Blood Ties

by Debra Noellert

Chapter 4

Danny and Vin moved to the side of the hospital hallway to let a gurney pass. Danny was still trying to decide what to make of his uncommonly quiet shadow. Vin had been willing enough to volunteer information regarding the case, but the few more personal questions Danny had slipped in were met with short firm answers that made it clear he wasn't going to let Danny past his guard. When it came time to interview Juan Espinoza, the perp that JD had wounded, Vin seemed happy to let Danny take the lead with questioning. Juan's initial refusal to speak in anything but Spanish left Danny wondering how much Vin understood of what was being said. Then Juan balked at talking about Starkweather. Vin to shift from his grim stance to lean over the bedridden criminal with threats of dire consequences. Danny learned right then that not only did Vin speak fluent Spanish, but his Spanish actually bore less of a Texas accent than his English. Vin had been intimidating enough to wring a street name and general location out of Juan.

Taking his cell phone out, Danny dialed Jack to let him know where they were heading next. "Jack, it's Danny. Juan said that he thought Starkweather had a place somewhere on 3rd Avenue in Spanish Harlem. He couldn't or wouldn't get anymore specific than that."

In a small house in another part of town Jack looked across the kitchen to Chris. "Well, you're doing better than us. Mark Palof is now missing, just like his brother. Apparently, the surveillance team didn't notice him leave out the back door."

"Maybe a search of the house will turn up something," suggested Danny.

"We've already got that started," said Jack. "But my gut tells me there isn't anything here. This is Matthew's house, and I don't think Mark was planning to stick around long enough to set down roots." Across the room Chris held up a piece of paper. "Oh, Mark left a note for you and Martin."

"He left us a note?" The cell phone signal was clear, but he still had a hard time believing Mark would do such a thing. It wasn't like they had bonded during the interrogation.

"It reads, 'FBI Agents Fitzgereld and Tayler,' he misspelled both of your names by the way. 'If my brother and I turn up dead, Miguel Starkweather did us. - Mark Palof. P.S. He also uses the names Mike Stark and Miguel Coltrane.'" Jack recited. "Chris says that using the alias 'Coltrane' is new. Other than that, we got nothing."

Settling into a plastic chair in the hospital waiting room, Danny relayed the short note to Vin. After a second Vin asked, "Do you mind if I talk to Chris a minute?" Danny quickly passed on the request, handing off the cell phone a second later. "Chris, do you remember there being any reference to 'aguila' in connection with Coltrane or Starkweather?"

"Aguila?" repeated Chris without comprehension. When he got only a confused shrug from Jack, he asked, "What's it mean?"

"Well, 'aguila' is the Spanish word for eagle," explained Vin, "but something about the way Juan said, 'on 3rd Avenue, as the eagle flies,' made me think he was alluding to more then we were getting. His doctor interrupted before I could question him further."

"I can't place the reference, but check with Ezra. I focused mostly on Coltrane. He's the one that got into Starkweather's head," insisted Chris.

"Guess I'm getting a tour of 3rd Avenue next," said Vin. "I'll keep in touch. If you don't hear from us, come hunting." Vin returned Danny's cell and the two headed for the parking garage.

+ + + + + + +

"I believe I've convinced Mr. and Mrs. Hughes that it would be for the best for them to continue on with their planned trip to Scotland, and let us deal with any possible theft," drawled Ezra.

"I doubt it's coincidence that Matthew was snatched one day before the Hughes family was planning to leave the country," theorized Martin.

"Starkweather couldn't risk having his plot revealed so close to fruition," agreed Ezra.

"I think you're right about someone in the Hughes household staff passing information to Starkweather. Coming in as insurance adjusters was a good call," said Martin.

"You did make quite the convincing security analyst," Ezra returned the compliment. "May I assume you had no difficulties obtaining the security program Mr. Palof created?"

Martin tapped his computer bag in response. "Hopefully Mack and JD can find something in it."

"I have procured keys, security codes, and the Hughes family's permission to stage an operation in their home if necessary," added Ezra.

Sliding the computer bag in the back and taking the driver's seat, Martin admitted, "I hope we can find Starkweather before then. We already know that Matthew Palof was injured during the kidnapping. He might not last another twenty-four hours."

"Perhaps our compatriots were able to discern Miguel's safe haven." Ezra sat in the passenger seat making no attempt to hide his study of Martin. In theory, Josiah was the team's profiler, but in reality Chris insisted everyone on the team practice creating profiles on a regular basis, an easy task given Ezra's experience with human nature. His first concern, that Martin would turn out to be a younger version of his father, was being quickly dismissed. From the beginning, the missing person had been first and foremost in all of Martin's actions. He seemed easy going, but Ezra suspected a fierce temper lay below the surface. In some ways, Martin's obvious moral code and strong need to help others reminded Ezra of Nathan, but he'd also witnessed Martin make a couple of intuitive leaps the likes of which he'd come to expect from Chris.

Stopping for a traffic light enabled Martin to meet Ezra's gaze. He clearly realized Ezra was assessing him, but he stayed silent, making no attempt to sway Ezra one way or another. His quiet acceptance was in fact, the first Vin-like act Ezra had seen from Martin.

The light turned green, and Martin refocused on the road leaving Ezra to his thoughts. They drove several miles before Martin broke the silence with a question. "So, the code JD used to rate Jack; how did that come about?"

It wasn't a question he'd been expecting, but Ezra was more than willing to stick to 'safe' conversation. "Our team works numerous high profile cases, not only in our Denver, CO headquarters, but also in Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas. This leads to many encounters with other law enforcement agencies, some of which are less than appreciative of our assistance, and others who are less than competent to surmount the challenge presented. Chris made it standard operating procedure for the first agent into a situation to assess the abilities of those we'd likely be working with. This rating is passed on to Chris so he can decide whether or not to take command. When JD said, 'Alpha, alpha,' he was rating both Mr. Malone's ability as a lead investigator and the likelihood of him providing full cooperation to our team. Actually, there's only one other person who's received an alpha, alpha rating; Ryan Kelly who leads the ATF's Team Eight."

"Then what about the other stuff he was saying; titanium pillars and structural rust?" wondered Martin.

"'Titanium pillars' was JD's assessment of the rest of your team. Be assured there is no higher rating. You and your partner seem to have impressed young Mr. Dunne." The way Ezra spoke indicated they were still a ways away from impressing Ezra. "'Structural rust' referred to the support system outside your team. I believe Van Doren's earlier political play is why that rating was less than average," Ezra explained.

Martin mulled over what Ezra had said before changing the topic. "So, why did you leave the FBI for the ATF?" Martin had been attempting to get to know Ezra better with some light conversation, but the tense, silence that greeted his question told him he might have hit a minefield. "I'm sorry," said Martin, "you don't have to answer that."

Ezra considered letting the topic drop, but decided that since Martin was likely to hear about it one way or another, it was better for it to come from him. "You've been with the Bureau long enough to have witnessed an OPR investigation?"

"More than one," Martin admitted grimly.

"The majority of my work attire consists of thousand dollar suits. My car is a three year old, black Jaguar. Those two things combined with my then supervisor's opinion that I was too good at undercover work, was enough for OPR to start investigating me. They questioned my coworkers, friends and family. They subpoenaed my financial records. All of which was within their rights," Ezra conceded. "The one thing they didn't do was question me."

Ezra's only acknowledgement of Martin's surprised look was to continue his tale. "I was under deep cover at the time, meeting with my handler no more than once or twice a week. Here, the story becomes a bit more complicated. My handler claimed he was instructed not to tell me of the investigation. The head OPR inquisitor said he never issued such an order. Regardless, he found no indication I was accepting bribes, as all of my funds were legitimately accounted for, but he refused to close the investigation until he'd spoken to me personally, per regulations. Meanwhile, my supervisor decided I was providing too much intelligence to be pulled out on OPR's whim. So the investigation remained open for months while my supervisor and the OPR investigator continued their pissing contest, and I worked my cover; oblivious to what was happening to my career. Many of my colleagues; seeing an OPR investigation that had been going for months with no sign of closing came to the inevitable conclusion that I must have been on the take. When the case I was working on came to a crisis point, I signaled for emergency backup. Only two agents responded; a young idealistic fellow from Minnesota by the name of Meister, and Dupree, an INS agent I'd contacted a couple weeks before when I learned my target was part of an international human trafficking ring. The three of us held off a small army for six long minutes, before the local authorities arrived. Mysteriously, none of my coworkers besides Meister received my distress signal, or so they claimed. No malfunctions could be isolated in any of their equipment."

"I can understand not wanting to work with the same people who'd left you to die." Martin couldn't imagine being abandoned like that. Even when OPR had been hunting Jack and the Spaulding case was swirling down the toilet, he'd still believed the team would be able to pull through it together. Still, that investigation had only gone on for a short time. How different would things have been if it had continued for months?

"I think I could have accepted their distrust; suspicion is part of human nature, but I couldn't forgive their lack of action, not when it caused the death of an innocent," commented Ezra.

"Meister or Dupree?" queried Martin in a grim tone.

"Ming Po. She was the youngest of four Chinese girls that had been forced into sexual slavery, barely twelve-years old. They were about to be shipped off to an unknown brothel when I interceded." Ezra shook his head at his own foolishness. "I promised them that I could keep them safe if they went with me. My target was most determined to maintain his freedom. He knew the only way that would happen, was if there were no witnesses, so he ordered his people to kill the girls. They shot two of the girls before we could stop them. Little Ming Po didn't make it." Ezra sighed. "I was already teetering on the brink of burnout from being so long undercover. Learning how the OPR's investigation led to a lack of backup was more than enough to convince me to put in my resignation. I was serving the last few days of my notice when Mr. Larabee came to Atlanta to recruit me."

"I don't know that I would have been willing to stick with Federal service after something like that," admitted Martin.

"I wasn't planning to myself," conceded Ezra. "Chris can be quite persuasive when he sets his mind to it."

+ + + + + + +

Sam was glad to be stepping back into the office. She visited hospitals often enough through work investigations, but it was always more frustrating when you were the one waiting to hear from the doctor. Amusingly enough, JD had been right; his ribs were only bruised. Nothing was broken, torn or bleeding, so the doctor sent them off with some muscle relaxants and pain medication, warning that JD would likely to be stiff and sore the next morning.

JD seemed happy with the outcome. His earlier quiet pose combined with his sad eyes had left Sam feeling so sorry for him, that she'd done her best to cheer him up. Now his pleasure at being allowed back to work, even if only at desk duty, had him rambling on about all the differences between Denver and New York, both as cities and as work environments. JD had already given her a detailed rundown on both the previous case involving Morgan Coltrane, and more recent events including their barely escaped ambush. JD's description had been harrowing enough to make Sam want to rush back to the office and check Martin and Danny over personally. Never mind that she'd already seen they were fine when she'd gotten back with Jack. However, now that she was here the only familiar faces she saw were Elena and Vivian.

"Hey Viv, Elena," said Samantha. "I'd like to introduce JD Dunne from the ATF." She motioned to the agent at her side.

"I heard we'd been taken over by the ATF," commented Vivian, her tone a bit more reserved than usual.

"Actually," countered Sam, "they've been letting Jack call all the shots on the investigation." Unable to resist, Samantha had to ask, "Did you hear that one of their agents is a virtual clone of Martin?"

"Really?" Both Viv and Elena looked surprised.

"Yep," Sam smiled. "Now I know what Martin looks like with long hair. It's kind of sexy, in a rough and ready way." That brought a chuckle from Elena and raised eyebrows from Vivian. "In fact, every member of Team Seven that I've met is total eye-candy. It almost makes up for the testosterone overdose."

Slowly JD eased into a chair at the table a few feet away, no longer bothering to hide his sore ribs. He wasn't quite sure how to take the conversation the ladies were having. He supposed he should be flattered since her statement would seem to include him. On the other hand this situation reminded him a bit too much of high school where all of the girls felt totally relaxed talking to and around him but were never interested in actually dating him. Not that he needed to date any of these women; he had Casey. It would just be nice if for once someone swooned over him the way others always did around Buck . . . or Chris and Ezra. Vin got plenty of looks; hell even Nathan and Josiah got more looks than he did. Working with women agents was not good for his ego.

"It is good to see you were able to rejoin us Mr. Dunne," said Ezra as he and Martin entered the bullpen. "Per Agent Malone's instructions you are to get with Mr. Mackeroy and find out how Mark Palof planned to get past the Hughes security system."

Martin handed JD the small flash drive that held the information on the program Mark had written. Then he turned back to his coworkers. "Vivian Johnson, Elena Delgado, this is Ezra Standish."

Ezra politely shook Elena's hand, but when Vivian offered her hand he instead raised it to his lips. "An honor and a pleasure to meet you Special Agent Johnson. Joshua Meister speaks quite highly of you."

Vivian recognized the name with surprise. "Do you know Joshua from work?"

"Indeed," smiled Ezra, "he saved my life, about a year and a half ago, in more ways than one."

"That sounds like Joshua, always trying to save everyone from everything," grinned Vivian.

A deep new voice asked, "Does anyone mind if I join the party?" Josiah Sanchez entered the bullpen followed by a black suited escort. "I have a few profiles you might want to look at."

Vivian stepped forward to greet the newcomer. "You must be Josiah Sanchez. I'm Vivian Johnson and this is Elena Delgado and Samantha Spade. I believe you've already met Martin."

"Yes, early this morning, though quite a bit has happened since then," commented Josiah. "I thought I'd let my class get a bit of practice profiling on a hot case. Hearing that they were analyzing the same criminal that had attempted to ambush three federal agents earlier today was an excellent motivator." Josiah set two piles of papers on the table, tapping the thicker stack. "These are the profiles on Starkweather. I also had some of the more advanced students try to profile Mark Palof based on the tape of the interview done this morning."

"Are they any good?" asked Jack as he, too, returned to the bullpen. Chris walked a couple steps behind, murmuring in low tones to the person on his cell phone.

"Agent Anaya has a very intuitive feel for profiling, and I also thought Agent Njada had some worthwhile insight into Mark Palof's motives." Josiah extended his right hand. "Am I correct in assuming that you're Special Agent Malone?"

"Call me Jack," he greeted. Noting the faces in the room he added, "Looks like we've almost got a full house."

"So," asked Elena, "Where are Danny and Agent Tanner?"

"At their last check-in they were going to try to canvas 3rd Avenue." Turning to Ezra he continued, "Speaking of which, did Vin get a hold of you?"

"Yes," assured Ezra. "El Aguila was the street name Miguel Starkweather ran under in his former L.A. gang. Though I am at a loss to comprehend how it relates to his current whereabouts."

"Every piece of the puzzle helps," said Jack as he added Mark's note and a few other notations to the white board. Chris ended his cell call and joined Jack to examine the timeline. Thinking back on their earlier conversation, Jack asked, "Do I even want to know what Josiah's blind spot is?"

"Shapely, mature blondes," replied Chris with a chuckle. "They turn his mind to goo."

"Especially, Ezra's mother," piped up JD.

"An extraordinary woman, Maude," agreed Josiah with a glazed smile.

Ezra let out a very unsophisticated snort. "Need I remind you that the last time you saw her, Mother took you for almost three thousand dollars?"

Josiah only grinned wider. "And worth every penny."

"Three thousand dollars? That must have been some date," commented Martin.

"Mother doesn't date men, she cons them," clarified Ezra.

"Seriously?" Martin hadn't expected to hear Ezra say something like that about his mother.

"I didn't learn the ins and outs of undercover work from the FBI," Ezra asserted firmly. "Mother insisted I earn my keep at an early age. I was participating in cons before I was old enough to cross the street on my own."

Shaking her head at what passed for parenting techniques for some women, Vivian recommended, "3rd Avenue's too large of an area for Danny and Vin to cover by themselves. We need to get more people out there."

"Too many people," countered Jack, "and we risk tipping our hand. The last thing we want is a hostage crisis or another ambush." Jack moved over to a city map. Danny said he and Vin were going to start here and work their way north. Sam, Elena, I want the two of you to take the other end of 3rd and work your way south. Keep a low profile, stay in regular contact and don't leave the building until you've vested up." Grabbing a few items the two agents headed out.

"If we can't send in more people, we need to narrow our focus," pointed out Vivian.

"Right," agreed Jack. "Find out who owns the businesses, who rents the apartments, anything to start eliminating possibilities."

One of the office phones started ringing and without missing a beat Chris picked it up answering, "FBI, Missing Persons' Unit."

"He does that well," commented Vivian, pleasantly surprised by how well their teams were working together.

"He seems to do a lot of things well," agreed Jack. During the afternoon, Chris had impressed Jack as a man of thoughtful action.

"I'm going to put you on speaker phone," Chris informed the caller. He tapped a button on the console, set down the head set and ordered, "Shoot, Buck."

"Well, first off," came a deep twang that Jack would have expected to hear in some John Wayne western, "Donnie Espinoza isn't in jail like we thought."

"What happened?" asked Chris.

"An overcrowded prison combined with some good behavior from Espinoza. He was only released about three weeks ago. The system hasn't been updated yet. We still wouldn't know he was out if Nathan hadn't insisted on verifying his location in person."

"Donnie Espinoza is the guy that helped Miguel Starkweather kidnap Olivia last year, right?" Martin asked for verification.

"Yep, and we think there's a good chance he was the third man in the ambush today," said Buck. "Especially since Juan Espinoza, the perp you hospitalized, is his cousin. I'm faxing a photo array to see if any of you can ID him from the warehouse."

An idea clicked in the back of Martin's mind, and he moved to his desk to verify it. He looked back through the list of convicts that had severed during the same time as Mark Palof. Leafing through the papers until he found the list of prisoners for nine months ago, Martin scanned for a particular name. "Juan Espinoza served time with Mark Palof. They were on the same cellblock together."

"So Mark was at least in on the plan to steal the Hughes' gold," guessed Jack, "but we still don't know what part he played in his brother's kidnapping."

"I'm also sending the hard copy for the latest interviews with the Greer's," added Buck over the speaker. "Terry couldn't give us much as Miguel joined Coltrane while she was in jail, but Olivia remembered Miguel from the kidnapping. She said, for the most part he ignored her, but when she tried to sneak out a bathroom window, he caught her, tossed her on the bed and told her she should thank God, Coltrane had a problem with hurting kids, because if it were up to him, she wouldn't be so lucky." Buck paused to get a handle on his outrage. "Chris, you know what a tough little kid Olivia is. Starkweather scared the hell out of her."

Vivian pulled the photo array off the fax machine and set it down before JD. "Does anyone look familiar?" she asked. Martin came over to examine the pictures too, but quickly realized that though he'd seen Starkweather during the firefight, he'd never gotten much of a look at the other two.

One of the six faces jumped out at JD right away, but he carefully took a moment to study each photo and be certain of his identification. "This guy." He tapped one of the faces. "Number five was the third member of the ambush. His hair is a bit longer and he was wearing sideburns this morning, but that's him."

"Are you sure it was number five?" asked Buck through the speaker.


"It's confirmed then. Donnie is working with Starkweather again," Buck said grimly. "You should already have everything we've got on him. We won't be able to help out much beyond what we've already done. Besides having court tomorrow afternoon, the Russell case has picked up again. And don't worry Chris I've already talked to Ryan Kelly, and his team will backstop Nathan and me if it hits a crisis point."

No one missed the look of frustration that crossed Chris's face. "Okay, but I want copy on everything that happens, and tell Kelly to expect a call from me."

"You got it Stud," Buck tossed out the familiar nickname. "Before we end, Nathan wanted to have a choice word or two with JD."

"Awe, hell, Buck can't you just tell him I'm not here," pled JD.

"Not a chance," scolded Buck. "You'll be lucky if I don't chain you to your desk when you get back to Denver. What the hell were you thinking, not telling anyone you'd been shot? I swear, sometimes I think my horse has more common sense than you."

"Come on, Buck . . ." As JD continued to try to plead his case, Josiah, behind him, seemed hard pressed not to laugh out loud.

"Three to one; says Nathan figures out that JD hasn't taken any of the medication he's been prescribed." Tossed out Ezra.

Before Jack, Vivian or Martin could respond Josiah and Chris both chimed in, "Sucker bet."

"Is that JD I hear," came a new voice over the speaker. "JD, I want you to read me the instruction the doctor gave you. I want to know what medicine he prescribed, too. And you better not tell me you haven't taken any pain killers yet."

"But they always make me feel so dopey," complained JD. As he and Nathan continued to negotiate JD's medical treatment, the others got back to the business at hand.

"As entertaining as it is to listen to Nathan lecture JD, I do have to get back," declared Josiah. "I doubt I'll be invited to return if I, the instructor, start cutting class. I'll stop back when the seminar is done, if you don't mind," he suggested.

Jack nodded. "At the very least, JD and Mac will still be around, and probably eager for a helping hand."

Several farewells followed Josiah down the hall. JD accepted a bottle of water from Ezra and took two of the pills he'd been prescribed. Nathan, satisfied with Ezra's assurance that JD had indeed swallowed them, ended the call.

Across the table, Martin realized that he was staring at JD's pain medication and shook himself to force his mind away from its dangerous path. He grabbed one of the Starkweather profiles Josiah had brought up. Not even four lines into it Martin could feel someone watching him. Glancing up he found Ezra's steady gaze. Then Ezra's eyes flicked to JD's painkillers for a moment before sliding back to Martin, his brows rising meaningfully. Humiliation swamped Martin at being caught staring longingly at pain medication. Unprepared to make any public explanations, Martin pulled his keys out of his pocket and set them on the table, the small key chain proclaiming his sobriety plain to see. Without shifting his stance, Ezra took in the key chain and gave Martin just the slightest nod of understanding. That should have been enough to ease Martin's mind, but suddenly a new fear emerged. There was a fair segment of the law enforcement population that believed: once a drug abuser, always a drug abuser. What if his reunion with his brother was over before it could even start because Vin didn't want to associate with a recovering addict? Martin took a deep breath, and reminded himself that he couldn't worry about how Vin might react when the life of an innocent man depended on his ability to focus on the case. "Jack, what kind of parameters are you thinking about for eliminating 3rd Avenue locales? Are we assuming that Starkweather couldn't have been at his current base of operations for longer than nine months?"

"That fits with when he seems to have shown up in New York," agreed Jack. "Let's not overlook the obvious. Start checking for anything rented or leased under Starkweather's name, as well as, his aliases. JD, start working on that security program with Mack. If we can't find where they're holding up tonight, we'll need to be waiting for them at the Hughes' in the morning."

JD grabbed his stuff and went off in search of Mack, while Vivian sat down next to Martin with a phone book and a note pad. "We're going to be at this all night," she predicted, but the memory of the blood found in the front seat of Matthew Palof's car kept her from begging off to have dinner with her family.

More than an hour passed as Chris, Ezra, Jack, Martin and Vivian tried to verify every business and residence on 3rd. During that time Vin and Danny checked in twice with little to report. Sam and Elena hadn't done any better on their check-in. JD and Mack seemed to be progressing well with their work, but about the only thing those working in Missing Persons' had learned was that Ezra was quite fluent in Spanish. Whenever one of the others started struggling to communicate with a Hispanic, Ezra had deftly taken the phone and handled the conversation. Something Jack in particular had seemed to appreciate.

"What was the gang name Starkweather used to go by?" asked Vivian.

"El Aguila," said Ezra paying more attention to what he was reading on his laptop screen.

"Spelled A-G-U-I-L-A?" she verified.

That was enough to shift Ezra's focus. "Correct."

"I've got an Aguila Empresa that leased an office space seven and a half months ago." Vivian tapped a few more keys to bring her more information, a smile ghosting across her lips. "The name listed on the lease is M. Coltrane."

"Eagle Enterprise," Ezra translated. "I'm quite certain Morgan Coltrane never possessed holdings east of the Mississippi," added Ezra, confident that Agent Johnson was on to something.

"Mark's note did say that Starkweather was using the alias Miguel Coltrane," Chris pointed out.

"That's enough for me," said Jack. "Martin, have Danny and Vin check out Aguila Empresa next."

Chapter 5

"Yep, that's Starkweather and Mark Palof," confirmed Danny, returning Vin's spyglass. "It's about time we caught a break." He was glad he'd agreed with Vin's suggestion to approach the building from the side. They'd circled around the back of the building, identifying an exit that Sam and Elena were now covering. They then proceeded into the abandoned office space across the alley, giving them a great view of Starkweather's windows.

The rest of their teams were on the way, but it would be several more minutes before they arrived. That left them with the job of watching the criminals and hopefully locating Matthew Palof. Danny was betting he was in the room that Starkweather had just dragged Mark out of. Starkweather had wedged a chair under the doorknob so whoever was inside couldn't get out. Starkweather and Palof weren't alone; they'd also seen Donnie Espinoza and another man they couldn't identify.

"JD," radioed Vin, "any way you can get your hands on the blue prints for this building?"

"I'm pulling them as we speak," came the disembodied voice over their headphones.

Vin set down his bag, tying back his hair. Danny watched as Vin pulled out a Winchester 70. "Miguel Starkweather is hands down the most dangerous man in there, so I'll be making him my primary target. I need you to watch for any of the others trying to approach that blocked door. We can't let this become a hostage standoff." Danny nodded, wondering what he'd gotten himself into; he'd never spotted for a sniper before. The closest he came was the Pritchard case, and those hadn't been real bullets. "Okay, JD, you can feed me the plans," instructed Vin.

"The third floor layout is as follows . . ." JD started listing square footage and room dimensions that meant little to Danny, but Vin took them in stride, forming a mental map that needed only occasional clarification.

"Confirm," insisted Vin. "The third window from the back is part of Starkweather's leased unit?" Danny's eyes shot to the window in question and he smiled at what he saw.

"Yes, that's confirmed," replied JD. "The third window from the back is part of Starkweather's place."

"What have you got?" cut in Chris. En route to the building that housed Aguila Empresa, he, Ezra, Jack, Vivian and Martin rode in the back of an FBI van, each kitted out in bulletproof vests, dark clothing and weapons. The jackets and caps on Jack, Viv and Martin were prominently labeled FBI, while similar items on Chris and Ezra were emblazoned with ATF. Ever since the van had left for the location of their soon-to-be raid, they'd been listening to Vin and Danny scout the site.

"They left the window wide open," Vin's voice was full of satisfaction as he shared that bit of knowledge. Everyone listening understood; that unprotected entrance could give them a huge advantage when it came time to apprehend Starkweather and his men.

"Vin, the blueprints don't have a fire escape on that window." JD's words doused some of the excitement in the van.

"No," agreed Vin. "I reckon Ezra will have to skidaddle across about eight feet of ledge to get to the opening."

Back in the van Ezra let his forehead fall into his left hand. "Mr. Tanner, I believe I have spoken to you before about volunteering me for potentially hazardous duties."

"I only suggested it because you're the best man for the job." Vin stated simply. The backhanded compliment had Ezra throwing his hands in the air in exasperated surrender, bringing a grin to Chris's lips.

"Are your people always like this right before a raid?" asked Jack. He was used to feeling much more tension exuding from other agents as zero hour approached.

"Actually," replied Chris, "They're usually worse than this. JD can get as bad as a bee buzzing in your ear." The indignant gasp over their wires told them JD's view of Chris's comment.

Jack wasn't sure if all of the relaxed camaraderie was overconfidence or if Larabee's team was just that good. "So how big of a ledge are we talking about?"

"I'd guestimate about 10-12 inches," detailed Vin as he focused on the ledge with his scope.

"It's 12 inches on the blueprints," reported JD.

"It's a doable maneuver," Martin's climbing experience assured.

"Good," said Jack, "Then you can go with Ezra to safeguard Matthew Palof. We'll," Jack motioned to Chris and Vivian, "take the front while Samantha and Elena sweep in from the rear. Any questions?" Silence met Jack's orders.

The van dropped their group about a block from the building Vin and Danny were watching. Martin and Ezra took off first, passing Sam and Elena around the back, before starting up the fire escape, trailed by back up agents and police officers. Jack, Vivian and Chris led a similar contingent in through the small empty lobby of the building. Taking the stairs they startled a janitor who was apparently taking an unscheduled smoking break. Ordering another agent to escort the janitor further down the stairs, they continued to climb.

Reaching the third floor of the fire escape, Ezra shot a dirty look toward the dark window that sheltered Vin and Danny, and then stepped cautiously over railing, testing the ledge. Martin waited until Ezra was about two feet ahead before he followed suit. Walking the ledge wasn't impossible, or even all that difficult, but the drop to unforgiving cement ensured their wariness. Ezra stopped at the window to ready a flashlight and examine the best way to enter without alerting those within. He was crouching in the opening when Vin's voice cut across their wires.

"Pull back. A hostile is coming your way," Vin warned in a calm but no less urgent voice.

Faster than Martin would have thought possible, Ezra swung his body out of the window, flattening it against the wall across the window from Martin. Ezra thumbed his flashlight off as footsteps neared them. Suddenly light poured out the window.

"Now would be a real bad time to sneeze, boys," commented Vin. "Looks like our unidentified perp is searching for something." The sounds of shifting boxes and papers filtered out into the alley, while Martin and Ezra impersonated statues on the ledge. As the sounds moved closer their eyes met. Both men knew how precarious their situation was. "The perp is armed," said Vin. Beside him, Danny noticed Vin's finger settle on the trigger of his sniper rifle. Then the noise within the room ceased.

"I think he found what he was looking for," sigh Danny with relief. Seconds later footsteps receded and the room's light switched off. "He's heading back to the main room. Looks like you're clear."

On the ledge, Ezra said, "I think I'll let you enter first this time." Martin grinned before he crept into the room. Ezra followed him in and the two unholstered their weapons before checking the hallway. The door likely trapping Matthew Palof was about six feet away, but there was no way to get to it without crossing right in front of Starkweather's line of sight.

Martin keyed his mike; "We can get to the door, but Starkweather's going to see us do it."

"Understood," said Jack. "Wait until we take the main door; then secure the victim." They'd reached the third floor and were now cautiously approaching the door near the end of the hall.

Within the apartment, Martin and Ezra were both a bit startled by the sudden jangle of a too loud telephone. Starkweather picked it up in the main room. Through the window Vin could see the sudden and drastic change in his body language. "Something's wrong. Starkweather might have been tipped to the raid," Vin warned. Ezra focused on Starkweather's side of the conversation to hear conformation of Vin's fears in Starkweather's rapid, curse laden Spanish.

"Donnie's going for the victim," warned Danny, frustration was swamping him. Somehow the raid was going to hell while he was too far away to do anything more than watch.

Crouched in a dark room, Martin and Ezra's eyes locked and a decision was reached. "We're going in," announced Martin a second before he and Ezra moved into the hall. "Federal Agents! Drop your weapons!" Faced with two armored agents with guns drawn, Donnie's hands rose in timid surrender. Grabbing Donnie by his shirt Ezra spun him around and relieved him of his gun before forcing him to his knees and slapping on a pair of handcuffs, while Martin covered him.

Outside the unit Jack had kicked into a run. "Tanner, you have a green light," he said giving Vin permission to start shooting potential threats.

At Danny's warning Vin had shifted focus away from Starkweather to Donnie, his first objective: to protect the kidnap victim. Seeing Ezra had the perp under control, Vin looked to reacquire Starkweather. Then Goon-Number-Two caught his eye by pulling and automatic rifle out from behind a sofa. Vin didn't wait for him to swing it in Ezra and Martin's direction. "Firing!" A .308 round punctured glass and then flesh, hitting the goon in shoulder, causing him to drop his rifle.

A few feet away, Mark Palof panicked as he realized that bullets were flying. "Don't shoot me, I'm unarmed!" he cried as he dove for a corner to hide in.

"Taking the door," announced Chris, wanting their teams to know who was about to knock the door in. He skidded to halt, and then slammed a well-placed kick right next to the doorknob.

Jack forced his way through the swinging door first. Spotting a bloodied figure on the floor groping for a rifle, Jack kicked it away and flipped the man on his stomach, handcuffing him despite his wounds. Vivian and Chris swarmed past him to face off with Starkweather, who'd grabbed the panicked Mark and was holding a gun to his head.

"There's nowhere left for you to run, so just put the gun down!" ordered Vivian.

"I'll do whatever I please, and you'll let me, unless you want a dead body on your conscience." Miguel declared defiantly, tightening his grip on Mark, who did little more than gurgle.

Over their wires they heard Vin warn, "He's too far into the corner, all I've got is brick wall. Repeat: I have no shot."

Martin edged closer to the stand off, catching Starkweather's attention. "You get back!" he shouted stepping forward and swinging his gun towards Martin for just a second before sticking it back in Mark's temple.

Knowing Starkweather's step had brought him closer to Vin's range and hoping to taunt him into moving a bit more, Chris challenged, "You weren't able to get past us before. What makes you think tonight's going to be any different." Then Chris took a calculated move to the side, forcing Starkweather to divide his focus between the many agents.

From across the alley, the view through the window left a lot to be desired. Danny and Vin could tell where Starkweather was from the direction the agents in the room were aiming their weapons. Even shifting for the best possible angle, Vin still couldn't see more than glimpses of the hostage and his hostage taker. For a clean shot he really needed to see the perps head or body. "I said get back!" shouted Miguel. Vin could hear the mixture of anger and panic that indicated Starkweather was close to losing control. Then Vin saw Starkweather's gun hand swing away from the hostage towards Chris. He couldn't wait any longer.

For the second time glass was punctured. Starkweather cried out as the gun was shot from his hand. Chris pulled Mark out of Starkweather's grasp, while Vivian forced him to the ground. Pushing Mark to the side Chris harshly ordered, "Stay down," and scanned the room one more time before shouting, "Clear!"

"Clear!" Ezra responded from the interior hall.

"Martin?" called Jack, when he realized his agent had vanished from view.

"In here," Martin called from the previously blocked room. "I've got Matthew Palof. He's got two infected stab wounds. We need immediate transport to a hospital." Even as he spoke he tried to help the feverish man sip a bit of water.

The support agents that had held back during the stand off began funneling into the room, followed by Elena and Samantha. "Could I have a roll call please," asked JD through their wires.

Chris rolled his shoulders, letting the tension ease a bit as the familiar ritual began. "Gunslinger's good."

"Conman's flush," Ezra assured.

"Tracker's shiny," said Vin from his perch.

"Shiny?" wondered Danny.

"It's from some canceled TV show JD loves," Vin explained.

Nodding, Danny chimed in, "Cuban is good."

Hearing Danny join Team Seven's roll call, Martin piped up, "Little Brother's a-okay."

"Leader is fine," reported Jack. Hearing Vivian recite Miranda Rights to Starkweather, he added, "Mother Hen is okay, too." Vivian shot him a dirty look, but Jack couldn't be bothered to worry about it. Three cases, three endangered victims and three innocent people found and helped. Today had turned out to be a lot better than he expected.

Chapter 6

It was an inevitable rule of law enforcement that clean up after a raid took ten times as long to finish as the raid itself. It was hours after sunset. Donnie Espinoza and Mark Palof were in jail. Only time would tell if Mark's claims that he was innocent of his brother's kidnapping were true. Miguel Starkweather and the other perp, who kept insisting his name was John Smith, were under guard in the lockdown ward of a nearby hospital. Matthew Palof was in another hospital being pumped full of antibiotics to fight off the infections in his wounds. He was critical, but his doctor seem hopeful, and she'd promised to keep Martin appraised of his condition.

"Why don't you save the paperwork for tomorrow?" suggested Jack. "Knock off early and take care of your personal business." Jack's eyes flicked towards Vin at the conference table with Chris.

"Actually," Martin started a bit hesitantly. "Vin's got an envelop that might have a few things that will need to be verified and . . ."

"It would be a hell of a lot easier to verify those things here," finished Jack.

"I don't want to put you in a bad position with my father," said Martin, but he still hoped that Jack would allow him to use FBI resources. He doubted he'd be willing to accept anything he uncovered in Vin's folder without confirming it at least three different ways.

"Please," scoffed Jack, "You know I live to piss your father off." Seeing Martin grin a little, he continued, "You do whatever you need to do to get this straight in your head."

"Thanks, Jack," said Martin.

"Why don't you and Vin use my office," offered Jack. "I doubt this is something you want an audience for."

Martin stammered another thanks before walking over to Vin and asking, "Do you still have that envelope from Dr. Rittman?"

"Right here," he started unzipping a side pouch on his duffle. Vin pulled out a legal sized manila folder with a small bump in one end.

"Jack's given us the use of his office." Martin motioned to the glass walled room.

Shooting a quick glance towards his teammates, Vin said, "Let's do it."

"We're here if you need us," offered JD as the two walked away. Nodding his acknowledgement, Vin continued to trail Martin. Upon reaching their destination Martin showed Vin in, closing the door behind them.

Vin fiddled with the envelope starting to feel a bit nervous. "Like I said before, Dr. Rittman told me that everything we needed to know about out birth and separation was in here. I'm not sure myself just what that entails."

"Guess there's only one way to find out." Martin sat in one of the two chairs by Jack's desk.

Vin tore open the seal and tilted the envelope so its contents could slide out on the desk. A stack of at least 20 papers was topped with a small audiocassette.

Picking up the first page Martin started to read, "Notarized statements attesting to the custodial transfer of Baby Tanner second of male twins born to Elizabeth Tanner by the child's biological father, Victor Fitzgerald." Martin paused, trying to swallow past his incredibly dry throat.

Vin snagged the three-decade-old audiocassette and walked to the door, leaving Martin alone to think on what he'd just read. Opening the door, Vin leaned out and shouted, "Hey, JD." When his friend approached a minute later he held up the audiocassette. "Think you could hunt up something to play this on?"

"Sure, Vin," replied JD. "Just give me a couple of minutes." The young agent immediately dashed away on his chosen quest.

Closing the door again, Vin turned back to his little brother. Damn, he couldn't even describe the rush he got every time he thought about the fact that Martin was his brother. The only other time he'd felt such an instant connection to someone had been when he'd first locked eyes with Chris across the main street of a small desert town. Not that the connections were the same. With Chris it was the recognition of another kindred spirit, a complete understanding of who and what that person was. With Martin it was like finally finding a part of himself that he hadn't even realized he was missing. A small part of him realized that Martin was capable of hurting him, probably more than anyone else in the world, but he'd already decided he wasn't going to hold anything back.

Rejoining Martin by the desk, Vin noticed the way Martin passed the first of the papers without looking him in the eye. Vin realized that Martin looked ashamed, as though he felt responsible for their past. "I think we both need to keep in mind: What happened thirty-two years ago may have happened because of us, but that doesn't make it our fault."

"Your right, of course," agreed Martin in an unconvinced voice. Not sure what else to say, the two lapsed into silence while they continued to read. Martin worked his way through the doctor's summary of their birth, which described how Vin had been rushed to the neo-natal unit after his umbilical cord had become wrapped around his neck during delivery. Martin's own birth had followed minutes later without complications. There were statements from two nurses and a receptionist describing the intimidating arrival of two FBI agents to the Maternity ward. As Martin started to pick up the fifth page he noticed Vin was still slowly reading the second. He remembered that Vin had earlier told Jack how his dyslexia made it difficult for him to read, especially when tired.

Vin must have felt the weight of Martin's gaze, because he looked up with a grimace and said, "You probably never figured you'd end up with a twin that was stupid."

"You're not stupid," Martin immediately countered almost angrily.

"It's a shame you weren't around when we were kids," said Vin. "It would have been nice to have had someone tell my forth grade teacher that."

Martin shook his head in irritation. "Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence." Taking a risk Martin pushed on. "It's certainly a lot easier to accept than some of the problems people bring on themselves . . . like addiction."

Vin picked up the vulnerability in Martin's voice. "You're . . . in a program?"

"Narcotics Anonymous," Martin admitted. Vin nodded acceptingly, letting Martin decide how much to say. Realizing that Vin wasn't going to judge him, Martin continued, "I took two bullets in a shooting. The funny thing is I was almost done taking the painkillers. But then I injured my hip during a raid, and started taking two, three times the normal dosage so Jack wouldn't put me back on desk duty. I'm not sure when taking the pills stopped being about the pain and started being about how damn much I needed them." Martin released a shaky breath. "I'm lucky that I had friends willing to call me on my stupidity before I got anyone killed."

Before Vin could give any sort of reply, a tap on a window interrupted them. They looked over to see JD holding up a small cassette player. "This should be good for playing your tape," rushed JD as soon as Vin had the door open. "But it's pretty old so let me know if you have any problems."

"Thanks, JD. We'll take it from here." Reading Vin's desire for privacy, JD suppressed his urge to help further by stepping back and letting the door close. Vin set the cassette player on the desk and plugged its cord into an outlet. "So do you want to read through all of the records and statements first or do you want to hear what's on the tape?" he asked.

"Let's hear what's on the tape," Martin decided quickly. Vin slipped the cassette into the player and pushed the play button.

"The baby, Vin Tanner seems to be responding well to treatment and has stabilized. We should be able to ease back on his O2 soon," the tape began with a voice that Vin recognized as a younger, slightly less scratchy Dr. Rittman. Squeaky door hinges were followed by Dr. Rittman's voice again. "Hello, Beth. How are you feeling?"

"Better," came a shy response.

"That's Mama," said Vin, his voice rough with emotion. Despite all the years since her death, Vin could easily imagine her sitting up in her hospital bed, greeting the doctor.

"This little guy sure does love to eat." Beth Tanner's shyness was washed away as she spoke of her child. "I've been breastfeeding him for almost ten minutes and he doesn't seem to want to stop."

"Do you mind if I keep my tape recorder running?" asked Rittman. "I'm afraid even I can't read the notes I write."

"I don't mind," she replied.

There was a hollow metal thunk that Martin took to be Dr. Rittman setting down his medical recorder to better examine his patients.

"Are you feeling any discomfort?" asked Rittman.

"Some pins and needles," Beth admitted. "Your nurse said that was normal for first time mothers. Besides he's worth any pain. I knew I loved them before they were born, but actually holding him, it feels stronger than anything I've ever felt in my life. I swear my heart could burst. The nurse said Vin was doing better. Will I be able to hold him soon?"

"Well, I don't think he's quite ready to leave the neo-natal room yet, but I'm willing to arrange to have you taken to him. Perhaps when this young man is done eating," declared Dr. Rittman. "Speaking of this young man, have you come up with a name for him yet?"

"No," admitted Beth, "Nothing seems right. When I first found out I was pregnant I was sure I was going to have a boy. I wanted to name him Kevin for my father, but Pa said it wasn't right to saddle a baby with someone else's name and all the expectations that went with it. That's when I decided on Vin, to honor my father but still keep his name individual . . . unique. When I found out I was going to have twins, I wasn't sure what to do. Should I look to our Kiowa heritage to name him? Take a name from my mother's side of the family? I guess there was even a part of me hoping that their father would want to have a part in naming the boys."

"The boys' father hasn't shown any interest in his children?" The doctor asked.

"He made it clear he wanted nothing to do with me when he left. I've tried to write him twice since then, but there's been no response." Beth paused. "I just don't understand how he can ignore the fact that he's a father."

"Men often make foolish choices they later regret," was the only explanation the doctor could offer.

"Fortunately," entered a new male voice, "I'm not the sort of man to make such mistakes."

When Vin's eyes shot to Martin, he immediately confirmed what Vin already suspected. "It's Da . . . That's Victor Fitzgerald." The words were hard to say past the lump in his throat. Even worse was sinking weight in his gut. Everything they'd heard so far told the story of a woman who was joyously happy about the births of her children. Beth Tanner was not a mother who would give up her child willingly.

