Characters: Vin Tanner, Martin Fitzgerald
Crossover "Without a Trace"
Summary: Sequel to Discovery. Vin realizes there are questions they never answered, and Martin’s theories prove disastrous.
Author's Note: Thanks to my beta, PJ in NH! You helped me iron out the wrinkles and fill in plot holes. Your help was greatly appreciated.
Thoughts and flashbacks are in italics.
10:30 a.m. EST
Martin simply nodded to the secretary and kept on walking, ignoring her protests. He entered the office, closing the door behind him a bit more forcefully than was needed.
“Martin, what is the meaning of this?” Victor Fitzgerald asked, put off by his son’s abrupt entrance.
“I’ll tell you,” Martin said, squaring off on the opposite side of the Deputy Director’s desk. “I’ve had it. I thought you were just a critical S.O.B. who enjoyed ruling my life, but now I know why.”
“Martin, what are you talking about?” Victor asked, slightly concerned about his son’s current state.
“You didn’t tell me,” Martin growled. “You didn’t tell me, and you left Vin behind. Not telling me is bad enough, but that you would just take me and leave Vin... What kind of heartless bastard are you?”
“Martin, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Who’s Vin?”
“My brother!” Martin all but yelled. “I was six when you adopted me, and I have a twin brother. Don’t say you didn’t know about him, ‘cause I know you do.”
Victor stiffened. How did Martin find out? “The social worker assigned to your case said you had a twin brother that was most likely special needs. I saw no reason to burden the family with that.”
“Did they happen to mention the ‘special need’ was because he’s dyslexic?” Martin fumed. “Even that’s not a good enough reason. You know what? I’ve had it. I’m through with you.”
Martin left the office before Victor could say anything else.
On the flight back to New York, Martin checked his voicemail. There was one new message.
“Hi, Martin, it’s Hank Peters, the attorney. Listen, I just wanted to let you know that everything went through without a hitch. The judge signed the petition, and you are now well on your way to being Martin Elijah Tanner. You can come by my office whenever to pick up the papers. You’re welcome.”
New York City
4:30 p.m. EDT
Martin placed the lid on the file box, putting an end to Laura Feldman. Literally. It had been one of their bloodier cases, ending in finding Ms. Feldman’s broken and raped body casually tossed in a ditch off a little-used country road. He hated when they couldn’t save them, even though he knew it was statistically impossible to find every missing person in New York.
It had been five months since he had discovered he had been adopted. Since he had met his twin, Vin had done his best to piece together Martin’s fragmented memory of their first years. The more Vin told him, the more Martin began to remember on his own. The only piece that he wasn’t sure how to fit was his mother. Katherine Fitzgerald had been blissfully unaware of her husband’s transgression regarding her son.
Five Months Prior
Falls Church, VA
8:00 a.m. EST
Martin entered the kitchen, where his mother was finishing breakfast. “Hi, Mom.”
“Martin!” Katherine exclaimed, rushing to embrace her boy. “What are you doing here? Why didn’t you call ahead?”
“I need to talk to you and Victor,” Martin said simply, and his use of his father’s given name did not go unnoticed.
“Martin, what’s wrong?” Katherine asked, concern rising.
“There really is no good way to say this. I met a man about a week who told me something that lead me to believe I was adopted. He was right. Why didn’t you ever tell me?” he asked, not wanting to upset her but not sure how else to broach the subject.
Katherine swallowed hard. She had hoped she would never have to deal with this.
“Martin, you have to believe me,” she said quietly, “I wanted to tell you, but your father wouldn’t hear of it. He said you didn’t need to know. I didn’t like it, but I had no say in the matter.”
“I believe you,” Martin said. “I just need to know one thing. Did you know about my brother?”
Katherine blanched. “Your b-brother?” She collapsed into a chair. “I… No, I…”
Her reaction was proof enough, Martin didn’t need her statement. He ground his teeth in frustration at Victor.
“I have a twin brother, Vin Tanner,” Martin said gently. “The orphanage called Vin ‘special needs’ because of his dyslexia, so Victor only took me.”
If Katherine had been upset before, she was horrified now.
“Martin, I promise, I had no idea…”
Martin nodded, regretting that she had had to find out like this. “I figured you didn’t, but I just needed to be sure. I know you would’ve taken Vin if you’d known about him.”
He knelt to be on the same level as her. “I don’t blame you,” he said softly. “I learned a long time ago that Victor will do whatever it takes to stay in control, even when it means steamrollin’ anyone in his path. I still love you,” he finished, meeting her eyes.
Katherine threw her arms around Martin and sobbed, devastated at the news of her husband’s deceit and relieved at her son’s acceptance of the situation. Martin simply held her; they were both victims of Victor’s narrow judgment.
Vin had been right. Katherine may not have given birth to Martin, but she had raised him as her own. Blood made little difference.
“Hey, man, wanna go grab a bite?” Danny asked, pulling on his jacket.
“Nah, I gotta go take care of somethin’,” Martin replied, grabbing his own jacket off his desk chair.
“Peters?” Danny asked, referring to the attorney handling Martin’s name change.
Martin nodded, “He left me a message earlier. It’s done. I’m just goin’ to pick up the final papers.”
“Man, what I would give to see Victor’s face when he finds out you’re now Martin Tanner,” Danny chuckled.
“Oh, you’ll prob’ly be able to hear it from here,” Martin said as they headed towards the elevator.
“You know, I think your accent has gotten thicker,” Danny full out laughed.
Martin groaned. “Vin warned me about that,” he sighed.
“So how is our Texan relation?”
“Busy. The boy’s’ve had their hands full with their recent case load.”
“When do I get to meet the Denver seven?” Danny asked. What Martin had told him of the ATF team intrigued him to no end, and while he had briefly met Chris and Ezra, apparently it had only been the tip of the iceberg.
“Well, I’m flyin’ out there for our birthday,” Martin offered. “You’re welcome to join us.”
“Join you where?” Elena asked, as she and Samantha joined them just as the elevator arrived.
“I just invited Danny to go to Denver with me next week,” Martin said. “Ya’ll care to join us?”
“I’d love to go with you boys, but I have a meeting at Sophie’s school before classes start next week,” Elena reluctantly admitted.
“Well, if Elena’s staying, I will too,” Danny proclaimed, placing his arm around the Latina’s shoulders.
Martin shared a look with Samantha. “Whipped,” he mouthed, eliciting a giggle from her and an indignant snort from his partner. “What about you?”
“I have no plans,” Samantha said. “I’d love to go to Denver with you.”
“All right, then,” Martin said with a smile.
Denver International Airport
5:45 p.m. MDT
Martin and Samantha walked through the concourse towards baggage claim. As soon as they had left the gate, Martin began to feel a now-familiar presence in his mind.
Welcome back, little brother, Vin’s Texan drawl echoed in his head.
Hey, we’re the same age, Martin protested.
Jus’ statin’ the facts. You are twenty minutes younger.
Just meet us at baggage claim.
Ya sure ya want Samantha to meet the boys? They may scare her off for good, Vin asked. Martin could sense the chuckle that accompanied the question.
A little late to be askin’ that, isn’t it? Martin replied with a grin.
“What is it?” Samantha asked. She had seen the slightly distant look on Martin’s face.
“It’s nothin’,” Martin grinned, shaking his head. “Vin’s meetin’ us at baggage claim.”
