Josiah stopped his truck by Harper's rental car and dropped her off to let her follow him to Chris's ranch. Although he was aware she knew the way, in her battered condition he felt better knowing she stayed behind him and arrived safely. When they turned into the driveway, they followed it to the end and parked their vehicles with the others. Josiah helped her inside, offering her a solicitous arm to lean on, all without patronizing her. Both stayed silent, knowing this was not the time to have their discussion.
Having come for a specific purpose and under the cover of darkness, Harper did not look around too much during her previous incursions into Larabee's house; she especially did not turn on any lights. Now having been invited, the Instructor looked around curiously. She found the ranch interior - what she could see - very well decorated, and extremely comfortable, a place that spoke of a quiet strength, like its owner. A black Labrador puppy bounded up to them, lavishing Josiah with attention.
Josiah chuckled, returning the greeting from his haunches. "Hello, Seven. Seven, let me introduce you to Harper."
The puppy moved to her feet, sniffing her legs and then the hand she extended down to him. His tongue licked her hand, and he started climbing up her legs.
Harper laughed, scratching him behind the ears. "We've met. I think he remembers me."
"Some guard dog to let you in. Seven, down." Chris leaned against the wall at the end of the foyer where it opened into the living room, and commanded his puppy. The dog immediately obeyed. Wry green eyes looked her over. "Seems he likes you, Harper."
"I like him."
He shrugged. "No accounting for taste."
Harper smiled sweetly. "Or owners. Make due with what you have to work with, however little or much."
"You insulting me in my own home, Harper?"
"Do you expect any less?"
Chris smirked at her, coming out of his lean. "Nope, just making sure that you're feeling better."
"Give me a week, and then I will kick your ass again."
"Looking forward to a rematch. This time, we'll make sure you don't have two fights first, and we'll prove I'm the better fighter."
"In your dreams, Larabee."
Before Chris could answer, the silent third person enjoying the debate finally spoke. "Time will tell." With that piece of wisdom, Josiah guided Harper into the living room.
As she passed him, Chris said, "Welcome to my house, Harper. Make yourself comfortable."
"Hey, Harper. Saved you a seat." Buck stood, putting a hand on her other arm, both men leading her to a recliner, helping her ease down into it.
"Thank you, Buck." She sighed at the softness and comfort of the recliner.
"Harper, how do you want your steak done?" Nathan asked as he exited the kitchen, a platter of meat in his hands.
"Since I can somewhat chew real food, medium, if you don't mind."
"Not a problem." Jackson went out the slider, standing beside the grill currently manned by JD. She saw them start loading the steaks.
"Ms. Harper, might I inquire where you learned your negotiation skills?" Ezra leaned forward in the loveseat, his hands clasped before him, sitting at a ninety-degree angle on her left side.
"Here and there, but mostly from my brothers. We often dealt viciously with each other when it came to chores, assignments, and driving privileges."
"How many brothers do you have?"
"Six, and I am the only girl and the youngest."
"Big family." Buck chuckled. "So are you Daddy's Little Girl?"
"Of course, but I'm also the black sheep of the family."
"Why?" Ezra looked interested.
"My parents took over a pub belonging to my mother's family in Ireland, and all my relations moved there to be closer to them. I, however, joined the ATF. It created a bit of a stir."
"Defying the rules seems to be your specialty," Chris commented from the sofa on her right, an open beer bottle in his hand. His legs stretched out in front of him, and Vin looked content beside him with his own beer. Buck sat next to Ezra on the loveseat.
"Defying? No. More like following them, but knowing where the loopholes are found, and exploiting them." She managed a partial grin.
"What would you like to drink, Harper? Beer, wine, soda, juice, milk?" Josiah called to her from the kitchen.
"Ice water, please. I have to take some medications."
Harper reached down into her purse beside her, pulling out the bottles that she knew would not make her sleepy. When Josiah handed her the glass, she took those pills.
