CONFRONTING DEMONS

By Barb

 

A/N: Warning: angsty Chris ahead, but you should all know that if you’ve seen Nemesis. Ah yes, there’s another ‘quarrel’ between the angel brothers, and poor Jock Steele gets picked on. Hopefully, everyone can get at least one good laugh outta this one.

 

~ ~ NEMESIS ~ ~

 

My brother is suicidal. That was the only thought resonating in my head when I caught sight of Judge Travis arriving on the afternoon stage. For Gabriel to bring that…nuisance back here, he must have a death wish; what other possible excuse could he have for disregarding my explicit instructions that the judge never step foot in this town again? “I thought I told you to keep that crotchety judge away from me,” I bit out angrily, glaring at my little brother and his approaching charge. “I’ve had about enough of your nonsense, Gabriel.” I stabbed him in the chest with my forefinger and took great pleasure when he winced.


“Look, this is important, Julian,” he stated calmly. How he could be so calm was beyond me. Then again, he was probably dumping another one of his ‘problems’ into my lap for me to handle, thereby eliminating any stress for him. Well there was nothing doing. Gabriel’s idea of ‘important’ and mine differed greatly, and there was no way that I was going to allow him to foist another degrading assignment onto me because he couldn’t handle the situation himself.


“Now you listen here,” I stated firmly, wagging my index finger in my brother’s placid face. “I will not babysit any more children, placate any more distressed mothers, or put up with any more cantankerous leather-faces!” I bellowed, punctuating every word with a jab of my finger into his chest. “So you can take your irritating charge and shove off!”


“It’s about Chris!” Gabriel shouted, causing me to halt the tirade that I had been fixing to launch into. My jaw gaped for a moment as the words I had been poised to say died on my tongue, but I managed to snap my mouth shut when I saw how flustered my little brother had gotten. He’d never have shouted at me like that unless he was serious, but what could possibly be so dire… I let the thought trail off as I remembered that this was one of my charges that we were discussing. Anything was possible when it came to my lot. Gabriel motioned to his charge whilst the judge was crossing the street and heading for the saloon. “The prisoner that’s locked up in the jail just told Judge Travis that he knew who was responsible for the deaths of Chris’ wife and son.”


“So that’s what you’re fussing about? That miserable wretch is scheduled to hang tomorrow; he’d say anything to save his skin!” I stated vehemently. This couldn’t possibly be happening. Things had finally settled down since the last little skirmish, and now Gabriel springs this rubbish on me. Was it too much to ask for a little peace and quiet that lasted more than five minutes? Suddenly, I found myself overwhelmed and on the verge of another meltdown; however, instead of venting my irritation like I normally would, I chose to retreat. I turned my back on my brother and braced my hands against the nearest wall, bowing my head between my outstretched arms. I heard Gabriel come up behind me, and I stiffened my back when I felt him place a calming hand between my shoulder blades. It was a testament to my weariness that I didn’t shake his hand off violently, because I normally abhorred such gestures of comfort, believing that they were more demeaning that soothing.

 
“He knew details about what happened, Julian. He claimed to be there when it happened…even said that their name was Larabee. How could he have known that?” Oh how I hated it when he used that quiet, little, logical voice of his. I felt like swatting him in the face just for spite, but I ended up sighing deeply instead. The effort that would’ve been required to lift my leaden arms was greater than the potential reward of seeing Gabriel’s surprised face and squawk of outrage would have been.


“Do you see Chris heading for the jail yet?” came my muffled reply. I waited for Gabriel to scan the street, and the tightening of his hand on my back was answer enough. I sighed in resignation as I anticipated my brother’s response to my last, desperate plea to just let the situation play itself out. “Why can’t I just let him kill the son of a…”


“Julian!” Gabriel’s outraged response was swiftly followed by a sharp thwack on my back. Lord how I hated being right.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“I promised that I wouldn’t let Chris end the man’s life. At no time did I ever say that I wouldn’t allow him to torture information from the bastard,” I drawled lazily as I watched Chris continue to dunk the prisoner’s head into a water trough. With every dunk, Larabee would ask the man what he knew about the deaths of Chris’ wife and son, and with every spluttered comment Chris would push the man’s face back in the water. Gabriel, who was thoroughly displeased with my charge’s ‘barbaric’ display, continued to pace next to me all the while muttering about psychotic charges and their guardians who refused to do their duties. “Since when is allowing your charge a little retribution against the rules?” I called out, plastering my best puzzled look onto my face. I knew that Gabriel wasn’t a big fan of torture, but I felt that he was being just a tad overdramatic about my charge’s actions.


