Something New

by Thalia

Alternate Universe "Street Gang"

Second story in the Something... series.

The three days of the wake and the funeral itself went by strangely quiet and uneventful… he could still hear curious people that had known JD and his mom try to speculate as to what would happen to the boy now. Some with morbid curiosity, some with real heartache… some just plainly grossly uncaring in their asking. These last ones had at one moment or another met with Ryan Larabee's glacial stare, or Maggie's silent wrath… or any of the brothers' just words of retaliation… and as the world would have it, Ez's had been the most unmerciful. He smiled, remembering the faces of those people stung by the words of a young teenager showing more maturity and knowledge of the language for 'such appropriate behavior'. Yeah, those uncaring people learned real fast not to get too close to any of them or to say anything compromising within their earshot.

+ + + + + + +

They hadn't flown back straight after the funeral. Jim wanted to talk to JD, tell him of his mother's last days… and to give him a letter she had written for him. They could see JD just wasn't registering any of the events, but Buck was there to take care of him… and took Lisbeth's letter in his hand, to keep it aside for him, for when he would finally be ready to read it. Then, later that evening, they were to meet with Jim's lawyer, the one that had taken care of the adoption papers. Now that Lisbeth was gone, they had just one last set of papers to get through to make the adoption official.

But Ryan and Maggie said they would take the papers home, to have some time to read them and see with their lawyer if everything was okay for JD in there… which was after all the aim of this adoption. That JD be protected.

The lawyer frowned but nodded. He understood the idea of double- checking for the boy's good.

That night, they stayed at the estate. They were planning on going by JD's old neighborhood and eventually by his old place, although Jim had told them that just after the kid's departure for Denver, he and Lisbeth had had the apartment cleaned and everything put in boxes in storage. Boxes that were to find their way by train the following day, as per his mother's last wishes.

Chris could still remember their collective gasps at the sight of JD's old neighborhood. It was clean but it still was one of the poorest districts of the city… and if there were no drug dealers or gang in sight, it was only because it was broad daylight. But it sure didn't look like the kind of place to be lost in at night. You would never get out of there alive.

And he wondered how JD could have made it on his own during his mother's stay at the hospital. 'Cause one thing was sure, JD would never have left his mother before visiting time ended. And he would have been such an easy prey for recruiters or brawlers…

One look at the rest of the family and he had known they had all been thinking about the same thing. About the miracle of JD's innocence that had been preserved in such surroundings.

They had taken the plane back to Denver that evening and had gotten back home in a strange mood, all silent and brooding. Without JD's usual energetic behavior, there seem to be a strange void surrounding them.

They had gone to bed, wondering what tomorrow would bring… waiting for the kid to finally shed a tear or two… knowing until then that their life would not resume, even though they would try to move on in their own way.

+ + + + + + +

Chris woke up early, still in that strange funky mood. He got up, not even seeing that Vin was already gone. He needed air to breathe. More importantly, he needed a fresh breath of air.

He stepped into the bathroom and went through his usual morning motions, only one idea in mind. I have to get out of here. I can't breathe. He brushed his teeth, smoothed his hair and walked downstairs into the kitchen, intent on getting some kind of breakfast before heading out.

He stopped at the sight of Vin, head disappearing in the fridge. He almost backed out of the room. He wasn't ready to talk with anybody this morning.

The softly drawled "Mornin' Cowboy" stopped him in his tracks. And then he met a tormented sky blue gaze and almost slapped himself on the forehead. God, how could he have forgotten. Vin was an orphan too. And the last few days must have been hell on him. And not once Chris had thought about it. He could kick his own ass if he were more flexible.

"Hey Vin… I was thinking about fresh air, breakfast and then more fresh air… wanna join me?"

"Sure…" Vin smiled.

They grabbed their coat and noiselessly stepped outside, walking slowly towards the downtown area. Their common silence was full of words than any conversation could have been as they both started to relax in each other's company, the need to keep their thoughts to themselves not as strong as with the rest of the family.