Vin was waiting by the carousel. When he turned to face them, Samantha’s jaw dropped.
“I told ya he looks just like me,” Martin laughed, going up and giving Vin a hug. “It’s good to see ya again, Vin.”
“Same here,” Vin grinned. “I should warn ya, the boys’re prob’ly more exited to see ya than I am.”
“Knowin’ them, I don’t doubt it,” Martin laughed.
Samantha stood back, watching to two interact. She noted the few physical differences as Martin stood leaning an arm on Vin’s shoulder. But there were other things, too. While Martin had loosened up a lot since finding out he was adopted, he still retained some of his straight-laced nature, whereas Vin seemed far more comfortable in his own skin.
“Vin Tanner, this is Samantha Spade,” Martin introduced, taking a step back as Vin offered his hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet ya, ma’am,” Vin said. “Martin’s told me a lot about ya.”
Samantha shook Vin’s hand, and Martin had to bite back a laugh when she arched an eyebrow at Vin calling her “ma’am”.
“Same here,” she said, polite smile back in place.
“Did you warn her about Buck?” Vin asked, looking back to Martin.
“Don’t worry, she can handle herself,” Martin replied with a grin.
6:30 p.m. MDT
Martin couldn’t help but smile at the look of awe on Samantha’s face as Vin drove up the long drive to Chris’s home. Of course, he knew he was grinning like an idiot; he hadn’t realized how much he had missed Denver until he got there.
When they pulled up to the ranch house, Martin could see five vehicles belonging to the rest of the Seven.
“Looks like the party’s already started,” Vin noted as they got out of the battered Jeep.
“Brace yourself,” Martin whispered teasingly to Samantha.
Suddenly self-conscious, she moved back to let Vin and Martin enter the house first. The first thing Samantha noticed was not the décor or the furnishings, but the sound. Raucous laughter reached her ears even before the front door opened.
Martin and Vin set their bags in the foyer before steering her towards the den.
“Look who I found,” Vin said, announcing their presence.
“Hey, Martin!” JD exclaimed, jumping up to greet them.
“Ow! Careful, kid!” Buck chided as JD tripped over his legs.
JD managed to untangle himself and jumped right back up. “I’m okay, I’m okay.”
Martin chuckled, “It’s nice to know someone missed me.”
“Who’s your friend?” Buck asked, eyeing Samantha behind Martin.
“Samantha Spade, meet Buck Wilmington, JD Dunne, Ezra Standish, Nathan Jackson, and Chris Larabee,” Martin introduced, indicating each man as he went. “Samantha works with me on the Missing Persons Unit.”
“Well, hello darlin’,” Buck grinned, standing to greet her.
JD rolled his eyes as instead of shaking her hand, Buck kissed it. Vin and Martin traded a look, Martin indicating to let the scene play out.
“If you need anythin’, you be sure to let old Buck know.”
Samantha paused a moment before answering, “I’ll keep that in mind, as long as your brain stays above your belt.”
Chris grinned as the others laughed at the putdown, Buck helplessly trying to come up with some sort of response.
“Man, Buck!” JD laughed. “She’s been here less than a minute and she already got you figured!”
“My congratulations, Miss Spade,” Ezra commented. “You have succeeded in a feat that many others have tried but failed.”
“What’s that?” Buck questioned the southerner, finally able to put words together cohesively.
“Shutting you up,” Chris chimed in, receiving an indignant huff in response.
“I’m guessing Josiah’s out back with the grill?” Martin asked, changing the subject before things got out of hand.
“He won’t let us out there,” Nathan said. “Said he was cookin’ up somethin’ special for ya.”
“Heaven help us,” Ezra moaned. “The last time Mr. Sanchez ‘cooked up somethin’ special’, I believe we were all eating antacids like they were M&M’s for a week.”
“You talkin’ ‘bout that special chili he made for the Super Bowl?” Vin asked as he and Martin took up seats side by side on the couch, the former placing his feet up on the coffee table. “I thought it was good.”
“Of course you would,” JD pointed out. “You drink coffee strong enough to kill small animals. Your taste buds are dead and your stomach is lined with steel.”
“Sounds like someone else I know,” Samantha smirked, settling on the arm of the couch next to Martin. “You will never believe some of the things I’ve seen Martin eat.”
“I think we would,” Chris grinned. “Vin and Martin have the same tastes.”
“Dinner is served,” Josiah called from the dining room, saving the twins from further ribbing.
The group made their way to the dining room, where Josiah had laid out platters of pork chops and strip steaks—Martin suspected they had been marinated in something that resembled antifreeze and gunpowder. There was a bowl of salad, courtesy of Nathan, macaroni pie and green bean casserole that Nettie Wells had sent via JD, and rolls Ezra had picked up from an artisan bakery a couple blocks from his house.
“Wow,” Samantha exclaimed, impressed at the amount of food and how good it all looked and smelled. “You guys know how to put together a meal.”
“Oh, this is nothin’,” JD said as they all took seats at the large table. “Tonight’s just the brothers. Tomorrow’s the real shindig.”
Martin looked across the table at his brother. He could tell Vin was uncomfortable with being the center of attention, even among this bunch. Feeling his gaze, Vin lifted his eyes to meet Martin’s.
Told ‘em not to stir up a ruckus, Vin thought at Martin.
Martin grinned, Would you hate me if I said I’m kinda enjoying it? I can’t remember the last time someone made a fuss over my birthday just because it was my birthday, an’ not because it was a social obligation.
“You guys mind letting us in on the conversation?” Buck teased.
“Sorry,” Martin mumbled, ears starting to burn.
“What?” Samantha asked, oblivious to the exchange that the ATF team was so accustomed to.
“I’ll tell ya later,” Martin told her.
“Brothers,” Josiah’s deep baritone cut in. “Tonight, we celebrate family. Each of us is gifted with two families. One is the family we’re born with”—he cast a glance at Martin and Vin—“and the other is the family we choose”—here he looked at the rest of the Seven. “Our brother by choice has been blessed to find a brother by blood, a gift that far surpasses anything we may give them. To family.”
“To family,” the rest chorused.
Dinner was a rambunctious affair. But then again, so was everything the Seven did together. Martin melded right in with the group, despite almost half a year having passed since their last meeting, and the brothers welcomed Samantha with open arms.
Once the food was eaten, dishes cleaned, and what little was left of the food put away, they once again grouped in the great room. JD had been bouncing more than usual since before dinner, so Martin knew something was up. He was about to ask when the kid beat him to the punch.
“Okay, I can’t take it anymore,” JD said excitedly. “The suspense is killing me. Can we do it yet?”
Chris traded a look with Vin. The twin nodded, and they stood up.
“C’mon, Marty, ‘fore JD busts somethin’,” Vin said, leading the way out the back door.
“Oh, you’re gonna need this,” Buck said, tossing a broad-rimmed hat onto Martin’s head.
Samantha tried desperately to hold back the giggles at the look on Martin’s face. With a scowl, Martin straightened the hat from its haphazard position and followed Vin and Chris outside. He quickly determined that they were headed for the barn.
What’s up? he asked Vin.
You’ll see, Vin replied with a grin.
Knowing he wouldn’t get anything else out of his brother, Martin followed in silence. JD scurried ahead and pushed open the side door in the barn.
