A Holiday Gift

by Mary Ann


Vin woke to dim light and quiet noises coming from Chris as he rummaged through his belongings. Rolling stiffly over and pulling blankets from around his head, he saw that Chris' bed had been made and he was dressed in a navy blue shirt and black jeans, Chris was ready for the day and it was only 6:30 a.m.

"What'cha doin'?"

Chris' head snapped up, he had been trying to be quiet, so as not to awaken Vin.

"Looking for that new shirt I brought," he replied as Vin sat slowly up in his bed. "Doesn't seem right we all have gifts to open and Martin has nothing."

"Oh . . . Yeah. I need a gift for him too," Vin got out of bed and walked carefully over to his duffel bag. "I've got a new wool neck scarf I brought, never used." A moment later he found the blue and white scarf and handed it to Chris who had found his new shirt.

"You feeling alright?" Chris asked, noticing the careful way in which Vin was moving.

"A bit stiff is all. I'll be fine once I'm movin' around more."

"If you're up for good, why don't you get a shower then come help me find wrapping paper and make breakfast?"

"Sure. Give me a few minutes and I'll be down," Vin said pulling his t-shirt off over his head as he headed for the adjoining bathroom.

Chris went downstairs carrying the shirt and scarf. Making his way around the living room, he turned on the Christmas lights and several lamps. He coaxed the embers in the fireplace back to life with a few pieces of well- placed kindling and some larger pieces of wood, then began rummaging through cabinets and drawers for some wrapping paper and ribbon. He finally found what he was looking for in the carved pinewood coffee table, which opened to reveal several rolls of Christmas paper, tape, and bows. He carried the supplies into the kitchen and swiftly wrapped the gifts, then looked up and smiled as Vin walked into the room.

Vin's partly dried head held his Santa hat at a rakish angle and he wore a white, red, and black plaid flannel shirt tucked into his jeans.

"Here, put these under the tree while I get breakfast started," Chris handed the two packages to Vin and quickly turned to make a pot of coffee before Vin got back.

"What are you making?" Vin asked, coming back into the room. He had turned on the stereo and soft Christmas music could be heard from the living room.

"Spanish omelet. You can start chopping those up," Chris pointed to a large bunch of small green onions and peppers, as he crumbled hamburger into a large frying pan.

When everything was chopped and ready to throw into a pan, they took a break and moved into the living room with their mugs of coffee. It was just after 7:00 a.m. and they were the only ones awake. They added more wood to the fire, then made themselves comfortable. Outside it was starting to get light, but the snow was still coming down, swirling lazily around it the wind.

For awhile they sat in companionable silence listening to the music, watching the fire and the falling snow. A noise upstairs pulled their gazes up to the third floor. Two dark heads popped over the railing; JD smiled and waved, while Buck just grinned.

"Is that real coffee I smell?" Buck asked.

"Come on an' find out Bucklin."

"I'm coming Junior," Buck smiled and disappeared. In less than two minutes he was walking into the living room from the kitchen, two mugs, and the coffee pot in his hands.

"Do you know if there is any wrapping paper around here? I've got a new pair of socks I thought I'd wrap for Martin so he'd have a gift. Buck thought it was a good idea, but he didn't have anything that would fit him." JD asked as he accepted a mug of coffee from Buck as he stood in front of Chris and Vin near the fire.

"Drawer in the table there," Chris pointed. "Nice idea. We found a little something for him too."

"We all had the same idea. Only all my clothes are larger than what yours would be," Buck smiled as he refilled Chris and Vin's mugs with coffee and poured one for himself.

"Ahh, this is heavenly coffee! Chris musta made it," Buck remarked, taking a sip of his coffee and smiling as Vin rolled his eyes.

JD quickly wrapped the pair of socks, and soon another gift was added to the pile under the tree.

"Is it time to eat? I'm starving," JD asked, looking from one to the other.

Chris and Vin exchanged smiles, and rose. "I guess we can get it going. Might have to wake everyone else up though."

"An' since JD is the hungriest, he gets to do the honors," Vin added.

As the two walked towards the kitchen, the den door opened and Martin appeared. "Good morning," he said shyly, smiling at the four men.

They replied in kind and Vin added, "Come to the kitchen, coffee's hot. But Chris made it, so it isn't too good."

Martin looked at Vin in confusion. Seeing the look, Buck laughed and told him, "If it isn't strong enough to melt iron, it isn't coffee to Vin. We all try to make the coffee before he does, just to save our own health."

"Ya'll jist don't 'preciate good coffee," Vin called from the kitchen.

"Between his sweet tooth and that coffee he likes, it's a wonder that boy's not a nervous, three hundred pound wreck."

"I'm not a boy!" they heard from the kitchen.

"Well, um . . . I like my coffee pretty strong too. I've been sort of banned from making the coffee at work. They all complain I make it too strong."

Everyone laughed; they heard Josiah's voice from above "Brothers I do believe Martin is definitely related to Vin."

Josiah, Nathan, and Rain were leaning over the railing, looking down into the living room.

"Morning. Is Ezra up too? It's almost time for breakfast. Chris and Vin are cooking. Then we can open presents." JD said in one breath.

Buck smacked the young agent on the shoulder, "Breathe when you talk!"

"He's coming," Nathan laughed as he and Josiah followed Rain down the stairs.

An hour later everyone was gathered in the living room with cups of coffee. The turkey had been stuffed and was in the oven and everyone was relaxing as JD and Vin passed out gifts.

Martin was shocked when several gifts were handed to him. He looked up at Vin in surprise, but before he could say anything, Vin winked at him and said, "It's not much, but it's Christmas and everyone gets a present."

"But I don't . . ."

"It's alright. Don't worry about it. You're with . . . new friends, and we're all havin' fun."

Martin realized that Vin had almost said 'family' instead of new friends, but he let it go. He sighed to himself as he thought of what his plans for the day had been. He'd opened his gifts from his family and teammates before he'd left New York, and he had figured to just spend his time in Colorado skiing and ignoring the holidays. Now he had new friends and possibly a brother with whom to share the day, and he couldn't be happier. This was so much better, and everyone seemed to accept him and his possible connection to Vin without hesitation or reservations. "Thank you," he said with a wide smile, as Vin handed him another gift.

"Yer welcome." Vin shot him a matching smile.

Laughter, comments, and thank yous rang throughout the room for some time as everyone opened their gifts and showed them to the others.

As the day wore on, they settled down in the living room to watch football as the snow continued to fall. Once Vin and JD ventured outside and built snowmen in the back of the house, but the cold wind and driving snow soon sent them back indoors. Nathan, Rain, and Ezra tried out the hot tub while their Christmas meal was cooking.

Just as they sat down to enjoy the large turkey and all the trimmings, they heard a powerful roar from the front of the house and saw a large snow plow come swinging up the driveway. Within minutes the driveway and parking area were cleared of the deep snow, and the truck was gone, and everyone was free to enjoy the delicious meal.

After dinner, Chris, Vin, and Martin got Chris' truck out of the carport and headed to town while the rest of the team cleaned up the dishes and kitchen. Everyone had insisted that Martin was welcome to stay with them, as there was plenty of room for another person, and it took Martin just a few moments to accept their offer.

