Disclaimer: The usual. Anything Magnificent doesn't belong to me. No money was made. I don't own the characters, CBS and other powers that be have that honor.
Special thanks to Mog for the ATF universe, and to anyone else who created little sayings or nuances that I may have used.;-)
"Bucklin, we have ten minutes to get back to the office before Chris tars and feathers us for being late." Vin looked at his watch for the tenth time since he and Buck Wilmington had left Joe's Deli. "Why didn't you just go shoppin' this afternoon, instead of draggin' us all over tarnation on our lunch hour?"
Buck laughed and slapped the younger agent on the back. "Hell, Junior, it's Friday. I love JD and all, but I have a date tonight with a goddess." Wilmington winked. "Besides why do ya' think I asked you to come? Chris ain't goin' to tear into you for being a little late, and I've heard so many of his speeches that I'm damn near immune."
Vin rolled his eyes. Despite the fact that the other five members of his team believed that he somehow scored preferential treatment from their team leader, he doubted even his influence with his best friend would offer him refuge from the foul mood Larabee had been in the last week or so.
"Chris is liable to do more than tear into us, pard. You saw what he did to JD."
Buck sighed. "Yeah, I know." He slowed his pace slightly and looked down the street they were on. "JD didn't take to well to being ordered to take some time off." The dark-haired agent stopped completely and faced Tanner. "Don't get me wrong. No one thought JD should be home more than me, but the way Chris did it still don't sit right with me."
"The kid was sick. Too sick to be at work." Despite Vin's feelings for JD, his loyalty still demanded that he defend Chris.
"You're preaching to the choir, pard. I don't have a problem with the decision, just the method of delivery."
Vin raked a hand through his hair and pulled his coat tighter around him. Buck would have to pick one of the coldest days in February to drag his ass all over Denver. "Chris was a little over the top. What the hell's his problem anyway?"
Buck continued to walk, but something in his posture changed and Vin was pretty sure his hunch had been right. Whatever was eating at Larabee had something to do with his past. "If I had to guess, I'd say the fourteenth of this month is hangin' over Chris's head like an anvil waiting to drop." Wilmington glanced sideways at Vin, his expression as serious as it ever got. "That's the only reason I didn't knock him on his ass for yelling at JD like he did."
"Valentine's Day?" Vin stopped again, forcing Buck to do the same. "That's what's bothering Chris?" Something about that didn't make sense. Vin knew his best friend and Chris Larabee was not the sentimental type.
Buck looked at him for a moment then a slight sad smile tugged at his lips. "He ain't never told ya?"
Vin shook his head at the slight surprise in Wilmington's tone. "Told me what?"
"Valentine's Day isn't just another holiday for Chris. It's Sarah's birthday."
"Ah, hell." Vin ran a hand over his face. "Like Larabee's goin' to offer that kind of information up. Even to me."
Buck threw an arm across Vin's shoulder and started walking again. "You knowing wouldn't have helped him any, Junior. Just one of those things he thinks he's got to handle on his own."
Vin sighed. "Well, it sure as hell might have stopped me from being so pissed at his mood these last few days. I might not have pulled some of those pranks I did."
Wilmington laughed. "Why do you think I didn't tell you sooner? Chris deserved everything he got."
Tanner shook his head. "You can be a devious bastard, you know that, Bucklin?"
Buck didn't answer, but instead roughly pulled Vin back before he could turn the corner. Shoving the younger man against the wall of the brick builiding they were walking beside, he peered cautiously around the edge.
Vin pushed Buck's arm from across his chest. "What the hell..."
" Well, speak of the devil." Wilmington squatted down and motioned for Vin to follow his line of sight.
"What's Chris doin' coming out of Langston's?" Tanner leaned back against the wall and peered down at Buck, who was still watching the jewelry store.
The older ATF agent stood up straight and shrugged. "That's what I'd like to know."
Vin caught Buck's arm this time before he could turn the corner that would lead them to the small shop. "Hold on, pard. It ain't none of our business what Chris does on his own time."
Buck grinned. "I didn't say it was. Besides, we were going to Langston's in the first place. I told JD that I'd help him find Casey something for Valentine's Day and Vido has the best stuff in town."