Without a word, they both stepped into Denny's diner, the students' hangout on school days, but the adults' breakfast place so early in the morning. They sat, ordered and waited for their fare to arrive.

"You okay?" Vin asked.

Chris chuckled roughly. "I should be the one asking you that…"

"Yeah, well, it's the thought that counts…" Vin's twinkled back.

Chris smiled and took a deep breath. "I need to breathe."

"I hear ya. After breakfast, if you want me to go, just let me know," he said softly.

Chris looked at him, surprised, then smiled. "It's okay. I guess I just needed out of the house for a little while." He shrugged.

"I know," Vin nodded. "Ya don't know what to do or what to say… there's nothing ya can do to make it better… at least, not now."

Chris nodded, his throat closing.

"But our time will come," Vin said softly, "they'll need us soon and our time will come. Till then, all we can do is wait… and be there."

Chris nodded again. He knew all that. He just… he needed to do something with himself, he just didn't know what exactly.

"What say we walk through to the park for an early patrol, Cowboy?" Vin drawled, seeing his discomfort.

Chris looked up suddenly. The park. Sarah's house was just around the park. Oh God! He had completely forgotten. Before he left for the ranch, they had already arranged to go out the following Monday… and that was three days ago! And he hadn't even thought about telling her about JD's loss and explaining his disappearance… Oh God!

Vin saw the sudden realization and the guilt flashing through Chris' mind.

"Don't worry pard, I'm sure she'll understand. She seemed like a nice girl to me…" He tried to reassure.

"Oh boy…" Chris murmured. "How come I didn't even think about at least telling her?"

"'Cause ya were worried about yar family and they needed ya… and ya knew she would understand. Hell, seeing how ya guys are, anybody would understand. If ya think about it, I'm sure ya'll realize the only thing that she'll be will be sad… and not because ya forgot her. Just because ya're sad. She loves ya, man. She'll understand."

Chris just looked at him, like he needed some reassurance.

Vin could feel his heart aching at the sudden loss of self- confidence. Boy, the death of JD's mother really had had quite an impact on the family… and to think that they had known only the boy, and just for a very short time.

He lifted an eyebrow. "Anyway, if she's mad, the only thing ya gotta do is grab her and kiss her! If she doesn't forgive ya then… means ya're one hell of a bad kisser!" He said most seriously, eyes twinkling.

Chris let out a bark of a laugh, then a growl. "You making fun of my manhood?"

"Me? I wouldn't dare!"

And the banter went on, both finally relieved for this semblance of normalcy.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stood stock-still. He just couldn't believe his eyes.

Vin's voice got him out of his daze. "Hey, who the hell's that guy?" He growled.

They'd had their breakfast amid banter and had walked out of there, breathing better, mostly since he had been thinking about spending some time with his girlfriend before heading back home.

To arrive at her place and find her in the company of another guy… who not even thirty seconds after they arrived and just before he called out to her, bent down and kissed her right there on the mouth, in front of everybody!

Vin's voice got him out of his stupor. "Good, she's tellin' him she's taken…"

And Chris looked.

He looked real good and real close at the rival that had suddenly appeared in his already tormented life. About as tall as he was, as lean too, with dark hair and tanned skin… sunbathes, he thought jealously.

He watched as Sarah gently but purposefully stepped away from the boy and speaking animatedly, showed him her hand with determination.

The boy just shrugged and put his hands in his back pockets.

And the way he was dressed. He looked like a gang member, Chris thought. Black tight jeans with a short-sleeved deep blue T-shirt hugging his well-defined torso. Chris was looking at the boy, mocking inside his head the way he was dressed and posed in front of his woman. Not for one moment thinking about the way HE was dressed, almost in the same apparel but with a black T-shirt instead of a blue one.

He would not let this scum get his woman, he frowned. And purposefully stepped onto the path leading to the house and within full view of Sarah. Not one moment noticing the amused glances Vin was throwing his way in front of his almost primal behavior.

The moment she saw him, Sarah squealed in happiness. She ran down the steps of the veranda and straight into his arms, hugging him fiercely.

