Feedback:: LaraMee Deux
Rated: PG for some language
Synopsis: Team Seven gets together at Chris' for an old fashioned celebration of Independence Day (the holiday, not the movie!)
Notes: The 'dance' and the 'football' scenes have been floating around in my gray matter for weeks without a story. Thanks to our forefathers for giving me a vehicle to get them off my mind!
Disclaimers and acknowledgements: They're not mine...they're not yours...they're theirs already! Haven't we all come to terms with that? The ATF concept belongs to Mog, I'm just borrowing it. Old Time Rock and Roll belongs to Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Chris Larabee yawned, stretched, and pulled himself from bed. The sun had barely risen, and it was his day off; it took everything he had not to crawl back into bed. But he had made a promise, and he wouldn't back out on it now. So, despite the insistent beckoning of his bed, the leader of Colorado's illustrious Team Seven padded into the bathroom for a shower. He wanted to at least look awake when Vin made his appearance. His best friend and the team's sharpshooter had volunteered to come help set up for the party that he had volunteered to host. Not that he let it be well known, but Chris Larabee had a soft spot for the Forth of July. It hadn't taken much convincing on Tanner's part for him to announce that they were all invited to enjoy an old-fashioned Independence Day celebration out at his ranch. Even Ezra Standish agreed to come without his usual haughty disclaimers concerning any fraternization with his team mates.
Duties were quickly distributed, only one of which caused the blond agent some concern. Buck and JD had adamantly insisted that they be in charge of the fireworks display. Chris made a mental checklist of things he would need to move into the barn, and a hurried call to his insurance agent reassured him that his fire insurance was in place. He took some comfort in the fact that, with Josiah and Nathan seeing to the food preparations, they at least wouldn't be taking anyone to the ER for food poisoning.
They had wrapped up the considerable paperwork from their latest operation as quickly as possible, trooping from the bullpen and dispersing to take care of their portion of the celebratory preparations. Chris left his office to find Vin Tanner waiting for him, bouncing softly on the balls of his feet. Ever since the party had been suggested, the younger man seemed to be quickly regressing to a state of childhood. None of the others said anything; they all understood. Before becoming part of Team Seven, Vin had celebrated little or nothing, each day a gray Xerox of the one before. The other six members of his new family had made certain that that tradition was quickly replaced. Although he never said much, it was never difficult to see how much the new traditions meant to the young Texan.
"Hey Tanner, thought everyone had gone."
"Just leavin', thought I'd double check with y' t' see if y' knew of anything else we'll need out there t'morrow."
Trying to suppress a smile, Larabee said, "can't think of anything. If I think of anything later, I'll give you a call, okay?"
"Sure. Um, what time y' gonna start gettin' things ready in th' mornin'?"
Letting the smile come to full bloom, the blond said, "not before dawn, okay?"
Returning the smile, Vin replied, "okay then...I'll plan t' be out there about 7:30, 8:00. How's that sound?"
Groaning, but still smiling, Chris said, "make it eight, okay?"
With one towel wrapped around his waist and using another to dry his blond hair, Larabee padded through the house. By the time he reached the front door, Vin was knocking with one hand and ringing the bell with another. Pulling the door open, he said, "Jesus Tanner, you ever hear of the word patience?"
Not fazed at all, the younger man said, "think so...why, you doin' a crossword puzzle 'r somethin'?"
Taking a swipe at the beaming sharpshooter with the towel, he said, "get your scroungy ass in here, you're letting in the bugs. If you want to make yourself useful, go make some coffee. I'll go get dressed." He was halfway through the house to his bedroom when he realized what he had just said. "Scratch that, do not - I repeat, do not - make coffee. I want to be able to blink the rest of the day."
"Ah hell," came from the kitchen as he closed the bedroom door. Emerging a few minutes later in jeans and a t-shirt, Larabee entered a kitchen blessedly devoid of the smell of Tanner's lethal coffee. Stepping to the counter, he started a pot in the coffee-maker; moving to the refrigerator, he pulled out the makings for omelets. Knowing Vin, the younger man had been on the go since the first hint of dawn, and hadn't stopped to eat. He wasn't going to have him throwing up ten minutes after they tapped the keg -
"What's up cowboy?" Tanner entered the kitchen, clustered bunches of red, white and blue material in his hands.
"I remembered to order the keg, but didn't get anyone to stop for it on the way out."
"Oh," Vin considered the predicament. "Well, I'll give Buck 'n JD a call."
