by Heather F

Disclaimers: No money made here

Challenge answer: maybe not an answer as so much as a translation---Work with me

February 2005 (the Love Challenge) - offered by Helen A

Since February is the month of Valentine's Day, let us play with the theme of love. Not the happily-ever-after variety, though. We've seen that cupid is not exactly kind to these guys, so write a story featuring one of the following (Or mix them all if you're feeling ambitious!): An unrequited love or secret crush, a jealous suitor out for one of the guys' blood, or one or more of the Seven playing match-maker for one of the others. Bonus points if Josiah plays an important role. That poor guy just does not get enough to do!

Warnings: Wrote this while riding my bike. No beta. Just me, a numb butt and way too much time to go on the clock. ( No Godzilla either…so sad. Though this morning 'Q' was on---that movie was just plain cheesy even at 4am.)

Warning #2: Might not be a real plot.

"Hey, How's he doing?" Nathan asked as he walked quietly into Larabee's living room. Without waiting for an answer he dropped a practiced hand onto the side of Standish's head. The slight heat of a fever warmed his calloused hand.

Standish edged his head slightly folding tighter into the couch.

"Better," Larabee answered pushing himself up out of his Lazy-Boy chair. "just don't wake him up." Chris headed for the kitchen door shaking his head. It took some time to get Standish to relax enough and fall asleep.

Irritating man.

It was difficult to believe that it was just yesterday that things went slightly awry; or as Buck and the rest of the team would say, "down the crapper'; "down the tubes'; Shit hit the propeller'; and many more colorful sayings.

They had really stepped in 'it' yesterday.

Fists had started flying, bullets whistled through the air and in the middle of it all Larabee's undercover agent and his 'body guard' were tip toeing and twirling about for cover.

Standish the pain in the ass that he was, bumped into the largest fleeing criminal who decided to fight his way free. Apparently Ezra was in his way.

In turn, Standish's Southern law enforcement pride could not let this overtly large and fiercely resisting criminal go free. As a result, he had fought the gun selling bastard. In the end it was a draw. The over grown criminal was subdued and apprehended but Standish was hit hard enough to get knocked senseless and foster a broken arm. Having the rotten floor boards of the warehouse give out from underneath him was just bad luck. Being trapped for two hours in a hidden basement with rain water saturating the concrete floor hadn't helped much either.

It didn't seem a good morning to be a Southern ATF agent based in Denver.

Wilmington had been no help either. Though he had managed to jump down to 'aid' their ailing friend, he was no Peter Pan or Twinkle Bell. The big agent had broken his ankle in the 'controlled' fall.

Chris had had half a mind to leave the two of them down there but the others had prevailed upon his sense of duty and right and wrong and the eventuality that someone would find Buck and Ezra and save them---and thus open Chris and the others to endless abuse and 'paybacks'.

It was better to just deal with the situation than to walk away and worry about it biting them all in the ass later.

The local fire station came to the rescue in the pouring rain, bemoaning their fate and luck, or lack there of, when they noticed who they had to rescue and from what. The paramedics and ambulance crew argued who got stuck with going down into the basement with "Twinkle Toes" and Standish, who would occasionally lurch to his hands and knees, and do his best impersonation of Mt. Vesuvius.

In the end, the two agents were 'rescued' and Josiah and Nathan were left to placating frustrated egos and promising catered dinners to the fire house.

Standish had fought at the hospital hollering senselessly for Larabee; repeatedly trying to sit up; constantly bicycling his legs and screaming out, waving his good and broken arm too and fro trying to escape. With no Chris forth coming, he switched to calling Josiah, then Buck and Nathan, Vin and finally JD. He had fought futilely damaging his arm more and frustrating the medical staff who were too concerned for his head wound to heavily sedate him.

In the end, Chris had strode through the "No Admittance" doors with the Attending's and head nurse's blessing and to the relief of the many nurses and technicians who struggled to calm their disoriented and frantic patient.

In the end, Chris had to stand at the head of Standish's gurney and hold his head still and force the fierce green eyes to stare at him. He had to order him to 'Shut-up' and to 'keep still'. Chris had been taken back when the green eyes with markedly different sized pupils finally registered and focused solely on him.

The soft "Chris?" was almost pleading, definitely searching and quietly begging for assurance.

"Yeah, Ez, right here," Chris reassured. Larabee had kept his hand on Standish's forehead made sure his presence was known until it was determined that the undercover agent could be safely loaded with painkillers and eventually sedation.

Larabee had stayed with his agent until the orthopedic surgeon offered him an escape.

Eighteen hours later, well into a sunny chilly Saturday afternoon, Standish lay ensconced on Larabee's couch sleeping peacefully under a thick afghan.

It had taken twenty minutes post medication before the undercover agent relaxed enough to stretch out on the couch to sleep.

