The Connection, Flip Side

by Q'Mar

Notes: Occurs June 1998

Disclaimer: he Magnificent Seven belongs to Mirisch Entertainment Inc., with all rights and privileges thereof. This work is a work of fanfiction, for the amusement of the author and fandom who have nothing else to do since they aren’t making any more episodes of the show. No money or other renumeration has exchanged hands, this is just for fun, guys! All other series belong to their respective owners, no Infringement intended. Some dialogue from the original series.

The September Challenge 2004 (the First Meeting Challenge): offered by Helen W.
What I'd like to see are stories which explore events which are pivotal in establishing the standard canon/fanon relationships amongst the guys. This can be initial meetings or critical early encounters. I've never seen a really good explanation of HOW Chris and Vin became close, for example. I prefer the ATF universe, but any would be fine.

Near Wrightly, On the other side of Homer’s Corner, Colorado, June 1998

Chris grimaced as Buck and Josiah pried so hard on the bumper of the Bureau SUV that he could hear the metal screech. Both of them were strong, big men and they made it seem like moving large heavy objects was effortless. It only added to his exasperation after a very irritating day. Larabee swallowed his rising temper and kept turning the wheel.

JD sat behind him, the new kid still a little in awe of his famous Team Leader. He was playing with some gadget that Chris couldn’t identify, humming along to music that came from his new CD Walkman. The ‘kid’ had no doubt that Buck would get them out of the situation, none at all.

Nathan, the team’s medic, stood outside the SUV, behind the straining men and offered pointless advice. There were times that Chris wished that he hadn’t listened to Buck. There were times he wanted to kick Nathan’s butt into next week. The man was more irritating than Jordan and Kinsey put together. After listening to Jackson spew useless comments at the two men trying to get them out of the ditch, Chris was fuming. His RMETF, Number Seven, had been called out on a purely ATF case…Gunrunners in Wrightly, Colorado. Armpit of the Western World.

It was bad enough that a RMETF’s efforts were being wasted on a low-level ATF case, and Chris had had to deal with the idiot Sheriff of the region, Sheriff Lasker, but Lasker’s men had wanted the case broken before the RMETF had arrived. Larabee suspected that Lasker had pushed to take care of the situation so that the ATF wouldn’t look too close at what he and his boys were doing, but Chris had no evidence of wrongdoing. Nothing at all except the friendly help that had ended the ATF SUV in a ditch, a deep muddy ditch. The situation they’d come to deal with had gone pear-shaped, thanks to the local incompetents, but if they’d gotten there sooner, maybe the RMETF would have been able to have it come in a controlled fashion. As it was RMETF Seven had been able to prevent the Sheriff turning it into another Waco…. Barely.

Chris cursed in his mind. His frustration was growing. Judge Orrin Travis, who was assigned to keep his RMETF on the straight and narrow, was pushing him about the last two positions on his team. Travis wanted him to take the Incompetent Baker as his undercover man. As far as Larabee could see Baker’s only ability was brown-nosing as a politico’s son. Damn but Chris hated Politics. There was no way that he’d take Baker. The man gave him the willies. He wasn’t sure why but the two exercises that he’d run with Baker had left him with nightmares that he woke screaming after. No, Baker would NEVER be a member of his RMETF if he could avoid it.

The other thing that disturbed Chris, the thing that he was barely admitting to himself, was that the dreams featured two strangely familiar people that he’d never met. Someone who was watching his back, and in the depths of the nightmare, someone who had died protecting him…and someone else who’d suffered worse because of him. That was the thing that taking command of the RMETF had forced him to confront. When he’d been a SEAL the idea of being a Team Leader and having men you relied on and who relied on you had been the only reality. Now in the wake of the murder of his family, Chris Larabee didn’t want to let people in.

He hadn’t kept Buck out, and he could feel the others edging their way into his space. Chris wasn’t going to let that happen. He’d do his best by them, but he wasn’t going to let them in. Chris Larabee was not going to have someone die for him, no way. The shadow world of that re-occurring nightmare had suggested that someone was going to suffer worse than dying for him, and Chris Larabee wasn’t going to let that happen either.

Trying to force down the Anger generated by the remnants of his dark dreams, Chris began to name the letters of the Greek Alphabet…Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta,….Damn it Buck! Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta, Iota, Kappa,…Josiah that Hurt! Larabee grimaced as he shifted in the driver’s seat. Lambda, Mu, Nu, … I’m going to swat you JD, No more humming! Xi, Omicron, Pi, Rho, Okay, turning the engine over again,….Sigma, Tau, Ypsilon, Phi,…..Shut Up Nathan, I can’t hear myself think over all of that blathering! If you don’t knock it off I’m going to throttle you! Chi, Psi, Omega…. The volcano that was Christopher Larabee blew.

