RATING: G - mostly harmless
CATEGORY: Challenge - PQL AU (Project Quantum Leap) – for those of you familiar with the show Quantum Leap, my AU diverges a bit from the canon of that universe.
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Chris and everyone
DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. This story is based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.  Elements of this story also reflect the television series "Quantum Leap".  No infringements on their copyrights are intended either.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
SPOILERS: For my PQL Stories.  You might want to read them first:  
NOTE:  The November 2004 Challenge: offered by Heather F:  The seven unexpectedly get to spend Thanksgiving together as a group. It doesn't have to be for a thanksgiving meal or for a jolly good time.  They could be in a bind (as in caught by bad guys) and all seven end up caught;   They could be doing their own thing on Thanksgiving and end up at the same place. It can be any scenario you want. YOUR DECISION. Only requirement is that they are together unplanned, for Thanksgiving day AND the line "Oh I see that you made it..." is used.  In any context you want. Any AU
SUMMARY:  Okay, so we're going back to my PQL AU.  It's Thanksgiving, a time to get together -- unfortunately, due to the constraints of this AU, they can't exactly do that... but this is the next best thing.
DATE:  November 25, 2004, some cleanup done January 3, 2010

PQL: Trade Off
By NotTasha...trading off for a Thanksgiving Story 

Chris Larabee clambered down the stairs, making the stark stairways ring.  He took two steps at a time, preferring this to the elevator, which moved a little too smoothly for his tastes.  Irritated, he swiped a hand at the ‘motion detector’ at the doorway, grimacing at the half-second delay before the door swished open, revealing the Observation Level.   How he’d he let the techno-geeks install all these ‘space-age conveniences’ was beyond him.  God, there were times when he wanted to just chuck it all and become a cowboy.

He sighed as he stepped onto the gleaming-white lower level, knowing that there was no place in the world where he’d rather be – this was his life – his dream – Project Quantum Leap, and he allowed himself a tight smile.  He’d always known that time travel was possible – that the String Theory was bound to work.  To see his ideas realized filled him with a satisfaction and pride that was difficult to hide.

Three doorways greeted him – the Observation Rooms -- one belonging to each of his Leaping teams—and a hallway led away towards a conference room and bathroom facilities.

Above the doorways to the Observation Rooms, three red lights glared, declaring that each was in use.  Somewhere, on the Command Level where everything was bright, flashing, beeping and bleating, Conklin, their Finance Manager, was undoubtedly swearing – watching the power consumption on blue-lit meters – all three Observing at once?  There’d be a memo about this in the morning, and probably a meeting, and a commission to follow.  They were supposed to ‘ration’ their observations.  After all, taxpayers were funding this endeavor, and they had to answer to them.

Within the three rooms, JD, Nathan and Vin were assisting their Leapers – getting them through whatever crisis, whatever crux in history, presented itself.  Buck, Josiah and Ezra wrestled with some puzzle, some wrong that needed righting.  Buck was getting out of a car, somewhere in Chicago -- May 1988; Josiah moved through a diner in New Hampshire – January 1962; and Ezra lurked along a lonely road in Alabama -- August 1975.

With a puzzled look, Chris drew in a breath and wondered why the area smelled so different today.  Usually there was only sterile technology.  One of the Observers must have sneaked a snack into their room.  He fixed an eye on the Tanner-Standish doorway, figuring that Vin had another attack of the munchies.  Whatever Tanner had found, it certainly smelled --- appetizing.

Chris stood outside of the first doorway, and tapped his foot, waiting.  JD had assured him that Buck was about to finish his Leap.   He would have a few minutes, JD had said, to come out and talk to Chris before Buck solved his dilemma – which would shoot JD off into the time-stream again – trading one for the other. 

Playing the part of a nebbish office-worker, Wilmington had to convince his soul-mate that he was her one’an’only.  “He’s just about got her convinced,” JD had told Larabee, “If he’d just act a little more Artie and a little less Buck, he’d be done by now.”

