Xavier Trouts Office 1000 hours
Xavier Trout sat behind his desk catching up on paperwork. His personal phone line rang and he grabbed the receiver. Trout speaking.
Listening to the voice on the other end explaining a mounting death toll in a small town in Romania, Trout paled when he heard the descriptions of the bodies. He had been through this before, a long time ago. And just recently, Matts team had dealt with something like this, on a smaller scale, managing to escape relatively unscathed, except for one close call. Dialing a number, he waited for Kermit Griffin to pick up the phone.
Griffin? Trout here. Listen, I think were going to need some help on something. Well, I havent asked him yet, but, yes, youll probably have to work with Matt. Well, stop going after Cindy and the two of you will get along fine. No, Im going to run this one. Ill explain it when we get there. Ill pick you up in my private jet. If they want to come along, bring the Caines. Everyone has the right to refuse when they hear the story. I only want to tell it once. Ill see you in a couple of hours.
Trout picked up his attache and laptop and left his office. With a nod to Helen, his secretary, he told her to cancel all of his appointments indefinitely. At the jet, he told the pilot his first set of coordinates and Trout settled in a seat. Opening his laptop, he started doing a search on Aiden Balcescu. Damn, he growled, slamming the lid down and calling Matt. He dreaded even asking this of the team. But Balcescu had to be stopped. It was his last chance. Trout set up the meeting, then reopened the laptop and pulled the intel they would need.
Silver Star 1600 hours
Matt glanced around at his team who were getting antsy. Settle down guys. Trout will be here soon. He said he was picking someone up en route. Benny Ray was calmly stripping a weapon down, Margo typing on the computer. Cindy was squirming in her seat, hating to sit still. Finally they heard footsteps coming down the stairs.
Matt looked up at the steps and muttered, Oh, hell.
What? Cindy asked him.
Griffin. What the hell is he doing here?
Cindy scooted closer to Matt and he wrapped his arm around her. Kermit had already caused enough trouble in their relationship.
Kwai Chang Caine and Peter followed Kermit, Trout bringing up the rear.
Standing at the head of the table, Trout glanced at everyone. Explanations are in order before I begin. Kermit Griffin and I were on a team like yours, years ago. We were good, very good. Until an incident in Romania. Things went terribly wrong there.
Oh, yeah, Kermit commented.
What happened? Matt asked, certain he was going to regret it.
Someone or something was killing women in the town. We were sent in to discover what it was. Like the incident here a couple of months ago, Matt, women with long dark hair were targeted. They were all drained of their blood.
Trout, if youre saying what I think youre saying, I dont think were interested.
Let me finish, Matt. We were moving in on the killer, an Aiden Balcescu, when Keith Dunston, our team leader, saw him grab a young woman. We had no idea what we were dealing with, and Keith pounced on him. Trout stopped to rub his eyes, trying to vanquish the terrible memory from his mind. Balcescu turned on him, his eyes blazing red, furious. He sunk his teeth into Dunstons neck and killed him. We tried shooting him, nothing worked. Our only choice was retreat and Balcescu escaped. Hes on the rampage again. Seventeen women dead in a small village outside of Bucharest. Matt, I hate to ask this, knowing what you all went through with Sanders. But he needs to be stopped. You know what were dealing with, very few people do. Ill understand if anyone doesnt want to go, but we need the help. We may well be the only people who can stop him.
Caine stood in front of Trout. This man, Balcescu. He is a member of the undead?
Yes, he is, Trout confirmed. He is a vampire.
Kermit shifted slightly on his feet while Peter stared at him. Pete? You in?
Yeah, I am. So how do we kill a vampire?
Matt watched his team, then called them over into the corner for a conference. What does everyone think?
Benny Ray and Deke both said they were in, as did Margo and Nick.
Matt, still undecided, looked at Cindy, who he could tell was thinking. What do you want to do, darlin? She shrugged and replied, Whatever you want to do.
Matt sighed. Thats the thing. I mean, I want to help, but do I want us to go through this again? His mind returned to her slow recovery from what Roderick Sanders had done to her. Matt had been truly frightened he had lost her.
I know how to deal with it now, Matt, she stated, knowing what was on his mind. Looking into his eyes, Cindy stressed, He has to be stopped.
If youre sure you can handle it. We cant fight him the ways were used to.
Placing her hand on his chest, Cindy promised, I can handle it. I promise.
All right. Matt walked over to Trout and let him know they were in.
They all waited for Kwai Chang Caine who was meditating. When he stopped, he grabbed a piece of paper and wrote down a list for Trout. We will need these things.
