Crossover with "McKenna"
Summary: A revelation challenges all that Vin knows of his history and who he is.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Magnificent Seven or McKenna, not making any money, just cheap thrills.
Refers to events in the McKenna fic "Blindsided."
Director Orrin Travis of the Denver ATF office sighed as he read the order for the fifth time. He shook his head, somewhat amused by the decision of the higher ups. He wondered, ruefully, if they could have found somebody more annoying for this assignment. Maybe he should just resign, let somebody else relay the order? No, he couldn't do that. Orrin Travis had been accused of being many things over the course of his life but coward had never been one of them. Finally he reached for the intercom button on his phone.
"Janet call Agent Larabee, tell him I need to see him right away," he brusquely ordered.
Janet winced. She knew that whenever her boss used that tone it wasn't going to be good. "Yes sir," she replied. Picking up the phone she quickly carried out the order. Glancing at the clock she decided that she was due for a break; she would take it as soon as Agent Larabee arrived.
"Have to go see Orrin," Chris announced as he left his office.
"There a problem cowboy?" Vin asked.
"Doubt it," Chris truthfully replied. He didn't have any idea what Orrin wanted but as far as he knew nobody was in any trouble. All of their cases had been going well, a large number of guns had been taken off the streets and the gunrunners imprisoned. Even Ezra had been behaving, only sneaking an occasional Armani suit into his expense reports rather than trying for a whole new wardrobe.
A few minutes later he was knocking on Orrin's door after Janet waved him past. He opened the door at Travis' call. "You wanted to see me Orrin?"
"Yes Chris, have a seat," Orrin invited. His friendly manner was the same as always, serving to relax his visitor. "Your last case ended very well."
"Yeah it did," Chris agreed. "Has something come up concerning the case?" He knew they hadn't missed anything but lawyers; especially criminal defence lawyers could be very slick in finding loopholes.
"Hmmm, what, oh no Chris, no there aren't any problems with the case." Orrin answered as he shuffled some papers on his desk, clearly distracted. "The team doing okay?"
Chris narrowed his eyes. "Please tell me you're not going to force us to go through some kind of team building exercise or something," he shuddered. He could just imagine trying to tell the boys that kind of news.
"What would make you ask that Chris? Is there a problem I should know about?" Orrin was well aware of how much his agents, particularly team seven, disliked such things, considering them to be psycho-babble stuff and nonsense. He couldn't really argue the point with them and would only force them into the exercises Chris spoke of when forced to by his own bosses. He couldn't, however, resist yanking the younger man's chain.
"No!" Chris' voice raised half an octave as it had a tendency to do when he was upset or taken by surprise. It was a tendency he silently cursed.
Orrin chuckled before deciding to let his agent off the hook. "Don't worry Chris there are no team building exercises in your future."
"Then what's going on? I doubt you called me up here just to say congratulations and ask how everybody is?"
Orrin sobered instantly as he was reminded of what he had to tell Chris. Team building might well be preferable. "Yes, about that." Pausing, stalling for time, he looked down at his desk, once more shuffling the papers that lay there. "Chris have you ever heard of a man by the name of Jock Steele?"
Chris frowned, trying to remember why the name sounded familiar. It came to him. "Doesn't he write those stupid westerns that JD is always reading?"
"That's him," Orrin confirmed.
"Don't tell me he's running guns?" The tone of Larabee's voice indicated that he wouldn't mind the chance to arrest the man.
Orrin laughed heartily. "No, nothing like that. He's still writing, but lately he has been branching out, trying his hand at more serious writing."
"Okay, but what has that got to do with me?" Chris was very confused by this time.
"He happens to be friends, good friends with the U.S. Attorney General."
Chris frowned. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like this, whatever this was.
"Orders have come down through the chain of command."
"Orders? What kind of orders?" Chris demanded, interrupting Travis.
"Steele has been commissioned to write a series of articles that will appear in several law enforcement magazines. The first one will be focused on the ATF, specifically..."
"No! Hell no!" Chris protested before Orrin could finish.
"Agent Larabee this is an order that comes from the highest level. You will inform your team that they will make themselves available to Mr. Steele for the week he will be with us. They are expected to be cooperative and friendly," Orrin firmly informed his agent as he handed him the papers detailing the itinerary of Jock Steele's visit.
Chris glared at his superior. "Yes sir," he bit out. Taking the papers he stalked from the office. One look at his face as he approached the elevator and suddenly those waiting for the car found someplace else to be.
"Uh-oh," Buck, who was getting a cup of coffee, muttered as he caught a glimpse of Chris getting off the elevator.
"Problem brother?" Josiah rumbled.
Before Buck could respond Chris entered the bull-pen, effectively answering the profiler's question. "Alright everybody listen up," his words instantly gaining the undivided attention of all in the room. In a few words he outlined what Orrin had told him. As expected, to a man, the protests were loud and vehement. Chris allowed them to vent for a few minutes before calling a halt to the complaints. As Orrin had done, he made it clear that they had no choice in the matter. It was going to be a hell of a week, he thought as he retreated to his office.
Chris' prediction proved true. The week they endured with Steele was one of the worst they'd ever, as a team, experienced. It was even more annoying than the time they were after gunrunners who had set up shop in a desert ghost town. Surveillance had been nearly impossible and the entire operation had been hotter than hell and just as uncomfortable.
Finally the week was over. All that was left was waiting for the article to appear, followed by the inevitable teasing from their fellow agents. At least it wouldn't come out for another month. Maybe they could arrange to be out in the field when it was published.
ONE MONTH LATER:
A small town sheriff, several hundred miles distant, flipped open his copy of Police magazine. ‘Denver's Magnificent Seven' he read, chuckling at the title of the article. It was an interesting article, if a little more creative than most of the articles which usually appeared between the magazine's pages. Turning to the second page, he stopped, sitting up straight as he stared at the picture of the members of ATF team seven. "What the hell?" He couldn't imagine how that face had ended up in that particular article. It didn't make any sense, unless it was a prank. "Only one way to find out what's going on," he mumbled. Pushing to his feet, he headed out to his car, magazine in hand.
As he drove towards McKenna Outfitters Dale Goodwin was furiously thinking over his discovery. He didn't want to believe Brick would be so foolish as to play a prank involving law enforcement. True his friend had always possessed a reckless streak but he had never been stupid.
Even his famous reckless streak had been tempered greatly two years previously following an attack by Clint Emmons. Brick had spent eighteen months in therapy to recover his ability to speak properly. Even with therapy the younger McKenna spoke slower than he had before the attack as he searched for the right word. Plus, the sheriff knew, when under stress Brick would revert to the speech patterns present immediately following his awakening from his coma. Would the more mature Brick risk his future for a silly prank? For that is what he would be doing in setting up a false article in a law enforcement magazine, unless...of course! Dale slapped the steering wheel as the answer came to him; the magazine he had received was a mock up, one that no other law enforcement officer would see.
Greatly relieved Dale considered how best to pay his friend back. He could pretend he was going to arrest him, it was certainly deserved. But then did he really want to add that kind of stress to his friend's life? Dale knew that some of the guests at McKenna Outfitters were not exactly pleasant to deal with, what if Brick was already stressed from the demands of the family business? Maybe he should talk to Jack first; yeah that's what he'd do. If Jack thought Brick could handle the stress then he could return the favor of a prank and a fitting one at that.
"Hey Dale," Leigh greeted him as he stepped from his car. "Brick's taken some guests out on a hike."
Dale grinned, "Perfect."
Leigh frowned. She thought they had settled things between them; surely Dale wasn't here in the hopes of renewing their relationship.
When he saw the look on her face Dale realized what that must have sounded like. "I actually need to talk to Jack."
"Oh," Leigh smiled, "he's in his office. Do you want me to get him?"
"Nah that's okay, I can talk to him in his office."
"I'll bring you some coffee," Leigh offered. It was only polite after all and it would give her an excuse to go to Jack's office while they talked she slyly admitted to herself.
"Thank Leigh, that'd be great," Dale grinned. He knew exactly what she was up to but he didn't mind, it wasn't as if it was a secret.
Jack frowned as he went over the ranch's books. Damn but he hated accounting. The sound of footsteps on the stairs brought his head up, a relieved sigh on his lips. "Hey Dale," he greeted the younger man. "Brick isn't..."
"Yeah Leigh told me," Dale interrupted. "Actually it's you I want to talk to."
"Oh?" Jack asked, obviously curious. "Nothing's wrong is it?" He couldn't help wondering if one of his kids had gotten into some sort of trouble.
"No, well not exactly," Dale replied. "There's this magazine that is sent out to law enforcement officers every month. Mine came today and there was an interesting picture in it," he explained, handing the magazine open to the appropriate article to the older man. "My guess is...Jack are you okay?" he asked, coming to his feet and moving to the suddenly ashen man's side.
Jack stared in shock at the picture accompanying the article. It couldn't be, after all these years had they found him? His heart was racing as he read the article.
