Notes: First of all, many thanks to MOG for creating that wonderful sandbox, and to all the other authors who have kept ATF Universe alive and well! After hundreds of stories it's nearly impossible to create something new when writing in this AU, especially the beginning story, so if you recognize some idea or plot twist as yours – you're probably right :). Either 'great minds think alike', or I liked that idea so much it just became a part of my personal ATF fanon. In either case, please take it as a compliment :).
Special thanks to Tiffany Pena for beta-reading!
Finding the Rainbow
"Ladies and gentlemen, please prepare for takeoff."
Orrin Travis, the Assistant Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Denver, fastened his seatbelt and watched through the window as the lights of DC slowly faded away. He'd spent the last week in the capital enduring endless meetings; this latest round of accountability a result of the last epic fail of the ATF as a whole. Strangely enough, most of the meetings were dedicated to searching for solutions and not to finger pointing, one of those possible solutions was on Travis's mind now.
It had been decided that several special teams would be created and based in different major cities across the country; self-sufficient, effective teams capable of operating throughout the US. One of those future teams would be based in Colorado, and Travis had 6 months to organize the paperwork, hire employees, and get it started. Six month was a rather short period of time in which to accomplish such a task, but, fortunately, the Denver AD knew where he wanted to start. Amongst his agents was a man perfect for leading the new team; if he accepted the position, that is.
Chris Larabee, the man in question, was a former Navy SEAL and he used to work as a homicide detective for Denver PD. Travis had heard of him while Larabee had been working in Homicide, but their first face-to-face meeting had happened under very tragic circumstances. The Larabee car bombing had shook all of Denver's law enforcement personnel; firstly, because it was a fellow officer who'd been targeted, and secondly, because his wife and son had been killed instead. Every agency in the area had been eager to offer their help, and, since it had been a bombing, the ATF had had a valid reason to get involved. The Denver branch had gotten lucky; one of Travis's agents had found similarities between that bombing and two others, a distinctive signature that had led to one man. They'd managed to catch the bomber, but alas, it'd turned out that he was only a paid lackey, and he had refused to give up the name of his employer. He was sent to prison, and not long after, had been killed in his cell. The case had then gone cold. After that, Larabee had left the DPD, and though Travis had sometimes heard about the man (and nothing too pleasant either), he hadn't seen him until five months later, when Chris Larabee had come to his office, looking for a job.
Orrin raised his eyes from the application lying on his desk, to the man sitting on the other side of it. This Chris Larabee, dressed all in black, didn't look like the man Orrin had sometimes seen at law enforcement social gatherings well before the tragedy, but he did look much better than he had during the last time they had met. But Orrin had to ask.
"I won't lie to you, sir," Larabee answered, straightening himself up. "I've crawled out of a dark pit recently and I need a job to keep me from falling back into it."
Travis liked the man's bluntness and, well, he could understand the reasoning. In fact, he understood better than most; his own son, Stephen, a leading journalist for the Denver Post, was murdered 'in the line of duty' a couple of years ago, and it had been her job that had kept Stephen's widow, Mary, from falling apart, and himself too, if he was being honest. And they were luckier than Larabee had been, they still had Billy.
"Why the ATF?"
Larabee gave a half-shrug accompanied by a half-smile. "You left a good impression."
Travis hid his chuckle by studying the credentials in front of him. They were good, more than that, they were impressive. Larabee had potential, if he held himself together he might make a great agent . Travis felt he ought to give the man a chance; especially since they had failed to catch those responsible for his loss.
"I'm approving your application, Mr. Larabee. Welcome on board, Agent."
Now, two and a half years later, Chris Larabee still worked in the ATF and he had earned as many commendations as he'd received reprimands. He worked alone, without a team or a partner, but he got the job done; the rookies were in awe of him, the brass, save for Travis, were constantly annoyed with him, and his fellow agents either admired or hated him – sometimes both. Larabee got results, but Travis knew the man was capable of much more than that. He wasn't just a good soldier, detective and agent, he was an excellent officer, a talented strategist, and a born leader. A man didn't just lose those qualities. Travis knew Chris Larabee was his best chance for getting a functioning team. The question was, did the man want the responsibility?
While the Assistant Director of the Denver ATF was in the air thinking about his most unorthodox agent, said agent was driving home after finishing work on the biggest of his current cases. Nearly exhausted, Chris had decided to leave the paperwork for Monday, and was halfway through Denver when he realized that he was hungry enough to eat a horse and the fridge at the ranch was most likely empty. Not in the mood for shopping or cooking, Chris began to pay attention to his surroundings – he didn't know the neighborhood all that well, but it wasn't the worst part of town yet, so there should be some passable places to eat. Soon he noticed the sign of a Mexican bar, hoping they served something besides tequila, he found a place to park nearby and went inside.
