CHAPTER 1 - 5 | CHAPTER 6 - 9 | CHAPTER 10 - 13 | CHAPTER 14 - 17
"Can I eat this before it goes stale?" Chris asked as he took a bite out of the sandwich Buck had brought him.
"You can eat and talk pard."
Taking another bite Chris looked at the bundle of blankets on the other bed. With a shake of his head he quickly told the rest of the team everything Vin had told him. "He's remembering more and more of what happened and it's got him pretty shook up. This Charles guy is probably the detective. We need to find out who he is and stop him."
"Maybe we'll get lucky with that Sykes guy. If the Feebies can get him talking, that is," said Ezra.
"From the look on Danny's face, I'm sure he'll be talking."
"If not, we'll talk to him," JD said with quiet conviction.
"That's for sure," Buck added.
"We'll be back in a few minutes; that coffee smells good, and I believe I saw a Starbucks just across the street," Ezra said, and a moment later he and Josiah left the room.
Chris finished eating and was enjoying his coffee when the door opened and in walked Dr. O'Brien, followed by one of the nurses. "Evening Doc," said Buck, turning toward the nurse with his most charming smile.
"Good evening. How are you feeling today Mr. Larabee?"
"Fine. When can we get out of here?"
"Not for a couple more days," the doctor replied as he carefully moved his hands along Chris' torso, noting the sudden intake of breath when he palpated a particularly painful area around the two broken ribs. "You had a punctured lung, remember? Now, take a deep breath," he said as he placed the stethoscope against Chris' chest.
Chris did as he was told, but he couldn't breathe as deeply as he wanted without feeling a sharp pain on his left side. "Well Doc?"
"Well, I'd say everything looks pretty good. Your lung is healing well, but you are going to have to be patient with these ribs. It will be at least a month to six weeks before they are completely healed, so you'll have to take it relatively easy until then." The physician smiled at the look of dismay on Chris' face, then added, "I'll be back tomorrow morning to check you over, and if everything is still going well, then we'll talk about a discharge date."
"Well, Stud, looks like you'll be here for a few more days. You and Junior can keep each other company when he starts staying awake more. Boy, we've missed that boy and his antics. I can't wait to get back home, and I'm sure Junior is anxious too. This city is way too big for me!" Buck said as he settled back into his chair.
"I'm staying here until Vin is released, but I'll be counting on you guys to bring me some decent food. I don't know what they call this stuff, but it's not worth feeding to a dog, let alone sick people." Chris made a face at the thought of what had appeared on his meal tray earlier.
Buck laughed and shook his dark head, "I'll let the guys know, but if your doctor catches us, you're gonna do all the explaining and then I figure you'll be back on hospital food. I wonder if they'll release you if you're not eating."
"You can eat my meals then. Seems you or JD will eat anything."
"'S' long's a good lookin' nurse serves it," said a quiet, raspy voice from the next bed.
Buck jumped up and hurried to Vin's bedside, a happy smile on his face.
"Thought you were sleeping Vin," Chris said.
"Was." Vin carefully rolled onto his back. "But who kin sleep with Bucklin makin' all that noise?"
"God Kid! It's good to see you awake and talking."
"Hey Buck, JD. It's good to see you too."
"How do you feel Vin?"
"Been better JD. Wanna go home."
Buck laughed joyfully. "I'm sure you do. We'll get you home soon. You just have to get better so we can all leave."
"I'm tryin'. Everyone alright?"
"Yeah. Just worried about you and Chris," JD said with a grin.
The door swung open and Dr. Navero walked in, followed by a nurse carrying a covered tray. Buck and JD moved towards Chris as the nurse pulled the curtain closed around Vin's bed.
"I see you have awakened, Mr. Tanner. How do you feel?" the doctor asked as he looked over Vin's chart.
"I'm fine. Name's Vin. When can I leave?"
Dr. Navero snorted. "You are anything but fine Mr. Tanner. You'll be here at least another three or four days, depending on how well you listen to my instructions and how quickly you heal."
"Oh." Vin was watching the doctor closely as he was helped to sit up so the doctor could check his shoulder, back, and ribs. His eyes narrowed and he asked, "Do I know you?"
Dr. Navero smiled as he removed the bandages holding Vin's left arm to his chest. He worked quickly as he checked the bruised shoulder, making sure it hadn't slipped out of place again, and then moved his hands to Vin's ribs. "You were my patient after the truck accident over a week ago; at least you were until you up and disappeared. Imagine my surprise when you turned up three days ago as Dr. Barnes' patient in the ED. Now, I'm going to leave the wrapping off and put your arm in a sling as long as you promise not to play tennis or ice hockey with it."
"Sorry Doc, I had ta leave. And don't worry, I won't be playing any sports fer awhile I don't think."
"Good. Let me check that cut on your head and then I'll need you to lie down again." With quick, efficient movements Dr. Navero removed the bandage, cleaned the wound and applied antibiotic ointment.
"That gash is healing nicely, so I'm going to leave the bandage off. Now roll over onto your right side so I can check your hip and thigh."
Vin glared at the doctor for a moment, but Navero just raised an eyebrow and waited. Glancing over at the nurse standing beside his bed, his face turned beet red as he slowly rolled onto his side.
Dr. Navero's lips twitched; he understood his patient's embarrassment so tried to work as quickly as possible. When the cut had been cleaned and re-bandaged, he went on to remove the stitches from the cuts on the backs of Vin's legs. Moments later he pulled the blankets back up to Vin's chest and gave him a smile of encouragement.
"Well Vin, the good news is that you seem to be on the mend. Your shoulder is fine although you'll be pretty sore for awhile, those cuts and scrapes are pretty much healed, we've finally cleared the infection in that hip of yours ... I'd say that as soon as you have been afebrile for twenty four hours we will stop the IV antibiotics and switch you to orals, and after you've been on the oral antibiotics for a day without a spike in temperature I will consider discharging you. For now, though, you need to eat regularly and get plenty of rest; you've lost weight in the last week or so."
"Thanks Doc," Vin said as he pressed the button to raise the head of the bed.
As the nurse pulled open the curtain, picked up the discarded supplies, and left, Dr. Navero turned back to Vin, "You are planning on staying here until you are released this time aren't you?"
A sheepish smile crossed Vin's face. "Yes, Sir. I'll be here." He looked over at his friends from the corner of his eyes. "M' friends will make sure."
"Good. I'll see you tomorrow."
"You and Chris will be out around the same time Vin," JD said as Dr. Navero exited the room.
"I hope so. I'm mighty tired of this city."
"Do you have to clean out your apartment? We could go do that for you," Buck put in.
"No, all I own's in my duffel bag. Damn. It's in a locker at the bus depot. Don't know where the key is though. Was in my jeans."
"I'll check at the nurse's station and see what they did with your things." Buck rose and started to leave the room.
"Might check those little closets by the door first Bucklin."
Buck waggled his eyebrows at Vin as he smiled, "Anything to keep me away from the nurses huh?"
"I guess," Vin answered with a knowing smile. He turned his head to Chris, who said, "Hey Cowboy, I'm glad you're back with us. It's been too long."
"I'm glad you're here Chris. Been missing you all. Never want to do this again."
