The Camping Trip
Martin was amazed that his brother could even function. One day and two nights of dreams - no, they were more like visions - and headaches was wearing him down. Martin knew he only shared a portion of the events. He was also realized that since his arrival in Denver, the events became worse.
So here he was, trying to balance his need to be with Vin against the fact that it obviously caused pain to his sibling. Katherine's house in upper New York was looking better and better. But first they had to get there.
Martin hobbled around the small bedroom gathering Vin's things as an obviously frustrated Vin fumed quietly, sitting cross-legged on the bed. Martin could feel the conflicting emotions pouring from his brother; anger, fear, barely restrained panic.
"You'll feel better with some space and less people," Martin offered softly. "I know it's probably pretty scary . . ."
Vin snorted and began to rock slightly, back and forth. The physical motion seemed to help.
"I have some pills from the doctor for the flight," Martin offered. "Ezra said you did pretty well with it the last time you flew."
Vin's jaws rippled as he ground his teeth, but he made no verbal comments. "I don't want any of this."
"I know. I'll help you, you know that."
Vin sighed and the rocking subsided. Martin closed and secured the suitcase and dragged it to the living room. When he got there, he heard a knock on the door.
"It's Chris," a voice called. Martin wobbled over and unlocked the door, stepping back as Larabee carefully pushed open the door and stepped in with Buck on his heels. Chris raised a brow at Martin. "Where's your cane?"
Martin grinned and picked up his cane from beside the couch. "Right here, mom," he teased.
Larabee shook his head as Buck chuckled. "You've been around Vin too long." He glanced around the room then looked down the hall. "He ready to go?"
"He's packed and dressed. Whether he's ready or not is another thing altogether."
Chris tilted his head in Martin's direction and met his gaze. Buck cleared his throat. "How 'bout I load up the car?" he offered. "Where's your bag?" Martin indicated the spare room and Buck headed down the hall, returning shortly with a black suitcase. He stopped by Vin's bag. "This is all he's takin'?"
"He doesn't need much. I have a lot of winter clothes he can use. Mom's stocked up on a few things, too."
Buck gathered the bags. "I'll wait in the car for y'all. Unless you need help down?" He looked to Chris.
"I think we got it," Chris said lowly, still staring down the hall. "You sure Kathrine's ready for this?"
"Yeah. I still think it's the best thing at the moment."
Chris nodded, and then indicated that Buck should go. After the bags were hustled out to the hall Martin shut the door. When he turned back, he saw Larabee disappear into Vin's room.
+ + + + + + +
He could feel the storm of emotion before he stepped into the room. Chris quickly wondered how Martin could stand it - how Vin could stand it. He paused inside the room for a few moments to let his eyes adjust to the dim light. As Vin's outline on the bed, rocking slightly back and forth, became clearer Chris couldn't help but find the sight disturbing. Tanner was the quiet, still type. To see him like this brought a zing of fear to Chris' heart.
"Hey," Chris said softly. "Ready to go?"
The rocking slowed. "I don't know where I belong anymore."
The statement was out of the blue and threw Chris for a moment. A pair of long strides brought him to the bed where he settled carefully on the side. "With us. You'll always belong with us." The response was automatic and clear but he still felt webs of doubt in his closest friend. Vin raised his chin and faced Chris. The rocking stilled. Chris hoped it was because Vin felt the sureness of the statement. Larabee spoke out loud. "This will work itself out, Vin. One way or the other, you still belong here."
The rage of emotions quieted. Vin's sigh was long and deep. "One step at a time, right boss?" He finally said.
"One step at a time, pard." Chris rose and reached over, grabbing Vin's shoulder in a firm grip. "Now let's get you two to the airport. Think you can avoid getting shot at between here and there?"
Vin allowed himself to be directed to his feet next to Chris. "Ain't my fault I'm so popular," he grumbled. "Let's go before I change my mind."
Vin took a step but Chris stopped him with a hand on his forearm.
"How about puttin' on some shoes first?"
+ + + + + + +
The flight went easier than Martin expected. The press of bodies at the airport was all the encouragement Vin needed to take the mild sedative from the doctor. Even Vin admitted - albeit reluctantly - that taking it had been a good idea. It not only relaxed him physically, the drug also managed to quiet the invading dreams as Vin dozed on the jet.
The pill must have been on its last hurrah as Vin started to fidget on touchdown. Martin waited patiently for the plane to empty before helping Vin to his feet and leading the way from the plane. Martin felt a spike in Vin's anxiety as they entered the bustle of the baggage claim area. Wondering for a moment how to juggle his brother and the luggage, Martin was relieved to hear a familiar voice.
"Well, what do we have here?" Danny said brightly as he appeared at Martin's side. "Two lost mountain men?"
"Danny!" Martin shook his hand and was pleased to see Samantha push her way to a spot beside him.
"Hey you two," she greeted sweetly, giving Martin a peck on the cheek. She then rubbed Vin's back. "It's good to see you again, Vin."
Vin's smile looked tentative. "Samantha," he said answered, sounding a bit breathless. "Danny."
"There's a car at the curb," Samantha said. "Your mom arranged it. How about I take Vin to the car while you two deal with the bags?"
"Sounds like a plan," Danny said as he slapped Martin's back. "Looks like Hop-a-long here needs a hand."
"I'll be fine as soon as I can breathe."
Martin watched until Vin and Samantha were out of sight.
"So how's he really doing?" Danny asked as they pushed their way to the baggage carousel.
"He's having a pretty rough time," Martin answered. "He's impatient."
Danny laughed shortly and Martin gave him a half-hearted glare. Although he would never admit it out loud, Martin was glad to see the familiar spark in Danny's eye.
"It's funny if you think about it," Danny said as he snagged a bag. "Leaving Colorado to get away from the crowd in New York."
Martin had to admit, it was ironic. He, too, laughed shortly. When Danny had both bags, Martin lead the way from the building then fell in behind his friend as they approached a long, sleek black sedan. The driver jumped from the vehicle and opened the trunk as Martin shook his head in amazement. "My mom sure knows how to arrange things," he muttered as Danny joined him.
"Damn straight, cowboy." Martin shot him another glare which made Danny's grin bigger. "Hey, can I say 'Home, Jeeves!' Please?"
Martin groaned and rolled his eyes as Danny opened the back door and pushed him inside.
+ + + + + + +
The ride was long but Danny and Samantha managed to make it an enjoyable trip. Martin was careful about dwelling his thoughts on Samantha. Going that direction would only make Vin more uncomfortable.
His two team mates brought the both of them up to date on the F.B.I.'s FedBomber investigation, which really hadn't gone very far. None of them were surprised at the discovery of a buried skeleton at the cabin site. They were still trying to get a positive identification, but it was believed to be the body of the long time property owner, Jonathan Parker. Finding any relatives for a DNA match or even any dental records was proving to be tricky. Mr. Parker, it seems, was somewhat of a recluse.
"His social security number popped up again in the work force about six years ago. That's when they think the Bomber moved in," Samantha summed up. "This guy is really good at disappearing."
A scene of some sort flashed in Martin's mind at the same time he saw Vin raise an arm to rub his temple. He reached over and rested a hand on Vin's arm. "You okay?" he asked lowly.
In response, the vision came again, this time remaining long enough for Martin to identify it.
"The cabin," he blurted out loud.
"What about it?" Danny asked, confused.
Martin glanced his way for a second before returning his attention to Vin. "Yeah, what about it?"
"Don't know. I keep seein' it mixed in with other stuff."
" 'Other stuff'?"
Martin saw Danny give Samantha a questioning look. She shrugged in reply and turned to Vin. "We're almost there. You look tired."
"Reckon I am a might," Vin said in a whisper, still rubbing his temple.
"Has it been better since we left the city?"
"Yeah," Vin thought. "It has. What I see is clearer and . . . quieter. "
Martin knew immediately what his brother meant. With less external disturbances there was less "noise" in the background of Vin's thoughts. When he touched Vin, Martin noticed that the other senses were stronger and more sensitive. Through Vin's mind he could "feel" what it looked like outside the car - the trees, the fireplace smoke, the flutter of falling snow. Each impression had a smell, a feel, a taste. Martin had to shut his eyes because it was all too distracting to see it with his eyes and his senses at the same time. It made him feel like he was carsick.
"Wow," he breathed, his eyes shut.
"Can anybody else join this conversation?" Danny asked jovially, a tinge of worry at the edge of the question.
"It's okay," Martin reassured Danny. He removed his hand from Vin's arm and settled back in the leather seat. "We both could use a rest."
"You have four days," Samantha said. "Jack expects you back at the office on Monday, you know."
"Yeah, I know. You two coming to dinner tomorrow? It's Christmas Eve."
"Does your mom know she's hosting a dinner party?"
"My mother lives for dinner parties," Martin chuckled. "But to answer your question, yes, she knows. It was her idea."
"Is Daddy coming?"
Leave it to Danny to cut straight to the chase. Martin felt Vin stiffen beside him. "No, he's still in DC. This isn't their first Christmas apart, you know." Vin relaxed. Both brothers knew the plans, but any mention of Victor Fitzgerald brought its own tension to the air.
