Seventh Heaven

by Cin

ATF Universe

Disclaimer: The following is a work of fan fiction based on the CBS television series, The Magnificent Seven. No infringement on the copyrights of CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp., or other parties who may have legal rights is intended. Original characters are conceived from the writer's imagination, any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental and no harm is intended. This story is for entertainment purposes only; no monetary gain has been made. The lyrics from Seventh Heaven are borrowed from the television show of the same name and all rights belong to Warner Bros.

Thanks to: Deirdre for all of her help. To Deb and Monica for their encouragement, and to Lady A for getting the wheels turning on this idea by asking which songs reminded us of the boys.

Saturday, December 23

Chris Larabee stepped out onto the back porch of his mountain ranch house and took a deep biting breath of the chilled December air.

Should snow by Christmasthe blond silently mused, as the bitter cold blast of air stung his lungs. He buttoned his wool-lined jacket and shivered as he turned the collar up. He pondered on the upcoming Christmas holiday as he headed for the barn to start his chores. Without his wife and son, the twenty-fifth of December would be just another day, without cause for celebration.

Chris entered the warm dim interior of the barn and was greeted with the gentle snorting and pawing of hoofs from the four occupants within. "Hungry boys?" Chris called to them.

He made quick work of replacing soiled hay for fresh and doling out the equines' daily ration of oats. He spent time with each of the horses brushing their coats and talking gently as he gave each a bit of attention. Except for one cantankerous mount, which kept trying to add a bit of Chris to his daily ration, each horse accepted the brief human contact with a soft nicker and a gentle nudge of thanks.

"Hey, there Satan," Chris entered the stall of his own black gelding. The horse snorted gently and bumped Chris's arm as he poured his oats into his feed trough. "Whoa there fellow, this what you want?" Chris gently began rubbing his mount behind the ears and under his chin. He laughed when he stopped and the horse nudged him again and tried to get his head back under his hand for some more attention. He finally pulled out a few bits of carrots he had tucked into his coat pocket for the beast.

Peso, in the stall across the wide center aisle, snorted heavily and shook his mane as if in indignation that he had not received the same treatment.

Chris grinned as he closed the stall and turned to the horse, "Vin spoils you enough, you old glue bait. You can just wait till he gets back and beg those sugary treats from him. Think I'm going to give you something for trying to bite me?" The horse nickered and raised his head up and down as if nodding his head yes.

Yep, bad as Vin. He chuckled silently, eyeing the handsome steed.

Chris took one last look around the barn making sure everything was back in its proper place. He smiled wistfully taking another glance at his black.

Think he likes having friends, looks happier. The team leader nodded.

Chris scowled as his dark thoughts rudely interrupted. The bitter swirls of his family's memories hovered, as did the dreams that died with them. Chris shook his head as if to dispel those thoughts.

I have friends now too. He sighed sadly. But they're not here.

He let his gaze roam once more along each of the fine equines. His mind drifted to thoughts on each of the horse's owners. The new four-footed boarders were bringing some life back into the soulful eyes of his faithful steed; much like their owners, who were giving him a new outlook on life. He smiled as he thought how each of the mounts matched their owner's personality.

The large gray was sturdy and strong just like Buck Wilmington. Buck was his oldest friend and had been there on Chris's worst day when his family was killed. He also tried the hardest to pull Chris kicking and screaming back to the living. He stuck by Chris even on his bad days. He'd pulled him back from a drunken stupor and kept him from hurting himself and worse. Buck was a good friend and someone Chris knew he could count on.

The small bay belonged to J.D. Dunne, the youngest and newest member of the A.T.F. team Chris headed. The horse showed the same youthful exuberance and zeal its owner had for life. J.D.'s buoyancy was a dose of naiveté that kept the more cynical members of the team grounded, as they saw life through his youthful eyes.

The cannibalistic black with the blazed face belong to Vin Tanner, the team's sharpshooter. The horse was just as wild and untamed as they knew its master could be. Vin was a youthful spirit with an old soul. Like young Dunne, he breathed his own special life into the team. Chris didn't know what it was about him, but since they'd met they had become closer than brothers. The blond felt he had found the piece of his soul he hadn't realized was missing.

