The Wages of War

by Phyllis

DISCLAIMERS: The following is a work of fan fiction. The characters of Magnificent 7 are owned by and copyrighted to CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment, every one in the western world but me. Taking them out to play and promise to return them, no matter how much I want to keep them.

WARNING: This is set in modern day. It refers to the story Pride, by Tidia, that has Vin joining the army to get experience and training in order to join the ATF, knowing that his grades will not do it. I wondered how Chris and JD would handle Vin going to the Middle East to fight.

I know that we all have an opinion on whether or not we should be over there. This story is NOT about that. It is a study on the people that are left behind.

(Posted April 7th, 2003)

The four stood in a circle, amongst other circles, all of them quiet with whispered words. Tech Sergeant Vincent Tanner stood relaxed in his khaki uniform, his sniper rifle hung from his shoulder. JD was standing with Vin’s duffle bag between his feet, bracing it against his legs. Buck and Chris stood across from them silently watching the boys talk back and forth, about nothing really, just chatter.

Chris stood stoic, his lips compressed in a hard line as his eyes moved from the two boys to the groups of families gathered in the hanger, waiting for word that it was time to send their loved ones away, across the world, and into a war. The very word set Larabee’s nerves on edge. He hadn’t wanted his son to enlist, but at least there was no war to fight at the time. Vin had explained his reasons for enlisting to his father and the man understood them, but he didn’t have to like it. Even knowing how good Vin was at his job didn’t help. Larabee had removed the boy from harm’s way on the day he had discovered the fevered-wracked body of the seven-year-old boy. He had fought long and hard to keep the boy safe and well, and now, twelve years later, he was watching that same boy place himself willingly back into harm’s way. Knowing that Vin wanted to do this, wanted to fight for his country, did nothing to quell the sense of doom that had ridden on the man’s shoulder since the nineteen-year old announced his squad was being deployed to Kuwait.

"So, how long ‘s it going to take to get over there, Vin?" JD asked. The older boy’s response was a shrug. "You excited, yet? You’ll see more things and places than I’ll ever see. I hear it’s pretty hot over there. Glad I don’t have to carry this thing around."

The dark haired youth hefted the bag as he spoke and his voice was strained as he said, "This thing must weight a hundred pounds, Vin. You aren’t supposed to carry it all the time, are ya?"

Vin shook his head and grinned at his brother. They had talked at length the night before and JD was rambling in his nervousness. Vin had asked him to help Chris Larabee for the six months Tanner would be gone. The stress the boys' adopted fathers was going through was tremendous, but while Buck had an outlet in JD as well as his own exuberance, Larabee was not a demonstrative man and bottled his feelings inside, bringing them out only in private.

The Larabee ranch had been the site of a party the previous weekend with all Tanner’s ‘uncles and aunts’ coming to wish him well. As the weekend progressed, the blond ATF team leader had become more and more withdrawn. When everyone had finally said their goodbyes and drove away, Chris was not even present. He had retired to the barn and was still there when Vin went looking for him later. The two of them had sat quietly, not speaking, for hours, simply enjoying each other’s presence.

Now the time had come for Vin to head out. They were calling the division up to board by squads. He extended his hand to the tall agent standing next to his father, knowing it would not be accepted. Sure enough, Buck slapped the hand away and wrapped his long arms around the slighter Tanner and squeezed briefly before stepping back, the twinkle always present in his eyes, accentuated by tears.

"You keep your head down. Don’t do anything stupid," the man admonished.

Vin grinned and responded, "I won’t do anything you wouldn’t do, Buck."

Buck rolled his eyes in response.

"I'm counting on you and Dad to keep an eye on the kid. Y'all know how he gets when he's unsupervised."

It was JD's turn to roll his eyes. Buck reached over and slapped at the dark hair.

Ducking, JD stepped forward and the boys clasped hands. The shorter boy leaned in, placing a hand on his brother’s arm. "I won’t forget what you asked me to do. You just keep your promise to me. Okay?" The words were softly spoken and neither of the two ATF agents could hear the exchange. Vin nodded and JD stepped back saying, "Now, you send emails when ya can. Tell me all about it, okay?"

Vin promised to do that as he swiped at JDs long hair. Handing over the duffle bag, Buck and JD moved away as Chris stared at the 'man' standing before him.

