Much In Common

by ReaperWriter

Author’s Note: This is the third in the ATF Lili arc. It will make much more sense is you read Faces from the Past and If You’re Gone first. This has a medium angst warning, with some cursing. Overall, I’d say PG-13. I don’t own the boys, but I am making no money. Lili is mine, ask before you play with her please. Thanks to my Beta Rhonda, my LYLAS Hilary, and the M.o.M for their support. And a special thanks to MOG who created this amazing universe for us to play in.

Buck Wilmington sighed heavily as he stood outside the door of a grimy bar called Mike’s. He had believed only this morning that this scene was going to be permanently erased from his life. He had worked hard to prevent moments like these, he and five other men who stood by the side of their friend and leader Chris Larabee. The same man who was inside this seedy tavern, drinking himself as deep into oblivion as he could go. But, this time it was different. This time, he had lashed out at people other than the rogue. He could take the abuse; he had been taking it every year around this time for the five years since Sarah and Adam had been murdered. In a way, the man felt he deserved the abuse. If he hadn’t talked the then detective into staying away another night, his best, his brother, would not have lost his wife, who was like his sister, and not his son, his Godson.

So now, he stood outside one of the old haunts, from the worst of the old days, but this too was different. Tonight, Vin Tanner, the man largely responsible for Larabee’s turnaround two years before, joined him. Now, He hoped the young man could do it again.

Earlier that day...

No one had warned Mary Travis what she would be walking into that day when she entered the Denver Federal building to interview the leader of Team Seven on his latest case. She’d forgotten that today was an anniversary, the tragic story of a Denver police detective whose wife and child had been killed by a car bomb five years before. It was her first story on crime beat, and though she had heard of Christopher Larabee, she didn’t know the man.

The intervening years since Team Seven had formed had dulled the memory of the bitter, broken hearted man she had met then, then lost track of, only to meet again. He was a changed man, or so he had seemed. So, she didn’t remember that today marked five years. She knew that Team Seven had been called in to collaborate on a series of church bombings with the FBI, but she didn’t know that the latest victims were a church secretary and her five- year-old son, killed just that morning, and she didn’t know that his personal demons had resurfaced to claim him.

She walked into the office to find it largely deserted. She knew the team should be back by now and figured the rest of the guys had probably gone on to lunch. She pushed open the door to the inner office and was shocked by the sight. He sat behind the desk, a day’s stubble still on his chin. Smudges of soot blotted his skin and streaked his uncombed hair. But, the sight that shocked her the most was the bottle of cheap whiskey and the shot glass on the desk. Drinking on the job was an offense guaranteeing termination, but He didn’t seem to care as he poured another shot out of the already half empty bottle.

“What do you think you’re doing?” the reporter asked. Chris looked up at her, bleary eyed.

“Drinking,” he grunted, downing the shot and pouring another.

“Chris, I don’t know what happened, but surely, this isn’t the best way...” she started to say, when he cut her off.

“Get off your damn high horse, Mrs. Travis,” Larabee growled. “What the hell do you know? You cover the deaths of people’s loved ones, and you think it gives you the right to tell them how to run their damn lives. Well, screw you, Mary Travis. What the hell do you know about loss?”

She took a physical step back, staggering from the pain and shock of the verbal assault. Suddenly, she turned and fled the office, slamming smack into Josiah and Nathan, who were coming back from the crime lab. Sanchez saw the look of horror on her face. “Mary,” he said, pausing just a moment as she pushed past them and down the hall.

He knew she had been in to see Chris, and for not the first time that day, he questioned God on his apparent need to punish their friend repeatedly. He glanced at his partner, then took the lead into their leader’s office.

Meanwhile, Mary tried to stem her tears as she waited for the elevator. When the door opened, she stepped in and waited for the door to shut. Only after it closed completely did she hear the voice behind her.

“Mary?” She spun around to find Lili standing there. “Mary, what on earth is the matter?”

She finally let the tears flow as the FBI Agent put her arms around her. Sobs wracked her as everything Chris had said to her finally broke through her barriers. “Chris..he...” she started but couldn’t finish.

The other woman caught her breath. “Mary, did something happen? Is everyone okay?”

The widow shook her head. “It’s the..anniversary..Sarah and Adam..Chris..I..he said...,” she tried.

MacKenna realized no one was in imminent physical danger, and she let herself breathe again. “Come on, lets go to my office,” she said.

