TO THOSE WHO WAIT

By Jackie

The Magnificent Seven -ATF / Rated PG-13

To Those Who Wait image by Jackie
Image Created by Jackie

The shrill beeping of the alarm clock suddenly burst forth into the dark room.  The bright red lettering mocking the room’s lone occupant with the early 5:15 a.m. hour, “You’ve got to be frigging kidding me.  I just went to sleep.  There is no way in Hell that it can be 5 a.m. already.”  Buck groaned flopping over onto his back and angrily flipping the blankets back.

 

“5:15 actually,  Now drag your lazy butt out of bed and let’s get a move on.”  J.D. replied as he let the door bounce off the wall and flipped the over head light on. "Oh and take a quick shower.  You stink.”  He added as he waved his hand in front of his nose and screwed up his face.

 

Part 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You can be replaced.”  Buck growled; flopping an arm over his eyes to block out the compassionless light.  He briefly contemplated calling in to work sick and going back to sleep.

 

J.D. shook his head and chuckled, “You leave me no choice.”  He climbed up onto the end of the bed and proceeded to jump up and down; almost bouncing Buck out of bed.

 

Buck jumped to the floor and stood there looking at J.D. with a perplexed look on his face.  His hair was standing up in all different directions and his Smiley face boxers were twisted round.  “What are you; 5 years old?”  Buck grumped and staggered into the master bathroom; slamming the door shut behind him.

 

“You’re out of bed aren’t you?”  J.D. crowed and ran downstairs to make sure he had packed everything he would need today at the office.

 

He and Buck had gotten along so well when he joined up with Team Seven that Buck had offered him a place to stay at a reduced rate.  The arrangement had helped Buck supplement the mortgage payment on his condo and gave J.D. the opportunity to save some money toward a place of his own.

 

Fifteen minutes later, Buck was coming down the stairs straightening his tie.  “You ready to hit the road?” he asked as he fished his keys out of the bowl sitting on the credenza.

 

“As I’ll ever be.” J.D. slung his back pack containing his laptop over his shoulder, flipped the light off in the room; and followed Buck out into the early morning darkness. He looked out at Buck’s cherry red ’57 GMC waiting under the halo of the amber colored parking lot lights.  “It is too early to be heading into work.”

 

“Yeah well at least we don’t live almost an hour from the office like Chris does.  He probably got on the road before 5 a.m.  I do not envy him.”  Buck frowned; he unlocked J.D.’s door and moved around to the other side of the truck to get in.  He turned the ignition over and listened to the comforting purr of the engine.

 

J.D. turned on the radio and started his normal channel surfing.  This morning he started with Hard Rock, listened for all of two minutes and switched to Techno.  After bouncing to the music for a few moments he flipped to another Rock station.  Every time Buck thought the young man had settled on a station he’d switch it up again.  After about the tenth station Buck was starting to grit his teeth.

 

“Either pick a station and stay with it or turn it off.  I’m too tired to deal with this crap today.”  Buck griped as he pulled out into traffic.

 

“Hey it’s not my fault you stayed up late to watch the John Wayne marathon.  You knew that we had court early this morning.”  J.D. pointed out as he looked at the passing houses that were just starting to show signs of life in the early morning hour.

 

“How could I forget?  Chris has been running roughshod over everyone; making sure all the paperwork’s in order and everyone’s testimony is correct.”  Buck stated as they sat at the intersection, watching the opposite traffic move through the light.  “Come on, this is a freaking long light.”  He huffed, impatiently tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.

 

A short time later, as they pulled in to park, J.D. noticed Vin, sitting in his Jeep sipping at a large coffee.  His tie was loose around his neck and his shoulder length brown locks had not yet been pulled back.  “Mornin’ boys,” Vin greeted as he hopped out of the Jeep to join the two on their trek to the elevators.

 

“Don’t you look chipper this morning?” J.D. commented and pushed the elevator up button rocking on his heels and yawning as they waited for the car to arrive.

 

Vin threw his now empty coffee cup into a nearby trash can and stretched his shoulders as far back as they would go.  “Should be, been up for several hours already; had to run out to Chris’s place to tend to the horses.”

 

“Why did you have to go all the way out to Chris’s place?  I would have thought he would have taken care of that before he came in.” J.D. wondered as the elevator dinged to announce its arrival and the doors slowly slid open.

 

“Well he could have, if he had gone home last night.  The hard head pulled an all-nighter.  I had to bring him a change of clothes and stop by the convenience store for a bottle of antacids.”  Vin smirked and swung the garment bag over his shoulder.

 

“Wonderful, just wonderful,” Buck muttered as he stepped onto the elevator behind Vin and J.D. and pushed number eleven.  “I’m looking forward to working with a sleep deprived, gut aching, walking attitude on steroids today.”

 

“You know he always get’s like this when Judge Paxton is hearing one of our cases,” J.D. commented as he watched the floors ping by, “Judge Paxton and Chris are like oil and water, they just don’t mix.”

 

As the elevator slowed and opened on twelve, the three passengers disembarked to the sound of a door slamming forcibly somewhere on the floor.  “Gotta be either Chris’s office or the supply closet, last week they installed automatic closers on all the other doors to prevent that.  Supposedly, someone reported to Travis that too many doors were being slammed and it was creating a hostile work environment.” Vin chuckled as they started toward the bull pen.

 

“Yeah, well they don’t have to work in that environment; they’ve just got to listen to it.”  J.D. laughed as he set his bag down on his desk.

 

Buck grabbed his coffee cup off his desk and made his way back to the break room.  As he entered the room he noticed that there was only enough coffee left in the carafe for maybe a half a cup.  “Thanks, Chris, really appreciate that.  Is it so hard to make a pot, when you get down to just the dregs?”  He reached up and yanked the cabinet door open and snatched out a filter, coffee and the scoop.  He set the lot down on the counter and slammed the door with a resounding “thwack!”  He prepared a new pot after washing what was left down the drain; leaned against the counter to mindlessly watch the dark brew run into the pot below.  It was definitely too early in the morning for this nonsense.

 

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

“Hey Chris, got your suit and the antacids.  You need anything else?”  Vin asked as he bravely poked his head around the door to Chris’s office.  What he saw brought him up short; Vin had to blink, he’d never seen the office this disorganized.  Chris was sitting at his desk typing furiously on his computer; manila folders and reports scattered across the table top and balled up bits of paper littering the floor.  There were at least ten Styrofoam cups laying randomly around the office with varying levels of coffee in them; and if the office looked disheveled Chris was even worse, his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows, the hem of his dress shirt un-tucked, his mangled tie lying abandoned on the credenza behind his desk.  To top it all off his hair was standing up in all different directions and he had red rimmed eyes.  “Uh, okay I’ll just hang this behind your door,” Vin remarked as he hung the garment bag up and set the antacids on the desk next to Chris’s hand, “You look like you could use these.” he remarked as he looked down at Chris and waited for some type of response.  None appeared to be forth coming.  Vin huffed and crossed his arms over his chest; and waited, and waited. “Thanks, Vin, appreciate you driving way out of your way to take care of the animals, pick me up some clean clothes, so I don’t look like a hot mess in front of the Judge, and antacids to counteract the swill I’ve been destroying my stomach with all night.” Vin declared sarcastically as Chris continued to work without even looking up at him.  “Hello! Larabee, A ‘Thank you, Vin’ would be nice.” He uttered standing there with his hands on his hips, waiting for some type of acknowledgment.

