MCAT: Turbulent Transition #6
Chapter 1 -
3 | Chapter 4 - 6 | Chapter 7 - 9 | Chapter 10 - 12
Chapter 13 - 15 | Chapter 16 - 18 | Chapter 19 - 21 | Chapter 22 - 24
Chapter 25 - 27 | Chapter 28 - 30 | Chapter 31 - 33 | Chapter 34 - 36
Chapter 37 - 39 | Chapter 40 - 42 | Chapter 43 - 45 | Chapter 46 - 49
Mission Regional Trauma Center ~1:00 pm
Mission Viejo, CA
Nathan paced the waiting room, looking up every time the emergency room doors opened. Using his POA that was second to Vin’s, he had given Chris’ doctor a brief background on Larabees’ condition. Jackson also informed him where to find his medical records and the name of the hospital that had recently treated him as Adam Carmichael for the infection in his arm. Then the doctor told him it would be a while and asked him to leave the exam room. So Jackson called Tanner, giving him a preliminary report on Chris and then went to the critical care unit to check on Raphael and to also let Mallory know that Josiah was okay.
Jackson had returned to the emergency room area and watched the clock, waiting to see who would join him first. Nathan was anxious to see how they all had fared physically from the rumble at the warehouse. Vin and Travis had left Santa Ana twenty minutes ago, after booking the prisoners from this morning’s bust, and should be here at any time. The rest of the brothers and team stayed behind to finish up paperwork and would come as soon as possible.
The double doors swung open and Orrin Travis was the first one that appeared, followed closely by Vin and Kelli. Nathan stopped pacing and waved them over to the waiting area, observing them carefully for any new injuries that may have acquired since he had seen them last.
“We’re fine, how’s Chris?” Tanner knew Nathan too well, and was aware of what he was doing.
“The doc is in with him now, the infection in his arm has flared back up and he was dehydrated…” Nathan apprehensively looked over to Travis
Orrin encouraged Jackson to continue. “I’ll take off my Director’s hat Nathan. Just tell us the rest, off the record.”
Nodding, Nathan went on. “Chris is in for a rough time, but like I said on the phone he should come though it physically okay. But he was hallucinating when we found him, and then he began convulsing. I’d say he was in the worst stages of withdrawal by then. I had no choice but to tell his doctor about Chris’ recent problem with the drugs that Jack had given him and…the ones he took himself. I also provided him with the information he needed to get his medical record from Santa Ana and Denver.”
“Nate, ‘m sorry you had to be the one to do it, but if I had been here, I would have done the same.” Vin laid a hand on Jackson’s shoulder. “But I am sure as hell glad you were here and hold the other POA for Chris, otherwise …it could have been made worse by them not knowin’.”
“Whatever he needs, I will make certain that it is available for him,” Orrin added. “ Vin, do what you need to, I’ll finish up at the federal building and send the others over here as soon as their reports are finish, I think it might be best for Director Travis to wait and see Chris tomorrow. If you will excuse me I should also call Linda and let her know that Chris has been found.
Once Travis was gone Kelli asked. “Did he say anythin’ or recognize you?”
“No, he thought I was a ghost, evidently he saw the reports of the blast in Denver and believes we are all dead.” Nathan hated to think about how Chris viewed that in the state he was in. “I don’t think he comprehended what I was telling him, so he probably still thinks that.”
“Has there been any word on Raphael’s condition?” Vin asked, watching the door to the examinations room that Chris was in.
“Mallory said the only thing the doctor would commit to is to say the he has been stabilized.” Nathan shook his head. “From what I was able to find out, it’s a miracle that he is still with us.”
“As soon as I see dad, I’ll go see how Selina is holdin’ up.” Kelli stated. “That is if they let us in to see Chris.”
A few minutes later, Dr. Winters entered the room looking for Nathan. “Agent Jackson, we need to talk.”
“This in Vin Tanner, the one I told you about. He holds the primary POA for Chris and the young lady is Chris’ daughter so you may speak freely.” Nathan introduced them.
“I read Mr. Larabees’ medical file and saw your POA attached, so lets get started. The infection will be fairly easy to control and I see no complications arising from it. My concern is the withdrawal he is going through, from the information I have pieced together, this round is apparently worse than the last one. Mr. Larabee has been experiencing flashbacks and hallucinations. I will get him through this with medication, but I highly recommend that he spend some time in a drug rehabilitation clinic. There are a few close to Denver that I can give you the names of. Do not expect him to be totally coherent for another twenty-four hours or so, but if all goes well he should be you fairly rational by Monday and be released by the middle of next week.
“For the record, he is a material witness and one of our agents will be with him 24/7. When can we see him?” Vin wanted the doctor to understand that they would not leave Chris alone.
“As soon as we have him in a room, I will allow you two minutes each. As for an agent being in the room with him… it might be best to post one outside his door for tonight. Tomorrow we’ll see how he is and then proceed from there. Tonight however will be a rough one and I have a nurse and an orderly staying in his room to make certain he does not harm himself thrashing around. I have also ordered that he be restrained. I realize it sounds harsh, but it is for his own good.” Dr. Winters stood. “I will be coordinating his treatment with Dr. Gilford at Denver Memorial, unless you prefer someone else and I will give you an update before I go off duty tonight.”
“No, Dr. Gilford is fine. Nathan or I will be here until Chris is able to make his own decisions so you can always find one of us.” Vin shook the doctor’s hand and relaxed for the first time today. Chris was alive, and that was what was important. Whatever else he was facing, he had plenty of family to stand with him for as long as he needed.
As promised, within a few minutes the nurse came to show them to Chris’ room. Since Nathan had already seen Chris, he urged Vin and Kelli to go in together to see him. He knew it would be difficult for either of them to witness what he had seen and he really wanted them to be able to support one another.
“Thanks Nate.” Vin pushed the door open. It was hard to see Chris so tormented and strapped into restraints, but without sedation or pain killers there were few other choices available. Leaving him unrestrained was not an option.
Seeing Chris, with his longer hair and beard, oblivious to their presence and fighting his demons, was heartbreaking for Kelli. “Why this way, Dad?” She did not realize she had spoken aloud until she felt Vin tighten his hold on her hand.
Chris? You’re not alone. Vin tried to reach out to his brother, but felt no response. Come on Cowboy, you can do this.
“I’m sorry, but you need to leave now.” The nurse interrupted Vin’s attempt to communicate. “There is a private area across the hall where you may wait, if you want.” She gently urged them both out the door. This was not the first time she had been assigned to a patient that was suffering from withdrawal, but it never became easier to see the effort it had on family members seeing a loved one suffer during drug withdrawal.
Vin and Kelli settled in to wait with Nathan. Words were few and it was not long before the other brothers joined them.
Buck and JD arrived first. “Travis sent you a rental,” he handed Vin the keys. “He said to tell you that he had everything covered at the federal building and not to concern yourself with work for now. Can we see Chris?”
Nathan checked out JD’s head wound before he answered, “This way, but only for two minutes.” He knew that trying to prepare them was useless, it was best to just let them go in and then deal with how they felt afterwards.
JD did not last that long, and Buck had a few unshed tears in his blue eyes when he walked out. He remembered sitting with Chris when he was going through withdrawal before, it wasn’t pretty then, but it was worse now.
Josiah and Ezra made their way in to join the small group that waited. Each took their two minutes with Chris and then returned to the others. The family needed to be united and this was where they all belonged…together.
“I think it might help if we all took a moment for prayer. “Josiah suggested, and watched as they all joined hands. “Heavenly father, as we wait for our brother to return to us, we ask for the strength to stand together in this time of stress, the patience to see us through and peace for Chris in his battle. Amen.”
A chorus of amen followed and silently they settled in to hold their vigil for Chris.
Mission Regional Trauma Center ~5:00 pm
Mission Viejo, CA
When Orrin had called all he could tell Linda was that Chris had been found alive and that he was at Mission Regional. He promised to call her with an update as soon as he heard anything more on Chris’ condition. Linda had other plans. She couldn't wait at home, not after all the fears that she would never see him again. She needed to be with him and what's more, she needed to get him back home, with her, where he belonged She immediately called Matt and he arranged to have a private jet fly them both to California. With a little luck they could be at the hospital within three hours. Between Casey and Inez, Grace would be well cared for until her father returned home.
On the plane the blond had time to think about how her husband had ended up in the hospital. Hell, she could not even figure out how they lost him in the first place, but vowed that someone would answer for it. By the time they landed she had worked herself into a state of anger so deep that Matt knew all hell was about to break loose in Mission Viejo.
Linda swept into the hospital like a thunderstorm, demanding to see her husband. Nathan tried to explain that visitors were only allowed a few minutes, and she really should wait, but he would go with her if she insisted. ”Linda, it might be better to wait.”
“No, and I don’t need a baby-sitter.” She huffed and quickly disappeared through the door to Chris’ room while Matt waited for her by the entrance. He leaned against the wall and took in the sight across the hall in the family area. Josiah sat on a couch he shared with Nathan by the window that Vin was leaning back on, with Kelli next to him. Buck walked the floor and JD could not sit still. Ezra sat quietly in a single chair closest to the door. He hoped they were ready to face his sister because she sure as hell had her sites set on them.
When Linda reached her husband’s beside she took his hand and tried to talk to him, but he only gave her unintelligible mumbles in return. Linda was shocked to see Chris restrained, thrashing about and obviously in pain. She asked the nurse that was taking his vital signs why he was so agitated.
“Mr. Larabee is in some pain, but we can’t give him any medicine to relieve it.”
“Why not?” Linda demanded.
“Doctor’s orders, ma’am, you’ll have to talk to him. I’m sorry, but you really should leave now, visitors have only been allowed two minutes each.”
“Oh, I’ll be talking to the doctor and we’ll see about those two minutes!” Linda had thought about this all the way to California. She knew who was responsible for Chris laying in that bed and both Tanner and the doctor were going to get a piece of her mind. Angrily she headed out the door, ready to dig her spurs into whichever man she saw first.
Unfortunately the doctor was nowhere around, but Tanner was still leaning against the windowsill in the waiting area just across from Larabees’ room. Linda passed by Matt and the others as she marched over to stand in front of him. “Tanner you have Chris’ POA! Why in the hell aren’t you insisting they give him something to ease his pain?”
“I can’t do that Linda. I know it’s hard, but believe me that’s the last thing Chris needs right now.” Vin felt badly about it, but he stood firm.
“You stand there and profess to care about him, yet you know he’s suffering and will do nothing to stop it!” Linda was just getting started.
Kelli did not give Vin a chance to answer before she interrupted, hoping to keep Linda’s temper under control. “Draw in your claws Linda until you know all the facts.”
Linda turned on the redhead. “I know that Chris is in pain and I know that no one is doing a damn thing about it! What I don’t understand is why YOU haven’t done anything to help him! Your own father and yet you stand here and do nothing!”