+ + + + + + +

Buck pushed open the door to Mike’s, nearly gagging on the smell of stale cigarette smoke, old peanuts, spilled beer, and urine. He and Vin walked in, and surveyed the crowd for any sign of trouble. It didn’t take them long to spot Chris, sitting at a table near the rear of the bar with his back to the wall. Two empty whiskey bottles sat on the table, and the remains of a third were on the floor. A fourth, 1/3 gone, was in his hand as he poured another shot.

He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. He put himself between the Texan and Larabee, as the two agents approached their boss’s table. The drunken man didn’t even look up. “Hey Pard,” he said. Still, their leader ignored them. “Come on, Chris, you’ve had enough.”

“Go to hell, Buck,” he said.

“Hey, come on Cowboy,” Tanner pleaded. He stepped clear of Wilmington. “Ya shouldn’ta had to see what we saw today...”

“Leave, Tanner,” the man in black growled.

“Now Chris, don’t take it out on Vin,” the lady’s man said. “Hell, we’re all worried about you.”

Larabee looked up angry, very angry. “I should take it our on you,” he spat venomously. “If you didn’t have to do everything pretty in a skirt, Adam and Sarah might still be alive.” He suddenly stood and took a swing at Buck. Vin stepped in between, and hi fist caught him square in the cheek. The sharpshooter went down hard.

“Damn!” Wilmington said, dropping down to check on him. “You okay, Junior?”

Tanner reached up and gingerly touched his cheek. He had thought that if he was the one the man was swinging at it might stop him. “I think so,” he said quietly, the hurt in his statement evident.

“You shouldn’t have tried to save this bastard,” the drunk threw out threw out.

The youngest of the three just stared at his best friend for a minute and then let Buck help him up. “Ya know, Cowboy, ya can be one mean son of a bitch. If ya want ta drink yerself ta death, fine, but don’t expect us ta sit here and watch.” With that, he turned around and ran out the door.

“I hope you know what all you’ve thrown away today, pard,” Wilmington said. He turned and followed the other man out the door.

The sharpshooter was in an alley nearby, throwing up. Buck hurried over, clearly worried. “Hey Junior, do you need a doc?”

He shook his head as he finished heaving the contents of his stomach and suffered through a few minutes of dry heaves. Finally, he stopped and took the rag the rogue offered and wiped his mouth. A few tears stood in the corners of his eyes, a scary sight to the lady’s amn. Tanner didn’t cry ever, at least not in front of people.

“Look, Junior,” he said. “We tried.”

“Goddammit, Buck,” the other man said. “He’d no right ta say that.”

“That wasn’t Chris talking, boy,” he sighed. “That was the booze. And besides, he’s right. If we hadn’t stayed an extra night...”

“Then it mighta been you two in that car,” Tanner finished. “And, JD probably woulda gotten himself killed by now, Ezra might be dead or still in that hell in Atlanta, Nathan and Josiah still working for local police, and if not who knows where. I’d probably still be a bounty hunter..or dead.”

Suddenly Buck’s phone rang. “Wilmington,” he said. “Huh, yeah, we found him. No, he’s too damn far-gone. No, he hit Vin...whoa, now I don’t think...listen...dammit,” he swore as he hung up.

“Who was it?” Tanner asked.

“Lili,” Buck answered.

Earlier that day...

She had gotten Mary calmed down and heard the whole story. The anger she felt was incredible, and so was the memory of another person who had used liquor to deal with the grief of losing the person most important to them.

Once Mary had composed herself, she left to find someone from the FBI team to interview. She was unsurprised when she heard a knock at her door. Looking up, she saw Josiah standing in there. The older man looked troubled.

“Josiah,” she said, looking up. “What the hell happened out there?”

“There was another bombing this morning. A woman and her son were killed. It brought back...”

“Sarah and Adam,” She finished. “Shit.”

“Chris couldn’t deal with it. He went off at the scene, screamed at Ezra and JD. He threw Ezra running out in his face, and JD’s age in his. Ezra took the boy and left. I don’t know where they are. Vin and Buck are doing clean up. Chris got back here and started drinking. Unfortunately, Mary got to him before Nathan and I did. If she got half of what Nathan and I just got, then I am not surprised at how upset she was when we saw her,” Sanchez said.

“Where’s Chris now?” She asked, suddenly tired.

“He left. We don’t know where he’s headed. Buck and Vin will be here as soon as they can,” he said.