When had time slipped past him? Just yesterday, it seemed, he was trying to convince the boy that he had a place, a family, now. No one was going to take it away from him. They had gone through nightmares and sickness; and fights at school, fights at home. Chris remembered teaching the boy to ride and drive, talking to him about dating and girls, drinking and drugs. They had worked long hours to improve Vin’s reading and along with it, his self-esteem. Only yesterday, had his voice dropped and he had declared he was now an adult, which immediately led to a wrestling match between the boy and Buck, with JD joining in, not helping either one of them. Larabee blinked and wondered when had that little boy grown into this young man?

His thoughts were interrupted as Vin stepped closer, his blue eyes looking straight through to Larabee’s heart. Vin gave his dad a crooked grin, his head cocked to one side. They didn’t need words; both knew what the other was thinking. Larabee clasped his arms around the narrow shoulders and held on. Vin returned the embrace and they stood that way until Tanner heard the call to report. He shifted his stance slightly and was instantly released.

"You take care, son."

"I will, Dad. I’ll see ya in six months." Tanner nodded curtly and, grabbing his gear, moved away to join the procession of soldiers headed to the waiting airplane. None of them looked back. The families stood silent. As the door closed behind the soldiers, the gathering of mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, wives and children turned and began to file out. No one wanted to see the plane take off. They headed to their vehicles to go home and begin the long vigil of waiting, praying that when their phone rang, it would not bring them bad news.

JD talked all the way home. He was retelling a story about a science project he and some classmates had performed. Chris clenched his jaws at the ramblings. After twelve years, he had thought himself immune to the incessant talking of the teen and on a normal day, he simply tuned out, but today he was finding it impossible to ignore the prattling on about nothing. By the time they arrived back at the ranch, Chris was tempted to scream at the teenager to shut up. Instead, he threw the vehicle into park almost before it had come to a stop and jumped out, slamming the door behind him.

Buck sighed and JD fell back against the back seat, drained. Wilmington opened the door and got out. He turned and opened the second door so the boy could get out, also. Hazel eyes stared into space, oblivious, so the man reached in and took the boy’s arm. JD turned toward his dad.

"Come on, son. We just have to give him time."

JD hopped out and felt his father drop an arm across his shoulders. "I know, but I promised Vin that I wouldn’t do anything different, that I would act normal; that I would take care to make sure Chris was distracted from his thoughts." The boy stopped and looked up at his father. "Vin’s worried that Chris will throw himself into work and not take care of himself."

Wilmington tightened his grip, pulling the teenager in close. When he spoke, it was into the boy's ear. "Well, then, guess it's up to us to make sure he does."

JD smiled. His head told him that Buck had been watching out for the blond for a lot of years, but it took a load off his shoulders to hear the words spoken out loud by the man.

Things settled into a routine at the Larabee ranch. JD and Chris both settled into an everyday schedule. Chris took to working longer hours. If there was nothing to do at the office, no cases to pour over or court appearances to go to, he immersed himself in working the ranch by mending fences, working the horses, moving stock to different fields. On more than one occasion, he had butted heads with Wilmington.

Those confrontations were almost always over JD. Whereas Larabee dedicated his time to avoiding any news about the war, the teen had become a walking textbook of warfare strategies and weapons. He knew at any given moment, beyond his school hours, the exact location of Vin's division. JD mapped their every move by way of the Internet. Each day he came straight home from college, never going out with friends or, even Casey, though she had made several appearances at the house. First, he would check his email for word from his brother. All communications were printed and lovingly stored in a ring binder, each one slipped into a sleeve to protect it. A second copy was left on Chris' desk.

The first communication had been printed immediately and JD had run to show it to the two men. He had found them in the barn. Buck took the slip of paper and read it with anticipation. The young soldier wrote like he spoke, conveying as much information possible in as few words as possible. The tall ATF agent just laughed at the cryptically short email. JD smiled as he took the note and held it out to the other man.

"My hands are dirty, JD. Just read it, " Larabee said curtly.

The smile faded as the teen read, "Arrived fine, hot, dry, dusty. Ears full of sand; send Q-tips and flea collars. Just call me 'Venji'. Miss ya all, Tanner."

The blond nodded and moved on to muck out the next stall. JD chewed on his lip as he looked at the paper in his hand. He felt his dad's large hand encompass his neck and he sighed, the touch a welcome comfort in the face of Chris' cold reception.

Warm breath wafted across his ear, as Buck whispered, "He don't want to cry in from of ya. Don't worry, he was glad you brought it out."

JD turned to look into his adoptive father's blue eyes. "Maybe I should just lay a copy on his desk and he can read them in private."