It had taken Larabee twenty-three minutes before he truly believed his agent had succumbed to sleep.

The Neurologist had assured the leader of Team Seven that his agent would sleep for the next few days as was customary with head injuries. The orthopedic surgeon had indicated that the pain medication would keep the undercover agent dazed and off his feet.

Larabee had left the hospital late Friday afternoon with Standish in tow assured that his weekend would be quiet; that Standish would be compliant.

JD would have his hands full with Buck. The big lug just became loveable and spouted maudlin sentiment when on pain medication.

Chris had called the office as he headed home with Ezra sleeping heavily in the reclined passenger seat, a barely touched McDonald's coke resting in the passenger cup holder. He assured the others that their undercover agent would be fine. The diagnosis of a moderate concussion and fractured ulna had not changed. He only needed a restful weekend and observation.

The quiet weekend was off to a rocky start. The quiet, compliance of a recovering head wound and medicated broken arm only seemed to exist in the medical communities text books.

What the medical gurus didn't take into account was a life time of distrust and broken promises; a lack of faith and overwhelming vulnerability. Well honed instinct, greater in some and lacking completely in others, kept a rare few from staying in one location.

After all a helping hand could just as easily be a punishing vindictive hand or even an absent negligent hand. No quarter would be expected, accepted or sought.

Larabee had spent his morning tracking down the different locations his agent shuffled off to unannounced and with little cognitive input.

Chris had spent the early morning hours with his cell phone in hand, fighting with himself about whether or not to call the rest of the team to help him look for their missing teammate.

Chris had almost given in to hitting the speed dial that would connect him to Vin and start the chain of events that would lead to five men storming his little ranch.

Just before he hit that speed dial button, he found Diablo staring at him from the shallow shadows at the end of the corridor. The dog stood silently watching him. Waiting.

It was unusual in only that the damn dog had an affinity for Standish when the undercover agent convalesced at Larabee's house. For reasons unknown, the foul tempered over sized, water hating, black lab found the southerner to be something akin to a member of his pack; or so hear Josiah describe it; much to Ezra's disgust.

Standish had enough family, thank-you very much, he didn't need anymore especially a disagreeably tempered, ill bred, demon of a dog with personality issues.

In the dark hours of an absurdly early Saturday morning with too little sleep, the leader of Team seven stared at his nasty tempered dog. It was the same dog that his son had one time loved. Adam had loved to play with Diablo, to hang from the dog by wrapping his scrawny arms around the powerful neck and urging the tail wagging lab to walk. The dog had always indulged the boy; never once showing an once of discontent or attitude.

Chris stared at the dog, ignored the greying muzzle and soft brown eyes and took in the stiff posture of the protector.

Larabee nodded coming to an understanding and headed down the corridor to the oversized storage closet that Sarah argued that they needed to add to their building plans.

Chris pushed the thought aside as he gently eased the door open knowing what he would find. He found his undercover agent sleeping in amongst the stored linens and winter blankets. Diablo padded into the dark room and circled at the foot of the slumbering agent three times before collapsing down half on and half off one of the quilts. He rested his massive head on his front paws and stared at his master.

"Keep an eye on him, dog," Chris muttered and backed out of the room leaving the door open and the hall light on.

Chris then commenced to starting his Saturday morning chores three hours earlier than normal.

Two hours later he paused at the kitchen door when he heard a truck rumble and crunch its way up the drive. He recognized the sounds of the engine before the beat up blue Chevy rounded the corner.

JD waved as he swung the truck around spitting up gravel, pinging small rocks against the old paint. He lurched the truck to a stop, ground his way to reverse and backed in to place. Buck sat beside the boy waving his arms and gesturing frantically finally succumbing to covering his shaking head with his arms and slumping down dejectedly in the front seat. Chris could see JD laughing behind the wheel.

Larabee chuckled from the safety of his porch. He watched and listened as the two agents exited the truck arguing and harassing one another. Buck got his crutches in order and crunched his way across the drive with JD shadowing him.

The three entered the house.

Larabee checked the walk in storage closet to find it empty.

With a curse and shake of his head, he turned to find his other two agents chuckling at him. Their laughter stumbled when Larabee informed them they could join the search party.

With three looking it didn't take long to find Diablo again. If it could even be said that it was they who found the ill tempered beast or if it was the beast that found them; JD to be exact.

Dunne had been searching the master bedroom and turned to head back down the hall to the living room. He found himself facing a large black shadow of malcontent just within the entrance way of the guest room.

JD spoke to the dog, calling it by name.

Diablo merely raised his lip without making a sound or shifting his posture.

Dunne swore.

Diablo read the tone and discontent and lifted his top lip back exposing all his well worn incisors and top carnassal teeth.

