29th story in the Angel Girl series.
Characters: Chris, Ezra, OMC
Disclaimer: The characters to not belong to me, and I make no money from their use. This is for entertainment purposes only.
It was the faint smell of smoke and the sound of a child´s giggling that roused Chris Larabee from sleep. It had only been an hour since his three week old son Cody´s last feeding so the groggy man was slow to realize that things were not as they should be in his home. Chris swung his legs out of bed and stood looking around the darkened bedroom, noticing the eerie orange glow that seemed to be coming from the edges under and around his bedroom door. He cautiously approached the door and opened it quietly. The eerie, flickering light increased as he stepped out into the hall and saw the source of the light was emanating from his living room. He walked towards the room, the sound of giggling becoming clearer as he approached.
Chris stood in the doorway of his living room and stared in shock at the sight before him.
Adam? he whispered. Adam! he said again, voice raised in joy at this sight of the son that he had lost over ten years before.
Chris rushed into the room toward his son, but came to an abrupt stop as the child swung around to face him and Chris got a better look at the apparition standing in front of him. Adam Larabee still appeared to be the same age as he was the last time Chris had seen him. Nothing had changed about the boy, not even the clothes that he had been wearing the last time Chris had seen him as he hugged the child goodbye before leaving for work. No, one thing had changed Chris decided as he observed his son. Adam was encased in a sheath of flames. Although covered in fire it didn´t seem to hurt him. Chris could see the flicker of fire and smell the odor of smoke grow stronger as the boy smiled at him.
Time to go, the familiar voice sing-songed, Time to go! Gonna be a family! Got a new baby! Time to go.
Chris´ blood ran cold at the reference to his newborn son.
Adam? What do you mean son? Chris asked.
Adam didn´t answer at first but looked on his father with a frown, pointed a finger at him, and replied, You don´t get to! then suddenly swung around and ran his hand along a bookshelf that burst into flame as he touched it. Chris could only stare in frozen disbelief as Adam ran around the room setting fire to everything he touched, laughing mischievously all the while. The spell was broken for Chris when Adam ran from the room and started down the hall toward Cody´s room.
No! Chris yelled in sudden realization of where the child was going, Adam, No! Come back!
Chris turned to follow the child to find the entire hallway was a mass of writhing flames that ate their way up the walls and across the ceiling of the small space. Chris started forward at a run, coughing as acrid smoke filled his nose and throat, brought deep into his lungs by the short, heaving breaths his fear was forcing from him. As he reached the door to the baby´s room, the terrified man had to jump back when the ceiling over his head groaned and then collapsed in a mound of burning debris. Chris threw his arms in front of him in an unconscious attempt to protect his face, but was able to look into the burning room and see a figure that was bending over the crib that held his sleeping son. The figure appeared to be a woman in her late twenties, long hair flowing down her back. When the woman turned her head he could make out her face, a face as familiar to him as his own.
Sarah? Chris whispered.
Like Adam, Sarah was cloaked in flames that didn´t consume her flesh. Chris saw her step closer to the bed and lower her hand toward the baby. Cody screamed in pain as the burning hand touched his back and Chris could only watch as his wife reached both hands into Cody´s crib.
NO! Sarah, NO! he screamed, his voice emerging harshly from his smoke roughened throat.
Look Adam, the specter of Sarah said, You have a little brother.
Gonna be a family! Adam sing-songed again.
Sarah laughed and said, That´s right, sweetheart, we´re going to be a family. You, me and your little brother.
Please, Sarah! Don´t hurt him! Don´t take him from me too! He´s all I´ve got! Please, I´m begging you, Sarah!
Sarah turned to face her husband and smiled a sad smile saying, Chris, you know he´ll be better off with us. We´ll take care of him and you know that´s something you don´t do very well, isn´t it? ending the sentence with an ironic lift of an eyebrow.
No! He´s mine. I´m going to take care of him. I´ll do better this time! I won´t let anything happen to him! Not this time, I swear! Just don´t hurt him any more, please!
Tsk, Tsk, really Chris! You can hardly expect me to believe you after what you let happen to Adam and to me. We know the truth. Cody will be better with us. WE can protect him. No, I think it´s for the best that we take him now, isn´t that right Adam?
Yes mommy, Adam said nodding his head in agreement and smiling at his mother, Daddy doesn´t deserve him. He´ll do better with us. Bye Daddy!
Chris began trying to fight his way forward, screaming out his denials, but his way was blocked by the burning timbers that had fallen from the ceiling. Chris could only watch as the woman he had loved more than life itself lifted the screaming baby into her arms and held him against her flaming body. He hauled at the burning rubble blocking his path, uncaring of the damage done to his hands. He barely felt the pain in his desperate need to reach his son. Chris watched in horror as the sky blue baby blanket swaddling the baby began to smolder and darken before it burst into flames that mingled with those that covered Sarah, and Cody´s terrible cries abruptly ceased. Adam ran to join his mother and grabbed her hand. Chris saw Sarah lift her head in his direction and smile as she, Adam and Cody dissolved into a plume of smoke that thinned until only a few wisps remained and then disappeared completely.