Counting to ten, Kelli tried to reason with the blond. “Look I know you’re upset, we all are, but you’re not helping by standin’ here and yelling about somethin’ you know nothing about.” The words may have been between the two women, but six men now stood listening to each remark intently. Buck clenched his fists and JD was stunned. Nathan stayed silent for now as did Ezra, but they did not like what they were hearing. Josiah patiently observed as Vin straightened to stand behind Kelli and Matt stood by his sister.
“Upset! You’re damn right I’m upset. Chris is in there now because YOUR husband and the rest of this supposed band of brothers cared more about their precious case than they did about protecting him. You should be just as angry as I am. That is YOUR father in there!”
The redhead lost her own battle to remain calm. “I know he’s my father and I care about him as much as you do, but I am not gonna stand here and let you blame my husband or anyone else for his condition! Vin tried to get dad to listen and he refused. Chris is here because of his own doings, and he took another good man down with him that is in the critical care unit fighting for his life!”
“I thought I knew you better Kel. Vin is responsible for Chris being hurt and you are siding with him against the man that has accepted you as his daughter. You’re trying to put the blame an innocent man because Tanner wanted to make points by catching the bad guys. There will always be bad guys; there is only one Chris Larabee! And you’re choosing to defend the man responsible for him being hurt instead of protecting your own flesh and blood!
Kelli took a threatening step forward. “Linda Dubois! You had better climb down off that high horse you’re ridin’ on before I knock you on your ass!
Linda was not about to back down. “My name is LARABEE, legal and proper! Chris chose to give me his name. He wasn’t forced into doing it because of an unintended pregnancy that resulted from a one night stand.”
Vin realized where this was headed and exploded. “THAT’S ENOUGH!” Although for a moment he was tempted to let his volatile redhead tear into the angry blond, he moved quickly in front of his wife to block her forward movements while Matt did the same with Linda. Dubois was not completely certain that Vin would not challenge Linda himself and he could not let that happen. The two men squared off and the tensions rose.
Josiah moved toward Kelli and gently urged her to step back. Addressing Vin and Matt he spoke softly and said. “Whatever it is that you two are thinking… this is the wrong time and the wrong place for it’.”
Matt and Vin met eye to eye and silently agree to tend to family first, and to finish this… later. The Texan steered Kelli to the closest exit and outside the hospital to give her a chance to cool off, while Matt headed his sister in the opposite direction, leaving a few affronted brothers behind.
Josiah was dismayed by this turn of events, but not surprised. Over the last few months a number of highly stressful situations had presented themselves and the strain that had placed on everyone had been tremendous. Any single stress factor could be responsible for a few temporary riffs in relationships, but added all together it was a recipe for disaster.
Tanner had his hands full because Kelli was furious. Once they were outside he let her go and simply stayed with her as she tried to walk off some of her anger. After six blocks she began to slow down and at eight she finally stopped in front of a park and tuned to face him. “You should have let me deck her.”
“I did consider it, but I couldn’t stand the thought of you going to jail for assault.” Tanner knew she was still angry, but at least she was talking and that was a good sign. He reached over and brushed her hair back with his fingers. “Linda crossed way over the line when she attacked you personally.” As he spoke he led her over to a park bench where they could sit and talk.
“I don’t give a damn what she said about me, but I refuse to let her blame you and the others for Chris being where he is. That woman needs a wake-up call! None of y’all deserve to be blamed for what dad did or didn’t do. Hell, you had a full plate set in front of you and had to work it out without Chris’ cooperation and not one of the brothers wanted him to get hurt. Linda should know that.”
Vin had a tough skin and the accusations Linda made about him, he was willing to ignore. However, he was not so tolerant when she had included the others and then Kelli in her rant. He found it not so easy to forgive when his brothers and his wife were being attacked, regardless of the motive behind it. He realized that his wife felt the same way and found it ironic that each of them were angry on the other’s behalf.
Sliding his arm around her shoulders, Tanner decided it was time to redirect that anger and put it on the back burner for a while.” Kel let it go for now, we have other things that need tendin’.” He pulled out his cell phone and dialed home to reach the kids and then handed it over to Kelli. “Talk to ‘em.”
Sitting back he watched the tension diminish in his redhead as she talked to the children. The kids were something that always brought home to each of them what was important. He had no doubt that there were still some rough waters ahead to travel, but he was going to make sure they did not drown in the process.
Matt had managed to calm his sister enough to convince her to talk to the doctor herself. When they returned to the waiting area they received a frosty reception from the brothers and Kelli nor Vin were anywhere in sight. Settling in to wait, it was not long before Dr. Winters made his appearance.
“Mr. Tanner?” The doctor looked around the room for the man that he had spoken to before.
“Nathan stood. “He’s not here at the moment; you’ll have to settle for me.”
“Very well, could we talk in private then?”
Linda spoke up. “I am Mrs. Larabee, and I don’t care what these men have told you. I demand that you do something immediately to relieve my husband’s pain. He needs to be able to rest comfortably.”
Dr. Winters looked to Nathan for permission to tell this woman what was going on. He had read the POA that Mr. Tanner held as well as the one Jackson had showed him and both specifically said that it overrode her rights as a spouse.
“Go ahead and tell her doctor, if you don’t I’ll have to.” Nathan agreed.
“Mrs. Larabee, I made the decision to withhold pain medicine from your husband, no one told me to do so. As for resting comfortably, Mr. Larabee is suffering from withdrawal from narcotics and there is little I can do to stop it. It appears that the worst may be over, but I am afraid that any form of pain relief is out of the question at this time. He also is battling an infection from a previous wound and I have him on antibiotics for that; however my main concern is to see him through withdrawal and then take a look at where we stand.”
Linda was stunned. “Withdrawal? No… you must be mistaken. My husband is not a drug addict!”
“You may call it something else, but he is withdrawing from the misuse of narcotics. I personally talked with Dr. Glass, the doctor that treated him in Santa Ana, and from what he told me, Mr. Larabee has been given Demerol and morphine in addition to a large quantity of pain medications prescribed for him in the last two weeks. Given the history that Agent Jackson provided to me and the symptoms that I observed when he was brought in, I would say that regardless of the circumstances, your husband is again addicted to drugs.”
Dr. Winters continued, and tried to soften his words after seeing the stricken look on the younger woman’s face. “Possibly by tomorrow, he will be more coherent, and you will be able to speak to him, but not tonight. I do however expect him to physically recover quickly.” Turning to the others he nodded. “Gentlemen, I will see you in the morning, I hope you will all take my advice and get some rest. There is nothing you can do here.”
“Thank you doctor,” Nathan shook his hand and watched him walked out the door.
Linda lashed out. “What in the hell did they do to Chris? I know that he would not voluntarily take drugs again. Why didn’t one of you try to get him out if he was in trouble? I thought y’all cared about him!”
Buck snapped back. “Now hold on a minute Linda. We all love and care about Chris, but he was ordered out more than once. Vin and I even came here to California to talk to him face to face and he refused to listen. Josiah tried to reason with him, too. He made his own choices, now we’ll try and help him get past the consequences of those decisions.”
“Well, I don’t believe it! Someone forced those drugs on him! Chris would not do it on his own and he is smart enough to know when it is time to pull out of an operation. I think he was used to solve your damn case, Vin was in charge, if he had wanted Chris out he would have done it. Instead he was left in there at risk, just so MCAT could have a victory!”
“Vin wouldn’t do that anymore that any of us!” JD replied angrily.
Nathan refocused the discussion back to Larabee’s health. “Chris was in bad shape when we found him; he was fevered from the infection and withdrawal, as well as hallucinating. No matter the reason or how it came about, the drugs have had a hold on him and this time it’s gonna take more that holding up at the ranch for ten days to help him.”
“He is going to need all of us to help him and the support of a proper treatment program to come all the way back this time. That is what we should be focused on; the details of how he got here should be secondary to that.” Josiah tried to bring reason back to the conversation.
Linda did not want to hear any of what they had to say. “Where is Director Travis? Maybe he will be willing investigate this entire thing and then we’ll see who is at fault!”
“He had to go back to the Federal building in Santa Ana. We probably won’t see him until morning.” Josiah replied. “Linda maybe…”
“Save it, none of you have anything to say that I wish to hear.” She turned to her brother. “Matt, we’ll go over to our hotel and makes some calls. If Travis isn’t here to listen we’ll find someone that will.”
Ezra watched as brother and sister walked out the door. Shaking his head, he commented. “If I didn't believe that her offensive remarks were springing forth from a well of confusion and fear over the dire circumstances revolving around our ill brother, I would very gladly turn her over my knee and give her a sound spanking for her childish behavior.”
Three of his brothers now wore slightly amused smiles, and a hearty, "Amen to that brother," sounded from Josiah.
Critical Care Unit
Agent Alex Sandoval sat by the door of Raphael Cordova’s room and he saw Agent Tanner, with the woman he knew as Agent Coulter, approaching from the elevator. The more he saw and talked to these MCAT agents the more intrigued he was with the differences from his ridged work environment. He loved being an FBI agent, but he promised himself to look into this MCAT thing more in depth when this assignment was over. He stood and acknowledged the man he had met earlier.
“Relax Sandoval; we just want to look in on Cordova.” Vin patted the younger man on the shoulder and pushed the door open for Kelli. Selina sat by her dad’s bedside, while Mallory sat across the room reading.
Mallory look up from her book. “Hi guys.” She rose and walked over to meet them, giving Vin and Kelli a hug before asking. “How’s Chris?”
“Still the same I’m afraid. How are y’all doing?” Tanner glanced at the machines connected to Raphael.
“The doctor was just in, but let Selina tell you about what he said.” Mallory smiled, she knew the younger woman had been beside herself with worry and any good news was welcome.
Kelli hugged Selina, “So what did he say?”
“Dad’s doing better, he still has a long recovery ahead, but the doctor is finally convinced that he is going to make it.” Selina grinned. “My sister, Alicia is coming in on Tuesday and we may even be able to transfer him to a hospital in Denver by next weekend.”
“That’s the best news I’ve heard in a while. Raphael is tough and a fighter, you hang in there Selina.” Kelli was relieved, and she knew what it meant for Selina and her sister
“Whatever y’all need, we’ll get. Orrin can make arrangement for transportation and medical help when the time comes.” Vin assured Selina “I’m gonna have Paul and Justin relieve both of you and Sandoval for tonight, go over to the hotel and get some rest.”
“I’ll see to Selina, you take care of Chris.” Mallory would make sure Selina rested if she had to sit on her to do it. “We’ll take off when Justin and Paul get here.”
“See y’all later. “Kelli brushed Raphael’s hand. “Hurry back partner, we miss you.” On the way out Vin stopped to let Sandoval know who would be replacing him for the night and then he and Kelli walked slowly back to the waiting area across from Chris’ room.
