Full Moon and Denver Seven
Chapter One - Chapter Four |
Chapter Five - Chapter Seven |
Chapter Eight - Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven - Chapter Thirteen | Chapter Fourteen - Chapter Seventeen | Chapter Eighteen - Chapter Twenty-Three
The rifle hadn't been touched in years. It hung as a shrine - oiled, shined and encased in a sealed glass display case - amongst the numerous trophies frozen in time. A tribute to one man's skill and daring, the display filled the room with well cared for animal heads, framed newspaper articles and other preserved mementos. Without the rifle, nothing else would be hanging here. The rifle was the central focus of the entire display, lovingly encased in velvet, glass and mahogany
Jong Wu - Dragon's Claw - plucked a ring of items from an elaborate hook near the door and began rolling the items on the ring between his fingers like a macabre rosary. From the ring dangled a dozen mummified human fingers worn smooth by the loving manipulation. Wu walked slowly around the den as he worked the trophy ring, gazing at his collection without really seeing it as he gently rubbed each jerked digits' pliable and surprisingly soft skin.
Wu was disturbed by his fractured thoughts.
'I've been too distant from the game,' he reasoned. 'I've become addled. Stagnant. Lost.'
The memory of his hectic escape was unnerving in its sloppiness. He wasn't used to sloppy. Dragon's Claw was used to clean efficiency and he now realized how far he'd been drawn off track from his true self. He had been lucky in his knowledge about the old, rarely used passage under the warehouse district and even luckier that it was unblocked. Many of the first tunnels had collapsed. Wu did not like relying on luck - it usually ran out.
As his eyes flowed over each success that hung on the wall he was comforted by the feeling of power the remains in his grasp gave him. Wu knew that he had become what he swore he never would - a general. In doing so, his power and skills were now diluted as orders were passed down to underlings. In relying on others for so long he'd lost his true power and therefore had become a slave to luck. He didn't like it. Wu knew he had to recapture his self respect before he could remind his peers that he was still someone to reckon with, someone with true power that deserved respect.
Dragon's Claw knew that true power came from one's hand absorbing the essence of life - for the farmer, it was soil. For the blacksmith, iron. For the hunter, it was blood. Some called it getting dirty. He recognized it for what it was - being reborn.
It had been too long since he'd gotten his hands dirty. Gripping the ring of fingers in one hand, he fingered the display case lock with the other until the face of the case sprung opened. Wu reached inside, holding his breath. The metal was cold under his hand at first, but as he caressed the rifle it grew warm and seemed to come alive. His breath returned. Dragon's Claw would be reborn.
Wu smiled as he lifted his old friend from its velvet coffin and his mind calmed. With the calm came his plan that would resurrect Dragon's Claw from his soul.
Ezra peered from the hotel window, deep in conflicted thought. The introduction of Martin Fitzgerald into the mix of things confused things. He was genuinely happy that Vin had discovered family, but why did it have to include Victor Fitzgerald?
When he had first joined the FBI Ezra had realized from the first day Quantico that he didn't fit the typical mold. Looking back, he was surprised he'd lasted as long as he did. To him, integrity took many forms and crossed many blurred lines. To the FBI agents he'd worked with, integrity was black or white but clearly defined by the FBI.
Ezra snorted and shook his head. If there was ever a man that defined FBI integrity, it was Victor Fitzgerald. If anyone didn't fit the man's mold of how an agent should act, that agent shouldn't be trusted. Unorthodox was unacceptable. Atlanta had proven that. If it weren't for Chris Larabee's impeccable timing Ezra was pretty sure he would have eventually wound up fired or in jail.
Victor Fitzgerald and Vin Tanner were about as opposite as two men could be and Ezra couldn't help but wonder where Martin fell in that mix. He wanted to bask in Vin's happiness but the shadow of the Deputy Director made that impossible. Until they returned to Denver, he was going to have to keep his distance and keep his eyes open. Until he knew where Martin Fitzgerald stood, Ezra would be careful.
And on top of all this, there was Dragon's Claw. Ezra remembered reading a profiler's summation of the assassin at Quantico as well as list of kills attributed to him. He was pleased that his instincts about the man had been spot on - the bottomless violence he saw in Wu's eyes was real. Ezra shuddered with the knowledge that the man was still out there.
"Hey, Ez?" Josiah's resonant voice rolled from the main area of the suite. "How're you doin', son?"
Ezra collected his thoughts and put them on a mental shelf, chuckling at his teammate's words.
"I do not believe you have ever claimed to be my father, Josiah." Ezra smiled as he turned from the window and walked stiffly into the living room. Josiah's eyes sparkled with amusement. "But in answer to your inquiry, I do think that I will eventually be able to move with comfort. Right now, however, it is merely a goal I hope to achieve sooner rather than later." He hissed as he lowered into a nicely padded wing chair.
Josiah provided a toothy grin. "Chris doesn't want you to be alone until they find this Dragon's Claw individual so for now you got me. And stay away from windows."
"And I am most comforted by your presence," Ezra sighed as he tried to find a comfortable position for his arm and shoulder. "So how goes the hunt? And how goes the reunion between Mr. Tanner and his long lost sibling?"
"I believe they are both getting released this afternoon and headed for Martin's apartment. They'll have company, too."
Ezra wrinkled his nose in distaste. "The illustrious Deputy Director Fitzgerald?"
Josiah grinned again. "Among others. From the sounds of him, I think that Chris will be challenged to keep his cool. I'd love to be a fly on the wall at that meeting."
"I have a feeling that Victor Fitzgerald had some explaining to do, and I, for one, would love to hear that tale. I believe he is the only man in the world that could come up with a logical and sensible reason for separating twins. And I predict that Mr. Tanner's situation will have something to do with the Deputy Director's integrity."
Josiah frowned. "I don't follow you."
Ezra sighed. "Mr. Tanner's grievous childhood happened because Victor Fitzgerald did not want to look bad."
The big agent looked thoughtful. "Vin would be an embarrassment to him?"
"That's my interpretation of things, yes, knowing what I know of the Deputy Director."
Josiah slowly shook his head. "Pride can be a terrible burden," he said lowly.
"Yes, it can be, Mr. Sanchez. It can be."
A knock on the door silenced both men. Josiah drew his weapon from his holster and he motioned Ezra to stay put. Standing to one side of the main door, he asked. "Who is it?"
Josiah moved a step forward and used the peep hole. Satisfied, he holstered his weapon, unlatched the door and pulled it open. Agent Johnson stepped in with two large albums under her arm.
"Good day, gentleman. I brought some mug shots for Agent Standish to pass the time."
"Wonderful," Ezra practically groaned. "And for whom am I looking?"
"Anyone, actually. We have some names from the two dirty marshals and those two gentlemen we detained at the courthouse, but they're lower level types. We were hoping you may recognize someone in here."
"I cannot think of a better way to spend my recuperative hours." Ezra's sarcasm was softened with a sigh.
"And we have an artist on the way so we can get a drawing of Jong Wu." Vivian plunked the albums down on the coffee table. "Finally, a picture of Dragon's Claw. Quite a coup, Agent Standish."
"This whole affair has had some surprising turns, Agent Johnson."
"That it has," she agreed. "That it has."
It was late afternoon before Vin received clearance to leave the hospital. He had dozed off and on, his rest interrupted constantly by nurses checking for alertness. All Martin wanted to do was get home to some peace and quiet and get to know his twin a little more before facing his father. In the meantime, his own pain had become manageable and he was learning to function, again, without the use of his right arm.
Chris Larabee stayed right at Vin's side the entire time. From speaking with him, Martin knew that things were moving at a rapid pace at the office. Jack was directing the action and Martin understood that if circumstances were a bit different Chris and Jack would be constantly bumping heads. For now, though, the ATF team leader was content where he was. The man checked in often and was definitely still in the loop which, in turn, made Martin still feel involved with the investigation.
Martin had shooed Samantha home for a few hours of sleep. She promised to return to escort him home. Danny had returned to the office to work with JD on Wu's financials and would brief them when they got home.
