Chris' rage was a roaring, towering presence in the room. His expression
was drawn in broad, dark strokes. The muscles of his face contracted his
brows down over his eyes so that you had to look closely to find the green,
glittering depths. It would be foolhardy to stare too deeply into that particular
reflection of the soul of the man, lest one be seared by the barely contained
fire raging within. His lips were curled inward upon themselves in an effort
to contain the wild animalistic snarl that wanted to escape. A white smoke
hint of teeth showed, a throwback to a more primitive time when sharpness
of tooth equaled potential for danger.
This was not the first time his men had seen this side of Chris. Usually,
it was Buck who stood in the face of that particular maelstrom, letting the
violent waves break around his steadfast bulk, thus sparing the object of
Chris' wrath the full force of his anger. Unfortunately, Buck was currently
the source and focus of that rage.
Vin stood tensely at his friend's side. He knew that Chris' anger was so
intense that it allowed no room for such mundane details as who else was
present in the room. The last time he'd seen Chris this out of control a
suspect had been beaten into intensive care. Buck could easily end up the
same. Vin watched as Chris leaned toward Buck, shoulder muscles straining
as he raised his fisted hands to strike.
Vin stepped between the two men. His quick reflexes allowed him to waylay
Chris' fist from the intended target of Buck's face. Vin's eyes widened at
the tremendous force of the blow upon his open palm. He ignored the pain
in his hand to push Chris' hand down and away. He stared into the tortured
eyes of his friend. Vin's calm voice belied the frantic beating of his heart.
"You don't want to do this." They both knew that the words were a lie.
Nevertheless, they served their purpose as a delaying tactic.
Chris' chest was heaving, his breath coming in panting gasps through tightened
chest muscles. His physical response was understandable. His body was flooded
with adrenaline, with the natural defense mechanism coming into play to assist
him in the race of his own making: the race between his desire to protect
his oldest friend versus the need to beat some sense into the man. Chris
stared at Buck as if Vin were invisible. His voice was low, his words hissed
out whisper-soft. "Yeah, I do. I'll fucking kill you."
Buck stood statue-still. His bland expression gave no hint that he was aware
of the danger that confronted him. The arms crossed defensively across his
chest told a different story. He stared at Chris, looking down his nose as
if he were an entomologist studying a bug.
Buck's seeming indifference served as more fuel tossed on the raging fire
that was Chris. The Team Seven leader took a step forward, colliding with
Vin as if he planned to walk through the obstruction impeding his progress.
Although the words were directed at Vin, Chris' gaze was fixed on Buck. "Get
the fuck out of my way! Buck's got a death wish, I'm just gonna help him
indulge it." Chris shoved his forearm forcefully across Vin's chest. The
abrupt movement caused Vin to rock back on his heels. Nevertheless, he held
his ground. He raised his arms, unsure if he would need to defend himself
or restrain Chris as his friend continued, throwing words over Vin's shoulder
toward Buck. "You careless, thoughtless, son of a bitch!"
Chris gave a smile of satisfaction as he observed the first crack in Buck's
air of invincibility. One thing about knowing someone as well as he did Buck,
he knew what words to use to cause the most harm. "You goddamn bastard, did
you even stop for a minute to think what the hell you were doing?" Chris
did not give Buck the chance to answer as he continued, "It's bad enough
you risked your own life, but when you exposed yourself and left your position,
you put everybody else at risk, too. And it was all for nothing!"
Finally, the icy calm that Buck had been pretending to melted away in the
heat of his own anger. Buck raised his right hand and pointed an accusing
finger at Chris. "Nothing? Nothing! You selfish, gutless coward! She wasn't
nothing! Just because she wasn't part of your inner circle, you expected
me to just sit back and watch her die? Well, fuck you, Chris Larabee! And
fuck this sorry-ass excuse for a team if they can't get their act together
enough to cover my back when I try to save somebody's life!" Buck's left
hand joined the right, and together they shoved Vin bodily into Chris.