Nathan filled them on what Dr. Winters said and Buck, JD and Ezra made sure Vin knew about Linda’s reaction. Vin tried to get them all to go to the hotel for a while with Justin and Paul, while he stayed, but they refused. Eventually he gave in to the fact that they would all be spending the night at the hospital. Josiah reserved his words; instead he tried to think of a way to calm the volcano he saw poised to erupt in the middle of his family.
Mission Regional Trauma Center~8:00am
Sunday~ August 20th
Nightmares had been Chris’ constant companions during the night and by morning he had fallen into an exhaust-laden sleep. Dr. Winters looked in on his patient and ordered more tests before he met with the men across the hall. Confident that his charge had passed the worst of the combatant stage of withdrawal, he now had to prepare them for the bouts of depression and denial that was surely to follow.
Sometime in the early morning hours the six brothers had worked out a tentative schedule as to who would stand watch at the hospital for Chris and Raphael and who would go to the hotel to rest. For the present time they agreed to all stay until the doctor gave them a report, while a rested Justin and Paul had relieved Mallory and Agent Sandoval last night. Kelli had urged Selina to go with Mallory to get some much needed sleep, with the promise that she would call if there were any changes in her father’s condition.
Linda and Matt returned, but pointedly sat on the opposite side of the room, keeping themselves separated from the rest of the family to wait, also. Both of them, using every contact that their family had access to, had tried unsuccessfully to find anyone in a higher position that was willing to take on Director Travis. It was as if the very mention of MCAT was enough to automatically insure a hands-off attitude.
Dr. Winters entered the room and shook his head at the sight of the unkempt men he thought he had sent off to rest last night. “I believe I told all of you to go get some sleep, not campout here in the waiting room.”
“You suggested doc, not ordered, there is a difference.” Buck corrected.
“Advised, I believe is the word you used.” Ezra concurred with his brother’s observation.
JD joined in. “I never heard him say that it was an order.”
Josiah grinned at his brother’s antics. You might as well concede doctor. They’re just trying to stay in practice. Their usual target for excuses is in that room.” He nodded toward Chris’ room.
The Doctor tried to conceal a smile and continued. “Mr. Tanner, I have this morning’s test results to share.”
“Excuse me, I expect to be included.” Linda glared at Vin as she stood and walked across the room.
“We’re all listenin’ doc, go on.” Vin ignored Linda and addressed Dr. Winters.
“At the moment Mr. Larabee is finally sleeping. I am convinced that the combative stage of withdrawal is over. This morning’s test show the level of narcotics in his system is almost nil and he is beginning to stabilize. However, this does not mean he is cured, as I said before he will need further treatment once he returns home. The next stage will be bouts with depression, some possible severe along with attempts at disassociating himself from the true facts of the last few weeks. I have ordered that he not be left unattended and you should know he will most likely sleep all day. He needs the rest and I am ordering that he have no visitors until tomorrow morning. That is not a suggestion or advice, but the way it will be…no exceptions. Clears enough?”
“Crystal,” Nathan answered for all of them.
"We'll be more than happy to oblige with your orders, Doctor." Vin said. "On the condition that you remember that we won’t be leavin’ Chris unguarded under any circumstances. One of us will remain outside of his room at all times, even if the rest of us are forced to get some rest."
“I remember, Agent Tanner. I do suggest however that you not be the one to take the day watch. You look as if you could use some rest yourself.”
Kelli had been quiet, but tended to agree with the doctor. “I’ll see that he gets it, thank you doctor.”
The doctor started to leave and Linda stopped him. “Doctor, what time will you be making your afternoon rounds? I would like to be able to stay with MY husband as soon as possible.”
“I’ll be back by five; I will make MY decision then. Good day.” Dr. Winter exited the room without another word.
Matt asked no one in particular. “Why does Chris need a guard?”
Buck decided to answer. “Chris and Agent Cordova were both injured while undercover. We think we have arrested everyone involved, but until we are certain, we’ll take no chances. Both agents will have 24/7 protection.” He wanted to remind Matt and Linda that Chris was not the only agent involved.
“The other agent…Cordova, he’s okay? Matt had given very little thought to Kelli’s mention of another agent last night, until now.
Nathan answered. “We don’t know yet. He was shot in the chest at close range…he’s still in the critical care unit.”
“I will take the morning watch, while the rest of you go over to the hotel and rest. That means you too Vin.” Ezra directed his remark to Tanner.
“He’s going Ez, thanks.” Kelli gave her husband a looked that dared him to refuse.
“You call me Ezra, if anything changes with Chris or Raphael and that is a direct order not a suggestion.” Vin stated.
“I will, now go, all of you” Ezra shooed them out the door.
“Kel, wait a minute, I need to talk to you.” Linda tried to stop Kelli from leaving.
“We have nothing to discuss Linda. I received your message loud and clear last night.” Kelli walked off with Vin and left the blonde standing in the middle of the room.
Mission Regional Trauma Center ~ 8:00 am Monday
Chris had been awake for about an hour; twenty-four hours of rest had him feeling almost back to normal. When Dr. Winters walked in the room Larabee was beginning to orient himself to the realities of the world again.
“Mr. Larabee, good to have you back with us.”
“Back? … How long? ...Where have I been?” Think damn it, do not let him see how confused you are!
“I realize that things may not be too clear for you, Mr.….”
“Chris… call me Chris.” No more Carmichael no more not being me.
“Chris, what is the last thing that you remember?” Dr. Winters wanted to see how many blanks his patient could fill in.
Imagines flashed through his mind and slowly began to take shape. “Ship …I was on a ship…explosion in Denver …GOD! They all died...but …No, Nathan…Nathan was there he said…Damn!”
“Take it easy Chris. You remember seeing Nathan?” Relieved to see his patient nod, Dr. Winters continued. “That’s good, think about what Agent Jackson told you.”
It was like watching a movie someone else was in, but Larabee did begin to remember Nathan assuring him that they were all still alive and not to worry. “All on them are really alive?” Nathan does not lie, so it must be true.
“You friends are across the hall, as is your wife and daughter. However, before you see them, we need to discuss your condition. Do you know why you are in the hospital?”
“Arm got infected, and…I.” Chris stopped talking as he began to remember. Looking the doctor in the eyes he said firmly. “Pain pills did not put me here…it was that damn doctor in Mexico. I only followed what he said to do.”
Dr. Winters was not surprised that Chris held someone else responsible for his predicament. Admitting a problem with drugs was not easy, most people felt they were confessing to some kind of weakness and that simply was not true. It took a strong man to admit he needed help in handling the effects of narcotics, but it took some a while to figure that out. Blaming anyone besides themselves for whatever happened was common.
“Your infection is under control, a follow-up on antibiotics when you leave here will insure that it stays that way,” The doctor sighed. “The reason you took drugs does not matter, you have been suffering from withdrawal and I highly recommend that you voluntarily go into a rehabilitation program once you get back home. You should be well enough to travel by the middle of the week, but Chris, no more pain meds without supervision from a doctor that knows your history.”
“I know you are doing your job, but no rehab is needed. I will handle this my way when I get back home. Now I would like to see my wife, daughter and friends.”
The doctor knew that Chris was in denial, but there was no prescription to ‘fix’ that problem. He could only hope that after giving it some thought and with family support that his patient would change him mind.
“Very well, I will tell them that you are allowed visitors. “He snapped the chart shut and left.
Ezra had the early morning watch and had been at the hospital since three. He waited with the brothers that had returned to the hospital to hear what Chris’ doctor had to say before he went to the hotel to claim some sleep. All of them knew they would rest better knowing that Larabee was out of the woods and on the road to being himself again. Linda and Matt were there too, and waited for the same thing, still separated from the others. It seemed that no one was willing to give in on their stand until they heard about Chris.
Orrin Travis was in attendance, giving Vin a rundown of the dispensation of the men they had arrested Saturday. “All of them will be going away for a very long time. As soon as Senator Hansen found out that Donner was dead and his Chief Blain was talking his head off along with Zimmerman, he quit squawking and realized that he was in serious trouble. The U.S. Attorney’s office and the IRS have enough evidence to put him away for life. Willis was able to give confirmed evidence that Donner ordered the attacks on MCAT. I’m just sorry the man is dead; I would have enjoyed seeing him pay for what he did and suffer longer. Unfortunately Gant has disappeared, but the girls you found in the container are in protective custody and most of their families have been located. “
“That’s good to hear sir; at least that part of this nightmare is over.” Vin was relieved to know that Hansen, Willis, Blain, Jefferies. Shipley and Zimmerman were going away for a long time. Knowing that so many juveniles were saved made it easier to justify the toll this case had taken on the unit as a whole, but Tanner could not help but feel that the cost had been too damned high for some of the agents.
“MCAT did good son, by the time everyone finishes talking to try and make their own deals, many more juveniles will be recovered and some of those trafficking routes will be close forever. Homeland Security will level charges against the Captain of the ship. The right people will be in prison for the foreseeable future, thanks to this unit and men like you, Wilmington and Michaels. Even though he was not sanctioned, Cordova will be included in the unit citation for this one; too, he deserves to have a good mark in his file on this case. Michael Vance will get his recognition here in California from the AG.”
“What about Chris?”
Orrin took a deep breath. “I cannot overlook his actions, but you let me worry about Larabee. You just be proud of what MCAT has accomplished.”
Vin wanted to say more, but Dr. Winters walked in and signaled that he wanted to talk to Tanner. The others began to gather round, but the doctor stopped them.
“Just Agent Tanner, first please.”
“Go on Vin, you can tell us when he’s finished.” Buck urged Vin to go with the doctor, not giving Linda an opportunity to protest.
Tanner stepped out into the hall with Dr. Winters. “What is it you can’t say to all of us?”
“Chris is awake and I expect he can go home by the middle of the week. However, he is a man in denial and I wanted you to be aware that until he accepts that he has a problem with addiction, he will continue to have troubles. It will take strong family support to reach him, if he lets you. I have seen enough patients in his situation to clearly read the ones that are ready to accept help and unfortunately he is not one of them, be prepared for anything.”
The Texan thought about what the doctor was saying. Knowing Chris and his independent attitude, it did not surprise him that he would be reluctant to seek help. “I appreciate your candor doctor. We’ll do what we can, but as for me I won’t baby Chris. He will have to make his own decision.”
“That is the only way sometimes, it harder on the people that care about him, but necessary to stand firm. I am going to allow full visitation privileges, if it won’t interfere with your protection detail.”
“That’s fine, we can handle it and if it’s all the same to you that is what you brought me out here to talk about.”
“No problem and good luck. I am afraid you and your family are going to need it.”