The three remaining team members inquired on boarding their steeds at the ranch. He'd agreed of course. He didn't let on how much it helped him having them around; he really didn't like being alone. He just didn't know if he was ready to have so many to care about or care about him.

He was curious to see what type of mounts they were going to bring to the mix. Ezra Standish, the team's undercover agent, would have a steed as tricky as he was. He wondered if it would also be just as aloof as the conman tried to be. Nathan Jackson, the ex-paramedic, would have a mount that could stay as even tempered and calm as he did in all situations. Josiah, the team's profiler, would have a strong, sturdy horse with a big heart that would give anything for its owner. Chris shook his head it was an odd group of men he had assembled, but he wouldn't trade a one of them for anything. Once again he hated to admit it, even to himself, but it was going to be lonely this holiday without them.

Chris opened the barn door as he heard the rumbling sound of Buck's old pickup come up the driveway. He waved a greeting to J.D. as the dusty red Ford pulled to a stop beside the barn.

"Hi, Chris," J.D.'s greeting held less than his usual amount of enthusiasm.

"J.D." Chris nodded.

"Hope you don't mind," J.D. looked expectantly at Chris.

Chris shook his head, "Invitation was open."

J.D. shrugged, "I know, figured I'd just stay home and watch old movies, but. . . "

"Got a little lonely?"

J.D. ducked his head and nodded sadly. "Yeah, Casey and Nettie left this morning to go to Nettie's sister's for Christmas and with Buck gone. . ."

"I know, Kid," Chris smiled. He knew J.D. was still missing his mother who had died a little over a year ago. Now his girlfriend was out of town and his surrogate older brother too.

Hell yeah he was lonely. Chris decided. "No problem."

J.D. was the only member of Larabee's team that seemed to celebrate Christmas with any kind of happiness or enthusiasm and looked forward to it. For all of the youth's best efforts to get his teammates into the holiday spirit, he had been hitting a brick wall with his six partners this year. Then Buck, Ezra and Vin had been recruited to help another team with a case in Utah two weeks ago, and there was no guarantee they'd be back by Christmas. Chris happily scratched any plans for a Christmas gathering; he didn't like celebrating the holiday anyway since he'd lost his family. Of course, even Scrooge was found to have a heart. Chris left an open invite to all of them to come to his ranch, should they be free on the holiday. No, he wasn't going to admit, to anyone even himself, that he wasn't looking forward to another lonely holiday either.

He knew with Buck out of town he'd probably be seeing J.D. sooner or later. Chris also figured Josiah would be stopping by after he finish helping at the shelter in Denver. Nathan, maybe, but he knew Nathan would spend as much time as he could with his girl, Rain. With Rain's long hours at the hospital they had so little time off together anyway. Chris's thoughts drifted to the three who were out of town. Buck would have come, unless he got a better offer from one of his lady friends, which was likely. Vin, Chris was unsure about. Vin was still trying to get use to having people around him who actually cared about him. The team leader also knew the former loner didn't have a lot happy memories to draw from. Being part of a family and celebrating holidays were hard on him. Chris didn't think Ezra would have come, either. The only one with any kind of family left, his mother, Maude would be calling him to whichever foreign locale she was calling home at the moment. Perhaps he'd find some up scale party in the city to attend. Even if he were alone he wouldn't come. He was still trying to keep everyone at arm's length, and struggling to fit in.

Chris glanced back towards the house and thought of the bare interior. He had given no thought to any holiday decorations; he never did, not since losing Sarah and Adam. He knew though that the undecorated house would do little towards raising J.D.'s spirits.

"Listen J.D. I was planning on taking Satan out for a little exercise. You want to join me?"

J.D. was pleased with the invitation, "Yeah, that'd be great!"

"Figure while we're out we might find a little tree to decorate," Chris smiled at the stunned expression on the young man's face and shrugged. "You know just in case the rest of the guys get to come out for Christmas."

J.D. was ecstatic and realized what Chris was doing. "Thanks, Chris."

Chris cuffed the young man on the back of head like Buck often did and headed up to the house for some supplies. "I'm just going to go grab a few things, why don't you saddle the horses."

"Sure thing, Chris." J.D. yelled after him and headed to the barn.

Chris turned back and yelled another warning after J.D. "Watch Peso, I think he's still hungry."

