Author's Note: This story is the mid-point of a trilogy, set in a sub-AU of the M7 ATF AU, wherein Chris Larabee is just a smidgen older than he is in the normal ATF AU. He was also Naomi Sandburg's high school sweetheart. Deb Noellert wrote the first story, "Finding Family," and I loved it so much I asked permission to play in her backyard. Deb and a friend of hers, Misty C, wrote a sequel, "Family Business, which picks up immediately where this one leaves off. However, all three stories can be read independently.

Standard disclaimer: not my characters, please don't sue. If you do, I'll send my cat over to shed on you.

Title: Family and Strangers

Author: Susan M. M.

Originally published in Neon RainBow Press' Sensory Net #4

'Netfic: Also posted at Blackraptor dot net

Main Characters: Chris Larabee and Blair Sandburg

Type of story: general fiction crossover with The Sentinel

Universe: ATF AU where Chris learns Blair is his son

Sequel to Deb Noellert's "Finding Family"

Award Nominee: Mistresses of Malarky 2009

Family and Strangers

by Susan M. M.

The ride from Denver International Airport to Chris Larabee's ranch could best be described as awkward. Until they had met by chance an hour ago, Special Agent Chris Larabee, leader of the local ATF office's Team Seven, had no idea that his high school sweetheart had given birth to his son. Detective Blair Sandburg of the Cascade Police Department's Major Crimes Unit had never suspected that his mother had lied to him about not knowing who his father was, for fear he would hero-worship the father who'd been lost in Vietnam and follow in his footsteps. And Naomi Sandburg had believed Chris killed in 'Nam, when in truth he'd been a POW. So now Chris and Blair were on their way to Chris' ranch, hoping to get acquainted before Blair had to return to Washington in three days.

Blair thought of their conversation at the airport:

"It's not as though you're an unpleasant surprise."

"You don't even know who I am."

"True, but that's something I'd be willing to take the time to learn."

Yet despite their eagerness to get to know each other, the conversation in Chris' truck had been uneasy, at best. Superficial. Blair wondered if it was because they were both law enforcement officers, and they didn't want it to feel like an interrogation, or because they were both nervous.

"You mentioned getting your master's. What subject?" Chris asked.

"Anthropology. For my bachelor's I did a double major in computers and anthropology, and for my MA I concentrated on anthropology." Blair decided not to tell his father he'd been within a hair's breadth of getting his doctorate. That would mean explaining why he hadn't gotten his Ph.D., which would mean explaining about Jim being a sentinel. Of course, with Ezra Standish and JD Dunne doing a background check on him, and the fact he suspected – strongly suspected – that his father's team mate Vin Tanner was a latent sentinel, Chris would learn all about sentinels and guides. But Blair couldn't explain – not yet.

"How'd you go from being an anthropologist to a police detective?" Chris asked.

Blair thought a moment, then gave his father a half-truth. "I was researching the Major Crimes Unit as an example of a modern closed society. Eventually, I went from being a police observer to an academy cadet to detective."

Chris took his eyes off the road long enough to give his son a quick, sharp glance. The dark-haired young man wasn't telling the whole story. Chris would be willing to swear his son was a "right'un" – he'd stake his life on it, even on such short acquaintance. So if Blair were keeping secrets, either he didn't know how far he could trust Chris yet, or – thinking about the phone call to his partner, and how Vin had reacted to the unseen Jim Ellison – it wasn't his secret to share.

Chris looked at his son again, trying to memorize his profile. His son… He'd never thought to use those words again after he buried Adam. Yet here his son – his firstborn son – sat beside him, close enough to touch. He wondered what Blair wanted from a father at this late date, what he could offer the young man, who seemed so self-sufficient.

They were still strangers. Chris had told Blair that he liked the Chicago Cubs, the Green Bay Packers, and the Denver Nuggets, in that order. Blair had shared that he like the Cascade Jaguars, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Houston Oilers, in no particular order, but because of all the time he'd spent outside the USA, he also enjoyed watching international cricket and soccer matches on cable TV.

They'd talked about the types of music they liked. Country/western, soft rock, and jazz for Chris, while Blair's tastes were more extensive and far more eclectic: everything from Leslie Fish to Livy Delafield, from Blacksnake to Brother to BB King to the Beatles, from David Bowie to Dingoes Ate My Baby, from Metallica to the Monkees, plus several types of ethnic music from places that Chris had never heard of. But who and what his son was – what made Blair Sandburg a unique soul in the universe – that Chris Larabee didn't know yet. And he wasn't sure he could learn it in the three days they had together before Blair had to return to Cascade.

They fell into an uncomfortable silence, which Chris broke after a few minutes by swearing quietly. "Damn that bitch."