"No, they'll be out getting the fireworks. If I know Buck, he'll be looking for underground stuff, to make it a real exciting party. Josiah said he'd be gone til he comes in later today. Nate might be around..."
"Ezra? Lord knows he ain't gonna be up yet."
Chris looked at Vin as if he had suddenly sprouted a horn. "Ezra. Picking up a keg. You see a problem with that scenario?"
The former bounty hunter burst out laughing. "Well, I reckon we could all get used t' drinkin' that 'shabby' stuff he likes," he said, purposely mispronouncing Chablis.
Laughing in response, Chris just shook his head and worked on breakfast. Retrieving the man's cordless, Vin called Nathan's apartment. Sighing when all he got was the answering machine, Tanner left a message and hung up, letting Chris know as he did.
"Well, it's my problem, I'll go into town and get it after while."
"I could go if y' want," Vin volunteered.
"Looks like you've got a full morning of decorating, cowboy," Larabee nodded at the bunting the man continued to fiddle with.
Blushing quickly, Tanner said, "yeah, reckon I went a tad overboard."
Chuckling, Chris said, "wasn't what I meant. You've got plans for all that; I'm not going to make you rush it. I'll go as soon as I finish cleaning up." With that he set a plate down before the man, "first things first, though. Eat."
"Damn, you sound like Nathan 'r Nettie when I had that cold here while back."
Larabee just handed him a fork, not pointing out the fact that Vin's 'cold' had been pneumonia that the stubborn man had ignored until he had passed out in the middle of Inez's. More than once it had been suggested that neither of them were lacking in stubbornness.
The morning sped past. Chris busied himself in the barn, taking care of Pony, Peso, and the other horses. Finishing there, he headed toward the house, deciding he could no longer put off dusting the living room and cleaning the bathroom. As some of his guests would be female, he realized that he would have to do more than put his boxers in the hamper. As he exited the barn, squinting in the midday sun, he stopped in his tracks, his mouth hanging open.
The broad front porch of his ranch had been draped in enough red, white and blue to nearly render the flag he had shoved in it's holder the day before invisible. "Good lord, I've died and gone to Patton's home."
Standing precariously on the top rung of the ladder, Tanner turned to him, staple gun in hand. "Too much?"
"Ah, heck no. Think I can still see the door." Chuckling at the mixture of embarrassment and excitement on the handsome face peering down at him, he continued, "looks good, junior."
Entering the house to the sound of Tanner's staple gun popping against the wood, Larabee went to tame the monsters lurking around the corners of the bathroom. When he exited the house two hours later, there was even more of 'old glory's' colors around his ranch. Vin had just finished placing a centerpiece of red, white and blue carnations on the table he had created, with sawhorses and an old door, on the porch.
"You ever consider going into the decorating business Tanner? I think you'd be a hit in political circles."
Leaning back against the draped upright, Vin stroked his chin as if considering the idea. "Maybe you're right. Reckon I'd get shot at a lot less anyway."
"Well, I'm not sure I'd agree with that," he winked as he clapped the younger man on the shoulder. "Okay, Yankee Doodle, I'm off to get the beer. I'll be back in 45, an hour tops. The others should be here sometime around then, too. JD called a few minutes ago, he and Buck finally tracked down something called a 'Tijuana Bomb', and they're on their way out."
"Why didn't y' have them bring th' keg?"
Chuckling, the blond said, "I asked...they don't have any more room left in Buck's car."
Envisioning the big man's sports car loaded down with all manner of illegal and expensive fireworks, Vin laughed as well. Nodding, he said, all righty then. I'll hold down th' fort."
Finishing his work at decorating the ranch for the party a while later, Vin realized just how sweaty and grimy he had gotten during the hot July morning. Putting away the ladder and other tools he had used to transform the ranch into something that even he had to admit would have made George Cohen nauseous, he grabbed the clean clothes he had brought with him and headed for the shower. As he passed the stereo system in the living room, he flipped on the radio, turning up the volume. The sounds of vintage rock and roll blasted through the house.
Vin emerged from the steam-filled bathroom some time later, his brown hair curling in ringlets around his finely chiseled face. Donning the boxers he had chosen especially for the day, he sat on the edge of Chris' bed, pulling on his socks. Just as he finished, he heard something that brought a broad smile to his face...
"Just take those records off the shelf, I'll sit and listen to 'm by myself. Today's music ain't got the same soul, I like that old time rock 'n roll."