"What about the other ones, Harper?" Buck gave her a disapproving look. Both knew he personally could tell her how many pills she needed, having dispensed them to her on Sunday and Monday.
"I have to drive home, Buck. I cannot do that with those."
"We'll get you home, and the car too."
"You cannot drive the car because it's a rental. I'm the only one on the rental agreement, meaning it is against the law for anyone BUT the person who signed it to drive the car. All of you know that; why are you making me say this?"
"You'll stay here tonight." Chris proclaimed, following it up with a swallow from his beer.
"I would be imposing, Chris, and I could not do that to you."
The blond leader gave her an annoyed look. "You're staying here, and that's final. Now take the rest of your pills."
"Don't tell me what to do." She tried sitting up, aggravating the bruises on her abdomen. Harper winced, but continued her effort to sit up in the deeply cushioned chair currently cupping her body.
Ezra shook his head. "My dear, stubbornness does not become you."
"I am not being stubborn."
"Yes, you are," Nathan spoke from behind the recliner. "Now, you have one option. Take your pills, and you will spend the night here. Or do I have to force the pills down your throat?"
Harper twisted her head as best she could to look at him. After studying his expression, she said, "You would."
"You're damn right I would."
She heaved a sigh. "Then hold this." Harper passed the water to him, taking out the strong painkillers, popping the two small pills into her mouth, and accepting the water back to wash them down.
Chris walked over. "Good girl." He patted her on the top of the head.
"I am not a dog, Larabee. Keep doing that and I will remove your fingers." Harper swatted at him, swinging wide because of her position and amount of stiffness in her body.
"Still have some temper left. Even better; you're not domesticated yet." Chris walked away.
"I will show you temper, Larabee, and you will not like the results. As for domestication, Harpies play with their toys when they get them home. You are my toy, and you are supposed to be the domesticated one under my control."
"Quit yer bitchin', Harper, and accept he got the best of ya that time," Vin said while helping himself to some potato chips on the coffee table.
"That time, but there will be others. So, you think green's a good color for me?"
"Shut up, Harper." Vin stood, making his way to the kitchen for another beer before he flushed red.
"Something there?" Buck looked at Vin's back, and then back at Harper.
"Nope." Harper's eyes belied her statement.
"Shut up, Bucklin!" This threat came from the kitchen.
Ezra made an observation. "I'm finding that the phrase 'shut up' seems to suffice whenever someone does not feel like answering a question, nor do they want to be questioned further, or when someone speaks out of turn."
"Yes, Mr. Tanner?"
"How did I know that was coming? I should have taken odds on that."
"I wouldn't have bet against you." Harper chuckled, snuggling deeper into the recliner.
"Dinner's ready." JD walked in, carrying the platter of meat. He and Buck divided the food, adding the extras Josiah made in the kitchen, and served the plates to everyone.
For a few minutes, silence ruled the Larabee roost, as each person enjoyed the grilled steak, mashed potatoes, and steamed carrots.
After finishing her plate, Harper's head started to droop.
"Time for little Mary Sunshine to head for bed," Buck said, nudging Chris.
"I'm not tired." Her words slurred as they left her mouth, giving lie to her statement.
"Sure, and I'm the Tooth Fairy."
"Nice tutu, cow-poke."
Josiah said, "I'll take her, brothers. That way you two can stop sniping at each other." He stood, walked over to the recliner, and easily picked her up. He carried her into the guest bedroom, setting her down on the bed.
Buck knocked on the door, carrying her overnight bag in his hand. "Figured that you wanted this; hope you don't mind."
"'Night, my lady. I'll see you tomorrow." He left, leaving her and Josiah alone to talk.
Josiah sat on the end of the bed. "You didn't have to write that check today."
"No, but I wanted to. Consider it the start of my security deposit."
"Don't be offended, but do you have the funds?"
"Yes, I do. Since my only expenses are my hotel room, car, insurance, and food, I manage to save a considerable amount of money each check."
