Vin stared out the window as the taxi drove past the country club, through the exclusive residential area, and up the driveway. When it parked in front of his grandparent's house, he got out and looked up at the manor. He had never thought he would see the day when he'd willingly return to this place. When he left six years ago, he vowed to never come back. But he had unfinished business to take care of.
After paying for the ride, he watched the taxicab drive down the winding drive. He turned away from the retreating taxi, walked up, and rang the doorbell. Within moments the door opened and a woman in a uniform looked over him with evident distaste. "Yes? May I help you?" she asked.
Vin didn't recognize her from the time he lived there. "Tell the Stantons' their grandson is here."
A small show of surprise flashed on the woman's face as she stepped back to let him in. It was clear she didn't want to, but couldn't risk insulting the man if his claim were true. "Please wait here." She gestured to a room he remembered to be the front sitting room, a common place to greet visitors.
Vin went into the room and wandered around. His eyes lit on a picture of his mother as a teenager. He smiled at her happy expression. He looked around the room and noticed many pictures of Caroline Stanton Tanner at various ages of life. Interspersed were photographs of Vin up to five years old. Then they skipped ahead to when he lived there. He wrinkled his nose in aversion at the picture of him at his high school graduation with a shorn head and a sharp suit. He'd left the next day.
"Vin." A soft voice called from the doorway. He turned to look at his grandmother, Elizabeth. She could never be thought of as a "grandma." Her hair was much greyer than it had been the last time he'd seen her and her face carried more lines. She wore an obviously expensive sweater set complete with pearl necklace, a picture of elegance and class.
"Ma'am." He nodded at her, but remained on the other side of the room.
"No need to be so formal." Her smile was tentative but warm. "It's good to see you."
Vin waited without speaking. Now that he was here and ready for the confrontation, he didn't quite know what to say.
His silence seemed to worry the older woman. "I'm having Teresa bring us some tea. Are you hungry? I could have Cook fix you something." She glided forward and sat down on an armchair.
"No, ma'am." Vin looked harder at her. He must be wrong. She couldn't have had anything to do with what happened.
"All right, then. George is on his way home. He was playing at the club, so I called and told him you'd returned."
The longhaired man showed no reaction to her words.
"He should be home in a few minutes," Elizabeth added.
Vin finally shook himself out of his self-imposed stupor. "Edgar still work for y'all?"
Confusion furrowed her brow. "Yes, of course, he's been very devoted. Why do you ask?"
"Wondering if he'd taken any trips lately."
Her confusion remained as she answered, "He took a personal day on Friday. His sister had taken ill."
"That so?" Vin walked around the couch to stand near the window.
"Vin, please. Can you tell me what's wrong?"
"I miss my father."
The bold statement and unexpected statement threw the woman aback. Her eyes wide, she looked at him with an expression coming close to fear or panic.
"I see you haven't learned to dress properly, young man." George Stanton announced as he came in the room. "Jeans and an old leather jacket is no way to make a suitable impression."
Vin backed up slightly from the newcomer, taking refuge behind a chair. "I figure I make whatever impression people take."
"And still a smart mouth."
"What are you doing here, boy?" George demanded. "Has hell finally frozen over?"
"He was asking about Edgar, dear," supplied his wife.
Vin noticed the look exchanged between the married couple. "I was just wondering how long you thought you'd keep it a secret."
"I have no idea what you are talking about."
"My father, Joshua."
"What about him?"
The blue eyes pierced through the other man's seemingly calm façade. Vin raged. "You had him killed."
Chris' cell rang. "Larabee."
Buck's voice came over the line. "We found out what flight he took. He went to Massachusetts."
"What the hell is there?"
"I don't know, pard. You might want to ask JD." Wilmington knew as well as Chris that the ex-cyber-detective would have more background about Vin.
"Will do. You get back here; we'll need to leave ASAP. And Buck?"
Larabee closed the cell phone and walked into the next room where his youngest team member was hunched over the computer. "You find anything yet?"
He noticed JD's hands weren't dancing across the keyboard. In fact, Dunne was staring at the monitor.
"JD, what is it? JD!" he called louder to get the boy's attention.
"I found him," the computer expert reported softly. "I found Edgar Burke."
"That's great. What's the problem?"
"He works for George and Elizabeth Stanton Vin's grandparents."
Chris' eyebrows shot up. He hadn't seen that coming, and he hated surprises.