“We’re supposed to be better than this, Julian,” Gabriel hissed, quickly striding over until he was right in my face. “You’ve always been one to straddle the line, but I’ve never really been concerned about you actually crossing it until now,” he stated lowly, thrusting his index finger at me for emphasis. Oh…so that was the reason for this hissy fit. I swallowed the snarky retort that danced on the tip of my tongue and forced myself to project a nonplussed air despite the roiling tension that lied just beneath my skin.


 “You shouldn’t be worried about me or Chris,” I replied calmly, jutting my chin towards the scene in front of us. By now, Chris had dragged the man back into the street and had begun to shove him towards the jail. “He’d never kill someone who may hold information that he needs,” I smirked, continuing to watch the byplay with bemusement. Something the man said must have struck a chord with Chris because his demeanor began to change. He stared at the cowering man warily as if measuring the truth of the words spoken out of fright. After he had seemingly heard enough, Chris shoved the man towards the jail again and didn’t let up until they were well down the street. I gave the departing men a small smile and nod of approval before I turned to see the disapproving frown on my brother’s face.


“And what if that someone turns out to have no useful information?” Gabriel asked with arched brows. “Would that someone be laid waste to?” Good lord, why does he always have to go and be a stick-in-the-mud every damn time something goes my way and not his? Why can’t my bloody brothers accept the fact that I just mightknowwhatI’mtalkingabout and let things be.


“The man’s scheduled to die, Gabriel,” I sighed in exasperation. “He’s a dead man no matter how you look at the situation.” I watched as the logic of my statement sunk into Gabriel’s self-righteous mind, causing my little brother’s shoulders to droop as he began to deflate like a shrinking balloon. Seeing my brother look so defeated, I couldn’t help but take one last shot at his irrational behavior. Hopefully, this nice slice of humble pie would be enough to tame little brother’s tongue for our future interactions. “You know, it’s quite scary that I’m able to place more trust in a charge than you are, and I’ve only been at this for a short while. You’ve been a guardian since…”


“I get it. I get it,” Gabriel chuckled weakly, an embarrassed flush staining his cheeks. He held his hands up in a placating gesture before continuing. “I’ll work on my issues.”


I gave him a stiff nod of acknowledgement before allowing a wry smirk to twist my lips. “See that you do,” I stage-whispered, leaning forward slightly so that we were almost nose to nose. Just to add a little icing on the cake, I gave him a cocky wink before heading over to the saloon to check on my other charges, grinning at the loud sigh and mumbled curses I heard behind me.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“Is he serious?” The quiet question had me snickering as I caught the look of utter bewilderment on Gabriel’s face while he pointed to the short man jabbering away in front of us. My brother had finally managed to put aside Chris’ display from earlier this afternoon and was back to being his normal, friendly self; however, I was beginning to see a crack in his ‘love of humans’ façade the longer he stared at the bouncy, little man. It’s a good thing that I’ve been around JD for a good long while, I thought to myself. This man’s behavior may have been confusing to Gabriel, but I’d grown quite used to humans who had too much energy for their own good.


“Of course he is. These are my charges we’re talking about, little brother. They attract all kinds of attention,” I intoned, waving my hand about in a vague gesture to our surroundings at large. Poor brother looked totally mystified by the man’s attitude; I on-the-other-hand found him to be quite entertaining. Even Larabee’s glare couldn’t dissuade him from tagging along. “Look at him would you. He’s so excited, kind of like a little puppy,” I pointed out gleefully. “I bet he doesn’t make it a whole day on the trail before Chris pulls his gun on him.”