 

Chris stopped typing, pushed away from his desk, stood up and came around to where Vin was standing; grabbed Vin’s arm and pushed him back out the door, closing it firmly in Vin’s sputtering face.

 

“This does not bode well for our day.” Buck muttered as he sat down at his desk after having witnessed Vin’s ejection from Chris’s office.  “I mean if he’s not even talking to you, we’re in some serious trouble.”

 

 

Part 2

 

As Chris shut the door he turned and leaned against it; sighing in frustration, looking down at his watch he noted that it was now quarter to seven.  He rubbed at his gritty, stinging eyes and pushed off the door and headed back to his desk.  Sinking into the chair wearily, he leaned back and stared at the computer screen.  At 4:45 pm yesterday he had received an email marked urgent from the U.S. State’s Attorney’s Office.  It had stated that Judge Paxton had been re-assigned to their case and that the accused, Alan Frankel, now wanted to accept an earlier offered plea bargain. 

 

If Alan Frankel accepted the plea bargain he’d walk away with a slap on the wrist and all the work they’d done over the last three months would have been for nothing.  It had occurred to Chris that Paxton may let the plea back in just for spite; it was no secret that Chris and Judge Paxton did not see eye to eye.  “Why did it have to be Paxton?” he groaned to himself, he’d been having a quiet month so far, the anniversary of Sarah and Adam’s death had come and gone; and he’d only been a little melancholy this year.  He’d been proud of himself; he hadn’t felt the need to drown himself in alcohol and had managed not to light up a single cigarette.  He’d been fine until yesterday when he’d received that damned email.

 

“I need a vacation, a long one.” Chris sighed as he leaned forward and started gathering up the papers scattered over his desk into some semblance of order.  Once that task had been completed he tackled the papers littering the floor and the coffee cups strewn around his office.  In short order, his office resembled its spotless self again; he wished that cleaning up his life could be that easy.  Chris wandered over to the windows to look out over the city and realized that while he’d been thinking the sun had begun its ascent, and the dark blues and grays were gradually turning to the pinks and reds of dawn.  Time had passed without him realizing it and for some reason he suddenly felt shut in and needed to get out.  Looking at his watch again informed him that it was now 7:15 a.m. and he had an hour before he had to meet with the prosecutors, he grabbed his coat off the coat tree, smoothed his hair as best he could and yanked open his office door.

 

The quiet chatter that had been going on stopped abruptly as five pairs of eyes turned toward him.  He only spared them a cursory glance before muttering, “I’ll be back in a little while” and headed toward the elevator and freedom.

 

Buck jumped up from his desk and shouted, “Uh, we got a meeting with the prosecutors in less than an hour.”  Chris just kept walking and when the elevator did not arrive fast enough; he headed for the stairs.

 

Once in the lobby he put on his sunglasses and headed to the front doors where the morning security guard greeted him “Mornin’ Agent Larabee, I didn’t see you come in.  Gonna be a beautiful day.”

 

“Morning.” Chris muttered and continued out the door.  The cool air made some strides to clearing his tired mind but did little to re-energize him.  He found a bench in the smoker’s area, pulled out a pack of cigarettes; he turned the pack over and over before finally giving in and lighting up.  As he pulled the first drag off of the cigarette he felt the nicotine flood his system and he sighed in relief.

 

Vin had watched as Chris practically ran for the elevator; and out of concern decided to follow.  This morning their Senior Agent had looked really haggard, Vin had noticed the gray pallor to Chris’s skin and his red rimmed eyes.  He thought Chris had been handling the month pretty well so far, he’d even stayed even tempered during the anniversary of his family’s deaths.  As he exited the lobby he looked around the courtyard searching for the familiar blonde haired, lanky form.  For someone having such a room filling personality, Chris could blend in with the scenery when he wanted.  After checking various secluded corners of the courtyard with little success, Vin decided to check the one place that he had yet to look, the smoker’s area; there Chris was, sitting on a bench, cigarette clenched between his fingers.  It appeared that Chris had slipped and was back to smoking, Vin shook his head in sympathy and walked over to where Chris was sitting, staring at his cigarette with what seemed to be deep, profound interest.

 

“Thought you quit.” Vin stated as he sat down beside Chris and stared at his friend.

 

Chris put the cigarette to his lips again and held the smoke before answering, “Did, fell off the wagon; happens to the best of us.”  He contemplated the cigarette again before flicking the ash off the end and taking another drag.

 

Vin studied Chris for a moment, noticing the pinched look to his features, “Wanna talk about it?”

 

“Nothing to talk about; my problem not yours.” Chris ground out what little was left of the cigarette on the bottom of his shoe and dropped the butt into the ash can.

 

Knowing that he wasn’t going to get any information out of Chris no matter how hard he tried, Vin stood up and turned to head back in, “You know I’m here if you need to talk, and you’ve got about thirty minutes before your meeting.”

 

Chris pulled out another cigarette and lit it, “Thank you, nice to know I’ve got a therapist on the team.  I’ll keep it in mind.”

 

Vin stood still a moment longer and when no other comments were forthcoming headed back in.  “Moody bastard.” He mumbled under his breath.

 

Chris looked up and watched Vin’s retreating form getting smaller as the distance between them grew.  He knew it wasn’t his team’s fault that Paxton was such a bastard.  It was his fault and Felicity’s fault; he’d used very poor judgment when hooking up with that woman, and he had the scars to prove it.  Screwing her was unequivocally the worst decision he made during his life, he had yet been able to think of anything worse.  Hell, even BUDS had been a walk in the park compared to her.  If she had been a test at BUDS nothing could have stopped him from ringing out.

 

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

“Good morning one and all!” Ezra called as he stepped off of the elevator, he straightened his tie and knew he looked as impeccable as ever in a smart pinstriped suit that had cost him at least a grand.  It takes effort to look this good everyday he thought to himself.  He slowed as he neared his desk noting the solemn expressions on his teammate’s faces.  “Is there something amiss?  I don’t think I’m late today, no it’s only 7:30, and I’m actually early.  Pat on the back for me, bravo.  Where’s Mr. Larabee he will want to take note of the occasion.”

 

“Serious, Ez.  Paxton is now handling our case and everyone is afraid he’s going to toss the case for something trivial, you know how much he can’t stand Chris.”  Josiah supplied as he got up to get a fresh cup of coffee.