It was just too good to pass up. Yanking on his button down shirt, he grabbed a pair of sunglasses from Larabee's dresser as he bounded from the room.
"Don't try to take me to a disco, you'll never even get me out on the floor. In ten minutes I'll be late for the door, I like that old time rock 'n roll."
Vin slid into the room, nearly colliding with the couch as the hardwood floor offered little resistance. Flipping the collar of his shirt up, he went into a fair imitation of Tom Cruise in Risky Business. The air guitar began to accompany Bob Segar...
"Still like that old time rock 'n roll, that kind of music just soothes the soul. I reminisce about the days of old, with that old time rock 'n roll."
Spinning, almost out of control on the polished wood, Vin moved into high speed, his soft Texas twang joining the voices on the stereo. Dance steps that he couldn't remember were supplemented with Elvis Presley moves.
"Call me a relic call me what you will. Say I'm old-fashioned, say I'm over the hill. Today's music ain't got the same soul, I like that old time rock 'n roll."
As the song wound itself down, Vin dived onto Chris' couch, long legs kicking in a frenzied rhythm.
"Still like that old time rock 'n roll, that kind of music just soothes the soul. I reminisce about the days of old, with that old time rock 'n roll."
As the Silver Bullet Band's last notes faded away, Vin heard something else. Applause. Applause? That hadn't been a live performance...had it? Peering over the back of the couch, he located the source of the clapping.
Chris Larabee stood next to the front door, his face lit with a broad smile. He turned as someone joined him in the entry way, applauding the young man's impromptu performance as well.
Followed by JD Dunne...
The young sharpshooter leapt from the couch, his face glowing bright red. He back-peddled from the room, giving the other men full view of his specially chosen boxer with the miniature nautical flags of red, white and blue. Tanner would deal with their teasing later, he had more important concerns. Behind the men, he could see Raine, Nettie, Casey, and Inez. With a strangled cry, he disappeared down the hall. A scant moment later, as the women entered Chris' living room, they stopped in their tracks, staring uncomprehendingly at the six men who were in various stages of collapse from hysterical laughter.
"Chris, I'm not lyin'," Buck Wilmington said with a hurt tone. "Ain't none a those fireworks illegal - "
"In certain parts of the world, I'm sure."
"Ah hell, pard, there ain't nothin' here me 'n the Kid can't handle," He wrapped an arm around the younger man's neck. JD elbowed him in return, grumbling a protest through a mouth full of chips.
Stabbing a finger against his old friend's chest, the team commander said, "you just remember one thing, pard, this is my place. Whatever you burn down, you'll be replacing...or I take it out of your hide."
Wilmington's only response was hearty laughter. He released his grip on Dunne and bounded across the yard, where he saw Inez talking to Ezra. Despite his long history of being rejected by the beautiful young bar owner, he was nothing if not persistent. As his long legs carried him quickly across the broad expanse of yard, he called out, "Inez darlin'! How 'bout me n' you takin' a little walk out in th' woods?"
Chris shook his head, turning away before he witnessed the big man's latest defeat. He looked around, surveying the party-goers. Vin, having finally recovered from his earlier embarrassment, was doing his best to snag yet another burger off the platter being guarded by Sanchez. Larabee snorted as he heard Tanner yelp and watched as Nettie, still wielding the long handled spatula she had hit with, read him the riot act. Josiah, acting as Nettie's assistant, rescued the platter before Vin could make off with it, holding it out of harms way. Raine and Nathan were just re-emerging from the woods, where they had gone to 'work up an appetite' before dinner.
For a moment he remembered times when he had been the one walking out of those woods, his arm wrapped around Sarah, just as Nathan's was around Raine. With a sigh, he let the memory linger, but refused to allow it to become melancholy in any way. Today was not a day for sadness, and his wife would have been the first to tell him that. Instead, he smiled as he watched JD and Casey wage combat with the super soakers Dunne had brought. The smile broadened as he watched Vin. Having given up on a second early sandwich, the sharpshooter was on a new mission. He glanced toward Chris once, a twinkle evident in his blue eyes even at this distance. Realizing quickly where the younger man was going, Chris nodded once and winked.
Vin edged closer to the center of the action, his movements so casual that they nearly went unnoticed. As Casey and JD became embroiled in hand-to-hand combat, Tanner made his move. In one fluid, cat-like movement, he grabbed the garden hose and turned on the water full blast. The air was filled with shrill screams and only slightly deeper curses. All eyes were on JD and Casey as they found themselves nearly knocked from their feet by the sneak attack. With his usual unerring accuracy, the sharpshooter followed them, no matter in which direction they tried to move. The assault continued for several minutes until Buck managed to come up behind the hose-wielding agent and threaten to turn it on him.