His dad smiled and winked. "That's a great idea." He spoke softly but then raised his voice. "Son, why don't you go start some supper? We'll be done in a few minutes. I'm working up a pretty good appetite, out here."

"Okay. I set out some chicken to thaw when I came home. I'll get started on it right now." The smile returned to the teen's face as he held up the paper and pointed to the house, indicating he would put it on Larabee's desk. He took off at a trot to drop off the note and start the evening meal before Chris finished his task.

After the youth disappeared, Wilmington stalked over to the man he considered his oldest and best friend. Chris stood leaning on the shovel, his back to the stall door as Buck entered. Wilmington opened his mouth to voice his disapproval of Larabee's handling of the situation, but was cut off as Chris spoke first.

"I know, Buck. I didn't handle that very well." He turned slowly, his green eyes revealing the pain in his heart. "Buck, I'm sorry, but I don't know how to handle this. Every time the phone rings, I start to shake."

He turned back to stare out the window at the mountaintops outside. "I just want to close my eyes and have this all over when I open them, again."

Wilmington placed a comforting hand on the man's shoulder. "I don't know how to help ya, pard. Just know that I'm here, we'll all be here for ya. I'll ask JD to tone down the updates, but nothing more. He's trying to deal with this in his own way, just like you."

Larabee nodded and they finished up their work in silence. After putting away the tools and closing the barn, they headed to the house just as the sun sank beneath the horizon. Chris stepped onto the porch, but stopped as Buck placed a hand on his arm. He turned to look at the mustached agent.

"Chris, I know that you have a lot of fears eating away at ya, but I have to say this."

Larabee frowned at the serious tone Wilmington had adopted in his normally jovial voice.

"If you can't be more responsive to JD, or at least tolerant to his feelings about Vin, I'll be looking for another place for us to live. I'm not deserting you. I know you want us around, but JD's uppermost on my list of priorities. His welfare and security override everything. He's just as scared about Vin and the war as you. He just goes about dealing with it differently than you." He waited for the blond's reaction, prepared to have his ultimatum tossed back at him.

But this was not the same Chris Larabee that had tried to drink himself to death after the loss of his family. This was an older version, a man who had spread himself among a growing group of people, all of them considered family. So, Chris tightened his mouth and nodded. "I understand. I'll try to not take his head off when he talks about it. "

Buck smiled and they headed into the house, hearing the news broadcast blasting from the front room. Chris stopped and Buck drew to a halt behind him, as Larabee growled, "But I ain't making no promises."

That had been three weeks ago. Wilmington had watched as JD tried to avoid the subject when Chris was around. To give the man his due, he had listened to the news, even watched a few of the CNN broadcasts, but tensions were running high in the Larabee/Wilmington household. As the war intensified, so did the emotions of the family.


A muffled voice called back, "Okay, Chris. I'll be right there."

The blond sat down and glanced at his watch. Buck had stayed late and was expected any time. He had told Chris over the phone to not wait supper on him as he would probably arrive by the time they were sitting down. Eating together as a family was a steadfast rule in the house. Both men took the opportunity to talk to the two boys and keep abreast of their lives during the evening meal.

Chris stared at the table as he waited, his fingers drumming on the wood. The week had not been a good one. Ezra had been called away when Maude had taken ill in Europe. Standish had taken his entire family overseas, a bit reluctantly, but in case his mother was truly as ill as they hinted.

Josiah and Nathan had been treading lightly since Vin's division had been called up. Both men figured a low profile was the safest way through the ordeal. Buck was playing peacemaker and go between, since he had the most experience and influence in Larabee's life. But the whole team had been ordered to assist on an operation that Chris judged to be poorly set up and said as much. The deal had gone down badly and the team leader had been called to task for his criticism.

"Dammit." Larabee slapped his hand against the table and jumped out of his chair, storming to the back where the boys' rooms were located. When Vin turned fourteen, the boys had reached an age where they fought about anything and everything. It had gotten so bad that Buck had started looking for a new place to live. Josiah had stepped in and commented during a heated discussion in Larabee's office one day as Chris and Buck argued once again.

"Brothers, if I may?"

Two pairs of eyes, intense with the passion of verbal warfare had turned on the profiler, but he simply stared back, coolly. "It would appear that you are faced with a dilemma most parents are faced with. The solution is not to tear the boys apart, but merely separate them. Have you considered adding to the square footage and giving each boy a separate room? They'll have their own space without giving up the support of the brotherhood."