 

“You’re joking right; we’re talking Paxton, the same Paxton whose daughter our Senior Agent had a little ‘thing’ with?  If I remember she put him in the hospital with one of her little adventures.”  Ezra asked as he sat down at his desk and flipped his computer on.

 

“That girl was a psycho bitch, her father had no clue the kinda dangerous stuff she was into, and unfortunately neither did Chris.  Never seen him cut and run so fast in my life, would have been funny if Paxton hadn’t threatened to have him incarcerated for corrupting his innocent little daughter.  Innocent my ass!  She made Chris look like a vestal virgin.”  Buck hooted, “Hell, she even scared me and I’ve been known to be on the adventurous side, but playing chicken with trains is not my idea of fun, I’m more into the fuzzy handcuffs or maybe bathing in dark chocolate syrup, it gets into the most interesting places.”

 

Ezra rolled his eyes, “Please Agent Wilmington, spare us your sexual escapades, its way too early in the morning for my ears to bleed.”

 

Buck snorted and rapped his chest, “You’re just jealous of my ‘animal magnetism’, I can have any woman I want, whenever I want.”

 

“Oh yes, that is what I am, I am so jealous of you.” Ezra crooned and placed his hands over his heart in a theatrical manner, “Buck, oh Buck, I need you’re assistance in finding a woman, I can’t do it without you!  Please I’m desperate.” He dropped his hand, pulled up his poker face and stated, “Give me a break!  You are not an expert on love by any stretch of the imagination.  Your education came while hiding under your sheets at night with a sock, a flashlight and an underwear model catalog.”

 

J.D., Josiah and Nathan broke out into gales of laughter until they had tears running down their faces.  Buck scowled at all of them, “Thanks, I appreciate that! Ez-ra!” He looked at Ezra, “Ouch, that hurt!  You didn’t mean that did you?”

 

Ezra grinned and got up to get a cup of coffee, “You’ll never know.”

 

“So, what’d I miss?” Vin asked as he walked back into the office.

 

“Buck channeling Dr. Ruth, what’s new?” Nathan reported, he looked toward the elevator; noticing that Vin had returned alone.  “He didn’t come back with you?  What’s up?”

 

Vin shrugged, took his suit coat off and hung it up, “I haven’t a clue, being as closed mouthed as ever.  Said he had nothing to say, and that it’s his problem; he’ll deal with it.” Vin’s brow creased, “I thought Dr. Ruth was still alive?”  Nathan rolled his eyes at Vin.

 

“Well boys, I think we should check over our paperwork and make sure every ‘I’ is dotted and every ‘T’ is crossed; if not for our sakes, for Chris’s sake.”  Josiah suggested and started flipping through his case file.

 

Mumbled agreements came from the other agents and as Chris re-entered the offices anyone standing in the bull pen could have heard a pin drop.  He shot a questioning look at his agents but continued into his office; shutting the door firmly behind him.

 

Vin began checking his watch at 8:00 and shook his head, Larabee was going to be late for his meeting with the Asst. U.S. State’s Attorney.  He said a quick prayer and picked up the handset on his phone and dialed Chris’s extension.  Everyone in the bullpen could hear the phone ringing; it was answered on the fifth ring.  “Uh, Chris, I uh thought I’d let you know that you have your meeting in ten minutes.”

 

There was silence on the phone for a few seconds and Vin thought Chris might have hung up on him when the stilted reply came over the handset, “I am aware of the time, Tanner.  I am leaving now.  I expect to see all of you in the court room in one hour.” And the conversation ended.  Chris’s office door sprung open and a somewhat more put together Larabee made an appearance.  He said nothing as he exited the offices and headed toward the elevator.

 

Buck let out a quick breath and relaxed back into his chair.  Now that Chris was gone he would try and enjoy his cup of coffee.  It was strong, sweet, and creamy exactly like he preferred his women.

Josiah looked around at his teammates, “I believe we would all be in agreement with the statement ‘that man needs to get laid’ am I right, or am I right?”

 

Buck started choking on his coffee at Josiah’s nonchalant take on the situation and J.D. had to beat on his back.

 

“Good one, Josiah.  I wouldn’t have the balls to say it out loud like that though.” J.D. giggled and pounded Buck on the back some more.

 

Everyone burst out laughing.

 

 

Part 3

 

Chris sat behind the U.S. State’s Attorney waiting for court to begin, trying his best to ignore Alan Frankel, who was currently sitting beside his court appointed defense attorney.  Chris sent a heated glare toward Frankel as he gave Chris a prissy little finger wave for the fourth time in the last five minutes.  Chris tried to think happy thoughts, such as hanging Frankel from the rooftop of the courthouse in his underwear for everyone to see; or maybe wringing his neck and watching him turn purple while he fought to breathe.  Sadly, even those thoughts gave him no comfort as he now watched the minute hands on the wall clock tick closer to 9 a.m., and every click of the second hand sounding like a gun blast in his ears.  And then everything went silent.

 

The Court Security Officer addressed the courtroom, “All rise; the Honorable Judge Henry Paxton is present and presiding.” Judge Paxton entered the courtroom from his chambers and sat behind the bench.  He scanned the crowd, stopping when his eyes landed on Special Agent Larabee, Chris held his gaze refusing to turn away first. The CSO continued on aware of the building tension, “Please be seated and come to order.  This court is now in session.”  Judge Paxton broke eye contact as everyone sat down and he directed his attention to the accused.

 

Vin slid a glance over to Chris and noticed that he was still glaring at Paxton, not a good career move for the team leader.  Vin nudged him in the side and whispered out of the side of his mouth, so that the sensitive recording microphones installed around the room would not pick up his voice, “Turn the glare down Larabee, we’re on his turf remember.  Save it for outside the courtroom.”

 

Chris just scowled more, but did turn his gaze back over to where Frankel was sitting.  For two hours he sat there listening to first, the opening statements from the prosecution.  Once the opening statements had been completed, the U.S. State’s Attorney began presenting his case; calling both Vin and Ezra to the witness stand.  By the third hour his butt had gone numb along with his mind, the droning on of the voices lulling him into an almost comatose state of being, and his mind of its own volition went back a year ago to when he’d met Felicity Paxton.

 

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

The cold October morning had not begun well for SAIC Chris Larabee; a storm system had moved into the area and had dropped almost six inches of snow overnight, which had resulted in extra time being spent in the barn dealing with the horses.  In his hurry to get back to the house, to change for work he had somehow managed to slam his fingers in the barn door, luckily the only ones to hear his colorful language had been the horses, and if they’d been able to, he would have bet they’d been blushing.  He managed to shower, shave and dress in record time; leaving himself barely enough time to fix a coffee for the road.  Standing in the kitchen he set the creamer on the counter and reached up to open the cupboard to pull down a clean travel mug when he noticed something that looked like a string hanging down from under the cupboard door, “What in the world is that?” he murmured as he grabbed the ‘string’ between his index finger and thumb pulling as he opened the door.  The next thing he knew he had a squirming, squeaking mouse in his hand, it surprised him so much that he yelped; tossing it away.  Amazingly enough, the mouse shook itself off and ran hell bent for leather into the living room.  “Ugh, yuck!” Chris exclaimed as he turned on the hot water and soaped his hands twice before he was comfortable that his hands were clean enough.  He quickly made up his coffee, grabbed his coat and keys, and headed out to the garage, making a mental note to buy mouse traps on the way home.

