Back in 2002 there was a challenge issued on the old M7Challenges list to "start a new AU based on one of your favorite movies" I picked the movie "Twister" and thus began the my stormchasers/twister AU. This is the first story in that AU.
disclaimer: The Magnificent 7 belong to MGM, Mirisch and Trilogy. Twister belongs to Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment. No profit is being made from using either and no copyright infringement is intended.
Chris Larabee stood atop the mobile lab and stared out at the darkening sky. His blond hair whipped wildly in a strong steady wind, giving him a mussed appearance, as if he'd just crawled out of bed.
"What do you see, cowboy?" Vin Tanner grinned up at him as he gracefully climbed onto the vehicle's roof. Without waiting for an answer Tanner knelt and pulled a screwdriver from his back pocket, his total attention seemingly devoted to a small Doppler radar dish.
"Just hoping today's our day," Chris finally answered. "She gonna work for us?" Tanner was already reattaching the dish's access panel.
"She's got a few more days in her," Vin answered without looking up.
Below them, inside the open van, they could hear JD and Buck arguing.
"I'm telling you, Buck, you're not getting the most accurate readings that way!" Dunne was pointing out emphatically.
"Listen, kid, I've been chasing storms longer than you've been out of diapers so don't go telling me how to read my charts," Buck barked back with equal vengeance.
"You're so full of crap," JD laughed. "Just use the new system already."
"I am not using some new fangled…"
"Buck," Chris interrupted loudly.
Wilmington stuck his head out of the lab and looked up at his longtime friend. "What?"
"Use the system." Chris had to stifle a grin and shook his head as Buck disappeared, his loud mutterings, the only sign of his continued attempt to protest.
"You know where we're heading today, Chris?" Nathan approached from the navigation truck, his arms loaded with maps.
"I'm thinking southeast is our best bet," Larabee responded.
"Sounds good." Jackson nodded distractedly, juggling his maps to find the one he needed. "Looks like we're gonna get some action, don't it?"
"Weather service is predicting at least two touchdowns," JD yelled from inside the lab.
"Really?" Josiah asked as he came up beside Nathan, grabbing a couple of maps before they slipped from Jackson's grasp. "What direction?"
"Cells are developing to the south and southeast of course," Buck answered, obviously adept at reading the new system.
"Of course." Nathan shook his head, wondering for the millionth time how Chris managed to be so consistent with predicting a storm's path.
Chris cracked a small grin at Jackson and Sanchez and glanced back at the sky but to the west, a cloud of dust low to the ground caught his attention. Apprehension tightened in his stomach and he knew immediately who was coming. It'd been almost three months since he'd seen the final member of his research team…the former member.
"Did you know he was coming here today?" Vin asked, standing up beside him and recognizing the luxury sedan.
Chris shook his head, then shrugged. "He called about the transfer of ownership papers and I told him he knew where to find us if he wanted them."
"You sign all of 'em yet?"
Larabee flashed a mischievous grin. "Most of them."
Ezra Standish leaned into the plush leather of the back seat and tried to avoid looking at the sky. He could feel the storm building, taunting him with its pressure and power. It buzzed though him like it was a part of his very being and produced a longing that threatened to drive him insane. He knew he should be out there. He was a chaser and no matter how much he tried to deny it…deep down he knew where he belonged.
The driver wasn't prepared when the pavement faded out of existence and Ezra grasped the back of the passenger seat to keep from bouncing around uncontrollably. He could see the trucks now, the three battered and abused vehicles set off a sharp pang of homesickness that he refused to acknowledge. His time with Larabee's team was behind him and he wasn't going to let himself consider any other alternative.
Suddenly, Ezra realized the car had stopped and his driver…his mother's driver was halfway around the front of the car already. Taking a deep breath, Standish readied himself and stepped out of the safe haven of the vehicle.
"Hey Ez!" JD hollered as he jumped out of the van. "Good to see you back."
Ezra smiled at the genuine greeting. "Thank you, Mr. Dunne, but I'm afraid I'm only here for a moment."