Dr. Winters led the way back inside and announced. “I needed to make sure that I would not be interfering with federal procedures before I told you that Chris is allowed visitors. Agent Tanner assured me that it was not a conflict with his protection detail. Keep in mind that Chris needs rest and I will allow all of you to see him. You may stay until visiting hours are over or until he throws you out whichever comes first.”
Linda did not wait to hear anything else the doctor had to say. She turned and immediately went into Chris’ room.
Buck started to protest, but Josiah silenced him. “Let’s give her a few minutes alone with Chris before we all go barging in.”
“Thanks Dr. Winters, we do appreciate what you have done to help Chris.” Nathan shook the doctor’s hand before he continued on his rounds.
Matt wasn’t sure if he should go with Linda or stay, Kelli solved his dilemma. “She’s a big girl Matt, leave her be for now. I have a feelin’ she is going to need you more in the day’s to come. You can wait out here with us, we don’t bite.”
“Much,” Ezra noted.
“Hardly ever, “JD smiled.
“Never on a Sunday though,” Josiah said with a grin.
“Family members are fairly safe,” Buck tried to be serious. “You are family of sorts.”
“If they do I can bandage it for you.” Nathan couldn’t resist throwing that in.
“Unless you plan on trespassing on private property and then I shoot first and bite later.” Vin mumbled and earned himself an elbow in his unbroken rib from Kelli.
Travis stood silently by and smiled, grateful that even after all the mental torment and grief that this case had produced, that his ‘boys’ were still the same.
Linda slipped in the door and went directly over to Chris’ bedside. Tears flowed freely down her cheeks when she looked into those beautiful ‘Larabee green’ eyes and he smiled. Grabbing hold of his hand, she found her voice. “I was scared that I had lost you.”
Chris grinned, “I’m not that easy to lose, babe. I do hope you brought Grace with you, I need to see her.”
“No, I… I wasn’t sure …I didn’t know if you would even be alive when I got here. I thought it was best to leave her with Inez. When Travis called me, all he could confirm was that you were found alive, but he didn’t have details of your condition. You know me, I was not about to sit around and wait for him to call back. Matt arrange for the Dubois family jet to fly us out here immediately. We got in yesterday evening, but your doctor made me wait to see you.”
“Did he tell you why?”
“Chris I know what happened and believe me I let everyone know how I felt about it. Your brothers should have watched out for you and not left you to face a dangerous situation alone. I know what you were forced to do and I am only thankful that it wasn’t worse. None of this was your fault.”
“Damn straight it wasn’t. This op was messed up from the word go, and went downhill from there.” Chris squeezed her hand. “I don’t want you to worry any more about it. I’ll handle things from here.”
“I’m so glad to have you back; things have been so messed up since you left. Vin has taken over the ranch, giving orders, making plans to build things, moving people in our house. Not that I mind JD’s family and Nettie being there, but he didn’t even ask me first. I should be in charge when you are gone not him or Buck or any of them. Sometimes I think we should just let the rest of them have Larabee 7 and find our own place, we can certainly afford it…we could build a new house, even bigger than the one Vin and Kelli built. Then we could…”
“Linda, first things first, after all I’ve seen…I just need to know my daughter is really safe.” After those nightmares you mean, but you cannot tell Linda about them.
Surprised by the request, Linda hesitated. “You should know she and I had words yesterday.”
“I’ll get her straightened out; you just get her in here. Once I see her, then I’ll see the others one by one.”
Reluctantly Linda turned loose of his hand and went out the door. On one hand she was pleased to see Chris back in control, but on the other she did not want him to overdo and have a setback. After all this time you get a few minutes and then he wants his daughters and brothers. You still have to share him with everyone else.
When Linda walked into the waiting room all eyes turned in her direction. “Kel, he wants to see you... by yourself.” After delivering Chris’ message she went back to his room
Kelli looked over to her husband uncertainly. Chris should be anxious to see all of them and surly he would want to grill Travis about the unit. Of course she wanted to see her dad, but she had an uneasy feeling about this. “Vin?”
“Go on Kel, I’ll see him later.” Vin had no idea what Chris was doing, but he would not allow himself to believe that her father would do anything to harm Kelli after the incident the last time he was on drugs.
Pushing open the door, Kelli walked inside and walked over to Chris’ bed. “Hey, welcome back.”
Chris scrutinized his daughter’s appearance, looking for signs of injuries, and then grabbed her hand. “It’s good to be back and now it’s almost perfect. With Linda on one side and you on the other, all I need is Grace to complete my family of girls. But how are you really Kel? I realize that you were put in a bad position and I don’t blame you for any of this. I’m sure you did what you could to make Vin see reason, but I know how hardheaded he can be…” He stopped when Kelli pulled her hand out of his.
“I’m not certain what you are referrin’ to, but you may still be a little mixed up on a few things” Having a confrontation with Chris this soon was not what she wanted to do, and Kelli tried to remain calm. “Dad, I think once you know all of what’s been goin’ on you might think differently. Vin was caught between a rock and a hard place and that left him torn between loyalty to you and responsibility for the entire unit. He did what he had to, but it was not easy for him.”
Shaking his head negatively he said. “No, Vin handled this op all wrong and he is responsible for the mess that came of it. You have to see that Kel and I cannot let him get away with it; he damn near lost the whole unit!For your sake I will do what I can to try and help him stay in law enforcement, but you know he can’t stay with MCAT. He has caused too much damage to even consider keeping him on. Since you are married to him, I will try to keep it civil. You will back me, won't you Kel, you see that it's his fault, don't you?”
“Since when do we have sides, Larabee? I thought we were all on the same side! “Kelli cocked an eyebrow. “Are you saying that Vin is your enemy?”
“Tanner let the power of temporary command go to his head. It clouded his judgment and people got hurt because of it!”
“You left him with no choices while you played at being Superman!
“Do you think it way easy for me to be stuck in Donner’s hell?” Chris snapped.
“You’re the one that decided to stay there, even after Vin , Buck and Josiah told you your life was in danger! The entire unit had to stand back and play defense waiting for you while you played the lone ranger.” Kelli was losing her resolve to remain calm.
“I thought I could count on my daughter to back me, but I guess I was wrong!” Chris yelled.” I had my reasons, justified reasons!”
“I hope your reasons justify Raphael lying in the critical care unit fighting for his life after taking a bullet because he stayed here to cover you backside! Plus all the other injuries sustained because we could not move on Donner as long as you stayed in.”
Chris was struck silent for a minute when he heard that Cordova was still with them. Raphael is alive? What the hell else don’t you know Larabee?”
Linda jumped in. “Kel, you need to back off! Chris is not to blame for any of this! It’s this damn job that is responsible, it forces men like Chris to do things out of the norm to survive.”
“Bullshit Linda.” Chris had choices, he declined to use them! No one forced him to stay or to put those damn pills in his mouth!”
Chris snapped back to the conversation. ”Vin will pay for what he has done and if you stay with him I won’t be able to protect you!”
“I have never expected you to Larabee. You do what you think you have to do, but count me out of it.” Kelli turned and walked out of the room.
It only took one look at Kelli to know that things had not gone well with Chris. Anger and tension radiated off her like fireworks on the fourth of July. Most of the men in the room knew her well enough to know that trouble was brewing. Matt wisely stepped out of her way as she passed him and JD was no fool either, he gave her plenty of space. Vin was the only one that stood his ground and did not look for cover.
“I need to get out of here for a while!” Kelli grabbed her bag off the chair. “Whoever thinks their brave enough can go next, I’m done!”
Vin touched her shoulder so she would look at him, he saw anger and hurt in her eyes. “Tell me.”
Kelli held her eyes on Vin’s until she could gain some control of her anger. “It’s really simple. Chris is out of his ever lovin’ mind! Somehow he reckons that you are to blame you for everythin’. He expects everyone to takes sides, his or yours.”
Ezra spoke under his breathe. “I bet that set off the Coulter blast.”
“I heard that Ez, and yes I gave him a piece of my mind and then some. I won’t play his silly game!”
Buck looked at Chris’ door. “He really expects us to take sides?”
“That’s what the man said, Buck. Hell, he thinks that I should leave Vin to be a part of his family and that ain’t gonna happen!”
“This should be between me and him, and it will be, but not here. Y’all do what you need to, no hard feelin’s. “Vin did not want his brothers caught in the crossfire between him and Chris. Larabee had picked him to be his scapegoat and that was that. But Vin was just as hardheaded as Larabee and he knew that he would not back down from the challenge. Bring it on Chris, but don’t expect me to go easy on you.
JD shook his head no. “We can’t be expected to take one side or another.”
Nathan agreed. “There shouldn’t be any sides at all. We are supposed to be a team and family.”
“Brothers and Sister, I believe Chris is looking for vindication and a reason not to admit he may have a problem. Like it or not he has chosen Vin to shift the blame to, we’ll have to be patient and hope Chris comes to the realization that he needs professional help to get a handle on this before it destroys him.” Josiah hated to consider it.
Orrin had heard enough, he stood and addressed all of them. “I regret that I find it necessary to pull rank, but I am taking the next turn. It’s time that Chris and I have a serious discussion.” Chris Larabee needed a wake-up call and Director Travis was the man that needed to give it to him.
Chris was expecting one of the boys, and therefore was surprised to see Orrin Travis walk into the room instead. He hated to get into work related issues so quickly, but maybe it was better this way. He would be out of here in a day or so and wanted to have his life back, including his command of MCAT.
“Orrin, I didn’t realize you were here in California, but it’s good to see you.”
“Chris,” Travis nodded to Linda. “I understand you will be going home in a couple of days. There are a few things that perhaps, we should talk about…in private.”
“Linda and I have no secrets, she can stay.”
“As your friend Chris, I am extremely grateful that you are back with us, but I am also concerned about you. I know that this last year has been hard on you, physically as well as mentally, and the last few months certainly have been taxing emotionally. I want to see you take care of yourself and I sincerely hope that you will listen to your doctors.”
“I’m fine Orrin; all I need to do is get back to Denver and reclaim my life.”
Travis sighed. “As Director Travis, I need to give you this.” Orrin handed him an envelope. “Commander Larabee, you have been relived of duty and will be on suspension status for ninety days. I am sorry it has come to this Chris, but this is my decision and mine alone. Fortunately I have final say-so on the rules of employment for MCAT, if we were any other agency you would have been immediately terminated for your actions. I want you back at the helm of MCAT, but after your rebel attitude during this assignment I must make certain that you are ready for it. Your actions put your life, your partner’s life, and the entire unit at risk. Your requirements for retuning back to work include a re-entry interview with me, mandatory counseling sessions, enrollment into a drug rehabilitation program, and there will be a six month probation period after you resume your duties as MCAT Commander.”
Chris narrowed his eyes. “What did Tanner tell you?”