 

It had been a slow trek into work due to the snow and he was now running twenty minutes late for his meeting with Director Travis.  While sitting impatiently at the light, cursing the morning traffic reporter for not mentioning that there had been a seven car pileup on the interstate, coincidently near the exit ramp that he had to take, he heard the unmistakable sound of rubber sliding across pavement.  He looked up in the rear view mirror just in time to see a large SUV rapidly getting closer, “Oh shit!” was all he could exclaim as he slammed both feet down on the break, in the hope that somehow the cushion he had allowed in front of his vehicle would be enough to keep him from plowing into the rear of the compact sitting in front.  The SUV hit with such force combined with the snow and ice on the roadway, Chris’s truck and the compact were pushed into the on coming traffic.  Chris watched, while in slow motion, the little compact in front was struck in the side by a minivan and sent spinning into the opposite flow of traffic; he’d been so entranced by the site that he didn’t even notice the mid-size sedan sliding toward his truck, the front end dipping just enough that it struck the low side of the driver’s door; the momentum pushing the car’s hood below the undercarriage of the truck, the Ram was canted at such an angle that only the passenger side wheels remained in contact with the road.

 

He tried to cover his face as the safety glass seemed to explode with the force of the impact, stinging as it cut into exposed skin.  Somehow he managed to strike his left temple on the door frame which caused him to literally see stars before his vision started fading in and out.  He heard crying and yelling before it faded into nothingness.

 

Next he was aware of someone shining a light in his eyes, he tried to reach a hand up to bat it away but someone pushed it back down to his side, “Stay still sir, everything is going to be all right.  Can you tell me where you hurt?” came a male voice from the passenger side of the vehicle.

 

“What? What happened?” Chris asked, thinking he should know the answer but not being able to formulate a rational thought at the moment.  His head was really starting to hurt and it was making his left eye tear up, he tried to reach up to wipe at the tear, but his hand was pushed down again.

 

“All right let’s start with some simple questions.  What’s your name?” came the voice again and this time a dark haired man’s face materialized before him, at least he thought it was a male, his vision was really blurry.

 

Chris sat there for a second trying to gather his thoughts, the man prompted him for his name again, “It’s Chris, ok. Give me a second to answer the freaking questions.”

 

“There’s no need to get hostile, sir, I’m just trying to check your welfare.” The voice calmly explained.

 

Out of his right eye he noticed that the EMT now had some type of collar, “We don’t need that, I feel fine, just a little woozy.” Chris replied, “I can walk it off.”

 

“I don’t think so,” came a new voice off some where to his right, “you have a head injury and we need to get you checked out, it looks as if you whacked your head pretty hard on the door frame here.”  Chris tried to turn his head to see the other person but they were holding him back against the headrest.

 

“How much longer for that backboard?” someone yelled, before the answering reply of, “right here!” was called out.  Chris started to feel even woozier as the paramedics were positioning the backboard and the next thing he knew he was staring up at the ceiling of a moving ambulance.

 

“He’s back with us.” Someone called out and he felt a sharp pinch in his right arm which caused him to grimace, “It’ll be ok, just getting an IV started.  We’ll be at the hospital before you know it.”

 

“Hospital?” Chris asked, as he tried to piece together what was happening.

 

“Yes, we’ve been re-directed to Denver Memorial, been a lot of accidents this morning, it’s a good hospital.” The EMT advised as he took another set of vitals.

 

“Perfect, just perfect.” Chris sighed as he drifted off again.

 

When he awoke again he was lying in what he assumed was the emergency room on a gurney. He tried to sit up but found his head hurt way too much for the effort and the blasted cervical color was still around his neck.  He could hear people talking and walking back and forth on the other side of the curtain, but he did not recognize any of the voices.  His left arm was sore and achy; as he lifted it he noticed dark bruises running down the side of his forearm and wondered how they got there.  Chris valiantly tried to take an inventory of his aches but realized that there were too many to categorize right now.

 

While he was lying there contemplating whether or not to go back to sleep he noticed the curtain moving and a familiar face pop through, “Hey, you know if you wanted to take the day off all you had to do was call.”  Vin smiled at Chris trying to lighten the situation.  “How you feeling, Cowboy?”

 

Chris growled and admonished Vin, “Number one, Not a Cowboy.  Number two, I had every intention of coming in to work today.”

 

Vin held up both hands to cut off the tirade, “Whoa, a might touchy there are we?  I was trying to make you feel better.  Doc said they’d release you after they run you through the CAT Scan, told’em there was nothing to see.” he continued on when Chris glared at him, “Ought to make you happy you don’t have to spend the night.”  He watched as Chris narrowed his eyes further, okay, so he’d riled him more than he intended, the man needed to lighten up a bit, then maybe his head wouldn’t hurt so much.

 

“Find me a shirt.” Chris snapped as he tried to push himself to a sitting position, but Vin placed a restraining hand on his chest. Chris took a deep breath and counted to ten before gritting out, “Please.”

 

Vin shot him cocky a smile, “Sorry Cowboy, after the scan and the Doc gives his okay, and then I’ll be more than happy to help you blow this Popsicle stand.”

 

After another six hours Chris and Vin were on their way to the pharmacy to pick up Chris’s pain meds, as Vin pulled into the parking lot he offered to let Chris stay in the Jeep.  “You don’t have to come in Larabee. I know how to pick up meds.”

 

“I know you do, but I need to get some other things too.  While you go drop off the prescription, I’ll grab what I need.”  Chris grimaced as his head throbbed.

 

“Suit yourself, but you could just give me your list and I’ll pick the stuff up for you.” Vin again suggested as he slid from the driver’s seat.

 

Chris slowly followed Vin into the pharmacy and went in search of the items he needed, first he grabbed up the mouse traps and a jar of peanut butter.  He remembered he needed a bottle of antacids and went in search of them.  After coming close to screaming in frustration he found them in between the digestive aids and condom rack.  “You’ve got to be kidding me, I never would have put these things together.” He murmured and reached for the extra strength bottle.  Who in their right mind would associate anti-diarrheal drugs and laxatives with sex?  Okay, maybe they were things that people were embarrassed to buy; no, that wasn’t right; he’d never been embarrassed to buy condoms.  Maybe, he was just making his head hurt worse than it was already trying to rationalize consumer buying habits.

