Warning: Work In Progress!!! Not Beta Read!!!
Disclaimer: The characters of "The Magnificent Seven" belong to MGM, Trilogy, etc. The characters of "The Sentinel" belong to Pet Fly, etc. All recognized characters are used here without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.
Universe: Twin Guides (closed)
Rating: Suitalbe for people over 13
Feedback: To MMW
Chris Larabee pulled his truck into the parking lot of the small bar. He wasn’t exactly sure where he was and he, quite frankly, didn’t care. All he wanted right now was alcohol and lots of it.
The problems he had been experiencing with his senses had taken a turn for the worse last night and he knew that eventually the alcohol would deaden them enough for him to find a few hours of peace and rest.
As he glanced at the motel next to the bar, he grunted softly. Of all the nowhere towns he could have stopped in, he had to choose the one that his old friend was visiting.
Buck Wilmington had been his friend since the Navy and continued on as his working partner in the time afterward. The two men had joined the police after leaving the service and quickly progressed to detectives. They worked on major crimes, homicide, and smuggling cases, frequently seeing things that haunted their sleep.
It had taken a nightmare that stole most of Larabee’s heart and soul to break up the close friendship.
Two years ago
As he returned home after a long day at court he was shocked by the sight of flashing emergency lights and his Captain standing next to the Fire Chief. His house had burned to the ground with his wife and young son inside.
He had only vague impressions of the few days after that announcement. His next clear thought is standing next to two caskets alone except for the gravediggers and Buck.
As his old friend spoke softly to the blond and placed an arm around his shoulders, something inside Larabee snapped. A roar of rage and pain bubbled up from the depths of his soul, a primitive sound that the three men around him recognized on a primal level. All turned away from it.
Wilmington had finally managed to get Chris away from the graveside and into the car. As rage and grief began to pour from his shattered soul, Larabee turned away from the one remaining source of comfort and stability in his adult life.
He followed Buck into Wilmington’s apartment and sat quietly on the couch as Buck left the room to change.
When he was sure his friend was distracted, Chris had slipped out, taken Buck’s car and driven to the one place he knew he could get away – his grandfather’s ranch. Larabee’s grandfather, the man who had done more to shape Chris Larabee than any other, had passed two months prior to Sarah and Adam’s deaths. The ranch and farm had passed into Chris’ hands, much to the rest of his family’s frustration. Right now a second cousin was staying in the foreman’s shack to keep thing running, but Chris knew he would be busy elsewhere on the site.
It was a ten-hour drive to the ranch. Chris had done it in seven. Arriving at the dark house, he vaguely recalled seeing his cousin at the funeral. It didn’t matter, though. The blond knew exactly what he wanted.
Tearing into the house, he changed, packed a few changes of clothes, a little food and a lot of whiskey, strode purposefully to the barn and quickly saddled his horse, using one of the others as a pack animal, he was out of the barn and headed toward the hills.
His mind focusing back on the present as he reached the front door of the bar, Chris pushed it open scanned the room, an old habit that would never go away. Making his way to the bar, he ordered a shot and insisted the bottle be left. He might eventually find a table to sit at, but for now, he could stand.
As the first drink seared down his throat and the taste became almost overpowering, he was reminded once more of his nearly out-of-control senses. That had started sometime during the month he had spent alone in the hills.
His ranch wasn’t all that large, certainly not large enough to get lost in, but the neighboring ranches all had lands they left wild and the national forest nearby left him plenty of room to wander.
It was after the first two weeks he began to notice things changing. He could see things more clearly, hear almost everything, the sun felt like a physical force against his skin, smell things he wasn’t sure he had names for and taste the wind.
He had responded to these changes with alcohol. He hadn’t really packed that much with him, just a few bottles, but he had never been a heavy drinker and tended to be more of a lightweight than he cared to admit.
The first few nights he hadn’t even touched the stuff, just finding the energy to continue breathing was about all he could manage. He was lost in a way he had never thought a man could be.
