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:~: Friday, November 02, 2007 :~:

Return to the Basement

"This place is the pits." Ash sweeps a finger along the battered coffee table and grimaces at the traces of Cheetos dust. The Muse disappeared days ago but it seemed like she'd at least dust the place every once in a while. Disgusting. "Why do you hang out here?"

Tick shrugs. He's kicked back in the recliner, eyes closed. "You get used to it after a while."

Across the Basement, Stanton stops pacing and glares at him. "In your dreams."

"Relax, Stanny-boy." Tick opens one eye to look at him. "She hasn't started your revisions yet. She's thinking through them. You'll be here a while."

Stanton throws out his hands. "I shouldn't even be here. The damn revisions don't have anything to do with me. It's just layers."

Brows lowered in a slight frown, Ash is watching Tick. "You're in an awful good mood. That long dry spell finally break?"

Tick's wicked grin lights his face. "Your book. Chapter five."

Ash's bark of surprised laughter fills the confined space. "Wait a minute. It's my book and you got laid before me?"

"Benefits of marriage."

"He had to wait ten months for it," Stanton says.

Tick gives him the finger and straightens, slamming the recliner to an upright position. "Besides, She's in the middle of your scene now, although I think She stopped to write her paper for grad school."

Ash rolls his eyes heavenward. "Well, that's just great. And how long does that mean I'll be stuck standing in the middle of my bedroom, staring at Madeline without being able to touch her?"

"Well, that paper's due Sunday."

Ash groans.

Footsteps clatter on the stairs beyond the door and all three turn that way.

The door bangs open. Two men who couldn't be more different barge into the room. One's built as big as a tank, dressed all in black like a big, badass biker dude with a scowl to match. The other is slim, athletic and tan, holding a baseball bat and sporting a cheesy grin, looking like he's just caught ten off a gnarly wave.

The door snaps shut behind them.

Stanton groans and heads for the couch.

Tick frowns. "Holy Hell, She's done it again."

"What?" Ash asks.

Stanton lets out a long-suffering sigh from across the room. "Trapped us in with these yahoos. I'm guessing they're from the west coast."

The younger one lifts the bat onto his shoulder. "I am. Thor over there's from outer space. Name's Brody."

Tick and Ash return his handshake. Stanton flips on the TV and waves without looking at the newcomers.

The biker dude rolls his dark eyes. "I hate humans. And the name's not Thor."

"Theron, Theo, Thor, all sounds the same to me," Brody says as he makes himself at home, drops into a beat-to-hell recliner and lifts an open bag of Cheetos from the side table. "And I like how you conveniently forget you're half human." He glances up at the other three, as if finally remembering they're there. "Anyone got beer?"

Ash shoots a confused glance at Tick. "Uh, the guy's not human?"

Tick tosses back a how-the-hell-should-I-know? look.

Theron sinks onto the steps where he's been standing and rubs a hand over his face. "I didn't sign up for this. I'm going home."

"Sorry," Stanton calls from the frayed couch. "No way out."

Theron glances toward Brody.

Brody shrugs and pops a Cheeto into his mouth. "He's right. Your little poof powers won't work in here. Lead walls or something."

Theron's eyes narrow. "I'm not a fictional vampire, dumbass. Lead walls don't stop me."

Tick sighs and reaches for the remote control. "I think there's like a time-space continuum thing going on in here. None of us can get out. If we could we wouldn't be in here, we'd be shacked up with our heroine's. And why are you so grouchy anyway, space boy?"

"I'm not from space, you moron. I'm a hero."

"Uh," Ash lifts a finger. "Aren't we all heroes?"

Brody rolls his eyes. "He's speaking technically."

Theron glowers at Brody. "Literally and figuratively."

Brody laughs, long and loud, like he's in on some private joke that even Theron doesn't know. They all look his way, even Theron, who could be growling, none of them are completely sure and no one's willing to ask.

When his laughter dies down, Brody pulls a baseball from his pocket and starts tossing it up toward the ceiling, catching it again with one hand. "He's pouting because uber-agent finally gave Her the go ahead on his book and instead she's happy with me."

"She's not happy with you," Theron counters. "You're pushy. And you're in Maui."

"Hey, I can't help it if this body was built for the beach. And it's not my fault She stuck me somewhere more exotic than la-la land." Stanton and Tick exchange glances at their bickering, but Brody ignores it. "If you have a problem with how She's handling--"

His words are cut off by more pounding on the stairs outside. Brody and Theron both look toward the door. Tick drops into the other recliner and pauses the TV on the Georgia-Auburn game. Ash reached for another beer.