"You'll never go undercover alone again without backup."
God, Chris, I hate this place. Wanna go home.
We'll be home soon Vin.
"They're at it again." Ezra shook his head in revulsion as he and Josiah walked in carrying large cups of coffee.
"You two creep us out doing that you know," Buck said as he moved between the two beds, holding a clear plastic sack with 'Vin Tanner' written on the front.
"You're just jealous that you can't do it too, Buck," Chris told him a smirk.
"Yeah, well, don't think I want to have someone bumbling around in my head. Vin, there's a few of your things in the closet, your jacket and boots, looks like your wallet is in here too."
"Should be a key in there somewhere. Damn, I'm down to the last of my clothes. Think there's a dirty set in my duffel."
"We'll take care of it for you Vin. If you need more we'll get 'em for you tomorrow."
"Found a key here. Hmm, it says number seven. Does that mean anything to you Junior?"
"Well, it sounded right at the time. Didn't know why, it just sounded right."
Vin's face reddened as his teammates exchanged wise smiles. "Kid, seven is our magic number. You remembered it even through your amnesia. They don't call us The Magnificent Seven for nothing you know," Buck said proudly.
"We'll ask James to take us to a store and pick up some clothes for you tomorrow Vin, after we get your duffel bag." JD changed the subject, seeing that the sharpshooter was becoming unsettled talking about the key.
"Thanks kid. 'Preciate that. Might get them one size smaller though, think I lost some weight."
"You did! You get much thinner Junior; we'll have to tie a rope to you to keep you from blowing away. There are some mighty strong winds in this city. How come you lost weight? The way you and JD eat, a bird would starve on your leftovers."
"Couldn't help it." Vin turned his head towards the window.
Not usually hungry. Food didn't set right or taste good.
Got to eat now, so we can get out of here.
Vin looked at Chris. I know. I will.
"Geez, can't gain weight eating hospital food!" JD commented with a short laugh, not noticing the soundless exchange.
Chris and Vin looked at JD with matching grins. Vin suddenly yawned and felt himself drift off into sleep, happy and content in the knowledge that his brothers would still be there when he awoke.
Buck lowered the head of Vin's bed and tucked the blankets up around his neck, then smiled as Vin snuggled down until only the top of his head was showing. Looking to an equally sleepy eyed Chris, he said, "Get some sleep too, Chris. We've got your backs. Vin's going to be fine."
"Yeah. And he's coming home with us," Chris said as he slid down into his blankets and let his eyes fall closed.
Over the next several days, Vin and Chris improved and almost a week from the time they entered the hospital, they were to be released for good. The men of Team 7 spent most of their time at the hospital protecting their injured teammates, and spent the remainder of their time at the Federal Building assisting the MPU and the FBI in their efforts to shut down Brigham's organization.
+ + + + + + +
Shortly after the three agents landed in the hospital, two other members of Jack's MPU team, Samantha Spade and Elena Delgado, returned from the assignment they'd been on when Team 7 arrived. Buck flirted outrageously with all three female members of the squad; his antics kept everyone smiling as they worked. Ezra and JD had taken over one of the computers, and even Danny was impressed with how fast they worked and the types of information they managed to pull off the internet.
Together the three agencies were able to shut down the Brigham organization all across the United States, due in large part to the testimony of Gary Sykes. Once Jack Malone and Danny Taylor managed to convince him of the futility of his situation, Sykes had started talking and still hadn't stopped; if he was going down, he was determined not to go down alone. Only one man hadn't been found yet, a Tony Riker, aka Tony Rivera, a paid hit man who was also working for the NYPD. They had a recent picture of the man, but knew he could easily disguise himself, and probably had several fake ID's. The contract on Vin had been taken down, totally wiped from the internet, but no one knew if Riker had been paid. Efforts were under way, quickly and quietly, to find the man before he was able to get to Vin and/or his look-alike, Martin.
Martin came back to work the day the ATF agents were to be released. His left arm was in a sling, his shoulder still painful, but healing nicely. In his hand he carried a folder that he placed on his desk; it held his birth certificate and a few other important papers. He had talked to his Uncle and asked him to send him a copy of the family tree that was in his late Aunt Bonnie's Bible. The papers were due to arrive in the morning's mail.
Martin had noticed a dark car parked outside his apartment since he had been released from the hospital. This morning it had followed his cab all the way to the Federal Building; the driver had waved at him when he disembarked from the cab, and he realized he was under surveillance. Now in the office he noted that Ezra always made sure to stay nearby, and he wondered what was going on. Martin decided he'd have to talk to Jack as soon as possible.
He was reading through the team's cases when Danny plopped into a chair beside him, holding out a cup of coffee for him.
"Hey Harvard, nice to have you back with us. How are you feeling?"
Accepting the coffee, Martin made a face at its taste. "I'm fine. Shoulder's still a little sore, but otherwise, no problems. I see I'm going to have to get here early to make the coffee, this stuff is just colored water."
"Yeah, well, the rest of us like it this way."
"How come you're not off with the rest? And I see some of Larabee's men are here too."
"I just got back a few minutes ago. Was checking some things out, but they got a big lead and since they were closer ..." Danny shrugged. "I came in, they'll be back shortly I'm sure. Ezra and JD have been helping out a lot. They're good on computers, that JD sure knows what he's doing. I think he could best you Fitz."
"Well he should be able to, he's an electronics expert," grinned Martin.
"Wonder if we could keep him, until you're back to your old self?"
Martin laughed; it felt good to be back in the bullpen, even if he had to put up with weak coffee and Danny's teasing. "I imagine Agent Larabee will be taking his whole team back to Denver when he leaves."
"Yeah. They are a good team, even if they are a bit unorthodox in the way they do things. Larabee and Tanner are getting out today; they're going to be here, hmm, maybe in an hour. I'm looking forward to meeting your look-alike."
"Still can't believe that!"
Just then they saw their team members returning, smiles on the women's faces.
"Good," Danny said as they rose to greet their team members; they knew the smiles indicated a good outcome and that the missing child had been found safe. The women made a big fuss over Martin, happy to see he was doing better and back to work. Once the hubbub of his return settled down, he and Danny were filled in on the completed case, with Ezra and JD listening in. The atmosphere in the area took on a happy air; as it quieted down, Jack walked over to the white board, erased the time line and took down the child's picture.
Jack paused at Martin's desk and smiled down at his youngest agent. "Glad you're back Martin. How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine Jack, happy to be at work again, I was going crazy at home. Have a question though for you." Martin looked earnestly up at his boss, then continued. "How come I have a tail? There's been a car parked outside my apartment building since I got home, and it followed me to work today."
Leaning a hip against Martin's desk, Jack answered, "Larabee's and my idea. Since you look so much like Agent Tanner, we didn't want anything to happen to you. Riker hasn't been found yet. Tanner has had his team watching over him while he's been in the hospital, but we were busy so Agent Keller assigned a couple of his men to watch you and your apartment while you were recuperating." Jack glanced around the room, his eyes touching on the two ATF agents, then resting on Martin again. "Don't want to have to explain to your father that you were hurt again due to this case."
Martin's eyes narrowed as he watched Jack. "JD and Ezra, are they watching my back here too?"