"Ella?" Blair asked, although he was fairly sure whom his father meant.

Chris nodded. Ella Gaines had deliberately kept them apart, making sure Naomi had never learned the truth about his survival, and encouraging him not to pursue his search when he couldn't find Naomi after he'd returned from 'Nam. Ella had known he and Naomi had created a child, and she'd done everything in her power to keep that information from him.

"All she stole from us… that we should have had – first steps, first day of kindergarten, playing catch in the backyard, teaching you how to ride a bike." Chris shook his head. Twice Ella had robbed him of the joys of fatherhood, first by hiding Blair's existence from him and then by murdering Adam. His hands clenched around the steering wheel.

Blair shrugged. "I don't have a time machine, and I'm a little too old for you to take to Disneyland."

The blond ATF agent harrumphed. "JD and Buck would say you're never too old to go to Disneyland."

"Tell me about them," Blair urged, eager to change the subject. "You and your team seem close, more than just coworkers."

"We are," Chris acknowledged. "We've fought together, bled together, laughed, cried, gotten drunk together. We're closer than family could ever be." He bit his lower lip, realizing to whom he'd just said that.

Blair, however, did not appear offended. "A good team is like that. Jim's not just my partner, he's my brother."

Chris nodded. He wanted to know more about this Detective Ellison, and was curious as to what Ezra and JD's research would reveal.

"So, tell me about your team," Blair repeated.

"Buck, the tall fellow with the mustache, he's our explosives expert. Biggest ladies' man in the state of Colorado – he's an Olympic-class skirt-chaser. He's also one of my best friends. If things had been different, you probably would have grown up calling him 'Uncle Buck.'" Chris fell silent, realizing that if he and Naomi had gotten back together after he'd gotten back from Vietnam, he probably would have left the Navy, and thus never have met Buck Wilmington.

"We served together in the SEALs," Chris continued after a moment, "and I recruited him into the ATF."

"And Vin?" Blair was deathly curious about the latent sentinel.

"Vin's our sharpshooter. He used to be a federal marshal, and then a bounty hunter for a while. When we met, we just clicked, like we'd known each other for years."

"'There's not a word yet, for old friends who've just met,'" Blair quoted quietly from "The Rainbow Connection," a song from The Muppets Movie.

Chris hesitated. Years of keeping to himself warred with wanting to share as much as possible with his new-found son. "You're an anthropologist. Are you familiar with the Celtic notion of an anam-cara?"

Blair nodded. "A soul-friend, someone you can share anything with. Kind of like a personal confessor, except he or she didn't need to be ordained. In ancient times, the Celts considered an anam-cara necessary not only for spiritual growth, but to maintain mental health."

"Yep. That's Vin." Chris changed the subject, unused to such depth of honesty with a stranger. "JD Dunne, he's the youngest on the team – our computer expert. He used to be a cop in Boston. Josiah, he's the oldest. He was in 'Nam, too, although we never met over there. He used to be a profiler with the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit."

"And the guy who sounds like Rhett Butler?" Blair asked.

"Ezra Standish, also ex-FBI – our undercover expert. He can change personas quicker than you can change your socks. If he ever retired from law enforcement, he could make a fortune as a con artist, or a gambler. Don't ever play cards with him unless you can afford to lose your money," Chris warned.

"I'll keep that in mind," Blair said lightly. He didn't take the warning seriously. He'd supplemented his scholarships and grants at Rainier University through dorm room poker games.

"Nathan's our medic. He—"

"You have your own medic? Is that SOP for the ATF?"

"As much as we get battered and bruised, it ought to be," Chris replied. "His primary responsibility is explosives – he did incendiary forensics with the Kansas City PD Bomb Squad. But he was an army medic, and he's certified as a tactical medic now."

Blair nodded. Cascade PD's SWAT teams had a few tactical medics, and wanted more, but they weren't in the budget. Tactical medics were LEOs trained for medical aid when it was too dangerous for civilian medical personnel and first aid wasn't enough.

Chris turned the wheel. The pickup turned off the main road and onto a long gravel lane. Larabee smiled. It was his turn to ask about Blair's partner now, and he had a lot of questions about Jim Ellison. But first, he wanted to see Blair's reaction to the ranch. "Here we are," he announced.

"This is your place?" Blair stared out at the meadows filled with uncut grass and wildflowers. A few horses grazed free in the distance. Spotting the house and stable at the end of the gravel road, Blair suddenly realized that it was not a lane, but a driveway. "All this is yours?"

Chris nodded.

"How'd you afford this on a cop's salary?" Blair blurted out, then blushed. Talk about putting his foot in his mouth, he'd all but accused his father of being a dirty cop!