J.D. laughed, "Just like Vin."

Chris's laugher followed behind as he continued on toward the house. Maybe this wouldn't be such a bad holiday after all.


Chris relaxed in his recliner, staring at the dying embers in the fireplace and nursing the drink in his hand. The memories of past Christmases came to him unbidden. They blinked through his mind like the rhythm of the lights flickering on the small tree in the corner by the window.

After their afternoon ride, Chris and J.D. returned with a small evergreen. After taking care of the horses Chris had helped J.D. set it up in the corner of the living room. Pulling out various boxes of long forgotten ornaments from the attic, he allowed J.D. full rein on decorating, as he prepared dinner. Chris smiled ruefully as he remembered J.D.'s numerous questions on the ornaments and about past holidays with his family. Chris knew if Buck were here he would have spent the afternoon cuffing the kid on the head to get him to stop bringing up the past. They all knew how painful the memories were for Chris. Now, J.D. had retired and left Chris to wrestle with those demons alone.

He stared at the tree, letting his gaze drift over the various ornaments. Each had been lovingly purchased by Sarah to celebrate every special event in their short life together. She loved Christmas. He recalled the joy in Adam's eyes when he first became aware of what Christmas was. How excited he would get when it came time to decorate the tree. The year they bought the train for under the tree, he and Adam sat for hours watching it go round and round. Adam's enthusiasm for the holiday glowed in his eyes as he told his father stories of Santa Claus riding the train to pick up presents for Christmas Eve. He remembered Adam helping Sarah decorate Christmas cookies, they had to be just so for Santa. He reflected sadly that Adam always cried when Christmas was over and it came time to take the decorations down.

Chris finished his drink in one hard swallow. He tried to bite back the tears as he remembered that last Christmas together. As he helped her put the star on top the tree, Sarah and leaned down and kissed him gently, then whispered in his ear that she making a special wish upon that star. When he asked her what it was, she smiled and told him she wanted an addition to the family by the next Christmas.

Chris turned his red-rimmed eyes to the golden star shimmering on top of the tree. Over the past few years he had often wondered if they were happy in heaven. He knew if there was a heaven that's where they'd be. He often wondered if they felt pain there, like he did here in his own hell on earth, missing them. As he thought a moment more he realized the memories he had were more often happier ones now and he was feeling the pain less and less.

He glanced at the framed photograph on the rustic mantle above the stone fireplace. It was a picture of the team taken on their last fishing trip together. Even Ezra had made that one. Maybe Buck was right he was getting better. . . because of them. He tilted his empty glass toward the photo in a salute. Rising from his chair he turned out the tree lights. With a last sad smile toward the star on top of the tree, he headed off to his own bed for the night and prayed he would not be visited by haunting dreams.

Sunday, December 24

While chopping firewood, Chris swung the axe and let the repetitious motion clear his mind. He could use a chain saw to make quick work of the chore, but he wanted the physical effort to try to forget, again. Since last evening his brain continued to linger on past memories of his family. He was also trying to figure out when he had forgotten all his promises to never get close to anyone again and let these six men get under his skin.

Glancing at the darkening sky, he saw the scattering of flakes that were earthbound. He was glad of J.D.'s company; there were a lot of chores to see to before the weather set in and made it impossible.

Chris paused and cast a worried eye down the road.

The Kid's a competent horseman. . .he's fine, his subconscious argued.

This morning the dark-haired youth had seen to taking each of the horses out for some exercise before giving them a thorough grooming. He was on the last one and it had to be that damn cannibal of Vin's. Chris knew the horse was often cantankerous beyond control with Vin and now he had been cooped up for awhile. He hoped J.D. could handle him. All of the horses had been eager for the exercise. That ornery beast though was like its owner and didn't like being shut in for any length of time. He knew J.D. would be getting a good work out himself with that one.

He paused once again as he heard the clatter of hooves coming up his drive. He looked up with relief to see J.D. and Peso trotting up the lane.

"Hey, Chris," J.D. greeted breathlessly. "Guess who's coming for dinner?"

Chris cocked an eyebrow at him, "Josiah." He easily surmised from his earlier thoughts.

J.D. grinned, "Yeah, Nathan too." J.D. turned the prancing Peso toward the barn. "Should be here in a minute." He called back over his shoulder.