"You clean up good." Buck laughed, motioning to the well-cut business suit.
"And I see that your tastes are still abhorrent."
"What?" Buck mocked hurt as he pulled on the pink and orange Hawaiian print shirt he wore.
Ezra felt his steps slow as Josiah approached. He could see the affection in the older man's eyes and braced himself. Sanchez moved in quickly, embracing the tense man in a bear hug before he could evade it. "Very good to see you again, Ezra," he murmured as he released him.
Standish nodded, not trusting his voice, as he turned toward the others.
Vin moved forward and grabbed his forearm. "Welcome back," he said softly.
"I'm not…" Ezra tried to protest but Tanner was already walking toward the main truck. Sighing, he turned again and found himself facing Nathan and Chris.
"Ezra," Nathan greeted.
"See you found us alright." Chris' cool blue-green eyes swept over to the black sedan and back again.
"Wasn't that difficult, just had to listen to the weather reports." Ezra shrugged. "Do you have the transfer papers?"
Nathan shook his head, exhaling with disgust. "You have a one track mind, don't you Standish? Always worrying about getting your due credit and making a profit."
Ezra flinched but covered his physical reaction with a self-deprecating chuckle.
Chris shot a scathing look in Nathan's direction. "Nathan, that's not what the papers are…" He began but Standish cut him off.
"That's quite alright, Mr. Larabee, if you could just get that paperwork for me, I'll be on my way. Mr. Jackson is correct in assuming that that is my main concern."
"Not even curious about the Toto SL?" Vin asked, coming up beside him.
Ezra swallowed hard. "What about it?" He looked from Tanner's knowing grin to Larabee's blank expression.
Chris looked down and then casually leaned back against the lab. "It's ready."
Ezra stepped back with surprise. "It's ready? You built it?" The excitement in his southern accent was obvious.
"Of course we built it." Vin slapped him on the back. "You guys didn't design the specs just to look at them did you?"
Ezra shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. The Toto SL was a concept that he'd had originated and with Larabee's help and knowledge…the two of them had been able to design. If built small enough, the instrument would fit inside and supplement the 'Dorothy', a machine previously designed by another scientist to measure the behavior of tornadoes from the inside. When the duo were sent up into a twister together, Ezra predicted that the Toto would increase the accuracy of Dorothy's readings by at least 50%. At least that's what he hoped for.
"We're gonna try to get her up today." Chris grinned as he watched Ezra glance up at the sky. The longing in the Southerner's eyes was obvious. "Gonna join us?"
Shaking his head regretfully, Ezra managed to answer. "No, I told you…"
"Chris!" JD's excited shout erupted from the lab startling everyone. "We got one forming South-southeast about 20 miles out." The youngest team member jumped from the van as he pushed his black hair out of his face. "We gonna try it? Sector scans confirm it should be either an F2 or 3."
Chris' eyes met Ezra's as he answered. "Let's ride."
Ezra stepped back as the scene turned chaotic. Buck and JD continued to yell the storm's progress from the lab, all the while packing up the vehicle. Vin and Chris had scrambled back to the top of the van and were handing the Doppler down to Josiah who slid it easily into the back of the lab.
Nathan had already run back to his truck, where he was pulling maps from his obsessively organized system to have ready for the chase. Josiah followed him a few seconds later, tossing camera equipment into the cab behind the seats.
Ezra looked back as Chris ran by. "You can ride with us if you want." The taller man told him, turning so he was jogging backwards. "Otherwise we'll have to hook up another time for those papers you want."
Scowling, Ezra knew he'd been played and yet couldn't quite feel genuinely upset over the fact. He shouted to his driver. "Go home, I'm going with them."
"But what do I tell your mother?" the driver yelled as he watched Ezra run to the extended cab black pickup with the weird contraption strapped into the bed.
"Tell her I ran away to join the circus," Ezra hollered his answer as he climbed into the passenger seat.
The closing door and roar of engines firing up completely drowning out the driver's sarcastic reply… "Again?"