She nodded. Picking up the phone, she pressed a button and began speaking. “Margaret, tell SAC Donaldson that I am on leave the rest of the day. I can’t give details, but I’ll have my beeper if you need me. Steven will be in charge. Thanks.”

“What are you going to do?” the profiler asked.

“First, I am going to go find JD and Ezra and make sure they’re okay,” she said. “Then I am going to find Chris Larabee and rip him a new one.”

+ + + + + + +

Vin looked at the rag in his hand then back at Buck. Wilmighton shook his head, and he tossed the rag over near a dumpster. “What’d she say?” he asked, gingerly fingering his cheek again. He could feel the swelling and knew his eye would be black in the morning.

“She’s coming after him,” Buck said.

“Aw hell,” Vin said quietly. He cared a lot for the lady. She reminded him so much of his mother at times that it hurt. “Hell, Buck, she don’t stand a chance.”

“You never know, Junior,” he replied. “That little lady has been full of surprises ever since she got here.”

Just then, there was a screech of tires as a mint condition ‘67 Shelby Mustang pulled up next to Buck’s truck. The door opened and slammed shut as five foot, five inches, one hundred forty pounds of brunette anger and frustration got out. She glanced around, spotted them and headed over. The smell of vomit stopped her and she looked questioningly at Buck, who nodded at Vin. She immediately moved over to him and reached out a hand, assessing his injury. “Son of a bitch,” she said. The bruise looked nasty, but she didn’t think the cheekbone was fractured. “He did this?”

Tanner nodded. “Lili, this ain’t a good idea.”

“There isn’t another way, Vin,” she said. She quickly squeezed his shoulder, then turned to Wilmington. “Take him back to the ranch. The others are waiting for you there. Have Nathan check his eye.”

“Lili,” he started to say, but she shook her head, her voice taking on a command presence that would freeze a sober Chris in his tracks.

“It ends now, Buck,” she said. “I’m turning off my cell. If you don’t hear from me by 3 am, worry. Otherwise, keep your family safe.” With that, she turned and headed into the bar.

+ + + + + + +

Mike looked up at the woman who entered. Usually, the only unescorted women here were hookers, but this one certainly wasn’t. She walked up to the bar without a single waiver, despite drunken leers. “What can I get you?” he asked.

“The owner or the manager, whoever is in charge,” she replied.

“I’m both. Name’s Mike. What can I do for you?”

“You can close down for the night, and leave me be with that man,” she said, indicating the dark clothed man in the back.

“Lady, I can’t close,” he said. “I have a good three hours of business left and the revenue...”

“How much?”

“Excuse me?” he sputtered.

Lili pulled out a wad of bills. “Does $2000 sound fair? I will of course pay further if any property damage occurs.”

“Lady, if he’s dangerous, I can just call the law,” the barkeep said. She sighed and pulled out her credentials.

“Mike, I am the law. Now take the cash, clear the bar, and go somewhere for a while,” she said. “But first, give me another bottle of whatever he’s been drinking all night.”

+ + + + + + +

There wasn’t enough whiskey in the world for Chris Larabee right now. Enough would release him totally, leave him numb. He’d made a mistake allowing himself to feel again, stupid really. Everyone knew that feeling just got you hurt. Still, he was making a conscious effort to go numb anyways; four bottles of conscious effort. He was doing such a good job, he didn’t notice when his fellow drinkers suddenly left, leaving the bar empty but for one presence.

She sat for a moment on the bar stool, watching him. She tried to assess just how far gone he was. His fourth bottle was now two thirds gone. She sighed as she thought once again about the battle she was about to face.

Earlier that day...

She had known where he would go when wounded, and she wasn’t surprised when she found JD there with him. The stables at Chris’s barn were often a retreat. She heard the gun cock as she walked in and felt the protective presence. “Ezra,” she said quietly. “It’s me, Lili.”

“God,” the southern voice replied. The gun went back out of ready position. “Back here.”

She walked toward the back of the barn, surprised to see only him sitting on a hay bale outside one stall. “Where’s JD?” she asked quietly. He nodded into the stall at his back, and She moved to look in. The kid lay asleep on a mound of hay, covered by a saddle blanket. The streaks of dried tears showed plainly on his cheeks, making him look even younger than usual. She felt her heart break just to look at him. “My, God,” she breathed. “Sometimes I forget how young he really is.”

“Apparently, Mr. Larabee hasn’t,” Standish replied bitterly. She moved over and sat down next to him.