"Oh." Josiah swallowed. "Thank you."
"I'll give you more tomorrow."
"More? We haven't even discussed your rent yet."
"Well, I figured at least eight hundred a month, then adjust that higher after we talked and agreed on something."
"We'll come up with something reasonable."
"The location's worth more, and I don't want to cheat you. I know the going rates are higher, and I want to be fair to you. You are the one buying the house, not me. I can afford it. Are you sure?"
"I'll think about it tonight, and then we'll talk about it when you're not woozy from medication."
"Sounds like a plan."
"I'll see you in the morning, Harper, and we'll talk then."
Josiah left, and she quickly stripped down for bed, pulling on the spare silk nightie she usually carried in her bag. Crawling between the sheets felt heavenly, and she hoped she would not have a nightmare; she desperately needed sleep tonight.
= = 7 = =
"You tuck her in, Josiah?" Chris asked, having reclaimed his favorite chair.
"Yes, brother. She'll be sleeping soon."
"I don't want her wearing herself out. Chris, make sure she sleeps through the night, if possible." Nathan adjusted the pillow behind his back.
Vin snorted. "The dosage on her pills ought ta put down an elephant."
"I'm thinking she's got a strong resistance," The healer among the group said, studying the label on his bottled water.
"How so?" Buck asked this, propping his arms on his knees.
"Harper takes pain well, Buck. I was there when we loaded her in the ambulance, and she never cried out. She only admitted something hurt when we checked it, never telling us outright."
"She does not like to admit her hurts, brothers, but I fear the reasons are not those we would find tasteful." Josiah rubbed his chin with his hand.
Ezra added, "I believe I know some other individuals like that, and I believe they are sitting here." He continued to check his manicure, not meeting the looks of any of the others.
"Guess that makes her more like us than we originally thought, huh?" JD shrugged. "Tough, hard to get along with, doesn't play well with others, refuses to admit pain unless pressed, and stubborn."
Buck teased, "But The Magnificent Eight doesn't sound as good. We'll put her in as a supporting character."
"I just want our training over and done with, and then we can go back to our real jobs, and not spend hours reading books in a classroom," Chris said. His current mood developed from the uncomfortable realization that they were spending entirely too much time reflecting on the effect one training Instructor made on the team. In fact, no one complained too much about not investigating the current case that was stalled because of AD Travis. He was itching to get back to real work, and thought the others might feel the same. If he kept them out of the field too long, they might lose their skills and sharpness.
On the other hand, having this time allowed them to figure out the problems they did not even know they had, and fix them before they became a serious issue affecting someone's safety. The leader finally decided he just wanted to stay out of a classroom.
= = 7 = =
Chris groaned when he heard the alarm. Since he managed a full night of sleep, the alarm clock would survive to see another day. He dragged himself from his bed, more going through the motions than actually planning his actions. A hand found his work clothes, dragging them on, and fingers ran through his hair, not caring that it stood up at odd angles in several places.
He moved through the house, stepped out the back door, and aimed for the barn. Something nagged at his mind, like he forgot something, so he stopped. Chris looked left, and then right, his eyes finding someone lying in the chaise lounge on the back patio. Memory returned, and he nearly smacked his forehead, having completely forgotten his guest. He walked over.
"Morning." Chris managed saying this at a level slightly above a grunt, but below a mumble.
Harper turned her head in his direction. "Good morning."
Chris noticed Seven curled in her lap, one eye open and watching him. She wore a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. For some reason, she looked very vulnerable. "You want him down?"
"Oh, no. We watched the sunrise together, both of us napping a little. He's fine."
"Good. Just tell him to get down if he gets in your way."
"He won't. We came to an understanding this morning, when I realized I was sharing the bed with him."
Larabee scowled. "He knows better than that."
The tail wagged at him, accompanied by a soulful look.
"He knew I wasn't feeling well, and came to stay with me. They know when someone's hurting."
Chris switched gears. "I should have asked sooner how you are feeling."
"Okay, I guess. It will take some time to get over this. Thank you for asking."
"This could have been avoided." The words left his mouth before he realized he said them aloud.
Harper raised a hand. "Don't start." A rough edge entered her voice, causing Seven to stare at her and wag his tail. She scratched his head the way he liked, all without breaking eye contact with Chris.
"All right. I've got chores." He left for the barn feeling a touch angry, both with him and with her. He heard her climb out of the chair and go inside, Seven's toenails clicking on the cement right behind her. She won over his dog. The thought galled him, because Seven usually stayed with him from the moment he woke until he left. Before he allowed himself a full head of steam, her words came back to him.
'They know when someone's hurting'.
Hell, that was obvious. Just one look at her face announced that. Maybe Seven gave her comfort, just like the puppy did whenever he sensed his master felt down. That did make sense.
Chris stopped what he was doing, realizing he was analyzing his puppy's behavior. It was Harper's fault, he decided. She was getting to him, and he was not sure if he liked developing a soft spot for the prickly Instructor. That thought sent him into overdrive, finishing his chores quickly, still feeling a bit cross.
Walking into his kitchen, he wondered what happened. Harper stood at the stove, flipping pancakes and watching a skillet of sausage. Seven sat at her feet, all with the hope that the skillet would fall. The kitchen table was set for two, empty glasses for orange juice by each plate. A basket of sweet-smelling biscuits sat beside the small stack of pancakes already done. When he looked back at her, she seemed completely at ease in his house, and his kitchen. That irritated him, adding to his already uncertain mood.
He growled at her. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Making myself comfortable, just like you said."
"By taking over my house?"
"No. I am not taking over your house. I am trying to keep the fragile peace, unless it's pick on the injured day and no one bothered to tell me."
"I don't mean that, Harper. What's with breakfast?"
"Customary meal to start the day. Made some for you, if you're brave enough to eat my cooking."
It smelled wonderful, but he was not ready to let go of his crankiness. "Oh, I'm brave, just careful enough not to get poisoned in my own house. Unless that toxic waste over there is supposed to be coffee?"
Her back stiffened. "No, it's rocket fuel, treated with arsenic to taste like coffee. I mixed cyanide into the biscuits and pancakes, and doctored the syrup with oil. Don't ask what's in the sausage."
"Wouldn't surprise me." He crossed his arms, still uncomfortable with this domestic scene.
Harper put the sausage in a plate, shut down the burner, transferred the pancakes, turned off that burner, and finally faced him. "This was supposed to be a thank you and a peace offering. Since you think the worst of me, I'll pack my things. When you're done eating, if you decide to eat, I'll clean this up and leave." She stormed out of the kitchen. Seven gave him a look and followed her.
Stunned, he stared at the now-closed kitchen door. He could almost hear Buck in his mind saying, 'Way to go, Stud. Kick her while she's down'. Chris looked around his kitchen, realizing he did not have any pre-made mixings for the biscuits or pancakes. She must have made them from scratch. He also knew he did not have any orange juice; from the looks of the pitcher, she also squeezed that fresh. A quick look in the trashcan revealed a bag from the twenty-four hour grocery store on the way here, meaning she'd been up for hours. He reached down in the trash to find the receipt, surprised to see the time stamp as three o'clock. He never heard her leave, or come back.
Chris scrubbed at his face, rubbing the heels of his hands over his eyes. He admitted to himself that he acted like a complete jackass, all because he started caring about her as a friend, and that scared him. So he lashed out at her, destroying in two minutes what took her hours to prepare. He recognized his reactions from those he'd had before. When he tried keeping his own team members from getting too close. Hell.
Larabee knew what he had to do, and his heavy feet walked him the distance to the guestroom. He heard her trying to muffle her crying, and hated himself more because he drove such a strong woman to tears. He propped himself against the doorframe. "Harper."
She kept her back to him. "Go away."
"My house. I don't have to."
"Then I will go." She zipped her bag shut.
"Give me a reason. We can't get along." She still refused to face him, one hand wiping at her eyes.
"I'm a jackass."
"Nice of you to admit it. How long did it take for you to recognize that fact?"
Chris admitted he deserved that. Probably more, but it was still early in the conversation. "When I realized I hurt your feelings."
"Haven't you heard? I'm not supposed to have feelings. At least that's what the general consensus says."
She was using contractions, meaning she was very upset. This was not a good sign. "I don't care about the general consensus. Maybe I care that you took the time getting that ready, and I ruined it."
"Doesn't matter. Seven will like it." She shrugged.
Chris came up behind her, hesitated, and then put his hands on her shoulders. "It does matter."
"Not to you."
Ouch. Again, he deserved her ire. Chris sighed. "I'm sorry, Harper."
"Are you?" She faced him, and he noticed her other eye finally worked.
Ruefully, he thought she would need an explanation. "Because, lady, I realized this morning that I've come to think of you as a friend, and I care about your well-being. That pissed me off, because I've tried my damndest to keep everyone but my team, and that took some time, at a distance. It was hard enough letting them in."
"If you don't care, you can't get hurt," Harper whispered, showing him she understood his reasoning.
"It doesn't work."
"Nope. Somehow, you slipped in there, just like they did."
"Yes. So, before I came to grips with my feelings, I walked into my kitchen and saw you completely at ease. It threw me, so I lashed out."
"You do that well."
Chris gave her a wry smile. "Yes, I do. I don't apologize well." He squeezed her shoulders gently.
"You're doing a pretty good job of it."
"Don't fish for compliments."
He smiled, pleased to see part of her personality returning. "Fair enough. You want to eat the breakfast you made before it gets cold? If you can stand sitting across from me."
"I think I will manage. Besides, I'm hungry."
"You should be, since you've been up for hours."
"I don't sleep much. Come on, I want to eat while it's still warm." Giving him an attempt at a smile, she stepped around him, and he let her go. "Maybe breakfast will put you in a better frame of mind for learning."
Chris groaned. "Did you have to remind me? I dreamt about manuals." He followed her and Seven into the kitchen.
They shared a pleasant meal, Larabee impressed by her cooking ability, and together they cleaned the kitchen in companionable silence. Mostly, he cleaned and she talked. The next step, preparing for work, caused them to take turns using their respective showers, and then bickering over whether or not she was driving herself to work.
He won, since everyone planned to come over again that night to celebrate the end of training. His concession was agreeing to take her to her hotel in order to grab another change of clothing, since he convinced her to stay another night in the guest bedroom. They arrived at work, Harper leading them through a dizzying amount of material that day, as if nothing occurred.
= = 7 = =
Jeff entered the office of AD Travis filled with curiosity about this visit. Usually, the only reason the AD called him was to check on Harper, making sure they both did not need her at the same time. "Sir? You asked to see me?"
"Yes, Jeff, sit down." Travis stood to shake hands with him before indicating which chair to take.
Jeff seated himself, letting the AD control the meeting.
"I wanted to find out how your division was doing."
"I need to be more specific. How much do you need Harper over the next couple months?"
Jeff leaned back in his chair and considered. "Not that much. She's got us three months ahead already; lesson plans are done for six months from now, not counting the conventions and lectures. The rest of us hate going to those things, so she represents us and we pick up the rest around her. Not that there's much to do; we're so organized Accounting looks like slobs."
"Good. I might need to borrow her for an extended period, but I wanted to discuss it with you before I made a final decision."
"I can afford to lose her for a few months; we're far enough ahead that by the time she comes back, we'll be ready for her to reorganize us."
"May I ask what you're borrowing her for, if you can tell me?"
"She doesn't know it yet, but she's going on assignment."
"Do you think she's ready?" Jeff wondered aloud, having learned some of the contents of her personnel file when she transferred into his section.
