Disclaimer: They are not mine. I don't make profit from these.
ATF universe belongs to Mog.
Thanks to my beta Laura and to Angela B.
Feedback is welcome, be kind I'm still learning English.
The disaster began a couple of months earlier. The rumor of Chris Larabee dating a reporter, Mary Travis, caused Hank Connelly, father of the late Sarah Connelly-Larabee, to come to town.
The poison that the man spread did more than awaken old and painful memories.
Hank Connelly managed what gangs, cartels and powerful organizations had tried without success: break apart the Denver ATF team seven.
The "Magnificent Seven" existed no more, the best team I had ever been part of, the family that it had become for all of us is now broken beyond repair.
We found, too late, that the catastrophe started the day Chris Larabee found Hank Connelly at his ranch's door demanding to know why Chris had started dating Mary Travis. Hank accused Chris of not having loved his dear Sarah or their son, Adam, and being ready to let any woman occupy her place.
Please, the man had stayed drunk the first 3 years after their deaths and he still wore black clothes 365 days a year. What else was he supposed to do?
The fact that Chris was still half asleep gave Hank the opportunity to attack. Chris had heard most of the hurtful words before from the same source. They would not make new wounds in Chris' sore heart. But Hank had planned another way to twist the knife so it did more damage.
The question if Chris was going to share his new woman too with his old friend, managed to extract him from his fogged state. Chris demanded an explanation and the ramblings of Hank's twisted mind planted the seed of doubt in Chris heart and mind.
"By letting the rogue be part of their lives had Chris give Sarah and Buck the opportunity to cheat at him?"
The rest of the weekend that seed became a climbing vine that clouded his ability to reason.
The result was: After a fight in Larabee's office, the next Monday, Buck Wilmington stormed out of the ATF leaving behind his gun, shield, and five astonished friends among a slightly damaged team leader.
Chris Larabee had to stay that night at the hospital, with a concussion and a bruised jaw. Vin Tanner, current best friend, stayed with him even after he was discharged.
Buck Wilmington was under home-care at the hands of a pretty doctor whom he was dating and his best-buddy almost kid-brother, J.D. Dunne.
They took their time to cool off, in Chris' case it was over a month. Then he recognized that he had not only insulted his best friend, but also the memory of Sarah by letting Hank's words get to him. Still, though, he would not apologize to Buck.
During the first days of the rupture, the sides were easily chosen. Of course Vin stood by Chris and J.D. by Buck. Nathan's first decision remained; for him, "Chris was the affected party and had enough reason to remain indignant at Buck's well know reputation."
Those two, Chris and Buck, had known each other for 12 years, more or less, before I met them. Almost 15 years by this time.
Chris, as well as the rest of team seven had seen the rogue flirting with every woman he met. For Buck this was as natural as breathing, there was no offense from his part if he was rebuked or turned down. The man stayed on friendly terms with 99.9 % of his ex-girls friends, so at the question: Did Buck flirt with Sarah? I have to say: Probably.
I heard the story once, Buck saw her, Sarah, first but he did back off the instant Chris showed interest in her. Buck was best man at their wedding, was the little offspring's GodFather and he stayed around a "not so nice" Chris after their tragic deaths, trying to help him heal his shattered soul.
New question: Do I think Buck capable of betraying Chris' trust? Of course not!
I'm completely sure of this.
I have seen Buck flirt with Casey and with Evie Travis, in both cases the age difference is very notable, but not an impediment. The words and tone always respectful to them and the result, all the time is a smile on the ladies' faces. Most of the times on Buck's face too. And he never did it if J.D. or the Judge, respectively, were not close enough to hear. It was his way to remind them to take care of their other half.
I have seen an ordinary woman become radiant as a fairy-tale princess by Buck's smile or the precise word in the right moment. I call this "Real Charm" and not "Animal Magnetism".
One of the assistants, one day, referred to Buck as being the best therapy for her bruised self-confidence.
Maybe Chris had the right to be bothered by that. Even friendly banter could be misunderstood. That was the reason why, at first, Josiah supported his decision but after all this time, our profiler, started to evaluate both sides and at least gave Buck the benefit of doubt.
Josiah tried to make Chris apologize, after he accepted that this situation was totally circumstantial
Yeah, right. Of course the blond refused strongly.
I tried to stay out of this mess from the beginning, but with the crumble of our little family I was forced to intervene, talking to both parts, showing them the point of view of the other.
My principal barrier was the hurt Buck had suffered at Chris words, he pointed out that he loved Sarah and would never have done anything that could have hurt her.
He loved her, I don't know if he was "in love with Sarah", but after years of hearing about the wonderful woman, wife, mother and friend she was, I'm obliged to say I would have loved her too.