It wasn’t until, one day, the sound of rhythmic walking reached his ears and began pounding. A few minutes before, he had finally moved to the side of a stream to get a drink of water and had just laid down on a nearby rock. He had been there a few hours when the sound started. Finally, it got so close, he felt like he would be trampled. Turning his head to see his attacker who he was sure was riding an elephant, he was startled to find himself staring face to face with a small, three-inch-long lizard.
Startled he had sat up and scanned the clearing. The lizard was the only thing in the area moving. Moving back to his camp, Chris huddled in his tent, shaking. Fear filled him as he reached up and ran a hand through his hair. Something was wrong. Maybe he was losing his mind.
Reaching a hand out, he located one of the bottles he had brought with him, eventually opened it and took several swallows, the taste alone nearly overwhelming his senses.
After three or four swallows, thing began to fade in and out. Somehow he managed to get the cap back on before passing out.
When he woke, it was morning. He found himself laying on his sleeping bag staring at the top of his tent with no idea how much time had passed.
Glancing at the bottle to see just how much he had swallowed, Chris was horrified to discover the bottle was almost full. Even given his lightweight status, it still took significantly more alcohol to drink himself into a stupor than what he’d just had.
Nothing was making sense.
That had been two years ago, Chris thought as he poured another shot. By the time he’d made his way back to the ranch, it was to find Buck waiting for him. The problems with his senses continued, but with Buck and his job providing distractions during the day, it was only the nights when he suffered.
The week before the anniversary of Sarah and Adam’s death, he and Buck had been working a homicide case. They had a lead to follow up on, when they arrived at the meet, it was to find the dead bodies of a mother and child, shot as the mother tried to protect the child.
That had been the end for Chris. He had resigned the next day and walked away from his job and from his friendship.
Buck had tried to follow once. He arrived at the ranch at a time when Larabee’s senses had gone completely out of control. Chris had just started drinking when Buck arrived.
Wilmington was a good friend and a stubborn one. He hadn’t listened when Chris told him to leave. The ladies’ man’s presence was causing Larabee’s out of control senses to become worse – the smell of the other man’s cologne was sickening and to this day Chris would swear he heard Buck’s heart beating. It was the heartbeat that eventually pushed Larabee over the edge and caused him to lash out physically at his old friend.
After Buck went through the screen door, Chris had gathered some things, saddled up and ridden out, losing himself in the woods. He had stayed out for almost six weeks, drinking water from the streams and eating fish he caught there.
After returning to the ranch, he had packed up some clothes, tossed them in the back of his truck and headed out, intent on losing himself on the roads of America.
Of course, his senses hadn’t stopped acting up and now he was plagued, not only by the nightmare of Sarah and Adam’s deaths, but also by the final confrontation he had with Buck. The image of the lanky man crashing through the screen door was almost too much.
As he traveled, he had learned that alcohol would deaden his senses and help him into a dreamless sleep. Of course, as time passed, it took more and more of the substance to achieve the same result. His days as a lightweight were well behind him now.
The sound of a gun firing drew Larabee’s attention once more to the present.
This wasn’t a huge city, at its peak, it had maybe held 50,000 people, but since the plant shut down, that had dwindled to about 35,000. Of course, even cities of this size were running into problems with gangs and such.
A stray bullet crashed through the window behind Larabee and shattered the neck of the bottle sitting nearby. Anger began to rise within him. He had paid for that bottle and now he wouldn’t be able to finish it.
Pouring one final shot as a sliver of glass floated to the bottom of the bottle, Chris downed the alcohol and turned to leave the bar.
With a steady tread, he crossed the floor of the building and pushed out the door. Spying an old-timer on a bench outside, Chris leaned against the wall beside the post and asked, “Town always this lively?”
“Gang called The Herd,” the man informed as they watched two young men tear by on a motorcycle, one driving, one firing a gun into the air. “All liquored up. Brought their leader into the free clinic with a knife wound they’d let go untreated too long.” Just then the door of a free clinic across from the motel crashed open and five men struggled to drag a sixth one out with them. “Reckon he didn’t make it,” the old timer observed, turning his head to spit on the ground.
Larabee waited for feelings of indignation or rage to come and was oddly disappointed when he felt nothing at the moment. Of course, the fact his sense of sight chose that moment to spike, causing him to almost lose himself in a floating dust mote might have had something to do with his lack of response.
Shaking himself out of his stupor, he glanced down the street and saw the gang tying their struggling captive’s arms to one motorcycle and his legs to another. Suddenly, the anger he had been missing earlier flooded him and he wanted blood.
Just as quickly as the feeling came over him, however, the boiling rage seemed to settle as a soothing, repetitive thumping filled his ears.
Looking around for the source of the comforting sound, Larabee’s eyes rested on a young man just now stepping out of the store across the way carrying a rifle. An older man was talking to him, trying to discourage him from taking the weapon. The words the young man spoke brought a grin to Chris’ lips.
“Hell, I’m probably going to get myself killed, now I’ve got to worry about a new job too.” As he finished his reply, the young clerk turned and met the eyes of the blond on the opposite side of the street.
Chris saw a number of emotions and expressions flit through the blue eyes of the young man. Pushing off the wall, Larabee tipped his head toward the gang. He received a not in response.
As he headed toward the street, Chris stopped by his truck and retrieved his weapon, knowing it was already loaded.
As they walked down the street shoulder to shoulder, a peace settled over Larabee that had been missing for a long time. His recalcitrant senses were completely within his control and the soothing sound that he finally identified as the young man’s heartbeat brought everything into focus.
Slanting a glance at the young man, a smile curved the blond’s lips. As young as he looked, this kid had experience. The look in the blue eyes and the determination he read in them lead him to suspect there was military in the younger man’s background. Whoever he was, he had confidence in his abilities and that would come in handy.
Stopping ten feet away from the gang, Larabee waited for all eyes to turn his way. When they were all looking at him, he commanded, “Cut him loose.” His voice hadn’t risen much higher than normal, his mere presence silencing the group. He could instantly see that this group wasn’t about to listen to his request. He felt satisfaction fill him when the young man at his side, spoke next, his voice confident.
“Reckon you’d all be happier if you just rode away,” the younger man drawled.
Evaluating the reactions of the men in front of them, Chris knew there would be a fight, he was now just waiting for the gang to start it. He didn’t have long to wait.
As one of the gang members aimed his gun at Larabee, the blond dove for the dubious cover of a newspaper box. In his peripheral vision, he spotted his ally diving behind a car.
The bullets flew fast and furious, but Chris and the young man were taking down the gang one by one. Larabee noted with satisfaction that the young man helping him was wounding, not killing. It spoke to a level of control and competency that pleased the older man.
As the gang fell and the intensity of the shots began to taper off, one of the gang jumped on one of the motorcycles in order to make an escape. The motorcycle he had chosen was one to which the victim was tied.
There was little Chris could do at this point other than take aim at the driver. Unfortunately, a sudden spate of firing off to his right drew his attention away for a few seconds, when he turned his attention back to his original target, he momentarily froze at the scene unfolding before him.
The gang member who was trying to escape on motorcycle, jumped on the starter and revved the engine. Just as the engine roared to life, the young man helping Chris stepped out of his cover and took aim – not at the rider, but at the rope.
Just as the motorcycle began to move forward and the rope be drawn taut, Larabee’s ally fired a shot, splitting the rope and allowing the motorcycle to lurch away. A quick movement by the young man and a second shot sounded, hitting the back tire causing it to shred and the rider to careen into a parked car.
Stunned by the display of sharpshooting he had just witnessed, Chris was shocked when a bullet ricocheted on the pavement before him. Drawn back into the conflict, he turned and quickly took down the two remaining gang members.
After a cautious moment when the only sound in the street was the pounding retreat of boots, Larabee stepped from behind his cover and crossed over to the younger man who seemed to bring peace to him, though his eyes never left the fleeing gang members. “Name’s Chris,” he offered.
“Vin Tanner,” the younger man replied.
The sound of the younger man’s voice was a balm to him and eased the chaos that was threatening. Needing to continue the conversation, to continue hearing that voice, he asked the first thing that came to mind. “New in town?”
“Last week,” Tanner replied. “You?”
“Today,” Chris replied, allowing the peace to continue to seep into his soul.
“One of you mind grabbing a knife and cutting me out of this?” the victim asked, indicating the rope that bound his hands.
Exchanging a glance, Chris and Vin moved forward. Vin had a knife in hand a second later, though Larabee hadn’t seen from where Tanner had retrieved it. It was the work of only a second to free the man.
“Nathan Jackson,” the man introduced, rubbing his wrists lightly. “I volunteer at the clinic over there,” he explained indicating.
“You a doctor?” Larabee asked, curious.
“No,” Jackson admitted. “Things came up,” he said shortly, his words cutting off any further questions. “I’m a P. A.,” he explained. Seeing the confusion on the faces of the men before him, he elaborated, “Physician’s Assistant.”
“Nice to meet you, Nathan Jackson, Physician’s Assistant,” Tanner greeted with a smile, holding out his hand.
Larabee followed suit and offered his hand to the man as well. “Likewise,” he agreed.
Warmly shaking both hands, Jackson deflected, “Believe me, the pleasure is mine.”
Before conversation could continue, a blond woman holding a tape recorder stepped up and shoved it in among the three men. “Mary Travis, Clarion News,” she introduced brusquely. “Where did you men come from?”
“Bar,” Chris said shortly. Before the blond could ask another question, he turned, making sure to meet the eyes of the other two men and let them know he wanted to talk some more. As he took a step, he had no doubt the others were right behind him.
“Wait!” the blond reporter cried out. “Where are you going?”
With the briefest of exchanged glances, the three men replied, “Bar.”
Putting the woman completely out of his mind, Larabee continued his course, feeling a slight loss as Tanner veered off to return the rifle to the storeowner. A smile played across the blond’s lips as he overheard the conversation and could almost sense the pleased surprise of his new… friend?
The blond brows drew down as he contemplated that thought. He didn’t even know this man, knew nothing about him other than he felt more at peace around Vin Tanner than he had around anyone for a long time. Was he ready to take a chance on this man? He immediately dismissed the question, knowing without a doubt that, like it or not, Vin Tanner had just become the most important thing in his life. That thought terrified him.
He didn’t even have to look to know that Tanner had caught back up with he and Jackson as Chris opened the door to his truck to replace his gun. He simply stepped aside and waited for Vin to put the rifle in the cab so he could lock it up. As Tanner did so, Larabee noticed the younger man hesitate and a brief flash of worry or puzzlement cross Vin’s face. The response assured Chris that he wasn’t the only one wondering at the sense of connection.
As the younger man stepped back from the truck, Larabee noticed the slow smile spread across the younger man’s face. The combination of contentment, peace, joy and understanding he saw in that smile and in the blue eyes of the younger man created within Chris the odd sensation of both worry and peace.
Shaking off those thoughts, he led the way into the bar.
The three men leaned against the bar and waited for the bartender to serve them. It took almost no time at all for that to happen.
Taking their drinks, the trio found a table in the far corner and settled into it.
“What was that all about, Mr. Jackson?” Tanner asked, slouching comfortable in the chair.
“Nathan,” the other man corrected. “The gang brought their leader into the clinic last night late. The doctor had to go to the hospital and left me there alone. The man had a knife wound that looked to be about a week old and was infected to the point it was gangrenous.” Taking a sip of beer, Jackson continued. “I told them he needed a hospital, they pulled their guns and told me to fix it or they would kill me.”
“It was too late,” Larabee stated, easily reading the compassion and competence in Nathan’s eyes.
Jackson simply nodded. “Much too late. Their leader died this morning. The others had been up drinking most of the night and decided they needed to show me how they felt.”
The other two men remained silent, shaking their heads. There were just some things in this world that couldn’t be explained.
The sound of sirens outside caused most of the patrons of the small bar to look out and see what was happening. A few grumbled about how the police always got there too late, at least in this part of town.
The three men who were most concerned with why the police were out there never looked up from their table, each well aware that the officers would simply chalk the mess up to an internal dispute among the gang who was probably all gone by now.
What Larabee and the others couldn’t know, however, was that there were two men who weren’t so ready to just let it go.
It was Tanner’s sudden alertness that clued Chris into the change in atmosphere. Looking toward the doorway, he spotted two men standing there, staring straight at them. One looked to be in his mid to late sixties and wore his hair long. The other looked to be a few years younger and had a definite presence about him.
The blond stared at the men, waiting to see what they had planned. It was only a moment or two before the new arrivals approached the table where the three men sat.
“We want to hire you,” the man with the long hair stated.
Nathan, Vin and Chris exchanged a look. Each wondering what in the world the man was talking about.
After a few minutes silence, Vin suggested, “Why don’t you pull up a chair and tell us why?”
It took only a few minutes for the new arrivals to do so.
After listening quietly to Chief and Ebon, the trio now knew why the men had made their offer. The small, peace-loving commune the two men had established almost forty years before was now being threatened by a corporation operating under the assumption there were valuable minerals on the land.
The duo assured Chris, Vin and Nathan that, while there had been trace amounts of minerals found on the land of their commune, the members there had long ago determined that they were in such small amounts and so difficult to get to that it would be not be economically feasible to mine them.
This fact was well documented and on public record. For whatever reason, the company in question didn’t seem to care, threats had been made against the people and their homes.
“Why haven’t you gone to the authorities about this?” Larabee asked.
Looking a little uncomfortable, Ebon explained, “We had some disagreements with the authorities a long time ago. In order to escape those problems, we established ourselves as a separate village. We’ve had no need to create a police force. We live peaceably with each other. If there is a problem, we bring it up at our council meetings.”
“That is why we need help from outside,” the Chief explained.
“That would explain why you don’t have local police support, but what about the county sheriff?” Chris inquired.
A grimace crossed the gray-haired man’s face. “We are not on the best of terms,” he explained.
“The man hates us,” Ebon corrected, not bothering to mince words. “Three years ago his daughter fell in love with one of the men in our village. When she told her father they were going to get married and live in the village…”
“He was not pleased,” the Chief finished. “That man is my son,” he added.
Chris, Nathan and Vin nodded in understanding. The men had nowhere to turn and no skills necessary to hold off an attack.
“Isn’t there some sort of legal way you could get the corporation to leave you alone?” Nathan inquired.
“We’ve tried,” Ebon said, anger evident in his voice. “We even got restraining orders…”
“But now that all the legal channels have been exhausted, they have turned to other tactics to run us off of our land,” Chief continued.
“If you can prove that the company is harassing you, the sheriff will have to do something whether he likes it or not,” Chris observed.
“That’s just it. We haven’t been able to prove it,” Ebon said, his fist smacking the table in frustration. “Every time we come close, something happens.”
“What sort of things happen?” Vin asked after a few minutes of silence.
The two men exchanged glances before Chief nodded. Dropping his voice to a near-whisper, Ebon elaborated, “One of the young men was doing a computer trace on the cars we had seen the men using. He was getting close when he was pulled over here in town and arrested for drug possession.”
“He was a user?” Chris asked, wanting to know more.
“No,” Chief denied. “None of us use drugs, they go against what we believe in. They weren’t in his car when he was pulled over, but enough appeared under the back seat that they are talking about charges for intent to distribute as well.”
“Why do you want us?” Vin asked, already knowing he would help.
“We need men of good conscience and men who can handle themselves in a fight,” Chief informed.
“I’m a P. A., not a mercenary,” Nathan observed.
“We know that,” Chief assured, smiling at the young man. “But you showed you have a cool head, a compassionate heart and can handle yourself well.”
Larabee, sat back and looked at the other men. His long-ignored protective instincts had begun to stir when he went to help Nathan and they were screaming at him now to help these people. It was easy for him to tell that Nathan was ready to help these people. Vin was harder to read. “How many men you think we’ll need?” he asked.
The two strangers exchanged a look. “We don’t know,” Ebon finally admitted.
“We’ve counted ten different men, but it’s possible there are more than that,” Chief advised.
“Ten men, reckon we could defend with five maybe six,” Larabee mused out loud.
“Seven if you want one to work outside of defense, maybe infiltrate the enemy or do research,” Tanner thought aloud.
“We can offer you $35,000 for your assistance,” Chief offered, ignoring the sharp look from Ebon. Now was not the time to discuss money.
“For Five-thousand dollars they can have a week of my life,” Nathan said, already counting his vacation days.
“Or all of it,” Vin countered. A wry grin appeared on his face at the sharp look he received from Larabee. He could read the surprise and disappointment there. “I wasn’t planning on dying with a broom in my hands,” Tanner stated, knowing the words would instantly soothe the man he suspected, no, he knew, to be his sentinel.
“You got yourself some help,” Larabee stated, offering his hand to the two men.
They shook hands as Ebon and Chief prepared to leave. “We’ll be expecting you sometime tomorrow,” Chief informed. “Head East on highway six for about two, hours or so and you’ll find us.”
“What’s the name of your village?” Nathan asked.
“Seminole,” Ebon informed as they turned to leave.
As the door closed behind their new employers, the three men exchanged a look.
“So you figure seven?” Chris asked aloud, settling back in his chair.
Tanner nodded, leaning back in his own chair. Figure we’re going to have to keep watch 24/7 and don’t want anyone to get too tired. With five, we can have three up at any time and it should let us get enough rest to not miss anything. We’ll need one to work on the computer trail that they mentioned their person found and I still think we’ll need one to infiltrate the enemy if at all possible.”
“I know a man who might be able to help us,” Nathan said, having thought over the words. “He’s said to be a good man to have on your side in a fight.”
Chris nodded his acceptance. His own mind was thinking of the familiar truck he’d seen outside earlier. “I know of a man too, if you can get him out of bed,” he offered.
“Alright,” Vin prompted. “Let’s go see them.”
“I’ll head out now,” Nathan said. “He might take some convincing. Why don’t you meet me at the old Apple Street Chapel after you’ve spoken to your friend.”
“Alright,” Larabee agreed. “We’ll see you soon.” He waited for Jackson to leave before turning his attention fully onto the young man seated at the table with him. He had a lot of questions he wanted answers to, like why he felt at peace around the longhaired man, why he felt like he had found something missing had been found. Before he could figure out where to begin asking, Vin jumped in.
“I reckon you’ve got a lot of questions need answering,” Tanner offered. “And I figure on answering them, but right now, we best get this friend of yours and head out to Apple Street.”
“How…” Larabee began.
“Trust me,” was all Tanner said, his blue eyes meeting the other man’s hazel.
He could never say what it was or why he did, but Chris knew he did trust this man, trusted him implicitly as he had trusted none other. Offering a nod, he pushed aside his questions and concerns and leaned forward, a wicked idea taking root and causing a mischievous smile to appear on his face. “I got an idea,” he confided, before launching into a full description of his plan.
Buck was violently jerked out of the peaceful haze in which he was resting by the violent pounding on the door to the motel room.
“You in there with my wife!” an angry voice demanded as the pounding shook the chained door.
The woman who, moments ago, had been nestled snuggly in Wilmington’s arms jumped up, clutching the sheet to her chest. “Oh, that’s got to be my Billy,” she worriedly announced.
“I thought he was in Yuma prison,” Buck stated as he practically leapt from the bed, slipped on his boxer shorts and started gathering his clothes.
The shouting and pounding continued. The lone chain holding the door began to rattle as the screws in the plate, loosened by years of expanding and contracting wood, slipped from their place.
While Buck had been collecting his clothes, the lady, still clutching the sheet to her chest had hastily opened the window of the ground-floor room and torn out the screen. Fear echoed in her every move as she remembered the last time her husband had caught her with another man.
Hearing the rattle of the chain increase as the pounding continued, Buck didn’t even bother to get dressed as he headed toward the open window. He paused only long enough to give a final goodbye kiss to the woman in question before leaping out of the window and running toward the corner of the building just as the chain gave way and the door burst open.
Shooting a glance over his shoulder as he reached the corner of the building, he didn’t spot the black boot that suddenly appeared in his path. With a natural grace, his lanky, six-foot-four frame crashed to the ground. His years of training kicked in and allowed him to twist in the air and land on his back as opposed to his face.
A quick look up from the ground caused a gasp to tear from him as shock mingled with joy. He was looking up into a face he had last seen filled with rage, and eyes that held a peace he had despaired of ever seeing again.
Leaping to his feet, unable to stop himself, Buck left his clothes and boots on the ground and quickly embraced his friend. “Chris!” he cried. “You old war dog!”
Larabee was uncomfortable in the embrace and gently extracted himself from the hug. “Easy, Big Dog,” he soothed, eyeing the people passing by who were staring at them. “Folks will talk.”
Buck threw back his head and laughed. It was good, beyond good to see his friend acting more like the Chris Larabee he had known for so long. A small portion of his heart cried that, maybe, just maybe Chris was ready to come back into his life. It was a cry that Wilmington quickly squelched. He would have to be cautious in his approach. “So, what brings you to town?” he asked.
“Could ask you the same thing,” Larabee observed.
Buck’s smile faded a little as he thought of all of the changes in his life since Chris had left. He could only wonder what his friend had been doing. “Couldn’t face going into the station after…” he began. The emotional devastation of that time welled up within the ladies’ man. Shaking off the unwelcome feelings, his smile broadened and he admitted, “You’re looking at the head of the ATF field office here in town.”
Larabee’s eyebrows rose. He sensed Vin coming up behind him, but was still surprised by what his long-time friend had just said. “You’re a fed? And in charge?”
Easy laughter rolled out of Buck. “Yep. I’m a fed,” he confirmed. “As for being in charge the field office here consists of precisely me, myself and I.”
A knowing smile curved the blond’s lips as he asked, “And whose daughter was she?”
A look of consternation crossed Wilmington’s face, but he knew bluffing with Chris wouldn’t get him anywhere. “The Director’s,” he admitted.
Chris chucked and shook his head. “Same old Buck,” he murmured. He didn’t have to turn to know Vin was behind him. He has sensed the young man’s approach and felt a peace sweep through him at the presence.
“He with us?” Tanner asked the blond, his eyes taking in t
“He with you?” Buck asked, shocked that his friend had allowed this longhaired stranger to walk up behind him and stand so close. Chris always checked, even with him – even with his wife and son - the blond had always checked. That he allowed this man to approach him without checking rattled Wilmington.
Chris nodded his head in response to both questions, somehow realizing that Vin would understand his confidence that Buck would agree.
“Haven’t told me what this is about,” Buck mentioned, studying the younger man and trying to place him, trying to figure out what he was to Chris.
“Seems some big-business types are harassing a peace-loving commune just outside of town here. Chief’s son has been killed,” Larabee informed, his voice low and hard.
Buck’s flashed blue fire. He hated injustice, and, though he didn’t know the chief or anything about him, his visceral hatred of murders surged to the fore. A calculating, feral look entered Wilmington’s expression as he asked, “What are the odds?”
Chris shrugged, he really didn’t know. “Three, four to one,” he guessed. A smile tugging at his lips as he noted the fire of battle burning in his friends eyes; it was a look he knew from long ago in the navy.
“There women where we’re going?” Buck asked, a smile tugging his own lips.
Larabee’s smile grew wider as he thought, Buck will never change. “Reckon,” he replied.
“Then reckon I’m in,” Wilmington affirmed.
“When do you need to report, or are you already working?” Chris asked. He felt far more confident going into an unknown hostile situation with Buck by his side, but he didn’t want his friend to get in trouble over it.
“Don’t have to report in until a week Monday,” Buck replied. “There’s a federal Circuit Court judge who’s going to be running the show here. Some sort of new set-up we won’t find out about until then.”
“We?” Vin asked.
Wilmington turned considering eyes on the young man. “It’s a new office with one representative from different government agencies. I’m not really free to talk about what I know and there’s a lot I don’t know,” Buck informed, wondering about the stranger. The kid looked young and a bit wild with the long hair and worn clothing, but there was an attitude about him that the ladies’ man easily identified – Chris’ friend was a warrior, not a soldier, sailor, marine or anything else, a warrior like Larabee and himself. Making a decision, he stuck out his hand, “Buck Wilmington.”
Accepting the hand, Vin shook it and identified, Vin Tanner.
Chris shifted forward slightly as if trying to put himself between Vin and Buck. He couldn’t explain why, but the simple greeting seemed to trigger a protective instinct within him. He shook himself slightly, wondering why in the world he had thought, even for a split second, that Buck was a threat to his… to Vin. Glancing at the younger man, he noticed Tanner’s lips quirk in a knowing grin. Larabee determined that they would talk.
“Anyone else going along on this ride with us?” Buck asked, trying to ignore the silent exchange he had just witnessed.
“One other, possibly two,” Larabee informed. “We’re off to meet them now.”
“Where we going?” Buck asked, stepping into his pants before slipping into his shirt.
“Apple Street Chapel,” Vin supplied, stepping away from the others and heading toward Larabee’s truck.
Following the directions Vin gave him from the back seat of the truck, Chris, Buck and Vin soon arrived at the Apple Street Chapel. Stepping out of the vehicle, it wasn't hard to hear Nathan's raised voice.
"But these are a peace loving people, Josiah. They need to be protected," Nathan encouraged.
"I'm busy here," Josiah denied, turning away from the Physician's Assistant and completely ignoring the three newcomers.
Hearing the trio's entrance, Nathan turned and threw up his hands. "Says he's doing his penance," he informed the new arrivals.
"Penance for what?" Buck asked impulsively.
Vin just stared at the man's back, easily reading the soul-deep pain weighing upon Nathan's friend. Here was a man who needed a new purpose in life, who needed something more, who needed some light in the dark place in which he was dwelling. It was a situation Tanner knew only too well. He'd spent far to much time in that same Hell himself.
"Maybe if we come back to tomorrow he'll have changed his mind," Nathan decided, heading toward the door.
Buck and Chris turned and followed him out of the building. Vin lingered for a moment until the man in question turned to look at him.
Josiah had felt the weight of someone staring at him and had finally turned. His breath caught in his throat at the sight. It was all there, the family resemblance, the curly hair, the unmistakable eyes. This had to be Blair's twin - the other guide.
Shifting uncomfortably under the sudden scrutiny, Vin met the man's eyes and stated, "Penance can take many forms. Sometimes doing someone a good turn is all that needs to be done." Once he had said this, Vin turned and left the building, almost running into Larabee as the older man had returned to see what was keeping his new friend.
Sanchez watched the young man leave, taking the wisdom of the youth's words deep within himself. This man was different than his Blair, very different. Josiah felt a kinship with the old soul he'd seen in the too-familiar eyes. Wherever life had taken the young man, be he Blair's twin or not, it had not been a happy or even safe place. Perhaps when they stopped tomorrow, he would go with them. Perhaps it was time to take another chance.
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