Hiding

Ezra hurried down the corridor, his hand clinging to Morgan’s as she half-dragged him behind her. The alarm was sounding. People were rushing towards them, all of them trying to get out of the building – away from the fire that Morgan had set. They were the only ones moving against the general movement of the crowd.

He was trembling slightly. If they encountered Keller or, worse, Severin, he might not have another chance to escape. However, they couldn’t leave without the person they’d come there to rescue, either. Too many people had died already because of his cowardice.

“There,” he said, spotting the room where the girl was being held. He skidded to a stop beside Morgan. As she began working at the lock, he stood there, blocking view of her actions from the people fleeing the building.

Ezra felt something tickling at his senses… danger! He gasped and scanned the crowd. Severin was moving down the corridor in their direction. He didn’t seem to have noticed them yet, but Ezra knew that meant nothing. The man was an empath. He could feel Ezra’s emotions – sense his thoughts.

“We have to leave,” Ezra murmured, focusing on the task of fleeing the building, on the fire alarm, on anything and everything except for what Morgan was doing. All he could was hope and pray that it would be enough to hide his thoughts and emotions from Severin.

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Principles

Ezra stumbled away from Severin, stopping when he felt something pressing against his back: the wall. He took a shuddering breath. There was nowhere to run, no way to hide. “H-how are you… alive?” he whispered. He’d been certain that Severin had drowned when he’d gone overboard.

“I’m just not that easy to kill, little fox,” Severin said, smirking. He stepped in close, setting one hand on either side of Ezra’s head. “You’ve been very difficult to track down. Did you know that?”

Ezra swallowed thickly and nodded. “I didn’t want to be found,” he whispered. His hand tightened around the umbrella Morgan had given him. There was a blade hidden in the handle. He bit his lip, stifling the thought before Severin could read it. “Just back off,” he said, his voice taking on a warning tone.

Severin laughed. “We both know you won’t kill me, little fox,” he said. “You’re too kind hearted – too caught up in that illusion you call faith.”

Flushing, Ezra ducked his head. Severin was right. Ezra couldn’t kill him, even if it meant his own death. He bit his lip and thought. Just because he wouldn’t kill, didn’t mean he couldn’t fight back. He stabbed the umbrella down onto Severin’s instep, bringing his knee up at the same time.

Severin cried out in pain and anger; then crumpled to the ground, groaning in pain. Ezra jumped over his prone form and careened down the alley. He nearly collided with Devin, but the agent was quicker than him, dodging to one side and then catching him around the shoulders.

“Easy,” he said, when Ezra tried to pull away. “You’re safe now. I won’t let him hurt you.” He turned and looked at Severin. “Hey, Paul. Guess you’re not so dead as we thought.”

“Paul?”

“Severin’s real name is Paul Anderson,” Devin murmured. “We went to school together.” He patted Ezra on the shoulder and stepped over to the fallen operative. Hauling him upright, he pushed him against the wall and began handcuffing him. “You’ve got Morgan’s umbrella, so why didn’t you use the knife hidden in the handle?”

“I… can’t take someone’s life,” Ezra said, hugging the umbrella to his chest. “I don’t believe in killing.”

“Got to be careful of that, Ezra,” Devin said, his voice soft. “Whether you believe in it or not, it exists.”

Learning Patience

Prompt: In any case, try many things

“Aren’t you done with it yet?” Severin growled. He looked at the painting Ezra was working on and then at the score of others. Most were incomplete. All of them had the same image: the one he was meant to be forging. “You would have been done days ago, if you hadn’t kept starting over.”

“And it wouldn’t have fooled a child,” Ezra said. He glanced over at Severin. “Patience is a virtue, Severin.” As he turned back to his work, he added, “Paul called it a fruit of the spirit.”

“Keep your God to yourself,” Severin said, rolling his eyes.

Ezra chuckled. Without looking up, he said, “He’s your God too, whether you chose to acknowledge Him or not.”

Severin heaved a sigh and then looked at the incomplete copies again. Ezra was right. Each one had some flaw that would have given them away. For some, it was the hue of one color or another. For some, it was the texture of the brush strokes.

“This was all practice,” he said, as the realization hit him. “You were trying different things to figure out what the artist had done.”

“Only way to replicate a piece accurately,” Ezra said.

Severin shook his head. He had to hand it to the kid. He knew his stuff. That was why Keller kept him around. “You’ve got a week,” Severin said, heading for the door.

“I’ll call Shadow Kitten when it’s done,” Ezra called back. Severin couldn’t tell if that meant he expected to beat the deadline or miss it.

Author’s Note: Inspired by Galatians 5:22, but probably not what Paul had in mind…

Best Acting In a Life or Death Situation

Prompt: Take a bow.

Mischief’s chirp was the only warning Ezra got that he was no longer alone. He spun away from his work as Severin stepped across the room to where he sat. “Well,” Ezra said, forcing a sunny smile onto his face. “What a pleasant surprise! What can I do for you this fine day?”

“Keller has a new project for you,” Severin said. He set a bill on Ezra’s desk. When Ezra lifted it to look at it more closely, Severin leaned in close. “Can you sculpt printing plates for that?”

Ezra kept his expression neutral for a moment. Then, he smiled again. “Easily,” he said. He set the bill back down on the desk. “When does Keller want them completed?”

“Two weeks,” Severin said. “I’ll be back to check on your progress next week.” His expression became more intent for a moment and he said, “I don’t have to tell you not to breathe a word of this to anyone. Do I?”