No problem, Trout responded, heading up the stairs.
While they waited, Margo pulled up more intel on vampires, Matt looking over her shoulder. Yuck, he commented about one of the protection methods regarding eating the grave dirt of the vampire and smearing oneself with the vampires blood.
Better than being bitten, Margo shot back.
Caine waved everyone over to him. I will, one at a time, help each of you with how to fight the hypnotic power of this man.
Where were you when I needed you a couple of months ago? Cindy wondered out loud.
Caine walked over to her and put his hand on her cheek. I am sorry I was not here for you. You are still hurting?
No, not really. Thank you.
Matt joined them. I should have called you instead of having them bring in that psychiatrist, Caine. I was too shaken to think of it.
It is all right. I can still help her, Caine advised.
Matt glanced at Cindy. But she. . .
She is still carrying some of the pain.
I dont think its all involved with that, Matt admitted, thinking about things they had been through.
I will help her. I will sit with her during the plane ride.
Matt started to argue, then glanced at Cindy. Okay. Help her.
Silver Star 1800 hours
Trout returned, handing the bags to Caine. I couldnt get any holy water. I was told we would need to get that when we reach our destination.
Caine nodded. This will be fine, thank you.
Matt walked over to Trout. Whats going on inside your head, Trout?
Im just remembering the day Dunston died, Matt. It was horrible, watching him be killed and unable to do anything about it. It went in our reports, but it was hushed up and we were told to forget it. I still have nightmares about it. When Margo called me that day about what was going on here, it all rushed back to me. Those women that are dead over there? Its on my head. Id say their blood was on my hands, but, well...
Thats why you were so concerned about Cindy, too, isnt it?
Partly. Im always concerned about you and the team. But yes, it hit a little too close to home. You sure shes up to this?
She swears she is, and Caine is going to help her en route. I just hope its enough.
According to Kermit, Caine is a miracle worker. I wish we could place him on the team, but...his calling wouldnt approve of that.
What exactly is he?
A Shaolin priest.
Really. Thats fascinating. He could definitely help when we have missions go haywire.
Matt. Are you going to make amends with Kermit? Its not going to go well on this mission with the two of you at odds. Balcescu will feed on that and find a way to fight us.
If he leaves Cindy alone, well get along fine. Shes been put through enough. He swore to me when I called him that he would. I also told him I would be in charge on this one. Sorry if Im stepping on your toes Matt.
I understand sir. Unfinished business. Well cover you.
Benny Ray came over and handed Matt a sword. Hope you know how to use this, boss.
I think I can figure it out. Did we find the crossbows?
Yeah, weve got three. Ill have one, youll have one and Dekell have one.
Actually, Kermit said from across the room, All of us are going to have one, along with swords. Kermit dragged a huge bag over behind him, containing what was needed.]
Trout stood and glared at Kermit. Already he was usurping authority.
Kermit looked at him unapologetically. Sorry. My first thought when you called was Balcescu, because I figured that would be the only time you would call me. I came prepared. Nick looked at Cindy. Do you know how to use a crossbow?
No. I guess were going to have to get some training on arrival, huh.
Guess so. You nervous?
Ill handle it.
Matt will let you stay behind if youre too nervous, Im sure, Nick said. He didnt want Cindy and Margo in this kind of danger again, and was going to work on Margo next.
Ill be fine Nick. Thank you, Cindy told him, walking away.
Airplane 2000 hours
Kwai Chang Caine and Cindy sat in the back of the plane, talking in muted tones. Matt glanced back to check on her every once in awhile, but she was in good hands. Caine was touching her face and hands as she talked, doing things for her that Matt probably couldnt even imagine. Like Trout, he wished Caine could be around more.
Peter sat next to him, also watching his father and Cindy. Shell be fine, Matt. Pop does some wonderful, and yes, odd things.
Dont call me pop, came a voice from the back of the plane.
Peter smiled at Matt and settled back in his seat. I know hes good, Peter. I just wish he was closer. We all could use his steadying influence at times. Not to mention, we would love for him to train us in those moves.
Why do you doubt the love of Matt? Caine was asking Cindy.
What? I dont doubt his love.
Yes, you do. Not a lot, but it is there. I can feel it in you.
Maybe its because I dont think I deserve his love, and Im waiting for the other shoe to drop.
You have nothing to doubt in him.
I dont understand why he wants me, I guess. He saw a video of. . .oh, I cant even say it. And I make the worst mistakes. After we met you all the first time, when we got back to DC, I ran off. To Rome. Where I encountered my revenge minded brother and we ended up in an explosion and I almost killed Matt.