NOOOOOOOOO! he tried to scream only to find the words locked in his throat.
Chris jerked into a sitting position with his lungs heaving and his heart racing in terror. It took several moments to recognize his bedroom and the fact that he was sitting in his own bed. A streak of cold sweat running down his back caused him to shiver as he wrapped his arms around himself in an act of self comfort, barely awake enough to realize that it was only a nightmare. When he achieved full wakefulness, Chris threw the blankets off with a jerky motion and rose to sit on the side of his bed with his face buried in his hands while he attempted to regain control of himself. When he finally stilled the trembling in his legs enough to support him, he stood and ran to his bedroom door and threw it open, not caring that it rebounded from the wall with a loud bang.
He raced down the hall to Cody´s room and rushed into the room that was lit only with the dim glow from the nightlight and ran to the baby´s crib. Chris stood staring down at the sleeping infant for a moment, almost expecting to see nothing but the burned body of his son in the crib, and released a relieved sob when he saw that all was well with the child. Chris reached out a trembling hand to gently brush a soft curl of hair back from the baby´s forehead. The warm softness of the baby skin beneath his fingers did even more to reassure him that Cody was fine.
Chris gripped the rail of the baby crib with both hands until his knuckles turned white from the strain. He struggled to rein in the intense emotions that ran like wildfire through him, never once taking his eyes from the child sleeping so peacefully. The memory of Cody disappearing in a wisp of smoke in his dream fed an irrational fear that the child would fade away again if he let him out of his sight.
Chris carefully slipped his hands under Cody, and lifted him from the bed. He settled the baby into his arms, holding him close. He made his way to the old rocking chair he had moved into the nursery and sat down, cradling the baby against his shoulder while rocking almost frantically. He laid one hand upon the infant´s back, rubbing gently, more for his own comfort than the baby´s, and felt the reassuring beat of Cody´s heart against his palm. Chris laid his cheek against the top of the downy curls covering the baby´s head and breathed in the clean scent of powder and baby shampoo, adding one more sensory reassurance that all was well with his son with his world.
Chris sat rocking his son -- the speed of his rocking slowing as his emotions settled -- and repeated the silent litany of He´s alright, he´s alright, over and over. The words became a mantra that slowly helped him regain his composure. A hint of movement from the corner of his eye had Chris tensing and his arms tightened instinctively around the baby in a protective hold before he was able to turn his head and identify the source.
Is everything alright, Chris? Ezra´s quiet voice broke through the silence filling the room.
Ezra was leaning with seeming casualness against the door frame, but Chris´ seasoned eyes could see the tenseness in the body that signaled the undercover agent was braced for action should it be required.
Drawing in a deep breath, Chris made a conscious effort to relax as he answered his friend, Yes, everything´s fine. Sorry if I woke you.
Ezra Standish stood observing his friend in silence for several seconds. After the birth of Chris´ son, Cody, three weeks before, the other members of Team Seven had volunteered to help the new father. They had been taking turns to spend the night with Chris and the baby to help out. Each man stayed one night and then another would take over the next. Their presence allowed Chris to get enough sleep every night to be able to function. It had been Ezra´s turn to stay tonight, and he wondered if perhaps it might have been better if Josiah or Buck had spent this night in Chris´ house as the agent watched the shudders that still occasionally shook the blonde man´s body.
Would you care to discuss what precipitated your rather abrupt ingress into this room? he asked quietly.
Ezra had been sleeping soundly when the sound of Chris´ bedroom door bouncing back off the wall had sounded like a shot through the silent house and jerked him awake abruptly. He had leapt from his bed and made it to his door in time to see Chris´ back as he entered the baby´s room and had followed to ascertain if anything was amiss. He had watched as a trembling Chris had stood by the crib staring down at his son and then picked him up to hold him in an almost desperate way as he manically rocked to and fro in the old rocking chair. Ezra didn´t need a degree in psychology to guess what had happened to disturb his friend.
Chris looked at the man from over the top of the baby´s head as he rested his lips against Cody´s forehead, and then rubbed his cheek gently over the little head. He watched the man watching him with genuine compassion and realized he really did want to talk about it. He didn´t want to be alone right then either. Chris studied the man patiently waiting for his response, seeing nothing more than an honest desire to help reflected in the agent´s normally shielded eyes and made his decision.
Yeah, if you don´t mind I think I would, Chris said.
Ezra nodded silently and slipped into the room. He gracefully lowered himself to the floor and leaned back against the wall. Instinctively knowing that Chris still needed some space at the moment and choosing not to push him too hard, Ezra kept some distance between them. He waited patiently for Chris to choose his words.
I had a nightmare about Adam and Sarah, the blond man began, I dreamed I was sleeping and something woke me up. When I got up to see what it was, I found Adam in the living room covered in flames setting fire to everything. He told me they were going to be a family and then took off to Cody´s room. Chris had to swallow hard to keep the fear he still felt from clogging his throat completely before he could continue.