“That wasn’t Chris today, Ezra,” MacKenna said. “Not the Chris you know. That was the Chris who has a demon clawing him, shredding his heart. He didn’t mean it, and when he comes down, he’ll realize that.”

“You didn’t see him today, Lili Grace,” he said, a slight tremor in his voice. “We lost him out there today.” He went perfectly still, and she knew he was struggling for control. “We lost the family today.”

“No,” the lady said, squeezing his hand. “You’ll get him back.”

“Lili, where Mr. Larabee is now is hell,” the Southerner said. “And even we aren’t strong enough to pull him out.”

“I won’t accept that,” she said, rising. “If I have to follow him into hell itself, I am not going to watch the thing you seven have…this brotherhood end.”

“Lili,” he said, then stopped. He knew there was no talking her out of something once she had made up her mind.

“Nathan and Josiah will be here soon,” she said. “Vin and Buck went after him. I’ll go after them.” She looked down at JD once more, feeling oddly maternal. “I’ll make this work, I promise.”

+ + + + + + +

Sighing, she reached out and picked up the bottle. The feeling of the neck in her hand was eerily familiar as she walked over to the last person left in the bar. She knew that she was in for one hellascious fight.

Chris didn’t even look up as the new whiskey bottle was set in front of him. Mike had seen him a lot in those years right after Sarah and Adam died, and he knew all Larabee wanted was to get as drunk as possible with no actual human interaction. However, the next item set on the table was one the barkeep had never offered him before. The Glock 17 sat there with a fully loaded clip, the black tint of the gunmetal gleaming up at him. He looked up into the last pair of eyes he expected.

“Go away, MacKenna,” he said.

“Not this time, Larabee,” she replied, taking a chair from a nearby table and pulling it over. She sat, making sure she was directly in his line of sight.

He paused and glanced around the bar. “Where the hell is everyone?”

“I figured the least I might be able to do for you tonight is give you an honorable death,” the woman said. “It’s no good having people watch you slowly self destruct.”

“You don’t know shit, Lilian MacKenna,” he said. “Get the hell out of here or I’ll…”

“Or you’ll what?” she said. “Hit me? Go ahead, Chris, hit me. But, I’m not Vin Tanner. I have no qualms about hitting you back.”

The mention of the Texan brought him a pause. He flashed back on the scene only an hour before, of Vin’s hurt and horrified look as his fist had sent the man he was closest to in this world, his brother really, crashing to the floor.

“The way I see it, Larabee, you are determined to die,” she said. She pushed the whiskey bottle towards him. “That’s the slow route. It’ll be effective. You’ve had what, four bottles already? I figure this one, and maybe one or two more, and your body will shut down from alcohol poisoning.” She paused and then pushed the gun across the table. “Now this...this thing will really get the job done. Put the barrel in your mouth, or even up to your temple, pull the trigger and there you go.”

“Go away, Lili,” the drunken man said again. “You don’t know, so please, just go away.”

“Then the third option deviates a little,” she continued. “You choose to live.”

“You don’t know,” Chris said again.

“Yes, I do,” MacKenna said. “I know that Buck has exactly five pictures on his desk. One is his mother. One is of him and JD. One is of the team. One is of his best friend, his brother, on the day they graduated from the police academy together. The last one is of that brother’s wife and son, who he loved like his own family, and who he would have died to protect.”

“Stop, please,” he said.

“I know that Vin Tanner personally credits one man with making him who he is. That man is his brother, his family, and his closest friend. I know that every time that man is in pain, he hurts too. I know that every time that man is injured, he won’t leave his side until he knows it will be okay,” Lili said. “I know JD idolizes this man with every fiber of his being. He’s the perfect older brother, the one that kid wants to be. He’s the father he never had. He’s the leader who holds the only family he has left together, and now he’s the man threatening to tear them all apart.”

“I can’t be that to them,” Larabee pleaded. “I never asked to be that person.”

“I know that Ezra trusts someone for the first time in years. For the first time, he feels like he belongs somewhere,” the FBI agent went on, trying not to lose her nerve. She knew she was inflicting pain, but she also knew that if she didn’t make him see who he was and what he was throwing away, she wouldn’t be able to save him. “All because this man gave him a second chance. I know Nathan looks at this man, who didn’t care about his skin color, and believes that maybe, someday, no one will think it matters. I know that every time this man is hurt, he is so afraid that he won’t be able to save him; that he won’t be able to save his brother. I know that this same man restored faith to an anthropologist who believed God had abandoned him. I know that Josiah believes in something again, something that is tangible and good. I know Mary Travis smiles more than she probably has in years because of this man, that Billy Travis looks up to him like a hero, and that Judge Travis thinks of him like a son.”