 

“Ooh a Magnum man, I have to say I’m jealous of your lady.” came a sultry voice from behind him.

 

Chris spun around knocking antacid bottles and condoms to the floor, “Excuse me?” he asked as he looked at the woman leaning against the counter. Ugh, now he looked like some kind of clumsy dork who got flustered around beautiful women.  She was certainly beautiful; with her cornflower blue eyes, plump ripe lips and creamy golden skin that made him feel like an awkward hormone driven teenager not an experienced and mature adult.  He stared at her trying to form a viable thought, unfortunately his thought processes had stalled, while his libido had just kicked into overdrive; her perfume was intoxicating as it teased at his senses. “Get it together Larabee.” he chastised himself.

 

“You were reaching for the Magnum condoms.” She pointed to the rack behind Chris.

 

He finally pulled himself back together and looked at her as if she had grown another head, “No, I wasn’t, I was getting antacids; and what kind of question is that to ask a perfect stranger anyway?”

 

She grinned at him before bending over to pick up the items that had cascaded to the floor, “Oh, so you don’t need Magnums?”

 

“Not that it’s any of your business, but I’ve never had any complaints in that department.” He shot back before he could stop his mouth.  Great job there Larabee, he thought, remember to engage the brain before engaging the mouth.

 

Chris thought this had to be the result of the concussion, something like this didn’t happen in real life.  He tried to focus his gaze on her; he had to admit she was a looker, with her red hair and lithe frame, curved in all the right places.  She apparently knew how to work those curves too because she was currently throwing he abundant assets at him.

 

“You are a cute one, even if you look like you went nine rounds with a boxer and lost.”  She crooned, “Name’s Felicity by the way, I’m new in town and looking for some fun.” She gave him a big smile before turning and walking off, “I’ll be in touch.” She threw over her shoulder.

 

Chris watched her walk out the front door of the store in total and complete disbelief, “I think I need to go back to the hospital?” he groaned to Vin as he walked up with the filled prescription.

 

Vin looked at Chris in alarm, “Why, don’t you feel well?”

 

Chris shook his head slowly, “No, I’m hallucinating.”

 

“Why’d you think you’re hallucinating, Cowboy?”  Vin asked as he grabbed Chris’s arm and started walking with him to the front of the store.

 

“I thought there was a woman standing here, great rack, saying the strangest things to me a little while ago” Chris mused as he set his items on the counter. 

 

“But Chris, you were talking to a woman, I saw you and I saw her.”  Vin explained and took the bag as Chris paid the cashier.

 

 

Part 4

 

As soon as court recessed Chris made a beeline for the coffee shop on the corner.  He felt wrung out and tense at the same time, praying that the day would end quickly and he could head home.  After waiting in line for several minutes, it was finally his turn and he ordered a triple espresso; knowing good and well that his system was way over amped already.

 

“There he is.” Buck called out as Chris exited the coffee shop, “Hey, Stud may want actually eat something before you tear your stomach up.”

 

“Not hungry,” Chris mumbled as he sat on an empty bench, moving over to make room for Buck and Ezra.  Buck flopped down while Ezra closely inspected the bench for filth, before taking the remaining seat.  “Where’s Vin?” Chris asked noticing that the sharpshooter was missing.

 

“He’s grabbing us a seat at this diner about two blocks over, supposedly pretty good food, according to the court room stenographer.  She said that they have the most amazing crab cakes, and I know how you love those.” Buck replied as he stood back up grabbing Chris’s arm.

 

Chris tried to shake his hand off, “There is only one place to get the best crab cakes and unless you’ve got a trip to the east coast planned it’s not going to happen.”

 

Ezra stood and straightened his suit, “Mr. Larabee, I am willing to suffer through lunch at a greasy spoon if you accompany us.  You may be surprised by this eating establishment; the lady also informed us that this place was under new management.”

 

“Come on Chris, you get some good food in you and you’ll feel better.  I know I’m looking forward to these crab cakes.  Good memories when we were stationed in Norfolk.”  Buck wheedled; Chris squinted up at Buck and sighed, pulling himself up.  “That’s my guy!” Buck crowed slapping him on the back.

 

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

Despite that “Ray’s” diner’s façade was covered in faded and pealing paint, the line for lunch was out the door, “Wow, hope Vin managed to get us a seat.” Buck stated as he moved through the crowd with Ezra and Chris trailing behind.  As they got inside Vin waved from a booth in the back of the diner, “All right he got us one, come on Chris, Ez, times a wastin’.”

 

“They have home-cookin’ here, stick your ribs kinda stuff.” Vin said as Buck slid into the booth across from him.  “Can’t wait to try it,” Vin smiled, as he passed out two menus to Buck and Ezra, who sat down beside him.

 

“Aw man, Chris! You see this? They got Maryland Crab Cakes, that’s what I’m getting! Oh and fries with Old Bay seasoning.”  Buck crooned punching Chris in the arm.

 

Chris slid him a look, rubbing at his shoulder, having second thoughts about his choice of seat.  “Yeah I see it, but I’ve been plenty of places that claim Maryland Crab Cakes and they ain’t.” Buck scowled at Chris but broke into a brilliant smile as their waitress showed up.

 

“Good afternoon, gentleman.  My name’s Molly, what can I get you all to drink?” She gave them a radiant smile which made Chris’s stomach do a strange little flip-flop making him wonder if he should maybe just order toast.  After taking their drink orders, both Chris and Buck watched, as she turned to go to the kitchen.  Her small waist and sculpted neck were available for the boys to observe, along with her smoothly measured stroll, which kept Buck’s attention until she was out of site.

 

‘There goes a cool drink of water!  Did you see her assets, curvy in all the right places!  I’m callin’ it boys; she’ll be eating out of my hand before the end of the week!”  Buck crowed, Ezra was about to make a comment but Buck shushed him as Molly returned with their drinks.

 

“Ok, the ‘special’ today is the open faced roast beef with gravy fries and a side salad.  Do you have any questions about the menu?”  She asked as she pulled her order pad out.

 

Vin looked around at the others and shrugged, “I’ll take the ‘special’ with Ranch dressing on the salad.”

 

“I’ll take pastrami on rye with a Greek side salad.” Ezra replied as he placed his order, watching amusedly as Buck was being all moony eyed with their waitress.

 

Molly looked down at Chris’s bent head and asked, “What can I get you?” Chris looked up into the greenest eyes he had ever seen, they were like large emeralds, had to be contacts, no one had eyes that green, he thought to himself.  “Sir, you okay?” she asked and watched as he seemed to shake himself back to awareness.

 

“Uh yeah, the crab cakes on the menu, are they ‘real’ Maryland Crab Cakes?”  Chris asked and watched as Molly smiled widely.

 

“Yes they are, made them up myself this morning using pure Old Bay; you had Maryland Crab Cakes before?”  She asked and smiled again when Chris nodded.

