Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit made
Author's Note: Probably needs a "no food or drink" warning and contains a few cuss words.
The seven men gathered around the impressive pile of fireworks at Larabee's ranch. Rain had a shift at the clinic, Casey was out of town with Nettie at an aunt's, and Buck's paramour du jour was a flight attendant on a round trip to London, so it was just the team celebrating the holiday.
Chris eyed the collection of rockets, shots, firecrackers, etc. with a bit of trepidation. All seven had contributed their favorites to the armament, but Buck and JD had provided the most. Besides the standard aerial pieces, there were day and night parachutes, tanks and battleships that shot sparks out of their 'guns', huge batteries that flung multiple balls into the air, fountains that went over six feet high, and more that he couldn't even see at the bottom of the pile.
Wilmington and Dunne were already planting pieces of pipe in the ground to use for the bottle rockets and others that were on sticks, while Vin and Chris had pulled out a large piece of sheet metal to set the other items on that the lead agent kept for just such occasions. They'd tried a piece of old chipboard the first year, but after having to douse it with water when it caught on fire from a particularly long-lasting fountain, Larabee had decided something less flammable was in order.
In the interest of keeping the roof of his house and barn from going up in flames, the blond had wet them both down about thirty minutes before the rest of the group arrived. The water hose was now lying nearby with the sprayer nozzle attached, in easy reach to put out any errant sparks that landed in the grass or trees. While Chris liked Independence Day as much as the rest, he didn't have any desire to have his yard or fields turned into a blazing wildfire.
Vin had come over early and the duo had herded the horses into the far pasture, safely away from the upcoming pyrotechnics. Chris had trained all of the animals to stand steady under gunfire and other loud noises, so the sounds and even the flashes didn't disturb them too much at a distance. But Peso and Chaucer tended to get in a bit of a snit if they were close enough for their space to be invaded by stray rockets or falling debris, and none of the men wanted the equines hurt accidently. Now if they could just keep that from happening to themselves!
Larabee shook his head as he remembered past fourths, and wasn't surprised to see Nathan carefully setting out his first-aid kit nearby. All the men had the small local clinic closest to Chris' ranch on speed-dial on their phones, as well as the large hospital ER in the city. His team had way too close an acquaintance with medical facilities, decided the lean leader as he checked to make sure his cell was fully charged, just in case.
Buck and JD had volunteered to set off the fireworks as usual, causing the rest of the men to back their lawn chairs up a few yards. The 'dynamic duo' sometimes lived up to their name where explosives were concerned and the rest didn't want to be caught up in the conflagration if something went wrong. Not that the far side of the yard was necessarily safe, Chris thought with a dour expression as he remembered one particularly eventful fireworks display that had involved a misdirected rocket under his seat, giving a literal meaning to the phrase 'rump roast'.
A hazel eye turned to spear both brunets in warning as they lined up the various aerial shots. The glare made the hair on both men's necks stand up in suspense, and they turned to nod reassuringly at their friend and boss as they angled a couple of the larger pieces in a different direction just to be safe. While the sight of Tanner spraying Chris' smoking butt with the hose had been highly amusing, the blond's sizzling threats to their persons as he sent Ezra after his favorite .45 hadn't been quite so entertaining!
Giving twin shudders at the memory, the duo moved a couple of the tubes for the bigger rockets a little further away, to be on the safe side. Setting their leader's ass on fire was a guaranteed way to kill the fun of the holiday.
Once everything was ready, the seven adjourned to the porch to grab drinks and some snacks. They'd had a barbecue earlier and there were left over ribs and potato salad for any who wanted something more substantial (meaning Vin and JD mostly) and plenty of ice cream or melon for those who were in the mood for something sweet. Buck and JD had been limited to ice tea and soda for the last couple of hours so that they wouldn't have their judgement impaired by too much beer. Chris was taking every precaution he could think of to keep the fireworks part of the gathering safe this year, but a feeling in the pit of his stomach told him that even then it might not be enough. Deciding there was nothing more he could do though, he made a mental note to sit loose in his chair so that he'd be ready to jump and run should the need arise.
Gathering up what they wanted, the men ambled back to their spots on the lawn. Larabee noticed that Ezra, Vin, Josiah, and Nathan were all sitting a bit gingerly in their seats as well. Apparently he wasn't the only one wanting to be prepared for a fast evacuation. Standish and Sanchez had even gone so far as to put buckets of water next to their chairs in case the liquid was needed before the hose could be reached.