Once his eyes adjusted to the dim light, Martin noted that most of the stalls were empty. Peso stuck his head out at the sound of company.
“Hey, big fella,” Martin greeted the gelding. “What’re you doin’ in here all alone?”
“Dang mule got his leg tangled up in some barb wire, last week,” Chris grumbled.
“I been keepin’ him locked up to make sure his leg don’ get infected,” Vin added.
“I didn’t think you used barb wire,” Martin asked, scratching in between Peso’s ears.
“I don’t, but some of the farther pieces have remnants of ages old fencing,” Chris replied. “I thought I’d gotten rid of it all. Guess I should be thankful it was only Peso that got hurt.”
“Hey now,” Vin objected on behalf of his mount, “don’ go talkin’ ‘bout him that way. ‘Specially not in front of him.”
“Sorry, Mr. Tanner,” Ezra chimed in, “but between your obstinate equine and decrepit automobile, it would seem that your judgment in reliable transportation is somewhat impaired.”
“I doubt you guys brought me down here to pick on Vin,” Martin interrupted, deeming it necessary to come to his brother’s rescue.
“Take a look in the next stall,” Vin prodded.
Martin did as he was told. A glance into the next stall revealed a beautiful black paint gelding. The nameplate on the door read “Jake”. He cast a confused look back at Vin, who simply grinned.
“Happy birthday, little brother.”
“You’re kidding,” Martin said, as Jake came over to the stall door to check out the people.
“Nope,” Vin laughed. “Even got the papers to prove it.”
“You’re crazy! I can’t keep a horse in New York!”
“Don’t have to,” Chris chimed in. “He can stay here.”
“Be a good excuse to come out here more often,” JD suggested.
“So you’re all in on this, huh?” Martin asked, casting an accusatory glance at the rest of the brothers.
JD at least had the decency to look sheepish, while Buck and Ezra simply grinned unabashedly. Josiah and Nathan took a step back from the rest, but Martin knew better.
He sighed. “Guess I can’t say no, can I?”
“Doesn’t look like it,” Samantha laughed.
Jake nudged Martin’s arm, not so subtly demanding attention.
“See? He already likes you,” JD pointed out.
Martin couldn’t help but grin as he rubbed the black nose. He wasn’t sure he wanted to admit it, but it was the biggest gesture anyone had ever made for him. Horses were a huge part of who Vin was, and Jake was a way of sharing that with Martin.
5:45 a.m. MDT
Martin quietly eased out of his room—Buck’s room, actually—and made his way to the kitchen, where the strong aroma of freshly brewed coffee indicated Vin was awake. He accepted the offered cup, and took a large sip before speaking.
“I’m normally a morning person, but four hours of sleep will do just about anybody in,” he muttered.
“Still on eastern time, huh?” Vin chuckled.
“Problem is, I’ll finally get on mountain time just in time to leave,” Martin complained.
“Ah, but tell me ya haven’t been lookin’ forward to this for months,” challenged Vin.
Martin ceded this point, and they finished their coffee and headed out to the barn. Vin checked Peso’s leg, and satisfied that it would be fine for a ride, pulled him out of the stall. Martin tied Jake in the hall and began brushing the cedar flakes off his coat. In short order, the horses were saddled and led out into the increasing daylight.
Vin lead Martin out through the south pasture, going at an easy pace so they could enjoy the rising sun. Though it was only August, a few of the trees were beginning to take on a golden hue; the orange glow of the sun rise made them look as if they were on fire.
As they rode, Martin noticed that though his brother seemed verbally silent, Vin was working on something in his mind.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Martin offered.
“I been thinkin’ there are questions we ain’t even come close to answered, yet,” Vin answered.
“I think I know what you mean,” Martin replied. “The more I think about it, there are way more questions than answers.”
“Not the least of which is, why did Victor go all the way to Texas to adopt a kid when he could have done that in DC?”
Martin cast a hesitant glance at his brother. “I have a theory about that, but I don’t like it.”
Martin didn’t continue and Vin didn’t push, knowing Martin would fill him in when he was ready. They continued on as the sun crept higher in the sky. Finally, they stopped by a small lake to give the horses a chance to take a breather. Ground tying the horses, the twins sat watching the horizon past the water as it faded from bright orange.
“I’m not blind to Victor’s faults,” Martin spoke up after several minutes. “You of all people should know that. I learned years ago that he didn’t get where he is by being nice. I’ve seen his ruthless side more than once, and risked losing my job for standing up to him.”
Vin let Martin vent, quietly listening. Victor was a touchy subject for Martin, who considered the older man separating the brothers as the straw that broke the camel’s back. So the two never talked about it, but Vin realized that Martin needed to get this out.
“When I was eight, I remember a huge fight he and Mom had. I don’t remember what all was said, but I know they were arguing about a person, a woman. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on; I just wanted them to stop fighting. Once I was grown, I figured it out. Victor was having an affair, and I know it wasn’t his only one. I just keep thinking, what if he had had an affair with our mother?”
Martin’s question hit Vin like a punch to the gut. The thought had never even crossed his mind.
“No, there’s no way,” Vin denied. “There’s no way Mamma woulda cheated on Dad.”
“I’m not saying she did,” Martin disclaimed. “It’s just that, with Victor’s track record, I couldn’t help but wonder.”
Vin sat and thought for a minute. He didn’t believe Martin’s theory to be true, but he wanted to be sure.
“I’ve got a couple of Mamma’s journals from back then,” he suggested. “There may be somethin’ in ‘em to shed some light on the situation.”
“Maybe, but we can deal with that tomorrow,” Martin decided. “Today’s our birthday. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say,” Martin added, shaking his head. “Today we’ll put up with whatever the boys have planned.”
“I’m just gonna warn ya, I have no idea what the boys have planned, but they been plannin’ it for over a month, since I told ‘em ya were comin’ out here.”
“Bring it,” Martin confidently declared. “I’ve worked with Danny for five years. I can handle anything.”
Don’ be so sure ‘bout that, Vin thought with a smirk.
Martin sent his twin a surprised look, You don’t agree?
You’ve never experienced JD on a sugar rush, Vin shot back. Survive that, then we’ll talk.
Martin laughed outright at that. He’d been around the brothers long enough to bear witness to JD’s momentary ADHD tendencies, but then again, the kid was usually sober.
“Well, the boys aren’t the only ones excited about today,” Martin admitted.
Vin took a moment to study Martin, and could easily see his eagerness. He felt a quick pang of sympathy for his brother. Martin’s childhood had been spent with Victor grooming him for greatness, punctuated by all too brief visits with Bonnie Toland, the only person outside of Katherine who made Martin feel as if he really belonged to a family. Birthdays were nothing more than another engagement used to further your social standing. Vin, on the other hand, had spent ten birthdays in various foster homes where it was never something to celebrate. Now, both brothers had found their places, and family that genuinely cared about them.
“Hey, quit thinkin’ like that,” Martin admonished, having “heard” his brother’s thoughts. “So what if our childhoods sucked? We’re together and living our own lives now. That’s all that matters.”
By now, the horizon was a clear blue as the sun rose higher in the sky. The twins sat there for a moment longer before remounting and turning back to the ranch. Martin cast a look at Vin, and the latter read his thoughts easily. Adjusting his seat in the saddle, Vin gathered the reins.
Last one back does the dishes.
And with that, they spurred the horses into a gallop, racing neck and neck back to the barn.
10:00 a.m. MDT
Breakfast had been fairly quiet, made up of only the brothers, Chris, and Samantha. The rest of the seven would be back later in the day. Now, Martin found Samantha in the den, looking at all the pictures of the seven.
“You seem to be enjoying yourself,” he said, entering the room.
“These guys make it hard to be bored,” she replied, sitting in one of the armchairs.
Martin laughed, taking a seat on the sofa, “They’re certainly somethin’ else.”
“It’s hard to believe you’ve only been around them once before. You fit right in with them.”
“They make it easy,” he shrugged. “When Chris first formed Team Seven, he pulled in guys from every walk of life. He and Buck had been Navy Seals before they joined Denver PD. Josiah had been in the Army and then Kansas City PD, where he met up with Nathan. Ezra was a Fed in Atlanta. JD actually came out here from Boston when he heard about a crack ATF team being formed.”
“And what about Vin?” Samantha asked.
“Vin’s record has more blacked out places than a JFK flight manifest on Christmas Eve. He was in the Army Rangers and was a bounty hunter for the Marshals before Chris got to him.”
“Wow, that’s pretty impressive,” Samantha noted. She paused, cocking her head as she looked at Martin. “Although, if you two weren’t identical, I wouldn’t think you were related.”
“Really?” Martin asked. This threw him off. The seven had pegged him for Vin’s brother quickly, but not because of their appearance. “How so?”
“Well, you two are so different,” she continued. “You were raised in completely different environments, and it shows. Vin’s much more cautious, more rugged, less comfortable around crowds. You on the other hand tend to leap head first into things, are more refined, and are more suited to social situations.”
Martin laughed. While Samantha was correct, to an extent, there were many more layers to Vin Tanner than she had thus far been able to pick up on. He was glad they were staying for a couple more days, if only for the chance for her to get to know Vin better.
“Remember that,” he said, standing. “You may just change your mind.”
7:00 p.m. MDT
Martin quickly realized that this would be unlike any birthday party he'd ever had. Aside from the seven, there were several more in attendance. Nathan’s wife Rain, JD’s girlfriend Casey Wells and her aunt Nettie, Mary Travis and her son Billy, and Inez Recillos made up the extra bodies. Martin had met all of them to some degree during his previous visit, and it was clear that even these were willing to accept him simply because Vin had.
Martin managed to slip back from the conversation and take in the new faces. Casey was obviously crazy about JD, and he reciprocated, but Martin was well aware of the young man’s tendency to plant his foot squarely in his mouth. If JD could gather his wits long enough to propose, Martin did not doubt that she’d say yes. Nettie had her hands full with those two, but from what Vin had told him, the older woman could handle anything.
Inez playfully bantered with each of the guys, easily parrying verbal blows. She blew Buck off at every opportunity. But despite the big man’s philandering ways, there was no doubt in Martin’s mind that he genuinely cared about Inez. It would only be a matter of time.
Chris and Mary were a whole other animal. A blind man could see the feelings those two held for each other, but both were too proud to admit it. Martin had no idea if they would ever stop dancing around it. But it was plain to see how much little Billy adored the ATF team leader.
His gaze drifted over to Samantha. Martin couldn’t help but smile at the sight. She was sandwiched between Rain and Inez, the other two undoubtedly picking her for details on Martin. Vin noticed this as well, and grinned.
Should I be worried? Martin asked, unsure what the two women could be asking his former beau.
Maybe, Vin shrugged. They know when to be discrete, but be glad you’re goin’ back to New York. I’m the one that’s gonna have to put up with them after this.
“Hey, guys, conversation’s back here,” JD announced.
“How?” Martin asked, astounded. It continued to amaze him how the seven were able to tell when he and Vin were “talking”.
“Chris an’ Vin have been don’ that since the day they met,” Buck explained.
“It would have been a terrible lapse in observation had we been unable to detect their mode of silent communication,” Ezra continued.
Of course. Martin had forgotten that Chris was able to “talk” to Vin the same way he could. He briefly wondered what it was like for his brother to have two completely different people’s thoughts floating around in his mind.
“Must get crowded,” Martin considered.
“Nah, it’s just background noise,” his twin replied. “It ain’t as strong with Chris as it is with you, but I can tune you out easily enough.”
“Okay, next question. How do you control it? I’m not hearin’ everything you think, so how do you control who hears what?”
“That I can’t say,” Vin shrugged. “Never really had to worry ‘bout it before. I had to think to talk to Chris, or to keep him out.”
“Guess it’s somethin’ I’ll just have to work at.”
Nettie and Josiah announced dinner was ready, and the party moved in to the large dining room. While dinner the night before had been a rambunctious affair, it had by no means prepared Samantha for a full family dinner. Most notably, it was loud. Very loud. Multiple conversations going on at once, the ladies glad to have Martin and Vin together at once to pepper with questions.
Samantha watched with fascination as the brothers returned volleys with the ladies. Where before she had not believed the two anything alike, she now saw those differences fade and the line between Vin and Martin blurred. It startled her that she had not seen it before. With the two of them together, their voices blended together. They finished each other’s sentences; one picked up where the other left off. Martin had been right, there was much more to Vin than what was on the surface.
After dinner, Nettie enlisted Buck and JD to help clear out what remained of dinner, banishing the rest to the den. Samantha’s offers of help were not heeded, and she was directed out of the kitchen. Still not completely comfortable with inserting herself among the others, she hung back near the hallway.
“You finally see it, don’t you?” came a voice from behind her, causing her to jump. She looked back to see Chris standing just behind her, and took a moment to wonder that she hadn’t heard him.
“See what?” she asked, thoughts still scrambling from being startled.
“The similarity,” he clarified, but not needing to say what similarity. “Took you a while to see it. I guess it’s understandable for an outsider to take a bit longer. We were really the only family Vin’s had since he and Martin were split up. We know Vin so well that the things we’re used to seeing in him stood out clearly in Martin.”
“I guess I just had this idea of Martin Fitzgerald, the Deputy Director’s son who grew up in DC society, that I had a hard time seeing anything else, even though I know he rejected pretty much anything his father put in front of him. But I like the Martin I see here.”
“We never had any expectations of him, so he’s been able to be anything he wants to be. He could be the DC socialite, or he could be the man who’s made his own way in life.”
“I thought I’d gotten rid of the idea that he was his father’s puppet, but I guess a few shreds of that were still hanging on.”
“It’s never too late to change that,” Chris pointed out before walking past and leaving Samantha to her thoughts once more.
9:30 a.m. MDT
Saturday started with another quiet breakfast between the four staying at Chris’ ranch. The brothers were subdued, unsure of what they would find once they started reading Rebecca Tanner’s journals. Chris sensed their slight unease, so he let them be. Samantha too detected a tenseness that seemed almost foreign in present company. Once breakfast was finished, Chris told the brothers to go about their business, that he and Samantha would clean up.
Martin followed Vin to the latter’s room, where he pulled out a box and set it on the bed. Martin sat on the opposite side of the box from Vin, and looked among the contents. Some pictures, a worn and slightly dog-eared Bible, a harmonica, a velvet box that Martin recognized instantly as a ring, and several aged journals were among the items enclosed in the box. With a delicate hand, Vin lifted the journals out.