Caine stared into her eyes. Not willingly.
Cindy shook her head. No. I managed to block the hypnosis and fool them. But it could have went wrong.
Your heart will never let you go wrong. Trust in Matt. As for the video, he blames himself for that.
What? How can you know that? You dont even know what...
I can imagine, if you couldnt even say it to me. Your eyes say it all. I also know about the drugs you were given, which weakened you.
Why would Matt blame himself?
I do not know. Perhaps he allowed you to go off by yourself which put you in that position? Caine shrugged. He carries guilt heavily in his heart, and that is the only thing you have told me which would explain it.
He quietly explained to her how to block her mind from the hypnosis that might be applied to her. I must talk to the others now about the hypnosis. Will you be all right?
Yes, thank you, Caine, she whispered, leaning over to kiss the Shaolin priest on the cheek. He slipped her a card with several numbers on it. If you ever need me after this is over, call one of these numbers and I shall come to you.
Cindy nodded before getting to her feet and heading to the front of the airplane. She settled next to Matt who looked over at her. Cindy leaned her head against his shoulder and relaxed.
After the rest of the team had talked to Caine, he came up and tapped Matt on the shoulder. Come back here, Matt.
Matt sat in the seat next to Caine. Is she okay?
Yes, she is. I brought you back here to talk about you. You carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.
The downside to being the leader, I suppose, Matt admitted.
Yes. But there is self blame there also, and it has nothing to do with your team.
Perceptive little bug, arent you? I will admit that I feel the blame for certain things that have happened.
Especially with Cindy?
I havent done a bang up job protecting her, I have to admit. In the time weve been together, shes been shot, shot at, raped, drugged, had a bomb strapped to her, faced a vampire, and was almost forced to kill me. Thats a lot of stuff for one person to deal with.
But you did none of those things to her.
No, I didnt. But I didnt stop them either. Caine, the video of...she was screaming for me to come help her. I couldnt do anything, I didnt know where she was. Matt clenched his fists in anger and frustration at the memory.
And she knows that. She does not blame you for anything. And it was her decision to join the team, was it not?
Yes, but she made that decision after I asked her to stay and join. Cindy could have gone anywhere, been anything.
She is where she wants to be, my son, Caine scolded him, patting his cheek.
Cindy turned in her seat to look at the two men. She turned back to Peter. What are they talking about back there? No one else took this long.
You did, Peter answered. Yes, but...
Pops in counseling mode. Theyre talking about you.
Oh God, Cindy mumbled, sliding down in the seat.
Benny Ray glanced over his seat and grinned. Whats the matter Cindy? Embarrassed?
Depends on what theyre saying, I suppose, she grumbled, sitting back up.
Matt glanced up sharply when Caine called him his son. Why did you call me that?
You inspire the feeling in my heart. If you take offense, I apologize and will not call you that again.
No, its okay. It just surprised me, thats all.
Caine nodded, looking into Matts eyes, realizing he had issues with his father. Dropping the subject, he explained the hypnosis block to the younger man.
Outskirts of Bucharest 0300 hours
The team piled into the truck that met them at the airport, riding to the outskirts of Bucharest. Before going off on the mission, Kermit and Benny Ray gave lessons on using the crossbow, supplying everyone with a handful of standard steel bolts. Once everyone was adept, they were handed the wooden bolt-shaped spikes to shoot from it.
Matt looked at the team. I hate to say this, but we need bait to get this guy out in the open.
Cindy and Margo both offered to do it.
Cindy looked at her friend, Ive already dealt with one. I know what to expect.
Thats exactly why you shouldnt. We almost lost you the last time.
I can deal with it this time. I know what Im up against.
Matt, tell her...
Im not in charge this time, Margo. Trout is.
Unfortunately, Margo, Cindy is the one who knows the most to handle being the bait, Trout informed her.
I cant believe youd put her at risk again.
Caine stepped forward. She is prepared. I gave her the most extensive training on the plane. I will keep my eye on her.
Trout glanced at everyone. Okay people. Were going in as tourists, I have rooms reserved. Well look around the village, find out what we can, in the morning.
They broke into smaller groups and approached the village. Trout had booked them into different inns, Matt noted. That was a smart move.
No one noticed the person behind the trees, watching them, his eyes blazing. He licked his lips as he watched the two women.
Caine hung back from the group, the presence of evil permeating his mind. He glanced around but saw nothing.
Cloaked in shadows, the man followed Margo and Benny Ray to their inn.
In their room, Cindy lay in Matts arms, staring at the ceiling.