"Jack?" Dale called again. Getting no answer he grabbed the man's wrist, damn his pulse was racing as sweat formed on his face. "Leigh!" he screamed down the stairs, "bring me some brandy, now!" He didn't know why but clearly the article, or rather the picture, had given Jack a horrible shock. Running to the bathroom he grabbed a washcloth, wetting it with cold water he hurried back to Jack's office just as Leigh came up the stairs a glass and bottle of brandy in her hands.
"Dale what is it?" she gasped. "Jack," she cried out as she hurried to his side. "What happened?" she asked Dale.
"I don't know," Dale replied as he grabbed the bottle and poured a generous amount. "Here Jack," he said, helping the man to hold the glass as he brought it to his lips. "Put that washcloth on the back of his neck," he instructed Leigh. He suspected the brandy would do more to bring Jack out of his shock, but the wet cloth couldn't hurt.
The brandy hit Jack's throat causing him to cough a bit but it did the job, brining him back from his shocked state. With shaking hands he took another sip of the strong drink, letting it calm his nerves.
"I'm sorry Jack, I didn't think it would upset you so much," Dale apologized. "If it helps I don't think Brick actually managed to get that into other issues, I'm pretty sure that's a mock up..."
"You think this is a prank Brick played?" Jack asked, one eyebrow raised in disbelief.
"Don't you?" Dale asked.
"One of you tell me what's going on," Leigh demanded. She'd thought her heart would stop when she saw Jack so pale and non-responsive. For a minute she had wondered if he was having a heart attack or stroke.
"Brick played a prank, well I thought it was a prank," Dale began, less certain now. Continuing he told her the same thing he'd told Jack, passing the magazine to her.
"I don't think it's a prank," Jack said.
"I don't know Jack," Leigh considered the picture another moment. "I admit I wouldn't think he'd go for this kind of prank but how else do you explain the picture? You don't really believe that old saying about everybody having a twin, do you?" Leigh couldn't imagine the ever practical Jack McKenna believing such a thing.
"I don't know about everybody but Brick does," Jack sighed heavily. Holding out his hand for the magazine he once more looked at the picture, examining it closely. He was sure the picture was real, it had to be, he desperately thought. "Dale can you look up the magazine on the computer?"
"Yeah, why?" He could have smacked himself as the answer came to him. "I can confirm whether or not the article and picture are real," he nodded. "Can I use your computer?"
"Be my guest," Jack said, stepping away from the desk.
In minutes Dale had entered the magazine's website and pulled up the most current issue. "I'll be damned," he gasped. "It's real," he confirmed.
"What's real?" a voice from the doorway asked, startling them all.
Jack whirled towards the door. How the hell was he supposed to explain this? More to the point, how did he keep Brick from hating him for keeping it from him?
"Jack?" Brick asked, the continuing silence making him nervous.
Jack sighed. He couldn't believe he'd never thought about how to explain things to his son. There was no point in putting it off; doing so would probably make the situation worse. "Sit down son."
Looking to the others Brick could see they were as lost as he was. Deciding the best way to find out what was going on would be to comply with his father's request, he sat.
"This is going to be a shock son, just please hear me out."
Only when he'd been comatose had Brick heard such a desperate tone in his father's voice. That alone would have told him whatever had happened was serious. "I'll listen," he slowly agreed.
"Thank you," Jack smiled in relief.
"We'll just leave you two alone," Leigh said. Taking Dale's hand she began to pull him towards the door.
"Actually you might as well stay," Jack said, stopping the two in their tracks. "I may need Dale's help and you should both know what's going on too." Jack stared down at the magazine again. How to begin, he wondered.
"This involve the magazine?" Brick asked in a near drawl. The beating he'd received a couple of years earlier from Emmons having left him with slower speaking patterns so that he nearly sounded as if he had a Texas drawl.
"I guess that's as good a start as any," Jack said. "Dale brought this out today, he thought you were playing a prank," he continued, sliding the magazine across the desk.
With a puzzled look, Brick reached for the magazine. Glancing down he was surprised to see his own face staring up at him from the middle of a group of men. "Who is he?" Brick asked.
"I'm not positive, yet, but I think," Jack licked his lip, "I think he's your twin."
Brick stared, his eyes slowly dropping back to the magazine before rising again to stare at his father's face. "I don't have a twin," he protested, the confusion written plainly upon his face.
"It's a long story."
Jack walked to the mantle, picking up one of the pictures there. It was a recently added picture, a collage his granddaughter had done, containing a baby picture of each of his children. Tracing a finger over the center one, he braced himself. Putting the picture back on the mantle he began to speak. "When we found out your mother was pregnant again it was one of the most wonderful days of our lives. Both of us had wanted more than one child and had hoped to give Guy a little brother or sister while he was still young. We wanted you to be playmates, not strangers," Jack explained. "The day the doctor told us that Elizabeth was carrying twins our joy only increased."
For several minutes nobody spoke. "What happened?" Brick finally asked, breaking the stunned silence.
"Did you ever wonder why you have such an odd name?" Jack asked. "Guy is unusual but you will find it in books of baby names, the same with Cassidy."
Realizing his father needed to tell the story in his own way, Brick bit down on his desire for answers. He shook his head. He guessed he should have but it had just been his name.
"You have Guy to thank for it," Jack told him, a wistful smile appearing on his face. "We had already decided on your name, or I suppose your brother's name when we found out there would be twins. We were discussing names that would go with the name we'd already chosen when Guy came into the room. He didn't know yet that he was going to have two brothers. Like I said we'd already decided on one name; Brock; when Guy came in. Hearing what we were discussing but being not quite four he didn't fully understand the name. He only wanted to know when mommy had decided to have a rock instead of a baby." Jack laughed, the memory though bittersweet could still tickle him. "That was when we realized what the perfect compliment to the name Brock would be. You have to remember a lot of parents, particularly in the past, give twins similar names."
"Why the secret?" Brick asked in a tight voice. He couldn't hide the hurt he felt, even if he'd wanted to. How could his parents keep something so important from him?
"It hurt too much," Jack admitted. "The day we were supposed to bring the two of you home, Brock disappeared from his hospital bassinet. The local police started looking as soon as we were sure he hadn't just been taken for a bath or something. When they didn't have any luck the state police were called in and they contacted the FBI. It was a black time for us, especially your mother. She loved you so much son and yet every time she looked at you her heart would break over the loss of your brother. "
Brick blinked back tears, imagining the pain his mother must have felt. "How long?"
"Did we look?" Jack asked.
"We looked for years. There was never any ransom note. The police and FBI had nothing to go on. Was he taken by a desperate woman wanting a child, some sicko wanting to hurt a child, a killer? We didn't know and the not knowing was slowly killing us both." Jack paused, scrubbing a hand wearily over his face.
"When you started school and there was still no sign of your brother I think we both began to accept the fact that he was gone forever. The only hope we could cling to was that whoever had taken him had done so out of love and the desire for a child." Glancing at the magazine Brick still held Jack went on; "Maybe the hope was fulfilled," he whispered. "The stress and fear took its toll on both of us. Then just as we were starting to really move on we were hit with more bad news. "
Jack paused, clearing his throat. "It was while she was pregnant with Cassidy that Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer. The doctor told her that if she started treatment right away there was a good chance of survival. The treatment, however, would kill the baby and leave her unable to have more. Elizabeth refused. She said," Jack unashamedly swiped the tears away, "I've lost one child I won't lose another not even to save my own life. " The doctor tried to talk her out of it; I tried too at first until she asked me how I could ask her to kill our child. After that I accepted her decision, as much as it hurt I knew that either way I would lose her. It might have been selfish but I couldn't face the idea of saving her life only to lose her love and respect. She surprised the doctors, hanging on until just after Cassidy's first birthday. In the end she couldn't win though."
There wasn't a dry eye in the room by the time Jack had finished speaking. "Look again?" Brick finally asked, the stress of the moment costing him some of his words.
"I did son, I swear." Moving across the room he kneeled in front of Brick's chair. "Even though I was convinced Brock was lost to us forever I never gave up. I called the FBI every year but nothing ever came of it. I don't know why nobody noticed anything when he joined the ATF. I've sent them pictures of you through the years; I'm surprised the FBI computers didn't alert them when your face showed up in the federal system."
"His case might not have been put into the computers yet Jack," Dale said.
"I thought they all were," Jack said, still kneeling, he looked up.
Dale shook his head. "No sir. They're still working on transferring older files to computer. It's a slow process and the bigger the agency the more files making the job take even longer."
"I want to contact him, but I'm not sure if I could get through," Jack admitted. He didn't want to admit it but he was afraid the man, his son, wouldn't give him the chance to explain or wouldn't believe him if he did listen.
"It might be best to have somebody from the FBI contact him," Dale said after some thought. "They would have all the information, evidence they could show him. Don't be surprised if he wants a DNA test," he warned. "Being a fed he'll probably be a little more suspicious than most of a scam."
"I'll contact the FBI Monday morning," Jack said. Today being Saturday it would be hard to reach somebody who could help. Turning back to Brick, he gripped the younger man's knee. "You okay son?" he gently asked. The picture had been a shock to him but he at least had known of Brock's existence. For Brick the shocks had come from the blue, turning the world as he'd always known it on its head.
"Hurts," Brick admitted.
"I know son. I'm sorry I never told you about your twin. You had a right to know, I shouldn't have kept it from you." At the time it had seemed like the right decision and as the years passed it just became easier. Now he wondered if he had made a mistake.
"No," Brick shook his head. Yes it hurt that this had been kept from him but that was nothing compared to what Jack must feel. "Hurt for you," he ground out. Damn but he hated it when the aphasia came out like this. It couldn't be helped though; any situation too filled with stress could put him right back where he had started as far as the aphasia was concerned.
"You..." Jack could go no further, emotion choking the words before they could form. Pushing to his feet he pulled Brick up, wrapping his arms around him. "Thank you," he whispered. Neither man noticed when Leigh and Dale left the room, giving father and son their privacy.
Special Agent Darrell Price had spent a week going through all of the information the agency had on the McKenna kidnapping and cross-referencing it with information on Agent Tanner. Another week had been used trying to make contact with Tanner. He had tried him at home, missing him by only minutes, then came a children's center where the man volunteered, a soup kitchen followed. At both places he had missed Tanner. He had last tried to catch up to the man in a local park where he was known to perform katas. Darrell had to look that up never having heard the term before.
Having given up on meeting Agent Tanner outside his work Darrell now stood in front of the Federal Building housing the Denver ATF. He hadn't wanted to drop this news on the young man at work but there didn't seem to be any choice. Squaring his shoulders he stepped into the lobby. "Good morning," he greeted the young woman manning the reception desk, a security guard stood nearby in case of trouble.
"Good morning," Amanda smiled up at the tall, handsome man standing in front of her. "How can I help you?"
"I'm Special Agent Darrell Price, FBI," he introduced himself. "I need to speak with Agent Tanner, is he in?"
Amanda frowned. "Do you have identification?" she asked in a suspicious tone. The last time an FBI agent came here looking for one of the seven, that had been Agent Tanner too now she thought of it, he had turned out to be an imposter. His true purpose had been assassination and he had very nearly succeeded. From what Amanda had heard if it hadn't been for Agent Larabee the assassin would have carried out his contract and disappeared. Amanda wasn't about to let another so-called agent into the building if she could help it.
"Of course," Darrell replied. Withdrawing his wallet from his pocket he showed her the proof of his identity.
"Could you take it out of the wallet please?"
Darrell was surprised at the request. Security at the federal level was of course more stringent but he had never been met with such coldness at any other federal facility. He considered arguing but quickly dismissed the thought. If they were checking this closely he knew there must be a good reason. Without a word he removed the i.d. and handed it to the young woman.
"Wait here please," Amanda instructed. Taking the i.d. into a small office she checked computer records. When those verified the agent's identity she then used a direct line to call FBI headquarters, further verifying Agent Price was who he claimed to be. Transferring the information to the visitor's information form she then returned to her desk, handing the identification back to the patiently waiting man. "What do you wish to see Agent Tanner about?" she asked as she bent her head to the form once more.
"It's about an old case that may involve him." This he was familiar with. A moment later he accepted a visitor's pass and instructions as to how he could find Agent Tanner.
As he stepped into the bull pen Darrell took a look around the room, quickly spotting the young man he'd come to see. Stepping over to the desk, he pulled out his i.d. holding it so the Agent could easily see it. "Agent Tanner, I'm Special Agent Darrell Price from the FBI," he said.
Vin closely examined the offered i.d. though he knew Amanda would have already done so. "What can I do for the FBI?" he asked his tone just barely civil. After the way the agency had treated Ezra none of the seven were very trusting of the feebies.
"Is there somewhere we can speak in private?" Darrell asked, aware of the others listening attentively to their conversation.
"Something I can help you with?" Chris asked startling the FBI agent. He had seen the man approach Vin's desk and flip out an i.d. of some kind. In spite of not hearing the conversation he knew from his friend's body language and expression the visitor wasn't welcome or trusted.
Darrell jumped. He hadn't heard anybody approaching the desk. Turning he took in the sight of the imposing leader of the seven. "Agent Larabee?" he asked needing confirmation.
Chris nodded. "What do you need...Agent Price?" Chris asked, peering at the visitor's pass the man wore.
"Actually I'm here to discuss an old case with Agent Tanner," Darrell replied tamping down on the fear this man inspired with only his presence.
"Ain't never worked with the FBI," Vin drawled.
Darrell turned back to the desk. "It's not a case you worked Agent Tanner but it does involve you on a personal level. I really think we should discuss this in private."
Vin exchanged a look with Chris. "I reckon we can use Larabee's office." Standing up he led the way to the small office.
Darrell turned to close the door, surprised to see Chris Larabee entering the room. "Agent Larabee this case doesn't involve you."
"I'm not leaving unless Vin asks me to," Chris calmly informed the other man.
"Chris can stay," Vin said, putting a stop to any protests the feebie could make.
"Agent Tanner there is no need for a witness; you're not in any trouble." Darrell assured the younger agent.
"Good to know but Chris stays."
The firm tone told Darrell the man wouldn't change his mind. "Very well," Darrell conceded. Taking a seat he opened his briefcase and removed a file. "What I'm about to tell you will no doubt come as a shock to you Agent Tanner."
"I'm listening," Vin said relaxing into his seat.
Chris watching Vin carefully wasn't fooled. The younger man might look relaxed but Larabee knew better. Vin was curious, so was he if he told the truth, but he was also apprehensive.
"The case I referred to goes back twenty-six years," Darrell began. "A couple by the name of Jack and Elizabeth McKenna living in Bend Oregon were getting ready to leave the local hospital. They were meant to take their newborn twin sons home that day. Unfortunately somebody else had other ideas."
Chris watched with concern as Vin began to pale. No doubt he could see where this story was going. Reaching over he squeezed the back of the younger man's neck in a comforting gesture.
Vin shot Chris a grateful look. "What happened?" he rasped.
"One of the twins was kidnapped from the hospital. He was never found, that is until now," Darrell explained.
"I ain't got a twin. My mother was Cynthia Tanner." Vin could feel his anger threatening to erupt and he struggled to tamp down on it. He had never been quick to anger, growing up the way he had he couldn't afford to be, but any hint of somebody tarnishing his mother's name was guaranteed to bring his formidable temper to the surface.
"I don't know all of the circumstances Agent Tanner but I did do a bit of preliminary investigation before I came here. Cynthia Tanner adopted you as an infant; the records are clear about that."
Vin surged to his feet, lips set in a determined line as his blood turned to ice. "That's a lie," he snarled.
"Vin sit down," Chris brusquely ordered. He knew his friend was close to losing control of his temper.
"My mother didn't kidnap me," Vin snapped, ignoring his friend and boss.
"I didn't say she did," Darrell calmly reminded him.
Vin sat. "What are you saying then?"
"There is compelling evidence that you are the child of Jack and Elizabeth McKenna, kidnapped from your hospital bassinet when only three days old. We know from the records that Cynthia Tanner adopted you a short time after the kidnapping but we don't know if she had any involvement in the kidnapping."
Vin latched onto that like a drowning man grabbing for a life preserver. "I told you she didn't kidnap me. And you're wrong about the adoption." He refused to believe his mother would keep something so important from him.
"Agent Tanner the evidence doesn't lie."
"Bullshit! Evidence can be manufactured or misidentified. " He wouldn't believe what this man said, he couldn't.
"Nobody created the documents proving you were adopted nor did I mix your records up with somebody else's."
Vin stood up so that he towered over the still seated agent. "Before she died my mother told me not to ever forget I was a Tanner. It was important to her and I ain't gonna let her down." With that he marched from the room, slamming the door behind him.
"Agent Larabee I didn't..." Darrell trailed off as the blond rushed from the office.
"Chris what's..." Buck called as Larabee came from his office.
"Not now Buck," Chris snapped. "Vin?"
"He was headed for the stairs," Buck replied.
Without another word Chris raced towards the stairs. He needed to catch up to Vin before he left the building. The younger man was in no state to be driving.
In the bullpen the remaining members of the seven exchanged concerned glances. As one they moved to Chris' office. "What did you say to Vin?" Buck demanded as the team entered the office.
"I'm afraid I can't divulge that information," Darrell replied. He was relieved that his voice didn't tremble in fear.
"Agent Price I believe it would serve your interest to be more forthcoming in your responses."
Darrell gave the southerner a blank look.
"Talk," Josiah rumbled in a tone that brooked no argument.
"Gentlemen I understand that you're concerned for your friend but honestly I can't tell you anything. The information I shared with Agent Tanner is confidential."
"It's pretty obvious that whatever you told him has Vin pretty upset," Nathan said.
"It does, understandably so," Darrell conceded. "That doesn't change the fact that the information is confidential."
"Vin's our friend, we just want to help him," JD put in.