“When I got out of the Rangers, I found one of Mama’s friends back in Texas,” he began. “She’d managed to save some of Mama’s things that she thought we may want. If we don’t find nothin’ here, I can get in touch with her.”
Martin opened one of the journals. The hand that had written the entries was decidedly feminine, the flowing script almost dancing across the page.
“We brought the boys home today. They’re sleeping now, after almost no trouble. It’s as if they know they’re home. I know they’ll probably be up again in a few hours—they’re both voracious eaters—but for now, they’re my little angles. Matt’s telling me to go to bed and get what sleep I can, but I can’t bring myself to leave them. This is a moment I don’t want to miss.”
Judged by that entry alone, Martin would have believed that his parents had had the best marriage in the world. Rebecca was more than candid in her journal, though, and there were more than a few pages detailing the sometimes vicious fights she’d had with her husband, but they always made up in the end. Neither were saints, but neither were they villains. They were simply a young couple trying to find their way in the world.
Martin flipped to earlier entries, tracing the dates back to around the time he supposed Vin and himself to have been conceived. Vin noticed his brother pale as he read the entry to himself.
“Martin? Find somethin’?”
“My father always told me I’d grow up to be a no good whore. I hated him for saying it, but I hate myself more for proving him right,” Martin began in a low voice. “It was so stupid. It started with a stupid tree. I really didn’t care where we put it. Matt was the one who insisted on getting a full-size Christmas tree. I was perfectly happy with the little one we’d used last year. It was just the two of us. Why did we need a big tree? He insisted, so we got one.
“It spiraled out of control. He said I wasn’t involved enough, I said he was too controlling. It got worse, and I eventually left. I went to Carrie’s and she took me to drink away the night’s evils. It was getting late, and I told her to go, she had work the next day, I’d get a cab back to her place. That may have been the worst decision I ever made.
“He said he was in town on business, and that a lady as pretty as me shouldn’t be left alone. One thing led to another, and the next thing I remember, I’m waking up in his hotel room at 5 a.m. My memory of the night before was hazy, but what I did remember horrified me. I left him and called a cab to take me back to Carrie’s.
“She told me not to do anything I may regret. In other words, don’t tell Matt. As soon as I was sober, I went home to find the 6-foot cedar that had taken up so much room in our small apartment gone, replaced by the 2-foot silk spruce that had been such a novelty, last year. Matt apologized profusely for everything that had been said. The only reason he had gotten the stupid tree was because he had thought I had wanted one. He was happy as long as I was happy. I put on a smile and decided to forget about the previous night. Matt didn’t need to know.
“I made my best effort, and swiftly, he did make me forget. Several times. I will say this: one side effect of our fights is that it makes him an even better lover the he normally is. Maybe he really will make me forget that night. One day.”
For several minutes, they were silent. Their fears were confirmed, their mother had had an affair, one that may have resulted in their conception.
“Carrie Morrison, she’s the one who had Mama’s things,” Vin said quietly, still unable to believe what his mother’s own hand had written. “She might be able to put this to rest.”
“We still don’ know who this guy is, or if he even is our father,” Martin pointed out, mostly thinking out loud. “We might be freakin’ out over nothin’. We need to get in touch with Carrie. She may know no more than we do, or she may have all the answers.”
Vin agreed, and the journals were placed back in the box. Martin could tell his brother was more troubled by this revelation than he let on, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what to say. Finding out he was adopted had been one thing. Finding out he may be the result of a one-night stand was something else entirely.
Without saying a word, Vin walked out, heading outside for the barn. Martin followed behind, unsure of whether he should follow. He paused by Chris’ office, where the other man was showing Samantha pictures of the seven. Chris looked up when he heard Vin walk past, giving Martin a quizzical look. Martin simply shook his head.
“In theory this was a good idea,” he sighed.
Puzzled, Chris reached out to Vin, not receiving any response except a strong sense of confusion and anger. He didn’t push, knowing that it would only cause Vin to completely shut down.
Sensing that whatever was going on was personal, Samantha excused herself. Though he said nothing, Martin was grateful. He and Vin may have been close, but there was still plenty of Vin Tanner he had not experienced that Chris had. He would welcome the other man’s experience.
“What did you find?” Chris asked, knowing what was on Martin’s mind.
Martin closed the door and entered the room farther, wanting privacy, even though he doubted Samantha would eavesdrop. He related the details of the journal entry that had shaken the brothers. When he was done, Chris nodded.
“One thing you have to understand about Vin,” he began, “there are two things he holds dearer than anything: his family and his name. He sees your mother having an affair as an affront to both. He has a sense of loyalty and honor that you don’t find very often.”
“So what if our DNA came from somewhere other’n Matthew Tanner?” Martin asked, mostly for his own sake. “He was the one who raised us, not this other guy.”
“And that’s what you need to remind Vin,” Chris pointed out. “He’ll come around when he realizes that.”
Recognizing the prompt, Martin nodded and left, following Vin’s previous path to the barn. There he found Vin vigorously brushing Peso with enough force to make the horse shuffle in frustration.
“You don’t let up, he’s liable to bite ya to get ya to stop,” Martin said with a smile, grabbing another brush and going to Jake’s stall.
Getting no response from his brother, other than the anger that simmered dangerously below the surface, Martin considered his options as he brushed the paint’s smooth coat. He finally decided on a course of action that he knew could very well backfire dangerously on him.
He set the brush on the bench outside Jake’s stall and went to Peso’s stall. In one swift action, he turned Vin to face him before landing a punch squarely against his brother’s jaw, causing him to fall to the ground. Stunned, Vin simply stared at him.
“You done sulkin’, or do I have to hit ya again?” Martin asked, holding out his hand to pull Vin up.
With a sigh, Vin accepted the hand and stood, brushing the shavings off his jeans. He lacked the barely restrained anger but still retained the hurt and confusion.
“You think you’re the only one upset?” Martin asked. “Six months ago, I didn’t even know I had a brother. Now I find out that the man I recently found out was my father might not be my father. If anyone’s got a right to be mad, it’s me! I should be the one out here wonderin’ who to believe, not you.”
He could tell Vin was considering this, and he continued, “I once told you I wasn’t sure how I felt about the woman who raised me not bein’ my mother. You told me that it didn’t take being related by blood to make her family. Shoot, look at the seven of you. Ya’ll have become each other’s family, and there ain’t a drop of blood in common.”
Vin’s barriers continued to drop, so Martin repeated what he’d told Chris, “It doesn’t matter that Matthew Tanner wasn’t there when we were conceived. He was there when we were born, and that’s what matters.”
“Dad was the reason I joined the Army,” Vin said softly. “Findin’ out he may not be my dad’s kinda like knockin’ a knight off his horse.”
“Welcome to my world,” Martin replied, with a rueful grin. “Finding out Katherine Fitzgerald didn’t give birth to me didn’t make me love her any less. You shouldn’t either.”
Vin acquiesced, and the two began to saddle the horses. It was Martin’s last day in Denver before he and Samantha had to return to New York. Martin felt a brief twinge of regret for leaving her alone for much of the trip, but that was how things had played out.
“Why don’t we bring her alone, this time?” Vin suggested, having picked up on Martin’s thoughts. “I’ll pull Pony and Dancer out while you head back to the house and get ‘em.”
Surprised he didn’t think of it himself, Martin smiled and made his way up to the house. Chris was in the kitchen and heard Martin come in.
“Everything squared away?” he asked.