"Yes. Larabee's idea also. But we're all here now and you're back to work. They'll be leaving in a day or so, and we hope to have Riker under wraps before then. We just don't want anything happening to you or Tanner, Martin."
"Thanks, I guess," Martin smiled crookedly, "I guess I'm glad to have someone watching out for me, just not used to it."
Jack smiled in return. "Besides that, your father would have all our asses if something else happened to you."
"Yeah, right. As if he really cares. I haven't heard from him in weeks."
"Don't worry, I did. He raked me over the coals hearing you had been wounded."
"But he didn't care enough to come see me, or call or anything when I was in the hospital or at home."
"I know son. I don't understand him either. But we're all here for you." Jack rested his hand on Martin's shoulder for a moment, then straightened. "I better get back to work; those reports won't fill themselves out."
"Thanks Jack," Martin said, turning his head away so the older man couldn't see the confusion and pain in his eyes over the way his father treated him.
Jack headed towards his office, shaking his head as he noted Martin's lowered head and slumped shoulders. He
didn't understand a father treating his child like that, as if he was nothing more than a pawn to be ordered about and ignored if he didn't do what he was told. Victor Fitzgerald was a hard man; he had other plans for his son and was not happy when Martin became a member of the Missing Persons Unit. As long as Jack had known the two of them he had never known the older man to show any kind of love or concern for Martin; briefly he wondered if it was possible that Victor was jealous of his son.
Jack paused at the door of his office as he heard voices coming down the hall, smiling at the sight of Chris Larabee accompanied by a thin, limping man with long brown hair and flanked by the three other members of ATF Team 7. They were all looking forward to this meeting, to getting to know the man who looked so much like Agent Martin Fitzgerald.
Chris watched in amusement as Vin waited with barely concealed impatience for Dr. Navero to finish his examination and officially sign his discharge orders. Technically he had been released two days ago, but he had stayed at the hospital anyway, knowing it would have been virtually impossible to keep Vin in that bed if he left.
"I will have your discharge prescriptions sent down to the pharmacy to be filled; they should be ready within 30 minutes or so. Make sure you take ALL of the antibiotics, no matter how much better you feel, and please call me if you have any more pain or swelling in that hip, all right?" Dr. Navero closed the chart with a snap and offered Vin his right hand.
"Thanks Doc. I appreciate everything ya done for me, but don't be offended when I say that I hope I never see ya again." Vin shook hands with the doctor, who chuckled as he walked out the door.
Josiah quickly made a phone call to the hotel to let Buck and Nathan know that Vin was being released. Forty five minutes later they arrived at the hospital with a change of clothes and a service weapon for their injured team member. Vin smiled happily at his friends; he couldn't wait to get out of the hospital and knew Chris felt the same way. With Chris and Nathan's assistance he shucked his hospital gown, breathing a sigh of contentment as he changed into street clothes for the first time in over a week; in the meantime, Josiah went down to the pharmacy to pick up his prescriptions and Buck hovered around the nurses' station making a nuisance of himself.
After several minutes the nurse finally returned with a wheelchair, and shortly thereafter the entire party was on its way to the Federal Building courtesy of James Donavan and his white, government issue van.
Donavan dropped the team off at a side entrance and went to park the van while the agents entered the building and passed quickly through Security. Knowing that Vin would have a problem riding in the elevator, they peppered him with questions to keep his mind off the confined space. Still by the time they stepped off the elevator, Vin was breathing heavily and was the first one out of the door. For a minute he leaned back against the wall while his teammates surrounded him to protect him from the scrutiny of curious onlookers; then he took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders, and quietly thanked his friends. As one they turned away from the elevators and headed for the MPU offices, Chris and Vin flanked by Buck, Josiah, and Nathan.
"This place is beginning to be as familiar as our office at home," Buck commented as they strode down the mostly glassed in hallway.
"Yes, it is getting to feel like home, but I'm sure looking forward to leaving this city," Josiah replied.
"Aww Josiah, look around! There's a beautiful woman around every corner." Buck waved his hands around, pointing to his right.
"That's all you think about Bucklin," Vin said, glancing at Chris with a little smile.
"Just you wait 'til you see the women ... Oh good morning Agent Malone, we finally made it."
Jack laughed at the men, having heard part of their conversation. "Good morning. Chris, it's good to see you out and about again. And you must be Agent Tanner?"
"Yes sir," Vin said, extending his hand.
"Special Agent Jack Malone, meet Vin Tanner," Chris finished the introduction as the two men shook hands.
"Well, let's get the rest of the introductions made, then we'll fill you in on everything," Jack said, gesturing towards a double glass door.
As the men walked through the doors all heads turned, several faces registering shock as their eyes fell on Vin.
"Good morning Miss Vivian, you are a ray of sunshine on this dreary day!" Buck exclaimed, stepping forward to kiss the hand of a pretty older black woman in a charcoal grey suit.
Vivian pulled her hand away, laughing and shaking her head. "Agent Wilmington, flattery will get you nowhere with this old married woman, and besides, I believe your teammates have already warned us about you!"
"Ma'am, you shouldn't believe anything my teammates say about me," Buck protested.
"Funny, that's just what they told us about you!" Vivian fired back.
Laughter erupted as Buck directed a mock glare at his teammates. Jack looked around the room as Martin came to stand next to Danny, his expressive eyes locked on Vin Tanner.
"All right everyone. This is Agent Vin Tanner. Vin, this is my team, Vivian, Samantha, Elena, Danny, and Martin." Vin shook hands with each of Jack's team as they were quickly introduced. When he shook Martin's hand, he felt something like a small electric shock and his eyes widened in surprise. Looking up to meet Martin's eyes, he could tell that the other agent had felt it as well.
"Damn! We could be brothers!" Vin exclaimed quietly as he released Martin's hand. "Guess I should thank ya for helpin' us the other day when that car tried ta take me out. You're hurt 'cause of me."
"Don't worry, I was just doing my job," Martin smiled shyly.
"Mr. Tanner, it is nice to see you out of that hospital once again."
"Thanks Ezra. I'm gettin' a bit tired of hospitals."
"We can go home as soon as we clear up this new mystery Vin," JD said.
"I guess," Vin said distractedly, his eyes on Martin again.
"Well, shall we get started, or are you two just going to stand around staring at each other in shock?" Danny quipped, placing his hand on Martin's good shoulder.
"We can sit over here." Martin nodded to a nearby table surrounded by six chairs. Vin limped slowly to the table, carefully lowering himself into a chair.
Martin grabbed the folder he'd brought in with him, then sat at the head of the table with Vin to his right and Danny to his left. Chris sat down beside Vin, and Ezra pulled up the chair next to Danny. The other agents moved off, not going far, but far enough to give the seated men some space.
Martin opened the folder and said, "I guess we look enough alike that we could be related." The two men exchanged smiles, both feeling a tendril of comfort pass between them.
Danny looked from one man to the other. "Hate to tell you two, but you even have the same smile."
"And the same tastes in music," Ezra added, "along with the same eyes and facial features!"
"And don't forget, the same taste in coffee," Danny grinned as various members of both teams groaned aloud.