What are you thinking about, darlin?
Oh, this and that, she replied ambiguously.
Matt softly played with her hair. Answer me honestly. Are you nervous? Scared?
Id be lying if I said no. But I know Ill be fine, and Caine said hed watch over me. How could anyone be safer? Except for having you by my side, that is.
I havent done a great job of keeping you safe, you know.
Yes you have. Do you have any idea how close those men had been to killing me on the beach when you grabbed me and saved me? Do you? Or how many times Id have given up if you hadnt been there for me?
Matt rolled over to prop on his elbow and look into her eyes. Youve been happy with me?
Immensely. Happier than I ever expected to be. Youve given me a purpose, a life. Youve given me love. Uhm, have you ever been disappointed in me? Cindy asked, sitting up against the pillows and searching Matts eyes.
God, no. Youre more than I ever dreamed possible. For emphasis, Matt pulled her close to him.
Restaurant in Village 0800 hours
The next morning, the entire ensemble met at a small restaurant for breakfast. It was agreed that Matt and Benny Ray would keep Cindy and Margo in the rooms while the others discovered what they could about the situation. Cindy and Margo glared at the men, but quickly realized they were outnumbered, and besides, they could think of things to do to keep themselves entertained.
Nick and Peter visited the local police station, posing as members of the United States press. They looked at the photos of the bodies, Peter shuddering. Nick glanced at him and then said, This is a whole lot worse than Sanders. He was seducing the women. These were vicious attacks. What is this guy looking for?
I dont know, but I hope Pop isnt out of his league here.
Oh, I dont know, Pete. Your Pop is plenty mystical all on his own, Nick quipped.
Peter grinned. Youve got that right. Hell throw a Shaolin philosophy at Balcescu and hell be confused for hours.
Hey, Peter. Do you notice something about all of these women?
Whats that? Peter asked, leaning in closer to look at the pictures.
The way theyre all dressed, tight sweaters and little leather mini skirts. High heels.
And all were drunk. Obviously they were coming home from a bar.
Yeah. Wow. I wonder if Cindy has any clothes with her like that?
Do you think she owns anything like that, Nick?
Nick gave Peter a sly grin. You might be surprised what that girl wears.
Deke and Kermit were entering the bars, fully aware they were closed. All the bartenders were willing to talk to them, though, when they found out what the men wanted. Every man they talked to remembered the women, described the same man they had left with. Kermit sketched a composite for the team, and Deke stared at the mans eyes.
Damn, Deke commented. Suddenly he didnt think it was too good of an idea for Cindy to be the bait. Margo either. You know, Kermit. Why dont one of us dress up as a woman and be the bait? What? Kermit laughed. None of us would make a pretty woman, trust me. As bait, we would be ineffectual.
I just suddenly feel this plan isnt a good idea.
Yeah, well, I dont like it either.
The Romanov Inn 1300 hours
Trout had booked the conference room and everyone gathered there. All right people, theres been a development.
What kind of development? And shouldnt we wait for Deke? Matt asked.
When Nick and Peter had returned with the information, Cindy told Deke her sizes and he went to buy the appropriate clothing to attract Balcescu.
Yes, we probably should. Hes going to have to go buy clothing for everyone.
Margo eyed Trout suspiciously. Why?
I have been informed there is a ball tonight at the castle, and everyone is required to attend. Tourist and villager, doesnt matter.
And just who lives at this castle, sir? Benny Ray inquired, his ice blue eyes narrowed dangerously.
A prince. That is all the villagers will tell me.
Damn. This is going to cost us time on this mission, Matt growled.
And we cant leave early, because they lock the castle doors during these events, Trout stipulated, running his finger under his collar. I dont like this. Not at all.
Lets call it what it is, Trout. Its a trap, Matt stormed as he headed from the room.
Cindy cast an anxious glance in his direction before getting to her feet and following him.
Matt? she called as she reached out for his arm.
Rubbing the back of his neck with his other hand, Matt turned to look at her. Yes, darlin?
Well be okay, you know.
No, I dont know. Nick said this guys method looks nothing like Sanders. Im scared to death for you, and Im admitting it now. I also dont want Margo as the bait. I think we should just get out of here.
Im with you whatever you want to do, Cindy assured him.
Deke entered the hotel with the clothing and stared at the couple. Whats up peeps?
Matt quickly explained the circumstances. I dont like it either. Ill get the truck.
Wait, Deke. I cant call the retreat. Im not the team leader here.
Cindy glanced at him. Trouts not going to retreat. This is personal for him.