“Captain Tanner told me nothing. In fact he had fully expected you to come back to MCAT, on your return to Denver. Chris, I don’t need Vin or anyone else to tell me that you need time to get a handle on what life has thrown at you this year. I should never have agreed to let you take this assignment and I fault myself for not realizing that it was too soon after your last ordeal for you to be under on an extended operation. That is why you are only suspended and not fired. Of course whether you agree to accept my terms or not is your decision, but I hope you will take time to seriously think about your future with MCAT.”
Linda had stood quietly aside until now. “Chris did nothing wrong! You should be apologizing to him for abandoning him instead of chastising him.”
Chris squeezed her hand. “I can take care of this.” Turning his attention to the director again he asked. “If I decide to agreed to this, who will be in charge of MCAT in the meantime?”
“I am the Director in charge of MCAT, but I have asked Vin to stay on as acting Commander of the unit until you return. When you meet my requirements we will talk about your future role with MCAT. But in the meantime I need someone that is ready now to hit the ground running. If he declines then I will make other arrangements.”
“Tanner didn’t accept?” Chris was sure Vin would jump at the chance.
“No, not yet. I gave him some time to consider my offer. We have a big job ahead of us to rebuild and reestablish operations and I cannot afford to wait ninety days to do it. I expect to have Tanner’s answer within a few days.”
Nodding his head Larabee answered. “I’ll have to give your requests some serious thought and get back with you.”
“You have ninety days, use it wisely.” Orrin nodded, turned and walked out.
Chris fingered the envelope thoughtfully. He knew that it only confirmed in writing what Travis had told him and truthfully a part of him had expected it.Hell Chris, if you had been in his place you would have ripped some hide off your backside. You didn’t even ask about the condition of your agents did you? … or Raphael? Rebuild…you know nothing about what happened while you were gone or…Damn it! What in the hell have you been thinking about? Why are you so damn angry with Vin? What are you doing Chris?
“Are you even listening to me, Chris?” Linda tried for the third time to get him attention.
‘Sorry…what were you saying?”
“I said screw them, you don’t need MCAT and you don’t need counseling. Travis is so wrong about you.”
“No…no he’s not…Actually considering what I did he is being generous. If I had been him I would have fired me. I expected it.”
“You mean … all of what everyone is saying is true? You could have come home to me? You risked your life against orders?”
Chris deeply sighed. “Yes. But I had my reasons…”
“What reasons are more important than staying alive and being home with me? Grace cried all the time missing her daddy. Do you know what it’s like to have a baby that cries all the time? I couldn’t do anything or go any where without permission like a damn kid! I had to watch Tanner and your brothers take over everything and now I find out that you CHOSE not to be there with me! I am your wife and I thought that was supposed to mean something! ...God! The things I said to Kel and…Did you take those pills voluntarily?” Linda was furious.
“I had my reasons and I knew I could quit taking them anytime I wanted to so…yes!
“I have worried myself half to death about you and been damn miserable in the process! I defended you and your damn job to my family and myself! All the time you could have come home! Instead we are here in a hospital with you going through withdrawal that YOU could have prevented! Any you tell me that you had you reasons…bullshit!
“Linda you are overreacting.”
“Not this time Chris! I sat alone because you said you had to take this assignment. I reluctantly agreed, but then you went back to using drugs again and almost got yourself killed! What about me? I know I rate behind your precious brothers and daughters, but now your job is more important than I am…Hell your damn horse probably rates higher than me! NO MORE! “
“I did what I had to; you just have to understand…”
“NO! I don’t! I have put up with too damn much already. Do you realize all the times since I have known you that you have been injured or missing? Too many damn times to count! I won’t sit by myself and worry about you anymore! I am going back to Denver and the Southern Breeze; at least there I can come first not last!”
“Linda, you don’t mean that. When we get home we’ll work this out.” Chris’ head was beginning to hurt.
“The hell I don’t” Linda grabbed her bag. “I am leaving Chris, you want me then a helluva lot is gonna have to change!” If it were possible to slam the door she would have, but all Chris saw was Linda’s retreat.
He reached over and buzzed for the nurse. “Yes, Mr. Larabee.”
“Will you please put a no visitor sign on my door; I do not want to see anyone else.”
“We’ll take care of it sir.”
Chris turned over and faced the wall. How in the hell did you fuck up your life this way?
Linda stormed out of Chris’ room only five minutes after Travis had said goodnight to all, and without a word motioned to Matt that they were leaving, A couple of minutes later a nurse stopped by to say that Mr. Larabee had requested no more visitors until further notice. She then went in to check on her patient.
“What do you reckon that’s all about?” Buck asked, but he was not real sure that he wanted to know.
“I recognize the look Linda had on her face and I promise you it ain’t good.” Nathan was afraid to speculate on what Chris may have said to the blond.
Ezra stated the obvious. “It would appear that our dear brother has managed to alienate his most ardent defender.”
“Huh?” JD had no idea what Ezra was talking about
“It means JD, Chris has finally managed to piss Linda off big-time.” Vin explained as he stared at Chris’ door. Okay, it’s you against me Lar’bee, that’s what it is gonna, come down too. But I can wait and pick my own time and place for this battle. We’ll be fighting for your future Cowboy, and you’re not ready yet.
Josiah had been observing all the reactions carefully, especially Vin’s.” Brothers, I do believe that we should batten down the hatches. We are all in for a rough ride.”
Larabee’s room 6:00 am
Tuesday~ August 22nd
Chris had been having a bad night. In his sleep he was trapped between the lives of Adam Carmichael and Chris Larabee. Waking up in a cold sweat, he shivered and then tried to focus his thoughts. Realistically he knew who he was and where, but his dreams were confused. Sitting up on the side of the hospital bed, he caught sight of the clothes someone Ezra probably had been thoughtful enough to provide for him, while he had slept. Dressing quickly he walked over to the window and watched the sun rise. He was aware that Buck had taken the night watch and was sitting just outside that door. JD, Nathan and Josiah would soon be coming back to the hospital eager to see him too. All he had to do was tell his old friend to come in and then he could have answers the too many questions that swirled though his mind before they arrived.
Do it Chris. How are you ever gonna know if you don’t ask? Buck has known you for over twenty years, hell Larabee. Nothing you have done should surprise or shock him. Vin has shut you out, not that you can blame him and you really need to put the pieces of your broken memories together, so ask Buck. What are you afraid to find out?
Before he could change his mind Chris went over to the door and opened it. Buck was sitting not two feet away from the entrance.
“You gonna sit out there all day or come in here?” Chris snapped more irritated with himself than anything else.
“Well hell stud, I thought you‘d never ask.” Buck grinned as he followed his old friend inside. He knew Larabee well enough that he had expected this move from him sooner or later. Regardless of the adversities Larabee faced, he needed to know details and be in control of himself as well as the environment around him. The pills may have briefly taken that away, but that was only a temporary situation. Tanner understood the way Chris was too, and in the past his forgiving nature has always allowed the blonde to make his amends for his sometime too quick rationalizations, without having to compromise much. Wilmington was afraid that this time the stakes were too high and Vin was not going to make it easy on Chris.
“I was going to call Linda, but she didn’t tell me where she was staying. Do you know?”
Buck hated to be the one to tell him, but hell, somebody had to, “Linda and Matt took their private jet and flew home last night.”
Chris thoughtfully nodded. “She was pretty damn mad when she left here, I’m not surprised. Okay Larabee. First thing on your list when you get home is to patch things up with Linda. Sighing deeply, he prepared himself for the results of his next demand. “Tell me all of it Buck, start with the day I left.”
Wilmington was aware that the request was applied to work related issues. Questions about family would come later. He sat down and suggested that Chris do the same. He began his narration the day after Larabee left and continued to recite only the facts without additional comments to today’s date. Watching the play of reactions across his brother’s face was painful, especially when he recounted the attempted attacks on Kel, Kat, Pam, Mark, and finding Raphael in critical condition listed as a John Doe. By the time he got to the part of retelling the events of the day the MCAT office was destroyed, Buck was experiencing the fears and emotional turmoil of that day again. He had to stop several times to regain his control before finishing .Ending his presentation with the warehouse raid and the subsequent time since that had been spent here in the hospital. Buck leaned back in his chair and waited for Chris to digest all the information and respond.
Larabee has closed his eyes and could picture the events as Buck retold them. Three weeks! How in the hell could you have missed so much? How in the hell had Vin seen them all through it without taking casualties? You sure as hell didn’t help Chris, not with your ‘I’ll do it my way attitude’. Do you really expect him to forgive you for being such an ass this time? Trust you again? You really fucked up thinking those damn pills were your answer! Your team, your best friend, your brothers, you hurt them all. Not to mention the pain you caused your wife and daughters. Hell you broke it all Larabee, now you have to find a way to fix it. But can you and where do you start?
Swallowing hard, Chris found his voice. “Where is everyone now?”
“Nathan, JD, Ezra and Josiah will be here by nine. Kel is staying with Raphael while Selina and Mallory meet her sister at the airport. Vin and Travis have to get together with the U.S. Attorney at the federal building in Santa Ana by eight, Justin and Mallory are going back to Colorado with Travis later this morning; the rest will fly back to Denver this afternoon. Paul volunteered to stay and trade out the watches on Raphael with Agent Sandoval until Cordova can be moved to Denver Memorial, probably this weekend. Josiah and I are staying here until you are released.
Already shaking his head negatively Chris had other plans. “No! Find my doctor and you tell him I’m leaving today. If he refuses…hell, have Ezra do that thing he does to walk out of the hospital against doctor’s order. I am going home.” He knew that the sooner he got home, the sooner he could begin to untangle the mess he had made.
Buck smiled; Chris sounded more like the man he knew and less like the man he had seen the last few weeks. Once he was back in Colorado then he was certain that the family could help him find his way all the way back. “All right! I’ll find the doc and then call Inez so she can tell our son that I am coming home and that we’ll make the football game Friday night after all.” Wilmington stood up and headed for the door.
“Wait a minute Buck. Did you say son?”
Grinning from ear to ear, Buck answered. “Well stud, there were a few other changes while you were gone.” He threw his arm across Chris’ shoulder. “Let me tell you all about ‘em….”
At the hotel ~11:00 am
Travis pulled into the parking lot and cut the engine. He and Tanner had concluded all the MCAT business necessary here in California. It was time to look forward. They still had six agents in the hospital to help, time off to arrange for the others, and a new facility for MCAT to put together. “Vin, before you get out, I going to need your answer. The MCAT jet is waiting on me now to fly me back to Denver, and I want to make certain where you stand before I leave. If you agree then there are a few things I want to set up differently.”