Two of the members of the RMETF were completely astonished by their Team Leader’s explosion, but the other two looked at each other, shrugged and went back to trying to push the SUV out of the ditch the Deputies had forced them into. Buck was familiar with all aspects of the Larabee temper, and Josiah had known his new boss’ personality long before he’d arrived in Denver. Chris Larabee was not a man to anger, and was not one who could contain his rage for very long.

It had been a ‘cheerful display’ of interagency cooperation that had landed them in this ditch when Sheriff Lasker’s men had run them off of the road. Buck had shaken his head when he saw one of the Deputies give an inappropriate salute. He hoped the man would find it worth it when Chris caught up to him. Josiah had hung his head. Larabee’s personality was dominated by the unresolved issues in his past. Pissing the man off was not a good thing at this time, as his temper was almost without restraint and Larabee’s anger often led to a physical response. Those Deputies had better high tail it out of the area until the man cooled down.

Both men had been surprised that Chris had reigned in his temper so well since February when the team was founded. He was a man that ran hot and intense in most everything that he did. They also knew that the unsolved murders of his family ate at him like a canker, preventing him from evening out his moods. Chris Larabee had two modes…Complete professionalism and Complete Fury.

They were building up to a big one. This was only the faint wind before the hurricane.

Larabee’s explosion had startled JD out of his complacency. The team’s Wiz kid took it well. He understood Chris a lot better than the Team Leader would have suspected or liked. JD settled his gadget down to silent mode, turned off his tunes and became still. His Leader needed to vent, and JD wasn’t going to cause him to vent at him.

Nathan Jackson on the other hand had been completely startled as Larabee exploded into swearwords. He considered Larabee’s diet and wondered if he could get the man to try something macrobiotic. It would do wonders for his temperament. Jackson grinned as he saw Josiah make a mental note to add to his file on the RMETF Seven leader. Leave it to Josiah to figure it out.

Ignoring the fountain of profanity from the driver’s seat, Buck and Josiah managed to finally get the SUV out of the ditch and back on the main road. Chris steered the vehicle back up the embankment and onto the asphalt. They’d done it. Buck grinned at Josiah, but the older man was listening to the faint rustling of wings just out of his sight. Were they Crows?

Josiah was about to try to find the source, but Buck wacked him on the shoulder and motioned to the SUV.

“You coming?” he gestured, but the profiler knew that he meant not to get Larabee angrier by hesitation.

“Yes,” Josiah said, indicating more than his compliance with Buck’s request. He saw no Crows, but there was a beautiful grey fox standing near the SUV on the edge of the road. It was staring at them. The fox yawned and if he’d been a human being, Josiah would have sworn that the creature was highly amused by their situation. Climbing into the SUV, Josiah found that Chris’ black mood had intensified. He said nothing about foxes, the ride would be bumpy enough. Buck handed him a handi-wipe as he buckled in. It looked like the two of them had brought half the muck on the roadway with them. Chris’ cursing was inventive, Sanchez noted. It would be very interesting to watch if he actually decided to follow through with some of his comments.

The SUV was rattling and smoking as they headed back towards the little town of Homer’s Corner. It was on the way to Denver, but Chris was sure that they’d have to stop. His mood was being increased by the fact that the SUV was fighting back. It hadn’t been in the best shape when they’d checked it out of the carpool in Denver. Now it was much worse the wear for it’s time in the ditch. He swore again at Sheriff Lasker, all his Deputies, Orrin Travis, Area Director Muhulland, and all the idiots who’d sent his team out here. Larabee’s invective broadened into things that his SEAL team might have recognized. Buck did and hid his grin. No use setting the man off any further.

JD raised an eyebrow at the constant flow from his new boss’ mouth. Larabee was a curious man. Chris was really very creative when he lost it. Shaking his head, JD wondered if some of the things that his boss was suggesting were even scientifically possible. It would be interesting to watch him try, though. He caught Buck hiding a grin and winked, quickly. There was no point in upsetting Chris any more than he already was.

A few miles down the road, the SUV sputtered and stalled. Larabee began a new string of curses, but he didn’t strike anything. His men just looked at each other in silence. Finally the truck just stopped. Chris pounded on the steering wheel three times and threw himself out of the vehicle.

It would be a long walk to Homer’s Corner.

Chris said nothing as they marched along the dirty asphalt. No one made a noise for fear of setting Larabee off again. Each man carried all of his gear on his back as they trudged along. Buck was uncomfortably reminded of several missions as a SEAL. He kept a close eye on JD. The boy might not be up to such a strenuous hike, then again, Josiah and Nathan might not be either.

Looking back at the others Buck found that they were all trudging along in their Leader’s wake with ease. Perhaps he’d underestimated their stamina. JD gave him a smirk and Buck mimed swiping the kid’s hat and hitting him with it.

The road was wet and muddy, unusual in June, and it made the going harder. Chris didn’t glance back at his men, he knew what they were doing. Each of them hiked silently behind him, supporting his attempts to get his rage under control. What was he going to do to keep these men at a distance? They knew him too well already.

