Gen Fic, ATF AU, no warnings.
No infringement of any kind is intended.
Inspired by a "Memorial Day" drabble challenge and first published in the 10th Anniversary Gathering zine, September 2008.
Acknowledgement: The poem "Achilles Heel" by Chad Everett Episode "Achilles"
There are references to the "Answering the Call" series in this fic.
A very special thank you to Mari for the absolutely fabulous picture heading this fic.
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It was late.
Josiah was asleep in the guest bedroom and everyone else had gone home more than an hour ago. Chris had sat out on the verandah and watched the last embers of the sunset succumb to nightfall. Now he sat in the dark and listened to the sounds of the night while he sipped his whiskey and finished his cigar.
It had been a relatively quiet Memorial Day. Most of the family had gathered here to spend the day together.
They had talked and laughed; barbecued and drank; played horse shoes and cards; but all in all it had been a pretty quiet day.
This was JD's first Memorial Day as a war veteran. Casey and Nettie were in Tucson for the weekend attending a family wedding. JD had been invited as Casey's escort but had opted to stay home for with the others for Memorial Day. He'd been pretty quiet all day. It wasn't hard to figure out that his thoughts were with the three remaining members of his unit still serving in Iraq. They were finishing up their last scheduled tour and would be home in July. There were plans to get together already in the works. Brian Randall would fly to Denver from North Dakota. Then he and JD would drive to Las Vegas to meet the other three for a long weekend. The kid was looking forward to that weekend. Chris knew from experience that those reunions rarely turned out be what you expected them to be.
Josiah had had a relatively quiet Memorial Day opting to drown his feelings and memories in bourbon. He had said little and drank a lot. Chris had seen a lot of men who could drink in his lifetime but he was still amazed at how much the profiler could consume and still seem to be relatively functional, managing to contribute to conversation and as well as participate in barbecuing of the supper with the ever present drink in his hand. It wasn't until he sat down to eat that the effects of long term imbibing began to show and he quietly nodded off in his chair. Chris, Nathan and Buck had managed to get the eldest member of their team settled safely in the guest bedroom. When it came time to head for home, Chris saw no reason to disturb him. Most certainly the little men with jackhammers would be working overtime inside of Josiah's skull come morning.
Nathan, Rain and Alicia had left soon after supper. At fourteen months, Alicia was walking well and, therefore into everything. She had had an exciting day. Seeking out the resident kittens in the barn with her uncle JD; exploring the meadow with her uncle Buck, picking a bouquet of flowers for the supper table and riding back on his shoulders; swinging on the tire swing in uncle Ezra's lap, holding tight to the arm he had wrapped around her. It was obvious that her favorite activity by far was sitting in front of uncle Vin atop Peso; nestled firmly between Vin's strong hands, her pudgy little hands clinging to the saddle horn. She giggled with delight, her cherub face lit up with a big smile as they rode around the corral.
All the attention was in aid of her mother, who rested most of the afternoon in the hammock, though entertaining their niece was not considered hard duty by any of her uncles. This second pregnancy was proving to be more difficult than the first with more morning sickness and extreme fatigue. Rain wouldn't hear of not coming but had arrived looking pale and worn out. After supper, Nathan had changed his daughter and dressed her in her sleeper. Alicia then fell asleep in Uncle Chris's arms as he rocked in the big chair on the veranda in the short time it had taken her Daddy to load the car with all the baby paraphernalia. Nathan smiled as he held his arms out to take his slumbering daughter and secure her in her car seat, saying he expected both of his women to be asleep before they reached the end of the driveway.
Chris and Vin cleaned up after supper while Mary and JD skunked Buck and Ezra two straight games of cribbage. Ezra's somewhat vocal and unusually biting criticism of Buck's card choices did nothing to help Buck's game but then neither did the dozen beers Buck had had throughout the day help in his decision making.
Then coffee was served, the cards and cribbage board were put away and everyone stopped to enjoy the sunset. Then a short time later, Mary who had come out to the ranch on Friday to spend the weekend with Chris, left, to be home in time to greet Billy who had gone camping for the weekend with friends. Not long after the other four left. JD drove Buck home, Ezra left in the Jag and Vin sped off on his bike.