Vin knew the question Travis was referring to and had been giving it a lot of thought. Deep down he supposed he had always known the answer; he could not walk off and leave until the unit was operational again. Sighing heavily, he gave Travis the agreement he wanted to hear. “I’ll help get MCAT back on its feet, but I don’t know if Chris and I will be able to work together again. So when he returns…”
Orrin interrupted him. “When Larabee returns things will be slightly different. I am the director of the entire MCAT agency; we live by my rules and mine alone. If I approve it then it’s policy. Chris will be in command of operations the same as now. Along with supervising day -to -day activities in the office as you have been, you will be responsible for all the training. Anytime Chris is out and you have to run the unit you will answer to me and me only. I do not want a repeat of what happened on this case ever again.” Travis pulled a folder out of his briefcase. “This will give you a rundown of what we need to become operational; we’ll discuss it in more detail back in Denver. You’ll note that I am asking for additional personnel to be added.”
Tanner opened the folder and scanned over the information. Travis had indeed given some thought to the events that had occurred during this case. He wanted Josiah to work with a profiling team, JD to set up the computer ops and satellite station, Ezra to further train undercover and negotiation techniques to the unit, Nathan to head the forensics cooperation with the lab and Bones. Buck was now lead investigator and was to put together a bomb squad, and in addition to his other duties. Orrin did not plan on the team ever being shorthanded again. As tempting as it was the Texan, he still hesitated to commit himself past the next three months.
“Orrin, I need to see how things go with Chris before I commit to more.”
“I recognize that possibility, but if you and Chris absolutely cannot work together then I will authorize a second team that will be under your command. I have no intention of MCAT losing you Tanner. Now the unit as a whole will stand down for six weeks with pay, but I can only give you two weeks. You deserve more, but we have too much work to do. You will need to let Sanchez, Wilmington, Standish, Jackson and Dunne know their new responsibilities. You will also find in that folder their new pay scale as well as your own. I do not think anyone will be complaining. However until I will meet with Chris in ninety days, he is to have no dealings with MCAT business. I want him to take care of Larabee first. Understood?”
“I understand sir and I reckon you have yourself a ramrod for a while.” Vin shook the Directors hand. “I’ll have the part of the team that is going home at the airport by four.”
“Take care of them Tanner and I will see you in Denver.”
Vin exited the rental car and then watched Travis drive away. He would do this so Chris would have a shot at getting his command back. As for their relationship, that was yet to be determined. Cowboy, I hate to do this, but I’m gonna shut you out for a while. You need to make your own decision on this one or you will never be free. When you are ready to face some home truths, then we’ll see where you and I end up.
Tanner headed into the hotel and then took the elevator to the third floor, using his room key he pushed to open the door and found that it was locked from the inside.
“If you don’t belong here, you’d best find another room.” A female voiced yelled through the door.
Laughter could be heard from the hallway. “We’ll ma’am, ‘m lookin’ for a little redheaded filly that has the sweetest assets north of the Rio Grande…”
The door swung open, “Get in here Tanner! You plan to for the entire third floor to hear about my assets?”
Kissing Kelli hello, Vin swept her into a hug as his eyes danced with amusement. “Nope… just half the third floor, besides, I could have said as…”
“Vin! “ Kelli swatted his backside as she closed the door and smiled. After all the challenges of the last couple of weeks, along with his many injuries she had been worried about her Texan. “Did you finish your business here?”
The Texan sat on the bed and took off his boots as he answered. “Yep, the rest of it is up to the Federal prosecutors to haggle over. I also checked in with Pam. Ross is stable, Greg’s condition has been upgraded, Mark is doing better, but Kat’s condition is unchanged. They are gonna run some more tests on her, and I thought we’d go see all of ‘em tomorrow mornin’.”
Kelli nodded and sat down next to him. “Of course we will. Raphael is awake and the doctor said he might be able to be transferred to Denver by Saturday. When Selina and Alicia returned from the airport, Mallory said good-bye to Josiah, dropped me off here, and the headed back to the airport to meet Justin and Travis. Selina and Alicia are both staying with their dad, while Alicia’s husband has their kids in Boulder. I told Cordova that you would be by to see him before we left. So…how did it go with Travis?”
Tanner stretched out on the bed and pulled up Kelli beside him. “I told him I’d stay at least ‘til Chris’ ninety days are up. Travis gave me two weeks off before we go to work on the new facility, but most of the rest of the team will be off with pay for six weeks. He also said if Chris and I can’t work together after that, he was willing to set-up a second unit for me to Command, to get me to stay with MCAT. I told him that I would think it over, ‘m not certain that I want a command of my own.” Vin waited for Kelli’s reaction, but she said nothing. “Kel, if that’s a problem we should discuss it now.”
“No…no, I expected you to stay through the rebuilding part…I just…” Kelli kept her head laid on his chest and sighed before continuin’. “I just thought that we could do somethin’ else after that.”
The tone of her voice alerted Vin to the fact that there was a lot more that she was not saying. Tightening his hold on her he was prepared to hear it all. “Tell me, baby.”
“Hell Vin, I almost lost you not once or twice, but three times in less than a month. First with those bastards that Donner sent, then that damn rocket launcher and then I had to watch helplessly in the warehouse…I couldn’t get a clean shot…if JD hadn’t… I don’t know if I want to do this anymore, and I’m not damn sure if my heart can handle you doin’ it.”
Vin kissed the top of her head. “It’s all over Kel, and I have no plans on leavin’ you anytime soon, at least not voluntarily.”
“You better not Tanner ‘cause I would hunt you down and make your life miserable if you did.” She raised her head to look him in the eye.
“You would too.” Tanner laughed and then turned serious. “Kel, you might think about another potential position on the team. Josiah needs to train two more profilers, and he thinks that with your instincts and educational background you would be a good candidate. You would still be in the field on investigations, and have a helluva lot more paper to deal with, but it’s somethin’ to consider.”
That was something that Kelli had not thought about doing, but the idea had possibilities. “I’ll think it over. As longer as you don’t figure out a way to do yourself in from a damn paper cut it might be a good option to keep open.”
“I’ll make a point to watch out for hostile paper.” He grinned. “And as much as I’d love to stay here with you, we need to pack, check out, and get our butts over to the hospital. I want to see Raphael before we leave and then meet with the guys to head home. I’ll wait to see Chris until we’re back on home ground again. We’ll call Max and tell her to let the kids stay up a little later tonight so we can see ‘em before they go to bed.”
“Sounds like a plan to me, Tanner.”
Larabees’ Room~2:00 pm
Nathan and Josiah had spent over an hour trying to convince Larabee to stay in the hospital until the doctor released him, but Chris was adamant about leaving and insisted that Ezra spring him from this damn prison.
Having seen the state that Chris was in on Saturday, Nathan disagreed. “Chris you need…”
“I need to go home Nate! That all I need.” Chris snapped.
Josiah handed Chris an envelope. “I took the liberty of finding some groups you can join when you get back to Denver. The list is in here along with some phone numbers. Don’t make a decision now, but think about it Chris. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to strangers than those closest to you. One of those groups is set-up for law enforcement personnel only. They all have been or are in the same place where you are coming from.”
Chris’ first reaction was to give the damn envelope back to Sanchez.Not a chance in hell will I go. However he did not want to argue about it now so he put the list into the bag Ezra had provided for him. “We’ll see Josiah.”
Ezra walked in with the release papers for Larabee in his hand. “The good doctor disapproved, but I was able to convince him that it was in everyone’s best interest to cooperate.” He handed the release to Chris, along with the antibiotics he would need to continue taking for seven more days.
“What time is Vin supposed to meet us?” JD asked without thinking. He was so used to them all acting as a team, he forgot that Chris and Vin were not on the same playing field at the moment.
“I don’t need Tanner to baby-sit me on the way home.” Chris said irritably.
“Maybe not, but we all need to be on the same airplane to get there.” Buck was not looking forward to this part of Chris’ plan at all. It was definitely going to be a long flight home.
The Tanners spent some time with Raphael and were pleased to see that he was improving. With the promise that they would see him in Denver they walked downstairs to meet JD, Nathan and Ezra. Both of them were now anxious to go home and see their children. What they found waiting though was not what they had expected. Instead of three brothers there were now six, and it appeared that they would all be leaving together.
Vin stepped inside the hallway just as Chris stepped out of his room. The two men met eye to eye, silently assessing the other’s demeanor. There was no mental communication because both of them had effectively shut the other one out. However, it was clear to all those around them that it would take more than a chance meeting in a hospital corridor to settle their differences.
Buck broke the eerie silence. “Chris got released so it seems that we’ll all be going home together.”
"It'll be good to get back home." Kelli commented softly. “It feels like we've been gone for ages already, and it's only been a few days." Taking Vin’s hand she tugged gently, urging him out the door to their waiting rental car.
Ezra cleared his throat, “Chris you can ride with me, Josiah and Buck. Nathan you and JD go with Vin and Kelli. We’ll see y’all at the airport.
“Sounds like a plan.” Chris said, moving off down the hallway ahead of the others.
With one crisis averted, Josiah and Buck were mentally contemplating how to get everyone home to Denver in one piece.
A dark cloud of tension hovered over the small group of family members as they waited just inside the hangar while the MCAT jet was refueled for their upcoming takeoff.Kelli and Vin were united in their silence, standing a little apart from the others, not inviting any interaction at all with Chris. The Texan was not ready to take on an angry Larabee until Chris sorted a few things out in his head. Kelli was ready to do battle, but she had promised Vin that she would wait so all she could do was hold her peace.
The pilot walked over to inform Tanner that they were ready to leave when he was, earning Vin a heated glare from the now suspended Commander. That was another reminder to the blonde that regardless of the reasons, Tanner had HIS job. Chris worked hard to not display his anger, at least outwardly.
Buck noted the exchange and quickly moved to get everyone on board. “All aboard for the Wilmington Express...where every flight is sure to be an experience you'll never forget."
Vin couldn't resist the slight smile that creased his lips at Buck's words, as he and Kelli boarded the plane and took seats together near the back
The others quickly boarded, Buck staying close to Larabee in hopes of defusing any arguments that might arise between him and Tanner during the flight. Larabee was determined not to let Vin off easy, and took a seat across from The Texan, leaving Buck to sit down facing Kelli.
Vin accepted the unvoiced challenge that Chris made in choosing to sit directly across from him, and leveled his eyes on the blonde's face. Two could play at the same game and he wasn't about to let Larabee get away with trying to intimidate him.
Josiah, JD, Nathan and Ezra did not miss the unspoken challenges raging in the back row. Pulling out a deck of cards, Standish spoke loud enough for all of them to hear. “Is anyone in the mood for a game of ‘Oh Hell’.”?
Instead of flying the friendly skies, it appeared that they were in for some major turbulence all the way to Denver.
Larabee 7 Ranch ~8:00 am
Wednesday- August 23rd
Chris slammed things around in the kitchen as he made coffee. Coming home to an empty house after a tense flight from California had done nothing to improve his deteriorating mood. Going over to the Southern Breeze to bring his family home had been disastrous. Anger had kept him awake most of the night and the breaking of a new day only marked another twenty-four hours that he had not seen his baby daughter.