“For now,” Martin replied. “He wanted me to ask if you and Sam wanted to come out with us.”
“It’s a nice day,” Chris noted. “And Nettie just dropped this off,” he stepped back to reveal a cooler bag that knowing Nettie was filled with enough food for several people.
Martin laughed, “I’ll go get Sam and meet ya’ll down there.”
He made his way to Ezra’s room, where Samantha had been staying. He found her curled up on the bed with a book in hand. Gently, he knocked on the frame to announce his presence.
“Hey, everything okay?” she asked, setting the book aside.
“Better,” he said. “I came to ask if you cared to join us for a ride.”
“Oh, ah, I don’t know,” she replied uneasily. “I don’t want to get in the way or anything,” she gave for an excuse.
“You won’t be,” Martin assured her. “Chris is coming, too, and Nettie packed us a lunch. Come on.”
Her resolve crumbled, and in short order, she was following him to the barn. When they got there, they found that Vin and Chris had finished saddling the horses. Martin took Jake’s reigns from Vin and Chris handed Dancer to Samantha. Martin tried not to laugh at her helpless expression.
“Don’t worry, she’s JD’s horse, so she’s not too high strung,” Chris told her. “Just put your left foot in the stirrup and swing up.”
“Sure, that’s all you do,” she replied, surveying the situation for a moment before Martin came up behind her.
“Pick up your left foot,” he directed. “On three.”
He laced his hands under her knee and hoisted her up after a three-count. It took her a moment to situate herself, but once she was settled, she relaxed.
“You okay?” Martin asked from the ground.
“Yeah, it’s not as high as I expected,” she said.
Martin laughed and mounted Jake. He stayed close to Samantha as they rode out, ready to intervene in case anything happened, but the mare apparently sensed her rider’s unease, and took extra care when stepping. The four rode out to the lake Vin and Martin had stopped at the previous morning, stopping to delve into the lunch Nettie had packed.
Samantha found she enjoyed herself immensely. One had a different perspective on things when on a horse than when on the ground. The other three were totally different when around the horses. She had to admit that she liked this side to Martin.
The early part of the afternoon was spent in leisurely riding across the south pasture. Samantha hung back with Chris while the twins raced ahead. She glanced at her watch and was shocked to learn how much time had passed. All too soon it would be time to head back to the house. The rest of the seven were making one more appearance before Martin left in the morning. She spared one more thought that she was glad she’d decided to join Martin this weekend.
Denver International Airport
10:45 a.m. MDT
“Got everything?” Vin asked.
“He’d better, he checked three times,” Samantha said with a grin.
“As soon as I get in touch with Carrie Morrison, I’ll call you.”
“Yeah, that’s not exactly a conversation you want to have over the phone,” Martin said. He reached for Samantha’s suitcase, “I’ll go get us checked in.”
As Martin walked away, Samantha turned to Vin.
“I’m really glad I came,” she told him. “I must admit, I had some reservations about the Denver Seven, but you guys are great. Even Buck,” she added with a laugh.
“Yeah, he grows on ya after a while,” Vin grinned.
Martin came back, and they made their way to the gate. Idle banter passed the minutes until the boarding call for their flight was issued. Samantha gave Vin an affectionate hug and then left the brothers to make their goodbye.
No words passed between them. There was nothing that needed to be said. Martin gave Vin’s shoulders a quick squeeze, nodded to his brother, and made his way to the gate.
Vin watched until Martin was beyond sight and turned to leave. He had the rest of the day to process everything before Monday morning, as well as hopefully find Carrie Morrison’s phone number. He needed to put an end to this.
New York City
8:30 a.m. EDT
Martin suppressed a sigh. Ever since he had walked in thirty minutes ago, Danny had been milking him for details on his trip to Denver. Withholding some of the details, Martin related the revelation that had been made two days prior.
“I just hope Vin can find her,” he finished. “I know it’s tearing him up, not knowing.”
Danny sat and stared at him for a brief moment, “Dude, we’re the Missing Persons Unit. If he can’t find her, we sure as hell can.”
Martin chuckled, “You have a point.”
“Heads up, we got a call,” announced Jack, interrupted any further discussion. “”Hank Lawson, 72, in town with a group from his retirement community. He missed breakfast and no one’s seen him since last night. I’ll get on the phone with the retirement home, see what they can tell us about Hank. Sam and Elena, get me everything you can on him. Viv, take Martin and Danny down to the hotel, the Radisson on Fifth. Someone may have seen something. Clock’s ticking people.”
Assignments given, each person went to work. Grabbing their note pads, Martin and Danny followed Vivian down to the garage. The hotel the group was staying at was only about ten blocks from the federal building, but the oppressive heat wave that had been battering the city for the past week made walking the distance far from ideal.
They found the group gathered in the hotel lounge. Vivian started with the group’s director, while Martin and Danny started in on the individuals. Most people gave the same answers: Hank had seemed fine last night; he was enjoying himself; no, nothing had seemed out of the ordinary. Danny was beginning to think they had been sent on a wild goose chase; the man had gone somewhere, but no one had any idea where. However, the fifth person Danny spoke with seemed to have a better idea of what was going on.
“Hank’s mind’s been slowly goin’ for the past year,” she said almost reluctantly, her Texan drawl making her words even softer. “Emily, his wife, died last year. It’s almost as if he don’ wanna live without her. It’s been mostly little things, but I caught him several times. I never said nothin’ ‘cause he said he was fine, but I could tell. We’re losin’ him.”
“Really?” Danny asked, pieces falling into place. Knowing this, he figured it was likely that Hank had probably wandered away and forgotten how to get back or even where he was. If that was the case, they had a senile old man wandering around New York, possibly injured.
“What’s your name, ma’am?” he asked.
“Hannah Morrison,” she directed as he wrote.
Danny paused, recognizing the name. He looked up from his pad at her. “And you’re from where, originally?”
“Well, I live in Austin, but I’m originally from a small town in the panhandle, Tuscosa,” she replied, confused. “May I ask why that’s important, Agent Taylor?”
Danny couldn’t keep the smile from his face as he excused himself and went over to where Martin was talking to another of the travelers.
“Dude, you’re never gonna believe this,” he told his friend. “That woman I’m talking to is Hannah Morrison from Tuscosa, Texas. A town like that can’t have that many Morrison’s.”
“Here, can you finish this up?” Martin asked, already standing and handing Danny his note pad.
“No problem,” Danny replied to Martin’s back. “All right, Mister Simmons, how exactly did Hank seem, yesterday?”
Martin walked up to Hannah, suddenly unsure of himself. Deciding that it was too late to back out he introduced himself.
“Mrs. Morrison? My name is Martin Tanner.”
“Pleased to meet you, Agent Tanner, but may I ask what’s goin’ on?”
“Well, ma’am, my partner reacted the way he did because I’m looking for a Carrie Morrison. I believe she may help me find out some things about my mother, Rebecca Tanner.”
Recognition flashed across Hannah’s face.
“Carrie’s my sister-in-law. Becky Tanner was her best friend,” she said, smiling fondly. “What can I do for you, Agent Tanner?”
“My brother and I are trying to get in touch with Carrie. There’s something we need her to clear up for us. Is there any way you can tell me how to get in touch with her?”
“I’ll do ya one better. I’ll call her for ya myself.”
