The Road Not Taken

by Heather M

"Wow! Do you ever look like Josiah," JD blurted out.

Sam Christianson smiled broadly. "I’ll take that as a compliment," he replied.

"Oh, sorry, I’m JD Dunne. Pleased to meet ya," said JD smiling as he stuck out his hand.

"Same here," replied Sam Christianson as he shook JD’s hand.

JD had just tossed his and Buck’s luggage into the back of Chris’s truck when Sam Christianson had pulled in beside it.

The potential threat that originally had brought all six men to the rescue no longer existed. Josiah seemed past the worst so there was no reason to keep all seven men in Cuatro Esquinas. Chris, frankly, didn’t feel inclined to spend all his time either refereeing his men or thinking up constructive activities to keep them out of trouble. Josiah had been non-committal as to what his immediate plans were. Chris decided he and Nathan would spend another day or two to be sure that Josiah would be alright on his own. The other four would head home now. Chris had to wonder though, with a grown son and a past love in Cuatro Esquinas, would Josiah be coming home to Denver to stay?

Nathan appeared from Chris and Vin’s room, having just moved his things in there. Just then Ezra came out of the room he had shared with Nathan. JD made the appropriate introductions.

"It is indeed a pleasure sir," said Ezra as he shook Sam’s hand. "Though it is the height of impropriety, I must say Mr. Christianson your resemblance to your father is truly remarkable. Would you not concur Mr. Jackson?"

"Ezra, this is one of those rare times, when I have to agree with you." Nathan smiled broadly as he shook the younger man’s hand.

"Please call me Sam," said Sam with a chuckle.

Buck approached from the direction of the motel office, having just settled the bill for the two rooms the team was vacating just as Chris and Vin suddenly appeared out of their room. Chris was advising Vin of the numerous punishments Vin would suffer if he weren’t careful with Chris’ truck on the trip home to Denver. Vin wasn’t doing himself any favours by cheekily acknowledging these threats with, "I promise I’ll be careful Dad."

JD made three more quick introductions.

"What can we do for you?" asked a disgruntled Chris, still smarting from Vin’s remark.

Sam’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. "I came to pick up Josiah."

"Pick him up?" queried Nathan.

"Yeah." Sam looked slightly puzzled as he explained. "Mom’s having a barbecue with all the family today. My sister Emily and her family even made it up from El Paso. It’s sort of a send off. I have to report back for duty on Tuesday. We decided last night that I’d come pick him up today."

The six men exchanged alarmed and concerned glances.

"Damn," cursed Chris. He’s disappeared again!

"He’s not here, umm, just now," replied JD cautiously. "He left, in his suburban, nearly an hour ago."

"It’s only twenty minutes to my Mom’s from here and I don’t remember passing any suburbans on the way."

"The son of bitch did again!" exclaimed Buck.

"Did what?" echoed Sam.

"But why would he take off?" asked JD.

"I don’t understand," said Sam his growing concern at the reactions of these friends of his father was obvious in the tone of his voice.

"Mr. Sanchez, we believe your father has taken a slight ah detour on the way to the your family festivities," explained Ezra.

"He suckered us!" muttered Chris as he pushed his hand through his blonde hair in frustration. "We better start searching for him. Buck, you and JD…"

"Chris, this isn’t our backyard. I think we’d better ask the Sheriff’s office for help if we’re going to find Josiah anytime soon."

The look Chris gave Buck would have cowered a lesser man. Just the mere thought of going back to that woman, hat-in-hand, and admitting he’d lost the same agent again, was more than Chris could stomach.

"This isn’t like before." Nathan mused thoughtfully out loud.

"Whatta mean Nathan?" asked JD.

"Remember what he said last night, about needing time to work a few things out. I don’t think he ran away this time, I think maybe he just needs some time alone."

"Ah Chris?’


Unfazed by Chris’ angry tone Vin asked, "If we were home where would he go?"

"Yeesss, Mr. Tanner. I believe you have the right idea," said Ezra thoughtfully.

"Where would he go?" repeated Vin insistently.