Stanton sinks lower on the couch with a heavy sigh. "I think it's about to get a little more crowded in here, boys."


Tick's frown eases as Rio jogs into the room, obviously high on somethin'. His grin turns on Tick and lifts his hand for a hi-five. "Hey, Tick." He gestures to the empty recliner beside him before sitting and stretching out. "This the winner's circle?"

Tick chuckles. "You betcha. Been saving your seat."

Brody stops tossing his ball, his look one of incensed irritation. "If there's a winner's circle around here, I should be in it."

"Your book finished?" Rio asks.

"Well, no, but--"

"Tick's book is finished," Rio said. "And mine is not only finished, it's been requested by four top-tier agents. This," he hooks both thumbs toward himself and Tick, "is the winner's circle, my friend."

"Goddamn," Stanton gripes. "How the hell do you get through the door with a head that big?"

"I'm just compensating for Her. Keeping her buoyed, you know?" Rio pushes up one shoulder in a confident shrug. "Least I can do after that HEA She gave me."

"I hate you already," Stanton says, "And I don't even know who the hell you are."

Another dark-haired, dark-eyed, dark-skinned man hovers at the doorway and draws everyone's attention.

"Come on in, Cruise," Rio gestures him in. "No terrorists are going to pop out from the crevices."

"I've got too much to do to shoot the shit with a bunch of heroes." He turns on the stairs and starts up. The door at the top slams, followed by the snick, snick of deadbolts. The sound of Cruise shaking the door handle echo's around an angry, "What the fuck?"

Rio shakes his head and gives Tick a sidelong glance. "Rookie."

Cruise steps into the room, clearly reluctant. His gaze inspects and categorizes each man in the room...until he hits Theron. That one he can't quite figure that guy out.

"What's your story?" Stanton asks Cruise, eyes narrowed.

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I said. Can't you answer a simple question?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"Oh, hell." Stanton shoots Tick a look. "He's a spook."

"I'm..." Cruise crosses his arms, lifts his chin, "...a diplomat."

A beat of silence fills the room before all other six men bust up laughing.

"Yeah, right," Stan sputters. "That's good."

"Come on, sit down." Rio pats the arm of the sofa at his side. "I'll show you the ropes. Play your cards right and you'll have your HEA before you know it."

"What's your problem?" Ash asks.

"I don't have any problems." Cruise sinks to the edge of the sofa, elbows on knees, hands clasped. "Except being locked in here with the rest of you."

"You need to get into the spirit, G-man," Brody says. "Got to be a team player."

"G-men are Feds. I'm not a Fed."

"Naw, he's a spook," Stanton pushes, trying his best to rile Cruise.

"Do all her other heroes look like you two?" Theron asks, studying them.

Cruise and Rio look at each other, then at Theron, and Rio asks, "Whad'ya mean?"

"Black hair, brown eyes, dark skinned, same height, build. Both, what...Mexican?"

"Hispanic," they say in unison.

"Hispanic, Mexican, whatever. You need to tell Her to mix things up a little. Two of you look a little like clones." Theron leans back and pops a handful of Cheetos in his mouth. "What the..." He spits them out, wipes his hand with the back of his hand. "You call that food? No wonder you humans are so inferior."

Ash lifts an eyebrow. "She have a thing about Mex...Hispanics?"

"She lives in California," Tick says as if that should explain it all, then turns to Rio with a considering look. "That other guy who was here...the other cop, Carl, Ken..."

"Cole," Rio says, nodding. "He wasn't Hispanic. Neither was his heroine." His grin is sharp and hot. "His loss."

The creak of the door opening at the top of the stairs brings Cruise to his feet.


A short, round woman carrying a large plastic box bustles down the stairs. Her red apron, worn over jeans and a black tank-top, doesn't quite cover a wide expanse of copper skin and ample cleavage. The rich, decadent smell of fried food wafts along with her.

"Meka." Tick brightens and moves to take the overflowing container. Towering over her, he grins down. "You're a godsend."

She rolls her eyes and hands him a blue ticket. He tugs his wallet free and starts to open it, when the television catches his eye.

"Yes! Go...run. Run!" His gaze is riveted on the screen.

Meka takes the ticket from his slack grasp and moves toward the stairs, muttering something about adding it to his tab. Cruise hastens after her but finds that somehow, she manages to slip out before he can catch the door. The locks snick closed.