“I appreciate it,” Martin thanked her. “Tell her Vin Tanner’s tryin’ to contact her. She knows Vin, she’s met him before.”
“Will do,” she replied. “I hope she can give ya the answers you’re lookin’ for.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
He handed her his card, writing his cell number on the back, and stepped away. Pulling out his phone, he dialed a familiar number.
“You’re never gonna believe this.”
Carrie Morrison’s House
10 a.m. CDT
The case ended swiftly. Hank’s worsening dementia had prompted him to leave the hotel; He had simply wanted to go home. Forgetting where he was, he had wandered the streets for several hours, until some good Samarian had led him to a police station. There the police kept him while they tried to find out where he belonged. Fortunately, once the FBI APB was released, they knew where to take him. Hank was returned to the hotel, to the relief of the group, with an admonition to keep a tight watch on him until they returned to Houston and he could be turned over to the care of people trained to deal with Alzheimer’s.
Hannah called Martin later that evening. She had told Carrie that Rebecca Tanner’s sons were looking for her, and she eagerly agreed to meet with them. That led to the brothers meeting in the Houston airport.
Carrie’s flawless directions led to her home in the suburbs. As Martin drove, he could feel the tension radiating off of Vin in waves. He wanted to say something, but there was little he could say. This was something Vin had to come to terms with himself.
He presently pulled into Carrie’s driveway, and he sat there for a second before taking off his seatbelt.
Jus’ want this to be over, Vin replied, following his brother out of the car and up to the front door.
With one last glance at Vin, Martin knocked. Seconds later, the door opened to reveal a woman about Katherine’s age. She was petite, not much more than five feet tall, and the crow’s feet at her eyes indicated a life full of laughter. She took one look at the two of them standing there, and wrapped her arms around both of them as best she could.
“Oh, boys, you have no idea how happy I am to see the two of you together again!” she told them.
Martin took the affection in stride, not entirely sure what he had been expecting. Vin’s already worn nerves bristled at the attention, but Martin’s presence served as a good anchor.
“So what is it you boys want to know?” she asked once they were seated in her living room.
The twins shared a look before Martin spoke. They had decided that the most direct approach would probably be the best.
“We know Mama had an affair before we were born,” he began. “It would’ve been around the time we were conceived. Did Mama know if he was our father, or was Matt?”
Carrie’s face fell, though she retained her composure.
“She was snockered that night. I shouldn’t have left her alone, but I did, and I blame myself for what happened. When your mother found out she was pregnant, she asked the same question you did. She considered having a paternity test done, but ultimately didn’t. She decided that no good could come of it, and that as far as anyone was concerned, Matt was your daddy. But when ya’ll were born, she knew. She knew he wasn’t. She stood by her decision that confessin’ would only hurt everyone, so she never told anyone, ‘cept me.”
“Who was he?” Vin asked quietly.
“It was an Irish sounding name,” she replied as she combed her memory. “Fitzsimmons, Fitzpatrick…”
“Fitzgerald?” Martin asked, fearing but already knowing the answer.
“That’s it. Victor Fitzgerald.”
Martin was glad he was sitting, because his legs would surely have given out, otherwise. Vin saw Martin’s reaction, and he remembered the conversation they had had almost a week before. Martin’s theory had proven to be correct, but that didn’t make it any less painful. Martin had finally broken free of Victor, only to be retied to the snake. Anything Vin felt finding out that the man he had always believed was his father was only his father on paper paled in comparison to the near-panic Martin felt at finding out that the deputy director was his father after all.
“You were right,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry, Martin.”
“Would it be out of line to ask what you mean?” Carrie asked, almost afraid to intrude in something that seemed deeply personal.
Vin could tell Martin was nearing shock, so he spoke for him, “About a year after Mama died, Martin was adopted from the orphanage we were at. Up until about six months ago, he believed that his adopted parents were his birth parents. The man that took him was Victor Fitzgerald.”
“You mean ya’ll weren’t together?” she asked, shocked. “How could that happen?”
“The orphanage labeled me ‘special needs’ ‘cause I’m dyslexic. Victor didn’t want a son that might mar the family name, so he just took Martin and never told him he was adopted.”
“I can’t get away from him,” Martin said, finally coming to. “I’ll never be able to get away from him.”
“I’ll hazard a guess that Victor ain’t exactly a model citizen,” she supposed.
“Just the opposite, actually,” Martin replied. “He’s only had three speeding tickets in his life. He’s the deputy director of the FBI. On paper, he’s one of the cleanest men you’ll meet. It’s when you get past the mask and see the real thing that you see the devil. He’s had more affairs than I can count. He cuts down anyone who stands in his way, even if it’s his own son. I stood up to him, defending my boss, and he almost fired me for it.”
“Boys, I am so sorry,” Carrie said, eyes brimming. “If I could have taken you, believe me, I would have. I should have, and I regretted not doing it for years. I’m sorry I didn’t.”
Vin could tell she meant it, so he comforted her as best he could, “It ain’t your fault. Our childhoods might not’ve been ideal, but they made us who we are. We managed to find each other, and we’re happy with where our lives are now. If you’d taken us, we prob’ly wouldn’t be the people we are today.”
She smiled at them with a watery gaze. Impulsively, she went over and hugged them both. Vin was right; the lives they had lead had made them who they were.
“There wasn’t a day she didn’t regret what she did,” she said, “but she never regretted having you. She loved you boys more than anything.”
They moved the discussion to lighter topics, continuing well past lunch. It was well into evening when they bid their goodbyes, Vin and Martin promising to stay in touch.
9:30 p.m. CDT
They got some Chinese take-out and returned to the hotel Martin had called the night before. The food was unpacked and scattered across the small table in the room. The brothers were both silent as they ate. The quiet was only broken when Martin’s cell phone rang.
“So what’s the verdict?” Danny started immediately.
“Victor’s our father,” Martin tried to say as passively as possible, putting Danny on speaker.
There was a momentary pause as Danny considered this, “You’re kidding.”
“Oh, I wish we were,” Vin added.
Another pause. “Wow.”
“It actually makes sense, now,” Martin said. “Mama knew he was our father. When she knew she was dyin’, she tried to contact him, get him to take us when she was gone. That explains why he went to Texas to adopt instead of just adoptin’ around D.C.”
“What are you gonna do, now?”
“One last stop, then I’m gonna be done with him,” Martin replied, confident of something for the first time that day.
“I’m comin’ with ya,” Vin told him. He wasn’t going to let his brother face Fitzgerald alone.
“Can I come watch?” Danny asked, trademark Taylor grin evident in his voice.
That broke the ice, and the tension from the day melted. Danny stayed on the phone as the brothers ate, keeping the conversation lively. Danny found Vin and Martin’s interaction fascinating. Unlike Samantha, he easily saw the similarities in the brothers. There were several times he had to remind them to communicate verbally, a prolonged pause indicating an exchange that he could not hear, but he found it more amusing than anything. He knew that no matter the outcome of their “conversation”—and he used the term loosely—with Victor, they would be okay.
11 a.m. EDT
Once Martin explained the situation, Jack had readily granted the extra time off. Martin had then booked a flight to D.C. the next morning. Vin marveled that he’d flown more in the past six months since finding Martin than he’d flown in the past five years. Though not as uptight about flying as he had been, it was still not an extremely enjoyable experience.