"Victor, I didn't think you'd come," said Beth with a nervous breathlessness.

"You weren't supposed to know I was coming. Not until I knew the real reason you were contacting me." Victor retorted.

"I wrote you because I thought you had a right to know I was pregnant. I didn't expect anything for myself, not after the way you left," Beth protested.

"I presume you are the father," Dr. Rittman interrupted, hoping to diffuse the tense situation.

"Indeed, I am Victor Fitzgerald," replied Victor. "I'm going to be taking my sons home with me in a few minutes, so I suggest you get together any paperwork you need me to sign."

"Take them with you?" asked Beth. "I'm glad you want to be their father, but I'm not giving up my babies to you. We need to sit down and work out some sort of visitation schedule."

"Doctor, shouldn't you be getting some forms?" Victor spoke to the doctor. "You really don't need to be here while we discuss family matters."

"I don't want you upsetting my patient," insisted Dr. Rittman. "Childbirth is an exhausting event, Beth needs to rest, not harassment."

"Of course, doctor." Victor agreed willingly. The next few seconds contained the sounds of movement and the closing of a door. After several seconds of silence Victor declared, "I have no intention of being a visitor in my sons' lives." Then his tone turned more enticing. "I have more than enough wealth to provide for these boys, Elizabeth. They'll go to the best schools, the best universities. Other parents talk about their children growing up to be president, but I can actually make it happen."

"You're talking about things, Victor," argued Beth. "What about a Mother's love?"

"My wife will provide that," Victor assured.

"You're married?" Beth sounded shell-shocked. "I never really knew you, at all."

"My wife had a miscarriage last year. I had difficulty dealing with her depression and strayed. I'm fortunate that she's agreed to forgive me. I certainly won't humiliate her further by engaging in a public custody battle with some teenage girl."

"There doesn't have to be any custody battle," protested Beth. The infant began to fuss, disturbed by the harsh voices.

Victor lowered his tone to a whisper, but his words were still clear. "I'll do anything I have to, to secure my heirs. Think for a minute Elizabeth. You're an unwed teenage girl with little education and no source of income. What judge would allow you to retain custody?"

"My father's going to support us while I finish college," explained Beth.

"Your father's going to be too busy fighting corruption charges to protect you," said Victor.

"Corruption . . . that's not possible. My father would never break the law," countered Beth with absolute faith in the man who'd raised her.

"If that's true, I'm sure he'll be found innocent eventually. After all I don't need him to be found guilty, just kept occupied until I have my sons," Victor explained reasonably.

"You'd tarnish my father's reputation and career just to get to me?" murmured Beth.

"Look at things from my perspective, Elizabeth. You're young; you can have other children. Due to complications from her miscarriage my wife can't. These babies are the only boys I'll ever have. You can't expect me to walk away from them," argued Victor.

"Of course not. I'm willing to share them," assured Beth, hoping that Victor would finally see reason.

Several seconds of silence passed and then there was a shuffling of paper. "My lawyer drew up some papers. Why don't you let me hold the baby while you look them over," suggested Victor.

"No," Beth refused, her voice betraying her distrust. "I can hold him and read at the same time." About fifteen seconds passed before a much more agitated Beth spoke again. "I'm not signing these. They would terminate my parental rights."

"If you read further, you'll find we're willing to amply reimburse you for your sacrifice. And I can further guarantee, that as soon as you sign those papers, your father's internal review will be dropped," promised Victor.

"But if I don't you'll ruin us both. Is that what you're saying?" Beth was crying now, and apparently it hadn't gone unnoticed.

"What is going on here?" demanded Dr. Rittman. "I made it clear to you that you weren't to upset my patient."

"I'm afraid it has become unavoidable," said Victor. "I hope you have the appropriate forms ready, because I'm leaving with my sons."

"I don't think I'm going to allow that. Newborns need to be with their mother," insisted Dr. Rittman.

"You don't have a choice." There was the sound of paper unfolding. "I have a court order from Judge Wilson granting me temporary custody until permanent custody can be decided. I was informed that Elizabeth delivered twins. Where is my other son?"

"Obviously you weren't told everything," said Dr. Rittman. "There were complications with the first baby's delivery. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck cutting off oxygen for an unknown amount of time."

"Are you saying there's brain damage?" asked Victor.

There was a pause. "I'm saying that infants that die within a few hours of their birth are usually sent straight to the crematorium."

"Then I guess there's nothing else to keep me here," decided Victor in a harsh tone.

"No! Please don't do this," cried Beth. Muted struggles and an infant's wail joined her continued pleas.

"If you come to your senses and sign the papers, I'll see that the money is released to you," Victor assured. "Do yourself a favor, Elizabeth, and forget this child ever existed."

"Wait! Please, at least tell me what you're going to name him," Beth begged for one last connection to her child.

In a surprising moment of weakness, Victor replied, "I'm naming him Martin Fitzgerald." More squeaking door hinges were followed by a moment of quiet sobbing.

The door was pushed open again and a new female voice asked, "Doctor, what's going on?"

"Has Agent Fitzgerald left?" asked Dr. Rittman.

"Yes," she replied. "I just saw him get on the elevator with a baby and the other agent."

"Get a wheelchair. Beth needs to be taken to her son in neo-natal." Dr. Rittman instructed.

"Vin's okay?" asked Beth in a too frightened voice.

"I'm sorry if I scared you. I just couldn't think of any other way to keep him from taking both boys. You need to talk to a lawyer and find out what your rights are as soon as possible," instructed Dr. Rittman.

"He's too powerful to fight," replied Beth hopelessly. "He'll probably go after you too, when he learns you lied about Vin."

"I'll deal with that when it happens," answered Dr. Rittman. "For now let's get you down to your son."

+ + + + + + +

JD's foot tapped out an unrelenting staccato as he sat in one of the two chairs in the hall. He'd made a concentrated effort not to stare through the windows of Jack's office, but it had been impossible not to glance that way every other minute or so. A big part of him sympathized with what Vin was going through. He'd also been raised by a young single mother who'd died too young. To be suddenly faced with an unknown sibling would throw anyone off balance. How much worse was it for Martin to learn that everything he'd been told about where he came from was a lie? JD knew there wasn't anything he could do to change what had happened in their past, but that didn't stop him from wanting to help, even if that meant running around looking for ancient tape players.

"Coffee?" asked Danny. JD was irritated to realize he hadn't even noticed the other agent's approach. Then he noted Danny's nervousness and understood that Danny was likely worrying about Martin the same way he was worrying about Vin.

"Yeah, thanks." JD accepted the Styrofoam cup and motioned to the empty seat next to him. "So did you finish typing up your report?" There was nothing like small talk to distract you from your worries.

"Most of it," replied Danny. "I decided to let Ezra use my computer for a bit so he could get some of his paperwork done." He sipped his coffee and glanced towards Jack's office. "Our teams work well together. The bust went down without a hitch, we saved the victim and none of our people got hurt."

"Yeah," agreed JD. "I still hated being stuck here at the office. I felt so useless knowing everyone was in harm's way without me to back them up."

"Well," countered Danny, "I was right there next to Vin with a bird's eye view of the whole thing and I still felt pretty damn useless."