“Julian!”


“Oh come on! If you had some annoying, little man following you around and digging into your personal business, wouldn’t you put a few holes in him?”


“Julian!” This time, Gabriel’s outcry was followed up with a shove.


“Oh it probably won’t matter anyway. With his luck he’ll be eaten by coyotes,” I said flippantly, waving a hand at the man in dismissal as he continued to struggle with his mule. Gabriel grabbed my arm as I turned to follow my departing troupe and gave me a pointed stare. “I take it that you disagree with my assessment?” I asked him mockingly as I gave his clenched hand a piercing look before raising my gaze to his. He quickly released my arm and shuffled awkwardly as he attempted to verbalize his concern.


“You can’t just let him die, Julian,” Gabriel finally blurted, gesturing with his hands to help drive his point across. “As annoying as he may be, that man is still an innocent, and since he’ll be traveling with you anyway…”


“You can’t be serious,” I squawked, chuckling weakly as Gabriel’s implication registered with me. He actually expected me to keep an eye on this ridiculous, little man for who knew how long; well it was nothing doing. “This is the second time you’ve pulled this rubbish with me, Gabriel, and if you think for one second that I’m just going to bend over and take this then you’re sorely mistaken!” I hissed vehemently, stabbing my index finger through the air to punctate my words. Gabriel clutched my arm again and continued to stare me down until I finally gave in just so I could be rid of him and be able to catch up with my charges. “I make no promises,” I growled, casting a flinty-eyed glare at the struggling man before wrenching my arm away and stalking off.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“Ok, the silence is really getting to me,” I called out, throwing my hands up in exasperation. The whole journey out here had been filled with tension and suspicion, and it was looking as if the night would fair no better. Between the prisoner’s complaints and Chris’ gruff retorts, I was slowly losing my mind. I opened my mouth to unleash a barrage of complaints of my own when a sharp gunshot pierced the air and effectively put everyone around the campfire on guard. After a few moments of silent communication, Chris took Buck with him to investigate the disturbance, leaving Nathan and Josiah to watch over the prisoner. I spared a glance around the campsite before following the two men into the brush. “Anything is better than sitting around here,” I muttered.


Once we came upon the source of the gunshot, the sight that greeted us was priceless to put it mildly. The bouncy writer that had followed my charges from town was waving a small gun around as he stood amongst the bushes and turned in circles, the look of a spooked animal plastered all across his round face. I thought about what would happen if he accidently shot himself and laughed merrily. “I suppose I forgot to take that option into account.” Chris looked fit to be tied as he snatched the gun away and prepared to leave the poor sod stranded amongst the brush. Buck was a bit more lighthearted in his teasing of the man, but I could tell that he really didn’t care about the man’s safety any more than the rest of us did. “Good luck, mate,” I called to the retreating figure as he scurried through the trees in an effort to escape the ominous howling creatures in the distance. “Do try not to get yourself eaten.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


You could still smell death in the air despite it having been three years since the fire that claimed Chris’ family took place. The burned out structure of what used to be a home stood out in stark contrast to the green of the surrounding pasture. I swallowed thickly and proceeded to survey the area, whilst Chris spent a private moment over by the graves and Nathan took a look around the woods. Buck’s normal and boisterous persona was muted, and his expression was harsh as he watched over the prisoner. Oh how I wanted this whole business to be over with and for my charges to be able to enjoy themselves again. In my opinion, they had all suffered enough throughout their individual lifetimes. This macabre journey into Chris’ dark and tortured past was just cruel and unusual punishment. After completing his silent visit with his family’s graves, Chris came stalking across the yard and made a beeline for the prisoner. He grabbed the man roughly and demanded that the man start talking about all that he knew regarding the deaths of Chris’ wife and son. The man stammered uselessly for a few moments, and I was afraid that Chris might perhaps lose what little patience he had and just shoot him and be done with it. Before Chris could inflict any serious damage to their prisoner, Nathan came barreling out of the woods claiming that he’d found something. Not-surprisingly, I got the feeling that Nathan’s discovery wouldn’t be pleasant, so I tried to prepare myself for whatever gruesome sight awaited us on the other side of the tree line that my charge had sprung out of.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