And it seemed the more he tried to push the upcoming confrontation with his father to the back of his mind, the more it crept to the front. When the nurse finally arrived with two wheelchairs in the late afternoon, he had to hold back a whoop of joy.
Samantha appeared at the same time with clothes for both of them. A few minutes and lots of frustrated grumbling later Vin and Martin were dressed and ready to go. They both flushed with embarrassment when Chris needed help them both button the loose jeans. Sam commandeered one chair while Chris helped a very grumpy Vin into the other. The two men received more than their share of curious looks as they passed down the hallway side by side. Martin got the distinct impression that if Vin's chin wasn't forced up by the cervical collar it would be buried in his chest. The impression deepened as they waited for the elevator.
A feeling of dread became very clear. Dread and something else . . . panic? Martin didn't have time to mull it over because when the elevator doors finally opened and revealed a packed car, the wave of panic washed over him in a cold douse. Samantha immediately turned the chair around a pulled Martin aboard, the crowd parting to make room.
Chris, though, didn't move. Instead he pulled Vin's chair back a bit and said, "We'll wait for the next one."
Relief quickly followed the stifling fear in Martin's mind.
"Hold the door," Martin barked as he rolled forward. The doors bumped the wheels of his chair before opening again. Samantha then jumped over and pushed him out the rest of the way. The doors whooshed closed behind them.
Without a word, Samantha pushed the button again and turned the chair around, stopping next to Vin.
Martin could see that his eyes were downcast.
'Too closed in?' Martin asked mentally, again marveling at how he'd adapted to this weird way of communication.
Vin turned stiffly and gave him a weak grin. 'Yeah.'
"Vin doesn't like tight quarters," Chris said lowly to Samantha.
"Oh, okay," Samantha replied.
When the next car came, most of the people disembarked, allowing the two chairs to be pushed in with a little room to spare. Still, Martin saw Vin's knuckles whiten as he gripped the wheelchair handle with his one good hand and felt the wash of panic.
"I hate these things," Vin muttered.
"The elevator or the wheelchair?" Samantha asked.
"Both," Vin grumbled.
Martin reached over and sympathetically patted Vin's forearm. "Almost there," he said. The feeling of panic retreated.
They were met in the elevator bays by Nathan and Buck wielding body armor and accompanied by two huge security guards. They helped the two injured agents to don it as best they could right there in the hallway, receiving curious looks from hospital staff and visitors.
"Jack's waiting just outside the staff exit," Buck explained. "Not a lot of sniping opportunities that way."
Vin snorted. "You'd be surprised."
They started their journey down a long hallway. Agents flanked the two chairs and the guards lead the way.
"I didn't say there were no sniping opportunities," Buck told Vin. "After watching you these past years I've come to believe there's no such thing as a safe place."
"Aren't you supposed to be making them feel better?" Samantha chastised. "Remind me to not call you when I'm feeling low. Not that calling you would ever cross my mind anyway."
"Ouch!" Buck said, clutching at his heart.
"Well, Bucklin, it sounds like you've finally met someone immune to your animal magnetism," Vin croaked dryly.
Martin was enjoying the light hearted teasing but he also noticed that no one escaped the scrutiny of their escorts. Even Vin's eyes darted around, studying everything. The feeling of security, though, was foremost in his mind. There was a level of trust among them that was comforting. As if reading his thoughts, Samantha's hand rested on his shoulder for a moment before she gave a reassuring squeeze.
Jack had the big SUV's doors open and waiting when their small group exited the building. With a little help, Martin and Vin were in the vehicle within seconds along with Samantha and Chris, and they were on their way. Nathan offered to collect all the medications and would join them at Martin's later.
'Home,' Martin thought. He felt Vin's gaze on him and turned to face his sibling.
Vin smiled slightly. 'Feels good to just be outta there,' he remarked.
During the drive Samantha leaned forward and whispered in Martin's ear. The effect of her warm breath on his neck and the faint scent of her perfume coaxed a slow burn of desire deep inside. Instinctively, he reached up with his good hand and gently stroked her cheek. With that touch, he felt his blood grow hot and his groin stir.
"You okay, Junior?" Buck leaned forward from the back seat and eyed Vin. "You're squirmin' like a worm on a sidewalk."
"'M fine," Vin mumbled, shifting in his seat.
"Do you need this other pillow . . . hey, are you alright? You're red." When Buck reached up to feel his forehead, Vin slapped his hand away.
"I'm fine, Buck!"
Martin froze and gave Vin a wide eyed stare. Then he felt his cheeks grow hot when he realized that Vin had felt his reaction to Samantha.
Something in the odd silence made Buck glance at Martin. Then he looked back to Vin, who looked like he was trying his best to curl up on himself and disappear. Buck put two and two together when he saw Martin snatch his hand back from Samantha's cheek like it was on fire, and the tall ATF agent's more than bemused expression reminded Martin as to why that man was compared to Danny.
Chris turned around and glared when Buck eventually broke out into laughter. "What's goin' on back there? Vin? You okay?"
"I said I'm fine!" he snapped, clearly embarrassed.
Martin couldn't help but feel guilty about Vin's predicament and knew the guilt was clear on his face because it made Buck laugh louder.
Fortunately, Samantha just sat back and looked at Buck like he was insane and hadn't figured out the situation.
Chris, though, must have either figured it out or 'read' Vin's thoughts because his famous glare- and- frown combination turned slowly into an eye-included grin before he turned to face forward again.
It took a minute or so for things to calm down. When they did, Martin apologized.
"Sorry," Martin said lowly.
'No need,' Vin replied. 'Guess there's more to this than I thought.'
'Welcome to my world,' Martin grumbled.
They arrived at Martin's apartment building without incident - life threatening incident, anyway - and entered the secured parking area. Chris and Samantha visually swept the area and called the elevator. When it arrived, he held it open while the Buck, Vin and Martin exited the vehicle.
Vin and Martin walked slowly, injured arms side by side. Buck, Chris and Samantha walked behind.
"They sorta look like a set a bookends, don't they?" Buck jibed.
"What would you know about bookends?" Samantha shot back. "I get the feeling that reading isn't one of your favorite pastimes."
Martin and Vin stepped to the back of the elevator and turned around.
"She's gotcha there, Buck," Vin snickered.
Martin didn't feel the same wave of controlled panic from Vin this time as the elevator rose. There was a little bit of tense unease, but nothing like before. He figured it was because of the company with him.
When they reached Martin's door they found JD and Danny waiting for them.
"I have those schematics," JD said as he handed a very fat folder to Vin.
Martin opened the door. Buck and Danny entered first and cleared the rooms, dropping window curtains as they moved through. Then they let in the rest of the bunch.
"Where's Ezra?" Vin asked.
"He's tucked away with Josiah and Vivian," Danny said, holstering his weapon.
"The best bait to bring out Wu would be me 'n Ez, ya know," Vin said softly to Chris. "We'd be able to ID him.'
"Yeah, we know, but you need to rest up a bit, Vin. You look like shit."
"I ain't tired."
Chris pointed at the folder in Vin's hands. "Tell ya what - you relax a bit and do your homework, then we'll talk."
"But . . ."
"Hey, I got an idea," Martin said. "I'll hunt down Dr. Beauchamp while you're looking at that," he pointed at the schematics. "When he's ready to talk, we'll sit down with the speaker phone and hear what he has to say."
Vin narrowed his eyes, obviously suspicious.
'And you do look like shit.'
'Looked in a mirror lately?'
Martin and Vin chuckled at the same time. An annoyed look crossed Chris' face as he grabbed Vin's good arm. "Enough of that. Relax. Now." He steered his friend down the only hallway. "There's a guest room back here?"
"Den," Martin corrected.
"I'll show 'em," Danny offered, following the pair.
As the three of them disappeared, Samantha, arms crossed in front of her and looking resolute, nodded to the couch. "You too, Martin. The couch or your bed. They both have phones near by."
"I'm fine," he told her. Even to his own ears he sounded unconvincing.
Her frown deepened, her expression clearly saying, 'I know better and you know it.'
Sighing in defeat, he nodded. "My room, I guess. Y'all need the space out here."