"The mission," said JD

"Or a place of worship," suggested Ezra.

"He said something the other day about an old church, an historical landmark of some kind, that he helped restore when he lived here," said Nathan.

"You mean the Church of Penitent Souls?" asked Sam.

"Where is that?" demanded Chris.

"It’s about a half-mile west on county road 7."

All at once the six men started towards the vehicles.

"Hold it!" ordered Nathan. The rest of the men stopped in their tracks and looked at the healer. "I don’t think all six of us should go, he just wants to think some things through remember?"

"So how do you think we should handle things?" asked Buck.

"I think maybe just one of us should go talk to him."

"I’ll go," volunteered Sam.

"No, I’ll go," said Chris. There was no argument from the others, as leader, Josiah was his responsibility. He knew it and so did the others, all of them except Sam. There was an instantaneous change in Sam’s bearing, as he became defiant. Chris was not an authority he recognized.

"He’s my father," said Sam.

"That’s why I should go talk to him," said Chris abruptly as he turned to leave.

Buck stepped in front of Chris blocking his way to his vehicle. Chris looked up, annoyed with Buck’s interference. He was preparing to give Buck a blast when the serious look in his old friend’s eyes brought Chris up short.

"Chris, don’t just blow him off," urged Buck, "he deserves better."

Buck was right. This wasn’t the time to behave like the dictatorial bastard he could be. This young man was family to one of his men and deserved an explanation. He turned around to face the young man and was struck, yet again, by just how much he looked like his father.

"Sam, I know he’s your father and it may not make much sense to you but you may be the reason why he wants to be alone right now," Chris explained patiently.

Uncertainty entered the younger man’s eyes.

"Not you personally, son" said Chris quickly hoping to calm the concern he seen. Chris continued more slowly, "but what you represent to him and the choices he’s made in his life up to now."

"I don’t understand," replied Sam.

How do you explain to some one who’s twenty-four about the regrets he will feel when he’s fifty? Chris shook his head briefly. "There are some things that happen in a man’s life he wishes he had the power to change… and can’t. You’re not one of those things. He is… very proud of you. I wish I could explain it better but I promise you he’s not going anywhere."

"Alright," said Sam still feeling a little unsure of what was happening. "I’ll wait an hour."

"An hour," nodded Chris in agreement. He walked over to his truck and swung himself up into the seat.

"You sure you know what you’re doing cowboy?" asked Vin quietly through the open window of Chris’ truck, so none of the others could hear.

"Yeah, this time, I do."

The six men watched as the truck sped out of the parking lot.

"So what do we do now?" asked JD. "We can’t leave, all our stuff is in Chris’ truck."

"How about a beer?" suggested Buck.

"Buck, it’s ten thirty in the morning!" exclaimed Nathan.

"I’m game," replied Vin as he turned to walk toward the motel room he and Chris had shared.

"Would you care to join us Mr. Christianson?" asked Ezra as he extended his arm in the direction of the motel doorway by way of invitation.

"Sounds good to me," replied Sam as he turned to followed Buck and Vin, "and it’s Sam."

"Of course Mr. Christianson," replied Ezra.

Nathan, resigned to his fate, just shrugged and followed while JD fell into step beside Sam.

"Don’t mind Ezra, formal is his natural state," explained JD as they walked. "Hey Sam, what does Cuatro Esquinas mean anyway?" asked JD.

"Oh, it’s Spanish, for Four Corners."

+ + + + + + +

The interior of the little church seemed dark after the bright morning sunlight. Chris paused just inside the doorway to allow his eyes time to adjust to the difference.

The air inside the small building was cool and dry. While his eyes adjusted to the dimmer lighting, he noticed a small altar at the front of the sanctuary. It seemed to be illuminated by natural light that came from a skylight built into the roof. Three windows down each side of the building added more light to the tiny building.

The sanctuary held a held a dozen short pews lined up on either side of a centre aisle. The pews had obviously been made by hand. They were similar in their style but not the identical products indicative of those made by mass production. They were the original furnishings, made smooth by long hours of manual labour and the passage of time.

