by Linda. T

Prologue | Monday | Tuesday

Unlike the first two days of Mary Travis' assignment covering a story about the men of ATF, Wednesday actually transpired without her being thrown into a waterway of any kind at or below ground level. Instead, she spent a rather agreeable morning, getting in depth material with the men who made up Team 7 and discovered that despite being under the command of a complete ass, they were quite an eclectic and interesting bunch. While avoiding their leader as much as possible, Mary still had to admire Chris Larabee's selection in the men that made up his team and had to respect the feeling of family he had instilled in them for one another.

Before falling under Chris's command, these men had been loners in one shape or form, always on the outside looking in; never feeling they were a part of anything until Chris had recruited them for his team. Mary, whose ambitions for herself had driven her out of the pursuits most women thought important while she considered frivolous, could appreciate the need to belong.

From Vin Tanner's lonely existence as a bounty hunter, to Buck's need for family, keeping the others together with good humour and warmth that Chris could not project, to Nathan's whose concern for everyone bordered on motherly at times, though the healer would curse anyone who suggested that to him. Even spiritually inclined Josiah who was a preacher once, could not compare the serenity of the faith with the feeling of kinship he felt with these men, and Ezra, who was as much a loner as anyone could get, could not deny feeling the same friendship. The gambler had gone so far as to admitting that his jaded outlook on life had improved since becoming a member of Team 7, while JD, who strived for acceptance, was growing up with six caring friends to watch his back.

The glue that held them together, despite her personal feelings about the man, was undoubtedly Chris Larabee. He was the link that bound the chain together, the impetus that made the fellowship work. With the close knit bonds that existed between these men, it was easy for Mary to conclude that the reason for Team 7's success rate in the field, not to mention low casualty rate, had to do with their mutual affection for one another.

Chris had been inside his office most of the day and judging by the fact that he had not emerged from the room since the moment she had arrived, Mary assumed he wanted to have no part of this segment of her story. Burying himself in his paperwork, supposedly, Mary did not see him for most of the morning and to the early afternoon. Deciding that she would pin him down another day, since she had an appointment elsewhere, Mary picked up the phone at the desk they had provided for her use during the week and checked the progress of her car that was in the shop for repair today.

"What do you mean, it's not done yet?"

Chris heard Mary exclaim as he was idling away at the filing cabinet near her desk, having deemed it safe enough to emerge since she appeared to be leaving for the day. Chris was grateful of the escape her departure allowed since he had not intention of being included in the heart to heart she was having with the rest of his men.

"But you said two o'clock," Mary continued her debate with the speaker on the other end of the phone "I gave you an extra hour!"

Chris lingered by, wondering what the urgency was about a car. However, judging by the stormy expression on her face as she continued her conversation, it appeared to be extremely urgent for there was something in her eyes that was not just annoyed but deeply upset.

"Fine!" she said visibly angry. "Tomorrow it is, but if I go there and find out you've got more work to do on my car, I will have your guts for garters." With that she slammed the phone down hard and made everyone jump with the sheer intensity of her words and a black mood that rivalled even one of Chris's more inflamed displays. "Bastard!"

"Trouble Miss Travis?" Chris was the only who dared to ask since no one was brave enough to speak with a woman in her state of mind without the safety of protective headgear and eye wear.

"Not trouble, disaster." She frowned and kept silent for about two seconds, when she discovered that she was just annoyed enough to tell him what was bothering her. "My car won't be ready this afternoon." Her lips curled into a slight pout she was unaware he found utterly endearing.

"Civilization has been known to survive, Miss Travis," he said with a hint of sarcasm, showing indifference to her problem or what that insistent nibbling of her lower lip was doing to him. Still, he was unable to fathom why such simple things were that earth shattering for women.

"Why do I even bother to tell you?" she groaned and shook her head in futility.

"Okay," Chris conceded he was being a pain by offering her a gesture of defeat and urged her to continue. "I'm sorry, what so important about your car?"

"I needed to go somewhere," she answered, more focused on trying to decide whether or not a cab would do, instead of listening to his thoughts on the matter. If she was lucky, the cab could get here fast enough for her to still make her appointment, since missing it was not an option in any shape or form. It took Mary a moment to realize that Chris was staring at her in expectation to continue with what she had been saying.

"My son's baseball game, all right?" Mary blurted out with exasperation in her voice, not having time to deal with him and this particular problem. "I promised him that I would be there today. I've never seen him play little league and it is his first game of the summer," she grumbled, remembering how eager Billy had been for her to attend. Considering that she had missed almost everything in his life for the past two years, it was doubly important for Mary to be there for her son.