The light above the Wilmington-Dunne room blinked, changing to green as the doorway swooshed open.  JD, still within the room, waved to a blank white wall and said, “Just relax a bit, Buck.  Remember, she likes Artie, okay?”  And he laughed at something Buck must have said as he turned and strode out into the hallway.

“Hi, Chris,” the kid said brightly, poking at his handlink.  “Buck would be great at this if he wasn’t… so ‘great’ at this, if you know what I mean.”  And he laughed again.

“I know exactly,” Larabee conceded.  “So, how much time do you think he has left on this Leap?”

“They’re arriving at the restaurant right now,” JD commented.  “He’s going to propose to her over dessert.  He’s got that waiter all set up to help him, gonna have the ring come with the chocolate mousse.  He should have this one in the bag.”

“So…” an accented voice behind Larabee startled him, “That will give you time for dinner as well.”

Chris turned to find Inez Recilios standing behind him.  “Inez,” Larabee spoke, a little annoyed to have someone sneaking behind him.  She must have come from the hallway because she certainly hadn’t come through the elevator or stairway.

But if she registered any threat from him, Inez showed no concern.  “Come,” she said, smiling prettily, “Dinner’s ready.”

“I was going to head up to the canteen after I talked to JD,” Chris commented, “and after Buck was debriefed.”

“Oh, that’ll take hours before it’s all done.” JD was already walking around Larabee.  “Dinner?  What you got, Inez?”

Cocking her head, the Nutritionist said, “What else?”  Seeing their confused expressions, she cursed softly, “Dios mio, you’re all so concerned with time, yet you don’t know what today is, do you?”

Still messing with the handlink, JD chuckled. “Seemed like Spring to me.”

“Come,” she ordered, taking JD’s hand so that he had to stop poking at the handheld device. “It’s Thanksgiving, and you should eat a good meal before you go again.”

“Thanksgiving?” JD exclaimed.  “Oh God, I didn’t even think… Thanksgiving already?”

“Come!” Inez demanded as she nodded to Larabee, fixing him with a fierce eye that ordered him along, too.

“I don’t have time for this,” Chris muttered, following the two toward the conference room.  “We have three Leapers all going at the same time.  Buck’s about to finish his and then I have to catch up with Vin and Nathan about Josiah and Ezra’s missions.  There’s no time for Thanksgiving.”

What the hell was she thinking?  Did she honestly think he could just sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner?  At PQL?  It was unthinkable.  There was never time for that sort of thing.  When he started the project – he knew it would be like this – all work and little time for play.  It was a choice he readily made.  Sure, there was downtime between leaps for the others, but he had to be on top of ALL the missions, and this particular moment was not a good one.

Chris’ jaw dropped as Inez opened the door to the conference room and revealed the spread within.  “Inez…” Chris drew out her name, looking in disbelief at the plates of food that covered the table.  Turkey, gravy, cranberries, candied yams, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, buns and more crowded for room on the conference table.

“Sit down, Mr. Larabee,” she coaxed.  “Everything is ready for you.”

“Wow!” JD exclaimed, jamming his handlink into his pocket.  “This is great, Inez!  Gee, thanks!”  He sat down at one of the four place settings.  “You joining us?”

She shook her head.  “No, JD.”  She tossed her head, indicating the cafeteria above.  “It’s the same up there for the rest of the project.  I have to keep an eye on that, but this is for you.  This is a holiday to get together, to sit, to talk.”

“Only four,” JD gestured to the chairs, furrowing his brow.

Larabee snorted.  “Only three of you can be here at a time,” he responded.  “We can never get all of us together, now can we?”  That was the rub – he had six men working under him and three were always gone – tripping through time – doing the job that he had planed to do himself.  It wasn’t right.  He’d never meant to trade away his responsibility, his task, his adventure.  JD and the others had been thrown into this without warning, without consent.  He wondered if they cursed his name at times.

The Project Leader lifted his eyes to meet Inez’, wanting to refuse.  “This is too much, Inez.  Hell, even with Vin, we won’t make a dent in it.”