When the others were situated, Wilmington and Dunne moved to set off the daytime parachutes and throw a few firecrackers since it wasn't quite dark enough to do the larger items yet.
The parachutes did exactly what they were supposed to, opening and wafting gently to the ground with no damage to anything. A glance by Buck in Ezra's direction as he lit a firecracker caused the undercover agent to shake his head in warning and make a gesture to the full container of water by his side. Getting the unspoken threat, the lanky brunet tossed his missile in front of him instead of behind. Standish's gold tooth glinted in approval of the explosives tech's decision.
Once it got dark, Buck and JD moved on to the larger fireworks, Vin occasionally darting up to help. The sniper hadn't gotten to enjoy fireworks much when he was a kid, so he relished setting them off almost as much as the other two did. Chris smiled as he watched the younger man alternate between lighting the fuses of the rockets and leaning back to look up in awe at the colorful bursts in the sky.
After twenty minutes or so of things going exactly as they should, those watching unconsciously settled themselves a little deeper into their chairs, heads tilted back so they could see the explosions above them. There were bursts in patriotic colors of red, white, and blue, some that looked like buzzing bees or twinkling fireflies, and others that drooped down in a 3-D effect that was almost mesmerizing. The fountains spurted up to six or seven feet and most had different phases that glittered like stars, spewed like lava from a volcano, whistled as the sparks streaked and fell in water-like waves, etc. Some even resembled peacock's tails or fans and a few of the aerial shots looked like butterflies or palm trees as they opened. Clapping and 'ooh' and 'ahh' escaped the men as they watched, as entranced as kids at the whimsical sights. Chris was just thinking that things might go as planned for once . . . .
He should have known better. Just as the words flitted through his brain, one of the large rockets JD was lighting tilted to the side and took off like a bat out of hell toward Josiah. The large ex-priest was slumped down in his seat, eyes aimed heavenward when the spitting missile made a bee-line for him. He tried to jump out of the way, but got his feet tangled in the legs of his chair and landed in a heap right in the projectile's path. The rocket flew straight toward his jeans, giving a little jump when it reached his hip and bouncing over his shoulder directly into the bucket of water next to him. The smell of scorched denim filled the air as smoke billowed around the prone figure of the profiler. JD covered his ears as the large form broke out in a round of exotic cussing. Josiah sure did know some impressive words for a former preacher!
Nathan moved over to help Sanchez up from the ground.
"Ya hurt, Josiah?"
"Just my pants, my pride, and my rear end where I landed on the ground," grumbled the older agent as he let the medic pull him to his feet.
Jackson knelt to take a look, but fortunately the other man's jeans had taken the brunt of the damage.
"Good thing ya weren't wearin' shorts," Nathan said as he patted his friend on the shoulder.
"Learned that lesson the first year," muttered the profiler as he bent to brush some of the ash off of his pants leg.
"Hell, with this bunch, we need fire suits on the fourth," added Chris as he made sure the rocket was truly out. Fishing the sodden stick and cardboard out of the bucket, he gave the piece a flick toward the refuse pile, satisfied that it couldn't do any more damage.
Josiah went to get himself another beer to calm his nerves, then the group settled back down, though those watching now sat lightly in their chairs. JD apologized to Sanchez as he let Buck light the next few pieces.
Things went alright for several minutes, Dunne rejoining Wilmington to have a mock battle with the small tanks and warships. Buck was winning and whooping it up when one of the firecrackers that formed the 'guns' on his battleship blew up right in front of him. The ladies' man started swatting furiously at his beloved mustache and cursing a blue streak as he tried to put out the sparks that were singing his facial hair. The rest sat open-mouthed in surprise for a minute, then Tanner grabbed the hose and sprayed the tall brunet in the face.
Buck's colorful tirade was cut off abruptly as his open mouth was filled with water and he started spluttering. The liquid soaked his head, face, and the upper part of his chest, causing his hair to slip downward and drip onto his sodden shoulders and his eyebrows to droop dejectedly over his squinted cobalt eyes. His mustache was all curled at the ends and resembled an untidy caterpillar as it smoked slightly at the combination of heat and cold water that had assailed it.
"GOD DAMN IT, VIN!! What're ya tryin' to do, drown me??"
The sniper hung his head to try to hide his smile. "Was the first thing that came to mind, Bucklin'. Sorry!"
"Sure ya are," muttered Wilmington, glaring at the smaller figure as he tried without success to shape his once luxurious 'stache.
Nathan moved up and slapped Buck's hands away. "Let me see if ya burned your lip or if ya just curled the hairs good."