"So you want me to violate your friend's privacy?"
The five exchanged sheepish looks. None of them had thought of it like that. "Reckon we'll have to ask Vin or Chris."
"Where do you propose we find them brother Buck?"
Buck scratched his chin. "There's plenty of places they could go. If Chris caught up to him they'll probably head out to the ranch. If he didn't well, there just ain't no telling where Vin went."
"So we go to the ranch then?" JD asked.
"They'll likely show up there sooner of later," was Nathan's opinion.
Darrell cleared his throat, bringing their attention back to him. "Agent Wilmington," he said handing a card to the taller man. "could you give this to Agent Tanner. I really do need to further discuss this with him. While there is good reason to resolve this quickly the timetable is up to Agent Tanner, would you tell him that?" Darrell really did feel bad about dropping the information on the young agent the way he had. He could easily imagine the sort of turmoil Tanner was experiencing at the moment. He only hoped, for the sake of all involved, that the man would call him sooner rather than later. In the meantime he would continue to investigate in the hopes of learning more about how Brock McKenna had come to be adopted by Cynthia Tanner.
"I'll tell him," Buck replied. There was a part of him that wanted to toss the card in the trash. Whatever was going on had to be bad if it had Vin Tanner running, but Buck knew ignoring it, whatever it was, wouldn't help and might hurt.
"Vin wait," Chris called as the younger man opened the door to his jeep. In spite of leaving the office only seconds behind him, Chris had seen no sign of Vin. He had, however, heard him as he raced down the stairs ahead of him. Hearing the door into the garage slamming open he had put on a burst of speed; he needed to catch Vin before he got behind the wheel.
Vin froze, the desperate tone of his friends voice stopping him in his tracks. As he stood there, one hand on the door handle, he began to shake.
Within seconds Chris reached his friend. Laying a hand on Vin's back he was surprised to feel the slim body shaking, though whether it was adrenaline or emotions causing it he didn't know.
"I can't stay here Chris, don't ask me to," Vin whispered.
"We'll go wherever you want Vin."
"We?" Vin turned to him. "I don't need a babysitter Larabee," he growled.
"I'm not going to let you drive Vin, not right now," Chris firmly informed his friend. "We can talk if you want Vin, or not, but you're in no condition to drive."
Vin nodded, he knew Chris was right, he was entirely too distracted. "Your ranch?"
"You know the boys will probably show up out there soon," Chris warned him.
"That's okay, I wasn't planning on staying."
Vin shrugged. "I'll let you know when we get there."
Chris nodded, "Good enough."
Darrell Price arrived at the local FBI office a short time after leaving the ATF. Plopping himself into a seat he scrubbed a hand over his face. With a heavy sigh he picked up the phone and dialled.
"Jack McKenna please," Darrell requested.
"This is Jack."
"Mr. McKenna my name is Darrell Price. I'm the FBI agent currently working your son's case."
"Have you talked to him?" Jack anxiously asked.
"I have," Darrell confirmed. "He didn't take the news very well I'm afraid."
Jack closed his eyes. He didn't know what he had expected. The name might be different now but the man was still a McKenna and Jack knew he wouldn't have easily accepted such news, why should he expect anything different from his son. "I guess I should have expected that."
"I'm sorry Mr. McKenna."
Jack could hear the sincerity in the agent's voice. "Not your fault. So now what?"
"I left my card with one of his co-workers with the message that the timetable is up to Agent Tanner. In the meantime I'll dig deeper, see if I can find out just how he ended up as the son of Cynthia Tanner."
Jack nodded. "Do you think she had anything to do with the kidnapping?" God he hoped not. It would be hard enough for his son to accept the truth, finding out the woman he'd called mother had helped steal him from his family would make it a hundred times worse.
"I don't think so, though I could be wrong. Hopefully I'll know more by the time your son contacts me again."
"How long do you think it'll be?"
Darrell sighed. "I don't know Mr. McKenna, I wish I could tell you. His team seems to be pretty protective of him. The truth is they acted more like a family than simply co-workers. Maybe with that kind of support system he'll be ready to listen sooner rather than later. I'll keep you informed, I promise."
"Thank you Agent Price," Jack said. "When you talk to my son again would you tell him," Jack swallowed hard past the lump in his throat. "Tell him I love him and I never stopped looking for him."
"I'll tell him Mr. McKenna," Darrell promised.
Chris sat next to his friend on a rock outcropping, quietly watching the sunset over the valley below. Patiently he waited for the younger man to speak.
"She would have told me," Vin insisted.
"How old were you when she passed?" Chris quietly asked.
"I was five, you know that."
"And she'd been sick for a while?"
Vin looked at his friend, eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What you getting at Chris?"
Chris shrugged, "Could be she didn't know how to tell you."
"Mama never lied to me."
Chris winced at the pain that he could hear in his friend's voice. "I'm not saying she did. But think about it Vin. You were five years old and she was sick, dying, it must have been a difficult time for both of you. How was she supposed to explain adoption to an already confused and hurting child?"
Vin turned away, blinking his eyes rapidly as memories threatened to overwhelm him. "She didn't lie," the statement sounding more like a question.
"She just didn't have the chance to tell you," Chris replied. He had thought it over during their ride and he couldn't see any reason for the FBI to lie to Vin. If he assumed they were being honest than at the very least Cynthia Tanner wasn't his friend's biological mother. If that were true than it was also possible Vin had been kidnapped from the hospital. He only hoped they would find that Cynthia had nothing to do with the kidnapping. Chris didn't think Vin would be able to handle such a blow.
"You think I'm this missing kid?"
"I don't know Vin, but I do think you should find out."
"All my life I've known who I am. All those years in foster care I knew I was a Tanner, sometimes that was all that kept me going. I knew what being a Tanner meant...I don't know who this McKenna kid is." Vin brushed his tears away with an angry swipe.
Chris swallowed past the lump in his throat. He couldn't imagine what his friend was feeling right now. "Even if you find out you're the missing McKenna child it won't change who you've always been."
"No it won't," Chris firmly responded. "Identity is more than blood Vin. You are Cynthia Tanner's son..."
"Except maybe I'm not," Vin miserably interrupted.
"You are even if not by blood. She raised you until you were five and before she died she gave you the strength you needed to become a man. Maybe she didn't give birth to you but she loved you, in the end that's all that matters."
"What if she stole me?" There it was, the root of his fear. As much as he hurt, Vin knew that eventually he would be able to accept the adoption. He would never be able to think of any other woman as his mother, unless she had taken him from his birth family. It didn't matter why. If Cynthia Tanner had a hand in stealing him away from the family he was meant to have it would kill a vital part of his identity.
Chris scooted closer, wrapping a strong arm around the younger man's shoulder. "Agent Price said they have no evidence of that," he reminded. "But if she did then we will find a way to get you through that pain."
"You don't think I'm letting you face all of this alone do you?" Chris asked. "And if you think either of us could keep the rest of the team out well you're not as smart as I thought you were."
Vin chuckled. "Think they're back at the ranch?"
Chris closed his eyes in seeming resignation. "Probably drinking all my whiskey."
"Guess we better get back," Vin said, nudging his friend's shoulder. "Chris?" he said as they stood.
"Yeah?" Chris turned. He grunted in surprise as Vin's arms wrapped around him in a quick hug.
"Thanks," Vin whispered in the blond's ear. Letting go he stepped away from his friend. Moving to the horses he went about readying Peso for the ride back to the ranch.
The ride back to the ranch was as silent as their earlier ride away had been. Neither man was surprised to see the team's vehicles parked in front of Chris' sprawling ranch house. Vin smiled softly, comforted by the presence of his friends. Larabee was right, he didn't have to face this alone. Dismounting, they soon led the horses into the barn, removing saddles and tack, each man quietly seeing to the care of his horse.
"You ready?" Chris asked from the front of Peso's stall.
"Almost," Vin replied. In steady strokes he continued to brush his mount's gleaming coat.
Chris sighed. Vin was such a private man, much like himself. It was probably half the reason they got along and understood each other. And like he knew he himself would be, Chris knew his friend would be struggling with the need to inform their friends of the situation. "You keep brushing him and Peso ain't gonna have a hide left."
Vin laid his head against the horse's side. "I reckon," he said, laying the brush aside. Giving the horse a pat along its neck he left the stall, closing the door behind him.
"You don't have to tell them anything you don't want to."
Vin shook his head. "If it's true, what Price said, they're gonna find out sooner or later."
"True," Chris agreed.
"They're my friends, they deserve to hear it from me not the rumor mill." Without another word he started towards the house, Chris at his side.
"Leave any whiskey?" Chris asked as he stepped into the living room.
Buck held the bottle up, "Maybe a little."
With a teasing growl Larabee headed for the liquor cabinet, snatching the bottle from Buck's hand. "You better have left more than a little Buck."
"Ain't polite to drink all of a man's whiskey," Vin said rescuing the bottle from Chris' grip and pouring himself a healthy shot.
Chris glared at him.