"I'll be there," Samantha said. "I think Jack's going to Chicago, though."
"I know, he told me," Martin acknowledged. "It would be just us."
"Count me in." Danny looked out the window. "I think we're here."
Martin looked out the frost tinged sedan window to the gaily lit house perched on a low rise. As they passed between two brick pillars bedecked with holly and white lights and started up the long, circular drive, a myriad of memories and feelings washed over him. In past several months, Martin realized his entire world had been turned upside down and inside out, but, instead of feeling confused and adrift, he felt like his feet were firmly on the ground and traveling a solid path.
He felt complete. He had direction. And it was because he'd found his other half.
Vin must have felt the same thing because the nervous tension he'd felt hovering around his brother disappeared with Martin's thoughts.
"Merry Christmas, brother," Martin said quietly.
"Thanks," Vin replied. "Never got a gift like this before."
They both chuckled.
"Hey," Samantha objected with a smile. "It's not polite to . . . to . . . well, to do what ever that is you two do in the presence of company."
"Company, hell," Martin said, taking her hand. He felt his pulse quicken when he touched her. "When you're here, you're family."
"Can I tell Victor that we're related, then?" Danny asked brightly.
They all had a laugh at that idea as the car stopped at the massive front doors. Danny stepped from the car and helped the others exit the vehicle. He and Samantha followed Martin and Vin up the three stairs to the front porch. When they reached the top, one of the front doors swung open.
"Hi, mom," Martin said warmly before she uttered a word. The look of joy on her face made him smile.
"Martin! Vincent! I'm so happy you're here. Samantha, Daniel, please. Come in."
Martin and Vin stopped before her and Martin wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug. He kissed her on the cheek when they separated and he saw her look longingly at his brother. Wisely, she simply placed a gentle hand on Vin's elbow and patted his forearm with her other hand. She directed him through the wide doorway. Martin couldn't feel any reluctance or wariness coming from his twin so he relaxed. Maybe this was a good idea after all.
"Please, come in from the cold. I have a fire going in the fireplace. Alice will take your coats." An older woman, obviously the maid, stepped up and shut the door behind them. "I have hot water on. Who would like some tea? Or a drink?"
Katherine carefully lead Vin to the comfortable living room and settled him into an overstuffed chair after taking his coat and handing if off to Alice.
"Well, Danny and I should be heading back soon but some tea might be nice." Samantha looked around the large room, obviously impressed, and sat near Vin.
Martin had his mother sit on the couch next to Vin, and he sat next to her. "Now if you're like my Marty, you prefer hot chocolate with a little mint. How's that sound?" Katherine reached over and patted Vin's hand as she spoke. Martin was a little amazed at how relaxed Vin looked.
"Sounds nice, m'am," Vin drawled quietly. "Thanks for havin' me."
"Oh, honey, it's my privilege," she said with sincerity, a tiny hitch making her voice tremble momentarily. "And way overdue. But, we'll talk later. Right now, let's enjoy each other's company. How are your friends in Denver spending the holidays?"
Martin marveled, again, at his mother's knack at putting people at ease and getting more words out of Vin than he'd seen with anyone else, even himself. She was one of the reasons why Victor was so successful; no one knew how to mingle better than Katherine Fitzgerald. Her gentle nature was so opposite Victor's that Martin wondered how they managed to stay together so long without him killing her spirit.
Then he remembered the bad times - the hospitalizations, the separations - and knew she did pay a price. But now, watching her interact with Vin, he wondered if it would have been different if he and Vin were brought up together. Then a thought struck him like a bolt from the blue.
If he'd never come here, if Victor had simply left him with his birth mother, would that have saved Katherine from any suffering? Would that have saved Vin from suffering? What if . . .
His thoughts stopped there with an intruding thought. Martin looked up to see Vin facing his way as Katherine spoke with Samantha.
"Don't." Vin's voice was clear in his mind. "Don't even go there. Don't you ever think like that. Ever. If you want to blame someone, blame Victor."
"But what he did . . ."
"Was years ago. We've survived. Please, brother, I don't need any more drama in my head."
Martin grinned and saw Vin's shoulders relax. Drama. He chuckled and shook his head, realizing that their situation could rival any soap opera.
"What's so funny, Marty?" Danny said, accepting a cup of steaming tea from Alice and balancing it precariously on his knee. He looked kind of like a fish out of water.
"Watching you watch your manners," Martin jibed back. "Didn't know you had any good ones."
"Martin!" his mother scolded lightly. "That's no way to speak to your guests."
"Yeah, Marty," Danny chirped. "How rude!" He smiled hugely as he lifted the delicate tea cup to his lips.
Knowing he was beaten, all he could do was throw in the towel and give Katherine a sheepish look. "Sorry, mom," he muttered.
Samantha gave him a sly wink and a smile that made everything better. With that, Martin sat back and enjoyed the warm feelings of family and friendship that put both he and Vin at ease for now.
The evening went well. After Danny and Samantha departed, the remaining three made it through unpacking and a light dinner. After that came drinks by the fireplace. They talked late into the evening with Katherine finally throwing in the towel at 11:00.
"You two are still on west coast time but this old woman needs to get to bed."
The boys stood, with Martin walking with her to the stairs to kiss her good night. He returned to find his brother facing the fire, orange and yellow light painting his face to look like some outdoor cowboy by a campfire. Martin's thoughts instantly flashed back to the fateful camping trip that had eventually brought them here.
Vin turned slightly as if feeling Martin's return, turning back to the fire when Martin was settled.
"I think this might help," Vin said softly. "Thanks, bro."
"You're welcome and I think you're right. You seem - quiet. You know, up here." Martin tapped his own head, oblivious to the fact that Vin was blind. He knew his brother "saw" what he meant.
They sat in quiet a little longer.
"There's something that's been botherin' me," Vin finally said in a near whisper. "A feelin' that I'm missing something."
Vin scowled. Martin could feel his brother's frustration as he tried to pull his thoughts together. Vin rubbed his furrowed forehead.
"I don't . . . that's just it. I'm not sure. It's like something big is sittin' there waitin' for me to notice it, and . . . an'. . ." Vin rubbed his forehead harder then let out an sharp breath.
Martin felt the tickle of a new-born headache. "Just relax, Vin. You just got here. Things will fall into place as soon as you get some rest." He scooted to the edge of his chair. "You look like Hell, you know."
Vin's face relaxed a fraction before he snorted and flopped back, deep into the overstuffed chair with a lopsided grin Martin would label "shit-eating."
"You do remember we're identical twins," Vin smirked.
"Not exactly," Martin said smugly as he stood. "I'm the better lookin' one."
Vin pushed himself to his feet with a short laugh. "You mean the delusional one."
Martin took Vin's elbow and steered him toward the stairs. "No, no. Just the older, smarter one. It would be best if you keep that in mind, squirt."
"'Squirt'? Oh, you're gonna pay for that one."
As they started up the gracefully curved steps, Alice appeared from out of nowhere and began turning off the downstairs lights.
"Good night, Alice," the boys said as one. Martin smiled at Alice's startled expression.
"Good night, sirs," she quickly answered.
"She looked a little surprised," Martin thought.
"She's allowed to have emotions?"
Martin frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Vin stopped instantly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way." Martin could feel new turmoil starting in his brother's mind. "It's just that . . . I never . . . shit." Vin rubbed his forehead again.
Martin relaxed when he realized what Vin meant. "You've never had a maid or any kind of serve staff."
Vin sighed. "Yeah. Sorry. That musta sounded kinda harsh."
Tugging him onward, Martin said, "That's okay. I get it."
Things seemed back to normal by the time Martin left Vin's room, which was right next to his own room. He put away the last of his travel items and readied himself for bed, sighing contentedly as he flopped onto the big four-poster. Rolling to one side, he turned off the light and wiggled under the down comforter. He was asleep in minutes.
Martin jerked awake with a gasp and shot up to a sit. His heart still raced as visions of the frightening dream faded away - there was blood and blackness and something he couldn't quite form solidly in his mind. It took a moment for his heart to still and he frowned in concentration. Something in the dreams pictures struck him as familiar, but Martin couldn't remember what he'd seen.
He continued to sit until his heart slowed to a normal rhythm before lying back again. Martin stared at the ceiling, waiting for sleep again, when he heard Vin cry out.
Martin rolled from the bed and grabbed his robe, trotting from his room to Vin's. He rapped twice and then pushed the door open. "Vin?" he whispered.
All he could hear was a rustling sound. All he could feel was a tingling on the edge of his brain. When he heard a moan, Martin rushed to Vin's bedside and sat on the edge. Vin's head rolled restlessly from side to side as his hands clutched at blankets that were slewed to one side.
When Martin reached pressed his hand against Vin's shoulder, the tickling of his mind exploded into a calliope of scenes. At first, all he perceived was the color green, and when he realized he was looking at different views of a forest, a few details started to reveal themselves. And every one of those details was the color blue.
Then there was the flash of a face and Vin surged to a sit as he sharply exhaled the word, "Oh!"
Martin backed off a step, shaking his head from the onslaught. Still, the last image, that of the face, lingered.
Vin's breathing was harsh and ragged. He pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead until his breathing was again under control. Then he slumped back against the headrest and rubbed his eyes. "Did you see 'em?" he croaked.
"Yeah," Martin answered. He glanced at the glowing bedside clock: 3:35 and reached out to rest his hand on Vin's shoulder.
"I keep seein' him in the woods and then everything hurts."
"Who is he?"
Vin let out an explosive breath and laughed once. "I have no idea. I can't remember. I can't even see him clearly. He's carrying something . . ."
"Slow down. We'll figure this out."
They sat in silence for a few moments before Martin yawned.
"Go to bed," Vin grumbled. "Ain't gonna solve this now."
He started pulling at the blankets and Martin helped to straightened out the mess. Once the bed was back in shape, Vin slid down under the sheets and curled up on his side. Martin watched him for a moment and was struck with an idea. Without any word of warning he crawled into the large bed and snuggled under the blankets alongside Vin.
"What the hell are you doin'?" Although Vin tried to sound annoyed, the last of his words turned up in pitch as he held back a laugh.
"Sleepin'," Martin replied, drawing the comforter up to his chin. "Maybe sharing the scenery. Just go to sleep, Vin. I'm not gonna touch you or anything."
"Damn straight," Vin snorted before letting out a chuckle. The bed jiggled as Vin settled down. They were quiet for a few minutes, the only sounds were of the wind outside and the tick of the clock. "Thanks," Vin said eventually, his quiet voice barely carrying over the wind - rattled window.
"You're welcome," Martin responded. "It's what big brothers do, take care of little brothers."
They both fell asleep and almost made it to dawn. Martin awoke when he bolted to a sit after a dazzling display visions; and visions are what he called them. They were much too sharp and detailed to be dreams. And the mystery man had come in very clear.
Vin yelped as he popped up to a sit, breathing hard. "Did you . . ?"
"Yeah, I saw. Do you remember anything about him now?"
Vin nodded. "I remember now where I saw him. He was hiking near the cabin, Martin. And the stuff he's carrying? One is a quiver of arrows."
"For the crossbow," Martin finished. "What are they called for crossbows? Bolts?"
"Yeah," Vin mumbled with a frown. "With blue fletches."
Vin wiped his face with his hand. "The feathers. Fletches." He frowned again.
"This is what you've been seeing?"
"I guess. It wasn't really clear before." Vin tilted his head in Martin's direction. "Guess your idea worked. Thanks."
"At least you didn't snore," Martin teased as he flopped back down. "It's still dark outside and I, for one, am going back to sleep."
After a few minutes, he felt Vin lie back down, too. "D'ya think you can get a composite of him with a sketch artist?" he asked just as Martin was about to drop off.
"I think so. Unless it fades away when you're awake for awhile like a dream does."
Vin was quiet again and Martin was close to sleep again when Vin quickly sat up again. "That's it! The fletches!"
Martin rolled his head toward his brother and peeled his eyes open once again. "What?"
"The fletches! They were a custom design! I remember now . . ."
Vin then recounted the time he'd seen the man. It was at least three years ago in the mountains near where they'd camped. He'd seen the man among the trees while setting up camp and had waved to him, but the man just disappeared into the scenery. Vin hadn't seen the crossbow itself, but the quiver of bolts was quite clear since a ray of sun broke through the tree canopy and landed directly on it. That's what Vin remembered clearly - the pattern in the fletches. The blue was nearly iridescent and accented with bright yellow. It had to be a custom design.
". . . and there aren't a lot of custom fletchers out there. Either he did it himself, or he had it done. Either way, the materials should be traceable. There's only a few manufacturers."
Now Martin was unable to sleep. They lay there in the dark quiet, thinking.
"If we do find the guy, there's some heresay problems with all this." Martin heard Vin chuckle.
"I can hear it now: 'Agent Tanner, is this the man?' 'Well, I don't know 'cos I can't see, but my brother here shared my visions and he can pick him out for ya.'"
Martin agreed. "Yeah. I can't say I've ever heard of shared visions being acceptable in court. Well, at least we have a face."
"And at least one name."
By now the sky outside the windows was starting to lighten.
"I can work with a sketch artist and get a list of crossbow dealers in the Denver area. Let's take it from there for now."
"I'm startin' to feel kinda useless," Vin grumbled
"It's only temporary," Martin assured him.
"Right," Vin responded tiredly as he drew the back of his hand over his eyes.
"So," Martin started as he rolled over and closed his eyes with a yawn. "You think that you'll sleep better with that off your mind?"
"Not sure," Vin said after a long moment. "Still feels like there's somethin' else. . ."
Martin snuggled deeper into his pillow. "It'll come."
+ + + + + + +
It was a soft noise but enough to lure Martin from sleep. "What the hell?" he thought as fog cleared slowly from his head.
Then there was an aborted giggle followed by whispered words. "Ain't they cute?"
Martin forced his eyes open to see Vin pulling the comforter over his head. "Tell 'em I'm lookin' for my gun and I'm gonna shoot 'em," Vin snarled tiredly.
"I'll help you." Martin rolled to the side and dragged his feet from under the sheets, letting them drop to the floor as he sat up. Danny was just tucking away his camera phone with a self satisfied grin.
"Good morning sleepyheads." It took a moment for Samantha's voice to register.
Martin stood up and quickly grabbed his robe.
"Like the P.J.s," Danny remarked. "Guess that answers the 'boxers or briefs?' question."
Martin pulled the robe closed over his boxers and glared at his partners. It wasn't very effective.
"Whoa. Serious case of bed head." Samantha extended out an arm and offered a steaming mug of what gloriously smelled of coffee. "Peace offering. Alice serves a mean java."
He shuffled forward and took the mug. "Thanks." Danny retrieved another mug from a nearby table and started toward Vin. Martin threw out an arm to block his path. "I'd better . . ." he said in way of an explanation and took the mug, walking over to put it on the bedside table. "What are you two doing here at the crack of dawn?"
"Martin, it's nine o'clock," Samantha corrected. "And I know you two need to get some things for tonight."
"Christmas Eve? Do you have anything for your mother?"
Martin had the grace to look sheepish.
"Didn't think so. We're going shopping."
"Now I know I'm gonna shoot 'em." Vin's voice was muffled under the comforter. "I'm stayin' here."
"Okay, then. Martin?"
Martin ran his hand through his hair. Some time alone with Katherine would be good for Vin, especially since he knew how his mother could keep him busy getting ready for the dinner gathering. "I'll get dressed."
After Danny and Samantha departed the room, Martin turned back to his brother. "I'll get you something for mom."
"'preciate it. 'n Alice, too. 'n maybe Samantha, if ya don't mind."
"What about Danny?" Martin said teasingly.
Martin patted Vin's shoulder. "I'll look around. You okay with this?"
Martin could feel that he was telling the truth - there was no anxiety connected to the words.
"Great. You coming down for breakfast? Alice serves up a killer omelet, too."
"I'll be right behind ya."
After Martin left, Vin pulled down the blankets and took a few moments to listen to the silence. No car horns or alarms, no slamming doors, no music - it was bliss to his weary senses. A tree ticked the window and Vin imagined a light snow falling in the breeze. He felt completely relaxed for the first time in weeks.
Except for that nagging thought that he was still missing something in his night-time visions.
Vin ran over what he remembered again, clearly recalling the fletch pattern and the suspects face. There was more, he knew it, but blew out a breath and sat up. His head pounded a little and figured a shower would take care of that.
Generally feeling much better, Vin realized that he was actually looking forward to the day.
The light tap on the bedroom door was perfectly timed. Vin ran a brush quickly through his hair and figured he was ready for the day. As he showered and dressed, Vin realized that he could see more light and even some moving shadows on the periphery of his vision. Things were getting better.
"Come in," he called out in response to the knock as he quickly checked all his buttons one last time.
"Good morning, Vin. I thought you might need some help getting downstairs." Katherine's voice was light and cheery.
"Mornin'. Yeah, that son of yours left me high and dry." He smiled and felt a light touch on his elbow.
"Breakfast is all ready. Hope you like waffles."
Vin didn't know how she did it, but Katherine had a way of helping him get around that made Vin feel like he was leading the way. He made a note to remember her style for future reference.
"We have a lot to do today. Dinner will be around 7:00 and there's a lot to do in the kitchen. I hope you don't mind lending a hand."
"Whatever I can do," Vin offered.
Descending the stairs Vin could discern the size of the room below by the slight echo. He could hear Alice in the kitchen as well as isolate the mouthwatering smells being created there. Katherine was describing what it looked like outside and he was perfectly able to picture the dusting of snow in his mind.
Breakfast was wonderful. Fortified with a sturdy mug of robust coffee, Vin settled back down at the table after the dishes were cleared. Katherine brought several items to him.
"Can you fold these napkins for the table?" she asked. "Here's how . . ."