Chris went back to his wood chopping but it wasn't long before he heard the rattle of Josiah's old Suburban coming up the drive. Chris leaned his axe against the stack of wood by his side and walked over to great his two new guests.

"Josiah, Nate," he nodded to each of them. "You're more than welcome, but I'm kind of surprised to see you. Nate, didn't you and Rain have plans?"

The tall man shook his dark head sadly, "We did, but the hospital had other plans."

Chris nodded. "She was called in huh?"

"Yep, interns are first call on holidays. Should of known better." Nathan continued to grumble as he helped retrieve some grocery sacks from the back of the Suburban.

"Planning on doing some cooking for us, Josiah?" Chris was trying to check through some of the bags as he helped Nathan carry them into the house. "You know I do have plenty of food?"

"Wanted to cook up a batch of my special chili for Christmas dinner."

"Chili?" Chris raised an eyebrow at Josiah. "That's not very traditional is it?"

"And who said this crew was traditional?" Josiah shot back.

Chris and Nathan both laughed at Josiah's comment. The shrill ringing of the telephone broke their camaraderie. Chris reached for the receiver without a second thought. "Larabee."

The other two grew silent as the watched the changing emotions flitter across their leader's face.

"Hey guys," J.D. greeted as he bounded into the room, glad to see some more of the team was able to join them for the Christmas holiday. He frowned as both Nathan and Josiah waved him to silence and then he too turned his attention to the frowning blond's tense features and listened to the one sided conversation.

Chris hung his head and pinched the bridge of his nose as if trying to ward off a headache. "Yes I know they can be rather unconventional. What happened?"

Nathan and Josiah glanced and each other and raised knowing eyebrows, guessing the call was about their missing comrades.

"Anybody hurt?" Chris felt his own stomach drop as he waiting patiently for the answer at the other end. The other three in the room perked up at the question but could not gather any answers from their leader's stoic expression. "You were suppose to give my agents back in one piece."

Nathan's frown deepened as he gathered from Chris's rough chastisement of the other party that one or more of their friends were hurt.

"What time did they leave? Yeah, yeah. Okay."

The others continued to watch Chris's face for any hint of good or bad news as he continued the conversation. He was giving away nothing as he fired off short questions and gave even shorter responses to the other party. The three tried to wait for the conversation to end, so they could get some answers of their own. But their patience was wearing thin and they were getting anxious, especially J.D.

"Yeah, I've got a fax machine here, just shoot me a copy of the report as soon as you can. I know Burt, no problem, anytime. Just remember you owe me now. Right, bye. Merry Christmas to you, too."

Chris hung up the phone and turned to the three expectant and anxious faces before him. He almost laughed at their expressions but held up his index finger signaling them to give him a minute. He dialed the phone and waited patiently to be connected. Instead, he listened to a message telling him the cell phone he was calling was turned off or not in range. He frowned slightly and tried another number. His frown deepened as the message was repeated. Trying a third number he gave the phone one of his notorious glares as if that would scare the message into changing.

"Brother?" Josiah's asked quietly.

Chris replaced the receiver and looked up at the other three. "Well it seems the case is over. The guys left this morning" Chris glanced at his watch. "Barring any problems they should be there later tonight."

"Somebody hurt?" J.D. asked timidly, afraid of hearing the answer, but knowing it was a question they all wanted the answer to.

Chris shrugged. "Burt didn't give me much, I don't think he was telling me everything." Chris frowned thoughtfully. "He did say they received a few bumps and bruises during the bust, but they were fine."

Nathan snorted, "We're talkin' 'bout Ezra and Vin here. Bumps and bruises translate into broken bones and concussions."

"I can't get through to any of their cell phones," Chris sighed.

"They could be in an area with no service," Josiah tried to give a reasonable explanation.

"They're digital and nationwide," Chris's frown deepened.

Josiah tried to calm him again, "There are still areas. . ."

Chris cut him off, "They're doing what they usually do, avoiding me," Chris quirked an angry eyebrow at Nathan and Josiah.

"What's the rest of the story?" Josiah wanted to hear about the mission. He knew from the frown on Chris's face and the reputation of the men involved, there had to be more, and it probably wasn't good.