"Chris! You okay?" She finally stepped back to look at him.

"Better…" He said cryptically.

She nodded. She had known him for over ten years and had been his girlfriend for the last year. So she knew about the Larabee temper and moods. She looked past him.

"Hey Vin!" She saluted, her eyes questioning.

"Sarah," Vin answered, his eyes letting her know everything was as good as could be.

"Sarah…" Chris started.

"Hush, I know. I had your mom on the phone last Sunday, just before you left. She told me everything. The family holding up?"

Chris nodded, smiling sadly. "As well as can be considering the circumstances."

"You'll tell me if you guys need anything, okay?" She told him softly, caressing his cheek.

A cough interrupted them and Sarah looked up surprised. She had forgotten about her visitor.

"Oh sorry!" She exclaimed. "Chris, this is my father's godson, Cletus. Our fathers were in the army together. He's here to spend his last year of high school with us while his father is moving back to the States. Cletus Fowler, this is Chris Larabee, my boyfriend." And there was no mistaking the pride she took is saying that out loud.

Reluctantly, the boys shook hands.

"I've heard a lot about you," Cletus said quietly, his eyes challenging him.

"Well, qqqqIzzzz never heard about qqqqyouzzzz," Chris returned coldly with an amused gaze. "This here is my brother, Vin." He added, nodding in Vin's direction.

Vin nodded his head but made no movement towards the dark-haired boy. There was something about him that made him cold inside. He just didn't trust the guy… and he always went with his instinct.

"Whoa, there! Time out! Both of you… and I mean it!" Sarah interrupted the standoff. "Chris, you better keep in mind that Cletus will be staying in my qqqqfather's housezzzz," she stressed those words meaningfully, "until the end of the next school year. And Cletus, Chris is my boyfriend, has been for over a year and I have no intention of breaking up with him. In fact, we've already started talking about a wedding, so you better stop right there! Am I making myself clear to the both of you?" She looked at them frowning. "Good! Now get down from that testosterone high. Cletus, you get back inside, Chris and I need to talk. Tell my father I'll be in the park. Come on, Chris." She took his arm and pulled a smirking Chris away from the house, Vin already walking ahead of them and almost chuckling gleefully. Sarah Connolly was a woman to reckon with…

"Chris, I'll be waitin' by the roundabout. Sarah," Vin saluted, smiling at her.

Chris turned to Sarah, mouth open, ready to pound on his chest figuratively, when he saw her, arms crossed, eyeing him meaningfully, head bent over her right shoulder, foot tapping impatiently on the ground.

He squirmed a little, put his hands in his front pockets then looked at her.

"Sorry?" He offered sheepishly, shrugging his shoulders.

She just shook her head and couldn't help the smile blossoming on her lips. "Bullshit, Larabee, you're about as sorry about that behavior of yours as you are about being you!"

They just looked at each other for a few more seconds, then burst out laughing. He pulled her in his arms and hugged her tight.

"God, Sarah, I needed that… I needed you," he murmured brokenly in her neck.

"I know," she whispered. "And you know, every time you need me, you can come by. I'm always there for you, no matter what my father tells you, you hear me?" She admonished, knowing full well his habit of keeping everything bottled up inside until he burst with it.

"I hear you," he answered, kissing her softly.

+ + + + + + +

Hank Connolly stepped into the kitchen looking for his daughter… to find only his houseguest.

"Cletus," he saluted. "Where's Sarah?"

"Out. A friend of hers came by, they're at the park," Cletus answered pensively, eyes lost in the depths of his coffee cup.

"A friend? Who?" He insisted.

That reaction had Cletus looking up from his cup and eyeing Hank carefully.

"Guy named Larabee, Chris Larabee."

He watched as the man suddenly burst in expletives like a lighted powder keg.

"I take it you don't like the guy, do you…" He mused.

"The darn boy's just a jockey out to have a good time with my Sarah. There ain't no way he's gonna get her!" Hank said forcefully.

"Hmm… maybe I can be of some help," Cletus said, watching the man between half-closed eyes.