Luckily, it was a simple fold. She promised she'd be back with a more entertaining task when he was done. Vin found the somewhat mundane task to be soothing and his mind wandered. He explored what each sense felt. He knew when Katherine was returning by the sound of her footfall followed shortly by shadowy movement in the corner of his eye.
"Well, that didn't take long," she said cheerily. "Now here's something a little more challenging."
He smelled chocolate. A spoon was put in his hand. Something metallic clanked. Before Katherine said anything, Vin followed his nose and dipped a finger in the bowl placed before him and snuck a taste.
"Chocolate chip cookies?"
"Stop that!" Katherine laughed, playfully whacking his arm.
Vin chuckled as Katherine showed him how much to scoop out a spoonful and feel for the proper amount of dough with his fingertips before placing it on the tray.
"Just think of the tray as a parking lot and you're parking each cookie," she said with a laugh.
"Parking lot," Vin mused as he placed a couple of dollops. He felt more cooking sheets stacked under the one he was filling.
Apparently satisfied, Katherine patted his shoulder. "There should be four trays' worth," she said. "You all right for now?"
"Yeah." Vin replied, feeling a little distracted. Something she said stuck in his head and he tried to figure out why he couldn't distract himself from the thought.
Slowly the tray filled. The vision of a parking lot was very clear in his mind as Vin worked. It was when the last "space" was filled that it hit him.
The spoon clanked on the table where he dropped it. Parking lot! Vin stood and patted his waistband, looking for his cell phone. Damn - he'd left it in his room. Vin shoved the chair back and felt his way to the edge of the table, wiping doughy fingers on his shirt. He was orienting himself toward the stairs when he heard footsteps.
"Vin?" Katherine questioned. "Are you all right?" She was at his side in a moment.
"Phone," Vin said quickly. "I need to call Chris."
Katherine led him to an upholstered chair and sat him down. "I have a cordless phone here. I'll dial for you."
Vin told her the number as she handed him a hand towel. By the time his hands were clean of dough she passed the phone to him. He was vaguely aware of her leaving him with some privacy.
The phone rang three times. "Larabee," the familiar voice snapped.
"Hey, cowboy! How's it going?"
"Chris, I just remembered something. The bolts. Did you find any? Were any recovered?"
"Bolts?" There was a slight pause. "The arrows?"
"Yeah. The guy shot two of them at us. One went into a tree, which I'm sure he recovered, but the other . . . where did it go?"
Vin heard Chris call for a copy of the report, glad that his friend wasn't questioning him any farther on this line of thought. He heard a soft thump over the phone and then the sound of rustling paper. "I'm putting you on speaker so I can look at this." There was a few seconds of rustling paper. "Nothing listed in evidence. Let me check the narrative. You didn't ask Martin?"
"Not yet. He's not here at the moment. I . . . I think we were shot at twice, right? I don't really remember." Vin rubbed his forehead.
"Here it is. Let's see . . . yeah, here's a note. Investigators found the hole in the tree, but no bolt. Looks like there was some scarring on a boulder near where we found you - they assume it was from the second bolt . . . no, neither one was recovered."
"The scratched boulder - was it near the cliff face?"
"Yeah, it was."
"Could it have gone over the edge?"
"The way it sounds here, yeah. I'm sure it did."
"Chris, listen. Get in contact with Mary Travis. Have her pull all the news feeds she can get her hands on. Look for the ones where they're either reporting from the trail head parking area or took extra footage in the parking area. Since that's the parking area closest to the cabin, that's where a lot of the news crews staged, right?"
"Right . . ." Chris spoke slowly as he tried to follow Vin's train of thought.
"Look closest at the footage of the following morning, after we were air lifted."
"What are we looking for?"
"Hikers and car license plates."
There was a beat of silence. "He came back to recover the bolt."
"Yeah, I'm sure of it. Chris, the fletch pattern of the bolts was custom and I can identify it. I don't know if the suspect remembers but I saw him before, about three years ago, with his bolts. If the fletch pattern matches, I can I.D. him. He had to recover the bolt before he left town. The trail head parking area . . ."
". . . is the only place to park and hike in. I'm on it."
Vin heard his boss and friend bark some orders and the vague replies before Chris came back on the line. "We should have it soon."
"Martin needs to look at the footage."
"Okay. We can stream it online from here. Did he see this guy?" Paper rustling noises again. "It doesn't say that anywhere . . ."
"Well, not exactly. But he knows what he looks like."
Significant pause. "Care to explain that one, pard?"
Vin sighed and briefly explained the shared visions. If it had been anyone else but Chris, Vin would never have broached the subject. He could mentally visualize Chris pinching the bridge of his nose as he tried to figure how to explain this to Director Travis. Vin grinned guiltily.
"Hey, Chris, don't worry none. My sights gettin' better every day. Won't have to explain nothin' when I can see again."
"Yeah, heck, let's not worry too much about that pesky, old 'Probable Cause' thing."
"Vin, I was being sarcastic."
"Really? It sounded like you always sound."
"Smartass. So, how goes the visit?"
"I'm makin' cookies."
"Hey, Vin!" JD must have stepped in Chris' office. "Sugar cookies? I had an aunt that made the best Christmas sugar cookies! I helped her lots of times."
"Chocolate chip, with those big chunks of chocolate!"
"Jesus, I've been transferred to Hell's Kitchen," Chris interrupted. "Whaddya got, JD?"
"Mary's on it, Chris. Should get the first feeds within the hour."
"You hear that, Vin?"
"Yup. Tell him thanks and you all have a good Christmas Eve if I don't talk to you again."
"Sure will. Have Martin check email this afternoon. I'll link any videos we get."
After they said their goodbyes, Vin heard the familiar voices of his team in the background just before Chris hung up and a wave of homesickness washed over him. He found that he was listening to dead air for a few moments before he dropped the phone from his ear. Vin fumbled with the buttons, trying to find the disconnect button, with growing agitation.
"Here." Katherine's soft voice was a balm to Vin's nerves and he let the receiver slip from his hand.
"Thanks," he said softly. So far, he'd avoided the frustration and melancholy from his condition, but after hearing voices from home and realizing how far away he was from them, the anxiety he'd ignored flared. "What if I don't get better?" he thought.
Katherine must have heard the catch in his breath because he felt her hand on his arm as she settled into the chair beside him.
"Vin, we haven't known each other for very long but I know a good man when I see one," she said. "It's remarkable how similar you and Martin are. Because of that, I feel closer to you than I have a right to."
Vin ducked his head. "I'm sorry," he replied softly.
Vin tilted his head in her direction but kept his eyes cast low. "I . . . just don't . . . trust . . . that easily," he explained haltingly.
She patted his hand. "And I can understand why. Don't worry, I'm not hurt. I do understand." She curled her fingers around his hand. "I just want you to know that I feel like I let you down and I don't blame you for being cautious. When I saw you by that grave site . . ." Katherine's voice hitched and she momentarily squeezed Vin's hand. "I wanted to . . . well, I was surprised, that's for certain, but after, I wanted to do well by you. I couldn't find a way, though. I was . . . overwhelmed."
Vin pushed up from the chair with the first nervous stirrings in his gut. He wasn't ready for this conversation. "I know and it's okay. I turned out fine. Please don't feel guilty because of me."
Katherine's hand dropped away and Vin heard her sniff once. "You are a gracious one," she whispered. "I just want you to know that I'm glad we've finally met."
"Me too," Vin sincerely replied. He lifted his chin and smiled at the shadow in her direction. "I'm almost done with the trays. What's next?"
Vin found that he couldn't fully concentrate anymore on any of the chores Katherine gave him. He finished them as best as he could and after lunch, found his way out of the back door and into the elements.
Cold nipped his nose and cheeks and the outside brightness made the shadows he could see, darker. Vin pulled his coat tighter and carefully felt his way down the back steps to the snowy ground. He took a few steps and stopped, allowing his senses to reach out to their fullest and build a scene in his mind of where he stood. Reflected noise told him where the trees and shrubs were. Smells told him which direction the closest neighbor dwelled. The stinging breeze and the faint heat of the sun told him which direction he faced. Soon, he had a mental picture of where he stood.
And that realization made him miss home even more.
+ + + + + + +
Martin kicked the car door shut after Samantha exited. The motion caused the tower of bags in his arms to list threateningly and he had to do a dance to regain balance.
"You drop those bags and you'll be gluing for the rest of the night," Samantha warned.
"I don't think glued crystal makes a good gift," Martin answered.
"But it could be art." Danny's stab at helpfulness earned him a sharp glare from Samantha.
"Just be careful," she warned.
""Ma'm?' Since when am I a 'M'am'?"
Danny sighed while Martin chuckled. "It's best just nod," Martin whispered to his friend.
"I heard that." Samantha swept up the front stairs and managed to look graceful and beautiful as opposed to annoyed.
Martin watched her retreat with a crooked smile. Danny snorted and elbowed his partner into motion. "And mind the crystal," he snipped.
The trio wiped their feet and were about to drop their load when a clucking Alice headed them off. "The living area is ready to receive guests." Her expression made it clear they didn't fall into that category.