Josiah sat, his head bowed, on the left side of the centre aisle, in the middle of the second pew from the front. He gave no indication that he knew he was no long alone.

Chris’ footsteps made little noise on the worn wooden floor as he walked slowly up the aisle and then quietly slid into the pew behind Josiah to sit just inside the aisle.

"Chris," greeted Josiah after a moment, without raising his head.

Chris waited another moment before asking. "How did you know it was me?"

"You’re the shepherd. One of your flock was missing, even if one of the others had found me, they would have reported back to you first."

"The shepherd or the-keeper-of-the-keys to the loony bin?"

Josiah raised his head to look, not back at Chris, but rather towards the front of the church. From where he sat Chris could see a smile on Josiah’s lips. "I suspect more than a few in the Federal Service have wondered that."

Chris waited. He had wondered what Josiah’s reaction would be. He hadn’t run, he didn’t seem angry so it was his guess Josiah wanted to talk. When he was ready.

Josiah half turned toward him. He rubbed his hand gently over the smooth cool surface of the pew he sat in. "See these pews?" he asked. "As I remember the history of this church, a holy man, sort of a seeker of spiritual truth, made them when he restored this building back in the 1880’s. He made them one by one, over time. They and this little church became his legacy. Did he ever wonder how long they would last? A year? Ten years? Twenty? Yet, here they stand here today, as a testament to his faith more than a century later."

Josiah looked up towards the altar.

Chris sat without moving. His instincts told him Josiah didn’t want him to answer but just to listen.

"How many people have sat here, tired, lonely, grieving… in pain. He made this place, this sanctuary, in hopes of providing them some comfort from their earthly burdens… and now here I sit."

"Could I have managed a Sam and Hannah too?" He shook his head as he answered his own question. "I don’t think so. Rose provided him with everything he needed not just materially but emotionally and spiritually as well. He’s a grown man, what have I to offer him?"

"Only a father’s love," said Chris.

Josiah turned his attention from the altar to Chris. His eyes were full of regret. "He had a father and from what he says, a fine one at that."

"I guess one father’s enough then," said Chris with a shrug.

Josiah frowned at him, for some reason Chris was playing rough. "What’s that supposed to mean?"

"It means don’t sell yourself short. You have a lot to offer your son."

"Like what?"

"Friendship, a shared family history… yourself… love."

"Chris my track record with the people I love is pretty poor. I screwed up with my father, my sister, Mark, and Rosemary. Who’s to say I won’t screw up with Sam too?"

"You won’t," said Chris confidently.

"I let everyone of them down when they needed me most."

"No, you didn’t," said Chris firmly.

"Chris, I selfishly left my father alone to deal with Hannah, I couldn’t see past my own…"

"Josiah, you didn’t let your father down," said Chris cutting him off. "You followed your own dream. Parents are supposed to support their children in their dreams. He didn’t do that with you. Then, when you did come home, it was his own stiff-necked pride that prevented you from helping him with Hannah. How were you to know?"

"What about Hannah? Even after I became responsible for her care, I was never able to bring back the joyful spirit of the sister I grew up with."

"You didn’t fail Hannah. There is no cure for her illness and that isn’t your fault. You’re her foundation and as such you’ve provided her with a greater quality of life than she would have otherwise have had."

"Mark, I abandoned him to die…"

Chris cut him off again. "The hard truth of it is, Mark didn’t follow regulations. He shouldn’t have been outside smoking and when the shooting started it was his job to get his ass back in the pilot’s seat. What if you’d been shot too? What chance would those men have had then? Likely they’d all be dead now. Orders are to be followed for a reason. You didn’t let Mark down. If anything, from what you said about him, he would have been proud of you."

Josiah looked as if he was going to object again.

"Josiah, you didn’t let your father down, he let you down. You’ve given your sister more support than most other people would have. You didn’t abandon Mark, you did your job, and you got the rest of those men back safe. You didn’t desert Rosemary… or Sam and you won’t now."

Josiah looked up at the ceiling as he blinked back threatening tears. "I missed so much of his life Chris," he whispered. "There’s no second chance."