Chris didn't miss Vin's self-satisfied smile as Era settled and buckled his seat belt. They'd won the first and most difficult battle, now if they could just win the war. "Where are we headed, Preacher?" Ezra slipped instantly back into his place, grabbing the radio and referring to Josiah by a familiar nickname for the former minister.
"Take route 19. It'll intersect at 131 and that should put us on route to intercept." Sanchez's voice crackled over the radio in answer.
"I got it," Chris responded through the headset that Vin had adjusted for him. It felt right to have Standish in the truck with him, he just wondered if this one chase would be enough to keep the skittish storm chaser on the road again.
"That was evil and uncalled for," Ezra told him, not looking in his direction.
Ezra laughed in spite of himself. "Don't even attempt to act innocent. You set me up from the beginning, dragging me out here for the papers and waving the Toto SL in my face."
"Yeah…well…" Chris gripped the steering wheel tightly as they hit a rough section of road.
"Have you even signed the papers, Chris?"
Vin reached forward to adjust the radio, trying to surreptitiously switch the channels open so the guys in the other vehicles could hear what was being said. Chris noticed but said nothing, figuring it was time a few issues and misunderstandings were cleared up.
"Not yet," he answered finally.
"You're stalling intentionally," Ezra accused, lightly punching the seat between them. "You know I can't move on until you sign."
"You don't really want to move on," Chris replied.
Ezra scoffed. "How do you presume to know that?" He braced himself with a hand on the dashboard as Chris whipped around a slower moving car.
"I know you, Ezra. Regardless of how many walls you try to put up between us."
Ezra stared at Larabee a minute, before focusing out the window.
"Do you really think that signing over all of your rights to ownership of the Toto will make you free of us?" Chris glanced at Ezra and then to the rearview mirror where he met Vin's knowing blue gaze. He wondered how Jackson was reacting to that bit of info.
"Saves me having to fight you when you take it later," Ezra mumbled honestly.
"Damn it, I'm not Cox," Chris retorted harshly, his anger flaring.
"We got action to the south," Buck's voice cut through the airwaves.
"Take a left at the next intersection," Nathan ordered.
Chris jerked the speeding vehicle to the left, barely making the turn on four wheels.
"There." Ezra pointed. "Funnels starting to emerge."
"Can we make it, JD?" Chris asked, revealing to Ezra that the channel was open. Standish cast a glance back to Tanner, who merely shrugged.
"If we can get in front of it; looks like it's building."
"We need better position if we're gonna send up Dorothy and Toto."
"Take the next right," Nathan told them. "If we cut across 91 we should be in perfect place to intercept."
"Did you happen to see who's moving up behind us in his fancy vans?" The sarcasm in Wilmington's voice was clear.
"Don't tell me," Chris growled noticing that Ezra was suddenly a bit pale.
"Okay, I won't."
Chris checked the side mirror. "Shit, the bastard is passing us." He watched as the large sleek black van pulled up next to the truck keeping pace beside them as if the vehicles were moseying along on a casual drive instead of pushing 80.
"Speak of the devil…" Vin cursed under his breath.
"Hey Larabee, you and your misfits haven't given up this crusade yet?" Edward 'Ward' Cox's voice buzzed through the radio and filled the cab. "And I see you've gone back to slumming it. Thought you'd at least gotten smart enough to ditch Standish."
Chris caught sight of Cox's sneer in the van's passenger window but looked away and kept his focus on the driving as Vin reached forward and grabbed the radio receiver. "Going to change to our back up," Tanner warned Buck and Josiah before flipping the channel to the Team's standby.
" 'Bout time. That SOB was making me want to hurl." Buck snapped.
"Chris," Ezra began.
"Ignore him, Ezra. He's baiting you cause he knows he'll never come close to your accomplishments."
"No, look." Ezra tapped his window, pointing toward the turbulent sky.
"Damn." Chris altered his focus between the sky and the road, thankful when Cox's entourage finally completely passed them.
"Atmosphere is unstable," Vin pointed out. "Readings say it's staying on course but…"
"It's shifting," Ezra finished.