Both young men ducked their heads as Ezra suddenly shut up, seeing the glare Chris aimed at him.
Martin smiled shyly at Vin. "My birthday is May 24, 1979."
"Yeah, mine too."
"I was born in Dunraven, New York."
"My mother's name is Grace Leanne; she married my father, Victor, in 1975."
"My ma's name was Annie. I think she married my dad in 1977. He died before I was born and she died when I was five."
Martin shuffled his papers. "My mom had two sisters named Annie Jean and Bonnie, and a brother named Timothy. Bonnie and Timothy are both dead, and I don't know anything about Annie. I only knew Aunt Bonnie, and she didn't talk too much about her family. She died recently, just a few months ago."
"What about your mother? Does she know anything about ... um, if some of your family moved to Texas?"
"I'm not sure, but I do know that her sister Annie Jean lived with her and my father for awhile. She left when I was born."
"Why would a sister live with your folks for awhile?" Chris asked.
"I don't know."
"Was she married?"
"I don't know." Martin looked at the clock and pulled out his cell phone. "I'll see what I can get from Mom. She should still be at home." He rose, stepping away from the table as he dialed.
The seated men could hear snatches of the conversation, although they tried not to listen. They watched as Martin asked his mother several rapid-fire questions, then turned pale, his eyes meeting Vin's and holding his gaze. After several more minutes Martin hung up the phone and returned to his seat at the table. His blue eyes were dark with guilt and sadness.
"Aunt Annie was married to a Texas Ranger named Wade Vincent Tanner. He was killed in the line of duty and Annie came to live with my family. She and my mother were both pregnant and due about the same time. Our house was being built in DC and the lease was up on the place they were renting, so they went to the summer house my father's family owned in Dunraven, New York, in late February. That's why I was born there. Annie had problems and her baby ..." Martin's anguished eyes clung to Vin's for a moment before he continued. "The baby was stillborn. Annie stayed in the hospital for a couple of days, but my mother went into labor before she was released and by the time she was able to come home with me, Annie had disappeared. She never heard from Annie again. No one in the family did."
A stunned silence fell over the room. Vin shook his head and Chris looked at him, his hand resting on Vin's shoulder.
Something's wrong here, it doesn't make sense.
We'll find out what happened. We won't leave until we know Vin.
Vin nodded at Chris, then looked back to Martin.
"Something is wrong here," Martin said, as if reading Vin's mind. "I have the hospital information and the doctor's name."
"Give that to me, Fitz, I'll run this down for you." Danny held out his hand out and Martin passed over the sheet of paper.
"I'll help you, Mr. Taylor," Ezra said. The two of them moved to a nearby desk, where Danny picked up the phone receiver and started dialing while Ezra logged on to the computer.
Chris looked at the two young men sitting beside him. His gut feeling was that they were brothers - twins - and
obviously someone knew why they had been separated at birth. His eyes narrowed; he would bet his next paycheck that Victor Fitzgerald was somehow behind all this, but they would need more information before they confronted him. He knew the FBI Deputy Director by reputation and actions only; he'd never actually met the man, but from everything he'd heard, he knew that Fitzgerald was ruthless in both his business and personal dealings. Jack had mentioned that the Director was angry at him for hiring his son; he had other ideas on what his son should be doing. Fitzgerald was keeping a close watch on Malone and his team; everything they did was closely monitored. Chris gave Jack and his team credit; having to work under that kind of pressure would be hard. He pulled his thoughts back to Vin and Martin. "Lets take a little break and get some coffee, then we'll get back to this."
Vin nodded, "Could use a cup. Might clear m' head."
Martin agreed. "Want to go across the street? The bakery there makes a mean cup of coffee and they have excellent donuts."
"All kinds?" Vin asked rising.
"Everything from Apple Fritters to Zucchini donuts."
"Sounds good to me. Let's go! Anyone else want ta come?"
"I could use a good cup of coffee," Vivian said, grabbing her coat. As Vin and Martin headed towards the doors with Chris they were followed by most of the other agents, both ATF and MPU.
"Hey guys, bring us back some coffee and donuts too. Ezra, JD and I will hold down the fort until you get back," Danny called after them as he held the phone away from his mouth.
The agents exited the Federal Building and moved steadily across a wide paved area towards the stop light. Chris was in front, while the other agents surrounded Vin and Martin on all sides, thought a step or two from them, giving them a little space. Martin was smiling at one of Vin's stories about JD and his awful jokes when Chris suddenly spotted a glint of sunlight on metal ahead of them. Reaching for his gun he pushed the two younger men to the ground as gunfire erupted from a parked car in front of them. The three men went down in a heap; Chris fired back but realized his aim was off as he was tangled with Vin and Martin. No sooner had the thought entered his head then he heard returning gunfire from his fellow agents.
The man in the grey car got off several shots before the barrage of bullets took him out.
Buck and Nathan rushed to the three men on the ground as the other agents ran towards the gunman's vehicle, stopping the onrushing traffic. More agents emerged from the building, converging on the downed agents and the bullet-riddled car.
"Git offa me!"
"I'm trying," Chris snapped as he untangled himself from Vin and Martin's legs.
"You boys alright?" Nathan asked as he reached a hand down to help Chris up.
"Yeah. Check Vin and Martin though."
"I'm fine. Jist help me up."
"Few more bruises, but I'm fine," Martin said as Nathan and Buck hauled him and Vin to a standing position.
Vin winced as he straightened, feeling the wound in his hip pull painfully.
"Vin?" Nathan and Chris asked at the same time.
"I'm fine. Jist don't do that again without telling me," Vin drawled, pulling away from his friend's grasp. His looked Chris over carefully, then turned to Martin. "Ya alright?"
Martin smiled as Nathan released him. Rubbing his left shoulder, he was surprised that his arm was still in the sling. "Yes. Sore, but fine."
The men looked towards the street and took in the ensuing chaos. Agents were everywhere, the car had already been roped off, and the traffic was down to a single lane.
"Guess I better go over there. That might be the guy I saw in the hospital," Vin said with a sigh. As he limped towards the street he was acutely aware of Martin and Chris' presence on either side of him, Buck and Nathan and several other agents at his back.
The group approached the gray car, where Jack and the women from the MPU stood waiting for the coroner and police to arrive.
"Vin, do you recognize this man?" Jack asked.
Vin peered in through the open door at the man sprawled across the driver's seat, covered in blood from gunshot wounds to his head and chest.
"Yeah. This is the guy that came to my room, called himself Charles," Vin replied after a quick look at the dark haired man.
Jack nodded and then showed Vin and the others a picture found on the passenger's seat. It was the one of Vin with very short hair; it had been laminated, and there was an "X" marked in the center of Vin's forehead. The picture was spotted with the dead man's blood.
"Damn, that's over four years old, from right after I got outta the Rangers." Vin looked from the picture to Martin. "No wonder he tried to get us both; he didn't know which one a us ta shoot! Thought he had better eyesight than that; he saw me in the hospital." Vin shrugged, then glanced around the vehicle; he just wanted to get away from the crowd of people. "Are we needed any longer? I could sure use that cup of coffee and a donut."