Chris glanced at him and seemingly read his mind. He chuckled. "Years of hazardous duty pay, carefully invested. The first few years after 'Nam I spent my pay like a drunken sailor." He chuckled again. "Which I was, but after a while getting drunk just for the sake of getting drunk gets boring. So I started saving some of my pay instead of blowing it all and eventually I could afford this – house, some acreage, a few horses. After the sort of work I do— we do," he corrected himself, "a place like this is good for recharging the batteries."

Blair gazed out the window and wondered how much of the surrounding landscape belonged to his father. The phrase "monarch of all he surveyed" popped into his head, and he wondered if it were literally true for Chris Larabee.

Chris parked in front of the house. "Here we are."

/

"Can I get you a drink? Beer, Coke?"

"Beer's good," Blair replied.

"Be right back." Chris disappeared into the kitchen.

Blair took the opportunity to look around the den. The big screen TV was nice, and the stereo system had all the bells and whistles a technophile could ask for, but what caught Blair's eyes were the bookshelves, lots of bookshelves – history, biography, travel, military, everything from Thucydides and Sun Tzu to Schwarzkopf, with a heavy emphasis on the Civil War. The fiction took up even more space, and ranged from SF to mysteries, swashbucklers to spy thrillers, some horror, lots of westerns, even a few classics like Dickens and Steinbeck.

Chris came back into the den and saw Blair examining the bookshelves. "So, you believe the theory that you can tell a lot about a man by what he reads?"

Blair turned. He hadn't heard his father come in.

Chris held out a Michelob in his right hand, offering it silently to Blair. An identical bottle for himself was in his left hand.

"Thanks." Blair glanced from his father to the bookshelves. "I'm just glad you're not one of those people who buys the Harvard five-foot shelf library 'cause the books look good on the shelf, and then never bothers to turn one page."

Chris harrumphed. He knew people like that, and avoided them as much as possible. His gaze lit on the shelf closest to Blair. "Did your mother ever tell you how you got your name?"

"In a sideways way… I was named after my Uncle Benjamin." Blair sat down and took a swig of beer. Almost automatically, he fell into lecture mode. "Traditionally, Ashkenazic Jews don't name children for living relatives. In ancient times, it was considered dangerous to name a baby after a living relative, lest the Angel of Death grow confused and take Junior when he'd come to fetch Grandpa." Blair took another sip of beer. "Which seems somewhat disrespectful of angels – one would assume that heavenly beings would be of a higher order of intelligence. Anyhow, it became a frequent custom for babies to be given a name starting with the same initial as a recently deceased relative, it being understood that baby Joey was actually named in honor of Grandpa Jake, or in my case, Blair for Mom's great-uncle Benjamin, who died three months before I was born."

"That might be part of the reason, but I can show you the other part." Chris grabbed a book on Scottish clans and tartans. He quickly turned to the correct page, and handed it to Blair.

Blair looked down at the picture of a white castle. "Blair Atholl, hereditary home of the Dukes of Atholl, chiefs of Clan Murray," he read.

"My mother's maiden name was Murray. Naomi and I talked about going to Scotland someday, hiking across the highlands, visiting all the castles, maybe trying to catch a glimpse of the Loch Ness Monster." He smiled wistfully at the memory of unfulfilled plans. "But we definitely planned to visit Blair Atholl, that being my clan's castle."

"Mom never mentioned any of this… Part Scottish. I wonder how I'd look in a kilt?" he mused. "I've been to Highland Games once or twice with my partner – he's Clan MacPherson."

"With your partner? You didn't go when you were younger?" Chris asked in surprise.

"No, and you'd think as an anthropology student I would have treated it as a cultural—"

"You mean Naomi never took you to Highland Games?" Chris interrupted.

"Naomi? At a Highland Games?" Blair was startled. "The bagpipes would drive her crazy."

Chris asked, "What do you mean? Naomi loves bagpipes." His eyes took on a faraway look, remembering. "Our second date was at a Highland Games."

"Mom always said she couldn't stand bagpipes." Blair remembered what she'd said at the airport – that Chris Larabee was the only man she'd ever considered marrying… when she'd always told him that she'd never considered marriage. "No… not that she couldn't stand bagpipes… that she couldn't stand listening to bagpipes without you. Not that she was opposed to the idea of marriage, but that she was opposed to marriage with anyone but you," he realized. Blue eyes looked into green eyes. "You must have made quite an impression on her."

Chris chuckled. "If we hadn't made a major impression on each other, you wouldn't be here." He took a deep breath. "If things had been different, your mother and I…" He drank some beer, as he considered what to say. "Your mother and I loved each other very much. We planned to get married. Believe me, Blair, if Ella hadn't done her best to keep Naomi and me apart after I got back from Vietnam…" His fingers tightened around the bottle until Blair feared the glass would break. "Even if we'd wound up not getting married, I would've been part of your life. I would've insisted on it."