"'Y'all'? Buck laughed. "Have you ever used that word before?"
Martin smiled, taking the jibe with grace. He took Samantha's elbow and nudged her with his shoulder. "Hey, you gonna let him provoke an injured man?"
She started down the hall with her charge and snorted. "The best way to deal with his kind is to ignore them."
"'His kind'?" Buck protested to their retreating backs. "Whaddya mean by that?"
Six thirty Sunday night in New York meant it was five thirty in Texas, Martin calculated. He'd eased into his own bed about an hour ago and hadn't managed one wink of sleep. The shoulder throbbed, as did his head, but Martin resolved to save the pain pill for when he'd called it a day. Samantha had other ideas and, surprised at the mother hen that came out in her, Martin agreed to 'quiet time' instead and was left alone after one chaste kiss.
Now, he grumbled to himself and fiddled with the edges of brace that aligned his collar bone. His body ached. Martin pushed up from the mattress and dropped his feet over the edge of the bed, waiting a moment for the floor to cease its undulations. The dim light that forced its way around the drawn curtains was good enough to see by and Martin was sure that any direct light from the outside would probably antagonize his headache. For now the near darkness was soothing.
Martin maneuvered to his feet with the goal of tracking down some Tylenol to take the edge off. As he stood gathering his balance, he saw the thin file folder about Dr. Beauchamp and decided to go with his thought to call the man. First, Tylenol.
As he shuffled to the bathroom and pawed through the cabinets, Martin tried to think of what he'd say.
"Hi, I'm sure you don't remember me . . ." Too demeaning.
"Dr. Beauchamp? Do you remember delivering me and perhaps my brother, too, twenty-eight years ago?" Too cheesy.
"Hi, Doctor. Do you remember delivering twins in two different time zones twenty-eight years ago?" Too confrontational.
Martin downed the pills dry, making the mistake of throwing his head back to position the pills at the back of his throat. He hissed at the resulting pain and gripped the edge of the sink with his free hand until the feeling dissipated. Glaring at the unhealthy looking reflection in the mirror, the agent eventually shoved off and shuffled his way back to the bed.
He lowered himself carefully down on the edge and regarded the phone. Finally, the pain somewhat receded and he flipped open the folder. The phone number teased him from the top page, the digits thoughtfully bolded by JD.
Martin took a fortifying breath and reached for the phone. All he had to say was, "Hi. My name is Martin Fitzgerald and I have some questions about my birth."
Vin forced an eye open and started to roll his head to see read the clock on the low table next to him. The warning blitz of pain made him rethink the strategy. Instead, he shoved sideways, bracing his body against the back of the couch and rolled his entire body as one unit onto his uninjured - well, less injured - right side. The collar did a good job of keeping his neck in line with his spine but it still hurt. His mind felt fuzzy.
'Hate those damn pills,' he though with rancor. Then he recalled the reason for the maneuver when he saw the glowing digital clock face. 'Six forty-five,' he read. He'd been asleep for about an hour. Figuring it was enough for now, Vin slowly pushed himself upright and waited for his stomach to settle.
There was a soft tap on the door but Vin knew who it was before the door cracked open. "Come on," Martin said quietly. "I've got Dr. Beauchamp on the phone."
Vin arched his brows.
"You ready for this?" Martin asked, knowing the answer.
"Sure as shit am," Vin mumbled. He rose cautiously and approached the door, avoiding any jarring motions that would aggravate his neck and head. Vin had to smirk at the woeful sight the pair made in his mind's eye.
Martin chuckled as the thought/idea formed. "Ain't that the truth?" he agreed as they started across the hallway.
"Hey!" a voice called from the living room. They paused, Vin twisting aside to see the speaker. Jack Malone stood at the end of the short hall. "What are you two doing?" Samantha and Chris appeared at his shoulder as he finished the query.
Vin bristled. Martin placed a restraining hand on Vin's arm, calming him, as the three came down the hall.
"I called the doctor on the birth certificates. He's waiting on the phone."
"Oh," Jack said, surprised. "Um, do you want us to . . ." He pointed his thumb over his shoulder toward the living room.
Vin saw Samantha's questioning eyes on Martin and then glanced to Chris' unreadable expression. The fact that it was unreadable told Vin volumes; Chris was letting Vin decide without outside influence.
"Nah, it's fine," Vin said, "I may need help recallin' everything, my head's so frazzled from those meds."
"Meds that you need," Chris said, his expression softening. "Come on, let's get you seated before you fall down."
Samantha and Jack followed Martin into the bedroom and settled him on the bed. Martin spoke briefly on the phone and as Chris helped Vin into the only chair, Martin pushed a button on the phone base.
"You're on speaker phone now, Doctor. Vin's here."
"Howdy, doc," Vin said.
"Oh, oh. Yes. Well, I've retrieved my files from the safe, but I won't need them. I'll remember that day until I die." The Texas accent was soft and breathy, easily imagined as coming from an aged man. Papers rustled in the background. He cleared his throat and began.
"I knew your mother, Kelly, since the day she was born. I delivered her. I knew her family situation was tough - her mother was an alcoholic and died when Kelly was just a teenager. Her father - your grandfather - adored her but they were very poor. I followed Kelly's growth at the free clinic in town. Her dad made sure she was looked after and examined regularly. His name was Royce Vincent Tanner, Roy to everyone. His wife's name was Ann.
"After Roy's wife died Kelly became a little wild, which was probably her way of coping with Ann's death, I suppose. I lost track of her when she was about sixteen. Roy said she'd left town. He was heartbroken. Then, about three years later, she shows up, out of the blue, at the clinic. She was pregnant. I clearly remember how scared she was, worried about what her father would think since Kelly wasn't married. She wouldn't tell me who the father was, either, at least not then.
"I convinced her to make amends with Roy, especially since she was going to have twins."
At this point, Vin looked at Martin and their eyes met. Martin smiled ruefully with the confirmed suspicion - it really wasn't much of a surprise.
"She finally did see him," the doctor continued. "And like I thought, Roy stepped up to the plate. It took a little time but Kelly finally did lose her fear and start to look at her future positively. By the time her due date came around, she was excited. So was Roy. I knew these babies would be raised in a loving home.
"The pregnancy was rough, especially at the end. I put Kelly on bed rest at home three weeks before the due date when she started showing signs of an early delivery. I wanted to be sure the babies' lungs had a chance to develop. Ultra sound showed two good sized fetus', one only slightly smaller than the other, and I was sure they would be all right even with an early delivery but I didn't want to take any chances.
"A week later, it was clear the babies weren't going to wait. They were coming no matter what I did."
Samantha chuckled softly at that description as if it answered a question for her. Vin grinned at her reaction as he listened.
"Kelly was in a lot of pain. Roy was very worried and so was I. By the time she got to the delivery room the umbilical cord had wrapped around one of the fetus' necks and was clearly in distress. I wanted to perform an emergency C-section but before I could get set up, the first baby was born, healthy and unencumbered. I had to go after the distressed child surgically to save it. "
Vin was uncomfortable with the agony-ridden stares that turned his way. His stomach flipped with the realization that he could easily have been still born if circumstances had been slightly different.
"The second child did not respond well after I removed the cord. Reactions were non-existent at first and it took awhile to initiate breathing. That child went to intensive care immediately. Kelly sent Roy to be with the boy."
Vin saw Samantha cover her mouth with her hand and Chris duck his head. This was hard for them to hear as well. Vin took a breath to settle his stomach.
"Kelly was barely out of the anesthesia when I heard an argument in the hall. Then a man came into the room. A nurse was insisting that he couldn't enter but he ignored her. He said he was the babies' father."
Martin shifted uncomfortably and kept his eyes on the phone. Vin received the feeling that he was embarrassed and wracked with guilt. Vin didn't know what he could say to ease his brother's mind so he kept silent and hoped his calmness and acceptance would be picked up.
"I could tell by Kelly's face that this was true. I was busy with the babies so I didn't hear a lot that was said at first. I just know that Kelly cried a lot and when I tried to get the man to leave, he refused. I finally got Roy from intensive care and when we returned to the room, that man was holding the healthy baby. The three of them argued. I started to call the police but Kelly stopped me. The man ordered me to leave but I refused. I could tell he was a man that was used to getting his way."