Vin blushed and ducked his head as his colleagues burst into laughter. Buck slapped him lightly on his back. "Leave it to you, Junior, your stomach is always your first priority!"
"You're fulla shit Bucklin," Vin said softly.
Jack just shook his head. "You can go. We have positive ID on this guy now, so it looks like we found Riker. We'll get this cleared up and meet you back at the office." Handing his young agent a folded bill, he added, "Get some donuts and coffee for the rest of us too."
The agents followed Martin down the street to the bakery. As they entered the warm bakery, they were assaulted with the aromas of baked goods. Everyone spent some time looking over the selections.
Twenty minutes later the team returned to the Federal Building with trays of coffee and a couple of dozen donuts. Vin was eating one donut and carrying a bag with several more in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other. He hesitated before entering the elevator, and once again Chris and Buck began distracting him. Martin quickly realized what was happening and asked Vin several questions as well.
Danny, Ezra, and JD were waiting impatiently for their arrival; they had heard the shooting and hurried downstairs but had arrived too late to be of any real assistance so had returned to the office to complete their research. After reassuring themselves that everyone was all right they all gathered around the large conference table; as soon as each agent was settled in with a cup of coffee and a donut, Danny began to share with the team the information they had managed to gather.
"Well Martin," Danny began, "Dunraven only had a small clinic and a 30-bed hospital when you were born. Dr. George Miller was in charge at the time; he retired ten years ago and Dr. John Wielan took over until his retirement three years ago, at which time the Dunraven Clinic and Hospital were incorporated into Dunraven General Hospital. I talked to their records department and they faxed this to us." Danny passed several sheets of paper to Martin. "It's the record from before you were born, three months' worth. It says she had a cesarean delivery, and that you were a couple weeks early. Also says that Baby Fitzgerald had a respiratory problem and had to stay in the hospital for a week and you were released on May 31st.
"I remember Mom saying that I was sickly when I was born, and that Dad was impatient to return to DC; the house was finished and he needed to start his position as Director as soon as possible. That's all you found out?"
"No. There's a little more but I'm waiting for a call back from Dr. Wielan."
"It's not anything that can help us, is it?" Martin asked hopefully.
"I don't know. We'll find out, can always hope," Danny grinned at him. "But listen to what Ezra and JD found," he added with a nod to the ATF agents.
"We talked to someone in records at all of the hospitals in Plainview, Texas," Ezra began.
Chris shifted in his seat; he could tell from the looks on JD and Ezra's faces that he wasn't going to like what they had to say. He glanced up as Jack and the rest of his team quietly seated themselves at the table with the ATF agents.
Ezra paused, politely offering the MPU coffee and donuts before he continued. "Mr. Tanner, I am sorry to say there is no record of your birth in any of the hospitals in or around Plainview. We ... um ... even checked hospitals over 200 miles away but still found nothing. I finally asked about an Annie Tanner, and discovered that she had been seen by a Doctor Carrigan in 1982, in South Plains, northeast of Plainview." Ezra paused again and threw a glance at Chris; he knew that Vin's mother had died when Vin was five; but talking to the physician and hearing about what had happened to Vin at such an early age upset him and he knew it would cause his young friend more pain.
Seeing the look Ezra flashed to him, Chris nodded slightly and placed his hand on Vin's shoulder.
"I spoke with Dr. Carrigan; he is the physician who made the original diagnosis of cancer. He saw Mrs. Tanner again about a year later and the cancer had metastasized to the brain. She was only 22 years old and he was quite upset that she hadn't received any of the treatments he had recommended for her. The last time he saw her was in July, 1984 after she was admitted to the hospital; she had collapsed at the restaurant where she was working as a night janitor. Dr. Carrigan said her little boy was with her; evidently she took him to work with her." Ezra saw the grief on Vin's face, the blue eyes bright with unshed tears. Vin looked down at his clenched fists as Chris' hand tightened on the slumped shoulder.
"The doctor said they had to pry the child away from Mrs. Tanner when she passed. A social worker had been there and took the boy away immediately. That was the last he'd seen of the child, and Mrs. Tanner." Ezra finished in a rush, hating having the fact that he had hurt his friend. "I'm sorry Vin," he half whispered to the grieving young man.
"'S okay Ez." Vin mumbled, blinking his eyes. "I know she died of cancer when I was five, but not that she had it so long. Social worker took me away; they didn't even let me go to her funeral."
Martin reached out and touched Vin's arm. He had a stricken look on his face but when Vin looked at him, all he could think to say was, "I'm sorry."
Vin nodded, and then jumped when a nearby phone rang loudly into the silence.
Danny stood and grabbed the phone. A small smile crossed his face, then he froze, his eyes widening in surprise as they latched onto an imposing figure stalking into the office. He looked quickly at Jack, who had seen the man and was rising to his feet. Martin caught movement out of the corner of his eye; he turned his head and paled, his hand clutching Vin's arm so firmly that Vin yelped in pain. Martin quickly released his arm, grinning weakly in apology, then stood slowly. Vin rose also and stood side by side with Martin, both of them facing the man striding towards the group.
"This is what you are paid to do? Sit around drinking coffee and eating donuts in the middle of the morning?" The tall, pale eyed man focused his angry gaze on Jack. "Malone, you better have an iron clad reason for this," he said, waving an arm at the agents crowded around the table.
"We do ..." Jack started to answer, but was cut off by Martin's voice.
"I'll tell him Jack," Martin said, straightening as his father, Deputy Director Victor Fitzgerald, finally glanced at him.
"Martin, what are you doing here? You are supposed to be on medical leave for a few more days."
"We have a missing person to find Director, and these men are helping us. Guys, this is FBI Deputy Director Victor Fitzgerald. Director, this is ATF Team 7 from Denver, Colorado. Senior Agent Chris Larabee, and his men, Agents Wilmington, Sanchez, Jackson, Standish, Dunne and one you might know, Vin Tanner." Martin glared coldly at his father.
The pale eyes went from Martin to Vin, narrowing in surprise.
Before he could say anything, the blond, black clad ATF agent stepped closer to the two young men and said in a quiet snarl, "We are looking for a woman by the name of Annie Tanner, last seen with your wife in 1979. Do you know where we can find her?"
Taken aback at the blond agent's audacity, the Director looked at the man, then again at the thin figure standing beside his son. There was no mistaking the fact that this young man could be a twin to his son, even with the long curling hair, blue jeans and flannel shirt. 'Even if it's not possible,' he thought. He tried not to let his anger over the situation get the better of him and decided to bluff his way through.
"Sorry, I don't know who or what you are talking about."
Danny hung up the phone and turned to the group. "Sorry to interrupt Sir, but I just received a call from Dr. Wielan. He confirms that a Mrs. Victor Fitzgerald delivered twin boys on May 24th, 1979, via C-section, but that she never knew that she'd had twins. They were taken home by another relative within a few days after their birth." Danny paused, noticing all eyes had latched onto the Director, and that Martin and Vin both looked stunned.
Vin staggered slightly and Chris grabbed his arm, forcing him to sit down. Martin dropped into the chair beside him, his eyes never leaving his father's face.
"Afraid we have to disagree with your statement Director. You might as well tell us the truth, because we'll keep digging until everything is out in the open," Chris growled, trying to keep control of his anger.