The other big barrier was Chris pride, he considered himself the offended party. I saw in his eyes the moment he realized he was wrong but even then he denied it. He rejected the idea of a meeting to clarify the matter.
What was the man thinking? He had no right to throw Buck from the team, to sulk, to try to make us choose one over another. He abandoned the rest of us; he destroyed the best thing I had in my life.
By trying to be out of the quarrel I put myself in the middle and in the end my heart was empty. Why fight for something that it is impossible to find a solution for?
The five of us that remained in ATF active employment had to found temporary positions in other teams. Our leader was on "indefinite leave" and the status of the second in command was "suspended pending an investigation about attacking his superior"
The rest of what happened was just bad luck.
Well, sir, I abhor gambling and as such, leave nothing to chance. However, without the people I had become to trust around, my success rate had declined dramatically. I got reprimanded and had to take a lot more chances to fulfill the operations.
More risks, less back-up, the result: me being in a hospital bed, unconscious and fighting for my life.
Of course, the part about being unconscious is not exactly what I'm experiencing. The truth is that I'm just un-responsive but totally aware of what's happening around me.
Three bullets, the shock and the blood loss can do a lot of damage to a body.
The fact that I'm alone in my hospital room for the first time since I transferred from Atlanta is what hurt my soul.
I'm tired and don't want to fight any more, if the black void returns, I'm going to let it in.
That way I won't feel hurt or empty.
The pain is too much. I feel myself flying away.
+ + + + + + +
I heard muffled sounds, I must have crashed because the amount of doctor shoutings hadn't being so loud before. Did my heart stop beating? Did I stop breathing?
That voice again, demanding and growling...
Chris? No, it can't be, he left us.
Definitively, that is Mr. Larabee's voice. Surprise, surprise, he's accusing me of running out on them.
Me? What a joke.
I tried to make them talk, I tried to hold the team together, I was the last one to leave the team 7 space at the office with the useless hope of fixing our squad.
I'm tired, I want to rest.
Don't they see I'm in the need of rest? Why they continue talking to me, trying to awaken me?
Wait a minute, they are here. All of them. In this room.
What does it mean? Is everything all right now?
Were the last months the horrible nightmare that resulted of me being used as a shooting target? I need to know, I make an effort to talk, to ask them, but the black void got hold of me again.
+ + + + + + +
"My God, Chris..." Buck was looking intently at Chris, his voice full of anguish and uncertainty.
At the other side of the bed, Chris Larabee had become so pale, that Nathan was afraid the man in black was going to faint at any moment. The blond's mouth was open and attempting to form the words but not a sound was leaving it.
Josiah, who had been praying, had closed his eyes.
J.D. was the one who acknowledged Buck as Vin was frozen at his spot, by the feet of Ezra's bed. "Maybe somebody at the bust was called that or he knew a girl, Sarah is a popular name. It's not the same Sarah we are thinking about. I mean, why would Ezra, after all this time...and he's hurt, he would not ask about Sarah Larabee... a nurse or doctor, that's it..."
"This has gone too far" Josiah's voice was steady and clear as he interrupted J.D.
Looking at Chris he rose from his chair. "We let the derisive words of an insane man damage our friendship and destroy our family. We let our senses be clouded by pride and pain. And as a result of our sins we let our brother fall and almost lost him"
The preacher's son held Chris' gaze as he talked to him. "You trust Buck, with your life and your team's. You trusted him with your family"
Chris looked at the mustached man, remembering all the times he had, indeed, trusted him. Swallowing the knot in his throat he managed to murmur a soft "sorry" that was answered from Buck with a firm nod.
Vin got hold of J.D.'s arm and started for the door. Turning to address the men at the sides of Ezra's bed,
"You two stay and talk, we're going for food"
Nathan headed for the door too.
"I'll talk with the doctor about Ezra's discharge, he would want to know when he can leave the moment he wakes properly."
"I'll be at the chapel" interjected Josiah, "And, brothers, consider that each of you are at different sides of the bed, but Ezra is in the middle and he's hurt by being pulled in both directions."
Both friends, as different as they were; one blond and somber, the other dark haired and always cheerful, answered at the same time.
"We know, Josiah. Now we know."
The older man closed the door and headed to the pay phones. He had to call the Judge to tell him that everything was going to be all right. Then he was going to the chapel. He had prayed so long for a miracle that now that he had got it, he felt the duty to say thanks properly. Deep inside he always knew that the "Magnificent Seven" would remain together.
Notes: The original story didn't had a happy ending but my evil twin wanted it as a birthday gift. I wanted it to end at the first black void...he, he, he, (macabre sound of laughter) which is the evil one?