Danny looked perplexed as Samantha and Martin mumbled apologies and headed for the stairs. He trotted to catch up, asking, "Was that a polite way of kicking us out of the room?"
"Yes," the other two said together.
"Damn. I'm not sure I can function with all this politeness." Danny went on verbalizing the possible scenarios "poor little Martin" must have had to live through as a boy that wasn't allowed to get dirty.
"Shut up, Danny," Martin finally grumbled as they dumped the bags on Martin's bed. He looked around. "Hm. Wonder where Vin is?"
"Can't you feel him, you know, up here?" Danny tapped his temple.
Martin rolled his eyes. "It's not LoJack, Danny. I know he's around but can't pinpoint exactly where." Martin frowned. "I do know that he's cold."
Martin spun on his heel and headed downstairs after grabbing an extra cashmere scarf from the coat closet. He was making a bee-line to the back door when his mother called him aside.
"Hi, mom. I'm taking this to Vin." He held up the scarf.
"He's been out there most of the afternoon," she told him. "He's got something on his mind. I really hope he can get it sorted out so he can enjoy himself tonight." She glanced at the door. "I didn't want to intrude."
Martin smiled. "He's okay. Really." He pecked her forehead and continued outside. Once on the small back porch, Martin paused to button the top button of his coat and look around. He found his brother sitting on a garden bench under a bare tree and knew Vin was aware he was there. Feeling a mental "warmth", Martin knew he was welcome to approach.
"Here," he said as he dropped next to Vin and thrust the scarf into his hands. "Wrap that around your neck." Vin chuffed and offered a crooked smile as he accepted the scarf. "You should have gloves on. Your hands are like ice cubes."
Vin wound the cashmere around his neck and tucked the ends down the front of his coat, and then jammed his hands into the pockets. "I'm fine. Hey, I remembered something while you were out."
Martin had hunkered down and pulled up his collar to the growing chill, burying the lower half of his face in layers of wool. "Yeah?" he thought, not wanting to let air into his cocoon of warmth. "What?"
Vin unknowingly copied his brother's position. "The bomber couldn't leave the bolt behind - the one he shot and skipped off the boulder? - because the fletches are unique. He can't take the chance."
"So, he had to go back in the daylight to look for it. And there's only one parking lot in the area, so there were news crews there."
"You think he's on film?"
"Possibly. Chris is checkin'. You need to look at your email. He was going to send what he got from a reporter friend of ours."
"Then let's check. It's been a couple of hours, right?"
"And you do need to come in a wrap some gifts."
Vin straightened. "Me?"
"Don't worry. I'm bad enough at it that yours will probably look better than mine."
Vin snorted at that idea and slowly stood. Martin rose and lightly took Vin's elbow, directing him to the back stairs. Once inside, Alice huffed and grumbled and took their coats. When Vin muttered his thanks the maid patted his cheek and said she'd be up with something hot to drink.
The brothers entered Martin's room and found Samantha grumbling and wrapping gifts. Danny sat on the bed, flipping through what looked like Martin's high school yearbook. Samantha glanced up on their arrival.
"Just because I'm a female it doesn't mean I know how to wrap presents! Get you ass over here, Martin." She flipped her hand in Danny's direction. "Good thing I got most of this stuff wrapped at the stores. He's useless."
"I'm providing entertainment," Danny protested, holding up the book to display a page of adolescent basketball players. He grinned hugely. "Your legs are still skinny, Marty!"
Martin ignored him and shook his head as he walked to his desk and computer. "I'll help ya in a minute, Sam. I just have to check my email."
Vin started to explain about the news feeds which caused Danny to abandon the yearbook and stand next to Martin, leaning closely over his shoulder.
"Hey, I have some things here. Quit breathing in my ear." Martin elbowed Danny aside.
Samantha cleared a spot for Vin on the bed and continued to wrap boxes. She handed him a couple of things, explaining what they were and who they were for. Vin nodded, pleased, as he listened to both her and the other two at the same time. Apparently, there were several videos linked to Martin's email and it seemed to take forever to go through them. Finally, Vin's heart raced when he heard the words he was waiting for.
"It's him," Martin announced. "We got him and we got a vehicle plate."
"We were able to get the vehicle identification number from the Colorado license plate," Chris reported a few minutes later over Martin's speaker phone. "It's a good thing Vin thought of the video when he did. We ran the I.D. number and the records show that the vehicle is in the process of being registered in Virginia. When the process is complete, the Colorado plate information will be dumped from the system and the files from this end would have been untraceable."
"Virginia?" Danny said. "You have an address and a name?"
"Christopher Wheeler with a PO box. He listed a street address, too, but it isn't good. Josiah already had the locals check. It's an empty lot."
"What about fletch suppliers in that area?" Vin asked.
"Already have a list and have the flyer all set to send out. All we need is a description of the pattern you saw." Chris paused. "And to keep the source of that information vague for now."
Martin laughed shortly. "You don't think the 'shared visions' source will sit well with the District Attorney?"
Martin described the pattern he saw in Vin's mind.
"Good. We'll send out those flyers now. Meanwhile, I have a B.O.L.O. out on the vehicle for Virginia in the Reston area. That's where the registration application was submitted. I'm also arranging for surveillance on the PO Box, but I'm not holding my breath on that happening anytime soon. The request has to clear both ATF and FBI protocol."
"So between any custom fletchers, the PO Box and the vehicle registration, there's a chance to grab this guy." Samantha sounded optimistic.
"And if we miss these opportunities, he's gonna disappear again."
"Do you think that Christopher Wheeler is his latest victim? You think he's taking over this guy's life like he did the others or is it a temporary name?"
"Can't say. Could go either way."
"Wouldn't hurt to search for all the Christopher Wheelers in Virgina." Vin rubbed his eyes as he spoke. "With it being Christmas Eve and all, we aren't gonna get any responses from fletchers or the Department of Motor Vehicles for at least a day."
"We're on it," Chris assured them. "In the meantime, relax and enjoy yourselves."
"Will do," Martin said as he prepared to disconnect. "Tell the others Merry Christmas."
"Same to you. I'll get all this off to Jack and keep you posted. Bye."
"Bye," Martin replied. A clattering noise indicated that Chris had hung up. Martin punched the disconnect button. "He sure didn't sound too merry to me."
Vin snorted. "'Merry' isn't a word usually connected with Chris." He stood and stretched. "What time is it?"
"Time to get ready for dinner," Danny said. "Who else is coming to this affair, anyway?"
Martin rattled off a couple of names as they started to break up. "Neighbors, mostly. It won't be too bad."
"It sure smells good down there." Samantha stood in the hall outside Martin's room and sniffed the air. Danny joined her, smiling at the wonderful scents. "See you downstairs." She shut the door.
"I don't have to dress up for this wing-ding, do I?" Vin sounded uneasy.
Martin chuckled. "You can borrow a tie and dress pants. Is that dressing up?"
"Anything involving a tie is dressing up," Vin replied miserably. "You aren't gonna give me something stupid like a Christmas tree tie, are you? 'Cause if you do . . ."
"It'll be boring, don't worry." Martin gathered his brother's elbow in his hand and directed him to the bedroom door. "I'll bring something to your room. I need to hit the shower."
+ + + + + + +
The dinner was a cheery affair and Vin found he actually enjoyed himself. At first, the idea of mingling with strangers made his palms sweat, but Martin, Samantha or Danny stayed by his side the whole time and he eventually relaxed. Katherine had invited only the nearest neighbors so it was a small group. The twins were the hit of the night.
The mental "discussions" with Martin were the most entertaining; dirty and often scandalous details were passed on about each couple as they arrived, which put Vin much more at ease when he realized that rich people were still just people. It also explained why Martin fit so well with the team in Denver - it was clear that he was more down-to-earth than the rest of the neighborhood.
Vin also noticed that his senses seemed to have calmed down since he was seeing more. His vision had gotten to the point to where he could discern objects in a room almost well enough to get around on his own and, therefore, didn't rely on the other senses as much. The chatter of the other couples was tolerable and didn't cause a headache.
By 10:00, all the neighbors had departed, tottering happily off into the night toward their houses. Worn out, they all wandered to the living room and the giant fireplace. Katherine sat with the rest of them by the flickering flames as Martin poured everyone a brandy.
"That was nice," Katherine breathed. "You seemed to have a good time, Vin. I was worried . . ."
"It was nice," he agreed. "You have some interestin' neighbors."
"Well, they certainly aren't boring. Thank you, Martin." She said as she accepted the crystal snifter. Then she looked around and noted the somewhat guilty expression on Martin and Vin's faces. "What? You don't think I know I live smack in the center of Peyton Place?"
Samantha exchanged perplexed looks with Danny. "Are we missing something, here?"
Before either of the twins could explain, Katherine spoke. "I'm sure Martin told Vin all the dirty secrets of our neighbors as they arrived. That's why Vin was so relaxed. Right, honey?"
Martin's face reddened slightly, obviously guilty. "Uh . . ."
Vin also blushed. "Yeah . . . well . . ."