JD was trying not to giggle at the sight of his best friend's cherished facial hair as it straggled every which way with the scorched ends.
"Gee, looks like you might have to shave your mustache off, Buck." His hazel eyes got a thoughtful look in them. "Hey, I've never seen you clean-shaven."
"Ain't goin' to, either! I'll just trim it up . . . "
Vin shook his sandy head. "I don't know, Pard. Might not have one anyway by the time you're done."
Josiah agreed as he peered on in sympathy. "That is one sad lookin' 'stache, brother Buck." Long fingers gently caressed the profiler's own mustache and goatee absently.
"Damn it!" groused the explosives expert as he gingerly ran his fingertips over his mistreated pride and joy. "I've got a date with Joyce when she gets back from England!" he added in frustration. His roaming hand had discovered that the others were right and he'd probably have to shave. Not to mention his lip felt all red and hot under the dark, singed hair.
"Guess you'll just have to rely on your animal maggotism," snickered Dunne.
"That's magnetism, Kid. And I hope it works as well without the mustache."
Wilmington grabbed the burn cream Jackson handed him and stalked off to the house to see the damage for himself.
"Don't worry, Buck. I'll take over for ya!" called Vin with a grin.
Ezra looked concerned. "Mr. Tanner, are you sure you want to do that? We already have two injured among our small party."
The sniper nodded eagerly. "Ah, ain't either of 'em hurt bad, Ez. I'll be careful."
Chris' shoulders sagged a fraction. "Famous last words with this bunch."
Standish gave the sharpshooter a suspicious glance. "Actually, it wasn't you I was worried about . . . " commented the honeyed accent, as the well-built form looked around him for avenues of escape should a stray missile head his way.
Vin was determined however, so the remaining four spectators settled gingerly back into their spots. JD willingly gave up his plans for battle, so the new duo moved on to the large multiple-shot fireworks.
Buck soon rejoined them, still somewhat dejected. He took the sniper's spot next to Chris, and after a few well-behaved shots was back to enjoying the show, convinced that his Wilmington charm would overcome even something like his missing mustache. He did frown however when Ezra's flash went off, signifying that the gambler had taken a picture for posterity . . . and possibly blackmail purposes at a later date.
The large shells were impressive, and the displays were getting bigger and better as JD and Vin moved from one to another. The tracker dropped a series of balls into a cardboard tube and lit the fuse, moving back toward the others as the first projectile flew toward the heavens. Each one was a different color and exploded in a unique style as the group watched, fascinated. The tube was down to the seventh and last shot when it suddenly toppled sideways, gaping opening facing the loosely clustered men as sparks sizzled in the dark interior.
"Holy Shit!" "Oh, crap!" "Damn!" "Uh oh" and other exclamations rose into the smoky air as the seven figures started scrambling for cover. The sputtering ball ejected out of the tube at amazing speed, flying directly toward the stumbling forms. Ezra dove to the side, hitting on his bad shoulder. Feeling it dislocate, he grimaced in pain, then decided vaguely that it was still better than having a sparking projectile the size of a tennis ball fly up his derriere.
Vin jumped backward, running into Chris when he did. The two lean forms landed in a pile on the ground, arms and legs entangling as they tried to separate and get out of the way of the sizzling shot rocketing toward them. Larabee had his butt angled upward as he got on his hands and knees, and Tanner was crouched facing the erupting object as he tried to get his right leg free from Chris' left. Both men froze as the heat from the flaming ball enveloped them as it screamed just an inch or so above their bodies. The blond felt the bottom of his jeans get hot as the shot flew over his rear, and the sniper instinctively put his hands down to cover his exposed groin when the sputtering piece skidded past him like a run-away sparkler.
"Ah, hell!" ground out Vin as he swatted vigorously at himself to put out the sparks that were heating his privates up in a totally unromantic way. Chris untangled himself and then plopped his butt in one of the buckets of water so that his tight jeans wouldn't catch on fire.
"F*ck! Not again!!" spit out the blond in annoyance. He wasn't really hurt, but he was getting tired of having to douse his ass in water to put it out every Fourth of July. An ice green eye gleamed balefully at the sharpshooter, who was checking his parts for damage.
"Not like I did it on purpose, Cowboy, so just quit yer glarin'. I got enough burnt spots on me already, don't need more from you," rasped the annoyed sniper in response to the look.
