In The Firelight

by GSister

ATF Future

Main Characters: All Seven

DISCLAIMER: These Characters do not belong to me (but if they did, I'D share… probably.) That said, this story was written purely for self entertainment and no money is being made, has changed hands, or has been paid out for the contents therein. The Author wishes to thank MOG for the ATF AU, she came up with it, and graciously lets others play there. Special thanks to my Betas, Van, who has been invaluable in more ways than I can count, and "S", (who has threatened me with a Death by Larabee-Glare if I mention her by more than that); it's totally her fault that I got into fan fiction in the first place. Without her encouragement (nagging), constructive criticism, and long talks on characterization, I might still be writing pathetically depressing purple poetry, and what prose I did write, would NEVER be finished…

WARNINGS: Kid Fic (sort of). If you hate the idea, then please do not read. You were warned. Also – could be classified as a song-fic, in that a song inspired the bunny. (The song in question was “Fernando” by ABBA, written by: Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus). The song is not used in the story. It was merely the inspiration.

~Constructive Criticism will be graciously accepted

~Flames will be used to toast marshmallows

Chris Larabee watched as his oldest friend sat by the merrily crackling fire in the fire pit in the yard, strumming his guitar and crooning Latin love songs. It took him back for a moment, to a place far away and long before they had ever even considered joining the ATF. Back to their years as single, know-it-all studs, risking it all for their country as Navy SEALS. Buck would sit around during their down time, guitar in hand, and do his best to woo whatever female was closest at hand. Chris smiled at the memory. Buck Wilmington was a born ladies' man, devoted to the 'gentler' gender, suspecting, like Chris, that women were really the stronger of the species. Or so they had always believed.

Chris's memory led him further down the path, remembering the night before the first mission he would ever lead for the SEALS, remembering how shit-scared he was, and how equally determined he was not to show it. Somehow, his lieutenant had seen it, had seen how scared their Captain was, and that night instead of crooning love songs with his guitar, had started a rousing round of "What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?" And damned if Buck not only knew all the verses, but Chris would swear he'd made up a few to boot.

They'd made it through that mission intact, operation successful, and had gone on to share a varied career in the SEALS, full of missions and mayhem, before Chris had had enough, and mustered out. And Buck had followed. Then came the DPD, and Sarah and Adam, and the ATF… Somehow, Buck was never far from his side.

It had seemed natural to Chris to ask Buck first when he had the chance to build his own ATF team, hand picking the members himself. And Buck stayed right by his side, his second in command, way beyond the time when he should have gone on to lead a team of his own. It was only after their profiler, Josiah Sanchez, reached the mandatory age where he would have to retire from field work, either taking a desk job or retiring all together, that Chris finally pushed Buck out of the nest to lead a team of his own. Unlike Chris's team, the Powers That Be in the ATF made sure Buck's team wasn't a bunch of hand-picked hard cases and mavericks. No, they assigned Buck a team full of rookie agents. And, like they did with Chris's team, they soon found reason to regret it. Buck trained his rookies to become equivalent to Chris's Team Seven. They weren't a bunch of head cases and screw-ups, or even a bunch of loners and misfits—Buck's Rookies were molded into the best young agents the ATF had ever seen. Buck had drawn heavily on everything he had learned from all of his teammates, not just Chris. And since Josiah had chosen to take a position as a consultant to the ATF as a whole, in order that he still might work with his former teammates, Buck took advantage of him as much as he could, as well.

Chris grinned to himself on the other side of the fire. The brass was surprised when Buck scheduled training sessions with Josiah twice a week to start, backing off to twice a month as his agents gained a little experience. When questioned, Buck replied, "Agent Sanchez is a valuable resource. I'm just making sure I take advantage of his experience in order to teach my rookies the best way for them to do their jobs, and keep from getting killed."

Chris's smile faded. His own team hadn't lasted long after losing both Buck and Josiah. It was if their leaving was the sign that it was time for the others to move on as well. He just hadn't thought he'd be the one to leave the remaining team first.

Too many years of stress, smoking, and hard drinking had taken a toll on his heart that later years of healthy living just couldn't make up for. When what he had thought was a bad case of indigestion after lunch one day coincided with an empty antacid bottle, he reluctantly presented himself before the desk of the team's medic, Nathan Jackson. A few pointed questions from Nathan later, and Chris soon found himself seated on a cold hospital bed in a chilly ER, hooked up to a heart monitor while a needle-mad nurse drew enough blood to feed Dracula for a year.

Chris had Nathan to thank for saving his life, again, as the massive heart attack that was building was prevented just in time. But the damage had been done—and Chris was no longer fit for a field position. He handed the team over to Vin Tanner, the team's sharpshooter, and retired to his horses. Nathan was soon offered a chance to start a training program for medics, as the brass could no longer deny how useful it was to have a fully trained EMT on hand in the field with them.