When they reached Fitzgerald’s office, Martin noted that yet another secretary was seated behind the desk. He took a second to ponder the fact that his father went through secretaries faster than most people went through toothpaste.
“May I help you?” she sweetly asked. Yep, probably hasn’t been here much more than a month.
“Tell him Martin Tanner is here to see him,” he said, making sure to emphasize his newly minted name.
“Is he expecting you?” she asked, sickly sweet smile still in place.
“He’ll see me,” Martin countered, knowing the secretary’s questionnaire by heart. This was merely a formality, after all. The last time he’d been here, he’d walked straight past the secretary’s desk. This time, he made sure to stop, knowing the girl would have to give his name to her boss. He was making his point that he was no longer a Fitzgerald.
Unsure about the men standing before her, and not wanting to get fired, she scurried through the imposing maple doors separating them from Victor’s office. The deputy director was on the phone when she walked in. She didn’t want to interrupt him, but she didn’t know what to do, so she quietly cleared her throat.
“Just a second,” he told the person on the line, then covered the mouthpiece with his hand. “Yes?”
“Sir, I’m sorry to interrupt, but there’s a Martin Tanner here to see you.”
“What?” he asked, voice rising several decibels at the name. He turned his attention back to the phone, “John, I’m going to have to call you back.”
He hung up a bit more forcefully than necessary and told her to let him in. Even more afraid for her job, she hurried back out to where the identical mystery men waited.
“He’ll see you now.”
Martin traded a look with Vin before going through the ominous doors.
Let’s get this over with.
They had just barely closed the door behind them when Victor started in on them.
“Martin, what’s this I hear about you changing your name? Let me guess, you did it just to spite me, hm? You think something so petty is going to make me pay for a decision I made over thirty years ago?”
“Joining the FBI I did to spite you,” Martin corrected, doing his level best not to let his temper flare as it usually did around Victor. “Changing my name I did for me. I always was a Tanner, and I always will be a Tanner.”
“Please, I did you a favor, taking you from that God-forsaken place. No telling where you’d be now if I hadn’t. You at least owe me some thanks for that. Your entire life you’ve been set against me, despite all I did for you.”
“You’re right, we do owe ya thanks,” Vin chimed in before Martin could speak up. “No matter the road our lives took, we’re better men for it. We wouldn’t be where we are if it weren’t for you. So thank you. We owe our very existence to the fact that you’re a cheatin’ asshole.”
“Thank you for bein’ a selfish bastard that cares about no one but himself,” Martin continued. “Thank you for makin’ my life hell. Thank you for showin’ me what kind of man I don’t wanna be. Thank you for embodyin’ every evil in the world so I can avoid ‘em.”
“You’re going to break your mother’s heart,” Victor said after a brief pause.
Martin shook his head. It was a weak play, and Victor knew it, but Martin could tell he was scrambling.
“That never seemed to stop you,” Martin said. “I’m done playin’ by your rules. We’re done here.”
Vin leveled his best Larabee glare at Victor before following Martin out of the office. Their business with Victor over, they had one last stop before returning to New York.
Falls Church, VA
12:30 p.m. EDT
“Oh, and Mary, make sure the wine is chilled,” Katherine directed as she moved through the house to answer the door for her overloaded housekeeper. “You know how Mister Robbins gets. I’d rather avoid another incident over something as stupid as room-temperature wine.”
She opened the door and was met with a sight that stopped her dead in her tracks. “Martin?”
“Mom, there’s someone I want you to meet: my brother, Vin.”
Martin smiled as he watched the variety of emotions cross Katherine’s face. Vin greeted her and offered her his hand, and that seemed to make up her mind for as to how to react.
Swiftly, she crossed the threshold and wrapped her arms around him in an embrace that reminded Vin much of how his mother had held him. He wasn’t a very touchy-feely person, and he’d had more hugs in the past few days than he usually had in a year, but there was something inviting about Katherine that had him returning the embrace.
Martin looked on with pleasure. He’d known Katherine would latch on to Vin instantly, and he was glad to see Vin hesitantly accepting the gesture.
Presently, Katherine stepped back releasing Vin and wiping a stray tear from her eye.
“I was just about to have lunch,” she said, leading them into the house. “Would you boys care to join me?”
Martin cast a glance at his brother, letting Vin decide.
“That’d be nice, ma’am,” he replied. “We can’t stay for too long, though. We gotta get back to New York.”
“We’re havin’ dinner with Uncle Roger,” Martin smiled.
“Have you warned him about Claire?” Katherine chuckled.
“I think he can handle her,” he replied with a laugh of his own.
“Oh, and Vin, please call me Kate,” she directed. “Katherine is far too stuffy, and Mrs. Fitzgerald makes me feel far too old. Besides, it reminds me of that bastard I’m married to.”
“You could leave him, Mom,” Martin gently told her.
“No, I knew what I was getting myself into when I married him,” she protested. “I made my bed. Now I have to sleep in it. But enough of that. I want to hear about you two.”
New York City
LaGuardia International Airport
3:45 p.m. EST
“Keep it up, and ya might get to like flyin’,” Martin chuckled at his brother’s expense.
Vin simply glowered at him in response, “I stand by my belief that if man were s’posed to fly, he’d have wings. It just ain’t natural.”
“And you were an Army Ranger, imagine that,” Martin took one last jab, ducking as Vin swatted at his head.
As they waited for Vin’s flight to be announced, the brothers both took time to reflect on the past few days. Vin was taken aback by how welcoming Martin’s family had been—with the obvious exception of Victor, of course. Katherine—Kate, he corrected himself—had welcomed him with open arms, literally. She had not been surprised to find out Martin had changed his name. “You never really were a Fitzgerald,” she had said with a small smile.
Martin’s uncle and cousins were surprised to find out about Vin, but they were just as welcoming. Vin now understood the warning about Claire; the girl reminded him a lot of JD in temperament. His first introduction to her was comprised of her opening the door for them and, after a brief pause, shouting, “Holy crap, there are two of them!”
Martin chuckled at the memory, mainly because that had been the Seven’s reaction to him. It was nice to be on the other side of the fence.
Vin now understood why Martin had felt more at home with the Tolands than he had with his parents. Everything about them was warm and inviting. Bonnie’s influence, Martin had said. Vin was only sorry he would never meet her; everything he’d been told made him think her not unlike Nettie.
All to soon, Vin’s flight was called. The brothers stood, preparing for goodbye.
Not too sick of hugs, are ya? Martin asked.
Nah, Vin replied, after a moment’s consideration.
“Good,” Martin said, wrapping his arms around Vin.
“Watch your six,” Vin told him, returning the embrace.
“You too. Tell the boys that any that don’t have plans for Thanksgivin’ are welcome,” Martin added, stepping back.
“Will do,” Vin said, slinging his duffle over his shoulder.
With one last smile and wave, Vin left through the gate. With a sigh, Martin turned and went back to his car. He’d spent almost all of the past week with Vin; it would take a bit to get into the groove of things without him. But Thanksgiving wasn’t too far away.
He’d reached his car when his phone rang.
“Tanner,” he answered it, the name coming even more naturally than Fitzgerald had. “Yeah, I’m leavin’ LaGuardia now… That’s not too far. I can meet her in twenty minutes… Got it. On my way.”
Martin started the car and turned to meet Samantha at a missing person’s home address. There was no time to dwell. Life goes on, and he had work to do.