Hank suddenly stopped and looked at him appraisingly.

"I have some friends I made in the last few days…" Cletus continued, still gauging the man's reaction. "Maybe we can… I don't know, talk to him about leaving her alone…" He suggested softly to the father.

Hank looked at the boy, suddenly noticing the glint in his eyes. So he didn't care for Larabee either, did he? Maybe he could help then, and Sarah would stay by his side, right where she was meant to be…

As if the boy could have heard his thoughts, he suddenly smiled.

"Don't you worry, Hank, I'll take care of everything…"

+ + + + + + +

A few days passed by, but the atmosphere at home was still as strained as when they'd return from Chicago.

JD was still behaving as if nothing had happened, but still not back to his usual mouthy and energetic self.

Buck was always by JD's side, waiting for the moment when the boy would finally crash and burn.

Ezra was even more tranquil than usual, watching it all unfolding before his eyes and waiting for it to blow up in their faces.

Vin was quietly waiting too, knowing that it wouldn't be long before something happened… and worrying about Chris and Sarah… and that boy Fowler.

Chris would spend time organizing patrols and keeping everybody busy… and visiting with Sarah every time he could.

Nathan was keeping to himself for he had tried to bring comfort but had been sent on his way since his words hadn't had the impact he thought they should… or rather, had the opposite impact and had him almost beat to a pulp by an enraged Buck. And strangely, amidst all the boys, the only one that would spend some time with him to talk or just pass the time was Ezra. He had even helped him when he had had trouble with the computer, taking some time to explain to him what had gone wrong and why and how to remedy it in case it should happen again… and offering, in his very own way, to call on him again should the need arise. To say that Nathan had been surprised would have been an understatement.

Ryan and Josiah had gone back to work, not knowing if they should thank the bad guys for making more appearances during those days to keep them out of the stressed atmosphere of their home… or curse them for keeping them away from their family when they were in dire need of them.

And Maggie was watching it all, trying to be the pillar of strength and reassurance all her family needed, forgetting her aching heart to think only of the suffering young one that looked like he couldn't mourn yet. But she knew that sooner or later, something was bound to break and she was praying for it to be the dam that was keeping JD's emotions inside and not his heart.

+ + + + + + +

That night, as usual when he wasn't on patrol duty, Chris said his good-byes after dinner and went to Sarah's house.

He was half way through the park when something made him look up ahead.

A shape stepped out of the shadows of the trees onto his path.


Chris sighed. What did he want? Hadn't Sarah made herself clear enough? He smiled venomously. If he wanted to fight it out, he would be happy to oblige. Nobody, but nobody would put the moves on his woman and take her away from him… unless, SHE wanted to go! And that didn't seem to be Sarah's intention.



They quietly appraised each other, taking in the challenging stance of the other.

"What do you want?" Chris asked, slightly leaning his head on his right shoulder, observing the young man.

"I thought I should make something quite clear to you before you went on with Sarah." Fowler spoke quietly, in a reasonable voice that sent chills of awareness down Chris' back. The man was dangerous, all his instincts were screaming.

"What's that?" He asked nonetheless, not showing another hint of emotion in his stance or his face.

"Sarah Connolly's mine, Larabee. Our fathers were army buddies and when she was born, they decided we were gonna get married. I'm here to make it true. So she was running around with you in the bushes, so what? A woman's gotta have a life of her own to recognize the true merit of her man when she gets married."

All through Fowler's little speech, Chris had felt the anger rising, almost to choke him. "And of course, she knows all about that…" He smiled coldly.

"Of course not… but once she knows it's her father's wishes, she'll understand and come around to it." Fowler shrugged.

"Wake up and smell the roses, Fowler. This ain't the 19th century anymore. A woman can decide what she wants to do with herself. Nobody can force her to marry against her wishes." He said disdainfully.

Fowler just shrugged at his words and lifted a sarcastic eyebrow. "Make no mistakes, Larabee. The only one she's gonna marry is me."

"Over my dead body…" Chris spat coldly.

