Unwinding the Second Hand

by mog

ATF/Alternate Universe

Disclaimer: Characters belong to Mirisch/Watson/Trilogy Prod/CBS-just borrowing, not making money Archive: Yes Author's Notes: Don't know if ya'll are familiar with it, but this takes

place in a recently created AU where the boys are members of the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms) in present day. Sarah & Adam were killed in a car bomb meant for Chris. A Chris and Vin piece. First timer in the slash (though, I would say it's more smarm than slash.) Nothin' hot 'n heavy, more like sweet 'n sappy. ;-) Well, here goes...

Lying in my bed I hear the clock tick, and I think of you
Caught up in circles confusion is nothing new
Flashback-warm nights-almost left behind
Suitcases of memories,

Sometimes you picture me - I'm walking too far ahead
You're calling to me, I can't hear what you've said
Then you say-go slow-
I fall behind-
The second hand unwinds

If you're lost you can look-and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you-I'll be waiting
Time after time

After my picture fades and darkness has turned to gray
Watching through windows-you're wondering if I'm okay
Secrets stolen from deep inside,
the drum beats out of time.

If you're lost you can look-and you will find me
Time after time.

(C. Lauper, R. Hyman)

Friday: Late afternoon

"Hey, did you ask Chris, yet?"

JD shut down his computer and crossed to the paper shredder, feeding it from a pile on his desk before he left for the weekend.

Buck kept his voice as nonchalant as possible, "Nah, kid, it's just you, me, Josiah...hey, Vin - you in?"

The lean brunette slid some sheets into an interoffice envelope, not looking up as he answered, "Ya'll are gonna have to survive without me tonight, got some stuff I gotta do."

"Aw c'mon, Vin," JD left the shredder to stand in front of Tanner's desk, his tone pleading. "Vinster, Vin-o-rama, Vinabago, come with us - one beer, you can do that stuff later."

The other agent looked up at his friend, "Kid, I swear, I can't tonight. But next Friday, promise, first round's on me."

"Okay," Dunne quirked his mouth in resigned acceptance and wandered back to his desk. He looked to Buck again, "Nathan and Ezra are definitely out?"

"Nathan took off already, Rain is back in town and--"

"And the companion I have for dinner is much more attractive than you all." Ezra had caught JD's question as he came from the break room.

Buck grinned wolfishly, "It's that college professor, ain't it?"

The southerner cocked an eyebrow at Wilmington, "Sharay happens to be an

intelligent, cultured woman with a sharp wit, a wonderful disposition and--"

"And a great pair of legs."

Ezra matched Buck's sly grin, "And a great pair of legs." Standish slid his coat on and cocked his fingers by his temple in the familiar salute that

they all shared. "Gentlemen, I shall see you on Monday."

Josiah matched the gesture as the southern passed him on the way out of the office, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"I'll do my best, but I shall never say no to a lady."

Vin stood, "Hold up, Ezra. I'll walk down with ya."

The two agents headed for the elevator as Sanchez rose and stretched. "You boys ready?"

JD sprang from the office chair he had been lazily spinning in, "Heck yeah."

Buck tossed his partner the keys to his truck, "I'll be there in a sec."

Josiah and JD jogged to catch up with their friends on the way down to the parking garage.

Buck drifted toward Chris's office. The blonde, senior agent was reviewing the piles on his desk, making sure one last time that what was there would keep till Monday. Wilmington leaned in the doorway, "Hey, pard."

Larabee didn't look up, he knew why his friend was there. "I'm fine, Buck."

"I know. Just want ya to know that my phone will be on all weekend."

Chris paused and Buck saw the strong shoulders relax slightly, finally, a pair of ice blue eyes met his brown ones. "Thanks."

Buck nodded, holding the gaze for a second longer before turning and heading out to meet up with JD and Josiah.

Chris sat in the silence of his office, his eyes finally drifting to a small, silver-framed photograph. A woman and a child. God, had it really been six years? Six years to the day when the secure life he had known was obliterated in one, one-hundredth of a second.

He rose abruptly, suddenly feeling an oppressive weight from the close confines of his office walls. He shut off the lights, locked his door and strode to the elevator, feeling as if he couldn't get out of the building fast enough. ---

Chris sat on the deserted ridge that overlooked the city. A light breeze brushed through his short hair, the wind seemed to be cooler now that the sun had set. He'd been up there for about an hour, it was the same spot he came every year on this day. He had taught Adam how to fly a kite up here. Showed him how to pick out the constellations. Told him how-

The deep growl of a car engine interrupted his thoughts. 'Damn. It shouldn't be this hard to be alone.'

The road that led up to the ridge was a wide dirt trail, Larabee figured the pair of headlights most likely belonged to a high schooler's car. Perfect place to come and drink and not worry about cops.

Larabee still hadn't turned around even as the engine cut off and the squeak of a car door echoed through the surrounding trees. Chris was about to rise, get the hell outta there and away from civilization when a familiar voice stopped him.

"Hey, cowboy."