"We will try not to let it go beyond this room, but it will be up to you to tell your wife," Jack added in disgust.
Director Fitzgerald looked around at the hostile men and women surrounding his son and his look-alike. For once he felt a shiver of fear, especially when he looked at Larabee's hard green glare. He watched as the agent seated himself beside Tanner.
Vin was shaken. He could feel his body trembling; the only thing keeping him grounded was Chris' hand on his shoulder. His life was a lie, based on lies from his so-called mother. She had told him his father died before he was born; she had insisted he was a Tanner. All his life he had tried to live up to the memory his mother had instilled in him, "Remember, you are a Tanner!" It was all a lie, his whole life was a total lie; lies, all lies.
Chris realized something was really wrong; he could sense Vin's anguish. Lies all lies, he heard. Looking at Vin, he saw the emotive blue eyes glaze over in shock and despair; quickly he rose and grasped Vin by the right arm, dragging him up and guiding him to the rest rooms.
"We'll be back shortly," he snapped at the Director.
Vin limped along in a daze, not knowing or caring where they were headed, his head pounding with the thoughts rolling around and around. When the door closed behind them the tears fell and he couldn't stop them. "Lies, all lies," he mumbled as he buried his face in Chris' shoulder as Chris held onto him.
Vin didn't hear the door open and close behind them as Martin entered and came to their side. He felt another hand on his back and knew instantly who it was; he tried desperately to get ahold of himself but it was a few minutes before he was able to push away from Chris, whose hands slid down to grip his arms at his sides. Vin felt the flush of embarrassment cross his face and ducked his head.
"Sorry ... I'm sorry ... I ... Lies ..." He couldn't think straight for a moment, and looked up when he felt Martin's hand tap him on the shoulder, then return to rest on his back.
"You have nothing to be sorry about Vin. Your life was not a lie; your Mother loved you, no matter what. We'll find out the truth and go on. I know we're brothers; I've never been so sure of anything in my life. We have the rest of our lives to get to know one another and be together. The one who should be sorry is standing out there and believe me, we will get to the bottom of this. You know, I've always wanted a brother, and even though this is not exactly the way I thought I'd get one, I couldn't be happier or prouder to find that you are that brother I've been waiting for." Martin hugged him with his good arm. Vin returned the hug as his eyes found Chris.
"Wal, ifn' we really are brothers, I guess you better meet m' other brother." Vin looked shyly at Chris. You are my brother, too, Cowboy, he thought.
I know pard, and don't you forget it!
Martin smiled, realizing he was seeing the 'strange talking connection' he had been told about between the two men. Before he could say anything, Vin looked back at him again. "Chris here is m' 'brother, soul brother, as the boys call us. Josiah says we are two hearts but one soul, but whatever it is ..." Vin shrugged, at a loss for a way to explain the mysterious connection he shared with Chris.
"I've heard about you two, and am happy for the connection you both have." He hesitated a moment, then went on, "Maybe we should find out what the hell happened to us. I know that man out there; he's lied not only to me, but to my mother as well."
"Are you ready pard?"
"Yeah. Let's get this over with," Vin said. He quickly washed and dried his face before turning to the other two men. "Let's go brothers," he said, and led the way out the door.
The three men made their way back to the MPU offices and to their seats at the end of the table. Director Fitzgerald was seated at the opposite end, looking very alone as the rest of the agents came to sit or stand in a semi-circle around them.
When the three younger men were seated the Director looked up. "I think this should be a private conversation; we can move into an office."
"No! These are our friends and family, whatever you say to us you can say in front of them." Martin stopped himself before he said more.
Resigned, the Director looked at his son a moment, then lifted his chin as he kept his eyes locked on the young man at the other end of the table.
"We were not ready for children. Your mother had five miscarriages before she got pregnant the last time. Our house was being built and the lease on the brownstone expired, so we went to the summer house in Dunraven. We didn't even know she was having twins until she went into early labor."
"Why was Aunt Annie with you?" Martin asked.
Victor glanced away, only to have his gaze land on Vin, a thinner, scruffier version of his son. "Annie had married a Texas Ranger; she was pregnant when he was killed, and Grace wanted her nearby as she was pregnant too. So Annie came to live with us. We had plenty of room."
Victor barely heard the hoarsely whispered words.
"Annie's husband's name was Wade Tanner; he was killed when he and another Ranger were chasing three bank robbers, and were led into a trap. Tanner, his partner and another Ranger were shot to death, while two other Rangers were wounded badly but survived. We all moved to the summer house. Annie got sick and a week before she was due went into labor. Her son was stillborn, and she went into some kind of depression; she wouldn't accept what had happened. Several days later, when she was to be released, Grace went into labor too. We didn't know she was having twins, and they were delivered by cesarean."
"How could that be possible?" Martin asked angrily, feeling like he needed to hit something, or someone, his father mainly.
Pale grey eyes met Martin's furious gaze. "I don't know, all I know is that they took your mother into the OR for a C-section while I waited. When they came out and told me she'd had twins I was ... shocked. We weren't expecting twins and I didn't ... well, anyway, the surgery was difficult for your mother. She had some serious complications as a result and spent several days in the ICU. I was worried that she wasn't strong enough to take care of two newborns, so during the first couple of days, while she was out, I formulated a plan."
Martin's anger rose at his father's callous attitude.
"And what did you plan to do with the second child? Have the doctor kill him? Dump him out in the cold? Out with the garbage? You goddamn bastard," he hissed, taking some comfort in the feel of Danny's hand lightly gripping his shoulder.
Victor paled a moment at the anger and hate he saw in his son's gaze. Swallowing, he shook his head. "No! I was trying to figure out a way to arrange for a quick, 'discreet' adoption for one of the babies, but Annie was still in the hospital and I had another idea." With a sigh he lowered his head and ran a hand over his face.
"Annie was ready to be released and Grace was very ill and still didn't know about the twins. I ... I ... I went and talked to Annie ... she still couldn't accept what had happened, she was depressed and ... I talked her into believing that it was all a mistake, that the doctors had mixed up her child with someone else's, and that her baby was alive, but she had to take him and disappear and never contact any of her family again, or tell anyone what happened. She was so distressed at the time that it was easy to convince her that her baby was really alive. Anyway she was released from the hospital and went back to the house to stay. Your mother was very ill, and you had some sort of respiratory infection that required you to remain in the Intensive Care Nursery for a few days. The other baby was relatively healthy, just a little bit small. When you were ready to be released from the hospital I took you both home, but I gave the second baby to Annie, drove them to Kingston and gave her enough money to disappear and start a new life. The next day I had your mother transferred by air ambulance to an excellent hospital in DC, and I drove down to Georgetown with you as you were too young to fly. I hired a nanny to take care of you until your mother was back on her feet."
"Ya fuckin' son of a bitch. All ya thought about was yerself, not the women who trusted ya, and sure as hell not yer own sons!" Vin spat out. He was visibly shaking as he started to rise, but Chris stood first and placed his hands squarely on Vin's shoulders, refusing to let him stand. Martin's free hand clamped down on Vin's arm.
"He's not worth it brother," he gritted out between clenched teeth.