"Okay children," Nettie's voice cut through the ruckus, the emphasis clear on the word children. "Get yourselves cleaned up and ready to eat."
Everything else was forgotten as participants and audience alike turned into the proverbial hungry mob. As one they hurried to the porch, where all of the food had been set out away from the afternoon sun. the following moments were devoted to a chaotic ballet as the close-knit group of men and their friends jockeyed for position as they sought to fill -- and over-fill -- their plates. Sorting themselves out, they found seats and worked at emptying those same plates. The air filled with laughter as they spent the next hour enjoying one another's company.
"Tanner," Chris' voice broke through the chatter toward the end of the meal. He had noticed something odd at the side of the house.
"Yeah?" the younger man said around the end of his fifth hot dog.
"You did turn off the hose didn't you?"
"The what? Sure, I turned it off, why?"
Crooking a finger, Chris motioned his friend to follow him. They strode to the corner of the house, the others following close behind. Glancing around the house, Larabee found himself the not-so proud owner of new swampland.
"Oh-" the man in black began.
"Shit," Vin finished.
"Why Chris," Ezra said, barely restraining his laughter, "I was unaware that you had elected to install a pool.
Turning to the flustered sharpshooter at his elbow, Larabee simply stared at him. For several long, uncomfortable moments. He said nothing as the younger man began to squirm beneath his gaze. It was only when Tanner looked on the verge of running that he said, "sure, I turned it off."
"I swear cowboy, I turned th' durn thing off."
"It was almost turned off," JD offered from where he stood next to the faucet. "Reckon it was stiff or something, it caught before it closed completely."
Vin sighed as he slumped against the house. "Ah, hell pard, I'm sorry. I really did think I'd turned it off."
"Yeah, fine," Chris said in a soft voice. "Only one thing to do now," his face erupted in a wicked grin.
"That would be?" Josiah asked.
"Organize a game of mud football."
Six of the seven men fairly beamed with excitement and anticipation. The seventh looked shocked and appalled at the thought of going any nearer to the water soaked sod.
"So who's gonna decide teams?" JD asked a short time later. "How we gonna divide even if there's seven of us?"
"Six, JD," Ezra insisted. "I for one have no intention of wallowing in that muck, that is not my idea of a pleasant after dinner activity."
"Ah, c'mon Ezra," Buck teased, "what's the matter, 'fraid a gettin' them fine dudes dirty?"
Glaring up at the bigger man evenly, the Southerner said simply, "yes." While he had dressed down for the occasion, he was still immaculate.
"Look, if Ezra don't wanna play, let him sit with the ladies," Chris chimed in.
Rankling at the blond's not-so-subtle attempt at a put down, the agent said, "perhaps my talents would best be served in a moderating capacity."
"We don't need a referee," Chris said, "it's just a friendly game."
"Nah, hell," Buck said, turning so that the smaller man couldn't see his face. Favoring his old friend with a mischievous glint in his dark blue eyes. "Reckon it wouldn't hurt t' have a ref."
Not quite certain as to what his friend had in mind, Chris decided to play along. "Well, reckon it would cut down on your cheating some. Alright Standish, you can be the ref. Vin, me and Josiah against Buck, Nathan and JD?"
The others agreed, rules were set, and the game began. Nettie, Raine, Inez and Casey pulled up chairs to watch the action. Raine and Casey had debated joining in but, unlike the men, hadn't come that prepared. None of Larabee's men ever came to a ranch party without at least one change of clothing; there was never any telling what they would end up getting into. The women contented themselves with watching the men killing themselves in the name of fun.
The concept of 'touch' football was quickly forgotten, as JD tackled Vin to wrestle the ball from his grasp. Josiah and Chris retaliated by each grabbing one of the young man's legs and dragging him from Vin's back onto the muddy ground. Buck and Nathan then sprang to their teammate's defense; Buck tackling Chris while Nathan tackled Josiah. Raine and Casey were on their feet yelling, while Ezra tried to intervene without venturing into the mud.
"GENTLEMEN! GENTLEMEN! I don't believe this behavior is warranted! Gentlemen!!" He yelled, slapping his hands together in an effort to get their attention. "Oh, hell."