Martin was quiet during the trip into town, as he acknowledged to himself just how lonely he was. At home he worked long and hard just so he didn't have to spend long hours alone in his apartment. He ran several miles a day just to get out of the house early in the morning. On his days off, which were weekly but erratic, he ran even further and kept himself busy doing his laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, or sleeping. The camaraderie he had found with the men of Team 7 showed him another side of himself, and he was thrilled just be here, enjoying their company. He was intrigued by the easy partnership between Chris and his men. There were not only teammates, they were friends, and closer than any family he had ever known. He had witnessed a bond between Chris and Vin that made them seem even closer than brothers, and he himself felt a connection to Vin unlike any he ever had with anyone else. Martin respected his boss, Jack Malone, but he was drawn to the natural leadership displayed by Chris Larabee. He had a good working relationship with his hotheaded teammate, Danny Taylor, and the women in his unit, but there really wasn't anything there outside of work. Team 7 was totally different; they worked hard and played hard, but they seemed to do it all together.

"Yer thinkin' too hard Martin," Vin's soft Texas drawl cut through his thoughts. Lifting his head a little higher, Martin looked back at Vin.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to disturb you."

"Didn't really, jist could hear your thoughts goin' 'round and round in your head. Didn't want you to wear them out," Vin grinned.

"Oh," Martin grinned back. "I'll try to tone it down."

They all shared a laugh then Chris said, "Town coming up. Where's your motel?"

Martin quickly directed Chris to the motel and soon they were pulling into the motel's parking lot. It didn't take Martin long to pack his belongings and settle his bill, he also cancelled the rental car he had reserved for the next day. Chris had told him he could get one in Denver if he really wanted to since he was going to stay with the team until they returned after the first.

With Martin's suitcase stored on the seat beside him, the three men left the motel and headed back to the house. The snow was falling heavily again, and by the time they reached the house it had covered the driveway once more.

"I hope tomorrow it will be nicer," Vin commented as they approached the front door.

"Yep," Chris agreed. "We need to get back to town to get Martin some skis; or a snowboard?" His eyebrow rose as he looked at the younger man.

"Skis only! I haven't gotten into snowboards yet," Martin said, stomping snow off his boots before entering the house.

The evening passed quickly, everyone retired early and met the next morning in the kitchen where Buck and JD were preparing breakfast. The snow had finally stopped a little earlier, and the snowplow truck had made another pass and cleared the driveway again.

Everyone opted to go to town, so as soon as breakfast was over and the kitchen cleared, they all piled into Chris' Ram and Josiah's Suburban. In town they found parking near a sports store and as Martin, Chris and Vin entered, the others scattered, promising to meet at noon at a restaurant they spotted down the street.

The after-Christmas shoppers were everywhere, many just looking, others shopping for bargains. The day was overcast with a promise of more snow coming. Martin found a pair of skis and after purchasing them and locking them in the back of the Ram, the three of them set out to check out the town. Later the three men entered the restaurant and spotted Ezra and Josiah seated at a large table, glaring now and then at people who tried to sit there. With relieved sighs they watched as Chris, Vin, and Martin made their way through the crowd to the table. A few minutes later the rest of the team arrived with Rain, and everyone began looking over the extensive menu.

An hour and a half later the two vehicles were headed back to the house, everyone anxious to get out on the slopes for awhile to work off their large lunch.

The next several days passed quickly, everyone had fun skiing, snowboarding, and hot tubing. Snowball fights erupted daily at the drop of a hat, and many snowmen were built and destroyed. Vin, JD, Ezra and Martin were taken down several times had their faces washed in the snow. Chris, Buck, Josiah, or Nathan bombarded the downed men when they were taken down, as Rain took pictures. Several times the younger men tried to get one of the others taken down but the larger men fought them off. Vin was the only one not afraid to try to throw Chris down into the snow, though Buck usually came to his rescue, and Vin ended up on the ground. No one was safe from the horseplay, and Rain found herself tossed over her husband's shoulder as he tried to run, thinking that by holding onto her he'd be safe. But with an "Excuse me, Rain," Josiah tackled Nathan and the three tumbled into a deep patch of snow, while being bombarded with snowballs.

On the 30th Rain received a call that she was needed at the hospital; several physicians had come down with the flu. Reluctantly she and Nathan packed up and headed home, taking the ice chests with them in order to give Chris and Josiah's vehicles more room to bring everyone's belongings home later.

Before she left, Rain took locks of hair from Martin and Vin, placing the samples carefully in sterile plastic bags. She promised to deliver them to the hospital's laboratory as soon as she got to work that afternoon.

With Nathan and Rain's leaving, the men were a little subdued for awhile, but when JD suggested going outside to 'play' everyone bundled up and headed out to ski or snowboard.

Vin and JD tried to talk Ezra and Martin into trying out snowboarding. After a bit Martin gave in and changed boots with Vin; shortly he was slowly sliding a little ways on Vin's board. Vin and JD stayed beside Martin as he balanced and slid across the snow, with the others yelling encouragement and directions to him, and hoping that he didn't hurt himself when he fell several times. An hour later Martin changed back into his own boots, he had decided he would rather ski, and maybe take up snowboarding after he got home. Once he and Vin changed boots they all headed up the hill. The next several hours were taken up with skiing and snowboarding and several snowball fights. Everyone retired to the hot tub to relax before dinner.

On New Years Eve they all went into town for a late dinner, then watched the spectacular fireworks display put on by the city. Returning to the house, the clear moonlit night let them see for miles and they watched more fireworks in the distance. Just before midnight they saw several lines of flickering torches descend from the top of a distant ski slope, as skiers carried burning torches down the hill to a large bonfire.

After saluting the New Year, their friendship and brotherhood, the men retired for the night.

Vin woke suddenly to a low moan. Jumping from his bed in the dim moonlit room, he tripped over a warm body on the floor near the foot of his bed. Alarm spread through him and he crawled back to the body.

"Chris?" he said as he reached out to the figure.

"S . . . Sorry . . . Headache . . ." Chris gasped.

"What can I do?"

"Pills . . . front of . . . duffel bag."

Vin jumped up, turned on the bedside lamp, quickly grabbed Chris' bag and found the pills. Rushing into the bathroom he filled a glass with water and hurried back to his partner's side. Holding Chris' head up, he gave him a pill and the water. Taking the empty glass from the shaking hand, Vin helped Chris up and got him into his bed. For the next hour he watched as Chris lay with his eyes tightly closed against the pain.

Finally Chris opened his sea green eyes and looked dazedly up at a worried Vin. "Sorry, Vin. . . Haven't had one of these in a long time. Almost forgot about them."


"Yeah. It hits me so fast I don't have time to do anything, kind of takes me out, if I can't get to the pills. No warning. Luckily the pills work pretty fast."

"You feeling better?"

"I'm fine now, thanks. Just need some sleep and I will be alright for the next five months." Chris smiled wearily.

"You sure? You look a little pale."

"I'm sure Vin. I've had these for years. I just need some sleep now. Don't worry. I am glad you were here though. Thanks pard." Chris held out his arm.

Vin gripped Chris's forearm in their special handshake. "Welcome," he said. Releasing Chris' arm he turned out the light and crawled back into his bed. Several minutes later he heard Chris' easy breathing and let himself go back to sleep.


New Year's Day dawned overcast and cold, but everyone headed for the ski slope once breakfast was finished. Vin kept an eye on Chris, but he seemed fine, no aftereffects from the migraine. They all enjoyed a couple of hours of skiing and snowboarding until it started to snow hard, then they returned to the house and made their way to the living room. Josiah stopped in the kitchen and started making his famous chili. Buck helped him for awhile but was chased out when Josiah was ready to add his secret spices.

Ezra and JD brought out chips, and salsa, dips and other snacks, beer and soft drinks, and the group settled themselves in front of the television to watch the Bowl games.