Buck and Chris had turned to each other and after only a moment's hesitation burst out laughing. A simple solution to the problem, easy enough to see if you aren't butting heads with someone.

Larabee now stormed into the room that had been built for the younger boy.

"God Dammit, JD. Supper' getting cold. What the hell are you doing in here?"

Chris saw the boy jump at the first words and he now stood with his back against the window, a pushpin posed in midair.

"I…I was just coming. I wanted to…" His eyes flicked to the map pinned to the wall. It was a map of the Middle East, blown up to show Iraq. There were different colored pins and multi-colored lines drawn across the expanse.

Larabee knew that JD gathered information, keeping track of the war effort on the map, but he had never really looked at the map or even asked about it. It represented danger to him, danger to his son. The very sight of if infuriated the man, though he knew it was irrational.

The teen saw the fury in the man's eyes and he knew in his heart that it was not directed at him. But his mind registered the danger and he stepped back. Taking a deep breath, JD tossed the pushpin into the small plastic box and stepped toward the door, saying, "Sorry, Chris. I wasn't paying attention to the time. Let's go eat."

The dark haired teen started around the angry man and stepped to the door.

Larabee stared at the map, unmoving. When he did move, it was not toward the door, but the map, and JD reacted instantly to the purposeful stride, moving around Chris, even as the man's hands came up, reaching for the symbol of the separation from his son.

"Chris! No!"

Yanking the map from the wall, Chris attempted to rip it apart as JD fought to take it from his hands.

"Don't! It's not yours. Stop IT!"

And in a moment that Larabee would regret for years and envision in his mind's eye for months to come, the man grabbed the boy's shirt in both hands and threw him across the room where he landed awkwardly on the corner of the dresser. The rage was smothered in a heartbeat when the teenager cried out in pain. The man felt the blood drain with his face and he swayed at the scene before him, his heart beating a staccato rhythm in his chest. Recovering, he took a step forward, only to feel himself staggering back. It took a moment for his mind to register the meaning of the movement as a dark shape moved past him. Buck.

The man squatted on the floor, placing himself between the teen and Larabee. "JD? You all right?"

The sob was like a knife in Chris' heart and he stumbled out of the room and beat a path to his own room, barely managing to reach the toilet before throwing up the little bit of food in his stomach. He remained poised over the bowl until the feeling left. Rinsing his mouth, he moved back down the hallway and stood outside JD's door, eavesdropping on the conversation between father and son.

"I'm fine, Dad." The hiss belied that statement.

"JD, at least let me call Nathan."

"No! Uncle Nathan doesn't need to come out here. It's just a bruise. That's all. I hit my back on the dresser."

Larabee could hear the shuffling of feet as the two moved around. He knew that they were sitting on the bed when the springs squeaked.

"Why are your hands bleeding?" Buck's voice was soft and hard to hear. Chris closed his eyes, the image of the boy hitting the dresser playing against the dark of his lids.

"It's just scratches… from the pushpins. I was trying to get the map back and it’s full of pins."

"I'm sorry, kid. I know you put a lot of work into that map."

"It's okay. It's just a map." But Chris heard the crack in the boy's voice and knew it was more than that. JD's next words were muffled and Larabee could imagine the man cradling his son's head as he said, "It was just a way to keep track of Vin, so I'd know where he was, how close…"

The words trailed off and Chris stepped away from the door. He moved back down the hall to the front room and stood, staring at nothing. Without realizing it, tears began to run down his face, leaving a hot trial of shame down each cheek. He heard Buck come into the room, felt the animosity rolling off the man in waves. The worst part was knowing that he deserved that hatred. He had made a promise to the man even though he had jokingly said he wasn't. Larabee knew that same promise extended to his son. Vin had charged him with JD's care while he was away. It was requested before Vin had left for boot camp and that request was renewed each time the older boy had come home.

"We'll be leaving tomorrow, Chris."

Larabee nodded in acceptance, not turning until JD sternly stated, "No."

Both men turned to see the boy standing in the hallway, one hand on the wall, as the other pressed against his side. Larabee quickly glanced away, tasting the bile rising in his throat at the sight.

"Dammit, JD. I make the decisions around here. I told him what would happen if he couldn't control himself." Buck was winding up as he turned toward the smaller man. "Of course, I was talking about verbal abuse. I never imagined that he would hit you."

"No, Buck. I'm not leaving. I promised Vin."