JD kept close to the hall wall and shuffled his way out into the living room. He found Chris in the kitchen, while Buck was still out checking the barns.

"Think Ezra might be back in his own bed," JD stated quietly.

Larabee just raised an eyebrow and stared at the younger man silently asking for an explanation.


Larabee nodded, left the kitchen and made his way to the guest bedroom.

Diablo stood in the door way until he saw his master and then disappeared into the darkened room.

The big dog leaped up onto the occupied bed, circled three times and flopped down just out of reached of the curled stocking feet of the bed's occupant.

Standish slept oblivious.

Larabee merely shut the door a piece and left. JD followed.

Dunne didn't bother asking the question that had plagued them since they had discovered Standish's wandering ways.

'None of them truly understood why Standish strayed from place to place, like a sleepwalker. It was a phenomenon that seemed to only rear its perplexing head when the agent was medicated or fevered or with a head injury. He traveled from place to place. It was haphazard, arbitrary, without any rhyme or reason.

The others kept him at Larabee's simply because Diablo was there.

The raunchy old lab, who had once loved his 'boy' so fiercely had found another to protect and follow, but unlike the boy that had once occupied the little ranch house, the protection to the undercover agent only exhibited itself in times of illness or injury.

In health, the undercover agent was as ignored and dismissed with the rest of the team.

Injured however, Chris's team found themselves facing a force more fierce than most criminals they encountered.

Standish was kept secured at Larabee's house until the medications could be stopped or the agent's thinking mind was back on an even keel. It did no one any good if Standish wandered from the CDC or Josiah's house and into traffic, or curl up on some cracked steps in Purgatorio or disappear into the park behind Nathan's house.

Wherever he would wander off to at Larabee's house, they others knew the big black dog with the scarred muzzle, and graying hairs would stick close.

It was a devotion they no more understood than they understood Ezra's dalliance with 'walk abouts'. It was a devotion, however, that Josiah had once tried to explain.

An explanation that sounded fair enough until one thought on it.

There was no way for the dog to understand that Standish too suffered a loss, though not a child like Larabee, but a father, and as a result of that loss he had lost the attention and devotion and perhaps the love of the others in his life; mainly Maude, but in Diablo's case Chris.

Josiah in the end had concluded that both had suffered the deaths of someone they loved as a result suffered a type of emotional neglect; they had some how formed a bond through a common pain.

JD had believed it hook line and sinker, until Buck and Vin pelted Josiah with popcorn and chips and Nathan threatened to cut him off from any more alcohol that night.

Chris had sat quietly and watched as his elusive man eating dog slept at the foot of the bed of his undercover agent.

Josiah might have been full of 'hooey' as Buck had declared or even too much Jamison Whiskey as Nathan observed, but in the end there had to be a reason that Diablo shadowed Standish when the man was knocked off his feet.

Larabee knew JD still held onto some of the explanation despite the pelting of Josiah with chips and popcorn and scoffs.

Larabee had ignored all of it. He didn't believe it. It required too much knowledge on Diablo's part, the damn dog would have to understand about Fathers, Mothers, love and sons. He would have to understand about emotional pain and recognize it and even draw parallels between himself and someone of a different species.

Larabee hadn't believed it -- not all of it, anyhow. He hadn't believed it then nor now.

Hell, Diablo only followed Ezra, by all accounts he should have stuck close to Vin, JD, Buck, Josiah and even Nathan---all of his team had faced tragedy at one time or other. They had all suffered a loss at sometime. And sure Maude might not have been there for her son then but where was Josiah's father, or Bucks, or JD's or Vin's or even Nathan's?

No, the explanation made no sense. And besides, Diablo was never truly neglected or completely forgotten and it rankled Chris to think others might have considered it.

He hadn't neglected his dog in those dark days after the violent loss of his son and wife. Under the hazy umbrella of alcohol he cared for his son's dog and yet he couldn't remember ever feeding the dog, letting him out or even into the house. He could remember nothing of Diablo, petting him, feeding him, watering him. Nothing.

Suddenly, with the birth of Team Seven, Diablo had become visible again.

He must have fed and watered and cared for the dog. If not Diablo would have wandered away during those dark three years. Diablo was loyal but surely he was not so foolish as to allow himself to be neglected. The damn dog had to have had more sense than Wilmington during those dark, ugly years.

Now months away from that discussion about the bond between Diablo and Standish and pop psychology session with everyone tossing out ideas as to why his foul breathed hound protectively shadowed Standish when the man was not himself was over and forgotten, they used Diablo as a means to keep tabs on their undercover agent.

The three men, satisfied that Standish had found his way back to his bed and under the watchful eye of the dog, finished the early morning chores and unloaded the groceries that Buck and JD had brought.

The duo had left mid morning and it was only two hours later that Nathan appeared on his door step.