"I decided to look back through my files I'd kept while on the job," JD continued. "And the name popped up almost immediately."
"And they live in Massachusetts," Chris stated.
"Yeah," Dunne said, looking at his boss in amazement. "Babson Park."
"Get packed all the essentials. As soon as everyone returns we're out of here."
JD nodded, hurrying to follow the order.
Chris watched JD leave and slammed his fist into the nearest wall. He started walking the length of the room. Vin wouldn't do anything crazy, would he? Chris didn't want to face the answer. Right now the sniper wasn't thinking clearly, running on anger and adrenaline. He knew that if Vin did anything in the heat of the moment he'd never be able to forgive himself.
Entering the ranch house, Nathan spotted his leader pacing. "No word yet?" he asked, looking around for JD and the others.
"We're going to Massachusetts. Everything ready?"
"Plane's ready when you are," Jackson said. "I'll get my supplies." Chris nodded absently as the medic left the room. He flexed his bruised fist, getting the circulation flowing as he went in search of their foreman, Francis Corcoran, to let him know they'd be leaving for an unspecified time.
He tried to listen to their explanations and excuses but all he could hear was a dull roaring in his ears. All the way out here -- on the flight, in the taxi --he'd told himself it couldn't be. It wasn't possible. That his own family, Christ! the mother of his ma, could've murdered his father. Yet here they were admitting it.
Years of festering pain and anguish erupted from Vin as he stood there listening. They weren't asking for forgiveness. They weren't asking for understanding. The horror that they'd done didn't seem to matter. "Shut up!" he yelled, cutting off his grandfather.
"How dare you shout at me," Stanton snapped, "after all we've done for you."
"You took away my life!" Vin screamed at him.
"We tried to give you a better one."
"Better than having a father?"
"He was immoral," George continued, adamantly. "He stole our daughter from us and then he took you, too. You were too young to remember."
"Not that young," Vin countered. "The last thing Mama ever said to me was, 'Boy, you're a Tanner. Don't you ever forget that'." Vin looked at his grandparents in disgust. "I think that was her way of telling me you people are nothing to me." He turned and started to march from the room.
George shot forward, grabbed Vin's arm, and swung him around. "Now you wait just a minute. We are still your flesh and blood."
The enraged young man shook his arm free. "Any blood I shared with you was spilled from my father's broken body and washed away."
Elizabeth didn't want to see her family torn apart; she tried to placate her grandson. "What's done is done. We thought it was for your own good. I'm sorry it had to happen, but no advantage can be had by fighting."
"If you ever come near me again I will kill you, make no mistake about that." Vin's voice contained nothing but hatred. "I'm reporting everything I know to the authorities. Let's hope your money can buy you a way out of the mess you've created." He stormed out, letting his fury carry him outside.
Once he was walking down the driveway he belatedly realized the taxi he'd ridden in was gone. Too upset to try to think of another solution, he started to walk. He barely remembered how he got here. The airport was a blur; the fact that he carried no luggage had raised an eyebrow, but since "traveling light" was not illegal, he had been able to get a flight out immediately.
When he'd landed in Massachusetts, he had snagged the first cab in line outside the airport and barked out the Stanton's address. The closer he got to their house the more apprehensive he'd become. What if they were responsible? What would he do? What could he do?
Now he knew the answer but he had no idea how to deal with the knowledge.
He continued to wander down the sidewalk, unaware of anything, including the car coming up fast behind him. It skidded into Vin, sideswiping him and then speeding away.
The young man flew through the air, landing painfully on the grass, knocking the breath from his body. He was achingly aware of someone screaming and someone else yelling, "Call 911!"
The voices faded as he tried to take a breath. All his energy was quickly focused inward as the agony intensified and became all- consuming. He cried aloud as someone touched his arm and he feebly attempted to brush them away. Whatever else he might have felt was lost as he drifted into nothingness.
2215 hours, Wednesday
Stanton Residence, Massachusetts
Six anxious and worried men arrived at the Stanton residence and Chris stepped forward, pounding on the door.
A small woman wearing a black dress with a white apron opened the door, certainly made wary by the violent beating. "May I help you gentlemen?" she asked.
Chris didn't bother with niceties, pushing past her. "Where's Vin?"
A large man emerged from a connecting room, a foul countenance displayed. "Who are you to barge into my house and make demands?" He dismissed the housekeeper with a wave.
"George Stanton?" The man nodded and Chris continued, "We're friends of Vin." He quickly introduced everyone; the names flew out fast and furiously.