The mention of the older boy's name drew Chris' head up and he watched as JD approached. There was no fear in his eyes as he moved to stand in front of the man.

"Chris, we're both to blame for what happened. We haven't talked about our feelings or our fears. I need to know where Vin is at all times, so I can watch what is happening around him. You need to avoid the whole issue or just go insane with worry, right?"

Larabee's mouth was compressed with emotion and he merely nodded.

"I know what you think, you know. That I love this, that I think Vin is going to come home some kind of hero."

Chris started to shake his head, but the hazel eyes bore into him and he ended up nodding. "I've watched you boys grow for twelve years. I know how you love Vin and look up to him. But this is…" Chris hesitated.

And JD finished. "…is real? I know it's real. I know that Vin might die, might not come home. But I feel like, that if I bury my head in the sand until he comes home, that I'm dishonoring what he's doing." The teenager saw the flash of hurt on the man's face and quickly continued. "That's my way of handling the stress, Chris. I analyze and study and map. You? You throw yourself into whatever you're doing. Trying to bury yourself, not your head, but your whole being, in work, praying that when you do come up for air, that the six months will be up and you can relax again. That Vin will be home and safe. We're both doing the same thing; we're just coming at it from different angles."

Buck had moved forward to stand next to the teenager. "JD, I really think that we should…"

The boy turned to his father. "No, Dad. I don't think moving out is what anyone wants."

Buck took a deep breath as he closed his eyes and dropped his head back. "JD."

"Is it what you want, Dad? Chris? Do you want us to move out?"

The two men looked at each other, anger in one set of eyes and guilt in the other. Finally, they broke the intent looks. Chris turned his attention to the teen, reaching out to place one hand on the boy's neck.

"JD, what I did was so very wrong. I want to apologize and ask if you can forgive me."

JD did not smile as he said, "Chris, I didn't help matters, so I'll forgive and forget if you will."

"When did that little five year grow up and get so smart?"

The boy finally smiled, saying, "Always been smart, you just never noticed."

Larabee shook his head as Wilmington chuckled. "Smart-mouthed, is more like it."

"Anybody hungry?" JD asked.

The three headed to the kitchen and the now cold dinner. As Buck set about warming the meal, JD and Chris took seats at the table. Chris watched as the boy sat gingerly and shame heated the man's face.

Without even looking up, JD stated, "I'm fine. It's a bruise. That's all."

The food was served and the three ate quietly. As they finished, Chris looked at the teen.

"JD?" He waited as the boy looked up. "Can you make another map? I'd like to help. If you'll let me."

A genuine grin lit the boy's face. "Yeah, we can do that. That'd be great, Chris."

The meal was finished and Chris volunteered to do dishes. Buck followed JD to his room.

"Take off that shirt, kid. I want to see your back."

"Dad," the boy whined.

"No argument, son."

With an exaggerated sigh, the boy unbuttoned the shirt and dropped it off his shoulders. Wilmington grabbed the shirt and eased it off the boy's arms. Tossing the shirt off to the side, the man examined the large bruise on the boy's lower right side, just above the waist. JD flinched and bit his lip to keep from groaning.

"Son, that is going to be sore in the morning."

"Yeah, I know. I should have just let Chris blow off steam. He means a lot more to me than that stupid map." JD's gaze moved to the crumpled paper on the floor.

Buck sat down next to the teen, his eyes following the boy's gaze. He leaned over and whispered into JD's ear. "I know what that map meant to you. It's your lifeline to Vin."

The hazel eyes dropped to look at the floor. JD had told Buck everything about his map, the meaning of the colors, both the pushpins and drawn lines, every addition and detail.

"We can make another. It'll mean even more, now."

"Yeah, I think it will. Vin'll love it when he gets home." Buck stood and stooped and retrieved the map, placing it on the desk. "You get ready for bed. I'll be back in a few minutes."

Buck headed for the door, but stopped and turned at, "Dad?"

The man smiled, it was a weak imitation of his usual grin. "Don't worry. I'm not going to do anything. I want to check on Chris. He's probably in worse shape than you."


The next two weeks the family of three, mended wounds and began to build an even stronger relationship. Chris helped to recreate the map he had destroyed. He discovered it was a healing experience and found himself feeling closer to both JD and Vin. Each day, he and the boy would go over the map, keeping track of the nineteen year old.

Memorial Day was approaching and with one of 'theirs' overseas, fighting a war, the day took on new meaning to the entire team and their families. Chris and Buck invited everyone to the ranch for a celebration that day and the three other team members readily accepted.