Ezra Standish, their Undercover Agent, stayed with the team as long as he felt he could, but he just never came to trust the new agents as much as he did his original team members. He had no problems working with J.D., or under Vin's leadership—the two men were too used to the way each other worked and thought—but he just couldn't get comfortable trusting his new teammates to back him up. And one day, that almost got him killed. Unwilling to gamble with his own life, Ezra resigned his position, and polished up his degree, lacking only the licensing exam. Surprising none of his former teammates, Ezra quickly passed the BAR exam, and was soon working for the prosecutor's office. Ezra didn't allow himself to lose contact with his Team Seven family, though. Nearly every evening would find him at J. Watkin's Bar & Grill, or as the team referred to it, The Saloon. In fact, Chris mused, Standish was there more often after he left the ATF than when he was a part of the team. Perhaps that was why he and the bar's manager, Inez Rocios, finally got together.

Chris's smile got a little wider as he looked across the firelight to the pair in question. Buck had been chasing Inez since she had first come to work at J. Watkin's. She in turn had been knocking down his advances as hard as he could throw them, to the amusement of his team-brothers. Even after it became apparent there was something between the pretty bar manager and the team's undercover agent, Buck still persisted in his advances, enjoying the game too much to give it up. He also enjoyed flirting with women—young, old, big, small—it was all the same to Buck. A woman's form was to be appreciated by a man. And truth be told, Buck would have backed off in a minute if his flirting had really caused Inez any discomfort. Even today, years of marriage to Ezra and a passel of kids later, Buck was still flirting with her. Hence the Latin love songs crooned by the firelight.

A jeer and a scuffle drew Chris's attention back to his old friend across the flickering fire. J.D. Dunne, the old team's computer expert, and Buck's 'adopted' little brother, was challenging him to play something a little less 'corny' and more fitting for the night. J.D. had shared an apartment with Buck from the time the younger agent moved out west, until the time he finally married his girlfriend, Casey. Buck had mentored the young agent; bonding with him, until J.D. quickly went from agent and friend to the little brother he'd always wanted. In fact, Chris couldn't help smirking at Buck; his old friend was still a bit of a mother hen where the younger man was concerned. Buck stood as godfather for each of J.D.’s and Casey's kids, and held favorite uncle status. A place that Buck knew well, having performed it for Chris's son, Adam…

Chris swallowed hard. Even after all these years, it still hurt to think of Adam and Sarah. It was no longer the engulfing black hole it had once been; he could now remember the good times and smile at them, but he would always feel the press of sorrow that his time with his wife and son had been so short. He knew he had Buck to thank that he was able to remember the good times as much as he did. If not for Buck, Chris might have destroyed precious photos and memorabilia in a drunken rage one night when the engulfing black hole had gotten too big to deal with, and he had tried to soothe the raging beast in the center of the darkness with enough alcohol to drown the memories. Buck had rescued the photo albums, and had taken steps to remove or put away everything that brought the memory of Sarah and Adam up at a glance. It wasn't until the formation of Team Seven that those items slowly found their way back home where they belonged.

Chris let his gaze slide over the group assembled around the fire ring. Josiah Sanchez sat in a camp chair, adopted grandfather many times over, the eldest of them all, hair steel gray and body still massively strong. His lap was occupied by Ezra's oldest daughter, a pretty dark haired ten year old who was completely unconcerned that she was too old to be on someone's lap. She had her mother's looks and her father's dimples, and when she was born Ezra had vowed to shoot any boy that came sniffing around before she was twenty one. The only thing preventing her future from containing an all-girl high school was the fact that young Sarafina had her father wrapped tightly around her littlest finger.

To Josiah's right, seated on the ground, believe it or not, and Chris had to swallow a grin every time he saw it, was Ezra. Assistant DA Ezra Standish, hair just beginning to silver at the temples, was happily seated on grass, covered in children, not all of them his own. He had one of his twins leaning against either side, while his lap was full of his and Nathan's youngest daughters sleeping against his chest.

Inez was in the chair next to him, her and Ezra's infant son cradled against her shoulder. She still looked as young and beautiful as the day Chris had first noticed her behind the bar in the Saloon, all those years ago.

The chair next to her held Dr. Rain Jackson, Nathan's wife. Part Seminole Indian and part Negro, Rain had a delicate beauty that was as ageless as it was deep. Rain was holding hands with Nathan, sitting in the chair beside her.

Nathan had lost none of the strength and power in his form that had characterized the medic of Team Seven, even if his short, wiry, black curls were now a pearly white. Chris mentally snorted, remembering the day that Buck had been trying to get a rise out of the man by calling him a q-tip. Nathan had proven that he hadn't lost any of his speed since transferring out of a field unit to head up the ATF's new Medic Training Program.

To Nathan's other side, were his teenage sons, seated on the ground next to one another, both showing they were going to grow up as tall as their father. Joseph Eban was making plans for medical school, following in his parents’ footsteps when he graduated from high school. Ezra Christopher was planning to be a veterinarian, or jump out of planes for a living, he hadn't decided which. Chris knew which one his father would prefer.