Chris's mouth lifted in a half smile, "Oh. . .no more than usual. Burt let me know I have his utmost sympathy in dealing with those three all the time. Buck tried his entire arsenal of pick up lines on every female agent there. Vin was going stir crazy in the surveillance van or anytime he wasn't out in the middle of the action. Both he and Ezra were constantly on the supervisors there. Advising them they were dragging their feet and trying to get them to get it over with. They kept busy, chastising them on having to break this thing at Christmas time. Ezra finally just tweaked the deal from his end and got the bust moved up. The fax should be coming in soon." Chris shrugged his shoulders. "We'll see, you know them."

Nathan rolled his eyes, "That's what I'm worried about. I'd bet all the facts aren't in yet."

Josiah patted Nathan on the back, "I'm sure our brothers are as well as their description of 'fine' usually insinuates."

"Thanks for easing the worry there, Josiah." Chris shook his head at this friend. "I don't know why they were in such a hurry, seems like they were excited about going. They didn't say if they had plans for the holiday."

Josiah's rumbling laughter followed him into the kitchen, "You'll worry no matter what anyone says, until you see those boys home safe and sound. . . Dad." The ex-minister continued to chuckle as Chris tried to glare at him for using the moniker Buck stuck him with when he was worrying too much over his team.

"And knowing them, I'd better get started on this chili so it will be ready for tomorrow." Nathan laughed and moved into the kitchen to help Josiah unload the grocery sacks.

J.D. was still standing in the same place, his head hanging down so no one could read his face. "J.D.?"

J.D. turned his soulful eyes up to Chris. "You sure no one was hurt?"

Chris read the fear in J.D.'s eyes and knew it was concern for his roommate and surrogate older brother, Buck. Since J.D. joined the team, Buck had taken the young man under his wing and the two made their own unique family. Chris saw Buck filling the void that was left in J.D.'s life since he'd lost his mother. And J.D. was the younger brother Buck always wanted, but wouldn't admit needing. He knew neither wanted to face losing the other; like he and Vin - they had found a missing soul mate. Chris ran a hand through his hair and sighed deeply. He reached out and put an arm around J.D.'s shoulders.

"J.D. I'm sure they're okay," he smiled in encouragement. "Especially Buck. He knows how to take care of himself."

J.D. smiled "Yeah, I know. So you're not worried about them?"

Chris blew out a frustrated breath of air. He glared at Josiah who continued to chuckle as moved about the kitchen. "Yeah I'm worried, but I can't do anything about it right now. I just have to wait till they call or get here. . . Then I can shoot them."

It took a minute before J.D. realized what Chris had said, and then he started laughing. "Can I help?"


Chris sipped on his coffee and gazed out over the hills that rose up behind his house. He was sitting on his back porch steps enjoying the sunset and the peace and quiet, the calm before the storm he thought. Bringing one leg up, he rested his hand holding the coffee cup on his bent knee.

Josiah came out and eased himself down beside the contemplative man. He took a deep breath and smiled, "Man is an imperceptible atom always trying to become one with God."

Chris sighed deeply, "Just trying to make peace with him. . . with me."

Josiah put a comforting hand on Chris' shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I sensed you had more on your mind today than just the Three Musketeers."

Chris chuckled, nodding he squinted at Josiah. He swallowed hard before he could continue, "The time of year I guess, too many memories."

Josiah nodded and gazed out toward the setting sun, "When ever one door is closed, another is open, we just have to find the way."

Chris' mouth quirked up in a half grin, "Laying into the philosophy pretty hard today aren't you preacher?"

Josiah grinned, "The time of year I guess."

Chris laughed.

"I know you'd be feelin' better if those boys were back and you knew every one was safe and sound." The older man added.

Chris snorted, "I should know better than agreeing to an assignment that doesn't include all of us. I know I'm being a mother hen. You accuse me of it enough."

"You care, brother, you care," Josiah eyed Chris seriously. "That, my friend is not a bad thing."

Chris nodded. "The memories aren't so bad now, you know. I mean with you guys, Buck. . . Vin. . . it doesn't hurt as much. . . but," Chris was finding the words difficult but it was relief to admit it to someone.

"You talk about getting better. Your pain is fading, the grief process is ending, and you're remembering the happier times. . ." Josiah thought for a moment, "Would you rather not have this new family?"