"I think so."
Jeff's hands landed on the arms of his chair. "Of course. That's why she's been with Seven the past month. You wanted them to accept her before you put her on assignment with them."
"Well, they may not eat her alive, but it will be close."
"She can hold her own with them."
"No doubt, but seven-on-one?"
"Need I remind you she certified them in six months worth of in-service that they avoided, especially with your own Instructors, in less than thirty days?"
"Okay, so she's better than I thought with them."
"I believe so."
"What kind of assignment?"
"I can't say, but it will be deep cover, and neither her nor Team Seven know it yet. And you won't tell any of them."
TBC in Revenge
If you've made it this far, you've managed to finish a long piece of fan fiction. This wouldn't have been possible without the help and coaxing of several people, many of whom would not let me forget this monster was around. I'd love to mention everyone, but there's been so many people that I don't want to forget anyone. So please forgive me for a large "Thank You All".
The friendly (and many not so patient) e-mails kept me going, and I appreciate each and every one of them.
As for the fourth story in this series, give me a little bit of time to recover before expecting it. There will be a fourth story, I just need a little while to sit back and eliminate some of the rampant plot bunnies in my head. Plus recover from this monstrosity.
In Nathan's ride-a-along, I used creative license in the setup of the Denver Fire Department, and hope I do not offend. I based my Denver Fire Department after some paid departments near where I live, and the reader should not infer that what happens in the story procedure-wise truly happens in the Denver Fire Department. The jargon, however, is correct - that I have checked over with several firefighters and ambulance riders.
Prank Disclaimer: I am not responsible for anyone attempting any of the pranks outlined in the story above, and would recommend you NOT try this at home <veg>.
Several of the quotes used in this story came from a specific source:
~The Friendship Page~ at http://www.friendship.com.au.
One quote came from: http://home.flash.net/~webgal/quotes.htm
Many songs were used in the writing of this fic, and lyrics were reprinted without the permission of the artist. Please don't sue; no profit will be made from this fiction, and consider it free advertising.
(1) "I'm hot, sticky sweet, from my head to my feet, yeah" - "Pour some sugar on me" by Def Leppard.
(2) "What I want - is what you've got - and what you got - is what I want" - "What a Girl Wants" by Christina Aguilera
(3) "With brown cocoa skin and curly black hair, just the way he looks at me with that gentle loving stare" - "Finally" by Ce Ce Peniston
(4) "I'm too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt, so sexy it hurts" - "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred.
(5) "Macho, macho man. I've got to be - a macho man" - "Macho Man" by Village People
(6) "Cowboy, Baby" - "Cowboy, Baby" by Kid Rock
(7) "Should've been a cowboy, should have learned to rope and ride, wearing my six shooter, riding my pony on a cattle drive" - "Should've been a cowboy" by Toby Keith
(8) "Like a rhinestone cowboy" - Glen Campbell & Larry Weiss
(9) "Black Velvet and a little boy's smile, black velvet with a slow southern style, a new religion to bring you to your knees, black velvet, if you please" - "Black Velvet" by Alanna Myles
(10) "Think of me, Think of me fondly, when we said goodbye, remember me, once in a while, please promise me you'll try" - "Think of Me" from 'The Phantom of the Opera'
(11) "Why don't we get drunk and screw? I just bought a waterbed and it's filled up for me and you" - "Why don't we get drunk?" by Jimmy Buffett
(12) "Three Blind mice. Three blind mice." - Nursery Rhyme
(13) "Feed me, Seymour. Feed me all night long. That's right, boy, you can do it. 'Cuz when you feed me, Seymour, I'll grow up big and strong" - "Feed Me" From 'Little Shop of Horrors'
(14) "Free your mind, and the rest will follow" - "Free Your Mind" by En Vogue
(15) "Bang, Bang, Bang, on the door, baby" - "Love Shack" by the B52's
(16) "It's the end of the world as we know it" - REM
As always, thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed it!
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