To the right of Nathan's sons sat Danny Ramirez, Vin's foster son. Danny had been fourteen when his mother died, and he'd tried to get emancipated minor status. The courts had decided he was too young. Vin, having known Danny from his work at the Youth Center, stepped in, petitioning the courts to let him foster the teen. The two had been together long enough to form a family, and Vin was considering adopting Danny if the boy was agreeable. He was going so far as to think about becoming a foster parent to other children in need, now that he had finally moved out of Purgatorio and into a safer neighborhood. He still spent time volunteering at the Youth Center there, and most weekends found both Vin and Danny at Chris's ranch at least one of the days to work with the horses and help with the chores.

Vin sat in one of the chairs between Danny and Chris, his own guitar strumming a counter rhythm to Buck's. Only the addition of the deepened laugh lines on his face betrayed the passing years to a quick glance. But Chris knew Vin’s preference was to be seated on the ground with the kids, legs crossed 'Indian style'. Chris also knew the weather was a little too cool to allow for that. Repeated injuries succumbed to age, and cold air led to stiffened muscles. In a few hours the newest leader of Team Seven would have stiffened up from the unchanging position and long minutes of stretching and back popping would be in the offing before he’d be able to move freely again. The chairs weren't comfortable enough to prevent Vin from shifting occasionally; there would still be moments of stretching when he arose, but the duration would be shorter and the pain would be much less. Vin's answer to the problem was to make more time for Tai Chi to keep limber, and to remember to get up and move more often when he was at work, seated at his desk. He disliked relying on pain medication, preferring nothing stronger than aspirin or acetaminophen.

On Chris’s right were J.D.'s and Casey's kids, the oldest one barely twelve. Casey sat on the ground on their other side, hardly looking much older than her children. Chris found himself smiling again. Casey Wells had been a tom-boy when J.D. Dunne had run into her (literally—he wasn't watching where he was going and be bumped right into her, much to the rest of the team's amusement at the time). Her auburn hair was still long and usually swept back in a pony tail, her face was usually scrubbed free of makeup. And she was still, after all these years, leading J.D. Dunne on a merry chase.

J.D. sat in a chair on Casey's right, her head leaning against his knee. He would reach down and stroke her hair gently, even as he traded jeers with Buck, who was seated on his other side. J.D. was the last to leave Team Seven but for Vin, being asked to move to the ATF's Computer Crimes Division. He had resisted for years. Hell, they had been trying to poach the computer genius since the Division first came into being, when Team Seven had included all seven of the original members. It wasn't until Casey had gotten pregnant the first time that J.D. considered the move. A lot of soul searching, and frequent talks with every one of his six older 'brothers' had convinced him it was time to move out of field work and put his knowledge of computers to work for the ATF where it would do the most good. He was now second in command of the entire computer division, and Chris couldn't have been prouder. And, Chris shook his head in inner amusement, the man still didn't look his age.

Buck completed the circle, sitting to J.D.'s right, with Josiah on his other side. His hair was no longer a solid black. He had 'distinguished' silver at the temples and peppered throughout the top and his mustache (if he didn't dye it, which he sometimes did, to J.D.'s continued teasing). Chris sometimes thought it strange the recently retired agent had never married—if ever a man was made to love a woman it was Buck. But Buck would tell him he didn't want to limit himself to only one. And he didn't—he dated frequently, although not indiscriminately. Buck had a handful of ladies that he dated faithfully, and each one knew about the others. Chris shook his head. He didn't know how he did it. If any of the others were to try something like that, they would get their heads taken off. But then again, Buck was in a class by himself. Always had been, always would be.

Vin started a song on his guitar, the strumming strangely reminiscent of drums being played. He started singing softly, the melody being picked up by the others as they recognized one of the sharpshooter's favorite campfire tunes. Chris settled back in his chair, his eyes sweeping again over his team—his family—gathered before him. What had started as a once-a-week occurrence of the boys coming over to watch the game had evolved into a once-a-month bar-b-que for the families. Tents had been erected today for the younger generation to camp out in the yard, along with the elected adults J.D., Casey, and Buck. Inez and Ezra might end up out there as well, if the kids asked just right, Chris mused. He looked over at them, at Inez cradling the baby… No, most likely Ezra would insist on Inez sleeping inside tonight, in a real bed. He'd grumble and groan, but ol' Ez would allow himself to be talked into sleeping in a tent with the kids if they wanted him to. Right now, Chris thought the odds were even.

He let his eyes roam over his family once more, and found them caught by Buck's. Even from across the firelight, he could read the expression on his old friend's face. 'We did good, Pard. We did good.'

Chris let his slow smile widen, and gleam in his eyes. ‘ Yes we did, old friend. Yes, we did.’

~ el fin ~

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