“Then you’d best get started.  I’ll get Vin and Nathan.  I’m sure they can spare some time.” And she turned, her skirt swirling around her legs as she returned to the Observation Rooms.

“This is great!” JD exclaimed again.  He grabbed a fork, and slid a piece of turkey from the platter.  “I haven’t had a real Thanksgiving dinner in ages… ages…” and his expression became thoughtful as he remembered another time.  He grinned up at Larabee, shoveling mashed potatoes onto his plate.   “Come on, Chris.  Join me, okay?  Inez went through a lot of trouble.”

Chris sighed, and pulled out a chair for himself.  “I guess I could eat.” He found the mashed potatoes first, and had just slopped a spoonful of green bean casserole onto his plate when he heard the sound of an Observation Room door opening, and then the other.  Within a minute, the grinning face of Vin appeared at the door, followed by Nathan – rubbing his hands greedily.

“Man alive!” Vin cried, finding a place at the table.  “I was just thinkin’ about how hungry I was.  JD, can you pass the taters?”

Nathan was beaming as he found his seat.  “Sweet potatoes!” he sighed, jamming a spoon into the otherwise untouched dish.  “It’s been years since I had any.  Inez did all of this for us?”

“She’s got the same thing goin’ on in the canteen,” JD commented, jamming a soft roll into his mouth.  “Mmfph caphmph abprph.”

“Gravy!” Vin demanded, pointing to his target.  Nathan traded him the gravy for the glazed carrots, and then passed the yams to Chris.

“It all looks so good,” Nathan commented, rationing out a spoonful of carrots, trying to place it so that it took up as little space as possible on his plate – and he reached for another bowl.

“Leave it to Inez to remember Thanksgiving,” JD commented.

“Incredible!” Nathan said with a note of wonder.  “I’d forgotten what day it was.”

“Yeah,” Vin agreed.  “Me too.  Funny, huh?  It’s as hot as hell where Ezra is.  Doesn’t seem like it could be November.”  He grabbed a roll and split it open with his thumbs before reaching for the butter. 

Nathan nodded.  “I know what you mean.  It’s Monday morning, at the end of January for Josiah.”

“How’s he doing?”  JD asked, spooning some casserole.  “He get that restaurant out of the red yet?”

Nathan smiled wryly.  “He’ll keep ‘Jays Diner’ afloat.  His plan is underway.  I think he could save just about anything.  The diner’s going to keep that family together, no doubt about it.”  He poked a fork onto the turkey platter, freeing a wing.  “Should take a day or two, but he’ll get the place on its feet again.”  He glanced to Vin, who was digging into his meal.  “How’s Ezra?”

The Texan paused between bites.  “Says he hates being a deputy sheriff.  Bein’ a lawman just doesn’t fit him.”  Vin laughed at that comment.  “He’s still looking,” he commented.  “Been searchin for that girl for a almost a week.  Ezra’s been pokin’ his nose into every business and home he can find.  He knows she’s living somewhere nearby.” Tanner sighed, pausing as he shoved his fork into the dressing.  “Wish I could tie ‘im down sometimes.  He just don’t take good care of himself when he’s into something like this.  Is that corn?”

The four tucked in to a Thanksgiving feast.  For a time, the room was quiet, except for the content smacking and chewing, sighing and satisfied grunts.  There were quiet words and chuckles…  ‘damn fine’… ‘we still got gravy?’  ‘Haven’t eaten like this in years’  ‘Man, this makes it all worthwhile, doesn’t it?’

Suddenly, JD sat up straight in his chair, grabbed for his handlink from his pocket and stated, “Gotta go!”

He stood, turning at the same time, making his chair rock – then jetted out the door.  Chris followed, standing at the doorway to the conference room and calling after, “Buck?  Is he okay?”

“Dunno,” JD returned, reaching his Observation Room.  “He just got surprised.”  The kid keyed in his code and disappeared through the sliding door.