The silence was absolute as Chris stared out over the darkening horizon. Finally when Josiah had almost given up on him answering, Chris sighed and shifted slightly on the step. Shaking his head Chris looked Josiah in the eye, "No. Buck's been trying to beat me over the head with this for a while and I wanted to keep fighting him and the truth. I didn't like the idea of letting anyone getting so close again. But I don't regret the time I had with Sarah and Adam, just that it was too damn short." Chris sighed heavily and glanced back up at the dark mountainside. " It's the same with all of you, we are a family aren't we?"

Josiah smiled and patted Chris on the thigh, "That we are brother, that we are."

"Even Ezra. . ." Chris smiled a little mischievously.

Josiah's booming laughter rang out of the quiet night, "Still waters run deep."

Chris laughed. The muffled ringing of the telephone brought their laughter to a halt. The ringing stopped as someone inside answered. The door kept the two from hearing the conversation. Chris was starting to get up and head in side when J.D. came out the door the cordless phone held to his ear. He was talking excitedly to whoever was on the other end.

"So you got it? How is it?" J.D. eyed Chris waiting patiently for the phone. "Great, Okay Buck, see ya' later tonight, right? Yeah, drive safe I know that's hard for you." J.D. laughed at what ever the reply was on the other end. "You're full of it, Buck." J.D. laughed till he saw Chris' frowning face. "Here's Chris", he ended quickly handing the phone to his leader.

"Buck," Chris snapped into the phone. "Where are you?" Chris ran an impatient hand through his hair as he listened to the reply. He glanced around the dark countryside, "No it's stopped here but they're expecting more tonight."

Josiah rose from the step and went to stand beside J.D. "Feeling better?"

J.D. grinned up at him, "Yeah," he answered then leaned closer and whispered something in Josiah's ear.

Chris was eyeing them suspiciously as he continued his conversation with Buck. That nagging suspicion was still with him that he was not being told the whole story on this escapade. Now what are they keeping from me?

Chris glanced at his watch. "Yeah, I got the report Buck. I know what it says I just think I'm not being told everything. No, I know you that is the problem. Okay, so how long are you going to stop?"

Josiah and J.D. were watching Chris pace the length of the porch. They couldn't gather much from the one sided conversation but they could see his frustration rise by the increased throbbing of the vein on his temple. The three missing members usually started betting to see who could make it throb the hardest. Now they weren't even here and they were doing it without even trying. . . or were they? J.D. and Josiah looked at each other and tried hard to keep from breaking out in laughter.

"I wish you would just drive straight through Buck, before the weather gets worse here. So why is it so important? No, Buck I thought we agreed. . ." Chris' pacing was picking up and he was running his hand through his hair again. "Let me talk to Vin or Ezra. With your driving? No I don't believe you, I know you remember? What else are you keeping from me? Buck so help me. . ." Chris stopped; placing one hand on his hip he blew out a frustrated breath. "No I'm not getting mad. . .I know its Christmas." Chris stopped frowning as he listened to his friend on the other end of the line. Finally he threw his hand up in resignation, "Alright, alright Buck, okay. I'll see you when you get here. Okay, I won't wait up and no search parties but. . ." Chris stopped again almost stomping his foot. "Okay, right Buck. Alright. . .Bye."

Chris hit the button to disconnect and eyed the other two who were trying their best to look innocent. "J.D. you know something about them I don't?" Chris glared intensely.

J.D. looked wide-eyed and glanced quickly at Josiah before shaking his head. "No Chris, Buck said everything was okay. Didn't he sound fine?"

Chris pursed his lips and nodded, "Yeah, he also said Vin and Ezra were sleeping." Chris shook his head in disbelief. "With him driving. . . They're up to something."

Josiah clapped J.D. on the back and headed for the door, "I'm going to go put the chili up." It was as good as an excuse as any to get out of Larabee's way for a while.

"I thought we were having that tonight?" J.D. was startled Josiah would leave him to face Chris alone.

"Now J.D., you know it's best when it sets up overnight, lets all those flavors blend," Josiah waved his hand under his nose and breathed deeply like he was savoring the aroma in front of him. "Lets the heat reach it full potential," Josiah, grinned and nodded briefly at Chris before turning to enter the house.