"Is Vin here?" Josiah asked, trying in vain to keep the situation civilized.
"No," said Elizabeth Stanton. She stood in an adjacent doorway, wringing her hands. "We had words and he stormed out hours ago."
The ringing of Chris' cell phone stalled any response. "Larabee."
An Irish burr came over the line. "Chris, it's Francis."
Chris could only think of one reason why he would be calling. "Did you hear from Vin?"
"In a way. I just got a call from Mercy Medical in Wellesley, Massachusetts he's been admitted."
"What?! How is he?"
"They wouldn't say much except he's banged up pretty bad. You'd better get over there."
"Thanks, Francis. We're on our way." He closed his cell and turned to the Stantons. "Where's Mercy Medical?"
"It's over on Graham in Wellesley," George answered. "Why?"
"Vin is there."
The roomful of people showed various levels of shock, and began to shoot rapid-fire questions at Larabee. He raised his hand for silence and told them what little he knew. "We need to get to the hospital."
"You can follow us," Stanton declared. He grabbed his jacket and escorted his wife to the garage.
2300 hours, Wednesday
Mercy Medical Center
The Stantons apparently were smart enough not to get in Larabee's way. They let themselves be placed in the background as the man in black demanded information from the nurse at the desk. Unfortunately, no amount of bluster from Chris or charm from Ezra could get them any information on Vin's condition.
"I will send out his doctor as soon as he's able," the head nurse told Chris firmly. "Right now he is busy trying to save your friend's life."
The group had made quite a scene when they arrived en masse and attracted the attention of everyone in the waiting area.
"Excuse me, are you here for Vin Tanner?"
Chris turned at the voice to find a policeman standing behind him, notebook poised in his hand. There was another cop standing beyond. "Yes," Chris said, "is there something I can do for you?"
"I'd like a word with you, all of you, if you have the time."
"Of course," Nathan said. "Until the doctors are done with Vin we have nothing but time."
The two policemen, introducing themselves as Officers Tully and Winston, maneuvered the team and Vin's grandparents into a separate, empty room.
Officer Tully took point, asking the questions. "What is your relationship to Mr. Tanner?"
"He works for me," Chris answered easily, "and we are all his friends." His hand encompassed the rest of the team.
Stanton spoke up. "I am his grandfather, George Stanton, and this is my wife, Elizabeth. We are Vin's family."
Chris refrained from making a comment at that, but his anger shone.
The officer jotted down notes as he continued. "Do you know of anyone who would want to harm Mr. Tanner?"
"That's nonsense," burst in George. "Why would anyone want to hurt my grandson?"
"That's what we are trying to determine, Mr. Stanton," Officer Winston said. "Mr. Tanner was walking along Oak Street when a Lincoln Towncar swerved to hit him and then took off."
Mrs. Stanton stepped forward. "Are you certain it wasn't an accident?"
"Yes, ma'am. Witnesses confirm it was deliberate."
"Any idea who was driving?" Josiah asked.
Tully looked in his notebook. "We got a partial plate: 78G. They are trying to track down possibles now."
Elizabeth Stanton gave a small gasp and reached toward her husband for support. The action was not lost on Standish.
"Is there something you know about this, Mrs. Stanton?" he asked.
"Of course not," answered George before she could speak. He turned to the police officers. "I demand you stop asking questions of us and go find out who did this!"
"We are doing all we can, sir. We take attempted murder very seriously."
Elizabeth could no longer contain her emotions and started to sob silently, clinging to her husband.
"If you come up with anything, feel free to give us a call," Officer Winston said, handing Chris a card and pointedly ignoring the Stantons.
"Thank you very much, officers." Josiah followed the two out, making sure they'd gotten everything they needed.
The room went quiet when they left, everyone thinking of who might have wanted Vin dead.
"I guess there's nothing to do but wait," JD finally mused aloud.
"Not quite," Chris said. "Get on your laptop and see if anyone that Vin caught as a bounty hunter has been recently released."
JD's voice cut through Larabee's introspection. He lifted his head to see a doctor coming toward the group. They'd returned to the waiting room, and had been waiting -- not so patiently -- for over an hour. Chris stood to greet the doctor, and the Stantons stepped forward as well.
"You are here for Vin Tanner?" queried the physician.
"I'm Dr. Hasbrosinski, I've been treating Mr. Tanner." He shook hands with Chris and George and nodded to the rest of the group.
"How is he?" Josiah asked.
"Lucky, very lucky," the doctor replied. "From what I've heard, if the car had hit him dead on and not from the side, your friend probably would not have made it. As it is, he has numerous broken bones: his left wrist, his left leg, and four ribs. He has a severe concussion and deep bruising all over his body. He will have to stay in the hospital for a couple days, and will have some rehab after that, but he should make a full recovery."
"Ooh-wee!" yelled Buck. "I'm tellin' ya, that boy has more lives than a cat!"
Josiah sent up a prayer while Nathan thanked the doctor. Ezra and JD smiled, relief and happiness painted on their faces, and Chris silently thanked God for letting him keep his family for a bit longer.
A few hours later, Chris was standing inside the door to Vin's private room. He shook his head at the amount of wires and equipment attached to his friend. The heart monitor beeped steadily, the IV dripped. Luckily Vin's lungs were undamaged and wouldn't be forced onto a respirator. Underneath the bandages and plaster was his best friend, and Chris guiltily thought there was something he should've done to prevent this.
He walked over to the side of the bed, careful not to touch Vin, fearful of causing him more pain, even when unconscious. His left arm was in a cast from the elbow to the hand because his wrist was fractured in two places.
Knowing that the nurses would kick him out soon, Chris sat down and began to speak. "Hey, Slick. Looks like you really stepped in it this time, eh?"
There was no reaction from the unconscious man. That didn't stop Chris from talking to him.
"Everyone is waiting to see those baby blues. JD is driving Josiah crazy, Buck is hitting on every nurse, and Ezra lost two hands of cards to Nathan, so you know he's upset." Chris snorted. "Your grandparents are here, too, although I'm not sure if that's a comfort or not." He suspected that the Stantons knew more than they were willing to admit. He'd find out sooner or later.
"I give us about another hour before we get kicked out of the hospital, so waking up would be a plus. You could talk to the doctor and tell him--"
"Y'know," interrupted a tired voice, "some people are tryin' to sleep." Vin cleared his throat, and gradually opened his eyes.
Chris smiled widely, jolting up straight. "You're awake!"
"Yep." Vin's voice cracked. "Could I ?" He motioned to his throat.
"Oh, yeah." Chris got him some water, letting him drink a few sips. "How you feeling?"
"Like I got hit by a bus. What happened?"
"You got hit by a car." Larabee nearly laughed when Vin rolled his eyes. "You were very lucky."
"Don't feel that way right now." Vin tried to shift and groaned as his wrapped ribs protested the movement.
"Don't move around," Chris told him.
"Yeah," Vin panted, "I kinda figured that part out m'self." He couldn't see the extent of his injuries from his reclined position. "How bad?"
"Broken wrist, broken leg, concussion, and you're gonna be a beautiful display of bruises tomorrow."
"Shit," he breathed. "Am I gonna be okay?" Vin's voice quavered slightly.
Chris was quick to reassure him. "With a little PT, you'll be springing cartwheels in no time."
Vin smiled slightly and relaxed, knowing his best friend would never lie about something like that. His reprieve was short-lived as Larabee decided to unload some of the worry and frustration he'd been carrying around.
"Can you tell me why you're such a dumbass?" Chris asked bluntly. "Why didn't you wait for us? We would've come with you, but instead you take off on your own." He got up and started to pace around the room. "Don't you realize you're part of a team, a family?"
"I don't know what I was thinking," Vin admitted. "Or even if I was thinkin'. I just reacted."
"You reacted by taking off!"
"It's what I'm best at," yelled Vin, straining his voice. He fell back against the bed with a grimace.
Chris calmed down when he noticed the nurse headed his way, clearly intending on saving her patient from distress. "All right, I'll let you off the hook for now. But we are definitely going to discuss this when you're feeling better."
Vin yawned and nodded. "No problem, boss. Anytime." He dropped his head to the side and drifted off to sleep.
The blond nodded as the nurse motioned for him to leave. "Glad to have you back, Tanner," he whispered on his way out.
Vin woke up to the feeling of someone caressing his cheek. He pried his eyes open and saw Elizabeth Stanton gazing down at him.
When she saw him wake, she smiled shyly, and said, "Hello, Vin."
He frowned in confusion and asked, "What are you doing here?"
Her smile disappeared and she drew her hand back from his face. "We came to make sure you were okay." She motioned to her husband and he stepped forward. "And also to apologize."