Standish had returned from Europe two weeks earlier, his mother accompanying the family back to the States. While the woman had been lacking in maternal instincts, she had discovered she was a natural as a grandmother and having had a scare with her illness, she decided to come home and enjoy her grandchildren. Ezra had asked if it would be acceptable to the two men if Maude joined the festivities, to which both men agreed. 'The more the merrier' Buck had told him.

That Monday dawned clear and cool, promising to be a beautiful day. The two previous days had been hectic as the three residents of the ranch cleaned and mowed and swept and dusted. Tack was checked and animals groomed. Corrals cleaned of the debris, both organic and non-organic. Extra tables and chairs were ordered and picked up. First thing Monday morning, all the tables were set up and draped with patriotic cloths. By noon, people began to arrive. An old metal horse trough had been cleaned and filled with ice and sodas were chilling in the icy water.

Lunch was planned for three o'clock and until then kids were playing games and riding the horses that Chris boarded for all the team and their families. By three, everyone was ready to eat and the mounds of food began to disappear as mothers served the children and the adults helped themselves to the buffet table. JD joined the kids table to give the adults a little time to relax before the whole chaotic scene started up again after the meal. Surprisingly, Maude joined the teenager at the children's table and kept them all entertained with wild stories of her 'more youthful' days to all corners of the world.

Midway through the meal, JD excused himself to get more drinks to replenish the trough. Nathan and Rain's twins had requested lemonade and he had brought them the last two chilled cans. Seeing his dad start to stand, JD shook his head, telling him that he had it.

"I'm just going to throw some more drinks in. You stay here," and the boy jogged off, eager to get back for more of Maude's tales.

He entered the back of the house and was selecting the cartons needed when the phone rang. Frowning, he headed to the cordless phone hanging on the kitchen wall.

"Larabee Ranch."

"Hey, kid," a familiar voice said.

JD's face lit up as he grinned. "VIN! Oh, my gosh, Vin. Man, it's great to hear your voice. Man, I can't believe…"


"… you called. Hey, everyone's…"


"…here. We're having a party." Stopping to take a breath, the call finally registered. "Yeah, Vin. I'm listening."

A chuckle was heard over the phone. "Be nice if you took a breath, too. So, Dad's there?"

"Well, sure, he's here, Vin." JD listened to the tone in his brother's voice and a chill ran through him, causing a tremble to run through his muscles. "Vin, are you all right?"

"Yeah, kid, I'm all right. How's Dad been doing?"

JD hesitated and the receptive older boy picked up on it. "That bad, huh?"

"No. No. I mean…well, it's been hard. He's scared, you know."

"Yeah, I know the feeling. Listen, I got some good news and some bad."



"Yeah?" His voice was a whisper.

"I need you to take care of Dad for just a little bit more. I…ah, I got hit yesterday."

The next words were so soft the soldier asked, "What'd ya say, JD?"

The dark haired youth cleared his throat. "I asked if it was bad."

"Well, not near as bad as when Rawlins goons shot me twelve years ago, but bad enough that I'm coming home."

"What? When? How bad? Where?" JD stammered.

"I'm coming home, tonight. They're flying us out to Virginia tonight. I got a chunk of meat gouged out of my leg, but it'll be fine."

"Oh, man, that's great." JD shook his head. "No, I mean that you're coming home-that's great. It's not great that you got shot. Well, actually it is, cause now you get to come home. Oh, man, Chris is going to shit. Hey, can we come to Virginia and get ya? I bet Mr. Travis will loan us his plane. If not, Uncle Ezra will know someone. Hey, guess what? Maude is here and she's great. Really nice."

"JD, hey, shut up for a minute."

"Oh, sorry, Vin."

"No, it's really great to hear ya goin' on, but I can't talk a long time and I want to talk to Dad. The Army will send someone out to tell him what happened and I don't want him to freak."

"Shit. I didn't think about that. Let me take the phone out to him." JD headed for the door as the two continued to talk. "So, do you know where and when you get back?"

"No, not yet, but I'll call and…"

"Shit, Vin. They're already here."

As JD reached the screen door leading to the porch, he saw the green Army sedan. They had arrived and parked while he was inside. The two officers were just approaching a standing Larabee. Buck stood to the blond's right and Ezra to his left with Nathan and Josiah a step behind the three. Chris' face was stone hard and JD flew out the door to intercede.