A feeling of being watched and measured came over Chris suddenly. All his defensive alarms started to blare at him. He looked carefully around, trying to hide his scrutiny from his men. He listened to all of his senses, but he couldn’t find the threat. The only thing that he could see was a large grey fox following his men as they trudged along.

The fox came into sight of the others. Chris looked at it out of the corner of his eye, not wanting to indicate his interest in the animal to his men. Yawning the fox shook itself and strode onto the asphalt.

“Look at that!” he heard JD exclaim. The young easterner was still enchanted by the wildness of Colorado. As if he’d understood JD the fox joined their walk, ambling along with them as if it was something that it did every day. Chris knew that this was unusual behavior for a wild animal. But then he could tell the animal wasn’t what he appeared.

The fox wandered up to walk beside Chris and gave a convincing human like yawn. He, and Chris could tell from scent that it was a he, seemed to find them all very amusing, Larabee most of all. Glaring at the animal had no apparent effect, except amusing it further, Chris knew he couldn’t catch a break and it appeared that he never could.

A large blue and white pickup came suddenly into view. Chris felt the fox brush up against him. The driver of the car was a fifty-ish blond male with a worried look.

“You boys alright?” The driver asked cautiously. Chris could feel the fox twinning himself around his ankles like a cat would. Larabee was about to respond when the driver spotted Josiah and lit up with a smile.

“Josiah? Josiah Sanchez?” He asked.

The big profiler came up to get a good look at the driver. Sanchez’s face was split with an answering grin. Chris heard the fox give a yip of laughter.

“David? David…” Josiah started but the driver cut him off.

“Fairshawe. Josiah. It’s Fairshawe. Are you having some trouble here? It’s kind of late to be hiking,” David Fairshawe asked with concern.

“Our SUV broke down back down the road. Unfortunate meeting between it and a ditch,” Josiah said with amusement.

“Why don’t I give you a ride. It’ll take you all night to get to Homer’s Corner and there isn’t much there. Climb in and I’ll take you to my place. Hank and Aaron can come out and get your vehicle tomorrow. They’ll get it fixed.”

Josiah looked at Chris and seeing his Leader’s agreement, thanked David and they all climbed in the back, the fox following, much to Larabee’s unsettlement and JD’s awe. Buck raised a cautious eyebrow at Chris in question, but his leader’s response was a sharp negative jerk of the head. Nathan started itemizing his kit trying to remember if he had the set of Rabies inoculations in there. Foxes did not behave like this that he’d ever known.

David watched and laughed. “Old Smoke there must like you an awful lot. He’s almost tame, probably belonged to someone as a pet and was abandoned. He’s been coming around here the last couple of months or so. Real tame, never hurt anybody. This is the closest I’ve seen him come near people though. I’ve given him a ride a time or two when he’s jumped aboard. This is just the first time he’s done so with people back there. Don’t let him come into the house. My girls will want to keep him and Joanne will be upset if they try to add another pet to their collection. Especially a wild one.”

Josiah climbed into the cab of the truck next to the driver. “Fairshawe?” he asked once he was certain the others couldn’t hear him.

“That’s the name they gave me. Is it going to be a problem for you or them?” David asked intently.

“No, We’re all Agents. They’ll understand the Witness Protection Program. Shouldn’t be a problem at all.”

“Good,” David said releasing his tense grip on the wheel. “Agents? When did you sign up Doc?”

“Larabee is a hard man to refuse anything to, David. A hard man to refuse.”

“That the Blond with the weight of the world on his shoulders?”

“Yes,” Josiah answered as David put the truck in gear and started down the road.

Twenty minutes later they were pulling in to a garage next to a huge ranch house. It was obvious that this was in fact a working cattle ranch. Looking at the large shaggy beasts in the corral, Larabee noted that they were not cattle but buffalo.

“Wow” JD said starring at the great ponderous beasties. He’d never seen anything like this. The fox yawned and lay down across Larabee’s jean covered thigh.

“You can’t stay there, critter,” Larabee said, uncomfortable with the animal. It smelled funny, almost like a French perfume. The fox opened one green eye and looked at Chris. “I mean it.”

The fox responded by curling up closer to Larabee and grinning.

“Smoke! You get out of there and leave the poor man alone!” David Fairshawe had come around to the back of the truck to lower the tailgate and let the men out. The fox yawned and gave Fairshawe another grin. He jumped over the side of the truck and ambled over to the corral where he sat down by a post and watched the men get out of the truck.

“Old Smoke doesn’t bother the buffalo at all. He doesn’t usually get this close to humans, but he seems to have taken a liking to you. Aaron would say it was a blessing, but that’s his faith. I’ve found him to be lucky, so I guess that’s mine,” David said watching the fox as it lay down and made itself comfortable beside the corral. A tan buffalo, lighter than any other in the herd, came and whiffed softly at the fox through the fencing. The fox turned over on it’s belly to take advantage of the other animal’s actions.