Tanner looked skeptical. "I suppose you buy all your women friends gifts from there?"
Buck shook his head, his smile fading slightly. "Only the special ones, pard. That's what's got my curiosity up about our old friend."
"Maybe Chris decided to get Mary something?"
Buck gave Tanner a look that suggested he knew as well as he did that that was a long shot.
"Okay, so what's your guess?"
"I'm guessing we should go see if we can find that present for JD."
Vin folded his arms over his chest, and tried to look disapproving. "And snoop into what Chris was doing?"
"It's not called snooping when you're a professional, son. It's called investigating. That's why they give us a badge."
"Well Chris will call it invasion of privacy and have no bad feelings about pinning our badges in a place where the sun don't shine if'n he finds out what we're up to."
"Don't tell me, he's got you bullied?" Buck raised an eyebrow at his friend, knowing exactly what affect his words would have.
"Hell no." Vin shoved his hands in his pocket. "I just ain't ever been one to stick my nose where it don't belong."
"Even if it meant helping a friend?"
Tanner looked away for a moment and then peered back down the street towards the jewelry store. "You did promise the kid you'd find something by today."
Buck nodded seriously. "I don't break promises to JD."
"And it ain't like we're the only ones who are goin' to be late gettin' back to work."
Wilmington nodded again. "As slow as Chris drives, we'll probably beat him back."
Vin sighed heavily and turned the corner, Buck right on his heels. "I knew I'd end up somehow paying for that sandwich you bought me."
Wilmington laughed. "You know what Ez says, pard. There are no free lunches."
"Officer Buck Wilmington, as I live and breathe." Vido Langston had run Langston's Jewelry for the last twenty years. He and his wife were one of the few small family businesses still self-owned in Four Corners, and the man made it a point to know his trade as well as his customers. "This must be a day for old friends and Denver's finest. Your partner was just in here."
"How are you, Vido?" Buck grasped the older man's hand and smiled. "It's been a long time."
"Yes," Vido chuckled. "A very long time since you and Chris would come and check on me and Phoebe when out on your nightly runs."
"We play for a different team these days. Don't get to socialize as much as we use to. At least not with decent folks, that is."
Langston laughed, shaking his stocky form. "I doubt that any commitment could keep you from socializing with the lovely ladies of our fair town though."
"Sounds like he has your number, Bucklin."
Buck merely rolled his eyes and motioned towards his friend. "Vido, this is Vin Tanner. Vin, this is Mr. Viadonno Langston, the finest jeweler this side of the Mississippi."
Tanner nodded. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Langston."
"Please call me, Vido." The store owner smiled and moved back behind the expansive counter encircling the store. "Now what may I help you boys with?"
"Well, I was kind of hoping that you could help me out with a gift for a very special lady." Buck stepped towards one of the jewelry cases and Vido followed.
"Ah, yes. Valentine's Day is just around the corner. I have no doubt that it is one of your favorite holidays, my friend."
"That it is," Buck grinned, "but this present ain't for me to show off with. My partner is laid up and needs some help in the love department."
Vido nodded enthusiastically. "He came to the right person in asking you for help, seeing as how Cupid is probably too busy to take his call."
Wilmington rolled his eyes as he heard Vin snicker, but continued to eye the many pieces of jewelry in front of him. "The kid can use all the help he can get, Vido. Trust me."
"So what is it that you, or he, has in mind?"
Before Buck could answer a ringing phone sounded from the back, and a young boy came around the corner and called to Vido. "Gramps, it's for you."
The older man sighed. "If you will excuse me, gentlemen. I'd better take that, but Joseph will be glad to assist you until I return."
"S'up." Joseph nodded to the two men and plopped down on a stool behind one of the counters, spinning it around as he did.
Vido shook his head but continued on, and Buck hid a grin as he noticed the kid rolling his eyes. He was glad he wasn't the only one who had to deal with bratty behavior.
"Hey, Bucklin," Vin motioned to the other agent, "what about something like this?"
Buck joined the sharpshooter at a small display case in the back and let his eyes follow Vin's line of sight. "The locket?"
"Yeah. It's simple, but kind of reminds me of some of the stuff Casey wears."