Katherine laughed lightly. "We all have our crosses to bear, don't you think? Don't worry about it."
"What kind of secrets?" Danny asked as one eyebrow quirked with curiosity. "Come on, Marty. Spill."
Samantha rolled her eyes and settled back in a corner of the sofa with a resigned sigh. "We can't take you anywhere, Danny."
+ + + + + + +
Christmas day turned out to be more enjoyable than Vin imagined it would be. Although there were many phone calls, there we no physical visitors and that made for a peaceful day. Vin and Martin enjoyed spending quiet time together, walking and talking, in the quiet, snow-insulated environment.
Martin, now that he wasn't feeling the chaotic sensual input from his brother, physically relaxed which made his role as middle-man between Vin and Katherine not only enjoyable but somewhat educational; Katherine, separate from Victor, was a breath of fresh air in the staleness of Martin's family memories. So ingrained was the interaction with Victor in Martin's mind, the quiet presence of Katherine in the background was easily forgotten. He was glad to rediscover her through Vin's experience.
Vin and Katherine seemed to reach their own understanding through the long weekend. They were both quiet and soft spoken and accepting of Martin just the way he was. It was a good mix. So, when Martin was forced to return to the workplace on Monday, he was relaxed and refreshed. His life was definitely fuller with this family shift.
"Martin," Jack called out as soon as the agent neared his office door. "Come in. We need to talk."
With his coffee cup firmly in his grip, Martin nodded an acknowledgement to the others in the bullpen as he changed course and entered the office.
"Close the door," Jack asked.
Martin did so and dropped into the nearest chair. "What's up?"
Jack, leaning on his forearms on the desktop and fiddling with a pen, cocked his head as he met Martin's gaze. "The Fed Bomber team got a hit on the arrow maker. A custom fletching job was mailed out Saturday for pick up at a PO Box in the Reston area of Virginia. They're staking it out now."
Martin quickly sat up, grinning. "Really?" he chirped. Then, his brows knitted in concern as he noted the tentative attitude that his boss emitted. "They aren't planning to pick him up, are they? There's no proper probable cause for arrest!"
The pen twirled in Jack's fingers and he leaned back. "Apparently, they don't care. They're using Patriot Act guidelines."
"But Vin's the true eye-witness. He's the only one that can nail this guy. All they have now is what I've seen in Vin's mind. How the hell are they going to justify any warrants with that? It's going to make using psychics in police work look like hard science!"
"That's true in the cases we prosecute. Patriot Act guidelines allow for detention without probable cause. This guy is so good at disappearing that they don't want to take any chances. They want to detain first, ask questions later."
Martin sagged in the chair, spinning the forgotten cardboard coffee cup between his hands. "This is going to get messy for Vin." he concluded. "Any pressure from publicity's going to be a setback in his recovery." The two regarded each other for a long moment. "They're going to be hovering over him, waiting for his eyesight to return and the press will be . . . well, the press." He paused. "There's no chance of keeping this quiet, is there?"
Jack sighed and tossed the pen on the table. "Neither one of us are that naive. This is going to get ugly, Martin. I just wanted you to be prepared."
Martin ducked his head. "Thanks," he muttered. "I'll let Vin know when I see him. Are you in the loop? Will you know if they pick up this guy?"
Nodding, Jack gave Martin a sympathetic look. "Eventually. It will filter down, but I think I'll hear pretty quickly. And keep this to yourself for now."
Letting out a frustrated sigh, Martin rose to his feet. "Well, that's a nice holiday gift," he said with resigned sarcasm.
"Not your fault. Thanks for letting me know."
The rest of the day was spent with busy work and as quitting time neared, Martin found it increasingly difficult to concentrate. He knew that the rest of the team realized something was wrong and, amazingly, didn't pry. Martin saw the questions in their eyes when they spoke to him but there was no room in his mind to let it bother him. He was still trying to figure out how to break it to Vin when he returned to the house. When the case of the missing wife came to the office just at quitting time, Martin was guiltily relieved at the reprieve.
+ + + + + + +
Vin cocked his head in a few directions, trying to find an angle that would give him the best idea of what the fuzzy forms were in front of him. Setting the table had never been such a challenge before. "He workin' late?" Finally deducing the darker rectangle on the lighter background was a folded napkin, he placed a knife and spoon on top of it.
Katherine chuckled. "I suppose that wasn't much of a guess now, was it?"
Vin continued his hesitant exploration of the dining room table, hoping there was no glassware set out to get in his way. "Nah. Not really."
"How about you?" She asked. "You gettin' itchy to get back to work?"
"Honestly? I haven't had time to think about it. I miss work, sure, but gettin' around on a daily basis has kept me more th'n occupied."
"That will change as your eyesight improves, I'm sure."
"Prob'ly so." Vin placed a fork, moved along the table and stumbled over a chair leg. "Shit!" he spat, keeping his balance and ignoring the sting of his shin. Then he remembered Katherine and ducked his head. "Sorry," he mumbled.
She laughed. "I've heard worse, believe me." She patted his shoulder just as the doorbell rang. "Alice went home early," she said. "I'll get that."
Katherine's footsteps receded in the direction of the front door. Vin shook his head and mentally chastised himself before finishing his chore by placing a final set of utensils. Completing the task without permanent damage to person or property was an achievement that made him feel a little better. He grinned stupidly to himself.
Any good feelings Vin felt fled instantly with Katherine's tentative tone and his instant realization that she wasn't alone.
+ + + + + + +
"What?" Danny spared his partner a glance from behind the wheel of the company car. "Martin? You okay? You're lookin' a little green there, partner."
Martin rolled the window down a little, hoping the cold air would stop the sudden twitch of his stomach. He gulped in a lungful as a series of pictures raced through his mind, too fast to distinguish any details. It all was a fuzzy blur. He clutched at the door handle and his head at the same time.
"Whoa, there, wait a second!" Danny expertly dodged two lanes of traffic and pulled into the emergency lane amidst a cacophony of car horns. "Martin? What's wrong?"
Martin unlatched the seatbelt and surged from the car, stumbling a pair of steps before stopping to stand, bent over, with his hands on his knees. Carefully, he drank in deep drafts of air to clear his head.
"Marty, talk to me." Danny had made it to his side by his second breath.
"Something's wrong," he whispered. "Something's . . . off."
"Can you be a little more specific? Something as in the train station?" They were headed toward an Amtrack station outside the city on the case. When Martin shook his head, unable to reply, it sunk in. "Or something as in that freaky connection with Vin? What're you feeling?"
Not gracing him with a response, Martin stood up and shoved Danny toward the car. "We gotta get to my mom's . . ."
Danny took a stumbling step. "Now? We can't walk out on this case . . ."
"DO IT!" Martin snapped as he fell back in the car. He had to concentrate on buckling up with trembling hands.
"Martin," Danny started as he slid back behind the wheel.
"Then drop me where I can get a cab!" He slammed the door. "Do one or the other, Danny, but do it fast!"
"All right, all right," Danny mumbled as he abruptly pulled back on the highway. Martin rubbed his temple, vaguely aware that they were headed toward Katherine's house. "Hell, the house is in the same general direction as the train depot, right?"
"Right," Martin snorted. "The same state, at least." He regretted snapping at his partner, but only for a second. Regret was quickly replaced with a pressing surety that his family was in grave danger. "Thanks, Danny."
"Who am I to question . . . uh, what do you call that thing, anyway?"
It was Danny's turn to snort. "Like a hurricane is a 'bit of wind'," he mumbled.
Martin managed a grim smile as the feeling of dread pressed heavier on his heart. He turned his eyes to the side window and watched the scenery race by, blind to what he saw because what he imagined in his mind overrode anything else.
Danny's suggestion made him feel like an idiot - why didn't he think of that? He flipped open his cell phone and hit speed dial. The Fitzgerald answering machine picked up each of the three times he called and Martin had to restrain from heaving the device out of the small crack of the window as he swore.
Danny didn't question. He simply pressed harder on the accelerator pedal.
"The lady will get your coats and we will leave."
The voice was flat and sharp. Vin knew there was no negotiation, but he tried anyway.
"Leave her out of this," he said. "She's not part of it."
"She's everything to it," the man countered. A shifting of shadows warned of his approach, but Vin was unable to defend himself. He felt the cold metal of gun barrel against his neck. "Once you have your coat, we will leave." Then the voice was quiet and close to his ear. "I will shoot her if I have to."
Vin had no choice but to believe him. Anything he did would put Katherine at risk, and he wouldn't do that. He cursed his limitations and at the same time wondered if it would make a difference. This unknown entity had all the power at the moment. Vin felt the weight of a winter coat on his arm at the same time a shadow he knew was Katherine drew alongside.
"Let me help you," she started. Vin admired her cool.
"I can do it," he said lowly, slipping the garment on with minimal guidance. He could feel the fear that made her hand tremble.
"Let's go." The man's voice was soft but brooked no defiance.
Katherine took Vin's elbow and directed him to through the kitchen and out the back door. Vin cursed his inability to read the threat - it was clear to him that their adversary had a plan; he only had to figure out what it was to be able to counter it.