It was becoming increasingly difficult to tell where one man began and another ended; or even which man was which. Grunts and yelps filled the air, and where six men had been a single, mud covered tangle of arms and legs appeared. Ezra had given up trying to make himself heard and started to retreat. He only made it a few steps when two arms snaked out from the mass and grabbed the dapper man's legs. Before he could pull away, Standish was dropped to the ground and pulled unmercifully toward the swampy land.
"Unhand me you felons!" The agent screamed angrily. "Don't you dare -" his word were cut off as he landed face first in the muddied ground.
Chris and Buck, working as a well-oiled machine, rolled the smaller man right into the midst of the melee. The other four men quickly joined in, and soon Ezra disappeared from view, becoming one with the mud.
Chris was glad that he had installed that shower in the barn. Even so, it was nearly dusk by the time they had managed to scrape the layers of mud from all of the cracks and crevices. In an effort to make up for their 'unsportsmanlike' behavior, they had given Ezra first chance at the shower. Chris had even relented and allowed the muck-covered Southerner to use the one inside.
Buck and JD, still damp from their showers, rushed to Buck's car like a pair of boys. Making the others stay away, they carried cardboard boxes and heavy bags from the car to the area Chris had designated as safe enough for them to put on their light show. The others arranged chairs and blankets to get the best view, bringing plates of home made apple pie and ice cream with them.
Nathan and Raine, curled up together on a blanket, seemed oblivious to the presence of anyone else as they talked, laughed, and fed one another ice cream. The others tactfully moved their seats over just a bit, giving the lovers some space. Then the show began. Oohs, aahs, and laughter joined the bang and pop of the fireworks. Chris' enjoyment was tempered by the nagging concern that he had forgotten to put something out of harms way, or the worry that not all of Vin's decorations were fire retardant. After a few moments, though, he relaxed and joined in the applause.
One particularly long pause in the festivities was filled with yet another of Buck and JD's arguments.
"Damn it Kid, watch what you're doin'!"
"I wasn't anywhere near you with the lighter!"
"Like hell you weren't! Y' damn near set m' hair on fire!"
"Well, you do need a haircut!"
"Boy! Look, just give me that thing."
"No! It's my lighter, I'll light the fireworks off!" Several grunts and the sounds of the two wrestling came to the others. After a couple of minutes, Chris stepped in.
"If you two need some help," Larabee yelled, "I think I've got an old flame-thrower somewhere in the barn. Why don't I go get it and we'll see if it works?"
The wrestling stopped, although the grumbling continued, and another series of colorful explosions erupted. The audience settled back, watching the display. To their credit, the dueling duo had planned their production well. Each series of fireworks was more and more elaborate. While not as large, the show was nearly professional in its quality.
"How th' hell far y' think they had t' go t' get some a this stuff?" Vin asked from where he reclined on the ground.
"Farther than I want to think about," Chris answered. Like the rest of them, he was pleasantly buzzed from both the beer and the day. As he watched the show, he was calculating who would be sleeping where for the night, and if he had enough in the refrigerator to feed them all breakfast.
"Shit!" Tanner exclaimed as an off-target projectile flew by them, heading toward the back of the house.
"Damn it Buck!" Chris bellowed as he leapt to his feet and rushed after the escaping missile. The others followed close behind, concern for the blond's home.
Rounding the corner to the back of the house, Larabee stumbled to a stop, nearly bowled over by Tanner behind him. The firework had managed to burn itself out without doing any true damage. Turning, the ATF leader saw Buck and JD skidding to a stop at the back of the little crowd. He wasn't certain who looked more afraid at that moment. Leveling a glare at the two ashen-faced agents, he said, "we won't have an encore."
"Uh...uh..." JD stuttered.
"ShootnoChrisnoway," Buck sputtered.
Nodding, he moved, signaling the others that it was time to return to the show. It escaped no ones notice, however, that he unwrapped the hose and brought it with him this time.
He felt like the den master of one very strange troop of children. Chris couldn't remember when his home had been this full before. Nettie, Casey and Inez had taken over his bedroom, while Nathan and Raine took the spare bedroom. Ezra had claimed Larabee's camp cot and a corner of the dining room, while Josiah took the couch. Buck, soundly rebuked by Inez in an effort to get her to share the comfort of the hayloft, had sulked away by himself. JD and Vin had rolled out sleeping bags on the porch, joking that there was bound to be something left out there to eat. Stretching out in his recliner, pushing the chair full out and flipping a blanket over himself, Chris smiled and drifted to sleep amidst his friends...his family.