Martin saw Vin looking cautiously around the room, his blue eyes touching lightly on one after the other of his friends. When his glance fell on Martin, he winked and Martin knew instantly Vin was planning something. Chris' eyes connected with Vin's and Martin could almost hear the question he threw at Vin and the answer Vin shot back. The corner of Chris's mouth lifted slightly and he turned his eyes back to the TV. Martin watched Vin's eye's narrow in on the dozing Buck, who was sprawled on a rug, his head on a couch pillow, snoring lightly.

Picking up the container of guacamole dip, Vin eased his way to Buck's side. He had done it so quietly and stealthily that for a minute no one realized he had moved, until he dipped his fingers into the dip and with a feather light touch started to paint the guacamole on Buck's mustache. Silence fell as everyone watched the sharpshooter. Finishing with Buck's mustache, he started on the sleeping man's eyebrows. When he was done Vin moved silently away, setting the almost empty container on the table and moving back to his seat near Chris. For several minutes the men laughed, as Ezra tried to get them to bet on how long it would take Buck to realize what had been done to him, and by whom. He had no takers.

Buck woke with a start. Hearing his teammates laugh, he looked at the TV, noting that there was a funny commercial being shown. He pulled himself up off the floor and saw that Josiah was placing bowls of chili on the counter, so he headed that way. He helped Josiah set out the condiments as the other men walked slowly into the room; they were all laughing or snickering, and even Josiah had a wide grin on his face.

Looking suspiciously at his friends, Buck wondered briefly what joke he had missed, then settled down in front of the TV to eat. Before rising to get another bowl of chili, Buck wiped his mouth and froze when he noticed something green on is napkin. He ran it over his mouth again, and more green appeared.

"What the hell?" He looked up as a thump sounded nearby, and he saw JD fall on the floor, convulsed in laughter. Buck rose swiftly and, sending a fierce glare at his laughing teammates, headed straight for the bathroom.

One look in the mirror was all it took and he roared, "Vin Tanner, I'm going to get your scrawny, Texas ass!" as he flew out the door and back into the living room.

Vin was up and out of his chair as soon as he heard Buck's bellow and he took off as fast as he could, laughing so hard he could barely run. Buck caught him near the front door and in a flash Vin was tossed over his shoulder, head and arms dangling down Buck's back.

Still laughing, Vin squirmed, trying to get loose, but the harder he moved the tighter Buck gripped him around the legs, and a moment later Buck threw open the front door and ran outside.

"Oh shit! Buck, I'm sorry!" Vin exclaimed as Buck found an undisturbed bank of snow. An instant later Vin was flying through the air as someone in the house turned on the outside lights. He hit the three-foot deep pile of snow and disappeared under the powder, totally covered. Almost in a panic he threw himself upwards wildly brushing the snow from his face. Buck, standing several feet away, had a big smile on his face that quickly faded.

"You all right Junior?" a concerned Buck asked, seeing Vin's white face.

"Yeah, 'm fine, just cold now," Vin replied. He shivered and staggered through the snow in his bare feet, sinking deeply into the cold white stuff as he made his way towards Buck.

"Let's get you into the house, its cold out here." Looking down at Vin's bare feet, Buck picked him up and threw him back over his shoulder, brushing off the as he hurried to the front porch.

Chris met them at the door with towels and an afghan for Vin, which he threw over the slender shoulders as Vin walked through the door. He turned a green eyed glare on Buck, who stood on the threshold brushing snow off his jeans. Buck smiled and shrugged his shoulders, and followed Vin inside.

Chris hurried Vin to the couch closest to the fireplace and as Vin sat down wrapped the towel around his cold feet. Josiah thrust a bowl of chili into his hands. "This will help get you warm," he told Vin as he handed another bowl to Buck who was hunched in an armchair.

There was silence for several moments, then the sounds of choking and muffled laughter could be heard. Buck looked around as he ate, his light blue eyes taking in everyone. He frowned as no one would meet his gaze; in fact, his friends all turned their heads away from him and studiously avoided even looking in his direction.

JD was sitting closest to him, and was laughing so hard that tears were rolling down his face. Vin was bent over his bowl, shoveling chili into his mouth, his shoulders, under the afghan, shaking with suppressed laughter. Chris gazed steadily at the fireplace, as if it was the most fascinating thing he had ever seen. Martin was concentrating on his chili, and Ezra's face was an unbecoming shade of red as he looked everywhere but at Buck. Josiah, on the other hand was in the kitchen, but they could all hear his deep laugh from their seats in the living room.

With a sigh Buck rose and went to the bathroom again. Looking in the mirror he had to smile; he had forgotten for a bit about the green guacamole on his face. Now it was dripping down his face and he looked he was wearing camouflage paint. He laughed as he found a wash cloth and quickly went to work scrubbing off the green goo. Once he was sure that every trace of dip had been removed from his face, he returned to the living room and calmly finished his dinner, shaking his head at the occasional giggle or muffled snort. He let them laugh, making himself a silent promise that he would get them back one day.

The rest of the evening passed uneventfully as they watched TV and talked, telling Martin about some of the cases they had worked on. Martin told them about his co-workers and their work with the Missing Persons Unit.

"You alright Cowboy?" Vin asked Chris as they got ready for bed, hoping that the headache Chris has the previous night wouldn't return.

"Fine pard. I think it's gone."

"You scared the hell outta me last night."

"I know, sorry about that. Hadn't had one of those in ages. Maybe it's from all this clear mountain air," Chris grinned at Vin as Vin slid his sweats-clad body into his bed and pulled up the blankets.

"You got your pills close by?" Vin asked as he piled on a couple more blankets.

"Right here, mom. Now get some sleep. See you in the morning," Chris said as he got into his bed.

"Okay . . . Goodnight . . ."

All Chris could see of Vin was the top of his head and a little long hair, the rest was buried under the blankets. With a grin Chris turned out the lamp and snuggled down.

The next morning after a hearty breakfast, the men headed for the slopes again for some last minute skiing and snowboarding before they headed back to Denver.

The sun was out, but the wind was bitter cold and it wasn't long before they were all headed back to the warm house. After brushing off the snow and cleaning their equipment, they placed everything in the mud room to dry, and headed in to pack their belongings.

They prepared a quick lunch out of the leftovers, cleaned the kitchen, and packed the Ram and Suburban. By 1:30 p.m. they were ready to leave. They quickly made a last check of the house, makings sure everything was clean, all lights and appliances were turned off, the fire was out, and nothing was left behind. Then they piled into the vehicles for the trip home. Buck and Martin rode in the back seat of the Ram with Chris and Vin, while Ezra and JD rode with Josiah.

As they left the beautiful log house behind them they wondered it they'd ever get a chance to come back again.

The two vehicles soon reached the point outside of Denver where two highways came together. It had been decided that they would drop Buck and JD off at their apartment, and make a quick stop at Vin's place so that he could pick up a couple changes of clothes, and then Chris, Vin and Martin would continue on out to Chris' ranch. As the traffic merged into the second highway, Chris suddenly felt an agonizing pain in his head so powerful that he blacked out almost instantly. His hands went to his head involuntary, and he moaned, "Oh God!" before he slumped to the side, unconscious.

Vin was turned sideways, facing the backseat as he talked to Buck and Martin, when he heard Chris moan. Glancing at the Team Leader out of the corner of his eye, he saw Chris release the steering wheel and slump in his seat, his face white and drawn. Without thinking Vin unbuckled his seatbelt and slid across the seat, his hand reaching for the wheel, fighting to get his long legs over the gear shift between them. He managed to grab the steering wheel just before the Ram drifted into the side of an adjacent pick-up truck, then swung his left leg over the gears and kicked Chris' foot off the gas pedal as he tried to reach across the unconscious man to the turn signal. His eyes widened when he saw the back of a semi in front of them, and another one coming up on their left. They were going way too fast, and he couldn't get his foot to the break or clutch.