"What's his name?" Chris asked seriously, understanding completely now why she was so upset. Such promises were not made lightly and if Adam had asked that of him, nothing would have stopped Chris from being there, not even the biggest arrest in history. Of course, he would never know for sure because for Adam, there would never be baseball games or Christmas pageants. Thinking about Adam that way effected Chris more deeply than he liked, especially in font of Mary because the pain surfaced like it always did, quickly and with potent effect. Chris closed his eyes and forced it away in a millisecond but wondered at how it always felt like an eternity.

"Billy," Mary replied, volunteering that information with the same enthusiasm she might have a making a dental appointment. For some reason, she did not want him to know that much about her private life.

"Come on," Chris said suddenly, not wanting her to miss that game because he hated to think of any child disappointed like that. "I'm the boss, I can take some time to give you lift," he declared.

It took Mary a moment to realize that he was not volunteering, he was telling. Still she was hardly in a position to refuse and could see that the offer was a genuine attempt to help her out of a difficult situation.

"You don't have to," she said stiffly, uncertain over how to take this gesture of kindness. "I can take a cab," Mary said reluctantly. However even as she thought that, Mary knew that she had no choice. A cab would take time to get here and if she was going to make the first inning, she would have to leave now. As much as she loathed accepting Chris's help, she was going to have to.

"Easy there Mary," Chris rolled his eyes not waiting for an answer because like she, he knew she had no alternative but take him up on his offer. The leader of Team 7 closed the filing cabinet drawer and started towards his office. "Your gratitude is overwhelming."

"Mary?" She raised a brow at him. "Since when were we on a first name basis Mr. Larabee?" She emphasised those last two words so that he would not make the mistake of thinking there were friends.

"Since I started letting you in my ride," he said gruffly.

"If it was not for my son...." Mary fumed, glaring at his back with narrowed eyes, stinging that she was forced to accept the help of that arrogant son of a bitch. This is what they must call a mother's sacrifice. Watching Chris stride back to his office, cocky as all hell and knowing perfectly well she could not refuse, Mary wondered if they, whomever they were, knew just how big a sacrifice it was going to be.

"Whatever," Chris shook his head as he widened the space between them. "It's not like I'm going to run out of gas on the way there or anything." He looked over his shoulder and smiled deviously at her. "Or are we disappointed because I wasn't?"

"Will you just get the damn keys!" Mary sputtered in annoyance and then noticed the faces around the room. Every member of Team 7, save Chris, was fighting hard to keep a straight face. Josiah was holding up a book over his face higher than normal, Vin was hiding his behind a computer screen, Buck did not seem to care and was grinning ear to ear like he was watching something really entertaining, Ezra kept clearing his throat. Nathan excused himself from the room, sniggering as he departed while JD was biting his lip. Mary let her blue grey eyes sweep across everyone still in the room and issued a silent warning that the first person who laughed was going to die.

Mary returned her attention back to Chris who had now reached his office and pondered the question of how someone with such a great ass could create such pain someone else's.

+ + + + + + +

Somehow, they managed to arrive at the baseball diamond where Billy would be playing his game without actually killing each other, even though their journey there was hardly civilized with sarcasm being served from both corners, like a well played tennis game. Chris had to admit it was great day for a baseball game and any duty that took him away from the artificial lighting and air-conditioned staleness of his office was welcome. Even if it meant ferrying Mary Travis around the place and hearing her gripe incessantly at how she still hated him but appreciated the ride.

They arrived in plenty of time before the game was to start. Chris pulled his black Dodge RAM 2000 at the curb at the baseball diamond, a block away from Billy Travis's school. The school was situated in the suburbs and was one of those environments where accountants and realty people seem to flourish. No doubt, this was the world of bake sales and PTA meetings. He could not picture Mary playing that role on a full time basis.

When the vehicle came to a halt, Mary turned to Chris as she prepared to climb out. Swallowing, it took some nerve to say what came next.

"Thank you," she answered after a moment, softening enough to realize that thanks to him, she would not disappoint Billy. Still, Mary found it extremely hard to say anything nice to him. For some reason, the most potent emotion Chris Larabee engendered in Mary Travis was the strongest desire to slap him silly and wipe that damn smirk he wore only around her.

"I think I might just like to watch a baseball game today," he remarked and started to get out of the Dodge the same time she did, while wearing that damn smile on his face.

"No you don't," Mary's eyes widened with horror because she did not want him anywhere around her or her son. "You got to go back to work and protect the world from illegal alcohol manufactures and cigarette smokers. You can't stay!"

"You mean I drive you down here and you won't even let me stay and watch the game?" he asked, folding his hands and looking at her like she was spoiled prom queen with an expression on his face that revealed he was enjoying her annoyance immensely.