"That's mostly second-hand stuff. One of a kind junk." Joseph had sauntered to their end of the store and had slouched against the glass top. "Gramps buys used jewelry and spruces it up. He says it gives a piece some history. I say it just makes it old, but hey, whatever rocks your world."
Buck laughed. "And what does this 'history' do to the price Vido charges?"
It was Joseph's turn to smile. "You know how it is, man. Vintage is in, and with the world the way it is today, originality is hard to come by."
"That means it's gonna cost us." Vin looked at Buck and winked. "Can we at least look at it, before we start pooling our money?"
"No problem, dude." Joseph started to open the case when he knocked over a small box that was sitting on the counter. A silver bracelet fell to the floor at his feet. Figuring it was a piece his grandfather had not had time to place yet, he picked it up and tossed it on the velvet lined shelf inside the case, and reached for the locket.
"Wait." Buck's voice caused both Joseph and Vin to look up at him. "What did you just put in there?"
"This?" Joseph grabbed the bracelet and held it up towards the men. "Looks like some kind of charm bracelet."
Buck reached for the bracelet and Vin didn't miss the hitch in his breath. "What's wrong?"
Wilmington just shook his head and continued to look at the link bracelet with a silver heart dangling from it. "It can't be."
"What?" Vin reached out and put a hand on the other man's arm, not liking that all of the color had drained from his friend's face. "What is it, Bucklin?"
Again Buck ignored Tanner and looked to Joseph instead. "How much for this?"
"I don't know, man." The kid shrugged his shoulders. "I don't think Gramps has had a chance to work on it. Looks like the latch is still broken."
Wilmington didn't even glance to the clasp that Joseph pointed to. Instead he used his other hand to pull his wallet from the inside of his leather coat. "I'll give you a hundred dollars. Is that enough?"
"Buck, why don't you wait and talk to Vido?" Vin didn't understand what was going on with his friend, but he'd never seen Wilmington look so distraught. Except for when JD was hurt, and then it was more of a desperate look, not the angry one that was slowly spreading across his face.
"I said, is it enough?" Buck again asked the kid.
"Yeah, I'm sure it is," Joseph answered finally after glancing curiously at Tanner. "But I'm not even sure if it's real gold, man."
Buck pulled a hundred dollar bill from his billfold and tossed it on the counter. "It's real alright, kid. Real enough for me."
With that Wilmington stormed past Tanner and out into the cold February weather once more. He was half way down the sidewalk before Vin finally caught up to him.
"What was that about?"
"Damn, bastard!" Buck spat. "Just because he's miserable, he decides the whole fuckin' world should be miserable."
Wilmington stopped and glared at Tanner. "He may want to forget everything, but that doesn't give him the right to throw someone else's memories away."
Only one person could make Buck this angry. "Chris? Is that who you're talkin' about?"
"Yes! The one and only. Mr. 'my feelings are the only feelings that matter'." Buck waved a hand in the air. "Mr. 'I'll do whatever I want as long as it makes me feel better, the hell with everyone else'."
"Come on, Bucklin.."
"Don't even try to defend him!" Wilmington started walking again. "He's gone too far this time."
Vin reached out and grabbed his partner's arm, stopping him once more. "What did he do? I don't understand."
"This," Buck held up the bracelet, "this is what he did, damn it. He took something that wasn't his, and tossed it away, like it was no more than yesterday's trash."
Tanner looked confused. "The bracelet? That's why Chris was in Langston's?"
"Not just any bracelet." Some of the anger seemed to fade from the other man's face. "Sarah's bracelet. I bought it for her, on her thirtieth birthday. The year before she died."
Vin shook his head slowly. "Are you sure? That don't sound.."
Again, Buck cut his friend off. "What? It don't sound like something Larabee would do?" Wilmington's eyes flared again. "Trust me, Vin, he's good at throwing things away."
Tanner felt a surge of anger himself. "Chris ain't like that, Buck, and you know it."
Wilmington pushed the bracelet towards Vin, urging him to take it. "Go on, read what the inscription on the heart says. Read it!"
The sharpshooter reluctantly took the bracelet, and looked at the delicate words written across the shiny silver heart hanging from it."Wisdom is ageless, true beauty timeless, and kindness is eternal."