"Hang on," he half yelled as he wrenched the steering wheel to the right, praying there wasn't anything buried in the four foot snow bank, and that there was a flat place on the other side. It slowed them down but not enough as the Ram plowed through and kept going, down a slight incline to a frozen creek bed. Vin fought the wheel and managed to keep the truck going straight. The Ram slid across the frozen creek and hit the opposite bank with enough force to bounce it up and over, then skated into an unyielding pine tree that stopped it totally. Vin's body was flung into the dashboard, his head connecting with enough force to break the windshield. He fell unconscious to the floor. Still locked in his seatbelt, Chris' head hit the steering wheel, then smacked into the side window. The air bag finally inflated partly and fell limply into his lap. Buck and Martin were both knocked unconscious after their heads snapped back into the back window of the Ram, then banged into the side windows.

Josiah wondered what in hell Chris was doing as he merged onto the second freeway at well over the speed limit. He and his teammates watched in horror as the truck veered suddenly to the right and flew through the snow bank. As he pulled off the freeway he turned on his flashers and set his bubble light on top of the Suburban. Ezra was already on his cell phone calling for help. The three of them rushed into the opening in the snow bank left by the Ram, and followed its trail down the incline, slipping, and sliding until they reached the truck smashed against the tree.

When they reached the truck they quickly tried all the doors, desperate to reach the injured men inside. Ezra and Josiah pulled open the two back doors, both breathing sighs of relief as they checked for vital signs in Buck and Martin. JD checked the front passenger door, which had sustained too much damage to be opened, then ran around to the driver's side.

"Josiah, you might be able to get Chris' door opened; I can't, it's stuck. I can see blood on their faces," JD said as he stepped away, his face pale. He could hear sirens in the distance, and hoped the paramedics would arrive soon.

Josiah waded through the snow to the driver's side door; he'd found a strong pulse in Buck's neck, and thought he and Martin were just knocked out. He tried Chris' door, but it didn't budge. Glancing in the window he saw his friends trapped and bleeding, and with an oath he threw all his strength into yanking open the door and pulling it as wide as it would go. His hand went immediately to Chris' neck, and he took a deep breath when he found a pulse. Despite his long arms, though, he was unable to reach Vin. With another oath he backed away, trying to figure out how to get to Vin without moving Chris. Josiah's head snapped up as he heard voices from the other side of the creek. The paramedics and a fire crew had arrived. Within minutes the EMT's had Chris out of the truck and were assessing his injuries; he was placed in a cervical collar and a bandage was wrapped around the cut on his head. The fire crew managed to wrestle open the passenger side door and laid Vin on a gurney, where he received similar treatment from the paramedic's. By this time Buck and Martin were awake, and though a little dizzy and with sore heads, they both seemed to be all right.

Buck and Martin were helped up to the road and loaded into the first of the waiting ambulances, then Chris and Vin were carried up and placed in the second. JD climbed into the ambulance with Buck and Martin. Josiah and Ezra hurried back to the wrecked Ram and with the help of a few of the firefighters moved the four men's belongings over to the Suburban. A short time later they were following the ambulances to Denver General, where they'd meet up with the others.

Josiah and Ezra rushed into the ER and asked for their friends. The nurse at the desk knew them well from the many times one or the other of the team was there, and directed them to where JD was waiting. They found JD pacing back and forth in front of a closed door.

"The doctor is with Buck, and they have an icepack on Martin's head; he has a bump the size of a goose egg, and is a little sore. The doctor thought Buck had the same thing, but he just went in a couple minutes ago."

"Where is Mr. Fitzgerald?"

"Oh, in here. He's resting until they get his release papers done." JD pointed to the door to the left of him. "He can have visitors," he said as an after thought. Ezra and Josiah exchanged a smile.

"I'll check on Mr. Fitzgerald, if you want to see if you can find out something about our esteemed leader and Mr. Tanner," Ezra said and turned towards the door. Josiah nodded and headed for the nurses' station.

Several minutes later Josiah was back, a frown on his face, just as a nurse came from Martin's room, followed by Martin and Ezra. Josiah looked Martin over carefully; the FBI agent was pale, and was holding an icepack to the side of his head, and a prescription in his other hand. "Are you alright Martin?" Josiah asked.

"Yes, just bumped up a little. I've had worse," Martin answered with a little smile. "What about the others?"

"Vin and Chris are still being examined. Vin has regained consciousness, but Chris hasn't yet. Buck should be released shortly." Josiah answered. Just then a nearby door opened and Buck walked out, also holding an icepack against his head and a prescription in his hand.

"What's happening?" he asked.

"Waiting for you, and word on Chris and Vin," JD answered quickly, relieved to see that his roommate was all right.

The men walked over to the nearby waiting room and were just sitting down when Nathan rushed in. After explaining to him what was happening he went down the hall to see what he could find out and to notify Rain, who was on duty.

Almost fifteen minutes later Nathan was back, Rain beside him. Before anyone could say anything, Rain raised her hand and told them, "They are all right. Vin is getting a couple of stitches in his head where he hit the windshield, and his back is somewhat bruised, but he is awake and wanting to leave. They want to keep him though, in case of a concussion. He'll be stiff and sore for a few days. Chris, they are still working on him. Dr. Jamison will probably run some tests, since he isn't awake yet."

"Sounds like you talked to Vin and the doctor," Buck said.

"Yes, doctor privileges," Rain smiled.

"How soon before we can see Mr. Larabee?" Ezra asked.

"Soon as they finish, he will be moved to a room, and then you can see him."

"When will Vin be released?" JD asked looking down the hall, watching for the sharpshooter.

"Patience JD, it won't be too long now," Nathan said with a smile.

"I'll check on him again," Rain said, proceeding down the hall towards the treatment rooms.

"Can't leave you boys alone for two days and you go hurting yourselves! You all are giving me grey hair!" Nathan exclaimed as he looked over his teammates and Martin. Shaking his head he glanced at Ezra, "Shall we go get this crew some coffee?"

With a two fingered salute Ezra stepped into the hall, Nathan behind him.

An hour later, they were all seated in Chris' room, no one really wanting to go home yet. Vin had been released, but was dozing on the second bed in the room, while Buck and Martin slept upright in chairs next to the beds. The others took turns waking Vin every two hours.

Chris thought he was floating as he moved slowly from room to room in a house. He couldn't figure out where he was; the house was not his, nor did it belong to any of his teammates. He crossed a hallway and looked to his right. He saw the reflection of a small blond haired boy with green eyes and wearing dark green shorts in a large oval mirror. The boy wasn't more than five or six years old, his knees and elbows were skinned and cut, bleeding from a bad fall he had taken on the rough pavement in front of the house. Tears were rolling down his face as he valiantly fought not to cry out loud. As blood dripped onto the threadbare flowered carpet in the hall he moved on, looking for help, someone to take care of his injuries. Suddenly a dark door appeared in front of him and he could hear the mummer of voices on the other side. With a blood covered hand he turned the knob and pushed it open a little, finally making out the angry voices of his father and mother.

He opened the door a couple of inches and listened, unsure if he should enter the room completely. His father had started to yell at his mom, and she was crying as she held a hand to the side of her face. "You loved him enough that you had his kid. How can you say you love me? You sit and pine for the bastard."