"That's right," she said firmly and let out a deep breath, realizing she had no choice but to explain it to this arrogant bastard. "Look, don't take this personally but my son is a very sensitive child. He thinks I'm a reporter like...." Mary closed her eyes and flinched as she sought the horrifying description that was approximation of the point she was attempting to get across. "Like Mary Hart, not like Lois Lane okay? I don't want him to know that I spend my time..."

"Offering criminals grease and oil changes?" Chris asked innocently with a completely straight face.

"Very funny," she smoldered, her voice becoming a low hiss. "But no, I don't want him to think that I offer blow jobs to people!" she barked loudly just as a rather nuclear family was passing by and while the wife's mouth rounded into an 'O' of distaste, the husband's lips curled into a smile of suggestion. Mary saw their expressions and dropped her head against the window of the Dodge.

"If you even mention that to my son..." She glared at him with an icy stare of menace.

"Mom!" a voice suddenly interrupted her threat to render Chris limb from limb. The boy who bounded into her arms had the same white gold hair that Mary did and as she embraced him hard, Chris saw the emotion that seeped into her eyes and thought she never looked more radiant that at that moment. It would stop the heart of any man to be on the receiving end of such affection, he though to himself.

"I knew you'd come!" Billy cried out excitedly, obviously adoring his mother. "Grandma Evie said you might be busy but I knew it! I just knew you'd be here."

"Hey," Mary smiled back at him. "For my little Babe Ruth, you bet your life I'd be here." She hugged him again before Billy noticed Chris standing there and made her scowl, realizing she probably ought to introduce him. "Billy, this is Mr. Larabee."

"Hi Mr. Larabee," the boy said cheerfully and Chris found himself warming to this seven-year-old immediately because the smile on his small face was utterly heart warming, even to someone as hardened as Chris Larabee.

"Hey there Billy," Chris responded. "What position do you play?"

"Second base," Billy replied, his youthful eyes examining the stranger closely. "Do you work with my mom?"

"No, I just throw her into canals and sewers every now and then," he remarked giving Mary a wink while she muttered obscenities under her breath that Billy could not hear or notice while his eyes were focussed at Chris's direction and not at her.

"Mr Larabee is an ATF agent," Mary answered, shooting a venomous glare at Chris while Billy puzzled over his answer. "That means he's with the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms."

"You mean like Elliot Ness?" Billy eyes widened with excitement.

"Elliot Ness?" Chris stared back at the child blankly.

"Yeah," Billy nodded, unable to understand why no one could make the connection. Grownups, they could not be expected to be very smart. . "I saw it on TV!" he explained it like the two adults with him were the children. "Elliot Ness stops people from making beer and stuff."

To tell the honest truth, that was one association that Chris had never considered since most people, especially those FBI assholes, tended to describe Team 7 as cowboys, like those in that old Yul Brynner movie.

"Close enough," Chris admitted, since that was a good enough description as any.

"Wow! That is so cool!" Billy exploded upon hearing this confirmation. "Do you carry a gun too and bust bad guys?"

"Billy!" Mary gasped, discovering to her horror that her son had not been this animated about any person beside herself, since Steven had died. While she was thrilled that he was coming out of his shell a little, she could not stomach the fact that it was Chris who had inspired all this enthusiasm. "I don't think you should be asking...."

"Would you stay and watch the game Mr. Larabee, please?" Billy implored suddenly before Mary could stop him.

"Billy," Mary quickly interjected, realizing that things were going downhill from this point. "I'm sure Mr. Larabee is busy."

"I was busy, but since your mom invited me, I couldn't say no." Chris grinned and offered Mary that same infuriating smile of wickedness that would have gotten him killed if the boy was absent. "And call me Chris," he added, just to dig the knife a little deeper.

If looks could kill, Chris was certain the glare that Mary was sending in his direction would have struck him dead on the spot. Fortunately, the interplay between the two supposed adults was forced to take a back seat for the moment, when a new voice called out.

"Hey Billy!" a rather tubby and greying man, wearing a coach's uniform and obligatory whistle called to Billy. "Game's starting."

"I gotta go mom!" Billy declared as he pulled away from her and hurried towards the break into the fence that surrounded the baseball diamond.

"Good luck!" Mary waved at him as he left.

"Yeah knock 'em dead," Chris called out, offering his own salutations.

Billy turned around long enough to wave at them, his face beaming with happiness at both the presence of his mother and this cool friend of hers that caught real life crooks. "Thanks mom, thanks Chris," he shouted over the grass before disappearing behind the stands.

When he had gone, Mary whirled around and threw Chris a look of pure fury. In a very low voice she growled. "I really hate you."