"Nathan?" Ezra waited for what felt like an eternity as he watched the funnel touch down. The powerful wind ripped at trees, land and anything else in its path.
"Take the next left and we'll be smack in the middle of the battle zone," Jackson answered.
"That'll work." Chris flashed a dangerous grin at Ezra and Vin before making the turn.
"Hang back, gentlemen." Ezra warned the others.
"Looks like an ornery one, don't it?" Vin asked, the thrill of the chase lighting his eyes.
The trio watched the funnel cloud bounce and dance along the ground as they drove towards it.
"Everything set?" Ezra asked.
"Sure is." Vin slapped the laptop closed and handed Ezra a headset, then proceeded to put one on himself.
"I think this is good." Chris skidded the truck to a halt as a large twisted branch bounced in the middle of the road in front of them and landed with a resounding thud on the hood.
"Debris," Ezra pointed out sarcastically, shrugging out of his suit coat and hopping out of the truck. The wind caught him and he stumbled a bit before regaining his balance and running for the back of the truck.
"Out of practice?" Vin teased as they lowered the gate and climbed up.
"Like hell," Ezra shouted back, grabbing one of the straps tying Dorothy down and trying to work it free of the buckle. He was surprised when Chris climbed up and pushed him forward. "Check the systems!"
Standing, Ezra grasped onto the machine for more stability and immediately started flipping the necessary switches, double-checking through the thick Plexiglas cover that he could see the lights signaling that Toto was working.
Suddenly, something hard and sharp hit his shoulder and he barely stayed standing. He was hit again, this time in the head. "Hail!" he shouted, warning the others.
"Shit!" Vin held one arm up to half shield himself from the onslaught of precipitation.
"It's accelerating!" Buck yelled through the radio. All three men looked up in response. "Get out of there!" Wilmington warned as a flash of lightning took out a nearby tree. The hail picked up, larger rocks pounding at them.
""He's right, let's go!" Chris ordered, deserting his efforts with Dorothy and jumping over the truck.
"We can do this, Chris!" Ezra countered as Tanner followed Larabee.
"No! Get in the truck, Ezra!" Chris pushed Vin toward the passenger side.
"Help me Chris, we can do it, just… Ezra plea was cut off abruptly when part of a destroyed tree struck him across the shoulders, knocking him out of the truck bed and onto the hail covered ground.
"Ezra!" Chris rushed to the Southerner and hauled him up, half carrying him to the truck. Forcefully he shoved the stunned man in beside Vin and slammed the door closed, rushing around to the driver's side. Jumping in he thrust the truck in gear and slammed his foot onto the accelerator, backing up just as a tree landed where the engine had been.
Ezra watched in dismay as they continued to back away from the storm. Ignoring growing ache in his back and the cut on his forehead thanks to his unforgiving landing. In the six months he'd previously been on Larabee's team it'd been Chris who'd always been the risk taker, pushing the limits and now, today, Chris had pulled back without a fight.
There was a brilliant flash as lightening exploded another tree but the tornado itself was moving on, their chance for catching this one was over.
"You guys all okay?" Josiah asked anxiously, betraying the concern of the ones left waiting out of harms way.
"We're all in one piece," Vin answered quietly.
The hail had tapered off and with another flash of lightning, the rain started. It came down hard as the tail of the storm made one last swipe at them. When Chris finally pulled the truck to a stop beside the other vehicles the rain had settled from deluge to downpour. Ezra was out of the truck before it came to a complete halt.
The rain drenched him, plastering his designer shirt to his body and stinging his face and neck.
"What the hell were you thinking?" Chris was in his face immediately, making him wonder for a moment if the man had even put the truck in gear before abandoning Tanner inside.
"I was trying to get a job done!" Ezra yelled back. "What were you doing?"
"Staying alive!" Chris advanced, his black attire, soaked in the cold rain, adding to his intimidating stature. "It was too unstable, Ezra; we were too close."
"We could have done it!" Ezra protested.
"Damn it, did you see the size of that tree? Five more seconds and we'd have been out of the business altogether." Chris swiped his wet hair out of his face. "When are you going to let go of what Ward Cox did to you and realize that gaining back your reputation ain't worth dying over?"