Vin had been so focused on the threat presented by Chris that he was blindsided
by Buck's unexpected move. Both Chris and Vin went down in a heap, allowing
Buck to exit the room unimpeded. The other members of Team Seven had held
back until that moment. JD stared after Buck, his mouth hanging open. He
spun to face Chris. The young man's face twisted in anger, he spat out the
words, "You asshole!" before hurrying out of the room to catch up with his
Chris had raised himself to a sitting position, but lacked the energy to
do more. Instead, he raised his knees so that he could rest his arms across
their support. His head hung heavy, his gaze fixed on the floor. "Goddammit
all to hell!"
Vin couldn't agree more. Knowing what Buck had done and why he'd done it,
didn't help the fact that Chris had had to watch while his oldest friend
had thrown himself into the middle of a gunfight. It would be a long while
before that memory would fade for any of them. Vin reflected that it was
better for Buck to be anywhere but here, at least for now.
+ + + + + + +
JD had no trouble catching up with Buck. His friend had made it as far as
his truck, but the truck remained parked. Buck sat in the driver's seat,
holding the steering wheel and staring out the window. He turned his head
as JD slipped into the passenger-side seat. JD's heart clenched at the sorrow
pouring off of his friend.
Buck's eyes blinked rapidly, trying to hold back the tears. JD raised a hand
to rub soothingly along his friend's shoulder. That was all it took for Buck
to break down completely. The shoulder rub turned into a hug. Buck lowered
his head to his crossed arms as his shoulders began to shake. After a minute,
he sat back, wiping at the tears streaming down his face. "God, JD, I didn't
know she was already dead! I broke cover, and it was all for nothing!"
JD tried to ignore the bloodstains on Buck's clothing. A thug's girlfriend
had gotten caught in the crossfire when the bad guys decided to shoot it
out with Team Seven rather than surrender. Buck had watched helplessly as
the girl fell to the ground to lie face down, unmoving. Without giving it
a second thought, Buck broke cover to pull the girl to safety. In turn, one
or the other of his teammates had exposed themselves to provide covering
fire while he did so. When he managed to pull her to a more secure position,
he'd gently turned her over. It was then that he saw that she was missing
half of her face.
Even now, recalling the incident, he could feel the nausea rising in his
throat, despite the fact that he'd thrown up everything that was in his stomach
back at the scene. His utter despair could be heard as he choked out the
words, "I didn't know she was dead!"
JD offered what comfort he could. "None of us did, Buck. If you hadn't tried
to save her, you'd better believe that one of us would've." JD continued,
"I think, no, I know that Chris overreacted." His voice carried more
than a little condemnation as he commented, "You know Chris."
Buck gave a tentative smile through his reddened, tear-streaked face. "Yeah,
I do." The smile quickly disappeared. He turned sideways so that he could
talk face to face. "I know Chris, better than you all. All that stuff, back
there, don't take any of it seriously. I just gave Chris a bit of a scare.
Believe me, that's something the great Chris Larabee wouldn't want known.
He can't be scared, if you know what I mean. He can't be scared, or sad,
or show any sign of weakness. Leastways, he doesn't want anyone to know it
if he does; so it all comes out as mad. He just needs a little space right
now, and I aim to give it to him."
JD thought that Buck needed the space more than Chris, but he was wise enough
not to say it.
+ + + + + + +
Chris had retreated to the confines of his office, letting the others know
that he didn't want to be disturbed unless the building was on fire. He stuck
his head outside of his office long enough to amend that order. "On second
thought, even if the building is on fire, I don't want to know about it.
Just put out the damn fire and leave me alone." Chris slammed the door to
punctuate his remark.
Chris sat at his desk, cursing his own weakness. God help him, he was glad
Buck wasn't here to remind him of what he'd almost lost. He unlocked the
bottom drawer of his desk, retrieving the whiskey bottle secreted there in
case of emergency. He carefully placed the bottle in the middle of his desk
and stared at the tantalizing golden brown liquid. He could hear Sarah's
voice scolding him for taking the coward's way out instead of dealing with
his feelings. He nodded in silent agreement, uncapped the bottle and began