This time Standish had shuffled out of the room, into the kitchen nibbled on a granola bar, sipped some coffee and slept like the dead on Larabee's living room couch after fighting the effects of the concussion, pain medication and hellish weeks undercover.

The low grade fever didn't truly worry the medic, however, the flashing teeth of the silently growling dog did concern him.

"Diablo, knock it off," Larabee ordered as he entered back into the living room carrying a beer for himself and one for Jackson.

The dog dropped its lip but not its eyes.

Jackson stepped back from the undercover agent and sat on the edge of the second lazy boy recliner.

Diablo rested his head on his paws.

"He been disappearing on you yet?"


Nathan shook his head, not understanding what drove someone to keep moving when not feeling a hundred percent, "you need a hand with him?"

"Got his meds. -- Buck 'n JD were here earlier, brought some groceries - we should be fine."

"Ahuh," Nathan answered, "They bring you anything other than junk food and oodles of noodles?"

"Spaghettios without meatballs, Devil's Ham, RC Cola and some pig ears," Chris answered with a smirk.

Jackson chuckled and leaned back in his chair his eyes traveling to the strange pair at the couch. Diablo collapsed onto his side and watched Nathan's every movement. The medic stared at the undercover agent and recalled the assignment they had learned the Southerner's tastes were not all geared for high priced foods. One assignment they had learned that one of his favorites food were Devil's Ham and RC cola. The RC Nathan could understand. It was one soda he had particular liking for as well. It reminded him of home. The Devil's Ham he couldn't even stomach the smell.

The Spaghettios were JD's favorite.

Nathan stayed into the afternoon. He played chess with a wide eyed Standish for an hour, a simple distraction to keep Ezra from using his broken arm trying to shuffle a deck of cards. The distraction worked for the early part of the afternoon and it had freed up Chris to run to the feed store and Nettie's to pick up Vin and a load of hay.

When they returned Standish had disappeared and Nathan was frantically searching the back yard.

Vin found Diablo standing outside one of the newly bedded stalls in the barn.

The dog constantly warned the sharpshooter away as the Texan peered into the stall and then disappeared only to return again. Diablo snarled and snapped his teeth while Vin draped a blanket over Standish. They wouldn't bother moving him. He'd just move himself in twenty to thirty minutes.

Larabee, Jackson and Tanner made short work of unloading the trailer worth of hay and grain while Diablo lay in the doorway of the stall and watched them.

The threesome were sitting on the porch sipping beers when Diablo and Standish exited the barn and headed back toward the house.

Vin called out to Ezra and the undercover agent drunkenly changed direction and weaved his way toward the porch.

Diablo walked quietly at his side.

The four and dog remained on the porch in quiet conversation for part of an hour. The sun dipped in the horizon and the temperature began to drop.

Tanner hopped a ride with Jackson and waved his good byes as they drove out of Larabee's drive way.

Chris herded Ezra back into the house as early evening started to fall.

Standish feeling stronger and a little more alert started his argument about wanting to go to his own abode. His arguments were weak and easily deflected.

Larabee felt encouraged though, tomorrow the complaints would come in earnest, and his agent would become more and more sedentary. His wanderings would decrease, and Diablo would go back to following Chris.

Josiah knocked on the door by dinner time with a small pot of chili in hand and extra large milk biscuits.

While the three men ate, Diablo crunched happily on his bone under the table with Standish's stocking toes tucked up under the dog's chest.

They retired to the living room to watch a movie. Within forty five minutes Standish had stretched out on the couch with a blanket stretched from toes to chin and dozed off eventually rolling to face the back of the couch. Diablo circled three times and folded in a heap on the floor in front of the couch.

Josiah watched and shook his head.

Ezra was getting better by the moment. By tomorrow he would be a handful. Diablo would go back to being elusive and Larabee would eventually drive Standish home by lunch time.

It was routine. Familiar.

Sanchez shook his head and returned his attention back to the movie.

Monday would roll around and the team would aggregate back at the office. Standish would be harassed about his broken arm and be told lies about all the foolish things he did while under the effects of a concussion, which he would have little if no recollection of that day.

No one would bring up the scene at the hospital that had Larabee by his side, no one would embarrass him for Diablo's protection.

The walk abouts, the Devil's Ham and RC cola were fair game. The trouncing at Chess by Nathan would be herald loud and far.

Monday was coming, things would be back to normal.

Sanchez stared at Larabee's old dog and watched it as it watched him.

The big ex-anthropologist nodded quietly to himself. Diablo understood pain, and recognized survivors.

He was damn good dog, loyal like his owner, with his owner's bad temper. Sanchez scrutinized the dog and smiled.

Diablo would not let another under his protection fall again. Not like he had lost Adam and Adam's mom. He wouldn't lose family again, and he wouldn't lose Chris's love a second time.

The end.