Chris turned back to J.D. "You wouldn't keep anything from me now would you J.D.?"

J.D. gulped and shook his head vigorously, "No Chris, honest. Buck didn't tell me anything other than they were all fine."

Yep, there was that word. Chris nodded. It was final no more assignments out of town unless they all went. He was getting too old for this.

Monday, December 25

Chris heard a thump and the muffled curses. He glanced at his bedside clock. 1:00 a.m. He'd only given up waiting on them about an hour ago; he still felt they were trying to avoid him. He threw back the covers yawning widely and headed for the door. He could hear the muffled whispers from the living room as he headed down the stairs to check out his wayward team members. Half way down he met Buck coming up.

Buck had his head down and therefore didn't see Chris until he almost bumped into him.

"Jeez, Pard," Buck stepped back startled. "You trying to give Old Buck a heart attack?"

"Buck" Chris greeted his oldest friend, his green eyes glowing warily. "Little late aren't you? Everything, okay?"

Buck sighed heavily and threw out his hands smiling broadly, "We're all fine. . . Dad. It is snowing out there, wanted to get here in one piece you know. Told you not to wait up for us anyway."

Chris glared at him. The stairway was illuminated only by a small night light at the top of the landing, but it was still enough light for Chris to see Buck's face clearly. Chris reached out and grabbed Buck's chin and turned his head slightly to see the new black left eye Buck was sporting. He also noted the slightly puffed and split lip on the right side of his face.

"Looks like you met with some trouble there?"

"One of the ladies he tried to pick up didn't cotton to the line he was usin'" the soft Texas drawl drifted up to the pair from the direction of the couch before Buck could answer.

"Watch out Junior," Buck growled.

"Vin, you okay?" the blond asked, his voice tinged with apprehension. Vin's speech sounded slurred. Chris wanted to check him out for himself, but Buck wasn't moving from his position blocking any further descent.

"Fine. . .Dad," Vin yawned. "Tired is all. Now go on back to bed, 'fore ya wake Nate and get him to pokin' and proddin' us."

Chris thought Vin's speech still sounded funny, but maybe it was just the fact that he was tired. Chris eyed Buck critically, knowing in his gut they were keeping something from him. Deciding to drop it for now, he knew they were tired and the interrogations could wait till morning when they were all fresh. At least they were all home safe, alive anyway. "Okay, but I will get a full report from you three in the morning." Chris continued frowning at Buck as it looked like he heaved a deep sigh of relief. "Ezra . . ."

"Already in his room," Vin waved toward the back of the house. Chris had converted a small room off the kitchen into a bedroom when the team began spending more time out at the ranch. He also put in two full size beds in each of the two extra bedrooms upstairs, so everyone had a comfortable place to stay if needed. Ezra had claimed the smaller room for his own from the beginning. Even when he was with them he was still trying to keep his distance. His only complaint was the close proximity of the room to the kitchen area and the rest of the team's habit of rising early and rambunctious behavior didn't allow for him to sleep to his usual late hour.

"Don't ya go wakin' 'im, neither," Vin warned. "I'm tired of hearin' 'im complain."

Buck chuckled and Chris nodded, "Alright, see you guys in the morning." Chris turned to head back up the stairs.

"Hey Cowboy," Vin called again sleepily.

"Yeah?" Chris stopped and half turned to look down the stairs.

"Nice tree," Vin drawled. "'spectin' ya' to have a black one."

Buck snorted and slapped Chris on the back, prompting the glaring man back up the stairs. "'Night, Junior," he called down to the chuckling sharpshooter.

Chris turned to his friend at the top of the landing. "We will talk in the morning Buck."

Buck placed a hand on Chris's shoulder giving it a gentle squeeze. "We're okay Chris, all back in one piece. But yeah," he nodded looking seriously at Chris, "we'll talk in the morning. 'Night, Pard."

Chris stood a moment and watched his friend saunter down the hall until he entered Adam's old bedroom. It was now the one Buck and J.D. shared when they stayed over. Chris sighed again thinking of the family lost to him and the one he had now. Six very exasperating brothers. He smiled and reentered his bedroom; his family was home again he wasn't alone anymore.


Comments to: