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Mon, May. 26th, 2008, 05:22 pm
Automaton

Title: Automaton

Author: Kitipurr

Pairing/Characters: Chris/Ezra, ATF AU

Warnings: Death fic.

Summary: Summary Here.

Notes: Rowan Challenge 04: The "song inspiration" challenge. Use the song selected by the random method detailed then write a fic inspired by the song.

The full lyrics of the song which inspired this, as well as the full wording of the original challenge, are listed after the story.




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Vin stared across the pasture watching the horses wander. He'd been out here for hours, doing nothing but staring absently. He knew Chris was overworking himself in the barn, probably whitewashing the walls for the umpteenth time – seems he did it at least twice a week lately - but he couldn't bring himself to go in and tell the blond to stop.

It had been six months... six months since the world had exploded into balls of flame that had seen Chris Larabee reliving his worst nightmare and the rest of the team right along with him. Buck and Josiah had only been out of the hospital themselves about a month now, after both undergoing some extensive skin grafts and reconstructive surgery. They'd been stunned when a lawyer had shown up at the hospital and informed the doctors that money was no object in terms of the team's medical care or living expenses; anything not covered by the agency's insurance or Line of Duty fund would be covered by the Patrick Fund.

Which turned out to be an obscene amount of money put into a high-yield account by one Ezra P. Standish, initiated on the one-year anniversary of his joining Team Seven. If the team never returned to active duty with the agency, they would never have to give one thought to the cost of their physical health care even if they each lived to be one-hundred or older. Even when the lawyer had agreed to arrange for any agency personnel injured in the event to be included under the Patrick umbrella in the same fashion, there was more than enough money to last a lifetime and a half.

But in the face of the loss of the man who had provided them with such security, the comfort was distinctly hollow.

Nathan had been the surviving team's rock, focusing on making them all do what was logical and necessary to recover from their injuries. Only JD had come out of the experience physically unscathed, the surveillance van having provided an amazing quality of protection from the blast. Nathan had been the least of the injured, as Chris had assigned him the task of coordinating the bust from the roof of an adjacent building, due to the maze-like nature of the construction site where the meet had taken place. Tossed back from his perch on the roof's edge, the medic had sustained only a mild concussion and a severe case of gravel rash along his left side left side when he had done a fair imitation of a snowboard as he skidded across the hot black building top.

Up on the embankment wall of the in-progress building, Vin had been tossed like a puppet by the waves of hot air that expanded from the blast. He'd sustained numerous broken bones in his landing but had been very lucky it hadn't been worse, as there were all sorts of construction equipment that could have broken his fall – and him.

Buck and Josiah had been at the outer rim of the explosion, working with one of the gang to transfer the crates of guns Ezra was in the process of `purchasing' from Michael Remorre. They had received second and third degree burns all over their bodies. It was really a miracle they weren't worse off, but somehow the crate they'd been loading at that moment had provided enough coverage to their heads and chests that the injuries were mostly on the extremities. Their fellow crate-loader hadn't been so lucky – on the blast-side of the crate, the man had been found a charred mass under the truck. A truck that had amazingly not exploded in response to the sudden impact of heat and gasses that had managed to roll it on its side.

Chris had suffered only minor burns really, having been standing just outside the door of the building. Protected from the initial blast by the thick concrete walls, he'd suffered most of his burns in his efforts to get his fellow agents away from the building in case the initial explosion hadn't been the last.

Thankfully, it had been. Not that it mattered much.

Ezra Standish was gone.

Well… not GONE gone. Somehow, in a blast that had left some of the criminals around him in pieces, the undercover operative had survived. His body had been pulled breathing from the wreckage, broken and badly burned, but somehow breathing.

But the damage had been done. The doctors declared he would never regain consciousness, would forever be a vegetable. Too much of his brain had been injured.

Team Seven had been devastated.

Chris Larabee had been inconsolable.

And then, just to add to the pain, Maude Standish had swooped in like the Apocalypse and claimed the barely-living body of her son, whisking him off to some unknown destination to provide him with the best medical care possible. Not a word where she was taking him, no way for them to visit or even hear how he was doing.

In a matter of a single overnight visit by the woman Ezra had only reluctantly called `Mother', their friend and brother was gone.

In six months of trying to contact her, Maude had not returned a single phone call to any of the team. Even JD's hacking skills had been unable to track her down. A dozen private investigators had experienced various degrees of success in getting absolutely nowhere. And the team had watched as Chris Larabee spiraled further and further into depression.

With Buck in the hospital, in had fallen to Vin and JD to watch over the blond's decent. Buck had offered as much advice as he could about how to handle Chris in his grief, but this was a whole new experience for all of them. Chris had not once touched a drop of liqueur, instead dividing his every ounce of energy into overhauling the ranch and the house piece by piece and getting into trouble. Inez had had to ban him from the Saloon, where despite his sudden teetotaler status he got into fist fights with anyone who might have looked at him cross-eyed.

He'd taken to hanging out at O'Halloran's, a dive bar not far from his house… spending plenty of money buying sodas and coffee, gambling on pool or dart games that inevitably let to brawls. That Tom O'Halloran hadn't kicked him out permanently could only be chalked up to the fact that the man had a half-dozen potential legal issues in the place, from the floating crap game to various health code violations and he was likely to afraid that pissing off an ATF agent wouldlead to a shut-down and investigation of his business.

The ranch, at least, had flourished under Chris' madness. Every inch of fence had been torn down and rebuilt from scratch. The barn had been refurbished top to bottom, with brand new hand-laid flooring, the stalls dismantled and replaced one by one and the storage sheds stripped, sanded and polished within an inch of their existence. The house had received a remodel as well, with every room repainted or replastered, the carpeting ripped out and hard-wood floors laid and lacquered, the kitchen floors replaced with an expensive slate. The outside had been stripped of the original wood- grain siding and had been covered by lovingly hand-laid brick.

Everything Ezra had always suggested he wanted in a house some day.

It was like Chris was convinced if he made the place in the image Ezra had indicated, that somehow that would bring the southerner home.

Vin had been living at the ranch since `the incident', not only because he'd had two broken legs that made getting to and from his fourth-floor walkup impossible, but because Larabee couldn't be trusted to be alone. The department shrink had insisted either someone stay with him or they would forcibly institutionalize him. They had probably meant that someone to be a nurse with psych training, but it hadn't been specified and in any case Chris would never have allowed that. Vin was allowed because Nathan had convinced Larabee that the sharpshooter needed a nursemaid. If Chris thought Vin was there because Tanner needed Larabee, all the better. Odds were Chris wasn't paying enough attention to anything outside his very narrow tunnel of vision for it to matter anyway.

That Chris had to grieve the loss of a member of his team was bad enough. That the agent in question had been blown up in a manner too cruelly similar to the fate of Larabee's wife and child was worse. But the most insidious part of the whole situation – know only to a very select few - was that Ezra and Chris had become more than just teammates and friends only mere weeks before. Their five friends had watched them dancing around each other for months - hell, years, if they were completely truthful – until finally they'd been deliberately locked in a supply closet for a night with a note that said simply `For God's sake, screw each other already.'

Josiah and Nathan had cheerfully accepted their two-weeks of suspension for that prank.

Barely three months later, Ezra was gone.

Vin sighed as Chaucer came close, begging for attention. He'd tried so hard to give the horse the love his master had given, trying to always have treats on hand when the chestnut gelding came near. Chris practically ignored the horse, unable to deal with the reminder of his lover, and Chaucer was unable to comprehend why his master no longer came to visit him nor why the blond who used to shower him with the attention he felt he so rightfully deserved now did no more than put food and water in his stall. JD had taken over all the grooming and care during Vin's convalescence, and even Nathan had pitched in for a while, but now Chris insisted on doing it all on his own. Except for Chaucer.

Vin had noticed how the other horses seemed to sense the gelding's distress and closed ranks around him. Even Peso, who normally had taken great pleasure in torturing the handsome horse, now could often be seen simply standing next to him, almost coddling him. The ornery blaze had taken to pushing Chaucer toward the richest grasses, or keeping the other horses away from the fresh feed bags until the chestnut had eaten his share first. It was so strange to see the team's situation playing out in an equine theatre.

Vin sighed and turned stiffly toward the barn, knowing he'd better start now if he was going to get Chris to eat anything today. The man barely ate at all anymore. Breakfast was unheard of, nothing beyond a cup of strong black coffee after another night of restlessness. Lunch was maybe an orange or apple, a peanut butter sandwich if it was pushed into his hand and nearly force-fed to him. Dinner was the meal Vin had come to insist on, and his cooking skills were slowly progressing as he tried to move beyond hamburgers and Betty Crocker boxed meals. The rules of Feeding Chris Larabee were pretty simple – it had to be easy enough to eat with either hands or just a fork – no cutting could be involved or the eating part just wouldn't happen. Meats were good if you cut it for him; steak, ribs, chicken – once Chris' favorites - all had to be prepared as if he were a child since the man wasn't interested enough in eating to do the hard work for himself. Vegetables had to be smothered in something or they were ignored as if they weren't even there.

More importantly, since the blond ate so little, getting as much nutrition and as many calories into what he did eat was a priority. Vin had recently taken to trying some casserole recipes Nathan had found; nothing spectacular, usually a potato, pasta, noodle or rice with either chicken or hamburger in some sort of soup mix. If he was feeling adventurous, he might toss in frozen peas, carrots, corn or very-well-chopped broccoli to sneak in some vegetables, but with enough salt and pepper they were tasty enough and he could convince the blond to eat it.

Still, Chris was steadily losing weight so that the rest of the team were worried. The man had never had much fat on his to begin with, and as time wore on he became more and more a skeleton with muscle. His face was pale and gaunt, his ribs stuck out and his joints were obvious. There was plenty of muscle to be seen from all the hard physical labor he did to occupy himself, but Nathan was concerned if the man even took sick with a cold he might not have enough fat on him to survive. He had prescribed a carefully calculated vitamin supplement regimen that Vin dutifully forced Chris to choke down every morning with a can of Nutrament: the medic had arranged for the beverage to be shipped directly to the ranch in bulk from a local distributor. Between the vitamins and the high-carbohydrate diet, they hoped they could maintain Chris' health long enough to pull him out of his grief.