"Don't look at me like that cowboy, I left ya some," Vin drawled to the amusement of the others.
"Don't call me cowboy," Chris snapped in mock exasperation as he poured himself a drink.
The others waited for the two men to make themselves comfortable. "Everything okay?" Buck asked, taking the bull by the horns.
"Don't know," Vin replied.
This brought concerned frowns to the faces of the other men. "Can you talk about what's going on?" Nathan asked. They didn't know if whatever the feebie had to say was classified or not, the agent having only said it was confidential.
Vin sighed. "Agent Price wanted to talk to me about an old kidnapping case."
"One you worked?" JD asked.
"No, one they think I might be the victim of."
"What? Why wouldn't they know? Wouldn't you know?" several voices rang out at once making it impossible to make any sense of the words they threw his way.
"Y'all might learn more if ya'd keep quiet long enough for a man to talk." Murmured apologies were soon heard from the others bringing a small smile to Vin's face. "There was a baby kidnapped from a hospital in Oregon 26 years ago. "
"They believe your sainted mother to be involved?" Ezra asked in concerned disbelief. He knew, as did they all, the importance of Vin's mother to the man. His very identity was wrapped up in the few memories he held of the woman.
Vin shrugged. "They don't know yet. They said all they know is a set of twins was born, one was kidnapped and a short while after Mama adopted me." Vin explained, his voice catching on the word adopted. Chris was probably right about why his mother hadn't told him but that didn't remove all traces of pain the news had brought.
"You have a twin? That's so cool," JD enthused.
"JD," Buck admonished, lightly smacking the back of the younger man's head.
"Ow, what'd ya do that for Buck?" the younger agent groused.
Vin chuckled at the by-play. "It's alright Buck. But we don't know yet if I'm this missing McKenna kid."
"Were they identical twins?"
"I reckon so."
"Seems like they could make an identification pretty easy," Buck stated, the others quickly agreeing with him.
"Still they do say everybody has a twin," Josiah reminded the assembled men.
Nathan nodded. "Might be a good idea to have a paternity test done, just to be safe."
"I was thinking about it," Vin admitted. "The FBI is going to keep investigating, trying to figure out how I ended up in Texas with Mama. That is if I am the missing kid they think I am."
"I can't imagine the woman you have described to us would ever do something as terrible as stealing a child from its rightful family," Josiah opined.
Vin shot him a grateful smile. "Hope you're right Josiah. " Looking around at the assembled men, his friends; they were the first, since his time on the reservation, he had been able to put complete trust in. He could depend on these men. "Ya think y'all could help me find some answers for myself?"
"You mean to say you don't trust the FBI to turn in a stellar performance as they investigate the circumstances of the kidnapping? I am shocked," Ezra teased, his green eyes twinkling with mirth.
"Hard to believe, ain't it?" Vin drawled. "So will ya?" he asked sliding a glance around the room.
Agreement was quickly expressed by each in his own unique way, bringing a grin to Vin's face. Exchanging a look with Chris he could practically hear the man saying told you so. "Shut up Larabee."
"Agent Price?" The day after his conversation with the others, Vin picked up the phone and called the man.
"This is Vin Tanner, do you have time to meet with me?"
For a moment Darrell could only gape at the phone. He hadn't expected to hear from the man so soon. Quickly recovering he confirmed he had time. "When would you like to talk?"
A part of him wanted to say never but he had made up his mind to investigate. Having made up his mind Vin didn't see any reason to delay. "Now if you're free."
"Of course. Would you prefer to come to the FBI building or should I come to you?"
"I reckon I'd be more comfortable here."
Darrell nodded, he had expected as much. "I'll be there within the hour." If the lights and traffic were with him he could easily make it in half that time.
"I'll be expecting you." Hanging up the phone Vin turned to JD. "Can you see what you can find out JD?"
"Already on it Vin," JD called, his fingers flying over the keyboard.
Vin grinned, he should have known.
A scant thirty minutes later Agent Price stepped into the bullpen of Team Seven's offices. "Agent Tanner," he greeted the younger man, his hand extended.
Vin stood and shook the other man's hand. "Agent Price. You mind if my team joins us?"
"That is entirely up to you Agent Tanner." Having seen the way the men had come to the young agent's defense the day before Darrell couldn't say he was surprised by the request.
Vin nodded. "Conference room's over there." A few minutes later the eight men , following introductions, were seated around the table. "How sure are you that I'm this missing kid?"
Pulling a photo from the file he handed it over. "The only thing that could convince me further is a paternity test," Darrell answered.
Vin stared down at a young man wearing his face. The hair was a little shorter, the eyes less haunted, but those were subtle differences. "How soon can a test be done?" he asked after several minutes of staring at the picture.
"I can arrange one for later today," Darrell replied.
"You already have samples from them?" Vin asked, unable to hide his surprise.
"I asked for samples as soon as we knew about you Agent Tanner. In spite of the identical appearance of you and your twin the FBI wouldn't close the case without absolute proof that you are in fact the missing child."
"What's his name?" Vin asked, "My. ..the other kid," he added. Vin had suddenly realized he didn't know the name of the man who could be his brother.
"Brick, his name is Brick McKenna."
"What do you know about the kidnapping, the particulars I mean?" Chris asked.
Darrell opened the file. "The first hint of a problem came at a little after 10 a.m. on May 27th 1970. Two nurses went to the nursery to ready the McKenna twins for discharge. Finding one of them missing they thought perhaps he had been taken for a bath or some last minute tests. It didn't take long for the nurses to realize the child wasn't in the hospital."
"Were there any cameras?" JD asked.
Darrell shook his head. "Unfortunately no, such things weren't nearly as common in the early 70s as they are now. The local police were contacted, followed shortly by the state police and the FBI. A thorough search was conducted but no trace of Brock was..."
"Brock?" Buck cackled, "your name was Brock?"
"What of it Bucklin?" Vin grinned, emphasizing his friend's name.
Buck might have continued the teasing if it hadn't been for the glare Chris sent his way. "Uh, nothing, nothing at all Vin." He said nothing when the others laughed at his obvious discomfort.
"Interviews were conducted but nobody had seen anything unusual," Price continued. "Thinking we might be dealing with a grieving mother we checked the hospital records. We found only one woman who had recently lost a child. Just a few days before the birth of the twins as a matter of fact."
"It wasn't her?" Josiah asked.
"By the way you responded are we correct in assuming there was no doubt?" Ezra asked.
"None whatsoever," Price confirmed. "The woman cooperated fully with the investigation. She opened her home to the agents, submitted to intensive questioning and even took a polygraph test. There was never anything to indicate she was involved in the kidnapping. No ransom note was ever received; in fact there was no contact of any kind from the kidnapper. " He paused to take a drink of water. "Now in the past couple of weeks I have looked into the case. As I told you before Agent Tanner we know Cynthia Tanner adopted you, the adoption taking place shortly after the kidnapping. There hasn't been time yet to track down those who knew Ms. Tanner so I can't tell you if she was involved."
"I want Josiah to accompany you for the interviews."
"What? Agent Tanner I assure you that isn't necessary," Darrell tried to argue.
"You don't seem like a bad man Agent Price but you don't know me," Vin said. "Josiah's my friend, he'll ask the necessary questions but he'll be respectful of my mother's memory too."
He could see this was important to the young agent. It wasn't what could be considered standard procedure but it wasn't as if the man was untrained. "It's unusual, but I suppose since he is a federal agent it would be okay," Darrell finally agreed.
"Thank you. How long for the paternity tests?"
"I'll order a rush on the results, we should know something in a couple of days." Truthfully Darrell was sure the test would confirm Tanner's identity as Brock McKenna. "Do you have any other questions Agent Tanner?"
Vin shook his head. He actually had several questions but they could wait for the results of the test. Vin only hoped those unable to be answered by the test would be answered by the ongoing investigation.
"I'll make the arrangements for the test then," Darrell said. Pushing his chair back he stood up. As he passed behind Tanner he placed a hand on the young man's shoulder and bent down. "Jack McKenna wanted me to tell you that he never stopped looking," he whispered softly. Straightening to his full height he quietly left the room. He would pass on the rest of the message once the test results were in.
Vin bit his lip and nodded. He hadn't wanted to believe it but having seen the picture of Brick he was sure the test would prove he was the missing McKenna child. Knowing they had never stopped looking touched a hollow spot on his soul, bringing a small measure of comfort to the lonely, hurting child he had been.
"You okay Vin?" Chris quietly asked. He wondered if he was going to have to track Agent Price down and introduce him to some procedures of the Navy Seals.
Vin looked into the concerned face of his friend. "I'm fine cowboy," he assured the blond.
"Mr. McKenna?" Three days had passed since the paternity test had been started, the results of which had just been handed to him.
"This is Jack McKenna."
"Agent Price here. I thought you should know the results of the paternity test are in."
"And?" Jack impatiently asked.
"There is no doubt Vin Tanner is your missing son."
Jack let go the breath he'd been holding. "Does he know yet?"