"No Douglas, I thought I loved him but what he did to me was proof he didn't. I didn't know I was pregnant when I left him in DC. I was only twenty two. I THOUGHT he loved me."

"Why would someone with money and a family mixed up in politics want a no-body from Illinois? Why would the great Fitzgerald even look at you?"

"Doug, we have been over this before. I don't know why he looked at me! Victor was a gentleman and we got along fine; he didn't flaunt his family in my face. But it was over years ago! Why can't you understand that? I LOVE YOU!"

"Because I am raising his bastard as my own son, and you still are thinking of him, wanting him."

"No! No! Douglas you are all wrong! You are the one I love and the only one I want in my life. Please, it is only you," the sobbing woman said.

The little blond pushed the door open and rushed in, charging past his father and rushing to hug his mother. "I'm sorry momma. I'm sorry daddy. Please don't fight. I love you both. Please, please," he sobbed, hiding his face in his mother's lap as he twined his small arms around her. This wasn't the first time he had found his parents fighting over someone named Victor Fitzgerald. He felt a hand rub his head and knew it was his father. He raised his tearstained face to the man as he knelt down beside him and his mother.

"I'm sorry son, it is my fault. Don't cry. I will make it up to you both, I promise. I'm sorry honey, I will get help for my drinking, today," Douglas said as he hugged his little family.

Chris drifted away. He hadn't dreamed of his parents' fights in many years. The memories were not ones he wanted to keep, but now and then they popped up.

"Chris, it's time to wake up. We can't stay here waitin' fer you to make up yer mind. So wake up, so we can go home." A soft voice with a Texas drawl cut through his thoughts. Chris rolled his head away from the voice; he was comfortable where he was, but the voice called to him again and with a sigh he turned his head and slowly opened his eyes to an expectant pair of deep blue eyes looking right back at him.

"'bout time Cowboy. I was about ready to come in there and drag you out! Are you going to stay awake now?" Vin asked as he sat on the edge of his bed.


"Vin? What happened? Why'm I here?" Confused, Chris glanced around the quiet hospital room, then looked at Vin who was sitting on the edge of his bed. "Everyone alright? Where is everyone?"

"Take it easy Chris. We're all fine, few bumps and a little sore but all okay. We had a little accident, um, your truck's at Joe's. Do you remember anything?" Vin asked as Chris stared at him in surprise.

Chris frowned, "All I remember is a pain in my head as I was driving, then nothing."

Vin caught Chris' arm, "it's OK, we're all fine, just take it easy. The doctors ran some tests to see why you blacked out, and you had surgery."

Chris looked around the room, "Where is everyone? Damn, what day is it?"

"They're at the office; we were supposed to go back to work yesterday. I dropped Martin off with the guys, talked to Travis, and have spent the last two days here. It's been a slow week; the guys will be here before too long."

"Martin alright?"

"Yes. He and Buck got bumps on the heads and sore necks, but they're both alright."

"You?" Chris pointed to the small bandage on the side of Vin's head.

"I'm fine. Coupla stitches and some bruises. Here's your doctor; he'll tell you about the surgery you had," Vin answered, moving off the side of the bed to make room for the doctor. "I'll go get a cup of coffee."

"Surgery? Vin, what in the hell . . . Doctor?" A confused Chris looked up noticing for the first time that he was hooked to a beeping monitor.

"It's all right Vin, you can stay if Chris doesn't mind," Dr. Mike Jamison said, knowing the young agent would just be pacing out in the hallway anyway. The members of Team 7 were notorious amongst the medical and nursing staffs for their impatience when one of their own was hurt or injured, and Vin was known to be particularly annoying and persistent when it Chris was the one in the hospital.

At Chris' nod, Vin settled on the other bed.

"Well Chris, you had us all a little worried about the reason for those sudden headaches, so we ran some tests while you were unconscious. The MRI and CAT scan showed a subdural hematoma on the left side. We had to perform emergency surgery to relieve the pressure by drilling a small hole in your skull, but I think everything should be fine from now on. You just have to take it easy for a few weeks."

"I'll be okay?"

"Yes. Well, until you knock that hard head into something even harder," Dr. Jamison teased, having treated this man many times over the last few years. "Just try not to do that for a month or so."

Vin chuckled and opened his mouth to add his two cents' worth.

"Shut up Tanner," Chris said without looking at him. "When can I get out of here Dr. Mike?"

"Tomorrow. As long as you behave yourself, eat all your vegetables, and don't harass the nurses too much, we can cut you loose tomorrow morning. I also want to get you on something for your migraines. Vin told me about the one you had several days ago, and the one that seemed to cause the accident. We can't have that happening to you."

Chris shot Vin a glance. "Haven't had one in a long time."

"Migraines are like that; you can go months without one, then all of a sudden you'll have one that will knock you for a loop. They can be very unpredictable, but they can also be triggered by certain foods or environmental factors. We need to determine what those triggers are in your case, if any, so you can take the necessary steps to avoid them," Mike sat down in the chair next to the bed and looked at Chris seriously. "We need to get these headaches under control Chris. If something like this happens again the consequences could be much worse, and you don't want to be driving or handling weapons anymore. I know you; you need your work, and your Team needs you. I don't want to see you lose your job or, even worse, be confined to a desk because of something that we can control with good preventive care and medication. Now I'm going to check your surgical incision, and then you are going to rest."

Several minutes later Mike placed a clean bandage over the incision and stepped away. "It looks good Chris. And the best thing is, we didn't lose any of your brains during the procedure. I'll be back to check you over around four o'clock and if everything looks good and you've taken a nap like a good boy, I'll see about disconnecting this monitor then. See you later," Dr. Jamison smiled and winked at Vin as he left the room.

Vin grinned at Chris. "I like your doctor; he has a good sense of humor, and knows how to use it on you."

"Yeah, he's a riot," Chris growled.

Vin laughed as he slid off the bed. "Want me to see if I can find you something to eat? Maybe that'd get you into a better mood, since you missed breakfast before."

Chris snickered, "Have you eaten?" he asked innocently, knowing that if a tray had arrived while he was unconscious, Vin would have eaten it, not wanting it to go to waste.

Face flushing red, Vin ducked his head and mumbled, "Well, weren't like you were awake to eat it, and it was a young gal who left it, she didn't know she wasn't supposed to."

Chris laughed and shook his head, "I could use some water or juice."

Vin's face turned redder as he hurried to pour Chris a cup of water and handed it to the smiling blond.

"Sorry 'bout that. Was so happy you were awake, I forgot."

"That's alright Vin. Just realized how thirsty I was," Chris replied as he drank the water slowly, letting his stomach adjust to the liquid.

"Um, I got somethin' to tell you and I'm not sure if you're gonna to like it." Vin sat down on the spare bed after filling the cup again for Chris.

At Chris' raised eyebrow, Vin continued a little nervously. "Your folks called the other night to wish you Happy New Year. They wanted ta talk ta you. I finally had ta tell'em you were here . . .Um . . ." Vin shot a glance at the clock on the wall. "They should be here in an hour. I couldn't convince them you were alright. Yer dad said it'd be only a quick stop; he's got a big meeting in LA, an' yer ma was along for fun. Sorry Chris, I did try."

Vin looked so downhearted that Chris had to smile as he handed the empty cup to him. "It's okay Vin. I have a few questions I need to ask them anyway. It'll be easier talking to them face to face. Thanks," he said as a relieved look crossed Vin's face.

"I wasn't sure . . ." he stopped as the door swung open and Martin and the rest of Team 7 walked in.