"When are you gonna stop trying to get revenge on Nature for taking your family away from you?" Ezra knew he'd crossed the line but Chris was on top of him before he could even think of how to take the words back. Driven backwards, Standish cried out as his already abused body hit the ground. The wind and rain pounded at them as Larabee hovered over him, rage clear in his eyes. Ezra braced himself for the hit but gasped in surprise when Chris rolled off of him and pulled him into a sitting position.
"That was evil and uncalled for Ezra." Chris smiled faintly. "True- but fucking uncalled for."
Ezra was stunned. "I-I apologize Chris, I was…"
Chris waved for him off but looked up, meeting his gaze evenly. "We all have our demons; don't apologize."
Looking down, Ezra was self-consciously aware of the openness of their conversation.
"I just don't get you, Ez," Chris admitted when he looked up again. "You'll run head on into a tornado, but you run away from us as fast as you can."
Ezra remained quiet; not knowing how to explain what he didn't fully understand himself.
"I'm not Cox," Chris told him, "I'm not gonna steal your ideas and discredit you, and I'm not your mother."
Ezra blinked, caught off guard by the mention of his mother but kept quiet when Chris held up his hand, mud splashing between them. "I'm not going to guilt and manipulate you into living a life you really don't want. But Ezra, you might have only been on this team for the first six months…but I know you, better than you'd like to admit. You love this." Larabee motioned to the elements around them. "You live for this. Don't give it up just because you're afraid of getting hurt again. You don't have to prove anything to us, you're a part of this…family and trust me, we're not quite the whole without you." With that Chris pushed himself off the ground and walked towards the trucks and van without looking back.
Ezra sat there, suddenly very aware of the mud seeping through his pant legs and ruining his expensive shoes. The rain had tapered off and he roughly ran a hand through his wet hair as he considered Chris' words. He didn't think he'd ever heard the man talk that much at one time before but he knew what was said was true. This was where he was supposed to be. Was he really ready to put aside his insecurities and take the needed risk to trust these men? Why was it so much easier to run into a storm than to let himself belong anywhere?
Finally, slowly he climbed to his feet, groaned and walked toward the others. JD and Buck tried to look busy as they recorded the statistics of the tornado. Josiah stood next to Nathan, both men watching him expectantly. Vin leaned casually back against the side of the van with a look that told Ezra he knew exactly what was coming. Chris meanwhile simply stood slightly in front of the rest of them, his arms on his hips, waiting.
Ezra tipped his head to the side, chewing his lower lip nervously. "I, uh…" He searched, feeling uncomfortably at a loss for words. "I…"
"Welcome back, Ez," Vin stated, giving his friend the out he needed.
"Thank you Mr. Tanner." Ezra smiled. "Thank you."
There was a collective relieved sigh from the others. "Cool!" JD bounced in place.
"About time you came to your senses," Nathan said, the unspoken apology for his earlier comments evident in his tone. "You okay?"
"I am now," Ezra answered, though he knew Jackson was referring to his injuries.
"Just promise me one thing, Ezra," Chris said stepping closer.
"What's that?" Ezra looked at him skeptically.
"Don't ever run away from us again."
Ezra glanced at the ground then back up at Chris, meeting his gaze evenly and giving a small two-fingered salute, hoping that Larabee would understand what he wasn't quite ready to verbalize.
"Hey guys?" JD cut in tentatively.
"What is it?" Chris asked turning to face Dunne.
"There's another front forming further south." He looked from man to man, "I don't know if we can get there in time but…"
Chris looked at Nathan who was already heading for the truck in search of his maps and Buck as the tall, mustached man grabbed a laptop and started keying up reports.
"You have to ask?" Vin questioned, jogging toward the other truck. "Come on Ez, I'm riding shot gun this time."
"Now wait just a minute, Mr. Tanner." Ezra followed and Chris found himself standing alone with Josiah.
"You better hurry Chris," Sanchez said, laughing and giving him a light shove towards his truck. "We got a storm to catch."