“Just leave me,” he said, his hand shaking as he tried to pour himself another drink. Suddenly, the bottle was knocked out of his hand, flying against a nearby wall and shattering into hundred of pieces.

“Damn it, Larabee, are you even listening to me?” she yelled.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he screamed back. “None of you know…”

“What it’s like to watch the someone you love more than anything die, to know it should have been you?” Lili said. “Try another argument, Larabee, because I know exactly what that is like. I’ve been right where you are right now, and it’s by the grace of God I’m not dead.”

That pulled him up short and stared at her in shock. “What?!”

“Frankly, I shouldn’t tell you. The information is classified and knowing is enough to get you fired. My telling you could probably get me fired,” she said softly.

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“My first three years with the Bureau weren’t as a Crime Scene Investigator,” the lady said. She picked up the untouched bottle of whiskey and carried it over to the bar. Returning with two waters she sat down again, making sure he was really focused on her. “I was supposed to immediately be assigned to my mentor, Special Agent Thomas Lloyd when I graduated Academy. He was my supervisor during my internship. But, one of my trainers at Academy noticed I had a distinct ability for undercover work, and they were short of competent female undercover agents. So, I was pulled and placed with my friend Jesse Morgan in an elite undercover unit in DC. Jesse and I were partnered from the get go, because we trusted each other completely. I suppose with the length of time we were together what eventually happened was inevitable.”

“You became lovers,” he said, quiet realization dawning. He had assumed she had pined for Ezra all these yeara and was pining still. The pretty CSI and the southern undercover agent had still done nothing about their feelings for each other. The idea of there being someone else in those intervening years amazed him.

“Yes,” she said, her eyes misting. “When I was undercover, Jesse was my only contact with reality. Sometimes, I was under a week, a month, three months, six months. He was the only thing that anchored me, reminded me who I really was. We had been working close for a year and a half when I was put on the case from hell. I was under so deep that I didn’t think I could get back from it. Jesse helped me speed the case up to get me out fast, but I had a hard time pulling back out. One night we were working on reports at my town house, and I just lost it. I cried, screamed, broke down. He grabbed me, and just held me until I calmed down. Then he kissed me, and well, things went from there.”

“But, if your supervisor had found out,” he said.

“We would have been separated, if not fired,” she said. “But, we were on our own so much, it became easy. After almost another year, we were talking about marrying and transferring to different positions, but then we were sent under with one of the city’s crime syndicates. I was playing the daughter of a Sicilian crime boss, and Jesse was my bodyguard. Somehow, our cover was blown. The boss’s son had a gun trained on me and there was no way our back up was going to make it in time.”

“And he…” Larabee said, then stopped.

“Jesse took the bullet for me,” the lady said. “The bullet caught him in the chest, and he bled out on the floor of the warehouse. I lost it. I don’t remember his funeral at all. That afternoon, I went into my supervisors office and dropped my creds and gun on his desk, then just walked out.”

“But how..?” he asked.

“Because someone gave enough of a damn,” MacKenna replied. “I drove out of DC and down the coast of Virginia until I came to a resort town. I checked into an expensive hotel, then called a liquor store that delivered. I ordered enough liquor to keep a fraternity house drunk for month. Then I went out to the bars. I set sail with Captain Morgan, got wasted in Margaritaville, and watched a lot of Tequilla Sunrises. I would drink all day, and when the bars closed, I would come back to my room and drink myself to sleep. I went on like that for almost a week.”

“What happened?” he asked.

“Thomas Lloyd happened,” she replied. “When I worked under him during my internship, he had just lost his youngest daughter, Beth, in a car accident. She was killed by a drunk driver. He knew I had lost my own family, and his family just sort of…took me in. He and his wife Marian, and their kids, Jake and Anna are family to me. He kept in contact, even when I wasn’t put under his direction. I suppose my director called him after I left, because he took leave to come after me. They talked Agent Donovan into explaining my being gone as a leave of absence.”

“How did he reach you?” Chris asked. His head was starting to hurt and he wanted another drink as he began to recall the scenes from earlier that day.

Seven years before...