Chris looked over his shoulder, the silhouette that stood next to the battered Jeep would have been recognizable even without the vocal greeting. Larabee turned his focus back to the view, listening as the crunch of boot heels on gravel drew closer.

"Is this a private party?"

"For you, I'll make an exception, but only because you brought beer."

Vin sat, pulling a six-pack of bottles from the brown paper shopping bag he carried. "Now how do you know I brought beer?"

" 'Cause you know I wouldn't let you up here without some."

"So you are lettin' me up here?"

"You're here, aren't you."

"That don't mean I'm stayin'."

Larabee took the beer his friend offered, knowing that that was Vin's way of saying that he would leave if Chris truly wanted to be alone. "You're staying."

They sat in silence, watching the lights of cars in the distance move like slow-swimming fish in a dark pond. Finally Chris spoke, his voice low, almost as if he were talking to himself.

"How can it still hurt?"

"That's part of the healin'...does it hurt less?" He knew the answer but wanted Chris to vocalize it.

"Yeah....but--" he cut himself off, choosing instead to take a swallow of beer.

Tanner continued for him, "Buuut...I swear, Chris, you carry more guilt around with you than any man I've ever known."

"It isn't just about that." Although the explosion that took his wife and child had happened three years before Larabee had assembled his handpicked task force, each of his men knew that Chris blamed himself for the deaths.

He stared at the condensation that formed on the bottle in his hand, pausing before he spoke again. "I loved Sarah. She was a beautiful woman; smart, funny...God, an amazing mom."

"Put up with your bullshit."

Chris smiled slightly, "Put up with my bullshit." He cast a sidelong glance at his friend, keeping the small grin, "How do you know? You didn't even know me then?"

Tanner just raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah, yeah. Okay." How could he not know, from the first day the two men met they seemed to be able to communicate on a level all their own, seemed to share an intuition and an easy silence that few understood but many noticed.

They stared for a moment at the light dotted scenery before Vin spoke, "But you feel guilty. Like maybe you never gave her all you felt you should have. Like no matter how hard you tried you never fully felt like you loved her as much as she loved you."

Chris looked at his friend, his eyes shadowed with a look of confusion and amazement. Vin continued to stare straight ahead but he knew Larabee's gaze was on him. "Some part of you seemed to think that there was somethin' else out there, just outta reach. Couldn't see it, didn't know what the hell it was, but you knew that somethin' was missin'."

Vin turned to look at his friend but Larabee shifted his attention across the landscape before Tanner caught his eye. The young agent took a drink of beer and let his gaze wander also back to the city below. He could sense the tension in his friend and wondered if this had been a mistake. But he didn't move. 'Came this far, might as blunder on ahead.'

"And now you feel like you might have figured out what that thing was that you couldn't see before."

Chris opened his mouth to speak but shut it again, choosing instead to drink deeply from the bottle in his hands.

Vin sensed his friend wanted to say something, so he sat, and waited, letting the words come out when they were ready.

"If it weren't for the photos, I don't think I'd be able to picture their faces...I used to be able to hear their voices."

"That's just time passin', it ain't a bad thing." Vin could see that Larabee wasn't believing him, wasn't wanting to believe him, so he tried a different approach. "Was Sarah a selfish person?"

Chris's attention snapped to the young man beside him, a light in his eyes that almost seemed angry, but Vin didn't let him answer. "You can't tell me that she would want you to be unhappy. That if you were to talk to her today, right now, that she'd say it hasn't pained her to watch you livin' like you have been."

The blonde agent looked away, he knew his friend was right, so why did he feel as if he was somehow betraying her memory.

Vin spoke again, his soft western drawl mingling with the song of the surrounding crickets. "You know me, Chris, I ain't much on words...but you're my friend, best one I ever had and I hate seein' you beat yourself up and not allow yourself to live a life you deserve."

Vin suddenly felt like he shouldn't have come and shifted to get up. "Aw

hell, maybe I should just go."

But a strong hand caught his shoulder, "No...I..." Chris withdrew his grasp, sighing heavily, "Why can't anything ever be easy."

" 'Cause then it wouldn't be life."

Larabee allowed himself a smile, but he still couldn't bring himself to look at Vin, "You're starting to sound like Josiah." He suddenly slammed down the rest of his beer, hoping that the quick intake of alcohol would give him courage. He swallowed hard and began to speak.

"I tore myself up after Sarah and Adam died, did my best to drink away every memory I had of them. Buck did his best to keep me from doin' it, I'm still amazed at the shit I dealt him and that he put up with. Damn surprised I never figured out a way to get myself killed."

"And then...then this quiet son of a bitch shows up and it's like I've known him all my life. Seems to know what I'm thinking even before I do, always knows what to say, or not to say. Makes me laugh."

"Puts up with your bullshit."

Chris wiped away the small bit of moisture that suddenly found its way to his eyes, "Puts up with my bullshit." He finally turned and looked at the man sitting next to him. "And suddenly I feel like the one thing that has been missing all my life is right there in front of me...and it scares the hell outta me."

A familiar grin pulled one corner of Vin's mouth up, "How do you think I feel, you're my boss."