Josiah’s words hit Chris hard. How many times had he, himself, wondered what he and Adam might be doing if Adam were alive? It was the thoughts of the simple things that hurt the most, teaching him to ride a bicycle, to catch a pop fly, to do long division. Chris was caught up for a moment, wondering how much he had missed. Then, by sheer force of will, he shoved those lost dreams and the pain that accompanied them, down again, as he had so many times before.

Clearing his throat first he asked, "You don’t suppose God made the choice for you?"

Josiah swallowed and shook his head at Chris’ comment.

"If you had stayed here, would you have gone on to become one of the foremost profilers in the country?"

"Not likely," replied Josiah briefly.

"Think of all the people you’ve helped over the years…"

"The people," spat out Josiah disdainfully as he suddenly turned his attention on his boss. "To hell with them Chris! They weren’t worth the price of watching my child grow up! Do you know why I choose to remain anonymous? Their pain was too much! I wasn’t a man doing his job to them. I became a symbol of the crime that had been committed against someone they had loved! I’d get letters on the anniversaries of their deaths thanking me for finding the killer."

"Josiah, no one expects you to live that but what you do makes a difference!"

"It’s a job, Chris not a, a, a, calling!" stuttered Josiah scornfully, gesturing towards the altar with his hand.

"It is for you!" said Chris fiercely. How was he going to make him understand!

"It is for you," he repeated with more restraint. "You have solved crimes that no one else could get a handle on! Thirty percent of your cases are referrals from other profilers. Your work, you, make a difference!"

Josiah turned away. "It makes no difference at all. The people who died are still dead," he said angrily, "and their families are left to mourn."

"You’re wrong," he said bluntly as he shook his head. "You provide closure for the families. You give them something to hang onto in long, lonely hours in the middle of the night when their loss hurts the most."

The angry look on Josiah’s face never wavered as he sat in silence, ignoring Chris’s words.

"What about the Szaranski case in Minneapolis? A devotely catholic family having to live with the thought that their father committed suicide until you proved it was a tragic accident. Or the Quinn family in Bayport? Their daughter goes out to a party one night and that’s the last they see of her for eight months until she’s found dead. Everyone else thought she was just another runaway who died of an overdose. But not you, you were sure she’d been kidnapped and you wouldn’t let the case rest until you proved it. It led to uncovering a drug ring that used kidnapped kids as mules." Don’t you remember what Frank Quinn said in that TV interview? "The one good thing that came out of his daughter’s death was that no other parents would lose a child to those animals.""

Chris sighed in frustration, "Or the case in Denver. An ATF agent… the poor bastard lost his family in a car bombing that had been meant for him." Chris’ voice became strained at the painful memories. "The trail had gone cold. The leads were drying up fast. Then the head of the investigating team got an e-mail from a profiler in Kansas City. That profiler had picked-up on one small similarity between that bombing and another one in a case in Florida. That clue broke a dying case wide open."

Chris watch the anger melt away as he spoke.

"How’d you find out about that?" he asked quietly.

"Travis let me read the case file after Gaines was convicted."

Chris leaned forward, resting his forearms on the pew in front of him. He clenched his hands into fists. He had to get through this. He had to make Josiah understand that it made a difference.

"Josiah, finding the killer didn’t make me feel any better and it couldn’t bring Sarah and Adam back but knowing Gaines didn’t get away with it, knowing he’d pay for his crimes, probably saved my life. I’d have blown my brains out one night in my drunken grief, or taken one too many foolish chances on the job, no way Buck could’ve kept an eye on me every minute forever. The pain was getting to be too much… and I knew the case had gone cold when Ryan Kelly couldn’t look me in the eye anymore."

Chris paused, he could feel the old familiar ache rising in his chest, these words, these memories, were taking more out of him than he had expected. He pushed on. "It was the beginning of the long road back, the beginning of the healing for me."

"Travis told me you wanted to remain anonymous, but I wanted to meet the man who’d figured it out. I was interested in Nathan for the Team and when I saw he was from Kansas City it was my chance to meet the man who, in all humility, made that little difference that saved my life."