One look around the Eagle Bend saloon told me that there was no way we would be leaving this building without getting into a scuffle unless we turned back around right then; however, such an action would gain us no new information about our mystery man on the gray horse and was therefore out of the question. “Do try and keep the ruckus down to a minimum, gentlemen,” I sighed in resignation as I leaned against the bar and waited for Chris to question the bartender. I was quite proud of the way Chris handled the buffoon, but I clucked my tongue in disappointment when my charge was forced to haul the man over the bar by his shotgun wielding arms. “That’s what you get for not cooperating, mate,” I tisked, looking down at the man’s sprawled position with a grin. After that little display, the downed man sung like a canary and earned himself a pat on the cheek from me for his trouble. I decided to stay with my other charges whilst Chris took their prisoner to the jail, partly because I trusted Larabee to stay out of trouble for five minutes but mainly because I didn’t want to leave the others in a saloon full of idiots who might try to push their luck with my men. “You may have things well in hand for the moment but we all know how quickly things can turn to shit as far as you lot are concerned,” I teased.


A short time later found me biting back a growl as I stood with my small cluster of charges and listened to them discuss the most recent development in our little adventure. “Just for once I’d like to be wrong when things pertain to my charges.” I fisted my hands onto my hips and stared around at my men in morbid fascination. “Could someone please explain to me how we keep walking into these situations, because I’m finding myself at a total loss here?” I laughed derisively. We hadn’t even been in town for half a day and Chris had already managed to rack up another body to add to his count. Granted, he hadn’t done the actual killing…but I knew now that I wouldn’t be able to leave him on his own for even five minutes. I watched as the man in question shifted back and forth restlessly for a moment before stalking off towards the saloon. I turned my attention to the others, but they simply shrugged before following after him. “This isn’t the time to get pissed, Larabee! You have to keep it together man!” I bellowed after them. There has got to be an easier way to make contact with humans, because I’m losing my mind with these pointless bouts of screaming. “Maybe I’ll get lucky and he’ll have some sort of breakdown, which would allow me to make contact with him,” I murmured as I flopped down onto the nearest bench. I knew that hoping for one of your charges to have a mental crisis was all sorts of messed up, but it was looking as if my poor charge was going over the deep end whether I wanted him to or not. I just hoped that I could somehow turn this negative decent of Chris’ into something productive.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


At breakfast the next morning, I was surprised that none of the others knocked Chris flat on his arse for his rotten attitude. “I did warn you against drinking all night,” I scowled over at him as he proceeded to have another bitch fit. Obviously, getting through that thick skull of his was going to be even harder than I had anticipated. The sound of the saloon door opening diverted my attention from the spectacle Chris had been making out of himself, and I laughed bitterly when the bouncy writer who had been on my charges’ trail since they set off from home made his way over to our table. “Isn’t this just the cream on the custard.” I guess hoping that he’d been eaten by a wild animal was too much to ask for. I watched Chris storm out the door and blew out a deep breath, readying myself for the trouble that my charge was bound to get into.


Chris’ recent streak of rotten luck continued to follow our group outside as a barrage of bullets met Larabee upon his exit of the saloon. I didn’t have to worry about my charges seeking out cover, but a look over at the little writer told me that he was obviously lacking that basic survival instinct. I seconded Buck’s loud declaration of his foolishness right before I shoved him into Josiah’s waiting grasp. “I’ll be damned if I let my charges have your death on their consciences, you bloody fool!” A few breathless seconds passed by, and I began to worry that my charges wouldn’t make it out of this melee unscathed. My concerns were somewhat abated when I spotted a covered wagon rolling towards our position, and I prayed that my three charges who had remained back home were ensconced inside. “Please let that be the reinforcements,” I murmured.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“I don’t think my beloved Father has anything to do with our being stalked by this asinine individual, Mr. Wilmington,” I muttered as the loud approach of Mr. Steele could be heard behind us. It was bad enough that I had to make sure Chris stayed reigned in while we stopped in the Mexican bandit town, but now I also had to keep an eye on this ignoramus, making sure he didn’t get his head blown off because of that enormous mouth of his. “I’m going to make my little brother wish he was dead when I see him again,” I growled, tossing a scathing look back at the oblivious writer.