 

“I’ll try the crab cake meal with the side salad; uh I’ll have the parmesan peppercorn dressing.”

 

“Ok, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.”  She smiled and turned her gaze onto Buck, “And what can I get you?”

 

“Aw, Honey, I’ll take the crab cakes, fries with Old Bay and a side of you.” Buck flirted with his most impressive smile.  Chris shot him a withering look, Vin and Ezra groaned.

 

“I’m not on the menu, Sport.  But, I’ll bring you everything else.” Molly smiled tightly, “I’ll be back soon with your orders.”

 

After she was out of earshot Vin hooted, “Smooth move there, Ex-lax.  That’s how to get her eating out of your hand.” Vin shook his head and couldn’t stop laughing at the look of loss on Bucks face.

 

“She’ll warm up to me, you’ll see, I just need to figure her out, might be a tough nut to crack, but crack her I will.”  Buck declared while taking a sip of his iced tea.

 

Ezra sighed, “As I’m always saying, Mr. Wilmington is a legend in his own mind.  Though I do believe Mr. Larabee was a little taken with our nubile waitress.”

 

“Yeah, I saw that Chris, you got a little distracted there, probably not as wild as Felicity.” Vin commented as he looked out the window.

 

Chris scowled at Vin, “Had to bring her up didn’t you?  I’m over her, she was nuts, and I say good riddance.”

 

“Hey, you’re the one who’s been all broody over her today.  She is gone, never to darken your door again.  She’s supposedly living it up in Japan somewhere.  She thought you were a pussy, said so herself.  You should be glad she took off never to look back.”

 

“I am not a pussy!” Chris hissed and quickly looked up as someone cleared their throat, there she was, Buck’s waitress, all long honey blonde hair and lightly tanned, he’d bet a million dollars her skin was silky to the touch.

 

“I brought you all some bread and rolls.  They’re a little backed up in the kitchen, but it shouldn’t be too much of a delay.” She explained as she plopped the basket down on the table along with their salads.

 

“So you mentioned you made the crab cakes, seemed pretty sure of that recipe being genuine, where you hail from?” Buck asked innocently.

 

“Uh, well I’m from Baltimore, Maryland, but spent a lot of my time between Ocean City, Maryland and Washington, D.C.  This is the first time I’ve lived west of the Mississippi, believe it or not.” Molly looked over her shoulder and back at the boys, “I came out here to help out my uncle, he’s invested everything in this diner.”

 

“Long way to come to work in a diner,” Buck commented. 

 

“He asked if I could help, couldn’t say no.” Molly just shrugged her shoulders, “Let me check on your order.”

 

As she hurried off, Chris turned on Buck, “Turn it down there Casanova, you scare her off you won’t even make it to first base.  I don’t think this one is like your normal conquests.”

 

Buck chuckled, “It’ll be fine; don’t you worry.”

 

Molly returned with their orders.  “Ok, here we are,” she handed each agent their lunch order and some extra napkins.  “I’ll bring you all some refills, enjoy.”

 

Buck dug into his crab cakes and moaned as he ate them, “This is the real deal, I’m in heaven.”

 

“Don’t drool Buck, it’s not polite.” Vin grinned around his own food, “I think we’ve found a new place to go to lunch.”

 

“I’d have to agree with you, Mr. Tanner, as long as they can keep the quality of the food true, I will also be patronizing this establishment again.” Ezra watched as Chris was eating his crab cakes with great relish.  “I take it you’re enjoying your meal, Mr. Larabee?”

 

“Delicious,” Was all Chris could say as he savored his meal.

 

Buck watched as Molly moved through out the restaurant attending to the other diners, before dropping off their drink refills.

 

Ezra looked up at Molly and smiled widely showing his gold tooth, “Thank you for the refills.  Your friendly smile and courteous demeanor made this a truly enjoyable experience.” Ezra smirked at Buck and replied, “When you get a chance if we can get the check, it would be appreciated.  We’ve got to get back to court.”

 

“Sure no problem, here you go, they’ll take your payment up front.” She replied and handed Ezra the check.  “Have a great day.” She smiled before walking off to attend another table.

 

Chris finished up without a word, handed Ezra his money and left his portion of the tip on the table, “I’ll meet you over at the court house.”  He got up and headed toward the front of the restaurant.  He lit up a cigarette as soon as he gained the outside, he had hoped the delicious lunch and entertaining conversation would have helped shake the image of Felicity that had been haunting him too much over the last twenty-four hours, but it only pushed the irritating thoughts back for a short time.

 

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

Chris came awake gradually, his head pounding to the beat of his heart, ugh too much to drink last night.  He tried to slide out from beneath Felicity without waking her, but she was wrapped around him like an octopus.  He pulled her arm off his chest and used his foot to push her over onto her side.  Sliding out of the bed onto the floor, he used a nearby chair to pull himself up and stumbled into the bathroom to relieve his aching bladder.  Once he had that need taken care of he moved to the sink to splash some water on his face.  As he looked up into the mirror, he noticed his sunken, darkly shadowed eyes and berated himself, “You look like shit!  You need to move on before this girl kills you, Larabee.”

 

Reaching into the shower he turned the water on, pulling up as he felt a stabbing pain on his right side.  He turned to look in the mirror and saw a bruise covering most of his ribcage, “What the hell?  How’d that get there?”  he tried to remember what had happened last night but his head really hurt too much.  He climbed into the shower and let the hot water beat down, trying to ease the thundering in his head.  He grabbed a bar of soap and concentrated on cleaning up; he had the sudden desire to rid his skin of Felicity’s scent.

 

A cool breeze unexpectedly moved across his skin and suddenly Felicity was plastered to his back, she ran her hands over his chest and tried to move lower but he dropped the soap and grabbed her hands, “Please, I need you to give me some space.”

 

“Come on baby, you know how I love taking showers with you, it’s a great way to start the morning.” She crooned as she ran her hand down his flank.

 

Chris slammed the water off, pushed the shower curtain over and stepped out grabbing a towel on the way, “I said ‘no’ and I meant it.  You want to tell me what happened here?” he snapped pointing to the angry bruising.

 

“Well we over indulged a little last night, and after the movie we were screwing in the stairwell; you lost your balance.  You hit the railing pretty hard, but you looked ok so we just came back to my place.”  She explained as she turned the shower back on and stepped into the spray.

 

Chris hastily wiped the towel over his skin before heading back into the bedroom.  These missing and unexplained moments were beginning to occur more than Chris liked to admit, and enough was enough.

 

“Yeah, ok, I’m outta here, I’ve got things to do today.” He growled trying to pull on a pair of jeans over his still damp skin.

 

“Baby, you promised we’d stay in bed all day, and I was looking forward to trying out my new digital video camera by making a movie that we can watch together later.” She looked out from the curtain and gave him a devilish smile.

 

“Changed my mind, I’ve got to get to my place and take care of the animals.”  he muttered as he pulled a T-shirt over his head.  He quickly went through the room gathering up his clothing and belongings, “I’ll call you later.” And he ran for the door, slamming it behind him.