Blair tried to imagine himself and his mother living the white picket fence lifestyle, and failed. Then he tried to picture his father roaming the world with Naomi and him, and he couldn't do that either.

"Your mother… she's changed over the years. Tell me about her. What does she do, where does she live?"

"She doesn't have a steady job. When she needs money, she'll find a temporary position, but she's more likely to do volunteer work. The environment, world peace, civil rights, she's never met a cause she didn't like," Blair explained. "We spent a lot of time hiking and camping out when I was young, and a lot of time crashing on other people's couches. We sailed to India so she could seek enlightenment when I was ten or so, and she paid our passage by working as ship's cook. Then she met Nick, and we flew home with him on his private jet." Blair shook his head. "It was a major lifestyle change, I'll tell you that."

"Nick?"

"One of Mom's ex-boyfriends. Mom…" He hesitated, not wanting to call his mother promiscuous, although he knew some people would consider her so. "…Mom makes friends easily, and she believes love should be shared. But, eventually, she'd move on, and 'detach with love,' as she puts it." Most people would describe her time with Nick Chetwynd of Chetwynd Industries as Naomi having been a millionaire's mistress, but she'd never thought of their relationship like that. Nick had shared his home with them, just as other friends and lovers had done before and since. It honestly meant no more to her than when they'd lived on John's farm, or traveled with Snake in his van for three months.

"Mom's led protests, helped illegal immigrants and political refugees, taught migrant workers how to read and write, organized letter-writing campaigns and boycotts against polluting factories. She… She doesn't fit into any neat little categories," Blair explained. "And when she had to get a job, she's been a waitress, a dancer, even a grocery store cashier. But she's never stayed with any job long, or in any one place, or with any one man."

Chris drank his beer and thought a minute. Naomi Sandburg the woman was not Naomi Sandburg the girl. She'd changed and so had he, and he couldn't turn back the clock and pick up where they had left off. But he could get to know the son Naomi had given him, who seemed to be a decent man despite what Chris considered an unorthodox upbringing, and a childhood his own mother would definitely have considered unsuitable.

He bit back a cuss-word, realizing he would have to call his parents in Arizona. He wondered how they'd react to the news they were grandparents again. "Sounds like a lot of chop and change when you were growing up."

Blair nodded. "We moved a lot. I was always the new kid in school, so I read a lot. Sometimes they'd put me in one grade, sometimes in another, depending on the principal's feelings on skipping grades. One day we'd be visiting my cousins in Texas, the next we'd be on a boat to Europe, or hitchhiking across Mexico. It wasn't until I was sixteen that I spent more than a year in one place."

"Oh? What happened at sixteen?"

"I started college."

One blond eyebrow went up in surprise and respect.

"We were in Washington, traveling with the migrant workers, picking apples. I took the entrance exam for Rainier University for a lark, and the next thing I knew, I was a freshman."

The phone rang. Chris excused himself to get it.

"Chris? It's Ezra."

Chris wasn't sure which set off his radar more, that Ezra was addressing him by his first name instead of "Mr. Larabee," or the tentative, awkward tone in the southerner's voice. The same tone as when he'd been forced to tell Chris and Blair that Naomi had left without saying goodbye to either of them. "What's up?"

"We finished the background check on Detective Sandburg. It might be better if we came by the ranch. It's a little complicated to explain over the phone," Ezra said.

"You know the way." Chris hung up without another word. He walked back to Blair and looked at him. His son. His firstborn. No matter what Ezra and JD had found, nothing could change that. "That was Ezra. They finished the background check on you, and want to come up here to tell me about it in person." His voice softened and gentled. "Before they get here, is there anything you want to tell me yourself?"

Blair tightened his grip on the now empty beer bottle. He gestured at the couch. "You might want to sit down. This'll take a few minutes." He took a deep breath. "First, I need to explain to you about sentinels and guides…"

Muchas gracias to Deb Noellert for letting me play in her backyard.

This story is a sequel to her "Finding Family."

Acronyms

SOP: standard operating procedure

ATF: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, a branch of the Justice Department

SWAT: special weapons and tactics

LEO: law enforcement officer

The original story can be found at http colon double slash blackraptor dot net slash m7fic dash 39 slash family dot htm "Finding Family," by Deb Noellert.

The third story, "Family Business," is at this website, at fanfiction dot net/s/4892023/1/Family_business.

Yes, more stories in the Finding Family AU are in the planning stages, but Real Life and other plot bunnies have them temporarily delayed. But rest assured, Deb, Misty, and I plan to tell more about Larabee and son!