I know, darlin. Deke get everyones sizes, find out what colors Margo and Cindy want to wear, and go shopping again.
You got it, Matt, Deke said, writing down Matts size and getting the color from Cindy. Then he went into the conference room.
Come with me, Matt said to Cindy, grabbing her wrist to pull her behind him. They went up to their room, where Matt pulled out an emerald necklace. Im glad you told Deke green. This has a transmitter, so I can hear you and whats going on around you at all times. Im going to have one in my watch. No one will be able to see the ear pieces, so Ill be able to talk to you too.
Cool. But, does this mean were going to get separated?
Its for just in case. It is a ball, and that means dancing. And since youre a stunning woman, I think Im going to get cut in on a lot.
Ah. Well, at least one of us thinks that.
Matt put his finger under her chin and tilted her head back. Self doubt again?
Cindy shrugged. Just not vain, I suppose.
That better be all it is, Matt commented.
That necklace is beautiful, Cindy told him.
Its going to accent the green in your eyes, bring it out, Matt murmured, putting his hand behind her head to pull her in for a kiss.
She sighed against him as one of her hands went around his neck, the other into his shirt.
The Various Inns 1800 hours
Matt? Can you zip up the back of this dress? Cindy called from one side of the room.
If you can help me with this damn bow-tie.
No problem. Cindy crossed the room, wearing the green chiffon gown with layered skirts, decorated with ribbon roses. I feel like Cinderella. Im going to kill Deke.
I think its gorgeous, Matt commented as she turned around. Stay there a minute, he told her as he bent over the bed to get the necklace. He draped it around her neck, then placed his ear piece in. Matt put the watch on and gave Cindy her ear piece. Okay, testing testing.
Roger roger, Cindy shot back. She walked up behind Matt and wrapped her arms around his neck to tie his bow tie. Cindy stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the back of the neck.
Enough of that now, or we wont get there, Matt admonished her jokingly.
She tied his tie, then pinched him before disappearing into the bathroom.
Matt stood there, silently smiling at the closed door. He didnt know what Caine had done to her on the plane, but she was like a whole new person. Matt just hoped that nothing went wrong on this mission.
Margo was flitting around their room, doing this and that while Benny Ray watched, amazed. He had never seen someone move so fast, yet get so much done accurately. Hey sweet pea? Need any help?
No, Im fine, she replied, inserting the earrings into her lobe. Benny Ray had requested she wear a pair with a transmitter in, and that was fine with her. Deke had selected for Margo a peach colored dress, with voluminous layers.
Benny Ray had to admit, she looked gorgeous when she was all dressed up. Not that she wasnt all the time.
I dont know where Deke thinks Cindy and I are going to put our weapons, Margo fussed, turning in Benny Rays direction.
Putting his hands in the air, he stepped out of her way.
Ive never seen a ball gown yet that was equipped for a Glock. Or a crossbow.
Margo shot a smile at him. Very funny.
Everyone met in the square to set a game plan, then were going to head to the castle in pairs. While they talked, an elderly priest walked up to them.
You must beware tonight. The prince is seeking his mate, he will select one tonight. Tomorrow night he bonds with her. Once he has his mate, he will rule Romania.
Matt stepped forward, as Trout seemed to be frozen in place. What are you saying? Are you saying the prince is Aiden Balcescu?
The elderly man nodded. Yes. Hes walked the land restless for the past twenty five years when he missed the window for finding his mate. Guard your women well. You have silver crosses?
Everyone nodded at the man.
Remember, nothing in the castle is as it seems. Eat nothing, drink nothing. He handed each of them a thin chain with a small vial attached. Holy water. If he tries anything, throw it on him. And remember, the greatest power you have at your disposal is your belief, faith, and your love for one another. He turned to Caine and nodded, placing his fist against his palm as he bowed, and Caine did the same.
Peter stared, openmouthed. To Kermit he said, I dont believe it. How does an ancient Romanian priest know how to greet a Shaolin priest?
I think its inbred in them, buddy, Kermit replied, slapping Peter on the back. I think we should keep close eye on the women tonight.
And Pop, since hes carrying the crossbows for us. Caine had announced earlier, he was going to sneak into the castle and keep watch. As such, he would carry the weapons.
Matt reached out to the priest. What would happen if we just left tonight instead of going to the castle? The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up.
He has guards at the borders tonight. You would be shot dead.
Wonderful. Trapped no matter what we do, Matt complained. To Trout, he said, One of these days, Im just going to leave you hanging.
You have no idea what you and your people mean to me, Matt.
and is part of the Soldier of Fortune/Special Ops Force FanFic collection.
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