“Strange critter,” Larabee said watching the fox intently.

“Lots of strange things have come into these parts the last couple of months,” David answered, “For good or for ill, lots of strange things, and they won’t let you get close enough to find out what they need or why they’re here.” Shaking his head at the fox, David Fairshawe led the Agents of RMETF Seven into the house.

The Fairshawe home was warm and inviting. Joanne Fairshawe and the three little girls were welcoming and kind. Josiah was introduced as Doc, and Joanne had given him a huge hug with expressions of thanks.

When Joanne sent the girls off to their room to wash up and went back into the kitchen to extend dinner for so many people, Buck turned to Josiah.

“Something you’d like to share, Preacher?” Buck asked, having started to tease Josiah about his “Ministry” at the Denver missions. The older man had worked in church missions most of his life, and Buck needled him a little about it, always in fun. It never crossed the line.

“I worked with David years ago. He was a client,” Josiah said softly in warning. “He was forced to witness some horrible things and ended up in the Witness Protection Program. Last I heard he was in Chicago. I wasn’t very happy that they’d sent him to so large a city. David has always needed peace and quiet. I’m glad to see he’s found it, and even more happy that he’s found someone to share it with. I guess the Marshals overrode Agent Ford. That man was a total Jackass.”

“They didn’t override him,” David said coming up suddenly behind them. “There were some problems later and I had to be moved again. Joanne came with me.”

“I was the secretary that they hired to type his writings up,” Joanne said slipping in beside her husband. “I had been a makeup artist, but that hadn’t worked out so well for me, so I took a job typing for the F.B.I. I wasn’t in the pool very long before I was assigned to David’s work. Believe me, it was an improvement. Ford has hands like an octopus.” Joanne smiled up at David and he slipped an arm around her shoulders. “I didn’t like typing for David at first. He did really well at playing the old curmudgeon, but he grows on you after a while, and after you break down all of his walls with a sledgehammer and a pick axe, he’s better than anything you expected.” Joanne grinned lovingly up into her husband’s face. He smiled and softly brushed one of her long blond hairs out of her eyes.

“She’s continued to put up with me. I’m not sure why, but she does.”

“Nonsense. It’s not putting up with you, David. I enjoy the chaos,” Joanne laughed. “Now, you’d better show our guests where they can wash up. The others will be in shortly.”

The Fairshawes were full of laughter during dinner. All three of the couple’s little girls were full of kindness and humor. They included everyone around in their joy. Josiah found himself grinning like a loon. Buck was flirting with each of the girls, mildly, nothing that would upset anyone. Having accepted an invitation to tomorrow’s tea party, Buck was looked well on by the Fairshawe parents, though David looked at Josiah for reassurance once. JD had fit in like he belonged and was totally wrapped up in a conversation involving computers with the eldest of the girls, Joy Annette, a lively six years old. The Ranch hands, five large men and three women Larabee wouldn’t have wanted to take on in a fight, sat with the family and willingly made room for the team from Denver.

Chris was uncomfortable. It was too much like dinners had been years ago…before Sarah and Adam… No he wasn’t going there. He excused himself from the table as soon as he could, ostensibly to call Orrin Travis, their Federal ‘Overseer’. Travis had been surprisingly uncompromising, return to Denver with the SUV or pay for the piece of junk out of Chris’ own pocket. Larabee wanted to swear but instinct and training did not permit balling out a superior even if he was behaving like an idiot.

There was a certain inevitability about Chris trying to get away from the memories of a Happy family. He stalked off, away from the sounds of people, wanting to find the door to outside. Chris didn’t notice Buck’s concerned look, nor Josiah’s weary expression. Larabee didn’t have it in him to consider the others right now. JD had noticed the retreat, but knew better than to mention it. Nathan was not too involved in his conversation with Hank and Aaron to miss his leader’s descent into pain.

Some one else noticed too, the back door to the ranch house had opened and one member of the household had missed the famous Larabee scrutiny. She stood silent for a moment, measuring the situation then followed effortlessly Chris’ wanderings. Knowing where she’d find him, because pain draws pain to it, she entered the little den, pausing briefly to look out the window at the grey fox sitting patiently under the fence rails. With a smile that belied her famously stiff exterior, She stepped into the den and waited for Chris Larabee to realize that he wasn’t alone.

Chris paused in his wanderings, the Fairshawe home seemed as lovely and open as his own ranch house had once been, once when Sarah was alive, once when they brought little Adam home. His baby son never saw a year of life. He couldn’t let himself remember that.

Trying to avoid his memories, Chris studied the walls, the ceilings, everything, even the rugs. This was a home that love had made and it rubbed his open wounds like acid. Only one wall seemed out of place. It was dominated by a strange painting of a fluted silver disk with a twisted snake on top of it. The painting was crude and for some reason it made Chris seriously uneasy. Here in the corner, the painting couldn’t be missed by anyone in the house.