Martin snorted, shook his head and wearily rubbed his eyes. Apparently, that wasn't a surprise.
"I found out later the man's name was Victor Fitzgerald because an attorney brought papers for me to sign, one being the new birth certificate, but I'll get to that later. Roy was impressive. I always thought of him being a mild-mannered man, but the man had backbone, that's for sure. He fought hard for that first-born child. It was Kelly that finally told him to back down and Fitzgerald left with the child after a day. It was years before I saw them again."
Heavy silence weighted the air for several seconds until Jack spoke up. "Did Kelly ever explain herself to you? Tell you why she let Victor take the baby?"
A sigh came from the phone speaker. "I finally got the story over the next year, piece by piece. She was ashamed to talk about it but I finally put the pieces together. Fitzgerald threatened her and Roy with financial ruin and also threatened to take the second child, too. Fitzgerald's wife was unable to have any more children after having two girls. I'm not sure why, medically. He'd had a week-long affair with Kelly while on a business trip to Dallas. He was some up and coming big-wig with the FBI and not about to leave his wife for an unsophisticated small-town girl - Kelly's words, not mine," he added. "I always thought the girl had grit and a sharp mind. It was a shame she didn't have the opportunity to nurture her smarts."
Vin smiled at the description. He'd heard the same thing about himself through the years.
"Kelly told me that it was for the best that the baby went with Fitzgerald because the boy would grow up wanting for nothing. He'd get a lot more that she and Roy could offer. She asked me to sign the birth certificate so I complied with her wishes. She and Roy doted on the boy left with her but I could tell she missed her baby. It ate at her soul. I also understand that Fitzgerald sent money every month for the boy's welfare, but the Tanners were a proud bunch. They never accepted it. They asked my advice on where to donate the money."
Vin perked up at that comment and looked to Martin, curiosity also clear in his expression.
"The Tuscosa Children's Home and Learning Center in her hometown has used the anonymously donated money wisely. She was so happy to be able to help. Maybe it helped alleviate the guilt of not fighting for her first born, I can't really say. The money came in for eighteen years."
Vin grinned. He remembered the Center. It was how he managed to make it through high school and become involved with one Nettie Wells, a volunteer there that patiently tutored him and was the only stability throughout his years of schooling and a time when he'd been bounced between foster homes after both Roy's death.
"While Kelly was battling her cancer, she told me she hand only two regrets - that she never saw her first born again and that she was leaving her boy without a mother. When she knew she was going to die, she considered sending him to Fitzgerald. But she couldn't do that to Roy."
"He was a good man," Vin said softly.
"Yes, he was," Dr. Beauchamp agreed. "It was a shame that he died a mere two years later. A stroke. It was fast and unexpected. The child was seven years old."
Vin nodded, remembering his feelings of the time. He felt Martin's gaze more than he saw it; it was laced with guilt.
"I expected Fitzgerald to come and get the second boy, but he never did. He did show up at Kelly's funeral, though. I do remember that."
Martin jerked to stiff attention, clear realization on his face. "My mother was hysterical," he said softly.
"That's one reason why I remember, other than again seeing the child I'd delivered five years before. It was Vincent, only with shorter hair and better clothes."
Chris laughed shortly and shook his head. The grin he threw Vin said, "Nothing's changed there." Vin had to grin back.
"After the ceremony, Mrs. Fitzgerald broke down. I'll never forget it. There weren't many in attendance and I decided to stick around for Roy and Vincent's sakes in case there was trouble. I expected Fitzgerald to march right up and take Vincent away. Instead, his wife had an emotional breakdown right there near the grave site. I got the distinct impression that Mrs. Fitzgerald didn't know anything about Vincent. I could never figure out why they came to the funeral at all."
"I intend to find out," Martin ground out, his face flushed with fury that Vin clearly felt. The dream he recalled was based in truth after all, Vin realized. 'The screaming woman was my mother.'
"Well, that's all I have to offer you, boys. I'm glad you finally found each other. Kelly and Roy would be very pleased."
"Thank you for your time, Dr. Beauchamp," Martin said.
"Yeah," Vin added. "I'm grateful. It sounded like my mother had people that cared for her."
"Yes, she did," the doctor said softly. "She'd be proud of both of you."
After hanging up, Vin felt very weary.
"He's on the up and up, that's for sure," Chris said. "JD didn't find any financial glitches in the man's history. He was very tied to his community."
The small group didn't speak as they filed from the room.
"I need a drink," Chris muttered.
"I'll join you," Jack said.
"Me, too," Martin added, heading toward the kitchen.
"Oh no, you don't," Samantha said firmly. "Not while you're on those meds." She snagged his elbow and steered the complaining Martin to the couch.
Vin snickered, but stopped abruptly at the glare Chris' aimed at him. "Ditto, cowboy," he warned darkly.
The five of them eventually settled in the living room. JD, Buck and Danny were gone, their duties being to stock the kitchen, get some rest and let Danny show the out-of-towners a little of the City before one of them relieved Josiah from Ezra guard duty. They weren't due back anytime soon.
Vin and Martin both fizzled out around nine o'clock and slept soundly.
Martin woke at eight. When he shuffled to the kitchen he was surprised that he was the last one up. When he realized Samantha was gone he vaguely recalled a soft kiss when he was in that barely conscious part of waking. She'd gone to get a change of clothing.
"Food should be here sometime this morning," Jack said from the kitchen. He shoved a cup of coffee into Martin's hand. "Meanwhile I've outdone myself and made scrambled eggs and toast. Have a seat. I'll get your plate from the oven."
"Oven?" Martin said, accepting the steamy mug. "I have an oven?"
Jack laughed. "I've forgotten how a true bachelor lives," he said as he set Martin up at small breakfast bar. "Here. Eat."
"Needs salsa," Vin informed Martin from the couch.
"And habaneros, if you were to get your wish," Chris added, disapprovingly speaking to Vin.
"Everybody's a critic," Jack complained. "See if I ever cook again for you ungrateful people."
"That's why they invented take-out," Martin said between mouthfuls.
After cleaning the kitchen, changing clothes and generally picking the place up, the five settled down to make a plan for finding Dragon's Claw. It was close to nine-thirty. They had just opened the assassin's file when there was a knock on the door. Jack jumped up.
"Must be Danny. He's due," he said as he peeked through the peep hole. "Well I'll be damned," he muttered giving Martin an apologetic glance before unlocking the deadbolt.
As he unlocked the door, Martin knew exactly who would be on the other side, and it wasn't Danny.
An odd wash of feelings coursed through Vin as his biological father stepped into the room. Awe, curiosity, disappointment, anger and profound sadness whirled together, none taking the lead. While still in the hospital Vin recalled having similar feelings along with confusion - drugs and injury hadn't helped much. This time, however, he easily picked out Martin's anger and saw the same anger reflected in Victor's eyes.
In the hospital there had been something else, something that softened the emotion in the older man's expression. Whatever it had been was now gone, leaving nothing but hardness. The man currently standing in the doorway was pure anger and Vin couldn't figure out why.
"Martin," Victor said flatly after nodding an acknowledgement to everyone but Vin.
Vin felt invisible - not a new sensation for him. In fact, he often preferred it.
"I would like to speak with you in private." Victor spoke directly to Martin.
Martin remained seated at the breakfast bar, one arm still bound to his body. The other hand rested on his thigh, one finger tapping a regular rhythm. "What about?"
Victor bridled at the tone and pursed his lips. Obviously, he wasn't used to being questioned. "Family matters that do not concern anyone else here."
Martin's head tipped thoughtfully aside. "Define 'family'."
Victor's jaws visibly clenched as he glared at Jack, who leaned idly against a bookcase next to the couch. Then Victor's gaze skittered over Chris and fell directly onto Vin with distain. Vin managed to remain expressionless - the pain from his injuries offered a convenient distraction but he knew better than to show pain in front of this particular person. Vin refused to let the Director provoke him. In his peripheral vision he could see a ghost of a smile on Martin's lips.