Chris grimaced, wringing a cloth napkin in his hands as he moved back into the room. “Damn,” he muttered.

“Oh, it’s probably nothing,” Vin said, pausing to chew a mouthful of corn.  “You know how it is.”

Nathan nodded as he finished a bite.  “Buck probably just excited about something.”  He waved his hand between himself and Vin.  “We just get a vague impression of what they’re sensing.  We end up feeling like they’ve seen a charging water buffalo when it may have just been a mouse.”

Vin laughed, unintentionally letting a wad of stuffing fly.  “Don’t fret,” he said calmly, then looked thoughtful a moment as he searched his mind.  “See, I ain’t feeling anything bad.  If it was something big, Nate and I would feel it, too.”

Nathan nodded his head in agreement as he forked turkey into his mouth.

They ate for several minutes as Chris considered this, wishing he was part of the link the six men shared – he was forever outside of them, unable to take part in any of it – no leaping into the past, no observing, no 'feeling' – just sitting about, waiting for reports from the Observers, waiting for one Leap to end and another to begin.  He’d give anything to be a part of it.

"Oh," Nathan stated.  "There he goes."

Chris’ handlink chirped, and he pulled it from his pocket, regarded the name on the display and responded with, “Nettie?”

The voice of the head nurse sounded over the device, “Looks like JD’s Leaped.  We got Buck back again.”

“Early,” Nathan declared.

“How is he?” Chris asked, and was rewarded with Buck’s voice over Nettie’s handlink. 

“I’m just fine, stud!  Whoo-hee! That was a surprise. Hey, where are you?”

“Conference room – Observation Level,” Chris replied.  “You hungry?”

“You know I am!”

“Well, get down here before the food gets cold.”

“You got food down there!  I’m on my way!”

Chris looked at JD’s unfinished plate.  With a sigh, he picked it up, tossed the used flatware on top, and carried it to the side table. “Too bad we had to lose JD,” he muttered as he set it down, feeling that hurt that always hit him – knowing that one of his men had been taken again.

“Yeah, but we got Buck back,” Vin commented. 

They heard the ladies’ man thumping down the corridor moments later.  “Man oh man!” Buck exclaimed as he entered.  “Lookie here!”  He picked up a clean plate from the side table, grabbed some silverware, and took JD’s vacated spot.  “Hand me that turkey, Junior!” he called to Vin as he spooned stuffing onto his plate.

“Finished early?” Nathan asked as Buck served himself.

Wilmington chuckled heartily.  “I had it all planned out for Artie.  Had the engagement ring all ready to go – perched so beautifully on a chocolate mousse.  Oh, she would’ve died for it.”  He laughed, took a bite of the dressing and sighed contentedly.

“So, what happened?” Vin asked, as he continued the destruction of his plate.

With a snicker, Buck revealed, “She beat him to the punch!  Put a ring in his champagne glass!  I didn’t even have the chance to eat the appetizers and … bam… I was leaping out of there.”  He smiled, stating, “It must have been something I did earlier on that gave her the gumption to propose to me, gave her the idea to throw caution to the wind and…”

Buck had just thrown back one hand, revving up to a long-winded explanation, when Vin stood and grabbed his handlink.  “See ya in a bit,” he muttered.  “Ezra’s gettin’ perturbed about something.  Best check on him.”  He reached for the turkey platter, and grabbing one drumstick, left the room.

Buck shrugged as Vin disappeared, and fiddled with his own handlink.  “Anyway, it’s all good.”  He poked at the controls and stated.  “Looks like Artie and Jenny got themselves married and are making lots of little Arties and Jennies.  Hand those mashed potatoes over here, Nate… and the gravy, would ya?”

Nathan had just managed to get his hands on the requested items and hand them over to Buck when he too, stood.   “I better go check on Josiah,” he stated as he left the room.

Chris sighed, finding just himself and Buck in the room, with the table laden with food.