“Of course not,” Ezra said. “My lips are sealed. I’ll have the plates complete in two weeks and then… well, you can print as much money as you need, can’t you.” There was, of course, no way he would keep this knowledge to himself. It was just the sort of thing Chris would want to know. However, he wasn’t sure how he could say anything without Severin finding out. In any case, he had no intention of giving Keller usable printing plates.

Severin looked at Ezra for a long moment. The gallery was completely silent, except for the ticking of the clock on the wall. Ezra managed to keep the smile on his face – to keep his thoughts clear. He could feel Severin searching through them, trying to find some hint of deception.

Finally, he nodded. “Very well,” he said. He turned and headed for the door. “The money will be deposited into your account after delivery is made.”

As soon as he was gone, Ezra heaved a sigh of relief. He took a long, shuddering breath and then glanced at Mischief. “That… was quite the performance,” he said. A faint smile played at his lips. “I deserve a Cammy for that bit of acting.”

Mischief chirped and trilled in agreement.

Of Willows and Lilies

Prompt: almost gold, almost amber, almost light

Ezra studied the painting with a frown on his face. He tilted his head one way and then the other. For some reason, he’d expected the dangling leaves of the willow to be golden or pale green. They were so dark – so outside of what he’d anticipated.

“Can you replicate it?” Severin asked, his brows furrowing. “Remember, in this case, Keller wants the style reproduced, not the exact image. Doable for you, Little Fox?”

After a moment more, a smile touched Ezra’s lips. “Yes,” he said, giving Severin a sidelong glance. “Give me… a week? I’ll have something ready for you a week from today.”

“Shadow Kitten will call to set up the meet,” Severin said. As he turned away, Ezra looked back at the image. In his piece, the willow tree would observed from outside of its shading branches. His willow would shine golden beside the blue water, with its pink lilies.

What’s Love?

Prompt: all this foolishness about moons and blossoms

“Would now be a bad time to say that I don’t understand this sort of artwork?” Ezra said, glancing at Severin.

The other stared at him for a moment. “My God! You’re serious,” he said. He laughed and shook his head. “You don’t have to understand romance to copy a romantic painting, Little Fox. Just do your job.”

“Yes, sir,” Ezra said, a faint smirk playing at his lips. He’d doubted that excuse would work, even though it was the truth.

In Over His Head

Prompt: violence you can see and violence that hides

“This… isn’t right,” Ezra said, his voice soft. He gasped when Severin unexpectedly caught him by the wrist. How had the man moved so fast? When Severin’s grip tightened, he squeezed his eyes shut against the pain. “You’ll break it,” he squeaked, tears stinging his eyes.

Suddenly, he was free. He stumbled back, hugging his arm to his chest. He looked up at Severin with wide eyes. His heart was pounding and he was panting softly. Severin stepped closer again and he looked away, a shiver passing through his whole body.

“Can’t hurt you, little fox,” he said, brushing a lock of hair away from Ezra’s face. “You can’t paint with a broken wrist, after all.”

Ezra swallowed the lump in his throat. He started to speak, but then he felt it. His eyes flew open. He could feel someone in his head – creeping through his thoughts. Fresh tears filled his eyes and he looked up at Severin. “Get out,” he breathed.

“Do as you’re told or you’ll have more to worry about than a broken wrist,” Severin growled. He spun away, then. As he swept out of the store, the creeping feeling left. Ezra dropped to his knees. His breath was coming in deep pants and he was shaking. What in the name of all that was had he gotten himself into?

Braving the Unknown

Prompt: courage is morally neutral

“There’s no way the kitten can get past the security system alone,” Severin said. A faint smirk touched his lips. “Mr. Keller thinks she might need a bit of help from a little fox.”

Ezra looked up from the painting he was working on and arched an eyebrow. “What makes you think I’m even capable of helping her?” he said. He shook his head. “I’m an artist. I paint. I sculpt.”

“You also hack computers,” Severin said.

A slight frown touched Ezra’s lips. He sighed and set the paintbrush down. “Very well,” he said. He nodded. “Give me the time and place.” He wasn’t brave, at least not normally. This, however, was something he could do. He’d never even have to see Shadow Kitten face to face.

“Thought you’d see it our way,” Severin said. He set a file folder on the small table at Ezra’s elbow and walked away. He turned and headed for the door, waving jauntily over his shoulder. “Have fun.”

“Oh, yes, a thrill a minute,” Ezra murmured, lifting the folder to look at it.

Who is the third who walks always beside you?

Ezra’s eyes opened when the door creaked. All at once, his breath was coming in shallow pants as fear tore through him. A shadow fell over him. Soft footfalls approached him and he squeezed his eyes closed.

“Are you frightened, little fox?”

“Please stop,” Ezra rasped, tears welling in his eyes. He couldn’t take much more of this. His eyes flew open when Severin yanked him to his feet. He kicked his feet helplessly, much to Severin’s amusement.

Then a form filled the doorway and Ezra froze. “Who’s that?” he said, blinking.

“I’m not going to fall for that cheap trick, little fox,” Severin snapped, as he turned away. Then he froze.

Out of the darkness, a soft voice said, “Maybe you should have.”

I can help you cry

Ezra took a stumbling step away from Severin. “What… what are you doing here?” he asked, looking around quickly. There had to be some way to escape. Someone to help…

“I’ll help you,” Severin said, catching his hand. An evil smile touched the man’s lips and he murmured, “I’ll help you scream!”

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