CHAPTER 17 - EPILOGUE
Deputy Director Victor Fitzgerald watched as the longhaired young man struggled silently to rise from his chair and was held down by Agent Larabee's heavy hands on his shoulders. When he looked over at Martin he could see the identical look of anger and disgust on his other son's face. His other son! His thoughts flew back over the years, trying to reconcile what he saw before him now with what had happened almost twenty eight years ago. He still couldn't quite believe it, that both of his sons were here - one that he had raised, albeit somewhat haphazardly, and the other he had given away as quickly as he could. They already seemed to be in sync with each other with the connection that twins seemed to have. It was unsettling, but he knew he'd done the right thing at the time, and would do it again if the need arose.
His eyes turned to steel as Tanner calmed down; he spoke directly at them again, his focus on his sons, not the others around them.
"I was thinking of my wife. I knew she couldn't handle two newborns at a time. Taking care of two babies would have interfered with her schedule, but more importantly, she just wouldn't have been physically able to handle them. She'd already gone through the five miscarriages; she wasn't that well."
"So ya give away the baby that's not sick, in hopes the other'd die?" a quiet Texas drawl cut in.
The Director looked hard at Vin. "I did not wish either child any harm. The doctor assured me that the other one would be fine and I had no reason to doubt that. Annie snapped out of her depression or whatever she had, when she took the other baby into her arms. She was happier than I'd seen her in months. When I drove her to Kingston she was so excited and full of plans for her son's future. I gave her a lot of money and the last I saw of her she was getting on a bus. I never saw or heard from her again. I sent money to her at her old address for awhile, then they started coming back undeliverable, so I stopped."
"So ya just fergot 'bout her. Didn't care 'nuf to even find out if she an' the baby were alive or dead."
Fitzgerald's steely eyes glared at the Texan; he was beginning to hate that young man and his quiet drawl. Vin met the glare with icy blue eyes, challenging him, hating him for what he'd done to them.
"I did go on with my life. I figured she did too, so I forgot about her and her son. She was young and very good looking; I was sure she found another husband, so I didn't worry about her."
"She was 23 when she died alone in that hospital; I's 5 years old, the only person who cared enough to be with her when she died. She worked herself ta death ta feed us. Yeah, she got on with her life all right; she's dead, you bastard!" Vin's voice was raspy with emotion.
Victor blinked his eyes; he'd had a feeling that something was wrong with his sister-in-law all those years ago, but hadn't taken the time to follow up on it. He had just been too busy to be distracted. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"Ya didn't care ta know. All ya wanted was her an' yer unwanted son outta yer life. Ya didn't care's long as we were gone. I've lived a lie all m' life. She told me I was a Tanner; told me all about my Pa, but all of it was nothin' but lies. Everything was a big lie," Vin spat out. Shaking with emotion, he ducked his head and let his long hair fall around his face to hide the tears that threatened. He felt Martin and Chris' hands on him again, giving him their support and comfort.
"Annie didn't 'know' you weren't her biological son. The doctor told me she hadn't accepted that her child was dead, and I had seen that was true. When she left the house that day she truly believed that her son was in her arms. She didn't remember or understand what had really happened; only that she was leaving with her son. You were her child. I didn't know what happened to her. I'd hoped she'd gone on to make a new life for herself and her son. I am sorry to hear that she died."
Silence again fell in the room. Fitzgerald looked around the room, sighing as he registered the anger and disgust on the faces of most of the people sitting and standing around the table. Lifting his head, he pushed the feelings away and looked at Martin, who sat with his hand still on Vin's arm; the look in his son's eyes made him wish he could turn and walk away from everything. He hadn't been much of a father to Martin, he admitted to himself, but in his own way he did love him. Now, however, he was sure that the love his son had for him was gone and he had no one to blame but himself. He watched warily as Martin looked first at his newly found brother, then back at him.
"You have to tell Mom what you did, and about Vin." Martin's eyes turned to shards of blue ice and his voice lowered so only those closest to them could hear. "I don't think I ever want to see you or speak to you again. You have never cared about me and you were never really there for me. If you ever bother me or my brother, our family or our teammates, I will personally see to it that what you did to us hits the papers all over this country."
"Martin ..." Vin's head came up and he looked at Martin, his hand closing on his arm; he didn't want is brother to lose his father because of him.
"No Vin. He's run roughshod over me all my life, trying to control me, dictating to me what I had to do, when he wasn't totally ignoring me that is. Now, maybe I can get on with my own life." Martin's eyes met Vin's. "I have all the family I need right here beside me now. Maybe in a few years I'll feel like talking to him again, but for now I don't want anything to do with him."
"I can't ..."
"Vin, it's all right! What he did to us is wrong, and I'm sure he will never accept you as his son. I don't need him now, and neither do you. He is getting away with everything except telling our mother the truth, that she has another son who he'd given away because, well, basically because he could. It'll be fine Vin; we have time to get to know each other, and I for one want to have that time, with no worries. And I'd like to get to know your brothers, too."
Vin nodded in resignation. His thoughts were still in turmoil; he wanted to smash his fists into his so-called father's smug face, but he knew he wouldn't. His mom had loved him, given up her life for him. She had believed that he was her son and he would never believe otherwise. For several moments he let his head drop. Annie Tanner had loved him unconditionally her whole short life, and knowing that meant the world to him. He was sorry for his earlier thoughts; his life wasn't a lie, no matter who his father was. And now he had a brother, one who looked just like him. A small smile played across his lips; Chris was his soul mate, his chosen brother, but now he had a blood brother, one he'd never known existed. A happy feeling washed through him, and he slanted a quick look at Chris as their eyes connected.
Don't worry Vin, you are my brother, our family just got larger by one more. Vin barely heard Chris' quiet whisper.
Vin smiled shyly, You are mine too Chris, no matter who is in our family.
"They're at it again," said Buck, shaking his head and grinning.
"Is that the 'talking in their head's look?" asked Vivian.
"Yep. They get that look on their faces and go all quiet."
"Drives the rest of us crazy!"
"They sometimes have full conversations like that, and that's even worse."
Fitzgerald noted the easy camaraderie of the people around him. He could see that Martin and Tanner (he would never refer to him as his son) were already close, far closer than he himself had ever been to Martin. He rose from the table and took one last look at his son. He had a meeting to attend; his wife's call had interrupted his flight to Albany and delayed the meeting, which he had managed to reschedule for later this afternoon. With a small shrug he gathered his shattered pride and what was left of his dignity, and walked quietly out the door, not looking back.
A few people noticed the Director's departure, but did nothing to stop him; if Martin wanted to talk to him, he would have followed him.
Chris watched as Vin and Martin talked quietly. He could feel Vin finally starting to relax, and to accept the fact that Martin really didn't want to have anything to do with his - their - father. He knew Vin felt guilty about coming between Martin and Victor; maybe someday Vin would get to meet the man that was his father, but not now. Chris shook his head; all he wanted for now was to give the brothers a little time to get to know each other before they left for home.
Chris looked up suddenly to find two sets of blue eyes watching him. He raised one eyebrow in question.
I've got more sick leave, wish I could go to Denver for a visit.
