security guard taking a nap, a child under observation-

But it wasn't.

It wasn't.

Stefan's breath was short, ragged, his fingers sweaty on the trigger. He'd come so far and he was so close - he couldn't screw it up, he couldn't screw this up-

He stopped short of the door, easing himself forward, craning his head to catch a glimpse of what was inside.

That was when he heard the voice.

Older, male. Warm and harmonic. A good storyteller. The lilting rise and fall was one he recognized. One he'd heard before.

Stefan's stomach turned. The man was turned away from him, looking toward the gurney in his room. But Stefan knew that posture. Knew the slightly slouched gait. He'd only met the man once, one long conversation in St. Louis. But Stefan didn't forget people who betrayed him, not even a little. He still remembered Fisher Lee Redwine, pregnant with a gun in her hand as she stole everything Stefan had. He remembered the look on Uncle Lev's face when he shrugged and said it was just business.

And he remembered Dr. Bellucci's convincing story, the intricate lie, designed to mislead and milk, perfectly executed and remorselessly completed.

Bellucci. Jericho's old friend. It made sense that if they really were still friends, then Bellucci would have been in on the project. There was no way to be friends with Jericho and not be involved, not given how deeply Jericho was into it. Stefan should have suspected, should have taken better measures, but he'd been blind, so willfully ignorant, and now Bellucci's betrayal was more than tipping Jericho off.

It was taking Michael.

Because Bellucci wasn't just talking to himself. He was talking to someone on the bed. It was impossible to see who it was, but Stefan would know those lanky limbs anywhere. Blonde hair peeking out from behind the doctor.

Michael.

He'd come so far, staked so much on finding his brother, and now they were only a doorway apart, and it was too far, too long, and Stefan wasn't going to wait anymore.

Cocking the gun, he put his hand on the door. It was time to end this. It was time to bring Michael home.

Once and for all.

NEXT