"Oh well, if that's the way you want it, I'll be more than happy to oblige!" Fowler smiled gleefully. "Oh bo-oys," he sing-song-ed.

Out of the shadows, four men, with bats in their hands, suddenly took form.

"Hank and I just wanted to be sure you'll get the message…" Fowler smiled satisfactorily.

The next minutes seemed like hours and seconds at the same time as Chris fought… for his life, he knew it now!

"Chris! Watch out!"

The shout rang out and he turned around to be faced with Fowler and a knife in his hand. The next second, a blinding pain in his chest almost brought him to his knees.

+ + + + + + +

Vin had been edgy all day long. He could feel there was something brewing, but he couldn't put his finger on what. So he had stayed all day long with his family, watching them closely, trying to decipher the message his guts were sending him.

In the end, he decided to go visit Kojay and ask for guidance.

He had hardly sat down to start a meditation with his friend when he suddenly had the dreadful feeling that he wasn't where he was supposed to be, that someone in his family needed him, needed him bad.

And his eyes suddenly burst open, his mouth shouting one word 'Chris!'

Not thinking for one moment, he jumped up and left the room, the house, the neighborhood and ran all the way to the park. He didn't wonder once how he knew it was where he was to go. He just went with his feeling.

He stopped one moment at the entrance of the park to gather his thoughts and catch back his breath. And that's when he heard the sounds of the fight.

He came upon them, fighting in the moonlight, wielding bats and swinging them at Chris. And by the time he got close enough, Chris had already dispatched two of them and was in the process to get rid of the two others.

That's when a spark attracted his eyes. And he saw Fowler brandishing a knife, ready to strike Chris in the back.

"Chris! Watch out!" He screamed.

Chris turned around and in slow motion, Vin saw Fowler bring the knife down, Chris take instinctively a step back and yet, the knife still going for his chest.

For one single moment, everything seemed to be frozen in time. And visions of what had been and what could have been crossed his mind.

Then time resumed, Chris fell on one knee, clutching his chest. Fowler spat curses, getting ready to strike once more. And Vin jumped on the two thugs that were ready to hold onto Chris, and dispatched them with a few well-placed kicks. Street fighting had never been to his taste but had always been useful anyway.

When he turned around, he could see Chris and Fowler were fighting, the knife still in Fowler's hand. Chris had a gash on his chest that would most certainly need some stitches, but he was still alive and fighting. And he was giving no quarter.

They circled each other wearily, Fowler waiting for a sign that Chris was weakening from blood loss and Chris looking for the weakness in Fowler's stance.

Then Fowler plunged on him and it was too late to think, only time to act.

They landed in a heap, fighting for the knife, rolling in the dirt, trying to hit each other, looking for a weak point, finding none. Until one of their roll brought them up against a tree trunk and Fowler chose that moment to head-butt Chris, making him see stars.

Chris couldn't roll away from Fowler so he tried pushing him away with his legs and managed to send him a few feet back, straight into another tree. And while Fowler regrouped and recuperated his hold on his knife, Chris groped around, looking for a weapon of his own… to find only a bat.

The raging war cry at his back gave him no time to think and he jumped around to face Fowler.

Fowler could see his opponent looking for something to defend himself… and failing. He could already taste his victory and with a war cry worthy of a savage, he jumped on Chris…

+ + + + + + +

Ryan was looking at his son, thanking the Lord that they didn't have to attend another funeral so soon. Although he wasn't so sure about that one. His son's attacker was being prepped for surgery, but if it had been up to him, he would have interrogated the perp before he was even looked at. But then, he was no doctor. All he knew was that this guy and four others had assaulted his son in the park and almost killed him. At least, that was their aim from the evidence he had gathered and Vin's testimony.

The intern smiled at him, letting him know he was finished and stepped out.

"Dad…" Chris hesitated.

"It's okay son…" Ryan reassured. "Although I'm not sure your mother won't kill you when she sees you," he smiled.


"I was about to get home when the desk sergeant told me about a neighbor calling for a fight in the park. Knowing you guys were patrolling the area, I just had to make sure you weren't involved." He waited a beat then, "Chris, I was the first officer on the scene and though I happen to be your father, I still have to interrogate you."