Chris drew on the cigar as he thought back on the day. They made quite a little family, their group; as dysfunctionally functional as any other family was in his opinion. He would be here to help Josiah deal with his demons should they arise tonight. JD would learn that though they shared a bond from their experiences in Iraq that would forever bind them to one another; the comradery the members of his unit once felt had changed. Nathan was worried even more so than usual about Rain. They would turn the corner of the first trimester in the next week or so, hopefully Rain would improve, if not, the rest of them would be there for them whatever happened. He had hoped Vin would bring his new love interest out to join them today. He knew little about her except that her name was Kerry and he had met her in rehab after the last near fiasco of a bust had left Vin with torn ligaments in his left shoulder. She was quiet like Vin, serious about her work and the air between them seemed charged with electricity whenever they were together. Ezra was on edge, having confided only in Chris so far, that Interpol had contacted him concerning the whereabouts of Maude's most recent husband. It had been four days and Maude still had not returned any of Ezra's calls. Buck was Buck and would always be his own unique man. That left himself. He liked what he and Mary had together and selfishly he didn't want it to change. She was still young though and he knew she wanted more children, he would have to decide how he felt about that and soon.
He sighed. He was procrastinating and he knew it He had one more thing to do before bed tonight. While he dwelled on his family by choice, he knew his last living immediate blood relation, his sister Moira, would wait up until he called.
He swallowed the last of his whiskey in one gulp and butted out his cigar.
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Chris reached up with the hook and the folding attic ladder dropped easily and silently to the floor. He then climbed cautiously up into the darkness above. Standing on the top rung he reached out blindly, moving his hand slowly left and then right until he found the pull cord. A quick tug and the darkness was suddenly filled with an eerie yellowish light. Chris squinted at the sudden change in illumination. He paused a moment to look around, nothing appeared to have changed but then he hadn't expected it to have; he hadn't been up here since last Memorial Day. He stepped carefully from the top rung of the ladder onto the attic floor.
The useable space in the attic was the center twelve feet that ran the length of the house, of that twelve feet Chris could stand in the center four without stooping. He walked toward the back of the house, the sound of his footsteps distorted in the enclosed space. There wasn't much up here: an old trunk; a couple of pieces of furniture; an old floor lamp; a box that held an artificial Christmas tree that hadn't been put up in years; Adam's toy box, filled not with toys but with Adam's school work that Chris hadn't been able to part with, it consisted mostly of kindergarten and grade one of artwork; finally Adam's highchair, it was made of bird's eye maple, Adam had been the third generation of Larabee babies to be fed from it.
Chris stopped in front of the old trunk. He clicked on the floor lamp before dropping to his knees. Kneeling in front of it, the trunk was about four feet wide and stood as high as Chris' waist and extended just beyond Chris' arm's reach in front of him. According to family lore, his great, great, great grandfather, Ciaran Larabee, purchased the trunk in New York City in 1816. It had carried all of Ciaran's and his new bride's worldly possessions on their journey west.
The giant key sat in the lock, just as he had left it last year. It turned easily with a modest effort. Chris lifted the heavy lid and guided it back with one hand to sit open just past a ninety degree angle. Chris held the lid before letting it go; watching to make sure it would not drop back down again. The scent of cedar wafted up from inside.
Chris leaned over to look inside. If asked, he'd be hard pressed to list what all was stored in the trunk. He knew of a few things, a porcelain doll that had been his great grandmother's on his mother's side, a shoemaker's knife that had belonged to one of his great grandfathers' on his father's side. There was a book of poetry with a western theme that his mother had given him when he was twelve. He had stored a pocket knife that had been his father's and a necklace of his mother's in here. The necklace was not particularly valuable, but it held good memories for him of the woman whose strength had held his family together in the worst of times. There were military medals earned by various Larabee men for military service stretching as far back as the Spanish American War.
There were also mementos he didn't understand the significance of at all but something about them drew him to them every year. He lifted the cardboard box out and sat back on the floor placing the box in his lap. He lifted the lid and set it aside. He lifted each one now and looked at it through its plastic wrappings: a bowler hat with, what looked suspiciously like a bullet hole, in the brim; an antique telescoping spyglass with one lens cracked; an old fashioned stethoscope, the kind made to listen through just one ear; a long beaded necklace with a cross, Navaho, Chris thought by the styling; an engraved pocket watch that no longer worked, as far as Chris could make out it read "Your Loving Mother" but the words were nearly worn away; what appeared to Chris to be a small sized wedding band with the inscription "My Rambling Rose, B", with a ruby red hair ribbon laced through it, the ring was absolutely pristine, as if it had never been worn; and two items that had come wrapped together, a woman's locket that had obviously suffered burns in a fire and with it, of all things, a Colt .45 with stag handle grip. There were no notes, no names, nothing to identify the significance of any of these things. These mysterious mementos had come with the trunk when he had inherited it. It had never occurred to Chris to discard them; they had been saved within the family this long, there must have some significance to them.