Instead of answering Martin, Victor spoke directly to Vin. "What is it you want? Why are you here?" he demanded.
"Hmm, well, let's see," Vin drawled, rolling his eyes in exaggerated thought as he tapped a finger on his chin. "If I remember correctly, I believe it was to stop an assassination. Ain't that right, Chris?"
"Damn straight," Chris replied, settling back in the couch. He began to count on his fingers. "And in the process broke up an illegal shipping operation, found a known and wanted murderer, broke up a Triad cell and, oh, yeah," Chris snapped his fingers, "stopped the assassination. That about sum it up Agent Malone?"
"Yeah, pretty much, Agent Larabee," Jack agreed, nodding his head in approval.
"Don't play games with me," Victor snapped at Vin.
"Don't seem like I'm the one playin' 'em," Vin replied softly before brightly finishing with, "Dad."
Victor took a step toward the couch. Chris was instantly on his feet, a dark barrier between the two. That stopped Victor's forward motion but not his attack.
"You have no right to be here," he yelled, jabbing his finger in Vin's direction. "You are not part of this and never will be. I paid my dues and owe you nothing. You deserve nothing!"
A dark wave of fury rose deep within Vin. In a well practiced response he rose slowly and felt his body relax into a defensive stance, ready for battle. All his pains melted away as adrenalin surged. His expression went deliberately neutral and unreadable. Now, he realized, one other shared his current state of being. He glanced aside and saw Martin mirror his stance. Together, they were a force to reckon with. Victor Fitzgerald was in for a big surprise.
"There is nothin' I ever want from you, old man." Vin's words came out flatly dangerous. "I'm already cursed with your blood and that's enough to sicken me. I may be your biological son but I agree with you, you are not my family."
"Then what the hell are you still doing here?"
"Because he's part of my family," Martin stated. Victor tore his stare from Vin to regard Martin. If Victor was surprised by the rebuff, he didn't show it. Martin continued. "We spoke to Dr. Beauchamp in Texas. How could you? What reason could there possibly be to do what you did? Explain it to me, Dad, because I'd like to know what it takes to be so cold blooded." The sarcastic emphasis on the paternal endearment caused Victor to blink.
"I will not discuss this in front of these people," Victor replied sharply. Then, surprisingly, the hard lines of his face softened slightly. "Martin, please. You owe me at least that."
"Sure are a lotta debts out there only you seem ta know about," Vin said. He tipped his head to Chris, who took the hint and moved aside. Vin watched Victor carefully, looking for any clue as to what made the man tick. In his mind, Vin re-examined what he'd seen of Victor Fitzgerald in the hospital. This man before him was not standing down, but he'd done just that during their first meeting. Then it hit him - at the hospital, Victor had been protecting Martin's mother. Victor's anger had something to do with Katherine. Could it be as simple as fear of losing her?
The arrogance returned to Victor's tone. "Stay out of it. You don't know anything."
Apparently, something about Vin's thoughts must have rung true to Martin. When Vin turned his head, he saw Martin staring back with an expression of surprised realization.
"Mom," Martin whispered.
A vision of Kelly Ann Tanner flashed through Vin's mind. 'Katherine,' Vin clarified.
Martin nodded, understanding, now, what he was up against. 'He's never going to talk about her in front of any of you. Hell, he doesn't talk about her in front of me!'
' 'bout time that changed, don't cha think?'
Martin huffed impatiently and rolled his eyes while Vin chuckled and heard, 'Yeah, it'll be as easy as a stroll in the park!' in his head.
Vin saw Victor look at his son, then at Chris, who had also chuckled. "What the hell is going on?" Victor spat.
Martin moved from the breakfast bar to Vin's side and cleared his throat. "Dad. This does concern Vin. He's my blood brother. You speak to me, you speak to him, period. Take it or leave it."
Both Vin and Martin took Victor's silence as grudging acceptance. Martin then compromised.
"Good. Then I'll leave it to you as to where we talk."
"How about here?" Jack said, grabbing his coat. "Agent Larabee and I were just leaving."
Chris scowled at Jack, obviously not pleased with that idea. Vin clearly felt the distrust Chris had toward Victor along with the reluctance to leave Vin. Jack shoved Chris' jacket into his hands.
"It's okay," Vin said to his boss and friend.
Chris clearly was not okay with it, but he yielded to Vin's wishes. "You will not leave this apartment without an escort, do not go near the windows and you will call me when you are through here. We'll be down in the lobby."
"Yes, sir," both Vin and Martin grumbled together. An annoyed look crossed Victor's face.
As the two agents slipped out the door Vin heard Jack boast, "I taught him all he knows about negotiations."
"Now I know this isn't a good idea," Chris shot back as the door swung closed.
Just before the door latched, it opened again and Jack stuck his head in. "Lock the door, kids."
Victor uttered a disgusted snort and strode to the door, pushing it shut. He threw the dead bolt and turned to find two pairs of arctic eyes focused directly on him. A zing of fear raced through him as he wondered if this was a good idea.
Victor forced his feet to move and walked around to face the couch. The injured men sank down onto the cushions with barely squelched groans. Seeing the two of them together like this was disconcerting. It brought back long suppressed memories along with the strong feelings associated with them.
Damn those Tanners. They'd made his life difficult right from the time Kelly told him she was pregnant. He glanced up to see twin faces waiting for an explanation. Victor didn't know where the start. He let his eyes drift from one son to the other, noting that Vin's neck collar gave him the visual ability to tell them apart. He decided to speak directly to Martin, but Martin spoke first.
"Did you love her?"
Martin's question gave him a start. "Who?" he snapped.
"Kelly Tanner. Did you love her?"
"I love your mother."
Martin frowned. "You'll need to clarify that."
"You only have one mother, Martin," he said angrily.
"No. I don't," Martin insisted. "And until you can accept that thought, there's not much to discuss."
"Your mother is Katherine Fitzgerald. I will not let you speak ill of her to my face."
"I'm not speaking ill of her, I am trying to get you to see my point of view," Martin sputtered. He leaned back and took a calming breath. "Let's start with something simpler. Why were you in Texas and where did you meet Kelly Tanner?"
"I was attending a conference. I was there ten days." Victor paused, deciding how much to tell. "I met Kelly at the hotel restaurant. She was the hostess and made a point to get to know me."
Vin's eyes narrowed. Victor clearly read disapproval. He didn't care - it was the truth.
"And you didn't discourage her." Martin kept his voice even.
"No, I didn't. Your mother . . ." Victor caught himself. "No, I didn't discourage her," he finished.
"How many times did you cheat throughout the years?" Vin's question caught him off guard.
"Never! I have always loved my wife."
Martin and Vin exchanged glances. Vin laughed shortly while Martin spoke. "You're kidding, right? You're saying you never had sex with any other woman after you married?"
"I didn't say that." Victor forced himself to stay calm. "I said I never cheated. I never loved another woman. Sex is . . . another thing."
Martin looked astonished. Vin just turned aside and mumbled, "'Another thing' . . ."
Victor took a breath in preparation to make things clear to his obvious clueless son. "Martin. You don't understand how things work with men in power. When I graduated from Quantico, it was made clear that I was destined for big things. I made ties with the most important men in the Company and in the Capitol. I was being groomed for a position of power, and sex is a common commodity of powerful men. Think of Kennedy and Clinton - it's just the way it is. I only love Katherine. She represents who I am to the world." Victor studied his son and saw that he still didn't understand. "Martin, you can't be naive enough to not understand. I've made sure you've been surrounded by men of position your entire life! Didn't you ever notice how those men carry themselves in public? That who was on their arm influenced their success?"
"Of course I noticed that! But you're telling me that all those men cheated on their wives?"
"It's not cheating. It's necessary and accepted. Powerful, vigorous men need release." Victor took Martin's silence as thoughtful repose. "A few weeks before I went to Dallas, Katherine was told she couldn't have anymore children. She loved your sisters, but felt guilty that we did not have a son. I . . . I have to admit, I was disappointed myself that there was no one to carry on the Fitzgerald name. We were looking into surrogates. By the time I left for the conference, she was very depressed and we hadn't . . . we didn't . . . well, we hadn't been intimate for quite awhile. Kelly was . . ."