 

As Chris was stalking across the parking lot, Felicity threw the apartment door open and stood naked in the entryway, “You can’t blow me off so easily, Larabee, you’ll be back, begging for me.”

 

Chris refused to look back at her, and unlocked the truck throwing the clothes in the back seat.  As he drove out of the lot he noticed that some of Felicity’s neighbors were staring in shock at her nakedness and some were looking in disbelief at him.  “I’m going to have to end this and soon.” He groaned as he turned the truck for home.

 

 

Part 5

 

The court proceedings resumed after the lunch recess and the U.S. State’s Attorney called Buck to the witness stand for direct examination.  Buck had been on the stand for almost thirty minutes when Judge Paxton had looked out over the court and had held up a hand to stop the examination.  Buck and the prosecutor watched, in obvious confusion, as the Judge pushed his chair back and climbed down from the bench.  The people in the court waited, with baited breath to see what had so raptly caught the judge’s attention.  The court room was utterly silent as he crossed to the prosecution’s side of the court, quietly walking behind the table to take a seat next to the unsuspecting Chris Larabee.

 

Oh good Lord, Buck thought to himself, as he finally realized what the judge had seen; Chris Larabee, sound asleep in Paxton’s court room!  This was not the team leader’s normal habit in a court of law, but Buck would bet that Chris had not slept in at least thirty-three hours and had finally crashed.  Buck noticed Vin and Ezra sitting directly behind Chris trying to dispel the “deer in headlights” look they had about themselves, but even at this distance Buck could not help but see it.  Please be merciful.  Buck prayed to himself as he watched Judge Paxton lean close enough to crowd but not touch Chris.  Did this man not remember what these men did for a living?  It was not healthy to startle them, especially Chris Larabee.  It was a good way to get shot.

 

Judge Paxton continued to watch as Chris Larabee slept on; unaware of what was about to happen.  If he hadn’t seen the slow, steady rise and fall of the agent’s chest, he might not have suspected; that he had actually had the balls to fall asleep in his court room.  Thankfully, the man did not appear to snore, snuffle, or talk in his sleep; and though he could see the dark shadows beneath the agent’s eyes, and had noticed the weary slump to the his shoulders, he had no sympathy.  Oh, he would do his sworn duty and remain unbiased to this case, but he had no such obligation, in his mind, to Chris Larabee.  This was the man who had fed his daughter wild tales and had encouraged her reckless behavior.  His poor innocent child, that had suddenly and without provocation, turned on him; and had left him to seek out a new life in Japan with some cut rate photographer.  He would forever blame Chris Larabee for leading his daughter astray.  Larabee had seduced her into the late night partying, sexual relations in public spaces, and dangerous “Adrenaline Junky” activities.  Felicity had told him about everything those two had gotten into, and that Chris Larabee had instigated it, all of it.  At one time he had thought the agent had been a fine upstanding individual, with a passion for seeing justice done, but that had all changed when Felicity had explained to him how that was just a lie.  She had cried that she was the innocent, and had not known that Larabee had had such wild and dangerous tendencies.  Now she was gone, possibly forever out of his simple and regimented life.  So without further thought; Judge Paxton cleared his throat and asked in a booming voice, “Are we keeping you awake, Agent Larabee?” he watched as Larabee’s entire body stiffened and an eye cracked open, “Should we move the trial to another room so that we do not disturb your slumber?”

 

Unbelievable, was all Chris could think as he came face to face with his nemesis.  This was obviously not his day, he would have been better off if he had just stepped in front of a bus this morning, it would probably have been less painful.  On the other hand, if he had stepped in front of the bus, he would not have had the most unbelievably delicious crab cakes that he’d tasted in years.  Those alone were worth whatever humiliation Paxton was thinking up, in that twisted mind of his.  You know what, just bring it on!  He thought to himself, without realizing that he had an uncharacteristic smile plastered on his face.

 

Ezra’s heart did a little skip as he watched the myriad of emotions cross his boss’s face as Chris came back to full awareness and appeared to be having some type of internal monologue going on.  He saw the look of shock turn to finality, then to bliss and ultimately the cat who licked the cream’s “Cheshire” grin.  Here the man had been called out, in the court room by the presiding judge, and all Agent Larabee could do was smile broadly.  The undercover agent then realized that with all probability, the Great Chris Larabee had cracked.  Ezra slid a glance over to Vin, who at the moment had a puzzled look on his countenance.  Ezra tapped Vin’s arm to get his attention and tried to communicate his confusion, the sharpshooter gave his head a slight shake and continued to face forward.  They were going to have to wait and see how this was going to play out.  Neither he nor Ezra could jump to Chris’s defense, without the possibility of being found in contempt of court, and they had all worked too hard to throw all of their hard earned effort out the window.

 

Judge Paxton narrowed his eyes and growled at Chris, “Little slow this afternoon, are we?  I asked you a question, Agent, and I expect an answer.  Are we keeping you awake?”

 

Buck held his breath and stared at the ceiling, praying silently, for all the good it would do him, or any of them, “Don’t mouth off Larabee, I don’t have enough money saved up to bail you out when he finds you in contempt of court for being a smartass.”

 

Chris narrowed his gaze and slid a look at Judge Paxton weighing his answers, he could answer one way and be able to walk out of here relatively unscathed, or answer another way and possibly face charges of contempt.  It was a difficult decision and he could feel the waves of tension flowing off of his agents that had taken seats behind him.  He sighed, “No, sir. I apologize to the court for falling asleep during the interviews.  I was more tired than I thought, it will not happen again.”

 

He heard an exhale of breath behind him and could imagine the tension flowing out of Standish and Tanner.  Of course, neither of them probably realized just how much that simple admission had cost their team leader.  He glanced down at his watch and noticed that it was already four o’clock, where had the day gone?  As he looked around he noticed Buck sitting next to him, when had he sat back down?  Buck was prodding him to stand up as the Judge exited the court and the court day was officially over.  Got to get some sleep tonight he thought as he rubbed at gritty eyes, he’d obviously drifted off again, hopefully no one had noticed this time.

 

Vin watched as Chris ran a hand through his hair before scrubbing his hand across his eyes, he groaned inwardly as he realized that they would be doing this all over again tomorrow.  He rushed to catch up with Chris as he beat a hasty retreat to the exit.  Buck and Ezra were following closely behind, “There is no way he’s driving himself home, probably wrap his truck around a light pole, before he turned the first block.” Vin threw over his shoulder as he pushed his way through the crowd, while trying to keep an eye on Chris.  Buck and Ezra could only nod in agreement.

 

The evening air had cooled considerably since lunch time, and the three agents watched as Chris turned the corner to head back to the office; Chris was walking at a ground eating pace.  Vin assumed it was to put as much space between Chris and Judge Paxton as possible.