"Hey Stud! When are you getting out of here? Nurse said you finally woke up." Buck was grinning almost ear to ear as he greeted Chris, and slapped Vin on the shoulder so hard he almost knocked him over.

"Tomorrow. Gotta wait for Mike to check me out one more time," Chris answered.

"Good! You're looking better then you were," Buck remarked as the others nodded, all remembering how pale Chris had been when he was first brought into the room after the surgery.

Chris ignored Buck and looked at Martin, noting the bruise on the side of his face, "Are you alright?"

"Yes Chris, I'm fine," Martin smiled as he leaned against the other bed near Vin.

"They taking care of you?"

"Yes. You have a beautiful ranch. Hope you don't mind, Vin and I have been staying there. I'm helping him with the horses."

"Vin knows he's always welcome. I've been trying to get him to move out there for months; I have plenty of room, and that apartment of his isn't that safe."

"It's not in the safest part of town, that's for sure," Martin grinned as Vin rolled his eyes.

The door flew open once again and Rain hurried in, her white lab coat billowing around her, a file in one hand, and a big smile on her face.

"I'm glad to see you are awake, Chris. Are you feeling alright?" she asked as she stopped at the foot of his bed.

"Yes ma'am. Feeling fine, should be out tomorrow."

"Great Chris, you are looking a lot better. Now for the real reason I'm here." Her dark eyes took in the men as Nathan moved to her side. She looked at Vin, who had seated himself on the other bed, and Martin, who was leaning against it. Both young men were dressed in blue jeans and dark T-shirts covered by blue flannel shirts. Rain smiled to herself at how unconsciously alike the two of them were, even down to their choice of clothing.

"I just received the results of the DNA tests. As if we didn't already know, it's been confirmed, you two are identical twins."

For a moment silence fell over the room, and then with a loud 'Whoop' Buck hugged Martin, then grabbed Vin in a bear hug as he pulled him off the bed. Voices erupted as everyone tried to talk at once and congratulate the new brothers.

"Buck!" Vin gasped as Buck swung him around.

"Sorry Junior," Buck released him and Vin staggered back a step, pain flaring across his back.

Chris saw the pain filled expression that crossed Vin's face and reached his hand out towards him, "Vin?"

Vin stepped to Chris' bed, his face changing quickly, "I'm fine, jist caught me by surprise."

"Your back?"

"Bruises. I'm fine now." Vin smiled widely as he grabbed Chris' arm in their familiar grip, 'Don't worry Chris, I'm fine. I have another brother! ' he sent, his eyes filled with awe.

Chris laughed and pulled Vin down into a quick hug, 'That you do pard. And you better rescue him before he ends up with broken ribs.'

'Yer still my brother too Cowboy.'

'I know.' "Better help Martin," Chris hugged Vin once more and released him.

JD gave Vin a huge smile and grabbed him into a quick hug. "It's great Vin!" he exclaimed.

"Thanks JD . . ."

Vin was hugged by Rain as she took her leave, promising to talk to them later.

Josiah released Martin, who quickly stepped towards the safety of Chris' bed. Chris smiled at him and held out his hand. Martin grabbed it in a heartfelt shake.

"Welcome to Vin's family Martin. Hope we all don't scare you off."

"No one can do that. I've found my brother and nothing is going to change that," Martin said happily, tears in his eyes.

"I'm happy for you both." Chris pulled Martin into a quick hug and released him as Vin approached.

'God, I've got a brother, a twin!' Vin thought, and Chris smiled, sensing the awe and joy.

'Congratulations, pard,' Chris thought.

"Well, Mr. Tanner, Mr. Fitzgerald, I believe this auspicious occasion calls for a large celebration. We need some festivities to commemorate this occurrence. If Mr.Larabee has received his release from these premises, may I suggest that we convene tomorrow evening? It is our duty to welcome our brother's brother into the fold, and to celebrate Mr. Larabee's liberation from this sterile prison. Is tomorrow evening his feasible for everyone?" Ezra asked.

Several groans were heard as the men tried to work out exactly what Ezra had said. Then Buck exclaimed, slapping Ezra on the shoulder, "Ezra, if all that means we should have a party, hell yes!"

Everyone was talking at once, when a sharp whistle cut through the noise. A tall, handsome, grey haired man with a military bearing stood in the open doorway; a grey-blonde woman with green eyes and wearing a woolen pant suit stood beside him, her delicate hand on his arm. Silence fell as everyone stared at each other in surprise.

Chris suddenly smiled, "Boys, this is my mom and dad. Mrs. Gail Larabee and Retired General Douglas Larabee. Mom, Dad, this is my team plus one, Vin Tanner, Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson, Ezra Standish, JD Dunne, you know Buck, and Vin's brother Martin Fitzgerald."

Greetings were exchanged and then Vin looked at Chris. "We'll get out of yer hair and let ya'll visit for awhile. We'll be back later."

The seven men left Chris and his parents alone to visit while they had the time to do so. Several hours later Vin and Martin were sitting in the waiting room when they saw General and Mrs. Larabee pass by on their way out of the hospital. It was just past lunchtime; they had all gone to lunch and when the others went back to work, Martin and Vin had returned with a sub-sandwich and large cup of coffee for Chris.

"His Ma doesn't look too happy," observed Vin.

"The General looks furious. Hope everything is alright with Chris," added Martin as they watched the couple walk quickly away. They glanced briefly at each other, then shrugged and headed for the elevators, carrying Chris' lunch.

Pushing Chris' door open slowly, the brothers entered the room. Chris' arm was across his eyes and his jaw was clenched tightly. Vin knew he wasn't sleeping, but something was bothering him. "Chris?" Vin asked quietly.

Slowly Chris lowered his arm and opened his eyes, looking from one brother to the other. "I'm alright. Just feel bad, and my parents are mad at me. We'll be okay. What are you two up to?" he asked, changing the subject quickly.

"Brought you a sandwich and coffee," Vin answered as he and Martin set the food on the tray and pushed it forward so Chris could reach it.

"Thanks, looks a lot better than the hospital food that came awhile ago," Chris smiled as he opened the wrapped sandwich and started eating. "What are you two still doing here?"

Martin smiled, "We decided to keep you company for awhile. If you don't mind?"

"Fine by me," Chris replied, happy to be able to spend time with the young men. The hours passed quickly as the three visited.

That evening Vin and Martin returned to the ranch for the night, promising Chris they would be there first thing in the morning to pick him up. However, it took them longer to get to the hospital the following day than they planned. After caring for the horses and gulping down a quick breakfast, they cleaned the snow off the sidewalks and then hurried to the jeep, only to find Vin's pride and joy refused to start.

When banging on the steering wheel and cursing didn't help, Vin jumped out and lifted the hood. Two hours later they finally pulled into the hospital parking lot, both having worked on the engine for an hour before they could get the contrary jeep to start. As they rushed into Chris' room they met Buck and Ezra who were waiting with Chris.

Dr. Jamison arrived short. He handed Chris a prescription for a new migraine medication, and an hour later they were headed for the ranch, with Buck and Ezra promising to be out later in the afternoon with the rest of the Team for the party.

The party that evening was a huge success. The Team had invited their neighbor, Nettie Wells, and her niece Casey, and even Orrin and Evie Travis attended. Mrs. Evie Travis was carried into the house by Josiah and established in a comfortable recliner with her casted leg elevated. Rain was on call at the hospital for the weekend, so Nathan had come alone. Everyone was thrilled at the news that Vin and Martin twins, and Evie had welcomed Martin into the fold with a warm, friendly hug.