"Convenient and available," Martin offered dryly.
"Well, yes. It wasn't an uncommon occurrence for any of my contemporaries. It was accepted."
Martin slowly shook his head, laughing darkly. "So it was - is - socially acceptable to have children out of wedlock?"
"No! That's not what I said!" Victor spat. "Her getting pregnant was not part my plans! In fact, it ruined me. Any chance at a political office was gone. When Kelly told me she was pregnant, I told her to abort. I gave her the money to do so. I explained why. She just did not understand. Instead, she disappeared. I had to hire an investigator to find her."
"Couldn't use FBI sources 'cause they'd find out," Vin said lowly. "You had to keep it quiet."
"Yes." Victor turned his attention to Vin with a critical eye. "By the time I found her it was too late to terminate. When my sources told me they were twin boys, the solution was obvious. Kelly couldn't raise two children with her financial situation. I was helped her solve a problem."
Martin was both shocked and appalled at his father's reasoning. He'd known Victor was not a sentimental man but the depth of his coldness was staggering. His father could actually be considered a sociopath!
"So, when the babies were born I altered one of the certificates and brought you home. End of story."
Uncomfortable silence thickened the air. Martin could feel the waves of rage threatening to overtake his sibling and settled his gaze on Vin. Outwardly, his brother appeared calm.
'I don't know what to say,' Martin thought. 'I have no idea how to make this less painful for you. For us.'
'None a this is your fault,' Vin responded. 'It just is. Cain't change the past.'
'But we can direct our future'
Although his thoughts sounded calm, Martin could still feel simmering rage. 'Your mother didn't deserve this.'
'And our father doesn't deserve us.'
With that statement, Martin saw Vin straighten and slowly rise to his feet. He looked Victor straight in the eye. "There's still one thing I don't get," he said in a deceptively soft voice. "Why did you go to mama's funeral?"
By the look on Victor's face, that was obviously a point he did not want to discuss. His reply made it clear. "That is none of your business," he growled.
Something was not connecting to Vin's satisfaction. There was more, he could feel it. Victor Fitzgerald had secrets - what man in his position didn't - but there was one secret here that would tie all this together. Victor was clearly a power-hungry man. To have his political ambition plucked from him so suddenly must have been devastating. Instead, he seemed to accept it more quickly than Vin would have expected, seamlessly shifting that ambition to Martin.
But Martin, it seemed, had inherited Tanner pride. He'd decided to make himself his own man. For Victor to see his ambition tossed back in his face would explain the anger Vin saw in him, but there was still that other, unnamed aspect that dogged Vin. His gut read fear, but "fearful"' was not a word that suited Victor.
When Vin voiced his question, though, it was very clearly fear that he felt radiated from Victor.
"You still don't seem to understand that it is my business. We are bound by blood, Martin 'n me, and you as well. We deserve . . ."
"You've received all you deserve already. You have your life and Martin has his. You do not belong here. Everything was just fine . . ."
"It was mom's idea, wasn't it?" Martin's statement was met with shocked surprise by Victor. "She made you go to the funeral."
Although he hid it well Vin could see panic brewing in Victor's eyes. It was Katherine. Katherine was the source of the fear Victor harbored and that fear festered into anger.
"Why?" Martin demanded when Victor didn't reply. "Why did you go?"
"She wanted to," Victor finally admitted. "Katherine's the one that insisted."
"But you didn't."
Vin carefully watched Victor during Martin's pushing. He could feel the missing piece right there . . .
"Why did she want to go? She said it was for you. If you were to ever find out you were adopted, she wanted to make sure that you knew we honored your mother. That we were grateful. That it would be clear to you that we respected your blood parents."
"'Parents'?" Vin repeated instantly, his instincts singing loudly.
"I meant parent. Blood parent."
"She didn't know." It was suddenly very clear to Vin. The last piece fell into place. Martin's mouth opened to speak but he froze. Vin continued. "She didn't know you were the father. She didn't know you'd cheated on her. She didn't know there were twins."
Victor's jaw rippled as he clenched his teeth. He'd nailed it. Vin could feel the waves of fear and anger radiating from the elder Fitzgerald and all of it was directed him.
"If it wasn't for you, she would have never known," Victor growled. "You and that damned doctor. Katherine took one look at you standing by the gravesite and the looks the doctor was giving me and figured out everything. Thanks to you, she had another breakdown!"
Martin's whispered so softly Vin barely heard him. "Another breakdown?"
Victor clenched his fists and began to pace a short path in front of the couch. Back and forth, back and forth he paced, breathing raggedly. He started to speak several times but choked to silence after the first words. "We could have had it all," he whispered fiercely. "We were on track to real power and station. After our second child, Katherine experienced - what bullshit do they call it - postpartum depression? Then she found out she couldn't have any more children. Between that and her social responsibilities she fell apart."
For the first time since coming face to face with his blood father Vin saw true sorrow in Victor Fitzgerald's eyes. The man stopped pacing and stood with his back to the brothers as he quietly continued.
"I made sure she didn't find out about Kelly. Who knows what she would have done. It took lots of therapy and you, Martin, to bring her back. With you, she felt worthwhile. She believed she saved you. It was actually the other way around."
Martin was speechless. Vin realized he never would have guessed any of this about his mother. She had always been a picture of strength to him - Vin could feel that. Like Martin, Vin had just figured that Victor Fitzgerald's wife would have to be strong and assumed she was.
"When she realized I was the father, Katherine begged me to get custody of the second child - to save him. But when I found out the problems he had and the difficulties involved with raising a child like that, I refused. She couldn't have handled it. The social pressure would . . . " He paused. "She didn't speak to me for months. I had to sign her into a private hospital in Connecticut so no one would know." He turned enough to glare at Vin. "You should have died, you know that? That doctor should have let you die. If you were healthy, I would have taken both of you. But with the way it turned out, you would have been nothing but a reminder of everything that went wrong."
Vin felt alternate pangs of embarrassment for himself and pity for Katherine. First and foremost, though, he wanted to strangle the man before him. A light touch on his forearm distracted him and he looked down. Martin's hand rested on him.
'Difficulties?' his sibling inquired. 'The dyslexia?'
Vin nodded and shrugged, slightly sickened by the fact that Dr. Beauchamp had grossly understated the details about his birth. Martin squeezed his arm in understanding and then dropped his hand. Vin could feel the anger growing inside his brother with every word uttered by their father. Vin didn't trust himself to speak at the moment and neither did Martin.
"The doctor and I convinced Katherine that it was best to leave you with Kelly's family and she finally believed me. For years following she worried that you would show up and steal Martin away by turning him against us. That lessened with time. Now, all those old fears have come alive again."
"Is mom okay?" Martin managed to ask, the revealed history sprouting concern that Vin could feel.
"She will be once he's gone." Victor glared at Vin.
"So all of this is my fault, then," Vin snapped. "You are completely clear of any wrong doing."
"Don't be so dramatic!" Victor bellowed. "That woman is worth a dozen of you!"
With that declaration, Vin finally figured out Victor's fear. It was that he would lose Katherine. To Vin, it was momentarily unbelievable that Victor Fitzgerald could love anyone. Martin, though, believed, and that was enough to convince Vin. Now he just couldn't figure out why Katherine loved Victor.
"That assassin targeted the wrong twin," Victor grumbled.
"That's enough, dad!" Martin yelled.
Vin had a tenuous hold on his own fury and sensed the same in Martin. Distance. He needed distance to regain balance and control. Vin pushed his way past Victor and headed for the door. Behind him, he heard Martin start to follow. Quickly throwing the bolt open Vin glanced back and saw Martin nose to nose with his father, both of them yelling accusations. Victor had a grip on Martin's good arm, preventing him from moving.
Vin slammed the door behind him and stormed down the hall, his spiked defenses blocking any pain. He furiously poked the elevator call repeatedly and just started looking around for the stairs when the car arrived. Making a quick decision, he stepped into the elevator, relieved that it was empty.