She sat on the bed in her hotel room, staring out at the night sky over the ocean. The open bottle of Jack Daniels sat on the bedside table, with two empty ones on the floor. The clock on the wall read four in the morning, but she didn’t really give a damn. She hadn’t been sober for over five days, and she sure as hell wasn’t about to start now. The liquor hadn’t killed all the pain, but at least she had been so numb she hadn’t noticed as much.

The sound of a key in the door didn’t even register to her as odd. She theorized that housekeeping had just decided to keep weird hours. She continued to stare at the water and wondered if it would just be easier to walk into the ocean. At least she wouldn’t hurt anymore that way.

“You are one sorry sight, Lili Grace,” the voice said. She shook her head. Now she was hearing things. Was that a sign of alcohol poisoning? Good. Reaching over, she took another swig straight from the Jack bottle. She had long ago abandoned the idea of mixing it with anything. Hell, she was even seeing things. Her old mentor, Thomas Lloyd stood there, looking at her.

“’Llo Thomas,” she said.

“I expected more from you, Lilian,” Thomas Lloyd said.

“Well, I am under no obligation to live up to the expectations of figments of my imagination,” she said. Suddenly, the bottle she had been holding was pulled out of her hand. She looked a little surprised. “Very real figments.”

“I’m not some figment, Lili. I’m here to take you home,” he said.

“I don’t have a home,” she replied. “My home bled to death on the floor of a goddamned Washington warehouse. So, if you’ll excuse me, I am not nearly drunk enough.”

The gun was a complete surprise. She looked up at Thomas in confusion. “It’s a damn sight quicker than your method,” he said. “Albeit, it might be messier.”

“Well, I will take that into consideration, Thomas,” She said.

“I have already lost one daughter to alcohol, Lili, I don’t wish to lose another,” the older man said quietly. She looked up.

“I’m not Beth, Thomas,” she replied. “No matter how much you and Marian might wish me to be her, I am not. I am Lilian MacKenna. I have lost my brother, both my parents, a dear friend, and now my lover. So you must surely excuse me if I don’t immediately break down.”

“What would they say now, Lili?” Thomas shot back. He grabbed a mirror off her bureau and held it in front of her and switched on the lights. “What would your brother say? Would he see your mother, who killed herself and your father while driving drunk? Would Jesse be proud of you?”

“Stop it,” she said, horrified. “Just go away.”

“You didn’t deserve Jesse if this is how you are going to handle the situation,” Thomas said.

+ + + + + + +

“He handed me a gun and told me if I was so damned determined to die, to be quick about it. Then he handed me this,” she replied, pulling a square mirror out of her purse. “He asked me to take a real good look and then decide what Jesse would think of the person I saw. I was appalled. I couldn’t believe what I was doing. I had betrayed everything I was against.” She paused. “My mother was an alcoholic. When I looked in that mirror, I saw her.”

“Damn,” Chris said. Suddenly, the mirror was in front of him.

“Take a good hard look, Chris Larabee,” Lili said. “Is this the man that Sarah and Adam loved?”

He suddenly felt like he couldn’t breathe. His chest constricted as he took in the pallid complexion, the blood shot eyes.

“How would they feel about someone who was hateful to the very people he is closest to? You were very hateful to all of them today, Chris,” she said.

The tears that welled up in his eyes hadn’t come for a long time, and for once, they weren’t for Sarah and Adam. “I don’t deserve them. I don’t deserve any of them. They’d be better off if I was dead.”

“No, that just proves you a coward,” she said. His head jerked up and looked at her. “You aren’t the only person life has dealt a bad hand to, Larabee. Death is the easy way out. You think you don’t deserve them, and you are probably right, but it isn’t a matter of what you deserve in this life. It’s what you fight to hold onto. They have been fighting hard to keep you from this, Chris, and you choose to just ignore that.”

“I’ve lost them this time, haven’t I? Vin, Buck, JD, Ezra, Nathan, Josiah, Mary, all of them,” the man said, beginning to sober up.

“If I believed that, I wouldn’t be here,” MacKenna said. “Your family has become sort of like my family these past few months, and I’m not willing to see it destroyed. They love you Chris. You are their brother and their strength, and if you give any kind of damn about them, you’ll leave here now and go home.”

“Home,” he whispered.

“Your home,” she said. “The boys are all at the ranch. They are waiting there for you. It’s up to you. You can apologize and accept the new family you’ve been given or you can take the second chance you’ve been dealt. I think that is what Sarah and Adam would want.”

“Or?” he asked.