Chris started to reply, then his gaze was caught by the sight of Buck and Nathan pushing each other out of the way while Josiah picked up his container of water and threw it at the flying missile that was now headed toward all three men. Instead of putting out the projectile, the liquid simply soaked Buck again and turned the medic into a drowned rat from his waist down. Fortunately the wet clothing kept the sparks from setting either man on fire as the ball began exploding into colorful bursts at about knee level. The rest of the group watched in mute fascination as the flickering lights twinkled and buzzed around their companions, making them part of the show.
Even Nathan was displaying a creative variety of cuss words as his khakis sizzled and smoked from the bits of powder landing on them. Josiah was far enough away to be out of the main barrage, but was still getting hit by occasional pieces that were flung his direction, big hands swatting futilely to try to divert the sparkling projectiles. Buck was doing an impromptu dance as he struggled to keep his legs from getting burnt by the sparks going off in majestic array around him.
It seemed like ages to those watching, but the fireworks died away in just a few minutes. Chris, Vin, Ezra, and JD descended on the other three to make sure they were alright. Upon inspection, a few singed holes in their clothing and small spots on their arms was all the damage that was done. Nathan pulled Ezra's shoulder back into place and checked Larabee's butt and Tanner's groin over the objections of both men. Determining that there was no serious harm done, the bedraggled men gingerly sat back down in their chairs.
JD was the only one not affected in some way, so he looked pleadingly at the rest.
"There's only a couple more big ones to go. Surely everything has happened now that can, right?" Since his friends weren't badly hurt, the youngest really wanted to finish the display. The last two were ones he'd picked. One was called Gunfight at the OK Corral and the other was named Aliens, so he figured both ought to be really impressive.
"Yeah, right," muttered Larabee as he tried to pull his wet pants away from his butt.
"Hush, JD. That's just invitin' trouble," chastised Wilmington as he fingered his abused lip with one hand and tried to wring water out of his pants leg with the other.
"But, guys . . . these last ones sound like they'll be really neat! I'll move 'em way out so they won't hurt anything. Please?" pleaded the youngest.
Against his better judgement, Chris nodded. Hell, they were already wet and singed, so what would a few more sparks hurt? At least they were all damp enough that they shouldn't actually catch on fire.
Thrilled, Dunne moved the pair of multiple-shot boxes several more yards away. Just to be on the safe side, Vin soaked the whole area around the spectators with the hose and the men ducked their heads in the spray so that their hair couldn't get singed. Even Ezra bowed to precaution and dampened his own clothing and head. Wet and dripping, the six sat down again and Buck motioned to JD to light the fuse of the next-to-last firework.
That one went off without a hitch, the many chambers shooting explosives high into the air. The group had to admit that the overlapping bursts of multi-hued colors were impressive as the display seemed to go on for minutes and the sound of gunshots echoed around them.
"Ok, last one!" called JD as he knelt to light the fuse of the remaining container. The rest slumped back in their chairs a little so they could see better.
The kid had the fuse lit and was backing away when he got his feet tangled in the remains of the previous shot. The expended box flew into the one just being ignited, and the square with its thirty or so tubes flipped onto its side facing the watching men.
Cuss words filled the air as all seven started trying to move. The projectiles started shooting out with flames accompanying them as six of the men dove and dashed to try to get out of the way of the flying missiles. Colorful sparks burst around them, enveloping them in the display as they all began dancing to keep the sizzling debris from landing on them. JD stopped and stood watching in awe, amazed that his older teammates could move with such alacrity.
As the sparks continued sputtering, six pairs of eyes turned to their youngest member. JD's brain finally got the 'danger' message to his legs, and the smaller figure took off running.
"JD, it's almost over now," called Tanner with a confused wrinkle to his brow. "What's the kid runnin' from?" he asked no one in particular. Then the sky blue eyes saw the expressions of his companions. Chris' hazel gaze was spitting daggers, Standish's emerald eyes were slitted as he narrowed in on his quarry, Buck was shaking a fist at his roommate, Josiah looked like he was getting ready to go 'old testament', and Nathan was mumbling something about taking out JD's tonsils from the bottom as all five prepared to give chase.
"Ah, hell . . . reckon that's the explosion he's tryin' to get away from," decided the sniper. He glanced down at his muddy knees and the smoking holes in his jeans and best red t-shirt, then flipped the dripping hair out of his eyes. "Come t' think of it, he better run!"
Booted feet joined the rest as they took off like a pride of big cats after their electronics tech, who was hightailing it as far in the opposite direction as he could go. Nimble legs sailed over the corral fence as Dunne headed into the pasture on the other side. Maybe he'd just spend the night camping out. Running into wild animals had to be safer than facing his teammates right now!
(Except maybe for JD . . . )
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