There was something so malevolent about the painting that Chris couldn’t look at it directly. The serpent had red eyes and a knowing look. It may have been crude but the painter had captured the hidden menace well. He looked away at the pictures surrounding the painting, almost like a kind of shrine.

“Joanne had a sister,” a voice startled him. Whirling around to confront the speaker, Chris found himself face to face with a woman, barely five foot tall. Her dark hair was twisted into a no-nonsense knot with sharp looking chopstick pins holding it in place. She wore a red shirt with tan jeans and a rust overcoat. A stout staff and a backpack completed the ensemble, a picture of competency and no-nonsenseism. Larabee was furious with himself and a little off balance. When had anyone snuck up on him? It hadn’t happened for years, this woman could have killed him before he’d heard her.

“It wasn’t a pretty story,” the woman continued. “And suffice it to say, No matter how much she adores David, he wasn’t her first love.”

“What the hell does that matter?” Chris snapped, feeling somehow as if he was being measured and was coming up short.

“You aren’t the only person to feel pain or loss, Christopher Matthew Larabee. There’s a lot of pain in this life. The only thing that it is given to you to be able to do about it is to live. Constantly wallowing in grief gets nothing done. You don’t really have so much time to waste. Once you choose life, you must keep living.” The woman’s sharp tone brought him up short.

Larabee stared long and hard at her. “Do I pass muster?” She quipped. Chris glared at her but she easily waived it off. “David has suffered so much in this life, more than can even be spoken. They found life in spite of everything against them.” The woman shook her head. “You aren’t ready to deal with it, so you think, but you can’t run blind. If you do you’ll lose it all. You only think that you’ve lost everything. I won’t deny your losses, but you can live in the past or you can reach for what you have in front of you.”

“What the Hell? Who are you?” Chris demanded, his anger raising his voice. All sounds from the dining room ceased.

“Dr. Shaw?” Joanne’s voice came from the now silent room. “Are you here? I didn’t see you come in.” Joanne Fairshawe came into the room. “Is everything alright? You must be starving. Is Toby coming? It’ll only take a minute to heat something up. Come into the dining room.” Joanne smiled happily. “Oh,” She paused. “This is Agent Larabee. Agent Larabee, this is Dr. Lucia Shaw, she’s a lifesaver. She and Toby have volunteered to help out since the nearest real Medical help is half way to Denver. They’ve been helping out at the mine as well.”

“Toby’s still there, Joanne. I need to get back there tomorrow.” Lucia Shaw nodded narrowly at Chris Larabee and followed Joanne back into the dining room. He stubbornly turned back to the painting.

I believe that there is a world beyond, that Love is eternal and Hope is the fire within us. These things no Darkness can ever overcome. Chris read the lettering he’d missed the first time, surrounding the ‘shrine’ like a cage to keep the evil in. There were pictures of a young girl, dressed in the outlandish style of the eighties. A small plaque read, Helen Mackie. The girl’s features indicated a relationship to Joanne. Pictures of a boy on the other side of the painting read ‘Scott Thomas’. Both sets of pictures had a memorial feel to them, a ring with Lincoln High School emblazoned on the setting gave an image of two dead kids, lives ended too soon.

He allowed himself to pick up the ring. Chris had a sudden jolting vision of two teenagers tumbling off the roof of a building, broken bodies lying on the ground. His stomach turned and he clamped down on everything in him. Ruthlessly denying his long suppressed gifts Larabee jerked back to the room. He found David Fairshawe looking at him sadly. What the Hell was wrong with him that these people could sneak up on him like this.

“There’s nothing in this house or on this land that will hurt you, I made sure of that when I bought it. Nothing that would risk my children, Agent Larabee,” he paused. “We all have uncomfortable memories. Fortunately we have been able to live here in mostly peace. It’s a safe place, a good place to heal.” David Fairshawe paused again, uncertain. “Josiah’s always welcome here, and so are all those he calls friend.” Here Fairshawe shook his head, this man was too deeply in his own pain to be reached. It had amazed him that Dr. Shaw had tackled the ‘rock’ of Larabee, as Joanne had started to call the tall Agent dressed in funeral black. His grief did not leave him, not even for a moment.

There was little that any of them could do for Chris Larabee. That David knew for certain. His thoughts suddenly brought up another lost soul who wouldn’t let anyone in, the young Tanner who was trapped working for Virgil Watson out at the store. Perhaps….? No, there was too much baggage being carried. He had wished that he could do something for both of these men, it was his nature to want to heal the imbalances he saw, Dr. Shaw would laugh when he spoke with her later. Lucia had been trying to get him to reach out, but his own baggage of memory was heavy as well.

Blinking his eyes to shut away the sight of a pair of wide green eyes in a face white with terror, David Fairshawe put his own pain aside fully for the first time in two decades to consider the man in front of him. “Here,” he said finally. “There’s too much here I think. If you want you could go into town. Away from all of the rest for a while.” Not entirely sure why he’d suggested such a thing, David Fairshawe continued. “Homer’s Corner isn’t much, but it’s not here.”