"I'd like that! Want to get home, been gone too long. When can we leave?"
"Tomorrow. We'll need to get another ticket. Martin, you can visit as long as you want, got lots of room at the ranch," Chris said, glancing at Martin with an odd look.
"Oh my God! Now Martin's doing it!" JD exclaimed.
The three men blushed and quickly glanced away from each other.
"Just what I need! More voices in my head!" Chris shook his head, laughing out loud.
Martin looked at Chris in wonder. "You both heard me? I was just thinking I'd like to visit you all in Denver. How can this be?"
Josiah laid a hand on Martin's shoulder. "We don't know what this weird connection is, we just know that Chris and Vin have had it almost since they met. There's no explanation; we just accept it. And, since you are related by blood to Vin, I guess it's feasible that you would share the same bond."
"Well, guess we'll just have to learn to live with it." Quickly changing the subject, Chris added, "Since you've got time off, Martin, you are welcome to come home with us. We'll need to get you a ticket."
"Chris ..." Chris looked up at Ezra and JD's smiling faces.
"Mr. Fitzgerald has a ticket; we were able to acquire one on the same flight that we are on, if indeed he wishes to accompany us."
Jack stepped to the men's side. "I've already put Martin on leave; he shouldn't be back to work for at least ten more days."
"Well, Martin, if you really want to come you are more than welcome. I have plenty of room at the ranch."
"We'll see he gets home safe and sound Mr. Malone," Ezra added.
"Hey! You'll be with us for Thanksgiving!" exclaimed JD.
Vin looked up in surprise. "Thanksgiving? Damn, I didn't realize it was so close!"
"Time flies when you're having fun, Junior," Buck remarked. "It's in five days."
Vin rose carefully. "Let's get the hell outta here and back home. And for the record, I wasn't' havin' fun Bucklin."
"What time does the flight leave?" Martin asked, hoping he had time to get home and packed.
"Six am. We can pick you up at three," Buck offered.
Martin nodded. "I've got a spare room," he said, looking at Vin and Chris, "if you'd like to stay at my place. We could talk some more."
"Sounds fine to me."
"Yeah. Good idea."
"I need to get the rest of my stuff from the hotel first," Chris said.
"That's fine, we can stop by there on the way; it isn't that far from my apartment."
With plans made, the men turned and thanked Martin's teammates. Vivian gave Martin a quick hug and told him to have a fun trip, then pulled Buck down to her height and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Take care of our boy, or else," she told him in a low voice.
Buck hugged her and promised, "We will!"
With that, the ATF team left the room with Martin in their midst.
The fire in the large fireplace was putting out an abundance of heat, warming the seven men sitting around the large room. In the corner, beside a huge window, the large screen TV was showing a football game on which most of the men were completely focused. The house smelled of the recent Thanksgiving feast they had enjoyed. Several of the men had changed into loose fitting sweats, their jeans a bit too tight after indulging in the huge meal. Outside in the dark the wind howled and the falling snow was blowing in all directions, quickly forming deep snow drifts.
An hour earlier, JD and Josiah had taken Miss Nettie Wells and her niece, Casey home. They had returned just as the storm struck. Vin had offered to accompany JD but had been quickly voted down by the rest of the team, none of whom were particularly anxious to take a chance on the combination of Vin and JD being able to stay out of trouble on such a dark and stormy night. Nathan and his wife Rain had left at the same time, calling to let them know they'd made it safely home just as the storm started.
Martin's eyes roamed around the comfortable room. His brother Vin was asleep on the floor, sprawled beside Chris's recliner, head propped on a couch pillow. Martin smiled as he watched; Chris had a long string that he'd toss across the sharpshooter's face and slowly drag back towards him, barely taking his eyes off the game. Vin's hand would eventually come up and slap at the offending tickle. Buck was in the other recliner with JD sitting close by, half asleep on a pile of cushions. Every now and then Buck would reach over and push JD hard enough to topple him over, and then a wrestling match would start, until a glare from Chris settled them down again. Ezra and Josiah were watching the game and talking quietly on the other couch.
A slow movement caught Martin's eye from where he reclined on the second couch. Turning his head he saw that Vin's right arm was slowly inching towards the side of Chris' recliner. Once more Chris' arm came over the side of the chair, the string moving lazily towards Vin's face. Chris's eyes were on the game; he didn't see the arm moving in a blur, so he wasn't ready for what happened next, when his arm was grabbed so fast he didn't have time to react. An instant later he'd been pulled over the side of the chair and found himself flat on his back on the floor next to a chortling Vin. Just as Vin released his arm, Chris launched himself forward and rolled Vin back onto the floor. Vin yelped as he went down, and then Chris was on him, tickling his sides.
Martin grinned; he wondered if Vin was as ticklish as he was. He had his answer a minute later as his brother started giggling and soon collapsed into a boneless heap, yelling "Uncle." Chris sat back victoriously, then rose, carefully pulling Vin up with him.
Vin shot a quick look at Martin, I coulda used some help there brother.
Oh no brother! I'm the new kid on the block..
Chris shook his head. "Anyone want a beer since I'm up?" he asked with a grin at the twins.
"Good Lord no," Josiah said, "but I could sure use a cup of coffee." The rest of the men nodded in agreement.
"Coffee it is then. Martin?"
"Coffee would be fine Chris," Martin told him and Vin added, "Yes, please."
Chris headed for the kitchen as Vin plopped himself down beside Martin, his long legs stretched out and stockinged feet resting on the coffee table.
"Guess you're seeing what kind of crazy family I have here," Vin said with a wide smile.
"This is crazy?" Martin eyes shot around the room, taking in the men relaxing around the fire and talking quietly amongst themselves. "I think it's perfect." At a raised eyebrow he continued, "I never really had any family holiday celebrations. My folks were, are, very, um straight laced, and our Thanksgivings, at least the few I can remember, were all very formal. Everyone dressed up, several high officials and their stuck up wives, all prim and proper, and no fun at all. When I was in boarding school, I stayed there for the holidays; at least the company was my age. When I was on my own, well, TV dinners, or a restaurant. This was the best Thanksgiving I've ever had, and a lot of fun too. What about you?"
"This one has been the best fer me too. Last year was okay, but before that," Vin shrugged, "TV dinners when I could afford them. Army fed us good when I was there. A few of the foster homes I was in fed us pretty good. Once I ran away, though, it'd be whatever I could find or a soup kitchen if I got there early enough." Vin saw a distressed look cross Martin's face, unaware that his teammates were also listening. "Hey, this year I've got a brother I never knew I had, and I'm with my other brothers, so I'm really happy. This is the first of many great Thanksgivings together, I hope."
"If it's in my power brother," Martin said, smiling at Vin as the other men in the room added their reassurances.
Chris walked in just then, placing a large tray with filled mugs of coffee on the table after first shoving Vin's feet off the wooden surface. Everyone reached for a mug, then settled back down into their chosen seats.
Chris looked at the brothers and raised his mug. "To many more Thanksgivings together," he said solemnly, "and to all of us together." They all raised their coffee cups in agreement.
The howling wind, snow, and cold swirled around the large ranch house, but the fire kept the men inside warm and cozy as they saluted their friendship and brotherhood.