Chris was looking at his father, knowing he had no choice and that it was his job.

"I know Dad."

"So, mind telling me what happened?" He questioned.

Chris sighed then started talking about his first encounter with Fowler about a week ago, and all the times he had seen the guy, up to tonight. He told him about the challenge the other had issued and their resulting fight.

"Dad, I know, you're gonna tell me it's Buck style to fight for a girl… but believe me, I didn't have any choice in the matter this time!"

Ryan nodded, looking at the lacerations on his son's body, knowing from his job that some of them were meant to weaken him for a kill while others could have just killed him if he had been less agile. Shivers ran down his spine. They had been so close to losing him tonight. If not for Vin…

Ryan shook out of this train of thoughts, not wanting to get down that road.

"Dad, what about…" Chris hesitated.

"Last I heard, he was being prepped for surgery."

"What about his hand?" He forced himself to ask.

"The doctor said he would perform corrective surgery, but he's not sure he can save his whole hand… he will need time to know… right now, we're looking at about a 35% chance of recovery at best."

"And at worst?" Chris said, his throat closing.

Ryan sighed but knew he needed to know the truth. "No recovery at all," he said softly.

"Damn!" Chris muttered. "Dad, I never meant for this to happen…"

"I know Chris, this ain't your style. But you had no choice this time. It was that or losing your life. I have to warn you though. There's gonna be an inquiry. I won't be the one leading it, I'm too close to be objective. I suppose you're aware the guy could sue you for what happened?" As Chris nodded, "I'll get Josiah to look into it, maybe run a background check on Fowler…"

Chris nodded, knowing his father would make sure that everything would be taken care of and that everything he would find would make its way to the right person.

"Come on son, let's get you back home. I already have your statement, I'll have a sergeant come by tomorrow to take your deposition."

Slowly, Chris stepped down the table and grabbed on his father's arm as dizziness assailed him suddenly.

A drawled 'Hey Cowboy!' had him smiling as things fell back into place and his head-rush subsided.

And Chris lifted his eyes to a face that had him smiling even brighter.

"What happened to you?" He asked, eyes twinkling.

"Got a run-in with some stupid jocks that thought they were walls…" Vin started with a straight face.

Chris lifted a questioning eyebrow.

"… showed' em how wrong they were," Vin winked.

Chris' smile got even bigger and then, taking in his friend's appearance, his torn shirt, his grazed knuckles and his swollen right eye, he finally broke down and burst out laughing. It wasn't long before Vin joined him, although his laugh was interspersed with some 'ow' and some 'shoot' as he was holding onto his ribs.

And all Ryan could do was partly join in the stress-releasing mirth and partly think about what his wife would say at seeing two of her sons in such a state. A gleeful twinkle entered his eyes.

"Huh… you girls ready to go home?" He asked. "'Cause your mom will be waiting for us by now…"

The laughing stopped short as both boys suddenly realized they would have to face Hurricane Maggie on a motherly strike.

"Oh boy…" Chris groaned and Vin's baleful glance at Ryan was saying all of it.

Ryan just smiled back, and not even apologetically.

"Come on guys, you gotta face the music sooner or later… so how about sooner so you know where you stand?" And he almost dragged them out of the place to the car.

"Chris?" Ryan asked as he was starting the car. "Have you thought about what you're gonna say to Sarah?" And when he crossed his son's shocked gaze, "Maybe you should start thinking about it, then," his serious eyes telling him how important he knew this all was, both for his family and his son.

Chris sighed. "There ain't nothing to think about, Dad. I already know what I'm gonna tell her." Crossing his father's eyes in the rearview mirror, "The truth, Dad, just the truth. Whatever Fowler told me, I don't know if it's true for her own dad, but I don't need to hide that from her. She already knows how much he hates me."