The lobby carpet was holding up well. It was built for New York winters so Chris' restless pacing barely made a crease. He finally paused when Nathan and Buck entered.
"Ezra did pretty well with the artist. He says it's a near perfect likeness." Nathan handed Chris and Jack copies of the black and white sketch.
Chris took a copy of Jong Wu's image and studied it a few seconds before his heart kicked into sudden overdrive. "Shit! I saw this guy across the street ten minutes ago! He was carrying a long bag, like a document tube! That's why I noticed him! He wore sunglasses, but I'm sure it was the same guy."
"A gun case," Jack summed up. "Agent Jackson, you and I will check the street while I alert the locals and call the rest of my team."
Chris was already sprinting for the elevator with Buck on his heels.
"DAMMIT!" Chris spat. Both cars were in use. They headed directly to the stairs.
Vin was relieved when the elevator finally arrived in the lobby without any stops. His thoughts were in such turmoil he only realized he'd made it to his destination when the doors opened. He burst from the car into the lobby, his eyes locked on the glass front doors and the openness beyond. He pushed his way outside, arbitrarily turning right at the sidewalk. He ignored the growing protests of his various injuries and took a deep breath of air. His pace and heart rate slowed. The sun felt warm on his cheeks. He paused.
"VIN! GET DOWN!"
Vin dropped before Jack's warning ending. He heard thundering feet just before a powerful force hammered him sideways.
After that, Vin slammed into darkness.
Calculations sped through Jack's brain as he pulled his weapon and directed it to the fourth floor of the building across the street. He could barely see the end of the rifle as it snapped to attention, the sudden move catching his eye. Jack glanced over his shoulder at the intended target 'No time!' he realized when he saw Vin's path. Jack was just able to yell a warning before taking a bead on the window.
Jack saw a whisper of smoke hang at the end of the rifle muzzle before he heard the shot and he responded with two from his own gun, shattering the window and chipping the concrete sill. Vaguely, he heard screams, the scuffle of running feet and chaotic voices around him but he did not allow himself to be distracted. He got off two additional shots, seeing the puff of concrete dust as one bullet again hit the sill. The second bullet struck somewhere inside the window but didn't stop the rifle's second shot.
Sirens sounded in the distance, too far away to help, Jack concluded. He quickly considered charging across the street and heading to the fourth floor, but when he glanced back again to see if there was any possibility of a cover body, the idea of pursuit left him.
Nathan was crouched on the sidewalk, his body squarely between Vin and his assassin. Nathan's weapon was also pointed at the fourth floor but Jack could see his lips moving as he constantly checked the still body behind him.
There was a splash of crimson hanging on the pale grey of the wall above Vin's crumpled form.
Jack glanced back to the window. The rifle was gone. He danced backward until he was next to Nathan without taking his eyes from the suspect window. "How is he?" Jack demanded, nerves still on edge.
"Don't know yet. I was a little busy." Nathan must have noticed the rifle's withdrawal because he turned his full attention to Vin. "See anything up there?"
"Nah." Jack's eyes were in constant motion and his weapon still trained on the building. The sirens were closer. "My guess he's retreating, maybe even repositioning. We need to get out of here."
Nathan was talking softly to Vin and as far as Jack could hear, getting no response. He heard the medic call for an ambulance.
"He's been hit, but I don't think it's too bad. He's got a good sized gouge along one temple and a knot on the other side of his head where he hit the wall. I don't know where the second shot went."
"Less than a foot above your head," Jack informed him.
Nathan glanced up and Jack saw the man's throat ripple as he swallowed hard.
The first black and white screeched to the curb and two officers poured out, guns drawn and pointed at Jack.
"FBI!" Jack announced. "I'm getting out my ID! The shot came from the fourth floor!" He kept his gun pointed at the building, hopefully keeping the uniforms at ease long enough for him to produce his badge. Finally successful, one officer got on the car radio while the other quickly made his way over, also scanning the suspect building.
"Did you see where he went?" the young officer asked.
"No, but here's who we're looking for." Jack pulled out the sketch and general description written on the back of Jong Wu and handed it over. "See if you can seal a two block area. I'm not sure he's still in that building. He may be carrying his rifle in a long document tube."
The cop nodded and motioned for his partner to pull the car alongside Jack. The agent appreciated the cover but still felt like the center of a bull's eye. With the two uniforms taking up guard positions, Jack felt comfortable enough to turn his attention to Vin.
"I've managed to stop the bleeding," Nathan said lowly. "His vitals are good. Did you call Martin?"
Jack pulled out his phone and dialed, getting the answering machine. "Martin!" Jack said sharply. "Pick up!"
He was about to utter a stream of expletives into the machine when he heard sharp voices coming from the direction of the building entrance. Jack snapped the phone shut when he recognized them.
"Damn it, leave me alone! I've got to see him!"
Jack turned and saw Martin push away Buck's arm. Larabee was between them and the street, gun drawn and eyes roving.
"It's okay!" Jack told the officers before they shot Chris. "They're with me."
"Vin?" Martin's voice softened considerably as he knelt next to his brother.
Jack glanced at the new arrivals. "Where's Victor?" he asked.
"Damn kid took him out with one punch. Southpaw style, too," Buck said with admiration as he made himself part of the human barrier protecting Vin and now, Martin.
"So he's still up there?" Jack questioned.
"Lyin' on the living room floor, restin' soundly last I saw," Buck reported.
"Wish I coulda seen that," Jack said with an amused snort.
"Where was he?" Chris deadly tone rerouted the conversation. His hard gaze tirelessly scanning the area.
"Fourth floor. Broken window," Jack summed up.
The group stayed tight and vigilant until the ambulance pulled up behind the squad car and Jack decided it was time to get out of the way. "I'll see what the uniforms have set up as a perimeter," he said holstering his gun as he moved away. After receiving the information he needed from N.Y.P.D. Jack called Danny and Samantha to reroute them to the hospital. It would be much easier to keep Vin and Martin together, and Jack had a feeling that Martin wasn't going to be easily separated from his newfound brother anyway.
Jack was tired of playing defense. It was time to make an offense move to snare the Dragon's Claw.
Chris was tense, worried and extremely pissed off. He wanted to get out of this God-forsaken city and get home, but he wasn't about to leave this case unfinished.
He glanced down at Vin as the paramedics worked. His friend was still unconscious and bound to have one hell of a headache when he woke up. Chris shook his head and sighed. Denver seemed very far away at the moment.
"Martin, ride in back with Vin. Buck, ride in the front with the driver. I'll follow in the car. Nathan, I want to drop you at Ezra's. They're due for some relief and I'm getting the feeling that we can't have too much coverage."
"You think Wu will try something in the hospital?" Buck asked.
"Depends on how desperate he is."
"He must be pretty desperate to try something like this in the middle of the city in broad daylight," Nathan said.
He was right, Chris thought. Was Wu desperate? Or was it something else? The latter thought set his instincts tingling and he didn't like it. It was an unknown. Desperate he could deal with.
The paramedics rolled Vin onto a backboard and lifted him to a gurney as Chris stood like a guardian, trying to watch everything around him at once. He started to relax his vigil when Vin was pushed into the back of the ambulance and even considered holstering his weapon when Director Fitzgerald stormed from the building lobby. Instinctively, Chris placed himself solidly between the Martin and the ambulance crew at the back of the vehicle and the obviously angry Deputy Director. He kept his weapon in hand, dropped to his side.
"Martin, come here. Where's Jack?" Victor demanded before he came to a full stop by the intimidating wall called Chris Larabee.
"Checking the perimeter," Chris said lowly. In the corner of his eye he saw Buck step forward as physical reinforcement.
"I wasn't talking to you, Agent Larabee," Victor snapped. Chris could see a darkening area along the right side of Victor's face and twitched with the desire to add to the growing bruise. "Martin! I'm talking to you!"
Chris could see the anger in Victor's eyes when he was ignored. Chris didn't take his eyes off the Director until he heard the ambulance doors shut behind him and knew Martin was sequestered away. Only then he holstered his gun. He felt a presence approach from behind and Nathan spoke.