Larabee nodded stiffly, his very posture bound by his pain. David Fairshawe was again reminded of another who carried such a weight of pain, one that he’d failed so long ago. Carefully, David set the keys down on a nearby table, not wanting to touch Larabee or to risk upsetting the man’s delicate emotional balance. Here was one of the strongest gifts he’d seen, bar one, and a life so shattered that there was no chance for that gift to fly free. He was overwhelmed, not with pity, but with sorrow, a sorrow so unlike the grief he himself carried, that he wasn’t sure what to call it.

Larabee took the truck at first light, not even waiting for breakfast. As soon as he’d heard the verified estimates on the repair to the SUV, he’d reassured himself to his men’s plans for the day, and took off. The thin shadowy form on the headrest of the cab told David that Larabee wasn’t alone, Old Smoke was along for the ride. Shaking his head about the peculiarity of Foxes, He’d gone to help Joanne get breakfast started. She’d looked sadly at the trail of dust being kicked up by the truck.

“I wish.,” she’d begun.

“I know, Love,” he’d said and gently squeezed her shoulder in a rare demonstration of affection. “He needs to find his own way. We can’t help him, nothing more than being here if he needs us. He won’t even let those men of his in, we have no chance.”

“I know,” Joanne said softly and bent herself to her morning duties.

+ + + + + + +

The RMETF Seven found itself doing unexpected tasks. Josiah and JD decided to help around the barn so that Hank and Aaron wouldn’t get behind by helping them. Buck kept the girls involved with the ‘tea party’, though he found that both Fairshawe parents watched the situation constantly. Nathan caught a ride into Homer’s Corner to help Dr. Shaw. She needed someone to watch the clinic in town while she went out to the mines and relieved Toby, whom they hadn’t yet met.

All of them were praying that Chris Larabee wouldn’t happen upon the deputy that had flipped him off yesterday. The man was too tightly wrapped right now. Anything could send him over the edge into violence.

It hadn’t taken Chris all that long to find his ‘hitchhiker’ but since the fox did nothing but yawn, he didn’t object to the animal’s presence even though he knew that the creature was anything but ‘Normal’.

Leaving the truck parked in an open space in the town’s ‘business district’, Larabee had walked down the wooden boardwalk. He’d been amused by the idea that a town that had only one actual street had a ‘business district’. Most of the businesses were shabby and looked ready to close at any time.

He’d wandered around with the fox tailing him wherever he went. Finally Chris had entered the Saloon. There was no doubt that he wanted a drink. Chris ordered a whiskey and stood and stared at it. Larabee hadn’t taken a drink since that day in the little apartment. *Choose to live or go. Come about and live or go, there are no other options* That voice echoed through his thoughts again. Sarah wouldn’t like it if he did this, if he let himself sink into a morass again.

Back then, he’d promised himself to be the man they loved, one that they would be proud of, it was all he had left to give them. That meant opening up, accepting that they were gone. It meant that he needed to get control of himself. It also meant opening up to his men. Chris knew that he was short changing his people by not being there for them one-hundred and ten percent. When he’d led SEALs he’d been there, he couldn’t do less for these men, could he? There had to be trust….but did he trust himself?

An arm snaked around him to grasp a drink from the bartender. A root beer. Chris turned to look at the man next to him. He was a slight thing, dressed in grey. “Not bad,” the man said, winking at Larabee. “I never got a taste for Sarsaparilla, though I knew of a Sheriff who had a taste for Milk.” Here the man grinned a wide grin at Chris.

Chris was uneasy, recognizing that the man beside him was not an ordinary man. He hated dealing with ‘spirits’ they always seemed to want something of him, something that he was often unwilling to give.

“You know, there are thousands of places like this and a thousand men who thought that this was not someplace they’d ever end up. Drunk and lost, sometimes forever. They hardened their hearts against all that was in them. Never opened up, never risked. To be truthful, never really lived. Is that what you’re looking for, Christopher? To crush away all that’s within you?”

Larabee turned away from the bar, wishing he had a smoke. Buck had insisted that he stop smoking long years ago, and he'd never completely lost the craving for the little cigarillos that he’d smoked after the SEALs. It had never been a frequent thing, but No booze and no smoking wore on him, there was nothing artificial between himself and the pain he carried. Trying to block away the words his companion was saying was impossible, he couldn’t push down his heart enough. There were no walls hard enough to shield it from pain. He couldn’t do this.

“Trying to shut them out of your heart will only get them killed. Would you carry that?” His companion asked. “Life can be kind as well as cruel, if you open yourself to it. Even though there has been loss, there can be other gains…” The man stopped, cocking his head as if listening to something else. “You can choose Christopher, to walk alone or together with others, but the time is coming soon when you must choose.” The man blinked and added. “Excuse me. I need to buy some Ribbon.”