The injured man remained silent, waiting.
"I'm afraid it was Edgar who ran into you."
"Really." Vin's voice remained a monotone.
"Dear Edgar. He thought he was protecting us." Elizabeth shook her head mournfully.
George looked down at his grandson uneasily. "He overheard your threat and was determined to keep you from following through. We had no idea."
Vin looked at the people who were supposed to be his family. "Would you have stopped him?"
The two older people were stunned by the scornful tone. "I guess we deserve that," Elizabeth admitted.
"And did you have him kill Tandy? Finish your dirty work for ya?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Dear Edgar paid Tandy's cellmate to make sure he never left prison."
Elizabeth shook her head in denial, and George's stone face faltered.
"That's not true," he whispered.
"It is true." Vin turned his face away from them. "You need to go." He refused to look at them, focusing on a landscape print on the opposite wall.
Elizabeth and George exchanged a look of sorrow.
"We're going straight to the police station to turn ourselves in," she told him. "We just wanted to say goodbye." She reached out and touched Vin on the hand, not surprised when he pulled it away.
"Goodbye, my boy," George managed to get out as he looked at his grandson, broken because of his actions. "I am sorry," he choked out as he escorted his wife out.
The door closed behind them and only then did Vin look in that direction. But he could summon no tears for the loss of his grandparents; he'd already lost too much. He closed his eyes and let the drugs send him to sleep.
At last, his sleep was dreamless.
When he woke next, Chris was in the chair next to his bed, pretending to read the latest Cosmo.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey, yourself. Leastways you're sounding better."
"Learn anything?" Vin asked, nodding at the magazine.
"I found out five ways to seduce a man," Chris said, grinning.
"You just stay on your side of the room, buddy."
They stayed wrapped in a comfortable silence. Chris let his friend decide when he was ready to talk. After a few minutes Chris thought Vin had drifted off to sleep when the younger man whispered, "They're gone."
"It's finally over."
"That it is."
Vin turned to lock eyes with his best friend, his brother. "I still miss him."
"That feeling won't ever go away completely."
"Great, something to look forward to. They even admit to having him killed 'for my own good.' What a family tree, huh?" Vin said, derisively. "Makes me want to hang m'self from it."
"All families have problems."
Vin was incredulous. "Like this?"
"Okay, maybe not quite like this," Chris admitted.
"I want to go home," the patient stated with quiet intensity. He yawned, struggling to stay awake long enough to get his point across.
"Just waiting for the doc's okay," Chris told him as he patted Vin's good leg. "You'll be fine."
"I know." Vin smiled. As he started to drift off to sleep, he mumbled, "I have the support of my real family."
1300 hours, Sunday
Vin's houseboat, SS Bounty
Chris smiled as he watched Vin clomp out onto his dock. His friend was still moving gingerly, healing from the multitude of injuries he'd gotten the previous week.
Nathan had wanted Vin to stay at the main house with the rest of them until he was healed, but Vin would have none of that. He told them straight out that he would heal faster on the boat. No one believed him, but after all he'd been through, none of them wanted to force him to do anything. They decided they'd simply take turns stopping by. The young man's leg was broken low enough that he had a walking cast. He could do most everything himself, but Nathan was still wary of him staying on a boat while his balance was off. Chris wasn't worried; Vin's natural grace would shine through even in the two casts.
The Stantons had pled guilty for Conspiracy to Commit Murder. It came with a sentence of 20 years to life, but Larabee figured with all their money they'd be able to plea bargain down. They had also hired a lawyer for Edgar Burke, who was looking at more serious charges. The driver showed his faithful dedication to the Stantons, accepting all the blame for Tandy's murder and Vin's "accident."
While still in the hospital, Vin had talked to Orrin and, with Travis' lawyers, set up a scholarship in his mother's name to a music academy using the money from his trust. He told Chris that he'd needed to use their money to help people, and this way others would remember her.
Larabee followed Vin onto the boat and stood, watching his friend try to settle in. He noticed Vin eying him with a sly smile. "What?"
"We're friends, ain't we?" he asked, leaning against the rail of his boat.
"The best," Chris answered without hesitation.
Vin stood with his arms spread wide.
"What are you doing?" Chris asked, raising a brow in suspicion.
"I think I need a hug."
If his friend was feeling cheerful enough to yank his chain, Chris knew he'd be fine. "Fuck off, Tanner."
The ex-bounty hunter cackled, knowing things were back as they should be.
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