Buck swallowed hard. "I wrote that. Sarah was so upset 'bout turning thirty. Chris and I gave her a real hard time, teasing her and stuff about getting old, losing her youth, but I wanted to get her something special. I wanted her to know that all the things that were great about her couldn't be touched by years."
Vin looked up at the other man and was surprised to see the moistness in the dark eyes that met his. "When I gave it to her, she cried like a baby. Just like she did when her and Chris got married, and when she had Adam. She put it on, and there wasn't a time I saw her after that when she didn't have it on." Buck shook his head slowly. "It was important to her...to both of us."
Tanner nodded. "I'm sure it was, Bucklin. Ain't no way Chris would have sold it." Of that Vin was sure.
Anger returned to Buck's features once more. "Well it sure the hell wasn't Sarah! Who do you think that was that we saw coming out of there this mornin', pard? Chris ain't got any twin brothers that I know of."
"I'm sure he can explain."
Buck roughly grabbed the bracelet from Vin's hand. "You're damn right he's going to explain, just as soon as he picks his teeth up off the floor."
Vin took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he watched his friend storm off. He had a feeling that being late from lunch was going to be the least of their problems today.
Ezra glanced up from his computer screen as Buck strode past him and into their leader's office, slamming the door behind him.
Vin sauntered in shortly afterward, and the southerner gave his desk mate a curious look. "What did you do now, Mr. Tanner? Did you take Buck's lunch money again?"
Tanner smirked and gave his partner a one-fingered greeting. "It ain't what I done."
"I take it Mr. Wilmington is tattling on someone else then." For a moment Standish looked worried, but then he shrugged nonchalantly. "I for one was back from lunch early."
"Considering you were almost an hour late this morning, I wouldn't be bragging about that." Nathan Jackson commented without taking his eyes from the file he'd been reading.
"Did you hear something, Vin?" Ezra looked around the room. "I could have sworn you and I were just engaging in a private conversation, but then again that would be impossible in lieu of the neighbors we have, now wouldn't it?"
For the second time that day Standish was the recipient of colorful body language.
Vin shook his head and turned on his own computer. "Just leave it alone, Ez. It ain't got nothin' to do with us."
"A trip down memory lane?" Josiah Sanchez picked up his coffee and sauntered over to his other teammates, taking a seat on the corner of the undercover agent's desk.
"Somethin' like that." Vin continued to type.
"Must I put up a no trespassing sign to remind the lot of you that my area is not a park bench." Ezra glared up at the profiler.
"Chris didn't go off on JD again did he?" Nathan stood and joined the other three, sitting on the other side of Standish's desk.
"Dear Lord," Ezra huffed. "Your chairs have wheels on them for a reason, nor have either of you watched the young man in question slide across the room like we were inhabiting a roller derby?"
"This ain't about JD." Vin finally stopped what he was doing and looked at his friends. "I think we should just let them work this one out on their own."
Before either man could reply muffled shouting was heard coming from Larabee's office followed by a loud crashing sound. "Perhaps this one time Mr. Tanner is correct." Ezra glanced towards the closed door. "Visiting the lion's den was not on my itinerary for today."
Another thud and some more shouts had the other officers in the bull pen looking in their direction. Ezra waved and smiled. "Our compatriots seem to be reviewing an interrogation drama from earlier in the week. Nothing to concern yourselves with."
"Brothers, maybe we should..."
Before Josiah could finish his thought, the door to Chris' office burst open and Buck Wilmington stalked out, slamming the door behind him. He then blew past his other team members without so much as a word, but not before Vin noticed the small cut over his quickly swelling eye. "Ah hell."
"They seemed to handle that little reminiscing session very well on their own." Ezra observed, with an accusing glance in Vin's direction. "I don't however suggest that you try this new mediation technique with disputing gangs in that lovely little third world section of our fair city that you call home. Unless of course, you want to practice population control."
"Fuck you, Ez." Tanner shot back. "I sure the hell didn't see you offerin' to go in there."
"Now, boys, we don't need any more excitement today." Josiah smiled tolerantly, looking from Vin to Standish. "Better we pool our resources to do some damage control."
All three men looked at the sharpshooter of their group. "Ah hell." Tanner stood. "How'd I know that we meant me."