Chris unclenched his fists. He was almost there.

"Maybe the pain of all those people is too much for you. I guess I can understand that, but for many of them your insights made all the difference when it came to their being able to cope with whatever horrible thing had happened to someone they loved. I won’t pretend it’s worth the price of watching a son grow up. It isn’t…, but maybe it will provide you some comfort."

He bowed his head and kept his elbows on the pew as he, like so many times before, pushed both hands through his hair. "But what do I know? I’m just one man and a selfish one at that. I’m just glad you were there to help catch Gaines."

Josiah sat quietly. His demeanor had changed. The anger was gone.

"Is that why you make me second-in-command, as a sort of a reward?"

Chris was a little surprised at the question but answered him anyway. "No, nothing like that, you’re good at dealing with people’s personal shit."

"A good drunk once in a while would take care of that," said Josiah dismissing Chris’ explanation. "Come on, what’s the real reason? Given his experience, Buck would have been the logical choice."

"Buck had suffered the same hurt I had. I needed someone with maturity, someone I wouldn’t have to worry about." Chris’ eyes flashed with anger, "Someone who I could count on to back me up."

Josiah nodded slightly in satisfaction. Chris had finally said it. It was finally out there. It was a beginning. "Are you ever going to forgive him?"

"I’m still working on forgiving myself."

Chris sat back suddenly. Josiah had done it again. He had a way of helping Chris deal with the sore spots without him realizing it. A way of bringing them out into the open. Some how it always made him feel better.

Buck had been the real reason he’d chosen Josiah as the second in command. Chris hadn’t yet in his heart really forgiven Buck for being late that day. His head told him that he might have lost Buck as well but Buck should have been there…

Not liking that Josiah had caught him off-guard, he changed the subject, "Besides if anything ever happened to me on the job, it would take every skill you have my friend to keep everyone working together until they were safe."

Josiah understood what he meant. It wasn’t ego talking. Chris was no fool when it came to relationships. Sarah would tease him that men just didn’t understand relationship stuff, but Chris understood the dynamics of his team, only to well. They all had their jobs within the team for it to work as well as it did. Chris’s job was leader. The others depended on him to be the leader and the only way he’d ever stop being the leader, were if he were dead. God knows what would happen to the Team if they were in danger and Chris was suddenly gone. Josiah was the only one who’d be able to keep it together personally and still be able to encourage the best out of each man, to get all of them home safe.

"How’d we start out talking about you and end up talking about me?"

"Trade secret," replied Josiah with a wry smile.

"You know, if we weren’t so damn stubborn you’d think after all these years we’d learn shit happens and maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to be."

"Pretty young blonde reporters are a cure for that you know," said Josiah in his best psychologist’s voice. "You might want to consider doing something to make that permanent before… "

"You’re out of bounds Agent," warned Chris a little too harshly.

Josiah gave Chris a knowing look before turning away.

Take it easy Larabee, you’re only pissed because he managed to get inside your head again without you realizing it. "You gonna be okay?"

"Yeah, I’ll be fine."

"We’re all going to head home then. Are you still going to stay?"

"Yeah, I’ll meet you here for the court appearance next week."

Chris looked sideways before asking, "…and ah after that? Are you going to stay here or come home?"

"Stay here?" asked Josiah. He was confused as to what Chris was getting at.

"I just thought with Rosemary…, I thought ahhh you might be staying… I s’pose it’s too soon to..."

"No Chris."


"No." There was a finality to Josiah’s "no". "Denver is home."

Chris couldn’t help but feel relieved. "What are you going to do here until next week?"

"Some self-imposed penance. There’s a Sheriff I should to apologize to, properly this time. A ranch that needs working and a son to get to know better before he leaves for his posting overseas."

"Overseas? Where’s he going?"

"He couldn’t be specific, he only said the Middle East."

After a short pause Chris’ eyes lit up with sudden understanding, "Josiah no! You just met him!"

Josiah gave him a lop-sided smile. "Gotta have faith Chris," he said as he stood up, "but right now I’m late for a barbecue."

The end

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