There were a number of family pictures as well. Chris recognized only a few of the people in the more recent ones. There were a few older pictures taken back when it wasn't considered appropriate to smile for a photograph; those pictures were various shades of brown, grey and yellow. Moira had taken a few of them with her the last time she had visited. Her hobby was tracing the family history. It held little interest for him, but he dutifully read and replied to the e-mails from his younger sister as to what she had discovered about their family.
One of those older grey, brown and yellow pictures had intrigued him. He'd sent it to Moira a year ago and asked her to find out what she could about it. It was of seven men lined up outside of an old west sheriff's office, at least based on the sign above their heads. It was of especially poor quality but even so the man in the middle was likely one of his ancestors, there was a significant resemblance in stance and build that even Chris recognized as strikingly similar to himself. None of the others looked particularly familiar to him. Moira had thought that the other six men in the picture resembled the men on his team. Chris dismissed the idea, thinking his sister was just being fanciful in her observations but the relative relationships in height among the seven on the team and the seven men in the picture was an interesting coincidence. It was unfortunate that the large hats and poor quality of the picture made it hard to get a clear idea of facial features. The reason Chris had asked Moira to investigate the picture was that the man third from the left was wearing a beaded necklace and the hat on the man seated on the boardwalk in front; both items looked very much like the ones with the mystery items in the trunk.
He shook his head ruefully, he was procrastinating again. He put the items back in their box and rolled back up onto his knees and set the box back in the trunk. He paused, his hands gripping the edge of the trunk. He looked down at the real reason he was up here today, the handcrafted wooden box within. His uncle James, a carpenter by trade had made it. A labor of love, it was triangular in shape, with the American flag and one name in carved into the lid, "Connor".
His eyes suddenly stung with tears. He blinked them back as he reached in and lifted the box out. He knelt back on one knee and placed the box reverently on the floor. He took a moment to trace the name with his finger. The wood felt silky smooth beneath his finger tip, the script styling of Connor's name and the flag were done in intricate detail. His uncle was a truly talented man with wood.
Chris worked his way around the three sides of the box flipping the small latches one by one. He carefully lifted the lid and then set it aside. He paused to look at the object within for a moment. The nine white stars, arranged in a pyramid of one, three, five, on a blue background seemed to shine up at him.
Connor, the older brother who died too young; the flag had been given to his mother in his honor.
Connor had been everything to him. In Chris' young eyes he had been the center of the family. Connor had been a natural leader and a nice guy. Connor was popular in school, a straight A student, he excelled in sports, he was the first quarterback in the history of their county to take their high school to the state championships and Connor being Connor, had won it all. Despite all that, Connor never missed a day helping their father out on the farm. After too many years of cigarettes, Matthew Larabee suffered from emphysema. Matthew was less able to keep up with the demands of the farm with each passing year and Connor, Chris and Moira had to pitch in to pick up the slack.
Chris had worshiped Connor. There had never been a better brother. Five years older than himself, Connor had never been mean or disdainful of him like some of the older brothers of his friends had been. Connor had patiently coached him every night after chores until it was absolutely dark, sending him line drives because Chris wanted to play first base. It was Connor who suggested he'd make a great wide receiver. They practiced for hours; long bombs, short passes and everything in between so that by the time Chris was thirteen, he could catch anything at a dead run, even backwards over his shoulder. Chris had often day-dreamed that they would play in the Superbowl one day and it would be Chris who would win it in overtime catching a pass from his QB brother.
Tall, strong, blonde, Connor had an easy smile, always had time for everybody, especially the little brother who struggled at everything next to his older brother.
It was the day after Chris' fourteenth birthday that they received word that Connor had died in Viet Nam. The life Chris had known it up until then ended that day.
Chris picked up the folded flag, closed his eyes and rested his cheek against it as he hugged it tightly to his chest, 'God, how he had loved him!'
"I'm not the way they see me, not who they think I am. I'm just a man."
The words still came back to him after all these years.