"We're set, Chris," Nathan reported. "I'll call Ezra so he knows we're comin' in and let 'em know what's goin' on."
When Victor Fitzgerald said the name it made the hairs on the back of Chris' neck snap to attention. He was about to turn away and leave Martin's father standing there but something in the man's tone gave him pause. Chris narrowed his eyes and met the Director's gaze. "Yes," he said without further explanation.
Within seconds, the Director's face became as unreadable as rock. His eyes, though, looked very familiar. Deep within was the same flame he'd seen many times in Vin's eyes - a flame that burned brightly before being hidden, along with whatever secret his friend wanted to keep. Chris hadn't seen it in Vin for a time now, and he sure didn't like seeing it from this particular source.
Chris wasn't surprised that Victor took a step back and seemed to calm. The action should have reduced tension but instead, the atmosphere thickened.
Chris was relieved when Jack returned from the NYPD command post. He could now leave Victor with Jack. The adage about keeping your enemies close ran through his mind, and he made a note to himself to keep tabs on the elder Fitzgerald. Chris hoped he was simply overreacting to the circumstances. His gut told him otherwise
"There's a forensic team in route to process the floor, but there's not much there," Jack reported, oblivious to the tension that Chris decided only he felt. "We'll keep looking but I don't think we'll find him."
"I'm heading to the hospital," Chris said. "Nathan's going back to Ezra's."
"I need to speak with Agent Malone." Victor did not offer any more and Chris felt as if he'd been dismissed.
Jack looked momentarily perplexed. "Okay, I'll find my way to the hospital in a little while. Don't let Martin do anything stupid."
The comment made Chris laugh shortly. "I'm sure Martin's about as controllable as Vin."
"Then you know what I mean." Jack smiled. "I'll be by later."
Chris headed to the sedan with Nathan falling in next to him. Not one word was spoken between them until they neared the hotel where Ezra and the others were. When he stopped at the front entrance to let Nathan out, he stopped his teammate from exiting with a firm hand on his forearm.
"Nathan, keep an eye out. I've got a bad feelin'. This is far from over."
Nathan's head drooped. "Great. We all know better than to ignore your gut feelin's. I'll try to make sure everybody's at least rested up."
Chris released him with a nod. "Thanks. Keep your eyes open."
"And Chris? See if you can get someone to look at Martin's left hand - I think he's favorin' it a mite."
"Can't think of a better reason for why that is," Chris commented with a tight grin. "He's Vin's brother, all right."
Nathan chuckled and let himself out of the car. Chris watched the medic enter the hotel and then turned the car toward the hospital.
Martin couldn't believe he was back here. The antiseptic smell, the squeak of nurse shoes on linoleum - he'd been here as often as he'd been in his apartment this past year. This time, at least, he wasn't the one in the bed.
But the bed sure has hell would be a lot more comfortable that the damn plastic monstrosity he currently occupied.
Samantha's voice parted some of the cloud of doom that hovered above his head. He stiffly stood and extended his hand. She took it between hers and he was unable to stop the flinch of pain.
"Hey?" she said, looking down at what she held. "What's wrong here?" She pressed his knuckles with her thumb and he couldn't stop the small gasp.
"It seems that Martin's knuckles had a close encounter with the Deputy Director's jaw," Buck explained with a grin as he stepped from a curtained cubicle.
"Really?" she said brightly.
"Way to go, partner!" Danny exclaimed.
"Yeah, well," Martin mumbled, a little embarrassed. "He wouldn't get out of my way." He looked to Buck. "How's he doin'?"
"Still out. The doctor's not surprised, what with his other injuries. The x-ray didn't show any new damage to his neck so that's good."
"So Wu's still out there?" Danny glanced around them and moved into a more defensible position against a wall.
"Yeah," Martin said.
"Then what are you doin' out in the open?" Danny nodded to the cubicle Buck had just left. "Why don't you stay with Vin while we stay out here?"
Martin didn't need to be asked again. He tucked his throbbing hand against his stomach and moved toward the curtains. He heard the others talking quietly as he left them.
"Now that you are here," Buck said, "I can check in with security."
"Did the doc look at Martin's hand?" Samantha asked.
When he parted the curtain and stepped to his brother's side, the first thing he noticed was the emptiness in his mind. In the short time they'd been united, Martin had grown comfortable with Vin's presence there. Now, it seemed empty - like a piece of him was missing.
Martin stood near Vin's bed and studied his sibling. The cervical collar still looked too snug; he could see where Vin's skin was rubbed red along his jaw line where it met the material. Dried blood from the new wound had dried to flakiness on the collar's material. The bullet left a sizeable gouge, deep enough for a line of stitches along the hairline. The scar shouldn't be visible, especially if Vin grew his hair long again.
His hair. Martin unconsciously touched his own temple, fingering the hair. In his photo, Vin looked like he belonged on a horse chasing buffalo or living in a cabin in the hills. Marin wondered how Samantha would like it; he knew he father would hate it and, therefore, the idea became even more tempting.
"God, what am I? Sixteen again?" he said softly, chuckling. "Growing my hair to piss off my dad?"
He let his eyes travel over Vin's forehead to the sizeable lump on the other side. The dark purple color was already extending to the soft tissue at the corner of his eye. It would be very ugly, very soon.
Martin found his mind going over his father's story, trying to imagine Kelly Tanner's face. He'd seen a flash of it in Vin's mind, the similarities clear in Vin's features - his features. It had been a noble thing his mother, Katherine, had done, taking him to the funeral. When he thought about it, she was the one with the strength in the family. She's the only one that could make Victor do what she wished. She simply didn't wish for a whole lot. He smiled at the vision of the three of them on the plane. Victor must have been furious.
His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the doctor. He gave Martin a classic double take.
"I guess I don't have to ask if you're family," he said as he consulted Vin's chart.
"So what's the story?" Martin asked, stepping back and out of the way.
"He's gonna have a headache," the doctor started, giving Martin a small smile. "But I think you probably figured that out on your own."
"Pretty much. Any idea when he'll wake up?"
"Hard to say with the double whammy to his skull. There's a slight bruise to his brain on the right side we'll keep an eye on, but the other side looks good. He could wake up within the hour or within the week. Time will tell." He replaced the chart and checked Vin's eyes and heart rate. "Everything looks good for now. We'll be moving him to ICU until we can get him stable. His vitals are within the norm, but not exactly steady. It's just a precaution."
Martin nodded. "He'll have some guards, too. Have you been briefed on the circumstances?"
"Yes, Agent Wilmington filled me in. We've circulated the sketch he gave us and we're re arranging the rooms so Agent Tanner will be away from the others.'
"Okay." Martin winced when he brushed his hand along the bedrail.
The doctor dropped his eyes to Martin's hand. "I'm also supposed to look at your hand. It's a little sore?"
"Not too bad."
The doctor carefully felt around the knuckles. "I don't think it's broken. I'll get you some ice for it."
He had an ice pack a few minutes later when they started moving Vin. Chris joined up with them as they entered the elevator and made a short comment about it being a good thing that Vin was unconscious with the bunch of them packed in like they were.
Vin was settled in the ICU with Martin settled in a chair next to him, balancing his ice pack on his hand. He listened as Chris, Buck, Samantha and Danny threw together a schedule and meal plans. Just as Samantha was taking dinner orders, Danny's phone rang.
Martin was relaxed in the chair, casually watching his teammates when the look on Danny's face sent every nerve in Martin's body into immediate alert.
"He what?" Danny snapped. The others paused and fell silent. All eyes were on Danny. "Now? Just now?" He listened again. "Okay, okay. I'll tell 'em."
Martin could see that Chris had fallen instinctively into a defensive mode, expecting trouble. He stared hard at Danny, as if daring him to speak.
"That was Viv," Danny said. He looked directly at Chris when he spoke but Martin could tell that he wanted to be anywhere but in the position he was in right at this moment. "The F.B.I. has detained Ezra Standish for questioning in relation to Martin's attempted murder."