"Chris will listen to you before he will any of us, Vin." Nathan folded his arms across his chest. "If he'd tear into JD, and pop Buck a good one, he's liable to shoot Ezra here on sight."
"For once, I would have to agree with Mr. Jackson. Mr. Larabee is rather perturbed with my latest budgetary statement, and I'd rather not chance getting any blood stains on my new jacket. However, as your partner, I will wait right outside the door and inform Nathan if you are in need of any medical assistance."
Vin rolled his eyes. "Damn, Ez, that's mighty thoughtful of you. And to think, all this time I believed your values were all fucked up because of the way you were raised."
Ezra smiled. "If you don't return, my friend, I shall miss your wit, almost as much as I will those little flakes of Snow Ball fluff and donut droppings scattered around my floor every morning." Standish delivered his usual salute. "Do Texas proud, my friend."
"Well said, Ezra." Josiah nodded and looked to Vin. "May God be with you, brother."
Nathan patted Vin on the shoulder. "I'll go get the bag, just in case."
Shoving his chair away and heading towards the break room, Vin Tanner cursed the day he ever agreed to let Buck buy him lunch . And glancing back over his shoulder at the three men waving him on, he momentarily wondered if he hadn't been in better company when he was bounty hunting.
Ezra waved to their friend one last time, watching him disappear into the break area before glancing back up at Nathan and Josiah. "Now before you so kindly remove your persons from my space, would either of you care to wager if Mr. Tanner makes it out of there in one piece or not?"
+ + + + + + +
"Cowboy." Vin Tanner walked into his boss' office without knocking. "I thought you might need this." He casually sauntered across the floor and handed the icepack he was holding to Chris, who raised a questioning eyebrow.
"I saw Bucklin's face, and figured he probably didn't run into a door, or slip and fall on all this clutter." The lanky Texan glanced around at the immaculately clean space.
Chris growled an incoherent reply but took the cold compress and held it against his knuckles just the same.
"Buck looked pretty upset."
"He ain't the only one."
Vin leaned in his usual corner beside Chris' overstuffed bookshelf and folded his arms over his chest. "Did you get a chance to explain, or did you just go straight for the K.O.?"
Larabee rolled his eyes and dropped into his chair, tossing the icepack onto some files in front of him. "Who's side are you on, Cowboy?"
Vin shrugged. "Don't think I have to answer that question." Blue eyes met green ones. "Do I?"
The leader of Team 7 turned his gaze to the window behind them. "I lost my temper."
"That's been happenin' a lot lately." Tanner picked up the spur draped over a framed 5x7 picture of the team from one of the shelves and lightly fingered it. "The guys are avoiding your office like the plague."
Chris snorted. "You immune?"
A lopsided smile played across the Texan's face."Somethin' like that."
Larabee turned his chair so he was facing his friend. "Always thought you took too many chances."
Vin shrugged. "Life wouldn't be excitin' with out a little bit of risk."
"Depends on who you ask. Some of us might not like shaky ground."
Tanner watched his friend a moment before answering. "A little tremor here and there don't mean a landing ain't solid."
Chris looked up at Vin, his eyes looking for something he seemed afraid he wasn't going to find. "I know I've been a bastard these last few days..."
"You don't gotta' explain about your mood to me, Chris. We all have our days." Vin sat the spur down and continued to hold his partner's gaze."Just don't want to see you lose somethin' else you might miss because of stormy weather."
Chris looked at the object his partner had just put back on his book case and remembered the day that Buck Wilmington had presented him with it after giving the matching one to the man now standing in front of him. "I was trying to make amends dammit, not create more of a rift."
Vin raised an eyebrow. "By selling the bracelet?"
"I wasn't selling it, dammit!" Larabee winced at the harsh tone of his own voice. Frustrated, he pushed his chair back and stood once more, pacing to the other end of the room. "But Buck didn't give me a chance to say that. He didn't understand, and the damn stubborn fool kept running that mouth of his. I swear to God that man could test the patience of Mother-fuckin-Teresa."
"What were you doing with the bracelet?"
Larabee whirled around to face Vin. "I was having it fixed." He raked both hands through his hair, and willed himself to be calm. "Sarah broke the latch the week before..." Chris turned back and paced the other way. "The stubborn bastard wouldn't let me get a word in edgewise to tell him that. Just kept on and on."