“Or I will walk away, and leave the other bottle and the Glock. I paid Mike for the use of the bar, and I will pay him for any messes. You can pick your own death.” Lili stood up. “It’s your choice Larabee.” With these words she turned her back on him; silently praying he’d make the right choice. She hadn’t gotten three feet when she heard his voice.


+ + + + + + +

Buck had seen Nathan give Vin a Tylenol PM. He was grateful really. The tracker had been driving him nuts with all his pacing. Now, he and the kid were both asleep on the couches and Ezra dozed in the easy chair. Wilmington was grateful for that too. He knew that if they were awake, they would just worry. He could see Josiah, sitting on the back porch, talking quietly to Nate. Of all of them, those two seemed to be taking things the best, but he knew they were just as torn up as everyone else. Their profiler and their medic often took it upon themselves to try to hold everyone else together and often bore the brunt of the stress and strain of the team.

His gaze landed on a picture on the mantle, one of the seven of them, standing by the pool at Lili’s. It was where another picture once stood, one now carefully packed away, too painful to see, too dear to be rid of, the one of Chris with Sarah and Adam. He felt his heart catch and tears sting his eyes. Please, God, please save my family.

The sound of tires on the gravel drive broke his silent reverie. He froze, and waited, sensing Sanchez and Jackson coming up behind him. The noise was too little to be Chris’s truck. Had she failed? It was five minutes after three am. “Wake them,” he said quietly. Quietly, he opened the front door and stepped onto the porch.

The Shelby had come to a complete stop and a single figure moved towards him out of the darkness, a small figure. His heart lurched. No! “Lili?” he said.

“Sorry Buck, I really tried to be here by three,” she said. The tears that had stung his eyes began to slide down his face.

“You tried Lili,” he said. “God knows, we all tried. He was just too far gone.”

“Buck,” she started, but he stopped her.

“It’s not your fault,” he continued.

“Buck,” she tried again.

“Really, Lili, no one will blame you,” he said.

“Buck! Listen,” she said. “The reason I’m late getting back is because he got sick a couple of times and I pulled over. The ipecac syrup I gave him lasted longer than I thought it would.”

“He…on the way back? You mean, he…?” the rogue stammered, unsure of himself.

“In the back seat,” the lady said. “I think he is going to need help getting in.”

He stared at her. Chris was home. Home. The word just sounded right.

“Buck?” she said. Suddenly, the surveillance expert grabbed her and spun her around. “Buck, put me down!”

“Right,” he said. “Sorry, I got carried away. God, how did you?”

“It’s a story for another time,” MacKenna said. “Right now, lets get him inside so Nathan can make sure he’s going to be okay. Then I’ll leave it up to you.”

“Lili,” he said. She stopped on her way back to the car. “Thank you.”

+ + + + + + +

Buck and Vin sat silently, watching him sleep. The man still looked like hell. His skin looked a little jaundiced and pale from the previous night’s exploits. His hair was a mess, and some small spots of soot still remain spotting his face and hands. However, thanks to Lili’s administration of ipecac, he had not been sick, and was sleeping off the ill effects of the alcohol.

The two men sitting by him now hadn’t talked much all night, but they both weighed heavily on the person who had refused to stay last night. She had shaken her head, despite entreaties of explanation of what had passed between their leader and the lady. “This is for family.”

Vin couldn’t understand how it was she hadn’t figured out the word applied to her too. Maybe she was too afraid to open her heart that much. Maybe getting such an extended family all at once was overwhelming. It still overwhelmed him at times. First, he had gained six brothers and then all the people who matter to those six. Now, just as these men were family, so were Raine and Mary, Billy Travis and Inez, the Judge and his wife, Nettie and Casey Wells. Now, she had joined the number. But, she was special. Just as Nettie was what an older mother would be, she reminded him of the mother he remembered, the one who had been young and vital before the cancer.

Buck couldn’t get over it. Before Chris had passed out, he had looked him in the eye and said the only thing that mattered. “I’m Sorry.” He didn’t know what she had done. Hell, he might never know. But, just as he carried a debt to Vin for all he had done, he now owed her forever as well.

Josiah and Nathan were both sleeping on floor in the living room. JD was still on the couch. Ezra stood on the back porch, starring at the sky. The sun was beginning to come up. It was a beautiful sight, one he wasn’t sure he wanted to see if his family was gone. But somehow, she had saved it all. He wasn’t sure how but she had, and Standish quietly thanked whatever gods were listening again for keeping her in his life.