"No sir, I thought you should be told first."
"I appreciate that Agent Price. Have you found any more information on who took him?" Jack tried to keep the anger from his voice but he suspected he wasn't entirely successful.
"Not yet Mr. McKenna, I haven't had a chance to interview any of Cynthia Tanner's friends yet."
"But you said you don't think she was involved?"
"I don't Mr. McKenna but if we can discover how she came to adopt your son it may lead us to the person who did kidnap him," Darrell patiently explained.
"That makes sense I guess. Agent Price you've spoken to my son do you think I should contact him or wait for him to call me?" He honestly couldn't imagine what his son was feeling right now and he didn't want to make a mistake that would push him away. Jack didn't think he could stand it if that happened.
"Anything I tell you will be a guess at best," was the honest reply.
"I understand that Agent Price but at this point your guess would be better than mine. At least it'd be based on having actually met the boy," Jack gruffly explained.
"I suppose," Darrell conceded. "I think it might be best if you let him contact you."
Jack nodded. "I want to talk to him, see him but I won't push him. I know his world has just been turned upside down and I don't want to make things any more difficult for him. Will you tell him that?"
"I will Mr. McKenna."
"Thank you." Jack returned the phone to its base. Letting a stranger act as go-between with his child went against the grain but Jack knew it was for the best at this point. Hopefully it wouldn't be long until Brock, no Vin, contacted him. He was going to have to get used to thinking of the boy as Vin. It would be ridiculous at this point to expect him to use his birth name.
"Brick stop it," Cassidy ordered through her laughter.
Brick just grinned unrepentantly and sprayed her again.
Jack smiled as he listened to them. It was good to hear Cassidy laughing again. She had been furious when he had told her about Bro...Vin and had been nursing her anger since. Jack wasn't sure who she had been angrier with, the person who had stolen her brother or Jack for not telling her about him sooner. He hated to interrupt their fun but he needed to let them know the results of the tests. He knew they'd be happy with the confirmation; it was the rest of the news they might not be so understanding of, well Cassidy wouldn't be. Jack was fairly certain Brick would understand the need to let his brother set the pace of any reunions.
A shadow falling over his desk had Vin looking up into the face of Darrell Price. "The results in?" he asked after a moment.
Darrell nodded. "It's been confirmed you are the missing Brock McKenna."
Vin winced at the name. "What next?"
"I'll be heading to Texas to conduct some interviews. Luckily most of Cynthia Tanner's friends still live in the same area."
"You're still taking Josiah with you?"
"Yes. Agent Tanner I wouldn't ordinarily suggest this but you can come along too if you like." Darrell had given it a lot of thought and had decided that as the man was a federal agent it would be permissible.
"No," the response was sharper than Vin had intended. "Sorry," he apologized.
"Are you sure Vin?" Josiah asked.
"I'm sure Josiah. If Mama had anything to do with my kidnapping..."
"You'd rather let me tell you, soften the blow?" Josiah suggested.
Vin nodded, ducking his head. He supposed it seemed cowardly but he just couldn't face hearing strangers confirming his worst fears.
Josiah moved to stand behind Vin's chair, laying a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Understandable son," he rumbled, startling the younger man. His younger team mate was a man who was always aware of his surroundings; he'd had to be growing up as he had. The small jerk of Vin's shoulders spoke volumes to Josiah about the stress he was under.
"Thanks Josiah," Vin rasped. "Anything else Agent Price?" he asked, turning his attention back to the other man.
"I spoke to Jack McKenna before I came here. He asked me to give you his number and to tell you that as much as he wants to speak to you he's leaving the when up to you. He knows this has been a shock to you and he has no desire to push you."
Vin reached out a shaking hand for the piece of paper. "You sure he wants me to call him?" Maybe it was unfair for him to question the man's words but he hadn't had any good experiences with father figures. The truth was with the examples he'd had he could have grown up to be as much of a bastard as any criminal the team pursued. Luckily Vin had rejected their examples choosing instead to adopt behaviour that was as far from them as he could get.
"When I told you the other day that he never stopped looking there was more to the message. I thought it would be best to wait until the test results were in," Darrell explained. "He asked me to tell you that he loves you and if you had heard the emotion in his voice you wouldn't need to ask if he really wants you to call him."
Vin nodded, "Thanks." Fishing his wallet out he carefully placed his father's number inside and put it away. He would call him, probably within the next few days but he wasn't ready yet.
Josiah followed Agent Price up the walk. The neighborhood was obviously a poor one but it was clean and the houses in good repair, all things considered. He stood behind Price, allowing the FBI agent to take the lead. The door was answered by a woman in her early fifties, her red hair beginning to silver.
"Yes can I help you?" Laura Mercer asked. She knew the two men were cops. Live in an area like this as long as she had and you develop a sense about people, especially cops. Lord she hoped her boy wasn't in trouble again. She'd done her best to raise him right but Tommy seemed intent on ending up in prison or an early grave.
"My name is Darrell Price, I'm with the FBI."
Laura's shoulders sagged, this was worse than she'd thought. "What did he do now?" she asked, resigned to hearing something terrible.
"Excuse me ma'am," Josiah interrupted. "I'm afraid there's been a misunderstanding."
"A misunderstanding mister?" Laura hoped he meant what it sounded like.
"Yes ma'am. You see we're not here because somebody is in trouble. We're actually here hoping you can help us solve a mystery," Josiah explained in his deep soothing voice.
"I don't know what mystery you think I could help with," Laura replied her face reflecting her confusion.
"If we could have a little of your time we can explain."
Laura looked uncertain. It could be a ploy to enter her home, maybe they were looking for some sort of evidence to use against her Tommy after all. "I don't know."
"We don't have to come inside Mrs. Mercer," Josiah said. He hoped to soothe her obvious discomfort and suspicion.
Darrell said nothing. He should be objecting after all this was an FBI case and he was supposed to be in charge. But seeing that Sanchez was making headway he was more than willing to stand back and let him continue.
Laura stepped outside, leading them to a small side yard where there was an old picnic table. The three of them sat down.
"Mrs. Mercer my name is Josiah Sanchez," Josiah finally introduced himself. "I'm here on behalf of a good friend of mine, Vin Tanner."
Laura gasped. She hadn't heard that name in twenty years or more. "Cynthia's little boy?"
"Yes ma'am," Josiah confirmed.
"He was such a sweet little thing. It broke my heart to see him after his mama passed. You know she died at home? Poor little thing, I went over that day with some homemade soup. We all did what we could for Cynthia but none of us have much you understand."
"Yes ma'am," Josiah nodded. He could see it was important to the woman that they not blame her or her neighbors for whatever had happened to Vin.
"I knocked but there was no answer. Well I knew that Cynthia slept a lot and Vin might not have heard me knock so I just went on in. I heard him then, the most awful sobbing you could imagine coming from the bedroom. I knew what it must mean of course. Poor little mite, he was draped over her body sobbing and begging her to wake up." Laura paused, wiping tears away. "I called the coroner and social services. I would have taken Vin, any of us would have, if we could've. But none of us could afford another child, we could barely feed the ones we already had. " Laura took a deep breath. "Has something happened to Vin?"
"No ma'am," Josiah gruffly replied. He cleared his throat trying to dislodge the lump that had formed as Mrs. Mercer spoke. "We're actually here trying to discover some answers for Vin about his past."
Laura gave him a puzzled look. "What do you mean?"
"Vin just recently found out he was adopted."
"Oh, of course. You know I had forgotten that Cynthia adopted him. He was only a newborn when he came to her you know."
"Yes ma'am we know. Do you know where she adopted him from? The name of the agency?" Josiah asked. If they could find out what agency Cynthia had used they would be that much closer to discovering who had taken Vin from the hospital.
"Oh she didn't use an agency," Laura quickly replied.
Josiah's heart sank. Could Cynthia Tanner have taken Vin from the hospital herself? "She didn't?" he asked.
"Oh no. You see Vin is actually Cynthia's nephew. It's really pretty sad when you think about it, orphaned twice the poor little mite."
"What do you mean Mrs. Mercer?"
"Laura," she absently corrected. "Cynthia's sister Pamela was on her way down from Oregon, that's where she'd had Vin. At least that was what Cynthia told me. She'd had him at home so she only had a certificate of live birth. Cynthia said her sister's husband had been a police officer, killed in the line of duty, only weeks before the baby was born. Pamela became quite depressed of course. Cynthia had wanted to go to her but she couldn't get the time away from work. She suggested that her sister come to Texas, stay with her until she was back on her feet. "
"What happened to Pamela?" Darrell asked. It seemed they might find their answers without needing to speak to any of Cynthia's other friends and neighbors.
"Well like I said she had the baby at home. She called Cynthia and told her, said she almost lost him but luckily the midwife was able to save him. He'd had to go to the hospital for a few days and she'd just gotten him back. She told Cynthia she had decided to come to Texas after all. Poor little mite," Laura sniffed. "She was nearly here when the accident happened. It'd been raining and she lost control on the slick roads. Pamela was killed instantly but little Vin survived. Cynthia adopted him of course, what else could she do?"