"So you shut him up."
"Exactly." Chris slowly shook his head and came to lean on the other side of the shelf beside Tanner.
He looked at his friend, reading the unspoken question in the blue eyes. "I was having it fixed so I could give it back to Buck. He should have known I'd never sell something of Sarah's."
Vin nodded as if that explanation made as much sense to him as anything.
Chris stared at his friend a moment before continuing."Sarah was crazy about Buck. She worried about him...about him not having a family of his own." A slight smile tugged at the corner of Larabee's mouth and an unusual twinkle sparkled in his eyes. "She played match maker about as much as Nathan does."
Vin groaned, remembering his own experience with one of Nathan's good intentions. The kind-hearted medic really wanted his teammates to have the sort of life that he had with Rain, but sometimes he went about it in the wrong way. "Was she as bad at it as Nate is?"
Chris chuckled softly. "Worse." But then his grin faded some. "She had Bucklin going on blind dates with most of the school teachers at the school she worked at, not to mention the waitresses at our favorite restaurant, and even the cashiers at our grocery. The woman was relentless."
Vin grinned. "I'm sure ol'Buck didn't mind."
"He went along with her. But I think the more she set him up, the more she realized that her plan was failing miserably."
Tanner eyed his friend. "What exactly does Sarah wanting to hook Buck up got to do with the bracelet? Bucklin's not dating anyone he'd care to give something that special to."
Chris nodded slowly. "I didn't mean for him to give it to a woman. Sarah wanted Buck to have a 'family', not a wife exactly."
Slowly realization began to dawn on Vin. "JD."
Larabee rubbed at his eyes. "Sarah would have loved that kid. She would have loved what he is to Buck."
Chris walked back to his desk and sat down. "When I heard Buck talking about how hard JD was working to find Casey something for Valentine's day, it just clicked."
Vin sighed. "Buck could give the bracelet to the kid, and if JD wanted he could give it to Casey."
"Yeah." Chris looked down at his hand, flexing his stiff, bruised fingers. "I'm not too good at this kind of thing, though. Instead of mending some fences, I burnt yet another bridge." Larabee glanced up at the sharpshooter. "Stupid move on my part."
"Don't sound stupid to me. Sounds like you were doing something Sarah would have done." In fact, it made Vin wonder if Chris hadn't done lots of things like that when his wife was alive.
"Well, it sure the hell didn't turn out the way I planned."
Tanner walked over to his best friend's desk and took a seat on the corner.
"So, what are you going to do about it?"
Chris shot his partner an incredulous glare. Sarah wasn't the only one who was relentless. "I think I've done just about enough, don't you?"
"Sounds to me like you're just getting started." Vin picked up the silver bracelet he'd noticed tossed on the stack of papers in front of Chris. "First, I'd say we need to swing by Vido's and see if he can get this latch fixed before we run by the CDC."
Chris looked at Tanner like he'd just grown a second head. "I just punched Buck in the face, and you want me to go over to his house with a gift?"
Vin smiled. "Ain't you never heard of a peace offerin', Larabee?" Tanner stood and grabbed the older man's jacket, tossing it to his friend. "Besides, JD'll be there."
"So?" Chris stood, although he didn't look happy about it.
"So," Vin mimicked his friend's rough tone, "you can apologize to him while you're explainin' yourself to Bucklin'. Damn, you're slow to catch on sometimes, Cowboy."
"Apologize? Me , explain??" Chris glared at Vin. "I wasn't the one snooping in someone else's business and I sure the hell didn't go off half-cocked before I had the real story about a situation. I should go fire his ass is what I should do."
Tanner stood his ground. "You comin' or not?"
Chris shook his head. "Damn, mule-headed Texan," he mumbled as he roughly pulled his jacket on. "You just don't give up, do you?"
Vin merely smiled."Lucky for you, neither does Bucklin."
Larabee shook his head."You know what, Tanner?"
The sharpshooter opened the door, but stopped and let Chris go in front of him. "What?"
Chris paused for a second in front of the other man. "JD ain't the only one Sarah would have been crazy about."
Vin felt his face flush slightly, and he squeezed his friend's shoulder. "Yeah, but could she have stood Ezra?"
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