The boy slid in between the two groups of men. Wilmington reached for his son's arm, only to have the teen shake the hand off.

"Chris. Phone." He held the instrument up to the terrified father.

"JD, not now." Buck growled.

But JD only smiled and held the phone in front of Chris' face. Finally, the blond lowered his eyes and looked at the teen. "Chris, you want to take this."

As the words slowly sunk in, Chris saw the sparkle in the hazel eyes and a smile crept slowly onto his face. JD nodded. Larabee took the phone and stepped away before speaking.

JD turned to face the two officers. "Sorry. You'll have to talk to Buck Wilmington. Mr. Larabee is busy. "

The officers smiled and nodded as one man extended his hand. "Mr. Wilmington, I'm Major Austin. This is Captain Lewis. We came to inform Mr. Larabee that his son is heading home with a serious, but none life-threatening injury."

The man paused as a cheer went up and people began to move around hugging and clapping one another's backs. JD was grabbed and manhandled by his father and each uncle. Buck wrapped an arm around the boy's shoulders and turned his attention back to the officers. Captain Lewis had pulled out a folder and now handed it to Buck.

"You'll find all the information as to when and where Sergeant Tanner will be arriving back in the States. Happy Memorial Day, sir."

Buck shook hands with both men again. "Thanks, boys. You have made this a great day for us."

The two officers turned and, getting into their vehicle, watched the celebration for a moment before driving away. Their eyes sought out the blond standing at a corral, the cordless phone pressed to his ear as the car swung in that direction, and then they were gone.

The celebration continued behind the man as he talked quietly to his son. JD stood watching, his excitement barely contained. Buck knew the teen wanted to hear what was going on, wanted to know when his brother was coming home, to the ranch. That information was in the folder, he wasn't going to look. The folder was Larabee's to open and Buck could wait. JD on the other hand, couldn't. Buck walked up to his son and wrapped an arm around his neck.

"Come on, kid. We got guests to look after."

Father and son strolled back to the others, allowing Chris privacy. No one heard the words or saw the tears of relief that the man shed. All they saw was the dark silhouette of a man leaning on a rail fence, one booted foot on the bottom rail and one arm draped over the top rail.

Wednesday morning arrived to find Buck Wilmington, JD Dunne, and Chris Larabee disembarking from a private jet in Virginia. When Assistant Director Orin Travis got word that Chris' son had been wounded and was being shipped home, he had immediately called the team leader and offered the use of his private jet. After working together for fifteen years, the older man knew that Larabee would be heading to the base where his son would be treated for his injuries. The AD had arranged for the young soldier to return home and recuperate in Denver with family and friends. The nature of his wound would not call for an extended stay in the hospital and Orin had assured the boy's superiors that he would be supervised by a stern, but loving father and his injury examined by a more than capable medic.

The three males quickly located the car that had been ordered to pick them up and headed to the air base. Their ride over was quiet and the atmosphere charged with anticipation. When they identified themselves at the gate, they were escorted directly to the airfield and were standing, tensely watching as the plane circled the field and then banked and descended gracefully onto the tarmac. It taxied around and approached the hanger where several families were gathered, waiting to greet their returning sons and daughters.

It took several minutes for the plane to arrive at the hangar and the engines to rumble to a stop. Several ambulances had been waiting and they approached the big C130 Hercules cargo plane as the rear door was lowered. A ripple of excitement and fear ran through the crowd of families, as stretchers started moving down the ramp. The most seriously wounded came off first and were loaded into the waiting vehicles. As people recognized their loved ones, they moved forward to speak to them briefly. After they assured themselves that their kin was alive and being taken care of, the families moved back. Everyone was instructed where to go and wait. Hospital personal were assigned to each patient and would act as emissary to the families until the patient was in a room and reunited with waiting family.

JD was standing on his toes, in an attempt to see over the people and vehicles gathered around the plane. As the last ambulance pulled away, a bus took it's place and once again blocked a good view of the ramp. The boy lowered himself down onto his heels again, a look of disappointment on his face. Wilmington tossed his arm over the slight shoulders and pulled the dark head in close.

"Don't fret, son. He'll be off in a minute."

JD merely nodded as he glanced up, a weak smile on this youthful face. Hearing a noise, the two turned to look at Larabee as he stood staring at the plane. A look of concern crossed his face, causing them to look in the direction of his gaze.