 

Ezra held his breath as their team leader crossed the street mid-block, into rush hour traffic.  He didn’t let it out until Chris had made it safely to the other side and was entering the front doors of the office building.  “So who has the honor of driving our reckless boss home this evening?” he asked as he walked with Vin and Buck at a slightly more sedate pace.

 

“I can do it, J.D. can follow me to Chris’s in my truck and after I drop him off we can go home from there.” Buck commented as they entered the building and headed for the elevator, hoping they could intercept Chris, before he could leave and get down to the garage.

 

As the elevator opened on their floor, all three came face to face with Chris Larabee, “Goin’ somewhere, Cowboy?” Vin asked as he stepped off the elevator.

 

“Home, see you all first thing in the morning.” Chris grumbled as he moved to push by his agents.  Buck grabbed Chris’s arm to halt him, and Chris looked up into Buck’s gaze with irritation.

 

“Listen Stud, I’d feel a lot better if you’d let me drive you home this evening.  You’re running on empty, and I don’t want to worry about you not making it home this evening because you fell asleep behind the wheel.”  Buck explained as J.D. came up behind the little group with his and Buck’s things.

 

Chris shook his head as he let out a mirthless laugh, “I’m not going to fall asleep, I’m okay to drive myself home, really.  Besides, my place is out of the way.”

 

“I’ll make you a deal, you let me drive you home and I’ll buy you a crab cake dinner after court tomorrow.” Buck replied trying to get Larabee to compromise.

 

“All you want to do is try to get a date with that waitress and use me as your ‘wingman’, admit it.”  Chris scowled as he pulled his arm free of Buck’s grasp.

 

“Okay, it’s true but only partly.  I really want to drive you home, and I just want to be sure you make it there in one piece.  Please?”  Buck begged.

 

“Ugh, only if you stop whining, man, here are the keys to the Ram.  Happy now?” Chris asked, as he finally handed the keys over to his highly relieved oldest friend.

 

“Yes, let’s go.” Buck smiled and pushed Chris into the elevator, “See you all tomorrow.” He called out to the others as J.D. moved into the elevator next to him and Chris.

 

 

M7M7M7M7M7M7M7

 

Once on the road, Buck turned on a light rock station and turned the heat in the Ram up.  He wished he’d had the fore thought to grab his jacket out of his truck before heading to Chris’s.  Twenty minutes into the trip, Chris had dropped off and Buck was sure it was a combination of the warm interior of the truck and the soothing music.  Even though traffic had been light by the time they reached Chris’s place, darkness had fallen.  Buck turned and looked at Chris as he turned the truck off, surprised that the team leader was still sleeping.  He cleared his throat, “Hey Chris, we’re here, yoo-hoo?  Time to wake up; you’re home.”

 

Something had disturbed his sleep, Chris wasn’t sure what, the interior of the Ram was comfortably warm and the cab was silent.  We’re not moving, he thought and cracked an eye open to see his house through the windshield.  Crap, slept almost the entire trip home; wonder how long we’ve been sitting here?

 

“Welcome back.” Buck grinned as he opened the driver’s side door to get out, “You need help or are you planning on staying out here all night?”  Chris gave him a withering gaze and hopped out of the Ram to go open the front door.

 

Buck and J.D. trailed into the house after him, as they entered the foyer and Chris turned the living room light on and Buck and J.D. stopped and stared, all of the furniture was missing and the walls were bare.  “Uh, Chris what are you doing here?” Buck asked as he stepped into the room.

 

Chris came back out of the kitchen and simply stated, “Renovating, felt like the room needed updating.”

 

“Well you could have asked for some help, we’d be more than happy to help.” Buck explained as he walked over to look at the large pile of flooring sitting in the corner. “Wood floors, you’re gonna pull out the rug?  I thought you liked wall to wall carpeting.”

 

Chris rubbed his neck, “Sarah liked wall to wall carpeting, it’s getting kind of worn so I figured since it had to be replaced why not try something new.”

 

“What kind of wood is it, Cherry?” J.D. asked as he stepped closer to the wood, noticing the paint cans piled there also.  “You really want to do this all on your own?”

 

“I got a nice deal on some mesquite down at the lumber yard, and I think I can handle it.” Chris turned and moved back into the kitchen where he had been checking for something to fix for dinner.  “If you boys feel obligated to help around here I’m sure I can find something for you all to do.”

 

J.D.’s cell phone rang, “It’s Casey, I’m going to take this outside.” J.D. mentioned as he left Chris and Buck in the living room to go out to the porch.

 

Buck leaned against the kitchen counter watching Chris poke around in the refrigerator; Chris shot a look at him, “Chicken okay with you, that’s all that’s defrosted right now.”

 

Buck nodded, it beat dinner from a box any night of the week.  He watched as Chris puttered around the kitchen, turning on the oven, pulling out the various cooking implements he’d need to fix dinner.  He often imagined that Chris had to get lonely once in while out here, when no one was around except for the horses.  Chris looked up from preparing the chicken when he felt like he was being watched, “What?”  Buck just shook head.

 

“Nothing, J.D. and I are going to go take care of the horses, be back in a jif.” Buck advised as he moved to the kitchen door.  Chris watched as Buck grabbed J.D. by the arm and walked off toward the barn in the distance. 

 

Once Chris had dinner cooking to his satisfaction, he set some places at the kitchen table.  By the time he’d finished setting the table, J.D. and Buck had returned from the barn, and had moved into the den to watch some television.

 

Chris checked the chicken and it seemed to have a little while to go, so he headed back to his room to change into a t-shirt and sweats, he really couldn’t wait to get to bed this evening, but since Buck had driven him all the way out here he couldn’t send him and J.D. home without supper.  He passed the bureau on his way out of the room and looked at the photograph sitting on top, it was the last family photo to be taken before Sarah and Adam had died so horribly.  It was a simple photo just a moment in time during a trip to the zoo where Chris and Sarah were hugging Adam in front of his favorite exhibit, the Panda bears.  Buck had taken the photo and had it developed in black and white, it had been one of Sarah’s favorites.  Now Chris traced her jaw line wishing that she and Adam were still here today, and he felt his throat tighten and tears prick behind his eyes. 

 

“Hey, Chris when’s that chicken gonna be done, we’re starved?” came J.D.’s voice from the den. 

 

Chris set the photograph back, wiped at his eyes and cleared his throat, “Should be about ready.” He headed down the hallway toward the kitchen to serve dinner. 

 

He needed to move forward with his life, and he figured that Sarah probably wouldn’t have wanted him to sit pining for her until the end of his days.  Chris realized was finally able to feel like he wasn’t betraying her and Adam’s memory by getting back out into the world.  He had made the decision the other day that he was going to go through the house room by room until he had renovated everything.

 

 

PARTS 6-10 / PARTS 11-15 / PARTS 16-20 / PARTS 21-25 / PART 26-29

 

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