The bar wasn't crowded, those who came for a quick drink after work must have already left and those who intended to celebrate through the night hadn't yet shown up. All in all, there was one harmless drunk at one of the far tables, an African-American couple sitting at the bar chatting with the bartender, and three kids, who were obviously enjoying their first taste of being legal. Satisfied that there were no signs of imminent trouble, Chris took a table in the corner (facing the entrance, back to the wall) and asked for a menu. The food selection wasn't all that varied, but he came here to eat, not dine, so Chris ordered the entrée with the biggest amount of meat in it, and a beer to polish it off with.
The food proved good, and Chris was in the middle of finishing his meal when a large group entered the bar, disrupting the quiet. There were at least a dozen men of different ages in the bunch; they didn't exactly look like gang members, but they were no respectable citizens either. Damn, Chris sighed, he'd had too long of a week to want to get involved in a bar brawl on a Friday night. At least there was still a chance that he'd have enough time to finish his meal and leave before those hotheads started something – and they would definitely start something. But by the time Chris was ready to pay his check, trouble was already brewing – one of the 'bad guys' was flirting with the woman at the bar, totally ignoring her obvious displeasure. Of course her companion interfered, and then the rest of the wannabe Romeo's friends began to pay attention as well…
"Call the police, girl," Chris said to his waitress. "Things are about to get ugly."
She hurried away, and Chris stood up, appraising the situation. Not good. The men were far from sober, and they clearly wanted some entertainment; him announcing his lawman status, or even drawing his gun, would likely only make matters worse. And even if the man they attacked knew how to handle himself in a fight, and it looked like he did, the odds weren't exactly promising. Suddenly something made Chris look to the bar's entrance. There was a man there, one who'd just come in and didn't have enough sense to immediately bolt right back out again. The worn boots, faded jeans, fringed-leather jacket and Texas A&M t-shirt just screamed native Texan, the only thing missing was a wide-brimmed cowboy hat. The man's timing was either perfect or awful, but before Chris could finish this thought, he met the newcomer's eyes. The man nodded almost imperceptibly – and the odds went to hell.
When the police finally arrived, the three of them had the situation under control; nevertheless, everyone involved had to pay a visit to the nearest precinct. Fortunately, the officer on duty remembered Chris from his days with the PD, and all possible misunderstanding were cleared up quickly. The arrested hotheads clearly wished they'd picked another bar after they learned that they had attacked a C.S.I. expert from Kansas City, who was in Denver to testify on a case, and that the men who had helped him were a Federal Agent and a US Marshal. Altogether, the three of them spent less than half an hour in the precinct and another hour in the nearest bar, one frequented by policemen and thus 'much safer on a Friday night'. Actually, Chris would have preferred to just go home, but Nathan Jackson, the forensic criminalist, and his lovely lady, Rain, had insisted that they at least owed a cup of coffee to the two men who had risked so much to help them. So they had all relaxed together enjoying coffee and talking about nothing in particular. To Chris it'd felt like they'd known each other for ages, not just hours.
It was close to midnight when the couple drove Chris and Marshal Vin Tanner back to the Mexican bar where their vehicles were parked, hopefully still in one piece. Chris's Ram looked okay, but for some reason he was reluctant to just climb in and drive away. He watched as Tanner, who indeed proved to be from Texas though he was now based out of Cheyenne, went to his car a couple of spaces further away, opened the door and then slammed it shut with a curse. He continued swearing as he came back.
"What's wrong?" Chris asked when the man was on the other side of the Ram.
Tanner shrugged. "Just remembered what I needed at that bar. You by chance know the number for a reasonable towing company? The Jeep broke down again."
"Ah." With an understanding smile, Chris opened his cell, found the right number, pressed the call button and handed the cell to the other man. With a thankful nod, Tanner took the cell and arranged for his car to be towed to some repair shop, Chris didn't recognize the name.
"Thanks," Tanner gave the cell back. "Maybe you know a number to call a cab as well?"
"I have a better idea, Tanner. I'll give you a lift."
"Nah," the lanky Texan shook his head. "I don't want to put you out, I'm staying out of town."
He seemed to hesitate for a moment, then answered: "The Wells ranch."
Chris laughed briefly. "Get in the car, Cowboy. I live on the next ranch over."
With a mischievous look that promised retribution for the moniker, Tanner climbed into the passenger seat.
They drove in silence, but it was a comfortable silence, not just a polite one. When they arrived at the driveway of Nettie Well's house, Chris, somewhat to his surprise, heard himself saying: "There's a lake at the border of our properties, about three miles east of here. I'll try to catch my breakfast there on Sunday; would be glad for some company."
It was too dark to read Tanner's expression, but he answered casually: "I'll think about it, Larabee. Thanks for the ride, have a good night."
"Yeah, say 'hi' to Nettie for me."
"I will," with that the Marshal left the car and walked towards the house. Chris watched him for a moment then drove home and, for once, slept like the dead till the next morning.