Assuming they ever did.

Vin's slow steady strides got him across the yard to the barn in almost record time today, nearly ten minutes. That once upon a time the trip had taken only about two didn't even cross his mind; with the number of breaks in his legs and the dislocation of one hip, he knew he was lucky to be walking at all. Months of physical therapy had already shown great improvements, and in time he'd be back to his old self. Better even, since the physical therapists had coordinated with a top-notch chiropractor and back specialist to tackle his years-old back problems at the same time.

He stopped in the doorway when he saw Chris. The blond was sitting on a hay bale, staring down at a beautiful antique bridle. Vin caught his breath – he'd forgotten. He and Ezra had shopped for weeks to find that, Ezra dragging Vin along for his knowledge of finely-crafted leatherwork to compliment Ezra's shrewd bargaining skills. It was the first time Vin could honestly say he'd ever had fun shopping. They'd hidden it in the barn among the old equipment that ended up piled in the tack room, figuring he'd never notice it among all the junk that he never bothered to look at even though he refused to get rid of it.

"What is this?" Chris asked quietly. "I… I don't know this."

Vin swallowed. There was no way that this wouldn't be hard.

"Was s'posed ta be your birthday present," he said, taking the necessary steps so he could sit next to his friend. "Ez… he wanted to get you something special… something classy, he said, but still like yourself. Helped him find it, hide it. He planned to take you riding, just have Pony wearin' it, see when you noticed."

Chris ran his fingers lightly over the piece, tracing every intricate detail with reverence. The moments went by, long silent minutes broken only by the sounds of cars on the highway so very far away, the occasional bird whose song indicated it didn't understand that there was no happiness here.

Vin was startled at the first tear. A small splash on the leather of Chris' work boot.

Larabee was crying.

It was a soundless act, tears sliding down a face that had not once in six months expressed anything except emptiness and rage. But there they were, rolling down ashen cheeks as they escaped from behind tightly clenched lids. The thin line of Chris' mouth trembled, pressed as though to hold in the scream the man refused to allow.

Vin did the only thing he could think of: he wrapped one arm around the shaking shoulders and pulled Larabee into his chest. He heard the bridle fall to the ground as fingers found his shirt and clutched it helplessly. He never even noticed the wet streaks forming on his own face as he focused on the sobs that wracked his friend's body.

Finally.

Maybe now the man could get on the road to start healing.


Fini


This story originally started in a very different direction, and if you'd like to read it, click HERE.

Warning: this epilogue (which was the original part of the piece) will leave you hanging at the start of an ATF-AU which I may, or may not ever, finish some time in the future. If you feel inspired to run with it and make the story your own, feel free.


Inspired by: Automation
(from "Dream Into Action"),
lyrics Howard Jones:

He arrived on the scene with no past and no future
He seemed to know your dreams, replace tears with laughter
Street corner whispers would mention his name
Selfish? Benevolent? What was his game?

Some say he's perfect, Some say a spy
A hidden power, they all wonder why
The rumours mounted but still no fact?
I need to find out
Some say perfect hidden power
We all wonder why

Questions unanswered, suspicion alerted
I went round to his place, it felt quite deserted
I climbed the stairs to where his body lay without motion
No spirit lives in there, the cord had been broken

His skin was reptile - no life in there
Not young, not old, a long hollow glare
His breath had stopped, no hearts beat there
Is this a man?
Should I believe hidden power
They all wondered why

My attention was caught by a sound from the door
Panic gripped the mind… what lay in store?
A being stared at me, benevolent, not cold
Automaton - He is controlled

His skin was reptile - no life in there
Not young, not old, a long hollow glare
His breath had stopped, no hearts beat there
Is this a man?
Should I believe hidden power
They all wondered why

Automaton - No life in there
No past and no future
Is this a man
Automaton - No life in there
No past and not future
Is this a man?




This is the wording of the challenge which spawned these fics:

Okay, this challenge comes with physical instructions. Here we go.
1) go to your music collection (for the sake of arguement we will call it your cd collection; however, feel free to replace cd with cassette, album, 8-track, or fluglehorn if you so prefer).
2) select, at random and without forethought, 10 cds of vocal artists.
3) shuffle the cds into a random and unplanned order without looking at them.
4) pick a number between one and 10
5) pick another number, between one and 13
6) the first number is your cd. the second is the song on the cd (if you pick a cd with less songs than the number you selected, the last song on the cd is your song)
7) listen to that song.
8) write a story based on the ideas that come to your mind while listening to that song
RULES: you cannot quote the song during the story, and you cannot have any character listen to that song, or mention it in any way. I'm looking for an 'inspired by' rather than a songfic.
However, you should list what song you picked and who it is performed by, so the rest of us know. You can do it at the beginning, or at the end of the story. You can list the lyrics at the end if you want to, but you don't have to.