“They’re just checking on things,” Buck told him.  “Nettie told me that Ezra and Josiah are still a ways from Leaping.”

“I never know how to feel about it,” Chris muttered.   “God, it’s always good to have you back, but it means sending JD back out into it.  I want Josiah and Ezra to finish up their missions, get back safe – but that just sends Nathan and Vin out there again.”

“It’s a trade-off,” Buck said.  “Like some people like sweet potatoes and some like mashed potatoes.  One or the other.”

“I like both,” Chris stated, pointing to his plate and the remains of both tubers.  “Would rather have both.”

Buck smiled.  “Okay, bad analogy.  Can’t really think of any that fits.  Listen, we’re okay with it.  We know what we’re doing.  Hell, whenever JD’s out there, I’m itching to get out there.  I want to be doing it.  Observing just isn’t enough for me.”

“Plus, you’d rather have JD here – safe.”

“Well, yeah, I suppose there’s that.”  Buck took another bite.

“That’s why I want all of you all here.”  Chris set down his fork as he sat back.  “It shouldn’t be like this.  We should have some control.”

“Something else is controlling it,” Buck said wistfully.  “Time, Fate, God…”

“Wish they’d give us a break.  Would have been something if we all could have sat around one table for Thanksgiving.  That’s what the damn holiday is all about, isn’t it?  Getting together with the folks you… care about.”

Buck paused, looking as if some thought had suddenly struck him.  "Someone's leaped," he commented.

Larabee’s handlink chirped again, and he picked it up – seeing Nettie’s name on the display again.  “We got Ezra back,” she stated.

“Hey!”  Buck exclaimed.  “He must have found that girl.  Get him on down here!”

“Nettie, send Mr. Standish down to the Observation Level conference room when you’re done with him.”

“Oh, he’s already let me know that he's done with me,” Nettie commented sharply.  “And he insists on returning to his room once I let him go.”

“He knows I’ll need to debrief him.”  Chris commented, his voice low.

There was a pause, as undoubtedly Nettie argued with Standish.  “He says, he’ll be available for your consideration in a few hours.”

“See that he comes down here, Nettie,” Chris demanded.

“I’ll do it,” Nettie replied, sounding sly and confident.

Ezra seemed to be bothered more than the others by the idea that someone had taken his place in the ‘present’ and usually wanted a few hours alone in his room before he would face anyone.  Chris would often meet him after he’d had time to clean up, get changed, and become ‘himself’ once again.

“So,” Buck stated, “There goes Vin.”

“Yeah,” Chris sighed.

“Should be a few days before he Leaps in again.”  Buck ate another bite.  “It’ll give you plenty of time to corner Ezra.”  After a pause he stated, "There goes Josiah."

Damn annoying, Chris thought, the way they just knew the others had leaped.  Most annoying of all -- he didn't feel it himself.

The handlink bleeped again, and Nettie’s voice came over.  “We got another one here – Josiah just leaped back.”

“Hell,” Buck commented.  “That’s probably the closest trade-off we ever had for all three teams.”  He considered a moment before he added, “If you forget about the time when we were all at that rodeo together – but that doesn’t really count, does it?”  He continued to contentedly work on his plate, doing his best to pack away as much food as possible.

“So Vin and Nathan are back into it,” Chris said with a sigh.  He stared at their abandoned plates for a moment, knowing that they wouldn’t be returning to them any time soon.  He stood slowly and picked them up from the table, carrying them to the side table where JD’s half-eaten meal already rested.  “Hell of a thing,” he muttered.  “Can’t even sit down for a whole meal.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Buck stated.  “We manage, and it looks like they did a pretty good job eating what they had here.”  He laughed.  “Vin ate half the potatoes, I think.”

Chris dropped into his chair and sat back, running a hand through his hair, hating the worry.   It was Thanksgiving Day --  time for family – for gathering together.  He remembered Thanksgiving with his family – Mom and Dad and sisters all crowded around the table.  His mom and dad were gone now – often he wished he could have mended some of those fences before it was too late.   He wondered how his sisters were doing – if they were together this year.  He imagined how his nieces and nephews must have grown.  Since joining this top-secret project, he’d had to shut them out, put them aside, traded them off for PQL.