"Maybe that's enough for her to know, son… maybe she doesn't need to know how far he was willing to go to get rid of you…"

"Ya know, Chris, he's right. If she learns how far it went, she might think she'll have to chose between the two of ya… and that's not really the kind of position ya want her to be in. Having to choose between lover and father… it ain't right somehow…"

"I'm not the one who put her in that position," Chris muttered mulishly.

"Nope," Vin reasoned. "But if ya tell her everything about her dad, ya will… I think that knowing how far Fowler went will already be hard to take. If she even gets drift of her father's involvement…" He shrugged.

Chris sighed.

"Chris? Look, that's your father talking to you, not the police officer, okay? Her father is the only family that she has left since her mother's death and I know you don't owe her old man anything… but at least you owe it to her to try and not separate her from her last family. And if she ever learns about her father's part, you won't have been the one telling her." He paused. "And if you even want it not to be mentioned in your statement, you don't have to. It needs not go any further than this car."

Ryan's gaze was grave, knowing full well what he was doing and knowing it went against everything he had been taught on the job… but this was a family matter and there was a lot he was ready to do to protect his family, he had learned that long ago.

Chris nodded thoughtfully, knowing very well the messages hidden in his father's speech.

"Fair enough," he acquiesced. "Then let's say we know nothing about Connolly. Just that Fowler's got a bug in his bonnet and went after me for my girl."

The three men looked at each other, making a silent oath that none of them would break.

+ + + + + + +

The house was silent when they arrived. But they had no doubt that there was a welcoming committee waiting for them. Chris and Vin had been gone too long and Ryan was way past his usual return time… and he hadn't call to warn his wife.

When they stepped into the house, the speeches that were to have been given were replaced by gasps and a Hurricane Maggie of worry.

She checked both the boys while tongue-whipping her husband for not having called if just to tell her they were all okay.

JD, Buck and Ezra were looking at them wide-eyed and Maggie was demanding explanations. Which Ryan obliged. After he finished telling of the evening and the doctor's conclusions about the boys and their assailant, a heavy silence weighted the atmosphere, Maggie and Buck very much aware of the Connolly family differences.

They were about to ask more questions when the doorbell rang.

Maggie stood up and came back soon after with a wince and Sarah Connolly in tow. The girl gasped when she saw Chris and ran to him, hesitating and trying to find a way to hug him, more out of a need she had to do it than for him to actually be hugged. Finally, she simply kissed him, but with a conviction that broke no argument. Then she looked him straight in the eyes.

"Tell me," she ordered, squaring her shoulders.

Chris sighed, then launched into his tale, the one they had given the family, the one they had talked about in the car… the one where her father's name was not spoken.

In the end, she simply put her head on his shoulder and loosely held him.

A cough interrupted them.

"Guys, we're gonna let you talk a little more… but the other ones, let's get some rest," Ryan said. "And Chris, don't forget, tomorrow the sergeant will come get your deposition. And you need at least a few hours of rest. Sarah, good night," Ryan saluted, joined by a chorus from the rest of the family.

Once they were all gone, Chris and Sarah looked at each other. Sarah was about to ask what else he hadn't told her but something held her back… maybe it was the knowledge that for once, he wouldn't budge on that one. And that could mean only one thing.

"I was worried when you didn't show up… I wanted to call, but I don't know… I just couldn't… so I decided I would come by and see if you guys were up…"

"Christ, Sarah! You mean to tell me you walked all the way here at this time of the night?" In his suddenly fright of what might have happened, of what could have happened or what could happen on her way back home, he was suddenly speechless.

"Nothing happened to me, Chris, you got them all out of my way earlier," she smirked.

"And nothing will happen to her on the way back," said a voice from the doorway.

They both turned around. Ryan was frowning at her.

"When you're ready to go back home, Sarah, Chris will come and get me and I'll drive you back. You have no choice, young lady," Ryan said before heading back to his room.

+ + + + + + +

Sarah entered the house and leaned against the door, sighing deeply. It was almost 1am and she should have been exhausted, but mostly, she was weary, not physically but spiritually.