Chris laughed, letting some of the tension ebb from his body. "How come this feels so natural?"

Tanner offered a slight shrug, "Maybe 'cause it's what's supposed to be."

"Now you really are starting to sound like Josiah."

Vin set his beer bottle down firmly in the dirt, Let's see how well I really do know this guy.

"Ya know, there's somethin' I've been wantin' to do for awhile."

"Oh yeah, what's that?"

Tanner leaned toward his friend, continuing with his thought even though he sensed the tension rise again in the lean frame beside him. "This." And with a slow gentleness he offered a kiss to Larabee, lightly at first, till he felt Chris lean into him and return the contact.

After several seconds Chris pulled away, even in the pale light of the moon Vin could tell his friend was blushing. Larabee picked up the beer that sat on the ground and breathed a nervous laugh, "This is weird."

"Is it bad?"

Chris looked to Tanner, answering quickly, "No...no, just weird in a 'new' sort of way. A 'relieved' sort of way."

He took a drink of beer before Vin stole the bottle back from him, "So...what now?" Chris asked.

Vin opened another long neck for his friend and passed it to him. "Well, we have these four left, and I got another six pack in the Jeep. I figured we might hang out here for awhile."

"You came with a half-rack?"

Tanner shrugged, "I figured either we'd be splittin' 'em, spendin' all night talkin' or I'd be drinkin' 'em all myself while I figured out where the next city was that I'd look for employment in."

Chris laughed again, but this time without the nervous tension. "Speaking of employment..."

"You worried about the guys?"

Chris ran a hand through his short hair, "A little...okay, a lot."

"Larabee, we all have known each other for three years. We've been cooped up in surveillance vans together; survived gunshots, knifin's, and that time JD thought Casey was pregnant; and spent more time cryin' in each others beers than a collection of country/western albums. You think they're gonna be that surprised?"

The other man sat silent for a moment, "Maybe not," then Chris added with a smile, "well, maybe Buck."

Vin chuckled slightly, "We'll get JD to explain it to him. As far as anybody else is concerned, you're still as surly as ever and I'm just too shy to ask a lady out."

Chris let himself lean against his friend, till their shoulders touched. A small physical gesture but one that spoke volumes about how he felt and how he was letting himself feel. "You really think everybody else in the office is going to believe that?"

"Worked so far."

Chris clinked his bottle against Vin's, "Guess it has."

They sat in their familiar silence till Larabee spoke again, "I'm not surly."

"Like hell."


"You're surly."

Chris knew he wasn't going to win so he gave up the argument when a thought occurred to him, he cocked his head at the man next to him, "How did you know I was going to be here?"

Tanner grinned, "C'mon, Larabee. I know what you're thinkin' even before you do." ---

Monday morning Ezra was the first to pick up on it. Of all the members of Larabee's team Ezra and Vin had always been the best at reading people. Standish had developed his gift through a rough childhood spent running cons engineered by his mother and around backroom poker games. Vin, well, Vin's just seemed to be a natural sixth sense.

Chris, Vin and Nathan were huddled in the small conference room going over recently acquired photographs and lab results from an arson case the group was investigating. Ezra had come for Larabee's signature and passed Nathan heading for the break room as he entered the meeting area.

Standish slid the document across the large table toward Chris and waited while the senior agent scanned the papers. As Larabee signed off on the sheets and pushed them back, the southerner cocked an eyebrow. "Did you gentlemen do anythin' interestin' for your weekend."

Vin yawned and stretched, "Not really. Bachelor's weekend, drank beer, did nothin', watched a sunset."

Chris leaned back in his chair, "Pretty much the same here."

Ezra gathered up the freshly signed papers, eyeing the two men, "Well, Mr. Larabee, you do look much more rested than you did before the weekend. It may perhaps be beneficial for you to spend more of your days off partakin' in beer, sunsets and...nothin'."

Chris felt a warmth spreading up his face and suddenly became very interested in the combustible materials report that was on the table in front of him.

Ezra made his way back to his desk, trying to hide a grin and thinking that that was the first time he had ever seen his leader blush. But the southerner knew he would be taking his life in his hands if he mentioned to anyone that he just witnessed Larabee displaying anything other than a grim expression and a steely gaze.

Not that he would have to. He knew from personal experience it was impossible to keep anything from the tightly knit group of agents that Larabee led. But be it good or bad, they had always stood by each other. And Standish didn't believe that would change anytime soon.

All through the night I'll be awake and I'll be with you
All through the night this precious time when time is new
Oh, all through the night today
knowing that we feel the same without saying

we have no past, we won't reach back
keep with me forward all through the night
and once we start the meter clicks
and it goes running all through the night
until it ends there is no end

all through the night
stray cat is crying so stray cat sings back
all through the night
they have forgotten what by day they lack
oh, under those white street lamps there is a little chance they may see

oh, the sleep in your eyes is enough
let me be there, let me stay there awhile

keep with me forward all through the night

(J. Shear)

The End

Comments: maria.mogavero@optiva.com