But he’d been doing that for years already, hadn’t he? -- since before he married, since before he lost Sarah and Adam.  He remembered other Thanksgivings – just his wife and son – an intimate holiday that felt so warm and comfortable – so lost to him.

He hadn’t really had a Thanksgiving since they were so cruelly taken from him.  Oh, his sisters would send him invitations every year – “Come stay with us, Chris,” they’d beg.  “There’s plenty of room.”  But he’d always come up with an excuse, and PQL was only the latest of them.

He’d never felt quite ‘right’ with them.  He was their poor bereaved brother or prickly Uncle Chris.  They had their own warm, comfortable world and he was a cold satellite that never really came close to them.

He should have missed them.  He should have missed that feeling of family.  But instead, he realized, he found a new family.  Something more fitting of him.  Sure, they were a group of miss-matched fools, but they were his.

He looked gratefully toward Buck – glad to have his oldest friend here with him.  It helped fill that awful, lonely feeling that stole upon him this time of year.  Buck, realizing Chris’ eyes were on him, stated, “Don’t worry, I’m not bogarting all the turkey.  Plenty for everyone.” And he wiped a bit of gravy off his mustache.

There was a commotion in the hallway.  Josiah’s booming voice filled the passageway as he boisterously sang:  “… the horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh through the white and drifting snow—ohhhhh… Over the river and through the woods, oh how the wind does blow!”

A muffled, perturbed voice commented pathetically, “Please, Mr. Sanchez… if you’d just…”

“It stings our toes as it bites our nose and over the fields we go!”

“Please!” Ezra cried again as he was dragged into the conference room under Josiah’s mighty arm.

“Boys!” Josiah greeted loudly.  “The party has started!”

Ezra shucked his way out of Josiah’s grasp, looking like a scalded cat.  “Mr. Sanchez, I most distinctly told you that I wanted to return to my room.” He turned his fierce green eyes on Chris.  “I believe I deserve a few minutes of privacy after returning to this place.  It’s all I ask for!”

"Oh I see that you made it..." Chris commented, and then ordered, "Sit down, Ezra,"

With a harrumph, Ezra took Vin’s vacated seat.  Josiah picked up the last two clean plates from the side table, and grabbed the remaining flatware.  How had Inez known they would need them, Chris wondered.

“Hey, guys!” Buck commented.  “How’d it go?”

“Wonderfully,” Ezra spat out, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

Josiah chuckled, setting an empty plate before the seat that Nathan had given up, and dumping the flatware.  The other plate, he started filling with turkey, stuffing, potatoes and anything else he could get his hands on.  “It went rather well for me.  I think I solved their problems.  We won’t have to worry about Jay’s Diner folding anytime soon.”

“What did you do, Josiah?” Buck asked, pressing bits of mashed potatoes into the tines of his fork.

“Moved it!” Josiah responded.  “It was a classic diner, an old trailer, in rather less than successful part of town. Made up with the guy who leased their lot -- and persuaded him to lease us a better one five blocks away.  We rented a truck, and moved it north.  Business is gonna boom.”  He set the filled plate in front of Ezra and stated, “Eat up!”

Ezra crossed his arms over his chest and glared.

“What?  You don’t like it?” Josiah asked.

Ezra turned up his nose and whined, “Where are the sweet potatoes?”

Sanchez grinned toothily, and scooped up a mighty spoonful of the sweet potatoes, depositing them wetly in the middle of Ezra’s plate.  “Eat while it’s still warm!” he ordered, then started to fill his own plate.

“Well, Ezra,” Chris started, getting down to his last bites.  “Care to tell us how you finished your Leap?  You find that girl?”

Ezra sighed, and instead of answering, ate.  He’d made it through three spoonfuls before Chris cleared his throat impatiently.