Chris raised an eyebrow at the non sequitur but bit his tongue. He knew better than to ask. There were whole worlds of activity going on in the everyday that he knew that he didn’t see and didn’t want to. His companion had a parting shot for him.

“You can walk alone and you can walk with someone beside you. There are many out there that need you, There are many whom you need. Will you strive or be drowned? There are so many lost, will you join them or stand up and be found.”

“There’s a price for being found.”

“There’s a bigger one for not being," his companion said. “I still need to get that ribbon.”

Chris shook his head, but soon was alone in the bar. Even the bartender had gone. He looked at the drink and thought of the oblivion it might bring. Gently, he raised the shot glass and poured it into the bar’s ditch. No, he couldn’t stay lost.

Oh, but Sarah, it hurt to Live. Especially alone. What had been between him and Buck was broken, mending, but would never be completely healed. He couldn’t do this alone.

But it was time, he had to take the risk.

+ + + + + + +

Gunshots drew Chris out of his thoughts. He heard the bartender return and dart under the bar.

“Town always this lively?” he asked.

“Trail herd, Trail herd from Texas Ranch. All liquored up. Got in the mood for a lynching.” Chris heard the voice of his companion, but didn’t see him. He could however hear a voice he recognized.

“Let me go! What are you doing?!” Frowning, Chris recognized Nathan’s voice crying out. There was rough laughter, bumps, and thumps as well.

“Stop right there," came the voice of Joanne Fairshawe. Chris started.

“Step aside, Lady," one of the men replied. There were catcalls at the woman and several vile suggestions.

“We don't hang men anymore. It’s wrong. You can’t do this!” Joanne cried. Chris spotted her standing with her husband and the three little girls. The children were terrified and for one brief moment, Chris felt absolutely rabid that they were threatened, then he got a hold of himself. If he was to win this situation, he needed to control his rage. It wouldn’t do Nathan any good if he got himself killed before he could help his man. Larabee felt for his cell phone. Damn, it was dead.

The commotion in the street grabbed his attention again.

“He killed a good man. Said he was a doctor, but he let him die," one of the men yelled. The bunch of drunken idiots all agreed.

“I never said I was no doctor!” Nathan protested angrily, Chris could see that he wasn’t really as afraid of the men as he should be. RMETF Seven’s medic was still trying to talk the situation into his perception of ‘fair’ “I’m an EMT. There wasn’t anything more that I could do. I did all I could. The wasn’t anything anyone could have done. He’s been dead for hours!”

Chris looked down the single street to the Sheriff’s office. Lasker and his boys were in there and the place was locked up tighter than a bank vault. There would be no help from the local Law.

“Nathan didn't kill your boss--gangrene did,” Joanne’s husband David called. He was trying to get the mob to settle down. “If you’d brought him in earlier he’d have survived. Drinking a case of Old Red Eye is not the way to treat serious injury. Dr. Shaw will say the same thing when she gets back from the mine. Nathan didn’t kill your friend.”

“Please,” Joanne cried. “This is wrong!”

“Be thankful we're getting rid of this quack. Ain't no darkie doctors and there never will be. They shouldn’t be allowed to practice. They’s all fakes,” the leader screamed. He was obviously drunk. Damn. Chris hated dealing with drunken idiots. Oh well. He checked his weapons. NO one, NO ONE took one of his men!

“You're not hanging that man,” David Fairshawe exclaimed. Chris knew he was too far away to intervene as Fairshawe was beaten by the mob.

“I said get out of my way! We're late for a funeral, boys. Get this &(*)*() moving!” The mob’s leader called, sealing his fate as far as Larabee was concerned. Not only had this imbecile the audacity to touch that which was Chris Larabee’s, but to harm a good man in front of his wife and little ones. The Volcano began to stir.

Chris strode out onto the street. He looked around, no Law and a lot of dirty men shoving back and forth. Townsfolk were running the other way. For a moment he thought he saw a flash of pink ribbon, and turning he saw an elderly man with a sour expression yelling at a young man with a rifle. The young man looked up at him, in that instant Chris felt something in him react.

Now was that choice, he could take on this pup, this kid and go save Nathan, or he could walk down the road alone. The tug of war inside him reached it’s climax. He could accept what his self told him, or walk along continuing in his self imposed exile from all that he could be.

This was the moment where his vow to live would be most tested.

He chose.

Chris was startled as the man across the street nodded as if accepting his authority immediately. There was something about him. The kid wasn’t what Larabee was, but there was a gift there all the same. It brought back to Chris’ mind a promise long forgotten. He couldn’t walk away, not from Nathan’s need and not from this kid who now followed him down the road like he’d been at Chris’ side for years.

The fight was over quickly. Dispersing swiftly the mob faded when faced with the rage in Chris Larabee’s face. Standing at his shoulder, the kid proved that he had good aim with that rifle. Larabee could see the hanging trigger lock and guessed that the kid had broken it out of some case in the general store he’d come out of.