"Thank you very much Laura, you've been very helpful," Josiah smiled. Thank God he wouldn't have to tell Vin that his mother had kidnapped him. It seemed likely that Pamela had been the only one involved in the kidnapping. "Do you happen to know the name of the midwife in Oregon?"
"Well no, but I'm sure it's on the certificate of live birth," Laura replied. "Just a minute and I'll get it for you."
Josiah startled. "You have it?"
"Well yes. Cynthia had told me where her important papers were. I've kept them all these years for Vin, hoping he'd come back. I didn't do anything wrong did I?" Laura nervously asked.
Josiah grinned. "No ma'am, not at all. I was just surprised." Technically she should have turned the papers over to the state which would have made gaining access more difficult, if they hadn't thrown them away by now. Since her actions would help them solve the mystery of Vin's kidnapping Josiah wasn't about to give her any grief.
"I'll be right back," Laura smiled. She hurried into the house, returning a few minutes later with a manila envelope bearing Vin's name. "Here you are, everything is in there. You will make sure Vin gets it won't you?"
"I will ma'am," Josiah promised.
"Thank you." Laura shook her head, "Poor little mite," she sniffed once more.
Thanking her once more for her help the two men excused themselves and returned to their car. Josiah opened the envelope, pulling documents from inside. "Here it is," he said after a short perusal of the documents. "Certificate of live birth, Vincent Michael Connor. Born May 24th, 1970 in Elgin Oregon to Pamela Michelle Connor, father Ryan Michael Connor. " Josiah's eyes roamed over the paper, searching for the information they needed. "Here it is, presiding midwife Mary Winterset."
"Let's get to the hotel and see what we can find. With any luck we can reach her by phone and find out what we need to know," Darrell suggested.
Josiah nodded. "From your lips to God's ears," he prayed. It didn't take them long to reach the hotel.
The moment they entered the room Darrell was opening his laptop. Fingers flying over the keyboard he began his search. "Well here's the confirmation of Mrs. Mercer's story. Pamela Connor was killed in a one vehicle accident in 1970 leaving behind an infant son."
"I thought you were looking for Mary Winterset."
Darrell shrugged. "I thought we should confirm Mrs. Mercer's story first." Without another word he went back to his searching. "Got her." He looked up from the screen. "You want to call her or me?"
"It's your case."
"Remembered that did you?" Darrell lightly asked. He hadn't minded Josiah taking over at the Mercer house, but he couldn't resist teasing the man a bit.
Josiah grinned. "Never forgot."
Darrell chuckled and picked up the phone. Dialing the number listed on his computer screen he waited for somebody to answer.
"Hello," a pleasant voice greeted the agent.
"Hello, may I speak with Mary Winterset please."
"This is she."
"Mrs. Winterset my name is Darrell Price, I'm with the FBI."
"The FBI? What could the government want with me?" Mary was perplexed.
"We're hoping you can help us with an old case."
"I don't know how I could but I'll try."
"Do you remember delivering a child for a Pamela Connor in 1970?" Darrell asked.
Mary remembered it clearly. It had been such a sad case. "Yes I remember. What about it?" she couldn't imagine what this could have to do with the FBI.
"Could you tell me about it?"
"There's not much to tell. Pamela wasn't very old, only twenty-two and recently widowed. Her husband Ryan had been killed in the line of duty you see. They had been preparing for a home birth, neither of them liked the idea of drugs and hospitals. " Mary sighed deeply. "Pamela went into labor early. I tried to convince her to go to the hospital but she wouldn't hear of it. She was adamant that she couldn't let Ryan down by giving into her pain. That's how she saw going to the hospital you understand. Anyway the baby came but the poor thing was too weak. He only lived a little over an hour. I filled out the death certificate. It was so very sad; the poor girl losing both husband and child only weeks apart. I asked her if there was anybody I could call for her. She thanked me but said there was no need. Ryan would be home soon, he could take care of them. I know I shouldn't have left her alone in that state but when I tried to tell her that Ryan was gone she became violent. I went to the nearest phone and called for an ambulance but by the time they arrived Pamela and the baby were gone."
"I see. Mrs. Winterset do you remember hearing of a kidnapping that occurred a few days after the death of Pamela Connor's child?" Darrell asked.
"I heard about it when I got back, why do you ask?"
"Yes. I was very upset by what happened to Pamela and quite worried about her but I had arranged to leave for France weeks before all of this happened. As a matter of fact if Pamela hadn't gone into early labor I would have been turning her care over to a colleague of mine."
"And you didn't connect Pamela Connor with the kidnapping when you came back?" How the woman could have missed the obvious connection he couldn't imagine.
"Agent Price I was gone for three years," Mary coldly replied. She didn't care for the young man's tone. "By the time I returned that kidnapping was old news so no I didn't make the connection. Are you saying that Pamela was responsible for the kidnapping?"
"That is still to be determined," Darrell hedged. "Thank you for your help Mrs. Winterset." Replacing the receiver he turned to Josiah. He quickly repeated what he'd been told.
Josiah sighed. "Poor girl. She must have convinced herself that Vin was her dead child. The fact they shared the same birth date would have helped convince her."
Darrell nodded. In spite of the pain the woman had caused he could feel sympathy for her. The loss of her child coming on the heels of losing her husband must have been more than her mind could handle. "Your friend will be relieved."
"He will," Josiah agreed. "I don't think this should wait until we get back to Denver," he said reaching for the phone.
"I'll just go get us some food," Darrell said. Quietly he left the room allowing the older agent some privacy.
"Vin, I've got some news," Josiah smiled into the phone. He sent up a silent prayer, thankful his earlier prayers had been answered. It would have devastated his young friend had his mother been involved in any way with the kidnapping.
Shaking fingers traced over the beloved face of a long dead mother. "I knew you didn't steal me Mama," Vin whispered. The news from Josiah had lifted a heavy weight from his soul, restoring the sacred memory of his mother to its rightful place. JD had tried to find information about the kidnapping and with it proof of his mother's innocence. Unfortunately there hadn't been much information to be found, only enough to confirm what Agent Price had already told him. JD said the case was too old and not high profile enough for much information to have been placed online. Even the FBI hadn't loaded the files to their computers yet.
Setting the picture aside Vin picked up his cell phone. "Chris I just heard from Josiah."
"Already?" Chris didn't know if news coming so quickly was good or bad.
"Mama didn't kidnap me."
Chris smiled. Vin's relief could be heard over the line as clearly as if he'd shouted it. "That's great news Vin."
"Yeah," Vin agreed as he glanced once more at the picture. He went on to tell the brother of his heart what Josiah had discovered. They talked for a few minutes, both men agreeing that there could be no condemnation of Mrs. Connor. Before they hung up Vin asked Chris to let the rest of the guys know the news.
He picked up the photo again, "She was really hurting wasn't she Mama?" He felt sorry for Pamela Connor. It didn't excuse the pain she had caused his birth family but at least her intent hadn't been malicious. Vin wondered what would have happened had she lived. Would she have regained her sanity as her grief eased? If she had would she have returned him to his family? He shook his head; there wasn't any point in asking questions that could never be answered.
Jack hung up the phone. He'd just received the news from Agent Price. "Thank God," he whispered. He had been very much afraid that Cynthia Tanner had been involved in his son's kidnapping. Though he couldn't imagine it he was sure it would have devastated Vin if that had been the case. Leaving the office he headed outside to find Brick.
"Hey Cas hand me the socket wrench," Brick requested from under the hood of his classic Mustang.
Cassidy released an aggrieved sigh as she moved to fetch the requested tool. She wasn't worried that her brother would be offended, they often teased each other. "Here," she said, laying the wrench in his hand.
"Thanks," Brick grinned never pausing in his work.
"How's it coming?" Jack asked. He grinned as Brick jerked upright hitting his head on the open hood.
"Damn it Jack," Brick cursed as he rubbed his sore head while Cassidy laughed.
"Sorry son," Jack apologized.
Brick glared, he didn't sound sorry. "You want something or you just like making me hit my head?"
Jack sobered instantly. "Actually I just got a call from Agent Price."
"What'd he say?" Cassidy asked.
In a few sentences Jack explained what had been discovered about their brother's kidnapping.
"Poor woman," Brick murmured.
"She kidnapped our brother Brick," Cassidy nearly yelled.
"She was mourning," Brick reminded his sister.
"But she took..."
"You're both right," Jack interrupted. "Yes Mrs. Connor stole Brock from us but she deserves our sympathy too. " Stepping over to Cassidy he took her into his arms. "I know you want to hate her Cas, I do too," Jack admitted, "but she didn't know what she was doing."
"Are you calling Brock now?" Brick asked.
Jack shook his head. "I don't want to push him away. Agent Price made sure he knows I want to talk to him, to meet him, but I'm letting Vin set the pace."
"His name's Brock," Cassidy protested.