Vin had appeared and was slowly making his way down the gentle incline of the ramp on crutches, his face tight with concentration. He was moving with great care, a corpsman alongside in case he had trouble with the unaccustomed and sometimes awkward crutches. When he finally reached level ground, his eyes cast down, watching for any hazards, he found the way blocked by black boots and jeans and he smiled as his gaze moved up and locked with the green eyes.

"Hey, Dad." The blue eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot, weary looking. The young man wore the ravages of war on his face in the form of maturity beyond his years. The young boy that Chris Larabee had pulled from under a stack of pallets twelve years earlier was as serious and mature as some adults, possessed of a keen sense of responsibility that had never wavered and that had created an old soul in a young body. Today, that old soul was showing and Larabee cried inwardly at the loss of the young man's childhood, while, at the same time, his heart swelled with pride at the conviction and honor that the face revealed.

Not saying a word, Chris stepped forward and wrapped his arms around the boy that he had taken into his home and his heart. A father by blood could not have been more proud than Chris Larabee was at that moment. The embrace tightened as he felt the young man return the embrace with a passion that was usually only revealed in private. Several moments passed before Chris whispered into Vin's ear, "I don't say it often enough. I love you, Vin Tanner. You make on old man proud."

The young man chuckled as they broke the embrace. "You're not old, Dad. You're just well used."

They continued to gaze into each other's eyes, until Vin glanced away, his eyes searching. Larabee's head inclined to point him to the area where Buck and JD stood, discretely waiting. Vin's face broke into a big grin as he watched JD jump up and down, his arms waving wildly as Buck feigned embarrassment and covered his face with both hands. Shaking his head at their antics, he turned back at the light touch on his arm.

The corpsman told Chris that they could meet them at the hospital and gently led Tanner to the waiting bus. By that time the bus was loaded and ready to pull out. Larabee stood and watched, oblivious to the two that had joined him, until Wilmington dropped a hand on his shoulder. The blond turned slowly.

"Come on, stud. Let's get over there and get our boy released."

Chris nodded and they headed to the car.

"He looked good. I mean, he looked tired, but he looked good." JD rattled on as they drove to the base hospital. "Don't you think he looked good, Chris? He was moving slow, but he wasn't in a wheelchair or nothing."

"Yeah, JD. He looked great," Chris spoke softly. He turned to look at the teenager and Buck glanced in the rearview mirror as Chris said, "He looked real tired, but he was moving on his own. That's always good."

The teen smiled and relaxed back into the seat, confident that if Chris thought his brother was okay, then he was.


Hazel eyes looked into green, and the teen shook his head as he said, "Don't worry. I won't ask anything about the fighting or being over there. If he starts talking about it, I'll just listen and stay quiet. I won't bring up the war or anything about it. I've already taken the map down and put it away."

Chris frowned at the teen and opened his mouth to ask a question, but stopped as the teen held up a hand and started counting off fingers.

"Josiah told me about the intense emotions that fighting a war created. Nathan told me that sometimes men suffered depressions after returning home and talking about it helped. Ezra told me that the 'rigors of warfare combined with the mental distress of constant fear of the unknown and possible devastating weapons that could and might be utilized would dispirit a normally jovial personality of which Vin is not. He is an intense and sincere young gentleman that would be greatly affected by all that happened to him and his companions and I should allow him ample time to process his feelings.' And Dad told me to 'leave him alone, just be there if he needs us."

JD looked up and grinned. "That about cover it?"

Chris nodded, a slow smile pulling at his mouth. "Yep, that about covers it." He turned to face forward, but turned back. "JD, you just be yourself. I think that’s what Vin needs."

The teen's hands slapped his jean-clad legs and a look of relief washed over his face. "Cool. That I can do."

They arrived at the hospital and, after a three-hour delay in which Vin was examined and given instructions on caring for the deep wound and issued his release papers, the four exited the hospital and headed for the refueled and waiting jet. Two hours later, they were airborne and headed to Denver. And for the first time in two months Vin felt safe and content and, with a contented sigh, he drifted off into a healing slumber. Next to him, Chris Larabee unconsciously emulated the teen, and with a deep sigh, drifted off to sleep, the back of his hand lightly brushing the arm of his son.

Two seats away, Buck had watched the scene and now turned to his own son. He found the boy typing madly on his laptop and leaned over to the read the words.

"Vin is fine, Chris is fine, we're on the way home. See ya in a few."

With a big smile, JD hit 'send'. He looked at his dad and said, "I really like this plane. It is too cool."

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