Grimacing, Ezra set down his fork and stated, “It was a total accident.  I was retracing my steps and came past Dover’s Grocery.  I’d been in there before.”  He shook his head.  “Owners didn’t like me – figured it had more to do with my badge than anything.” He gestured to his chest as if he still wore the uniform.  “I had searched the facility, under their chilly observation, and found no trace.”

“But you went back?” Josiah asked.

“I was hungry and didn’t think I could stomach the local greasy spoon,” Ezra continued.  “No offence, Mr. Sanchez.”

“None taken,” Josiah replied.

“I walked in the front door and came face to face with Miss Abigail Montrose, stocking the shelves in Aisle B.”  He shook his head, disbelieving.  “They thought they were protecting her, giving her a job and a place to stay.  I’d passed Dover’s Grocery EVERY DAY that I’d been there – and she was there the entire time.  I can’t even explain why I went there today.”

“You had a feeling, huh?”  Buck questioned.

“No ‘feeling’ beyond hunger,” Ezra replied, digging into his plate again.

“You got it done,” Chris commented.  “That’s all that matters.”

“Hmmph,” Ezra muttered, as he continued working on the sweet potatoes.

Chris smiled, sitting back from his emptied plate and watched as Buck, Ezra and Josiah worked their way through the feast.  Buck was finishing up, too, and looked up to smile at his brothers.  Ezra, in spite of himself, was eating as if he was half-starved, and Josiah was putting a serious dent into his meal as well.

Chris said nothing, taking it all in.  Funny how good this felt – sharing a meal with his men.  A half-hour ago he’d been with Vin, JD and Nathan – now they’d traded off with Ezra, Buck and Josiah.  He couldn’t have them all here, he knew that, but having all six of them for part of the meal was the best he could hope for. 

Ezra had slowed down long enough to make a pointed remark about the way Josiah was shoveling down the stuffing, and Sanchez just laughed at him, scooping up another mound of sweet potatoes and dropping it onto Ezra’s plate.  Buck grabbed the basket of buns before Josiah could reach it, taking one for himself, and setting one on Chris’ and Ezra’s plates before returning the emptied basket to the table.  Josiah looked hurt, but snatched the unguarded roll from Ezra’s plate.  Ezra just sighed, more interested in the yams.

After making a scathing comment directed at Wilmington, Ezra had the back of his head slapped by the man in question.  Josiah reached for more green been casserole, and set half his purloined roll back on Ezra's plate.

Chris leaned back, watching.  He’d lost so much in his life, but he’d found a lot, too.  He’d found this place… this project… these people.  It was trade-off, he figured.  It wasn’t bad.

It truly felt like Thanksgiving to him – a time to gather, to relax with those closest to him, to give thanks.  He smiled, watching the antics of his men -- half his men.

Thank you, he thought, sending the statement to whoever or whatever controlled their Leaps, whoever got them together, whoever made PQL a dream come true.  Thanks.  There were ups and down.  Good and Bad.  Sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes.  Something for everyone.

Buck turned toward him and squinted.  “What’re you smiling about?”

Larabee chuckled softly, picking up the bun that Buck had left him.  He tore it in two, and started to sop up the remaining gravy on his plate.  “I don’t know,” he said softly.  “Guess I'm kinda happy.”

Lifting his gaze to the other two at the table, Buck smiled at each of them in turn.  Josiah’s smile widened as he heard Larabee’s statement.  Ezra kept poking at his dish, and when he felt Buck’s gaze upon him, he asked, “Do you think there’s any pie?”

“Gotta be,” Buck responded.  “It’s Thanksgiving, after all.”

“Ms. Recilios is a wonder,” Ezra stated, and gave him a satisfied look, before returning to his meal.

“Amen!” Josiah agreed. 

And so, Buck and Chris sat back, waiting for the others to finish, waiting for the inevitable pies.  In a day-or-two, JD, Nathan and Vin should Leap into their next adventure.  But for today, they could be thankful for this quiet moment following the trade-off.



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