"Now is that any way to behave at a baseball game?" Chris grinned, enjoying every moment of her ire.

+ + + + + + +

Unfortunately, it did not take long for the situation to change rapidly.

Mary had spotted her mother-in-law, Evie Travis, in the stands with the rest of the spectators to this particular game and immediately went to join them. Mrs. Travis was nice enough, making polite conversation with Chris while imparting upon Mary how thrilling it was for Billy that she was present at this game. Chris could understand what she meant by the sheer joy he had seen in the child's eyes at his mother's presence earlier. No doubt, this was at the heart of Mary's decision to stay in Denver instead of globetrotting across the globe, like a journalist of her caliber ought to be doing.

Not long into the game however, an unexpected visitor arrived and threw a monkey wrench in the whole works.

His name was Gerard Whitman, an old friend of the Travis' who was here because his daughter was playing today too. It appeared that he had been a friend of Steven Travis and was an accountant or something boring like that who had recently been divorced. It became very clear from the moment he managed to squeeze himself into the space between Chris and Mary what was on his mind and Chris had enough difficulty with Mary at present without having to deal with an unwanted rival as well.

It was not that Chris did not like Gerard simply because he was a rival but the fact that he hated him that caused Chris to concoct possible reasons to shoot the man, during all the innings of the game until it was time for a break. Gerard was mediocre and he pandered to Mary with comments like, 'you're still as young as the first time I met you' and was probably one of those guys who liked to take long walks on the beach and gaze at the stars with all that other romantic crap. Finally Chris decided he had better do something or else Mr. Whitman was going to find an illegal cache of previously evidenced weapons in his garage followed by a visit from Team 7.

"Whitman," Chris said as he stood up from his seat at half time, "I'm going to for some hot dogs and drinks, I could use a hand."

"Of course," Gerard Whitman said politely and the two men descended the steps as they headed for the kiosk.

Chris made certain they were a suitable distance away before he remarked. "Mary's a fine woman," he said with a neutral expression that hid all evidence of the real affection he felt for the woman.

"She certainly is," Gerard agreed with a slight nod. "How long have you known each other?" he asked, making the inquiry in case he was treading on someone's toes. Mary had introduced this stranger as being a work acquaintance and that suited Gerard just fine but assumption was the mother of all mistakes and so he wanted some clarification as to her relationship with this man.

"Little under a week," Chris answered aware at the nature of the inquiry. "It's a pity though, I'd like to get to know her better but some things aren't meant to be." He capped that sentence with a longing sigh.

Gerard's brow furrowed in confusion. "What do you mean? Pity about what?"

Chris looked at the man innocently and pretended to feign shock and dismay. These guys were so damn predictable, he thought. "Aw hell, I'm sorry. I assumed that everyone knew. I didn't know it was meant to be a secret or something."

Now Gerard was really curious to know. "Secret about what?"

"That she's recently come out. She's been dating one of our office girls. Just about killed every man in the place to find out that she plays for the other team, if you know what I mean?" He gave Gerard a look that oozed suggestion. Gerard's expression was priceless and it took every bit of self control that Chris Larabee possessed not to laugh when he saw the realization dawning upon the man to what he was alluding.

"But she married Steven and then there's Billy....!" Whitman stuttered in stupification, unable to believe it but then Mary was always fiercely independent and extremely prone to masculine pursuits. It was shocking to hear but in the scheme of things and his past awareness of her habits, the possibility that she was homosexual was not that astonishing in retrospect.

"I know," Chris said apologetically. "Now I understand why she didn't want me to stay for the game earlier so I wouldn't let the cat out of the bag. Look, I'd really appreciate it if you kept this to yourself. I don't want to start unlocking any family skeletons and embarrassing her."

"Oh no," Gerard shook his head in agreement, thinking to himself how ridiculous his words to her must have been earlier. "I'm glad you told me, I certainly wouldn't want to make a fool of myself or anything."

"Hey don't mention it, pard," Chris answered with complete innocence. "I'd hate to see any man in that kind of position."

+ + + + + + +

"Where's Gerard?" Mary asked when Chris returned to his seat a short time later, armed with hot dogs and drinks which he distributed evenly between himself, Mary and Evie.

"I don't know," he answered with the same innocence that he had imparted Mary's secret to Whitman while easing back into his chair to watch the progress of the game. "He said he had to go. Something about running some errands before the game was over." His expression betrayed nothing but the bemused smile Mary would not understand unless she knew what he had done.

Mary looked at him suspiciously, trying to discern why he was wearing that damn smile again but deciding, no sane person could ever figure out the inner workings of Chris Larabee's mind.

Continues in Thursday

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