Vin was ushered into the passenger seat of the sedan while Katherine got behind the wheel. Their kidnapper sat in the back of the car.
"Drive south," he directed.
Vin had no idea where the roads in this area went, no idea of the topography of this part of New York. At this point in time, he had the inkling that it was important, part of the plan. What was this man thinking? There was no doubt as to who he was; there was no one else with the motive to dare such a move unless there was something in Victor's life he'd missed or overlooked. Otherwise, Vin knew that the Fed Bomber was the man now sitting in the back seat of Katherine's sedan and getting rid of the only eye witness of his existence was his reason for being here. Killing Katherine Fitzgerald would only be collateral damage - a means to an end.
How he planned to accomplish Vin's disposal was the question.
"Where are we going?" Vin asked once they were buckled in and moving, trying to get a feel of the plan. He had never felt as helpless as he did at this moment. The tingling of his connection with Martin was strong, but he wondered what kind of images Martin would be getting and if he'd be able to make any sense of it all let alone get her in time.
"Drive," the man directed Katherine, completely ignoring Vin.
She drove, sniffling on occasion, letting Vin know that she was scared and powerless to do anything about it. He didn't have the luxury to dwell on her fear. Vin's mind was working hard on figuring a counter attack.
They drove in complete silence. Vin desperately tried to get a feel of where they were headed, but there were absolutely no clues. He sat in leather seat, safely tucked in by the seat belt, and again ran scenarios through his head.
It all came down to an accident; a staged accident. It was the only way to get rid of him without suspicion. It was the only way the Fed Bomber - whoever he was - could evade suspicion.
But when? What was his plan? It had to be soon because if the stench of kidnapping was attached to this car ride, it was all over. The "accident" had to happen soon to be believeable and without his eyes, Vin couldn't even hazard a guess as to when the event would occur.
It was up to Katherine to give him a clue.
And then she gasped; it was a tiny sound, maybe even inaudible to the normal ear, but Vin's hearing at the moment was beyond normal.
Vin reacted without thought and grabbed the steering wheel, wrenching it aside with all he had. The car careened sideways in an eerily quiet way due to the icy asphalt and lurched off road. Katherine screamed and the car shimmied sharply before a deafening bang slammed them to a jolting stop.
Burning smoke assailed his nostrils and his head swam, but even stunned, Vin's body seemed to work on automatic. "Protect Katherine," was the mantra that echoed in his mind as he pushed back the deflating airbag. His fingers then found his seat belt, followed by hers, and he dragged her to his side of the car without conscious thought. He felt a separate body wedged between the front seats, partially blocking Katherine's path but Vin simply dragged her over the top. The body twitched to life, and Vin could hear a groan and sounds of motion by the time he'd kicked his door open and pulled Katherine free.
Vin could also feel that Katherine was merely knocked senseless as she wasn't limp in his arms anymore; she helped push the two of them clear of the vehicle. The engine popped and the hot odor of radiator fluid stung his nose.
"Come on," he croaked, lurching on his feet and dragging her along. Katherine responded more quickly than he'd even hoped and gripped his arm with both of her hands. "Keep movin'!"
They had taken a couple dozen steps before the pain of injury hit him. It really wasn't much - his head throbbed and one arm stung - but his legs worked just fine. He heard Katherine catch her breath. "We gotta keep movin'. Are we in any cover? Can he see us?" Everything was a sea of fuzzy, wavering forms that could possibly be trees.
"Uh . . . yes, yes. Trees, we're in some trees." Katherine's voice was breathy, but she gained her feet and dragged less on Vin's arm.
"I'm okay. Some cuts, nothing serious." They stumbled through some low brush. "I don't see him."
"He's there," Vin said with conviction. "We need to keep low. He'll have no trouble trackin' us once he's on his feet."
Although Vin propelled them forward, Katherine moved into the job of picking their path. "Is that the man from the cabin?"
She tripped and Vin kept her from falling. "Think so."
"He had a wetsuit on," she said between breaths. "I didn't figure it out until I saw the lake."
"Lake?" Vin felt her tug him aside as they brushed by a tree trunk.
"He was going to crash the car in the lake, wasn't he?"
Vin's thought furiously for several moments. "Makes sense."
"He was wearing a mask over his face. I couldn't see his face."
"I'm not surprised," Vin snorted. "I'm the only one who has. Where are we? How far to help?"
"Oh," Katherine breathed. "I . . . I'm not sure. A mile at least. The area around the lake is protected open space."
"Figures," Vin gasped as his head was whacked by a low branch. He spit out leaves.
"Sorry." Katherine was beginning to sound winded.
Now that Vin had a minute to get his wits about him he began to feel edgy about running blindly and depending on someone else's eyes to pick a path. That caused his heart to quicken even more, and another hope struck him - was Martin on his way? Could he feel that they were in trouble? If so, was there a way to lead him to where they were?
"Katherine," Vin whispered desperately. "Tell me where we are. Exactly where we are, and let me know when you can see any landmarks Martin might recognize."
She only hesitated for a moment before turning him with his arm. "I know a place."
+ + + + + + +
"Can't you go any faster?"
Danny flexed his ankle at Martin's snarled request. The closer they got to his mother's house, the more tense his partner became. "There's some ice. It won't help to get us killed right now."
Martin's jaw just worked silently. Suddenly, he jerked in his seat. "Shit!"
The car wiggled when Danny twitched in surprise. "What? What is it?" Martin's hand rose to his forehead, and with a glance, Danny saw that he looked a bit stunned. "Martin?"
"I think . . . they crashed . . ." Martin's voice was dazed, as if in a dream.
"Almost there," Danny barked in reply. "Hang on."
After a pair of winding turns at a dangerous speed, the turnoff to the Fitzgerald estate came into sight. Danny slowed, anticipating the turn.
"No," Martin snapped sharply. "Keep going. Turn south at the next intersection."
Danny frowned, but followed the directions. After they made the turn, he glanced at Martin again. His partner sat with the fingertips of his left hand pressed to his forehead while his right hand tightly gripped the door handle. Martin's eyes looked unfocused, like he wasn't seeing what was out of the window - what he was seeing was in his head. His eyebrows slanted in concentration.
"What do you see?" Danny asked.
"It's . . . foggy, fuzzy. Tall shadows are moving by. Vin's on foot somewhere. Trees . . . the shadows are trees and there's something else . . ."
Danny chuffed, glancing upward through the windshield at the natural arch of tree branches over the roadway. "Not much help, Marty."
"Hang on . . ." Martin's eyes squeezed shut for a long moment, and then his lids popped open. "I know where they are! Hurry - it's about a mile or so down the road."
Except to direct Danny to a wide area off to the side of the road to park, Martin's face was tight with concentration. Danny got the impression that if he relaxed for a moment, Martin was afraid that the freaky connection with Vin would be lost.
"This way." Martin's voice was quiet, but confidant. When he pulled out his weapon, Danny followed suit and fell in behind his partner. They both switched off their phones and slipped into the trees.
A narrow path was tromped in the dusting of new snow between the trees but Martin moved as if he knew the trail intimately, with speed and surety. It was quiet; all Danny could hear was their breathing and the slight crunch caused by their footfall on the crusty, white powder. The deeper they ventured, the brush became heavier but the path wound between it all keeping their presence secret. After several minutes, Martin came to an abrupt halt and pulled Danny down to a crouch beside him. Martin stared between the stand of trunks, motionless.
"There," he said softly, pointing down the slight slope below them. "The rock formation."
Danny leaned a little more to one side and a jut of shiny ebony stone, stark and bold against the frosty background of the woods, came into view. He started to speak but Martin silenced him with a raised finger, frowning deeply as he studied the rocky formation.
"It's different," Martin mumbled to himself.
Danny's gaze flicked between the trees and his partner, waiting for clarification.
"I see . . . Vin's on the other side, that way." Martin hesitantly pointed to their left, but then swung his finger to the right. "Over there." The surge of skepticism Danny felt must have shown on his face. "I'm seeing what Vin sees," Martin said simply. "It's pretty foggy, but I'm seeing those rocks from a different angle and . . ."
"'And'?" Danny repeated after a moment as he continued to scan the area.
"They're hiding from someone. My mom's with him."
The edge that honed Martin's words alerted Danny and he guessed where Martin's mind had leaped. "We don't know for sure if it's the Bomber, Martin. Could be a kidnapper or a robber of some sort - like a home invasion."
The glance Martin gave him was one of astonished disbelief.
Danny kept his voice just over a whisper. "Look, all I'm saying is let's not jump to conclusions. They're in danger, I'll give you that, but let's keep focus here, okay? Make a plan?"
Martin's face relaxed in agreement and he turned back to study the terrain. "The trees thin out from here. It's too open to cross to get to them. We'll have to circle . . ." He stopped suddenly, his head snapping back to face the rock formation as he hunkered down more and raised his gun. "No time. He's almost on them."
"Let's go, then!" Danny urged, starting to rise.
"No." Martin's iron grip pushed Danny back down. "Vin's going to bring him to us. Get ready to move - we need to get closer."