"Yes!" Tick punches a fist in the air. "Hot damn!"

Brody is peering into the grease-stained white sacks. "Hot dogs, fries, burgers...what the hell is this?"

He pulls out a white box and grimaces at the grayish pieces of indeterminate fried meat. Ash glances over his shoulder and back up, his face paling a little. "Chicken gizzards and livers."

Brody looks at him, aghast. "What?"

Ash waves a finger at Stanton. "He eats them."

Shaking his head, Brody puts the box aside. "That's some crazy shit, man."

Cruise edges closer. The smell of fresh french fries is drawing him in. "Where'd the food come from?"

"Big Dawg." Tick doesn't look up from attempting to send a text message. He growls in frustration. "Can't get a damn signal down here."

Rio nudges him. "You and Cait betting on football games again?"

Tick flashes him a grin. "Yeah. That touchdown just covered the point spread, too."

They share a very male laugh. Theron drops onto the couch. It creaks dangerously under his muscular frame. Favoring his bandaged left hand, Ash passes him a chili dog with onioins. Theron studies it a moment before digging in. Surprise and pleasure light his face as he chews.

Ash frowns. "Theron is Greek. It means hunter."

Theron nods and reaches for another chili dog. He pauses a second and takes two from the pile on the battered coffee table. Ash nods and steps back, still watching him.

Cruise stands at the foot of the stairs, munching on a bag of fries, looking anything but happy. "Someone want to tell me how this works? What do I have to do to get the fuck out of here?"

Stanton pops a gizzard in his mouth, mumbling something about spies who can't find their way out of a paper bag.

Eyes narrowed, Cruise lets his gaze rest on him. "Hey, smart ass, you're still down here, too."

"Temporary," Stanton says. "Edits and I'm outta here."

Rio is kicked back in the recliner again. He slants a devious look in Tick's direction. "What exactly do you have riding on this game anyway?"

Tick snorts. "Like I'm telling you with them"--he waves a hand at the other heroes -- "around. Although, actually, come to think of it ... I win even if I lose, you know?"

Rio chuckles.

Face set in annoyed lines, Cruise eyes Theron's out-of-this-world physique. "Hey, you. Think you can take out that door?"


"Lord." Tick shakes his head and shifts his gaze from Cruise to Rio. "He reminds me so much of you when you got here."

"Yeah," Rio shrugs, grinning. "Don't worry, he'll evolve eventually. She's slow, but thorough. Look what She's done with me."

Rio's phone vibrates and he tugs it from the back pocket of his jeans. Tick sits a little straighter, forgetting the game on T.V. "Hey, you got a signal?"

"We talked about this last time we were in here, remember. I told you to change your goddamn provider."

Tick opens his phone and frowns at the display.

Rio's chuckle brings Tick's attention back. "What?"

"Getting the inside scoop from my heroine. And it looks like you, spook-boy, will be in here a while."

Cruise's hand pauses with a fry halfway to his mouth. "What the hell? Why?"

"Because She's doing research."

"See..." Cruise tosses the almost-empty bag of fries on a nearby table. "This is what happens when She talks to your" -- he waves a hand toward Brody and Theron -- "She...muse...whatever. She gets this idea that she can just start writing without working it out before hand and where do I end up?" His hands are gesturing wildly now. "Here! With all you losers."

"Hey!" Ash frowns and stabs a finger at Cruise from across the room. "I resemble that remark. Watch it, spook."

"Don't blame us," Theron growls. "I sure as hell don't want to be here with all you friggin' messed up humans!"

"Would you stop bashing humans, already?" Brody says. "In case you haven't noticed, you're a little outnumbered here."

Theron scoffs. "I could take on ten times your numbers without breaking a sweat."

Brody's face darkens. He slaps his bat to the palm of his hand. "Think so, huh?"

"Don't go knocking heads," Rio says. "You'll miss the rest of the good stuff. Like..." He laughs and lifts his chin toward Theron and Brody. "You two better get comfortable. She left for a birthday weekend with girlfriends. You're both SOL."

"She what?" Theron bellows, pushing to his feet.

"Go for the door," Cruise encourages the biker-dude. "If anyone can take it, you can."

"And you, spy-boy, are on the back burner. Your muse is researching the FBI Counterintel site, printing articles on terrorist activities, searching Amazon for spy books." Rio offers Cruise a pitiful look and shakes his head. "Sorry, buddy. When She starts ordering books off Amazon...you're really screwed."



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