Linda’s words still rang in his ears. “NO! You are not going to see Grace! You did not mind leaving me to sit alone when you could have been here with me and now I’ll see how you like being by yourself! You want to see your baby so badly; I suggest you give some serious thought about setting priorities in your future. I am your wife…I expect to come first in your life. That means ahead of your job, your brothers and your ranch!”
I do not put her last! I took this assignment for them…to make the world a safer place for Grace. Are you certain that’s why you did this Larabee? Of course I am! Linda is just being stubborn!
Larabee barely had time to drink half a cup before his first visitor of the day arrived.
“Morning Brother, how are you this great day?” Josiah’s wide grin greeted Chris.
“I told you yesterday. I’m fine! Why are you here so early?”
Undaunted by Chris’ surly attitude Sanchez poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down. “Today is a big day for us. Mal and I are taking Joanne school shopping. Hard to believe she and Sarah will be going to school on Monday. It seems like just yesterday they were both babies. It may only be pre-school, but it’ll sure mark some changes around our house.”
Staring off into the distance, Chris remarked absently. “Yeah they grow up too damn fast.” He was thinking of Grace and the time he was missing with her.
“Jason and Caleb, of course will be starting classes on Monday, too” Josiah laughed. “Buck is already having a fit that two of his children will be out of the house. I think if he could he would be attending with them, just to keep watch over them.”
“Yeah, that sounds like Buck, but you didn’t come over here to talk about school. What’s on your mind, Josiah?”
“I thought that with all the excitement of getting home and all, you might have misplaced the list I gave you yesterday. I brought a copy over for you.” Josiah pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and laid it on the table.
“Josiah, I know that you think you are helping, but I am fine. I don’t need any counseling, group or otherwise. All I need is my old life back! If Vin…hell, forget it! I am going to have my job and my family back without any damn shrinks digging around in my head!
Sanchez stood up to leave. “Okay Chris, but if you change your mind…”
“I won’t!” Chris took a deep breath. “Hug Joanne for me and I’ll see you later.”
Josiah nodded and walked out the door, leaving a man behind that was deep in thought about his personal situation.
Matt had tried to persuade Linda that her place was at home with her husband. However all of his efforts had failed thus far and he was seeing more of the spoiled little sister that he remembered growing up with and less of the woman that he had hoped was finally maturing. She was planning to manipulate Larabee to come around to her demands and was not above using visits with Grace as blackmail to achieve her goal.
Some things never change little sister. I hope you know what you are doing.
Vin hung up the phone after making his last call before he and Kelli left to make their round of visits at the hospital. He had talked with every non-hospitalized team member and explained what was expected of him or her for the next six weeks. Stressing the point that should any of them decide to take a trip, they were to leave contact information with him. Looking at the stack of notes in front of him, he decided that Gunny was not going to have all that much free time either, if he had to work from home, then she would have to help out, at least part-time.
JD walked in. “Hey Vin, thought I would take care of your request early. Casey and I are taking the girls to the zoo this afternoon. Are you positive you want me to do this?”
“I’m positive JD. Travis made it real clear that Chris was to have no contact with MCAT issues for at least three months. You said that you could disconnect Chris’ access to CASSIE from here. Do it.”
“I can do it from here, but…it just seems strange cutting Chris out of the team this way.”
“Chris has enough on his plate to resolve before he worries about MCAT. I have my orders and you have yours. Make it happen.”
Dunne sat down at Vin’s computer station and within a few minutes had completed his task and was preparing to leave. “It’s done. Holler when you need me to start working on the new systems.”
“I will. Enjoy your time off; with what we have in front of us to accomplish, you won’t have all that much of it. Hug those babies for me and have a good time at the zoo.” Vin walked out with JD.
As JD was leaving, Josiah stopped by. “Josiah, I figured you and Mal would be makin’ up some time with the kids today.” Vin was almost certain he knew the reason Sanchez was here, but he would wait and hear him out.
“Morning Vin. We will be spending the day with the kids, but I had something to check on first.”
“You mean someone don’t you?”
Sanchez did not beat around the bush. “Chris is being stubborn about treatment. Maybe if you…”
“Uh uh, not this time Josiah. If it was just me he endangered, I could forgive that easily, but his recklessness, damn near cost Raphael his life, as well as his own. Not to mention jeopardizin’ the team and disregardin’ his family’s well-bein’.” Vin shook his head. “Maybe we were wrong the last time not to insist that he get professional treatment for his addition, but this time he has no choice. His future and his life may depend on it, but Chris has to be the one to make that decision. You know as well as I do that it won’t work if he doesn’t really want to do it. When he admits that he has a problem with addiction and seeks help to beat its hold him, then and only then will I try to reach out to him.”
Josiah knew that Vin was right. If Chris sought out help for the wrong reasons, he was doomed to fail before he even began. It had to be because he admitted that drugs were a problem for him and always would be. How he got to this point was irrelevant, he had to face that fact or slowly destroy himself and those who loved him.
“Are you okay with that? I know it’s necessary but that does not make it any easier for you or Kel.”
“We have both seen the bad side of drugs Josiah and we understand that to coddle Chris would be worse for him than standin’ firm and lettin’ him be angry with us. Neither of us wants to see him suffer, but this has to end. He needs to break free of the hold those pills have on him to survive. He also has to know that he cannot handle it his way, he’s already proven that his ways don’t work.”
“He is a stubborn man. You realize it could take a while for him to see that.”
“We know it could take a while for him to work through his issues with us, and we’re not goin’ anywhere. When he’s ready to move forward, we’ll be there, but not before, no matter how ugly it gets in the meantime.”
“You need me just yell.” Josiah squeezed Vin’s shoulder and received a nod of agreement. As he left Sanchez could only pray that while using tough love to help Chris, irreparable damage was not done to their unique friendship and brotherhood.
Nathan ended his phone call with Vin. He and Rain lay upon their bed with Terrell in between them sleeping soundly, his small face puckered into a dreamy smile. Nathan couldn't get enough of staring at the tiny little person that he and Rain had created together, and thinking about what the future held for all three of them. This last case had been the hardest on all of MCAT cases to date, and especially difficult for the family members. Jackson realized now that he had been wrong in some of the way he had been thinking regarding race, and the Wilmington's adopting Caleb. He knew that the young boy would have a happy home with Buck and Inez, and the girls and that if he didn't screw up his relationship with that particular brother, he also knew that he could be a positive influence in teaching Caleb about his other heritage.
Rain watched him, as he watched their son. She had come so very close to losing him on this last case that it had frightened her terribly. In more ways than just physically, his mental attitude had changed drastically. The contents of the case and how those poor victims were treated, especially the Asian and African-American children, had brought out a side of her husband she had never seen before. Nathan had started talking of how his brothers didn't really know him, couldn't know him because they weren't African-American, and that he was determined to bring Terrell up being proud of his heritage. She was just as eager to have Terrell know the African-American culture, to be proud of whom he was, because it would carry him through life. But Nathan had been wrong about what he said about his brothers. Race had never been an issue between any of them, and it was wrong for Nathan to inflict it into the close bonds he shared with the other six men.
Nathan felt her gaze upon him and lifted his own off of their son to rest them on her beautiful face. “What?" he said softly.
"I was just wondering which Nathan you are right now? Are you the man that I first fell in love with or the man who seemed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders?"
Nathan sighed. He knew that this talk was going to come sooner or later, and had hoped for later. "I will admit that I was wrong to say some of the things that I said regarding racism and my brothers. It was unfair of me to take my anger against what was going on in this case out on Buck, and the others. They've never judge me based on the color of my skin, but by my heart, my words, and my actions. I want Josiah and Mallory to remain as our choice for legal guardians for Terrell if anything ever happens to us. "
Rain felt relief fill her at his words. "But...?"
"But...that does not mean that I do not want to learn more about our ancestral heritage. To do that, I want to search for some excusive groups for African-Americans and become active in their causes."
"All right." Rain said softly. "I'm willing to do that with you...to see you through this if it's that important to you. Just promise me that you won't lose sight of the fact that you have six brothers who love you unconditionally, and without regard to race."
"I won't.” Nathan promised her, leaning over their sleeping infant to kiss her.
Ezra turned over in bed and grinned at Barbara. “That was Vin, I am all yours for the next two weeks, unless of course my assistance is needed with Chris.” He pulled her close and nuzzled her neck.
“Barbara practically purred when Ezra held her this way. “How close do we need to be?
Distracted, Ezra had to concentrate on her question. “I…told Vin I would be accessible, but did not set an actual distance. Why?”
Smiling, Barbara trails kisses across his face and whispered, “Hold that thought love, I’ll be right back.” She slipped out of the bed and hurried over to grab her laptop, before retuning to the nest they planned to share today. Quickly typing in some information on her keyboard, Barbara found what she was looking for and showed Standish. “How about this?”
Ezra smiled, she had found a vacation hideaway in the mountains only thirty-five minutes away from Denver. “It is perfect. Are you certain you can take the time away from your caseload though?” Barbara had to put up with a lot when he was working; he needed to be considerate of hers, too.
“I will make the time Ezra, I know how tough it can be for us with both our careers, but if we want it to work we both need to seize the moments we can, when we can. I love you Standish and we will make this work, for both of us. Deal?”
“You Ms. Lindsey have a deal.” Ezra pushed the laptop aside and pulled her back into their love nest. “Starting right now.”
Both JD and Casey had been to the Denver Zoo many times, but seeing it for the first time through the eyes of their twin daughters, made them feel as if they were witnessing everything new again. Daisy and Lilah were dressed alike in matching denim coverall short sets, with Daisy’s shirt being purple and Lilah’s blue. Ruffled hats the same colors as their shirts were fitted onto the dark heads to keep their faces from getting too much sun as the Dunne’s traveled along the marked paths to each exhibit.
What should we see next? The elephants or the lions?” JD asked Casey as he studied the paper map of the zoo they had been given when they had purchased their tickets.
“Lions…you know how Daisy sparks up whenever we put the Lion King movie in the DVD player.” Casey replied, bending over the Lilah’s stroller and pulled out two bottles of apple juice from the diaper bag stored on the back of the double stroller. She handed one to each of the twins as she waited for JD to point out which direction they should take.
“This way…” JD said, pointing to the path that led toward the right. He folded the map back up and tucked it into the pocket of his jeans, as he grabbed hold of one side of the stroller handle, and Casey the other, and together they pushed the twins down the path toward the lion exhibit.
Daisy’s face lit up as soon as they arrived at the enclosure and she caught sight of the big furry cats behind the metal fencing. JD took her out of the stroller and lifted her up, as he moved closer to the fence and watched with fatherly delight at the wondrous expressions that would come over his nine month old daughter’s face.