They were words were from one of the poems from the book his mother had given him. The author's name was unknown but there was pencil drawing of someone believed to have been him on the inside back cover. Standing tall and straight with his hand on the stock of a Winchester '73 resting back on his shoulder and his other hand resting on his gun belt, his hair hung long past his shoulders. The write-up described him as a buffalo hunter and sometime bounty hunter who, after having been orphaned at a young age was raised by Indians. He didn't learn to read and write until his adult years, after which his poems became much published in a number of small frontier newspapers.
Even now, all these years later, those words expressed how he had felt after Connor's death. The poem was about the man feeling like a fraud because he could not read and write. Somehow in his mind that failing made him feel like less than he thought people around him saw him. For years after Connor's death, Chris felt like the same type of fraud. In Chris' case he had felt the need to step into his older brother's shoes and take his place in the family. He had felt like a fraud because he was not the self assured person Connor was. What had come easily for Connor was very hard for Chris and with it came the daily struggle with self doubt.
Connor had been someone everyone turned to for answers, the one everyone followed. Connor had worn his role with easy confidence. Until Connor's death Chris had been the younger brother who tried hard but always failed to equal elder brother's achievements.
Connor had planned to become a doctor, he had the grades but farming was not a lucrative living so Connor had gone into the service to earn money toward college.
Chris was less sure of himself and struggled every step of the way. He wanted nothing more than to be a policeman.
'Connor, I am the man I am today because you,' thought Chris as he rubbed his cheek gently against the folded edge of the flag.
Connor's death had nearly meant the end of his family. Matthew Larabee retreated inside himself; it was months before he smiled again. Chris himself had been devastated. Moira, only nine at the time, woke every night for weeks crying for her older brother.
Maureen Larabee had never faltered, holding the members of her family together by sheer will alone. Soothing his sister nightly; hugging him tightly in her arms when he finally let the tears go two weeks after the funeral. His mother was strong and always told it like it was. It would hurt for a long time, she had said. There would be times the pain would seem unbearable, but the passage of time would help. The only thing they could do to help the feeling of loss was to honor Connor's memory.
So with Connor's death, Chris realized that his childhood, like his childish Superbowl day-dream had ended. A few weeks later he entered high school. He worked harder than he ever had and his marks came up. He no longer wanted to be a wide receiver but a quarterback. In his senior year, his high school went to the state championships again with a Larabee at QB. "A repeat," everyone in town said. They won state but at great personal cost. At graduation, Chris was still on crutches due to a serious compound fracture of the tibia.
Chris felt that falling short of his goals was no longer an option. He learned about commitment and sacrifice. He found that with one success after another he gained more confidence in himself. He joined the marines and later qualified as a SEAL, becoming a SEAL team commander in record time. After that last fateful mission he could no longer physically make the grade as a SEAL and he applied to the Police Academy.
That same summer, Maureen took her husband's lunch out to him in the far pasture only to discover him lying beside the tractor. The autopsy revealed Matthew had died of a heart attack. Chris had volunteered to forego the Academy and come home with Sarah to run the farm. Maureen would have none of it. "You're not a farmer, my son," she had said to him. She sold the farm except for the homestead where she lived out her days.
Chris graduated first in his class and rose quickly in the ranks of Denver PD, then easily made the switch to Federal law enforcement a few years later.
Would he have been as successful if Connor hadn't died; if he hadn't felt the need to honor him and take his place as the successful elder son? He would never know for sure.
Chris placed the flag back into its box. Then he sat back on his heels as he wiped at his eyes with the backs of his hands. 'Enough about the past,' he told himself as he dried his hands on his jeans before replacing the lid. He put the box back in the trunk, closed the lid and turned the key in the lock.
He didn't remember how this tradition had started. It was almost a ritual now, every Memorial Day he came up here, took the flag out and thought of his brother and how differently his life had turned out because his brother had died. Then he would telephone Moira. She always waited up, no matter how late, for his call. Their conversation was almost always the same. They would talk about recent events in their lives. Chris would ask after his nieces and nephew. Moira would teasingly ask if Buck was still available; Chris knew she was very happy with Rick and the kids. They would talk about how they missed their mother, father and brother and tell each other they loved the other. He truly did miss her. She was the only one left who had shared his family, his childhood and that first loss with him.
He stood up, clicked off the floor lamp and made his way across the floor back to the attic opening. He placed both feet firmly on the top rung of the folding ladder before he reached up and pulled the cord to turn out the light. Then he descended out of the darkness to the floor below.