The Travis' and Nettie and Casey called it a night after a couple of hours, but Martin and Team 7 enjoyed the rest of the evening, and then spent the night at the ranch. The snow had been falling steadily all night and the roads had turned icy. Chris didn't want his friends out in that kind of weather, so beds and sleeping bags were found for everyone.

The snow was still falling the next day as Chris, Vin and Martin made their way to the barn and quickly dispatched with the chores. When they got back in the house, Josiah and Nathan were in the kitchen cooking, while Buck and JD picked up the living room and got it ready for another football Sunday.

The phone rang as the three men were brushing off the snow in Chris' mud room. Buck tossed the phone to Chris who slipped quickly out of his boots and coat and hurried into his den office.

Vin and Martin walked into the kitchen and were handed platters of biscuits and bacon, which they placed on the table. Josiah and Ezra followed with eggs, hash brown potatoes and gravy, as Nathan brought in a large pot of coffee and called out that breakfast was ready. Everyone was eating when Chris entered and started filling his plate.

"Everything okay?" Vin asked as Chris slid into a chair beside him; he had a feeling that something was wrong.

"Yeah. Just some stuff from my folks."

"They're home already?" Buck asked as he looked across the table at Chris.

"Got home earlier this morning," Chris answered and then changed the subject. "I don't know if we'll be able to get you to the airport tomorrow, Martin. The way this snow is coming down, flights might be cancelled."

"I'm thinking that too. I'll call the airline as soon as I'm done."

"If this keeps up, it might be a few days before we can get out of here too," Buck said.

"What about the snowmobiles?" JD asked, thinking of the three stored in Chris' barn.

"Three, Mr. Dunne, would not get all of us and our gear back to Denver, much less the airport," Ezra said as he poured himself more coffee, then moved around the table filling the others cups.

"Oh, yeah, that's right."

"The county snowplow hasn't been by at all and no telling when it will be," Nathan said, reminding himself to let Rain know he was going to be stuck at Chris' for awhile.

"We would still need to get down to the road from here, and it doesn't look like that's going to happen any time soon. Unless everyone wants to start shoveling," Josiah added, and then grinned as he saw the horrified look on Ezra's face.

"Once the county comes through, Yosemite will be here; he has a plow on his truck and usually plows out Nettie's and my driveway. We just have to wait and see what happens today." Chris said as he took a sip of coffee.

Martin called the airlines and found that his flight was still on, but had been rescheduled for an hour later. As he talked, he watched the snow piling up outside the living room window. He didn't think he would be leaving for New York anytime soon, and realized that he was happy with that thought.


Sunday quickly passed and the snow continued to fall; all flights out of the city were cancelled. Martin called his boss, Jack Malone, and filled him in on what was going on, promising that he'd call back as soon as he knew when he could get a flight to New York.

During the night the power went out and the eight men woke up to a cold house. A fire was quickly built in the den's fireplace and the one in the living room was stoked back to life. Chris was happy that he'd changed his kitchen appliances over to gas two years before, at least they could cook, keep food cold and had some hot water. Vin, Martin and JD took care of the horses, while Chris, Buck and Ezra got Chris' large generator set up; soon they had a several heaters and the television working.

After breakfast, they got the snowmobiles out of the barn and before long they were taking turns roaring around the ranch. Chris and Vin left to check on Miss Nettie, who lived a mile down the road, as her niece Casey had gone in to work and wasn't able to get back home. They found the old woman packing firewood into her house and they quickly relieved her of that duty. Carrying in enough firewood to last her several days, they also stacked more on her porch so she wouldn't have to go out into the snow. After a cup of coffee and some cookies they headed back to the ranch, assured that she was fine, but vowing to check on her every day anyway.

Two days later the county snowplow finally made it to their area and plowed the snow covered roads. Yosemite showed up an hour later to plow Chris' driveway while the rest of the men were outside digging their vehicles out of the almost three feet of snow and trying to get them started. Contrary as always, Vin's jeep wouldn't start, and after a heated discussion, it was decided they would put it in the barn until they could get it running again. Yosemite had cleared the drive to the barn before he left and Chris towed the jeep to the front of the barn. With a lot of laughing and joking they all pushed it inside.

"I think it's time you got another rig, brother," Martin told his sad looking brother.

"Got a Harley, but can't ride it in this weather. It's over there," Vin pointed to a tarp covered lump several feet beyond the jeep.

'You need something more reliable,' Vin heard in his head as Chris threw a tarp over the jeep.

Martin cocked his head, eyes widening in surprise as he looked from Vin to Chris.

"Don't need anything else!"Vin shot back.

'Yes you do brother,' Martin thought and hesitated as a pair of blue eyes, then green ones nailed him where he stood.

"What the . . ."

"Sor . . .Sorry . . . I . . .I . . ." Martin stuttered.

Buck burst out laughing as Josiah and Ezra smiled.

"What happened?" Nathan asked before JD did.

Buck, still laughing over the looks on the three men's faces, said, "Looks like Martin can 'hear' Vin and Chris can hear them both. You guys ought to see your faces."

"Sorry, I . . . I didn't know . . ." Martin tried to get his thoughts straight, but was still reeling over the unspoken connection he had with his brother and Chris. He raised his hands in a helpless gesture; he didn't want this, and he didn't want to intrude on anyone's thoughts especially his brother's and his brother's best friend. Looking at the two men still standing near him, he wished he was anywhere else at the moment or that the ground would open up to swallow him.

'NO!' Martin jumped hearing two shouted voices in his head, and blushed as he realized they had heard what he was thinking.

Vin gripped his confused brother's arm as Martin looked down. Chris was beside the brothers a moment later, giving Buck a look. The ladies' man smiled knowingly and ushered the others out of the barn and towards the house.

Chris rested his hand on Martin's shoulder. "It's alright Martin. No one can explain this 'bond' or 'connection' that Vin and I have; it's just something that seemed to happen when we began working together. We can sense the other team members too, but we're the only ones who can 'hear' each other. You and Vin are identical twins, so it stands to reason that you would have this ability as well." Chris smiled and shook Martin's shoulder. "It's a little disconcerting to have voices in your head; its bad enough I've got Vin in there, but now you too? This should be interesting."

Chris' smile widened. "Don't worry, we don't 'hear' each other all the time, only when we really concentrate, although we did hear you a moment ago. You'll be leaving soon, and I have a feeling New York is far enough away that we won't be intruding each other's thoughts unless we're screaming." Chris shot a look at Vin, who was nodding in agreement, "Besides, we don't always talk to each other this way. This isn't a major catastrophe, Martin, it's just a small bump in the road; and we'll get it figured out."

Martin nodded tentatively at the two men. "Guess we'll see what happens, and I'll try not to intrude on you two while I'm still here."

Vin grabbed Martin in a headlock. "Ya aren't intrudin', ya lunkhead, you're my brother. Now let's go ta the house, I'm freezing my ass off out here."

Laughing, the three men hurried from the barn, closing the double doors behind them, and made their way to the house, entering just as the power came back on. Coffee mugs were thrust into their hands and they went into the living room to warm themselves in front of the fireplace.

"Mr. Larabee, your fax machine is working overtime, spewing papers out all over the place," Ezra said as he walked into the living room, his small suitcase in his hand.

"Thanks Ezra. You leaving?"

"I believe it is time to get to my humble abode and ensure that it survived this inclement weather," Ezra answered.

Nathan looked at Josiah, who nodded in agreement. "We need to leave too. I am sure Rain will be wondering by now if Nathan has deserted her," Josiah grinned, knowing his friend had talked to his wife every evening, until his cell phone battery died.