Casey moved to stand beside him, with Lilah in her arms, and she took delight in watching her husband alternately watch their daughters’ reactions to seeing the lions for the first time. They had been through so much over the course of the past several months, and JD had tempted fate more than once in the process. She knew how important his work was too him, and she would never dream of giving him any ultimatums about choosing between them and his work, no matter what life threw their way, besides, even with a job that would be considered safe, he could be still taken away from her by illness or accident. Life did not come with any guarantees.
Whatever the future held for them, she was certain that they would face together as a family.
Buck decided that he would stop by and check on Chris later this afternoon. Today though, he planned a family day, with him, Inez and the kids. They were going to shop for Caleb and Sarah to prepare them for their first day of school. This last case had been tough, on him and everyone else, but when his looked at his son, he knew that all of what they had been through was worth it. To know that he had a part in saving this boy from a living hell and had the opportunity to love him for the rest of his life made his heart swell with emotion. Someday he would tell Caleb the whole story and maybe he would tell him about Danny’s fate, but not now. Hell, he hadn’t told anyone that he had found Danny, or at least a report on him…it was just too painful to talk about the boy’s death.
“Dad?” Caleb had been hesitant at first to call Buck that, but he was practicing.
“That’s me, son. What do you need? “Buck found it easy to smile when he heard his son call him Dad.
“Could we…I mean do you think…” Caleb was not sure how to ask for something that he wanted.
Pulling him close, Buck hugged him tightly. “You can ask me anything, anytime, it’s okay.”
Caleb nodded and found the courage to ask. “Could I get a Bronco shirt like the one Jason has…so we can both wear them to the game?
“Hey, no son of mine goes to his first Bronco game without an official team shirt.” Buck went over and pulled out a package he had hidden and brought it back over to Caleb. He and Vin had already bought the boys matching shirts two weeks ago. See if this will do? “He grinned as he watched his son tear into the wrapping.
“WOW!” Caleb threw his arms around Buck’s neck, “Thanks dad!”
Inez stood smiling in the doorway and saw the tears in her husband’s eyes. Tears of happiness that she knew would wash away some of the pain this last case had caused her Buck to suffer through. She would wait a few minutes to call the girls to leave. This was a father and son moment that she would savor and she wanted to commit it to her memory.
After making his rounds Josiah went home to his waiting family. He swooped Adam up into a cuddly hug and kissed Mallory tenderly. Joanne was hopping from one foot to the other anxious to begin her big day of school shopping.
“Now can we go Daddy?” Joanne pleaded.
Mallory looked at both her babies and was almost to the point of tears thinking about how big Joanne was now. “Where did the time go?”
Josiah hugged his wife and gently wiped away the one lone tear that had escaped. “It all stored up in our hearts, Mal. Ready to go Mom?”
Watching his family, Josiah was thankful that they had made it thought another grueling case. For a while he believed that this was the one that would finally break the long string of incredible luck they had for beating the odds. Chris still had a hard walk ahead of him and it was bound to affects several relationships, but together, as a family, they would make it. After all they were not called the wild bunch for nothing.
Friday August 25th
Kelli was furious with Linda for running off with Grace and not staying around to help Chris through a difficult time in his life. On the other hand she was still angry with her dad too. She could forgive his relapse with the drugs as long as he was willing to take the steps needed to prevent it from happening again. However the obstinate stand he had taken against Vin was not so easy to forgive. The rest of the family members were all running interference, and so far the two men had managed to avoid one another. But sooner or later they would have to make form some type of truce, if only for all the kid’s sake.
Today though, she had put aside her anger and taken four giggling little girls for a slumber party. Walter was spending the evening with Max again; it seemed that he was spending a lot of his free time with Max lately. Vin and Buck were at the football game with Jason and Caleb and the boys were going to spend the night at the Wilmington’s when they returned. Sarah, Joanne, Maria and Andi were all at the Tanner home for the night. They had good intentions about staying up all night, but by nine-thirty they were all fast asleep,
Kelli turned on the intercom so she could hear any of the girls if the got up, and slipped out on the patio with some watermelon wine coolers in hand. She set the bottles in a small ice chest along with a couple of bottles of Coors, and then settled in on the deck lounger to wait for Vin.
It was after eleven when Vin entered into their quiet house. Checking on the little girls, he found them all asleep, now all he had to do was locate his bigger baby. It wasn’t difficult; evidently she had fallen asleep on the deck waiting for him. He grabbed a bottle of Coors and let small droplets of cold water from the sides of the bottle drip on his sleeping wife’s throat.
Vin waited for her eyes to open and then grinned. “Miss me baby?”
“Missed you yes, but I could do without the cold shower.” Kelli sat up on the lounger. “There are other ways you could get my attention you know.”
The Texan straddled the lounger and sat behind his redhead, once he was comfortable he drew her back to lay against him. “I reckon them little girls wore you out.” Kelli cuddled up next to him and they both set in to enjoy the beautiful night.
“Not so much, I think it was the three wine coolers that put me to sleep. Tell me about the game. Did Jason enjoy it? What about Caleb? Who won?”
“Denver won; yes Jason loved it and so did Caleb, neither one of ‘em stopped talkin’ all the way home. We now have two future football players in the family and I think Buck and I had better brush up on the game. The Broncos put on a great show, but we spent more time watchin’ the boy’s reactions than we did watchin’ the game. You should have seen ‘em. Both of ‘em had the look of pure delight all over their faces”.
Kelli heard the pride in Vin’s voice when he talked about Jason. She had always known that he would be a great dad and he did not disappoint her. They relaxed in a comfortable silence for a while and her thoughts turned to Chris. Not for the first time, she wondered what her life would have been like if he had been around as her dad when she was growing up. But that was water under the bridge; all she would ever know is what she saw when he was with Grace. Thinking about that situation brought back her feeling of anger again.
The Texan felt her tension. “Let it go Kel. Chris will find his own way and it is up to him to straighten out his problems with Linda.” Vin knew where her thoughts were taking her.
“I know, but I’m not sure who I am angrier with, Linda for taking Grace and leavin’ or Chris for not doing anything to fix it.”
Vin knew that there were no easy answers and the last few months had been difficult for everyone. But Kel had made it through the ugliness this case had produced. It was the thought of Grace being caught in the middle of Chris and Linda’s differences that upset her the most and her patience was wearing thin with both of them. Looking down at his redhead he thought about how far they had both come during the last seventeen months, and each step of the way they had made together. Now they had two beautiful kids and things should be damn near perfect for them. If only Chris would stop being so damn stubborn, it would be.
Tightening his hold on his wife he whispered softly. “Try to be patient a little longer Kel. We’ll wait and see how it plays out, but remember we’ll wait it out together.”
Okay Cowboy, it’s your move, but Larabee patience won’t last forever. Sooner or later all hell is gonna break loose.
Chris had spent the last ten days in hell. He had yet to break through Linda’s defenses and be allowed to see his baby daughter. Every day he had at least two different family members stopping by to ‘check’ on him. Everyone that is except Vin or Kelli. He had not even seen Jason or Andi over the last week and a half either or any of the kids. Not only that, he was shut out of any mentions about MCAT. He didn't know what bothered him more, the fact that he was persona non grata where MCAT was concerned, or the fact that he was being kept away from all of the children. They were treating him as if he was some crazed junkie who couldn't be trusted around children, and Linda's behavior was far worse than anyone else's.
She was his damn wife for Christ's Sake! She had promised to love and honor him, to stand by him in sickness and health, and what had she done at the first time of trouble? Linda had run home to Southern Breeze and taken Grace with her!
What in the hell did they all think he would do? Get so wasted on painkillers that he couldn't remember his own goddamn name? Or worse yet, forget where he had placed Grace?To hell with them Chris, you know you can handle yourself, let them keep the kids away, sooner or later they will all realize that you don’t need any outside help. They are the ones that need to wake up and smell the coffee, not you!
Chris stalked out of his house and headed toward the barn, bent on working out some of his anger by cleaning out the stalls. Or maybe he would just take off on a long ride on Pony. It had been ages since he had ridden his horse, and he was sure that Pony was just as anxious to be out of his confinements as much as he was.
He was nearing the barn, when he caught sight of a small figure standing at the corral, gazing through the fencing at the young foals frolicking inside it. A smile creased Chris' lips and he changed directions from the barn to the corral. He walked up to the corral and folded his hands over the top railing.
Jason had seen his uncle approaching and was torn between being glad to see him and the old fears he had whenever Jack was around. But he was a Tanner now and decided that he would not be afraid and he held his ground.
They sure are a sight, aren't they?" Chris asked his nephew.
"Yeah, they are." Jason said softly. He didn't know what to do. It had been clear since his mom and dad had come home, that something wasn't right between them and his uncle Chris. His Dad had explained that Chris was going through a tough time right now, and that he needed to be left alone to make some hard decisions.
But Jason knew better, no one had to tell him, he had been around Jack too long and seen him make and break promises about not getting sick anymore. Jack always promised…and so had Chris.
Chris turned to look down at Jason and saw the troubled expression on the six-year-old face. "What's wrong?"
“You’re sick again aren’t you?”
“What did you parents tell you Jason?” Chris felt his anger surge and tried to hide it.
"Only that you had some hard decisions to be making." Jason told him honestly.
“Then why do you think I’m sick? Chris was watching the different emotions cross Jason’s face.
“Cause of him… my…Jack…he didn’t think I knew either but I did. Just like I know you meant to keep your promise…but…it’s hard isn’t it? It always comes back.” The disappointment in his voice broke Larabee’s heart.
Chris felt as if someone had just thrown ice water in his face. How could a six- year- old child see so clearly what he had refused to? It always comes back.
It took him a minute to find his voice. He knew that he did not want Jason to see him the same way he remembered Jack. “Sometimes it does, but ...there are ways to stop the sickness from ever coming back.”
“Do you know how to stop it Uncle Chris?” Jason’s blue eyes were filled with hope. Hope that his Uncle Chris could make it stop. He wanted to believe it …he needed to believe it.
Chris realized in that instant that he had only been fooling himself…This addiction was like some monster lurking in the darkness, just waiting for the next opportunity to grab him.
“Yeah... I think I do. It may take some time, but Jason, I will do it. Will you give me a chance to prove it to you?”
Jason threw his arms around his uncle’s neck and Chris held on tight. “I love you Uncle Chris.”
“I love you too, pard.” Chris reluctantly let him go. ”You best run on home, I bet your Mom and Dad are wondering where you are. Don’t worry any more I’ll be fine.” He watched as Jason jumped down and ran toward home.
Chris headed into the house…to make a phone call.
To be continued in MCAT 7: ReconciliationsChapter 18 poem inspired by © AGC Inc
Chapter 25, original poem
For further information on some of the subjects in Additions and Apprehensions:
Drug Addiction to Opiates
Drug Addiction Recovery
What is Trafficking?
What is being done to halt Trafficking?