Now it was Danny's turn to look astonished, but when he saw the determined confidence in Fitzgerald's face as he raised his weapon and moved out, Danny swallowed any dissenting comments and adjusted his position to stand by his partner.
+ + + + + + +
Vin's lungs burned from breathing the cold, sharp air and he knew Katherine was suffering more. She not only kept up with him, though, she led him with determination to the one spot that was their edge. The black rocks were clear even to his fuzzy vision.
"Martin used to climb that when he was little," Katherine gasped between breaths. "Scared me to death."
She crouched low beside him as he stared at the formation, imprinting it on his mind. It was asymmetrical and distinct - by its shape, Martin could figure out where they were in relation to it. When he was finally satisfied the "message" was received, they had caught their breath.
"Martin's on his way," Vin said with certainty. "We need to buy some time until he gets here."
"Why is he chasing us? Killing us now won't look like an accident."
"We've forced him into plan B," Vin whispered. "He just needs me to be dead. Since you still haven't seen his face, you're only collateral damage. He'll kill you only if he has to." Vin used his chin to indicate the direction their pursuer would come from. "Do you see him?" He looked around for any kind of cover but all he could see were shadowy trees, fuzzy bushes and the black monolith of rock which was too far away to be of use as cover.
"Don't try to look for a person," Vin said quietly. "Look for any movement against the wind. And listen - he won't sound like a squirrel. He'll be . . . heavier." Trying to explain what he meant was difficult, but Katherine seemed to get what he meant. She didn't ask for clarification. Vin took a moment to appreciate this woman and he realized why Victor was so protective of her. His biological father only saw her weaknesses, though, and chose to ignore the strength within.
Now that their breathing was light and under control, a stark silence established itself around them. Vin's damaged eyes were of no use right now, so he closed them and reached out with his other senses. One by one he separated the natural sounds of nature, setting them aside as he reached farther. It was the cold starting to take hold of his bones that was the most difficult to ignore, especially since he could feel Katherine shivering next to him.
Finally, there was something unnatural. Silently, he placed his hand on Katherine's shoulder and turned her in the direction the sound came from. Vin opened his eyes and only saw unfocused landscape. He concentrated on the shadowy forms, looking for any motion.
"I hear . . ." Katherine started.
He quieted her with a raised finger, and then turned back to the rocks, imprinting every bulky nuance in his mind. It took few long moments until he felt a solid connection.
Help had arrived. Martin knew where they were. Now if he could only get his message across . . .
"I see him." Katherine's tone was a notch higher from fear. "I saw something move between the trees, that way." She turned Vin's chin with a trembling, icy finger.
Vin mapped their location in his head - the rocks, the trees he could see, the darker, and therefore thicker, stands of brush between them and the black hole of stone. He hoped it was enough because it wasn't only his life on the line at the moment. Vin felt the adrenalin gathering in his limbs as he prepared to run.
"Stay here and stay low. It's me he wants."
"No," Katherine snapped. The word was shocking in its conviction. "You need me."
"There's no time," he started.
"You need me and I won't let you go again." Time was running out. Vin knew Martin was in place and ready, but he wasn't willing to gamble with Katherine's. She didn't allow any more thought, though, when she took his hand in a powerful grip. "Which way?"
He hesitated, but had to accept her defiance as she rose because the motion instantly gave away their position. With absolutely no choice, he turned in the direction he had in mind and they ran directly into the open space surrounding the ebony monolith.
Vin let Katherine pull him toward the outcrop, the only solid cover available to them. Vin trailed a little, placing his body between her and the threat, allowing her to pick the path. It was tricky just keeping his feet. Except for their pounding feet it was eerily quiet. Then Vin tripped, slowing their forward motion, and in that brief span of relative quiet, he heard a familiar pop and his shoulder flashed in pain.
Unsilenced return fire told him where Martin took a stand. Heartened, Vin lurched to his feet with Katherine's help and they stumbled to the safety of the rocks.
After a brief pause, there was a flurry of gunfire. Vin slouched against the solid mass as his legs gave out. With Katherine's help, he settled gently to the ground, finally releasing her hand to fumble at his injury.
"I have it," she said, winded, as she applied pressure to the burning spot in his shoulder.
"Danny got him," Martin's voice echoed in his head.
Satisfied of their safety, Vin's hazy vision grew dark and he passed out with a relieved sigh.
Two Weeks Later
"Chris." Vin grinned at his boss and stepped forward confidently, extending his right arm.
"Well," Chris replied with his own lopsided grin as they gripped forearms in their traditional greeting. "I see that you c'n see."
"Enough to pick the darkest shadow in the crowd," Vin jibed.
"Oh, he can see much better than that," Katherine stated at Chris' acknowledging nod. "Don't let him fool you. How are you, Mr. Larabee?"
"Please, call me Chris. I've been relishing the quiet," he answered as he pointedly scanned Vin from head to toe. "With the resident troublemaker out of town, things have been slow." He reached out and flicked the sling embracing Vin's left arm. "See? Trouble follows him everywhere."
"But with big results," Vin protested. "When was the last time you helped bag the F.B.I.'s number one most wanted?"
"Oh, I'd say about two weeks. You didn't do it alone, you know." Vin snorted. The three of them turned to the baggage carousel and Chris made it clear that he would handle the luggage. With Katherine as the lookout, the trio picked a spot and settled in to wait. "So, how many stitches this time?"
Vin hugged the slinged arm to his body in a protective manner. "Fifty-two. Twenty-seven on the inside and the rest out the outside. The sling's only to keep the arm quiet."
"Pretty much ploughed a furrow across your shoulder blade, huh?"
"Nathan's been frettin'. Just a warning."
"Thanks for the heads up, cowboy."
"Don't call me cowboy," Larabee growled disgustedly. Vin chuckled. Katherine pointed out a bag and Chris pulled it from the track as he spoke. "Still no I.D. on the guy, huh?"
"Nope. They got him tucked away tighter than JD's belt at a buffet an' he ain't said a word. He's a complete unknown."
Chris shook his head in wonder. "Amazing. Guess he's not seeing the light of day anytime soon."
"If ever," Katherine added with a lady-like sniff of distain. "And I'm happy for that."
With the bags gathered Chris tilted his head to let Vin and Katherine lead the way. Following them, he watched the interplay between the two with deep satisfaction. Katherine's hand was tucked in the crook of Vin's arm and Vin guided her with protective care, chatting quietly. They had obviously bonded in the past weeks because they both looked rested, content and familiar. He knew Vin was overdue for some peace in his life and figured the same was true for Katherine. Chris also wondered what the future would bring for his best friend now that his family had extended so dramatically.
When they stepped outside Vin paused and tilted his head back as he took a deep breath and shut his eyes with obvious pleasure. "Good ta be home," he sighed. Then he focused on Larabee. "Y'all kept your cr. . . er, stuff off my desk? I'm comin' in Monday and don't wanna spend half the day clearin' the junk off."
"Whoa back there, partner. Who said you're coming back so soon? What about your company, here?"
"Kate? I figger she c'n entertain herself for a few hours a day."
Kate? Chris thought as he glanced at the impeccably dressed woman on Vin's arm. He shook his head and chuckled as they crossed the street and entered the parking structure. He doubted Mrs. Victor Fitzgerald had been called "Kate" since the third grade. Chris also realized that Vin had lead the entire way from Baggage Claim to the truck, only asking for the lot number where the vehicle was parked. "Hey, your vision is better," he commented.
"Yup. Which is why I'm goin' back to work on Monday."
Chris tried to reason with the stubborn sharpshooter as they loaded the truck and exited the lot. As soon as the tires hit the highway a cell phone rang, interrupted their banter.
"Hey, Marty," Vin greeted from the back seat. "Yup, headin' home right now."
Marty? Chris shook his head again. Katherine laughed softly as Chris glanced aside and caught her bright gaze. He had to grin at her smile.
"Not many people call him 'Marty'," she said, amused.
"What, are you two connected mentally or somthin'?" Vin demanded behind them. "Chris just gave me the third degree about that, too." From what Chris could hear of the one-sided conversation, "Marty" wasn't too keen on Vin's returning to work, either. "You got enough to do cleanin' up the fish I caught so there's no need to stick your nose . . ." Pause. "He's my collar, brother. Unwritten rule: The bait gets the bag." Pause - with chuckling. "Hey, A.T.F. rules and F.B.I. rules are the same. Both are Federal . . . hey, quit interruptin' me when I'm makin' a point!"
The two front-seaters shared another amused glance before returning their attention to the road before them.
"It's been a joy being with those two." Katherine said. "I never thought I'd be so lucky. If only . . ." Her smile faded as she paused mid-sentence.
"Victor's cutting his own throat," Chris said lowly. "And he's the only one that can make himself realize that. His loss."
Chris wasn't sure if it was due to the brotherly, backseat bickering or the words he just spoken, but Katherine's smile returned. "True. And I won't let anyone keep me away from my boys again, not this time around. You can bet on that."
And that was a wager that Chris knew Ezra Standish wouldn't even go against.