"You might have felt useless," said Chris walking over to join them, "but you were doing just what Vin needed you to be doing. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is stand back and wait until someone asks for help." Both young men knew Chris's little nugget of wisdom was as much about their current situation as about the raid.

"In other words; waiting sucks, but we should get used to it." JD summed up. Chris just smirked into his coffee.

Shattering glass jolted all three men into action. JD rushed into Jack's office first, with Chris and Danny a few steps behind. Within, Vin corralled Martin ordering, "Hold still, I need to see if you got any glass in your hand."

Seeing blood trickling down Martin's fingers, JD decided, "I'm going to go find a first aid kit," and disappeared back out the door.

Chris hovered in the doorway, hesitant to intrude. "Vin?"

"I've got it covered, Cowboy," assured Vin, all the while focused on calming Martin.

Danny also noticed Martin's agitation and offered, "I'll be right outside if you need me."

Martin never even heard the promise he was so wrapped up in his rage. "Sanctimonious son of a bitch! He ought to rot in jail," ranted Martin.

"For what? Parental kidnapping wasn't even a crime in most states back then, and Mama obviously never tried to take him to court. Even with the blackmail and abuse of power; the statute of limitations has long since passed, as have those to whom it would have mattered most," reasoned Vin.

"Now I'll never know my mother or grandfather, they'll never know me," whispered Martin. How could it hurt so much to lose people you'd never even known?

"They do know you," assured Vin with absolute certainty. He waited until Martin met his eyes again before he continued, "They've been watching over you for years. The two of us weren't brought together just through coincidence."

"I've got the first aid kit," JD announced with his return.

Jack followed silently on his heels. He'd managed to keep to the others from rushing his office, but just barely. Every one knew that Martin and Vin had gone to reveal some potentially devastating parts of their past, and the breaking of glass combined with JD slightly panicked request for a first aid kit had not boded well.

Vin pulled Martin's injured hand under the surviving lamp. The other lamp was in broken shards on the floor. Taking the kit from JD, Vin efficiently cleaned the wounded hand. "The cut's not too deep. A couple of bandages should be enough."

"I'm sorry about your lamp, Jack," Martin apologized sheepishly. "I'll get you a new one."

"I'm more concerned about you than the lamp," Jack replied bluntly; perhaps a bit too bluntly because Martin appeared completely stunned by his statement. "What do you need Martin? What can we do to help?"

Martin looked from the pile of evidence to Vin, seeking permission. "It's your call, Little Brother," Vin answered Martin's unspoken request.

"We need the facts of these documents checked." Martin motioned to the pile. "I don't doubt their veracity, but they need to be independently verified and if I do it, a lot more than just a lamp is going to end up broken on the floor."

"I can do that," volunteered JD, eager to actively help Vin and Martin. "I've already finished my case work."

Martin's nod accepted JD's offer. "Once the facts have been verified, make copies of everything," he instructed.

"Are you sure that's how you want to play it?" asked Vin. He could see this leading to a lot of potential conflict.

"Dozens of people have seen you walking around the office today. Eventually word will get back to Victor about this case, about you. Do you want the man you heard on that tape trying to control your career and manipulate your life?"

"Not a chance in hell," Vin swore a little more vehemently than he intended.

That was all the answer Martin needed. "Make copies," he reiterated. "At least three sets."

"When you're done give the originals to Ezra for safekeeping," added Vin. "He'll know a good place to stash them."

"Anything else?" asked Jack.

Martin smiled weakly. "I think I could use that personal time you offered."

"Done," declared Jack. "Now get out of here so I can clean up my office."

Martin looked at Vin. "Do you have a place to stay here in town?"

"I haven't actually had time to make arrangements yet," Vin admitted.

"My apartment has a sleeper sofa," Martin offered. "It might give us more time to talk."

"I think I'd like that. I'd like that a whole lot." Vin couldn't wait to learn everything there was to know about Martin.


JD took another sip of milk as he scanned the data on the monitor. In theory, he was just waiting for his turn with OPR. The Office of Professional Responsibility handled all of the internal reviews for the FBI. Because their joint investigation had led to the shooting of three perps in less than twelve hours, OPR had a lot of questions. Since they were talking to Chris and Ezra first, JD had wanted to continue fact checking the statements Vin and Martin had left behind. About forty minutes ago, Jack had settled JD at Martin's unoccupied desk and left to run interviews for yet another missing person's case. JD had already discovered that Judge Wilson, who'd supposedly signed Victor Fitzgerald's custody order, apparently never served on the bench in family court, which meant he really didn't have the authority to sign custody orders. The fact that Wilson had been a long time friend of Victor's father was a fair indication of how Victor had attained the order.

Vivian set a chocolate chip cookie next to the keyboard JD was working at. "Elena and I need to check out a possible sighting of our MP, but Samantha and Mack are in the tech room if you need anything."

"I got it, thanks," he said, dipping his cookie into his milk and taking a bite. JD could certainly see what attracted Martin and the others to the Missing Persons unit. Connecting all the dots to recreate someone else's past, racing against the clock to find that person in time. Combined it could make for some pretty exhilarating rescues . . . or some pretty devastating discoveries. JD knew a lot of the victims weren't found in time and some were never found at all. That was part of the reason the burnout rate for an agent in most M.P. units was just two years. That Jack's unit easily exceeded those numbers meant he was running one of the most experienced and respected Missing Persons units in the country. If for some reason he couldn't work with the Seven any more, JD would definitely want to work with Jack.

Elmer Bernstein's theme from 'The Magnificent Seven' started playing on JD's cell phone, letting him know that one of Team Seven was calling. "Hello," he greeted.

"Hey, JD. It's Vin," answered in his ear. "Do you know where Chris is at? I tried calling him, but only got his voicemail."

"He probably turned his cell off for the interview with OPR," explained JD.

"OPR? Hell, we aren't FBI. We don't even need to give them the time of day," groused Vin.

"I think Chris decided to be nice, since we actually found an FBI unit we could work well with. Though he did insist that he be allowed to be present while any of his agents are questioned. He's in with Ezra right now," JD updated to his absent teammate. "Oh, and Chris and Jack both said that if you called in to tell you, 'you don't have to be in until after lunch'. You're scheduled to talk to OPR at 1:30 pm but until then you're free."

"That's just as well," admitted Vin. "I was actually calling to see when Chris and Jack wanted us to come in. We were up until 3:30 am talking and Martin's still asleep on the couch."

"3:30?" JD glanced at his watch, which read 8:30. "What are you doing up already?"

Vin shrugged, but then remembered JD couldn't see him and answered, "The sun is up. I've never been much good at sleeping when the sun is up."

"Alright, well, I guess we'll see you this afternoon then," said JD.

"Later," agreed Vin before ending the call. He spent a moment studying Martin on the couch. Martin definitely wasn't a light sleeper, but like he'd told JD, they'd had a late night. He had to admit that it had also been a pretty good night. In addition to talking there had been laughing and quite a bit of sharing. Vin learned that Martin did indeed like beef jerky, though he usually ate it when hiking or rock climbing. Vin had promised to show him some incredible climbs the next time Martin made it out to Denver. There had also been a few uncomfortable moments: Martin revealing more details of his self-destructive spiral into drug addiction. Vin describing the time he'd spent on the streets as a teenage runaway, fleeing an abusive foster home. Yet through it all was the certainty that nothing that rose from their pasts could divide them. By tomorrow he'd likely have to head back to Denver, but even the thousands of miles between them wouldn't sever their link. They were brothers.

The End