Chris slowly started to come to, his head throbbing. He opened his eyes and was met by two pairs of calm ones. Wilmington handed him a glass of water and some aspirin. “Morning pard.”

“Uuuggghhh,” he groaned. He tried to sit up and was surprised when Vin immediately moved to help him. Chris couldn’t fight the involuntary flinch. He could see the angry bruise on his best friend’s cheek, and knew he had done it. Why the hell would he be helping him after yesterday?

“Easy, Cowboy,” Tanner said. “You’ll be alright.”

“No, I won’t,” he said softly. “Goddamn. How can either of you stand to be around me?”

“Because you’re my brother,” the Texan replied. Buck smiled softly. Junior knew what to say all on his own.

“Thank you. Both of you,” Larabee said. “I’m sorry.” Then he thought for a minute. “Aw hell. JD, Ezra, Josiah, Nathan...”

“All forgave you already, pard,” the rogue said. “Though an apology wouldn’t hurt.” He nodded and slowly stood up. Together, they helped him make it into the living room. Ezra stood at the window, sipping coffee. He turned at the noise.

“Good morning, Mr. Larabee,” the agent said, looking a little afraid.

“Ezra,” he said. “Ez, I’m sorry. What I said was untrue and unfounded. I was an asshole to say it, and I hope you can forgive me.” Tear had formed at the corners of Larabee’s eyes as he looked at the man infront of him, the one he had probably hurt the worst with his tirade.

“There is nothing to forgive, Chris,” Standish said quietly. He put out a hand to shake his boss’s and was surprised when the team leader pulled him into a hug. The two men held on for a minute and then let go. Larabee turned to find the other three awake and staring at him.

“How are you this morning, Brother?” Josiah asked. Nathan gave him a reassuring smile, but JD starred at him strangely.

He walked over to his youngest agent. The kid looked up at him for a minute, then said, “I’m sorry I’m a burden, Chris.” The words were quiet, but the pain in them was so evident it cut all of them like a knife.

“Jesus, JD, you aren’t a burden. You never have been, you never will be,” Larabee said. “I’m a selfish bastard for saying that, and if you wanted to hate me, I would understand.”

“Hate you?” the young man said. “Why would I hate you?” Sanchez shook his head. For all his experiences, he really could be innocent at times. The boy walked tentatively over to his hero. Chris pulled the boy into a hug that mirrored Ezra’s.

“Looks like the family’s back together,” Nathan said to Buck quietly. Wilmington grinned to himself.

“That it is, Nate,” he replied. “And I think it might be better than ever.”


Chris knew what she would be doing with a free Saturday afternoon, so he wasn’t surprised to see her exercising her horse in the pasture next to her barn. She and the horse were galloping towards a low jumping fence, and he whistled appreciatively as they cleared the hurdle in perfect form.

MacKenna had heard the truck coming up her drive long before she had seen the vehicle. Her hand had been at ready to go for her gun, secured in the small saddle pouch on Berowne’s right side. Realizing it was Chris, she decided to run the horse through the course one more time, then give him a few minutes break. After clearing the last jump, she reined Berowne in and the two of them trotted over to the fence.

“Chris,” she said. She dismounted and walked the horse over to the through.

“Lili, about last week,” he said. “I don’t know what to say.”

“How about, drinking myself into a deep pit of self pity is not healthy and a damned stupid thing to do, and henceforth, I shall refrain,” the lady suggested. Turning to see the look on his face, she sighed. “Jesus Christ, Larabee, I was attempting humor. You ought to be used to it by now.”

Chris stared back at her hard. He was trying to imagine her in a state like the one he had been in just over a week before, but he couldn’t see it. She was always together, always immaculate. Hell, he had seen her take down a serial killer who had held her captive, hurt her ankle in the process, and go on as though nothing was amiss.

“You didn’t have to step up like that,” he said. “Why?”

“Because you mean the world to Ezra,” she said. “And, you already know what he means to me. Because whether you like it or not, you ground those six men, and by extension, a whole circle of people. So, whether I like it or not, I’ve come to give a damn about all of them, even you.”

“Thank you,” Larabee said quietly. She turned, her deep brown eyes piercing his green ones.

“Earn it, Larabee,” she said. She walked over and remounted her horse, as she prepared to run the course again. “Earn it.” Then she turned and spurred Berowne into a gallop.

Chris watched her go and understood a little better what drove her on. Her order was a lot to live up to, but he was sure as hell going to try.