“Your naivety is truly astounding,” I mused, watching as Mr. Steele loaded himself up with his equipment before entering the local cantina. Some people should never be allowed to reproduce. I shook my head dismissively and threw him a wave before I hurried after Chris, not trusting him to stay out of trouble while we were in Purgatorio. “All I ask is that you refrain from making a complete jackass out of yourself,” I mumbled as his lengthy strides quickly brought us to some rooms across town. I threw my hands up in surrender when Chris proceeded to tear the place apart and threaten everyone in sight, only to come up empty handed in the end. “Your tact skills could definitely use improvement, Mr. Larabee.” After seeing that Nathan had him under control, I decided to check back at the cantina to see how the others were getting on. “Can’t leave them unattended for too long,” I grumbled.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“Isn’t this just wonderful? Now that we have a name and a face to go along with it, we hit a brick wall. Maybe we should just quit while we’re ahead,” I laughed sardonically, sitting atop a hitching rail whilst my charges milled about. I knew that Chris was holed up inside the saloon brooding, so I decided to follow Vin when the tracker went inside. “There is no way that I’m watching out for Chris’ drunken arse when he chooses to take leave of his senses and behave like a prize jackass,” I grumbled quietly as I stalked inside the saloon. The conversation that flowed between the two men over the next several minutes had my stomach doing a somersault. “Are you both out of your bloody minds? What kind of a plan is that?” I screamed as I leaned across the table and switched my gaze from one man to the other. By the time Vin left to join the others and inform them of the plan, Chris had a pleased smirk on his face. “Do you have any idea how many ways this insane plan of yours could go wrong?” Obviously, Gabriel wasn’t the only one with a death wish, I thought bitterly.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“I’m sorry,” I whispered into Chris’ ear, keeping a steady hold on the man’s arm in order to prevent him from allowing his demons to consume him. If he had his way, he’d be burning in that fire right alongside his nemesis; everyone else be damned. I understood how hard the man had worked to pull himself back together following the deaths of his wife and son, and I’d be damned if I let him throw his life away now. “You have to let it go, Chris,” I stated firmly, giving him a little shake for good measure. I was going to get my point through his mule-headed brain if it was the last thing I did. “Sarah wouldn’t want you to act like this so just let it be.” I froze for a moment as he inclined his head ever so slightly towards me, and I could see him struggle to regain control of himself. I watched in fascination as he frowned at me for a moment before he swallowed heavily and gave a curt nod, turning back to the others with a swish of his duster. I felt myself smile as I observed my charges heading back inside to clean up the mess from the shootout in the saloon. By the stars I’d done it; I’d managed to make contact with another one of my charges. “It’s too bad they can’t see me; I think that’d go a long way in convincing them that I’m not just a voice in their heads,” I reasoned as I ambled back across the street.  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“Would you look at that, my little charges have taken a step towards becoming celebrities,” I taunted, looking over Josiah’s shoulder to the book he was reading. Most of my men may have groaned at the little novel written about their exploits, but I found the whole thing to be comically ironic. The little man, who had provoked such ire from them as well as me, was now going to put them on the map for all to see. Such an act would more than likely lead to a load of unwanted attention and danger for my charges, thereby causing them to resent the little man even more. “I think he got all of your descriptions pretty accurate,” I murmured as I skimmed the pages Josiah was reading. Out of all my charges, Josiah seemed to be the only one who appeared to share my opinion on the matter. JD thought the dime novel was the greatest thing to ever happen to him while the others took a less than favorable approach to the book; however, Josiah simply shook his head and grinned as he put the little book down on a pew. “Yes indeed, at least someone else sees the humor in this whole debacle. We could all use some laughs right about now. All of this brooding is bloody depressing,” I grumbled on my way out of the church. 

 

 

 

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