Somehow knowing that the kid had his back, they’d untied Nathan and Chris had taken his fury out on the door to the Sheriff’s office. Lasker and his gutless wonders were going to clean up this street and they were going to do so Now!

Chris didn’t notice the moment the kid slipped away, but felt his absence a second later. Something in him raged at the loss. Where the Hell had the kid gone? Didn’t he realize that he belonged with Larabee? Part of the unlikely family, part of the pack.

Christopher Matthew Larabee was not used to being thwarted.

It took a little to get Nathan up and attended to. Fortunately his cell phone was fully charged and ready. Buck and the others tore into town after the call and what Chris had left of Lasker and his boys didn’t remain long with RMETF Seven in charge. Lasker was cursing the day the ATF came to town.

Chris had called the State Police in on the situation and the ATF. Dr. Shaw and her companion, the tall gangly Dr. Toby de la Vega arrived and took charge of both Nathan and David Fairshawe. Looking at Fairshawe’s split cheek and Nathan’s bruises fired Larabee’s rage. Since there was little that Chris could do about the medical situation, he dealt with the rest of the town.

It was a pleasure to unravel years of Sheriff Lasker and his cronies’ work.

+ + + + + + +

Virgil Watson didn’t want to have anything to do with the man in black. The tall Federal Agent had been taking names and breaking heads all day. He was not going to get in the man’s way. Watson didn’t like the look in the Agent’s eye when he’d complained about the glass case and the damage that idiot Tanner had created going to help that…

Well that… was one of Larabee’s men. Big mistake, wrong answer. Larabee was a scary man. The man glared like nothing Virgil had ever seen. He took the twenties Larabee laid on the counter with a submissive silence. Somehow he thought that if he did anything wrong, the Agent would rip his throat out.

Virgil waited until his sometime clerk, Vin Tanner, had broken down all the boxes and put them in the dumpster. Larabee may have him after this, but damn if Watson wasn’t going to get a full days work out of the imbecile.

Vin was startled when Watson made a ‘gift’ of the rifle that he’d used to save the EMT from Denver. Virgil Watson was not known for giving things away. He was even more startled to see the man shake slightly as the Federal Agent that Vin had been planning to look for stepped into the store as if Vin’s own thoughts had summoned him. Watson fled quickly.

“Name’s Larabee,” Chris said. “I run RMETF Seven out of Denver. Your name is Vin Tanner, formerly Rangers, Formerly Triana Follower,” Larabee said gaining the satisfaction of seeing the kid jump a little. “You come highly recommended.” The kid looked at Chris with the bluest eyes that Larabee’d ever seen. Everything in him swore that this kid was his, his to command, his to protect. He wouldn’t leave him to be lost. Not now. Not ever.

Tanner’s history, although classified, hadn’t been that hard to obtain, Chris still had contacts all over the place. Alex Welch, RMETF co-ordinator was fairly jumping for joy at the possibility that Chris would get Tanner to join him. The kid might not realize it, but he had a lot of friends still in the Military, in the Marshals, and in other places he probably didn’t even know existed.

“Sir,” was all Tanner said. Chris knew and so did the kid, Tanner.

“You know, don’t you?” Larabee asked.

“Yes," Vin said. “I know what you are.”

“Good. Then you know that what I claim I hold.”

“Yes, sir.” Vin looked at him in confusion. “You want me? You have work for me?”

“More than that, Tanner. More than a Job. A place to call home.” Chris grinned. “If you know what I am, then you know what I feel and what is going to happen. I’ve got a group of merry mayhemists just waiting to become a pack.” Larabee’s grin dimmed. “They don’t know what I am. I can’t tell them, but I can tell you. The same connection is there…I knew someone like you long years ago. I can’t tell the others, Buck especially. This is your last chance. If you come you’re mine. Part of my team, part of my…family.” A soft touch brushed against Larabee’s mind, one last gift from the woman he’d loved. This was the right way, Larabee knew it.

“I’m in,” Tanner said simply.

“Let’s go get your stuff and get you introduced to the others. Don’t worry, they only maul the ones they like,” Chris laughed, Vin looked around the store. “There’s no debt here, Tanner. I’ve dealt with that jackal, Watson. I bought the Trailer, we’ll take it with us when we leave here, I paid a pretty penny for it,” He grinned at Vin. “Don’t worry Tanner, You’ll pay me back. I paid more than it’s worth, bought most of this damn store too. Hell, If there’s anything you want in here, take it. He tried to bleed me enough.”

Vin nodded. He would follow this man, through Heaven or Hell. Looking at Larabee he could see the sign of the Fox and the shape of the Wolf. Larabee would protect his men, now that he’d decided to let them in. It wasn’t like following a Triana, but there was what Fox had said. This was a place to belong.

“Is there anything that you want, Tanner?”

“Just this,” Vin said softly picking up the spool of three inch wide pink ribbon and solemnly cutting ten yards.


Extra points if you can find the three crossover series...

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