I followed him down the hall but everything was burning. Before I could get into the nursery, the ceiling collapsed and I could only watch as Sarah reached into the crib and lifted Cody out. She was on fire too, just like Adam. She must have burned him badly when she picked him up because I could hear Cody screaming in pain when she touched him, but I couldn´t reach him to stop her. I begged and pleaded with her not to hurt him, but she she said , Chris broke off again to look up at Ezra, who had been silently observing his friend as Chris told his tale, and Ezra could see the deep well of pain and guilt that was reflected in the hazel eyes.
It took all of Ezra´s discipline to stay seated on the floor across the room when his heart was screaming at him to go comfort his suffering brother, but his long association with the man had taught him that Chris was not yet ready to accept his comfort. Ezra stayed seated and listened as Chris steeled himself to continue. Ezra would patiently wait for the moment he knew would come, praying he had the words to help ease his brother´s heart and mind.
She said, Chris started again, that Cody would be better with her and Adam because they could protect him, and I couldn´t. She said I hadn´t protected her and Adam so she knew I couldn´t protect the baby. She took him, and then she, and Adam and Cody just disappeared. That´s when I woke up.
Ezra nodded his head and watched his suffering friend as he said, I don´t think it´s too difficult to guess what motivated that dream. You still have this well of guilt over the deaths of your wife and son. Deep inside you still believe there was something you might have done differently to save them, correct? Ezra paused with one eyebrow raised in inquiry and waited until the blond man had nodded.
Ezra continued, And you fear that you will somehow lose your new son, not be able to protect him either, also correct?
Again he received another affirmative nod in response.
Tell me, Chris, without having any idea that someone was after you, what could you have done differently to change what happened? Truthfully, what could you have done?
I could have been there! Chris bit off tersely.
Were you always there? Were your actions that day in anyway different that those of any other normal day? Looking back now you may be able to see where you might have done something differently, but at the time you had no way of knowing that day was out of the ordinary. You´re not superhuman Chris. You have no special powers of prescience. There was NOTHING you could have done to save them.
It was my job to protect them! Chris ground out with his teeth almost grinding together from the tension in his jaws.
Ezra said softly, You did. To the best that was humanly possible, you did. You can rail against it as much as you like, but it finally comes down to fate or destiny or divine intervention, call it what you will.
We all like to think that we are in control of our lives, but the truth is we are not. None of us has control over death, just ask any doctor. Death comes on its own timetable. The ancient Greeks believed that life was a tapestry and people´s lives were the threads from which it was woven. As difficult as it may be to accept, the simple truth is the threads of Sarah´s and Adam´s lives had reached the end of the skein. It was their time, and there is not one thing that you could have done to change that. It´s time to accept that once and for all.
You risk the future you can have with your new son by hanging on to the useless guilt of the past, Chris. These feelings will only poison the happiness that should be yours and Cody´s. To give him the kind of life he deserves you are going to have to let go.
You say it was your job to protect Sarah and Adam. It was also your job to love them. I have no doubt that you did that extremely well. I also have no doubts that you made them happy. Now I ask you, did Sarah love you? Did she love you as much as you loved her?
Chris swallowed past the lump that had formed in his throat as the undercover agent spoke, and replied, Yeah. She loved me. She always said there were no words to express how much.
So if she loved you that much, do you really think that she would want you to suffer for something over which you had no control? Would she have wanted you to punish yourself for the rest of your life? Would she want you to be unhappy? Would she have been glad that you have taken the memory of the life you had together and turned it into something that only gives you sorrow?
No, Chris said with the beginnings of a small, fond grin, she would probably have kicked my butt.
Ezra smiled at his friend´s honest words.
And Adam? Did he love you? Did he like to see you unhappy?
You´ve made you´re point, Ezra.
Excellent, Ezra told him. I know it´s hard, Chris, but let go. Let the past be exactly that, the past. You´ve punished yourself long enough. It´s time to open the doors of your self imposed emotional prison and step out into the light of day. Be the best father you can be to Cody. Enjoy what you have now. Believe it or not, you´ve earned the right to be happy. Start looking to your future, and let the past lie.
Chris stared into the solemn green eyes watching him and said, You´re a good friend, Ezra. It´s not every man that would give up his time to help with a baby, and then get up in the middle of the night to kick some sense into a hard-headed mule like me. This was above and beyond.
A charming grin broke across the handsome face and the man replied, My pleasure, Chris. You´re my friend, my family, and I´ll do whatever it takes to help you and that little bundle that looks like he´s about to wake up for his next meal. Ezra was still grinning as he watched Cody give another little wiggle in his father´s arms as he began the waking process. Why don´t I go prepare his next bottle?
Ezra pushed away from the wall and climbed to his feet, shaking his left foot to help the circulation return to it, and turned to leave the darkened room when Chris´ voice stopped him.
The green-eyed undercover agent gave him his patented smile and a little two-fingered salute before heading to the kitchen to warm the bottle of formula waiting in the refrigerator.
Chris looked down at the slowly awakening baby in his arms and remarked, There goes a good man, Cody. If you grow up to be even half the man that your Uncle Ezra is then I´ll be proud. He´s watching after both of us. I don´t think we´ve ever been in safer hands.
His soul once more at peace thanks to his friend, Chris gently nuzzled the infant´s head and continued to rock his son, secure in the knowledge that Ezra had his back.
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