"We should be going too," Buck said last. "Not that we want to leave this fine company, but I want to be sure the apartment survived this cold. I'm hoping no broken pipes."

"Don't mention that! I left water running, but . . ." Josiah groaned, thinking of his old house that he was slowly renovating.

The men gathered their belongings and before long they were headed out, telling Martin they hoped to see him again before he had to leave. Chris reminded them that the next day was a work day and he'd see them in the morning, and smiled at the bitching and moaning he received in return.

Once the rest of the team was gone, Vin and Martin went to the kitchen to throw together some lunch, while Chris went to check his fax machine.

The brothers waited for Chris in the kitchen, but after calling him for lunch several times with no response, they tracked him down in the den, where he'd been for the last half hour. They found him sitting at his desk, a handful of papers in his hands and a shocked expression on his face.

"Chris?" Vin asked quietly.

Chris jumped, so lost in thought he hadn't heard or seen the brothers enter the room. 'Oh God, how am I going to tell them?' he thought as he looked at the twin pairs of blue eyes regarding him with concern.

'Tell us what Cowboy?' Vin asked, his eyes narrowing.

Chris tore his gaze away and looked at the papers in his hand, then back at the two men. He carefully and deliberately set the papers down on the desk, ran a shaky hand through his hair and across his face, and nodded to the arm chairs arranged around a small table in the corner of the room. "You both better sit down. I've got a story to tell you." He waited as Vin and Martin exchanged a baffled look, then sat down uneasily.


"Jist spit it out Chris."

Chris closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Okay, here goes. My mother went to college in DC, on a scholarship. She met a man and . . . they had an affair, she got pregnant, and he left her. She went home and ended up marrying her first love from high school. Dad joined the service and we moved around quite a bit at first, as he moved up the ranks. Dad drank quite a bit in those days, and when I was small I'd hear them arguing. Those arguments turned into fights; they always seemed to be about me and some other man . . . when I was around six they had a terrible fight and my dad hit my mom," Chris shuddered, remembering his mother sobbing while he tried to hold and comfort her as her eye swelled. "Dad finally snapped out of it and got help; he's been fine ever since, and I never saw them fight again. I haven't had nightmares about that last fight for many years, until the accident the other day. I had some questions I needed to be answered so I was happy to see my folks stop by the hospital. It was easier to ask them face to face than over the phone. I did upset them both, especially mom; she hadn't thought of that other man for years. But, I was able to talk them into having their DNA tested before they left. Rain sent me the test results the other day, just as the power went out."

Chris placed his hand on the papers he'd just read. "These are the results of the DNA tests on my mother and father." Pointing to another, smaller stack of papers also lying on the desk, Chris continued, "And these are the DNA test results from my biological father." He grinned, "Mom sent them to Rain; I think she told him that she wanted to prove that I really wasn't his son." Chris' voice faltered, and he said in a low voice, "But I am his. I don't know him, have never met him, and won't ever acknowledge him, in fact, I don't ever even want to see him, but he is my father."

"Chris, you don't have to do this, it's none of our business who your father is or isn't," Martin said gently, his blue eyes locked on his new friend.

Vin nodded, "Not our business, cowboy."

"Yes it is. My biological father is Victor Fitzgerald."

Shock froze the two brothers to their seats.

Before they could respond, Chris went on, "That's not all. Fitzgerald was in Dallas for eight months in 1978. He met a waitress and had a fling. She died two days after delivering twins, but lived long enough to name the father and turn them over to the State of Texas. They were placed in an orphanage and one boy was adopted a couple months later. When the orphanage burned down, the other twin was sent to San Antonio where he was eventually adopted by his own father, who never even suspected."

Vin and Martin stared at Chris through stunned blue eyes.

"How . . . how . . . where did you . . . get this?" Vin stuttered.

"How could you get this information? Aren't the records sealed?" Martin asked in a half whisper, slumping down into his chair.

One corner of Chris' mouth quirked up, "My dad's a retired General; he's rubbed shoulders with a lot of brass, most way higher up the ladder than Victor Fitzgerald. With a couple of phone calls, dad can get a lot done in a short amount of time." Chris voice dropped as he shook his head. "The records were sealed on your birthmother, but once it was opened," he held up a couple pieces of paper, "her name and the father's name are both on the birth certificates. Dad found out some things about Victor, most of it is classified, but he did give me the dates he was in Dallas."

"Oh my God . . ." Martin's voice came out in a quiet rasp as he slowly stood up, his eyes not leaving Chris' face.

"We're brothers . . ." Vin's soft Texas drawl followed and he too rose.

Chris was out of his chair and moving around the desk as the twins stepped up to him. They stared at each other for a moment, dazed looks on their faces. Suddenly their eyes filled with tears and the three men moved into a three-way hug.

"I always wanted a brother," they all said at the same time, then burst out laughing.

Finally, the brothers separated, grinning at each other in disbelief.

"Now what?" Vin asked, blinking hard.

'Beer,' Vin heard in his head from two different voices, and all three of them burst out laughing again.

'Coffee and lunch,' he shot back, as the three of them left the room for their late lunch.

+ + + + + + +

The next day, Vin and Martin rode into work with Chris, Martin's suitcase and skis in the back of Chris' truck. The airport had opened the day before and Martin had a 4:00 pm flight to New York to catch. The three brothers had talked long into the night, strengthening the bond between them. Martin wished that he didn't have to leave, but he liked his job and there was no Missing Person Unit set up in Denver yet. If there ever was an MPU in Denver, however, he was sure he'd be the first to put in for a transfer.

As the three of them walked into the office, Chris took note of the rest of the team lounging around the coffee pot and, with a smile on his face, ordered, "Conference room, right now."

Buck shot the three a glance and instantly straightened up, sensing that something had changed between them. He looked at his old friend and wondered what it was that made Chris seem happier than usual. Vin and Martin had almost the same look on their faces. Buck led the way into the conference room and plopped down in his usual seat to the left of Chris as the rest of the team filed in.

Chris stood at the head of the table, flanked by Vin and Martin. When everyone was settled, he began, "Well this was sure a different holiday season for us. We worked hard this year and were rewarded with a great get-away and some well deserved rest. Then Vin found out he had a brother, an identical twin no less. But now, I've got some news that can top even that." Chris hesitated, suddenly unsure how to tell his brothers, teammates, and friends about the newest event. He felt his brothers step closer to him, their arms lightly brushing his, and he gave them both a quick smile.

"You remember all of those papers that were being faxed to me yesterday?" At the nods from his friends he continued, "Well, the long and short of it is that I requested some DNA information on several family members, and I discovered that I have two brothers that I never knew about. It seems that Vin, Martin and I, have the same biological father. In other words, we are really brothers."

For several seconds' five pairs of eyes stared at the three men in surprise, then as one they were up and surrounding the three new brothers. Buck grabbed Chris in a bear hug, "You old dog you! What great news! You always wanted a brother to order around, and I was too stubborn to fill that gap."

"Yeah, and now I have two little brothers to boss," Chris laughed, gasping for breath.

Once everyone had finally settled down, the three brothers stood in place and looked happily at their friends. Martin stood with one hand on Chris' arm, the other on Vin's, and smiled shyly at everyone.

"I thought I was getting away from everyone for the holidays by coming to Denver. I wanted to be away from New York and was ready to have a quiet holiday week alone. The only gift that I wanted was to be away enjoying myself, be by myself. But in coming here, I found so much more. I found new friends, and by chance, the greatest Holiday Gift there ever was. Two brothers."

Cheers greeted the new found brothers.

Fini - For Now. . .