She had stayed a little longer to talk with Chris, but mostly to kiss and hug, not really knowing if it was her need or his…

Then Chris had gone to get his father, had kissed her one last time and waved her good-bye from the doorway. She knew that, after the adrenaline rush had worn off, he would fall in bed, exhausted.

Just as she knew he had hidden something from her, something that would most likely hurt her if she knew… and since it was Cletus that had attacked him, to think that her father was more or less connected to the attack was not a big stretch of the imagination. And it wasn't hard to imagine that Chris would not talk, just to not hurt her.

And thus, she knew what she had left to do. And that was the hardest she had ever done. Making that choice. She knew she would have to live with it and she knew the kind of risks she would take by making it.

A voice shook her out of her thoughts.

"Sarah? That you?"

"Yes, father, it's me." Then she took a deep breath and marched into the living-room, up to her father and stood there looking at him.

He had aged a lot lately and she hadn't really noticed, maybe because she thought he would always be there… and then she caught his eyes and understood suddenly how he had been playing her and her feelings all along. And that gave her the final boost of strength she needed to make her stand.

She leaned her head to the right looking him straight in the eye and then she shook her head disgustingly.

"Do you know that Cletus is right now at St Joseph, being operated? Of course not, you didn't wonder where he was 'cause you knew all along… and what did you think would happen? That he would kill Chris or that Chris would kill him, but that either way Chris would be out of my life? Well, let me tell you, you were wrong. Chris is stronger than you think. He didn't kill Cletus and Cletus didn't kill him. Cletus wounded him and he has a few stitches, but it's Cletus who ended at the hospital, with a crushed hand that will most likely never be whole again. Yeah, father, he's now a crippled, no thanks to you!"

Hank was looking at his daughter, at first trying to deny any involvement in what had happened. But the more he tried to interrupt her, the louder she got, almost yelling at him in the end of her speech.

And then, she started speaking again, but her voice was so soft that he had to strain to hear her and what she said sent shivers down his back and his heart started to freeze at her tone.

"Now Hank Connolly, hear me well and hear me good. I swear on the grave of my mother that if you ever again try anything against Chris Larabee or any member of his family, I'll leave this house never to come back or talk to you ever again. And keep in mind that in six months, I'll be of age. And that I won't mind leaving this house to live with friends until my birthday if you try once again to separate Chris and me. I can live without him for a few weeks until my birthday if that's what it takes for you to understand how much I love him."

Hank looked at her about to interrupt when she spoke up again.

"He didn't tell me anything about your part in all that, not even his father or the witnesses of the assault. But I'm not stupid, Dad. I know perfectly well what went on. He decided not to tell me and for that I would love him more if I only could. He is the one that decided not to make me choose. Just like by condoning and encouraging Cletus, you're the one who forced me to choose. So I'm telling you here and now, if you force me one more time, I will choose not to be your daughter any more, I will choose to go to him and you will never hear from me ever again."

Tears were falling from her eyes, wetting her face. But still, her stance and her words showed her inner strength. She took another deep breath.

"I'll let you think about that tonight. Tomorrow, you will tell me your choice so I know if I have to start packing or not. Goodnight father."

And not even bestowing a kiss on his cheek, she turned and mounted the steps to her room.

And he looked at her departing figure, dread invading his body. Had he lost his daughter? And to whom? A puny little boy who had to get his father involved! 'Damn Larabee' his thoughts were raging. He had to go and force him into that position! "He won't get away with it, I swear it, that damn Larabee boy won't get away with taking my little girl from me!" He muttered, filling a shot of whisky.

All busy that he was in his thoughts of revenge, he never heard the soft regretful sigh that accompanied his daughter's departure from the kitchen. Somehow, Sarah wasn't so surprised by her father's reaction. Tomorrow, she would warn Ryan and Chris. And she would get a suitcase ready, just in case. As her mother had often told her when she was younger, it was better to be safe than sorry.

But still, she would hold onto her father as long as she could, without endangering the man she loved or his family. She could hold on for the time being.

And then, she would be free to be with the one she loved and her father wouldn't have a single thing to say about that. She would be of legal age to make that choice.

The End

Continued in Something Borrowed

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