"Honey your brother has never known any name other than Vin Tanner. We can't expect him to start using his birth name at this point."
"But he's not a Tanner."
"In a way he is," Jack said. "Less than a week ago your brother didn't know anything about us, didn't even know we existed. In his mind Cynthia Tanner was his mother."
"So we have to call him Vin and let him call her his mother? What about our mother?"
"I'm stubborn," Brick said.
Cassidy turned towards her brother. "What?"
"I'm stubborn, we're twins, what happens when you push me?" Brick quietly asked.
Jack smiled, his youngest son had grown wise in the years since coming home.
"You dig your heels in," Cassidy admitted.
"So if we try to make him use the name Brock or not call Cynthia his mother he'll get mad?"
"And maybe refuse to have anything to do with us," Brick replied in his slow drawl.
Vin looked around the town of Bend as he and Chris drove to their hotel. Bend was bigger than he'd expected, though not nearly as big as Denver. A few days after Josiah's return from Texas Vin had decided to travel to Bend. He could have spoken to his family on the phone but that seemed more awkward than a face to face meeting.
Once the decision was made he had requested and received leave from work. Luckily Chris had vacation time accumulated and was able to come with him. The rest of the team wanted to join them but Vin didn't want to overwhelm his family. Damn but that sounded weird, his family, it was something he hadn't had since his mother's death.
"You sure you don't want to call them first?" Chris asked. It was Vin's decision but Chris wasn't convinced dropping in on the McKennas without warning was the best idea.
"Told ya cowboy, if they don't know I'm coming they won't know to put on company manners." Vin didn't have any reason to doubt them, he knew that. But in all his years as a foster kid he'd seen countless families put on a good face whenever they knew a social worker would be visiting. Unfortunately that good face usually hid a lot of ugliness.
"You really think that's an issue?"
Vin shrugged. "Probably not but..."
"You can't trust easily," Chris finished for him.
"Not really fair I guess," Vin admitted. He felt somewhat ashamed for having doubts about people who had done nothing to deserve them.
Chris reached over, squeezing the other man's shoulder in a comforting gesture. "Your life hasn't been exactly fair. I'd say you're entitled to have some doubts."
Nothing more was said between the two friends and soon they were pulling into the parking lot of their hotel. With no idea how this reunion would go Vin had decided to get a hotel room. Then too he didn't know if the McKennas would have the room for the two of them. JD had looked them up online so Vin knew about the outfitter business they ran. If they had guests at the moment there would be a good chance there'd be no room at the inn. Besides, and this was at the heart of his decision, he might want a break from time to time; a hotel room would give him the breathing room he needed.
"Why don't you wait here, I'll get us checked in," Chris suggested. He was thinking about what would happen if somebody who knew the McKennas saw Vin.
"Yeah, okay." Leaning against the back of the seat he brought his hat forward, shading his face.
Chris returned a few minutes later, room key in his hand. "Clerk said the room is around the back side," he said as he climbed into the truck. Nothing more was said and soon the two men were in the room.
"You want to go out there today?" Chris asked, it was still early enough.
Vin chewed on his lip, deep in thought. "Guess there ain't any point in putting it off."
"Up to you Vin."
"You got the directions?"
"In the GPS and got the written directions in my pocket," Chris replied patting his shirt as he spoke. He knew Vin wasn't entirely trusting of the GPS. Truth be told, neither was he; too many news reports of people driving into rivers and such because of faulty directions from their GPS would have that effect.
"Let's go before I change my mind." Turning on his heel Vin pulled open the door, striding decisively towards the truck.
Chris said nothing, only following him outside, locking the door behind him. The ride to McKenna Outfitters was made in silence.
"You expecting anybody Ms. McKenna?" Walter asked as a black truck moved towards the house. He hadn't been told any guests were expected. He'd been promised a week of no guests so he could take care of some necessary maintenance on the cabins. There were just some things it was better to do without any guests present. They'd found that out the hard way a few years earlier when that hotel critic had been here. It had been funny, Walter privately thought, when he remembered the look on the pompous man's face when the septic tank finally failed.
"No Walter," Leigh replied. She was as puzzled as Walter. The truck didn't belong to anybody they knew. "I wonder who it could be?" When the truck drew nearer she was finally able to make out the licence plate, Colorado plates. Oh God, could it be him?
"I thought Brick went into town with Jack," said as the passenger door opened.
"He did," Leigh absently confirmed. "It's got to be Vin."
"Vin? Whose Vin?"
Leigh would have laughed at the puzzled look on Walter's face, if she'd taken the time to look. "Hello," she stepped towards the truck, holding out a hand.
"Hi," Vin shyly returned the greeting as he took her hand in his. "Is, um Jack McKenna around?"
"He and Brick went into town, they should be back in a little while," Leigh replied.
"Oh," Vin sighed.
"You can come in and wait for them," Leigh offered. "You are Vin Tanner, aren't you?" she asked, though she needed no confirmation. One look at the young man and it was clear he was Brick's missing twin.
Vin nodded. "This is my friend, Chris Larabee," he introduced the blond.
Leigh offered Chris a smile. "I'm Leigh McKenna. You're more than welcome to come inside. You could meet Cassidy and..."
"Cassidy, that's my sister?" Vin tentatively asked.
"That's right. Would you like to meet her?"
"Sister? " Walter gasped, drawing everybody's attention.
"Oh Walter, I forgot you were here." Leigh considered the situation, Jack wouldn't be happy if Bend started gossiping about private family business.
"What's going on Ms. McKenna?" Walter boldly asked.
"Family stuff Walter," Leigh replied. "You'll respect that, won't you?"
"Oh sure," Walter readily agreed. "You can count on me."
"Thank you Walter," she only hoped he would keep his word. "Don't you have some cabins to work on?" It wasn't a subtle hint by any stretch of the imagination but subtle didn't really work with Walter.
"Oh, uh, yes ma'am," Walter stuttered.
As he walked away Vin raised a questioning eyebrow Leigh's way.
Leigh smiled. "That's Walter Maddox, he's our handyman." She turned towards the house. "Come on in," she invited. "Would you like some tea, coffee?" she asked as the three of them stepped into the house.
"Coffee if you have it made," Vin replied.
"The same," Chris said, speaking for the first time.
They followed her into the kitchen. Leaning against the island they waited patiently for Leigh to make their coffee.
"I'll just go find Cassidy," Leigh said as she handed them their coffee. Before she could take a step the girl in question stepped into the kitchen.
"Leigh do...oh I'm sorry, I didn't know we had guests," Cassidy apologized as she walked into the kitchen.
"I was coming to find you Cas," Leigh said.
"Me, why?" Cassidy asked. Her confusion turned to shock as one of the men turned towards her. If it hadn't been for the slightly longer hair she would have thought this was Brick she was looking at. "Brock...I'm sorry, I mean Vin?" she asked. She hadn't missed the way he had flinched at his real name, it had reminded her of the discussion she'd had with her father and brother.
"Yeah, and you're Cassidy?" Vin shyly responded. He hadn't felt so shy around strangers in a while. The fact these strangers were his family only made the situation more uncomfortable.
"Jack didn't say you were coming."
"He didn't know. Jack's your father, isn't he?"
"But you call him Jack?" Vin had never met anybody that called their parent by their first name.
"Everybody does," Cassidy replied with a shrug.
"Guy said Brick started it when he was about eight. He didn't know why but one day Brick said Jack instead of dad and pretty soon all of the kids were calling him by his name," Leigh explained.
"Guy?" Vin asked. There hadn't been a Guy mentioned on the website for McKenna Outfitters.
"Guy was my husband, he passed a few years ago," Leigh quietly replied.
"He was our oldest brother," Cassidy added.
"Oh, sorry for your loss," Vin offered. He couldn't really feel sad, having never known the man. He was sorry that he would never get the chance now but that was as far as it went.
"Why didn't you tell anybody you were coming?" Cassidy asked after a few minutes of awkward silence.
"Too nervous," Vin answered. He didn't know how to explain his reasons to this young girl...his sister.
"Oh, guess that makes sense," Cassidy said, her tone clearly indicating she didn't really think it did.
The screen door slammed, startling them all. "Harry what have I told you about slamming doors," Leigh admonished as she saw her son.
"Sorry Mom," Harry apologized. He noticed the men standing near the kitchen island. He stared hard at the younger one. "You're not Uncle Brick," he firmly stated.
"No I'm not," Vin confirmed with a grin. He was always more comfortable with children than adults. He'd never really tried to figure it out, the why didn't matter to him. Josiah said it was probably because children are inherently honest with their feelings. If they like you they'll let you know and if they don't they'll let you know that too.
"Does that mean you're Uncle Brock?"
"It does, but I don't go by that name. I go by Vin."
Harry scrunched up his face. "How come?"
"Harry," Leigh admonished. She was afraid Vin would be offended by the question. When he didn't hesitate to answer she knew he wasn't.
"It's the only name I ever knew." If the question had come from an adult Vin probably wouldn't have answered but he knew the little boy didn't mean any harm.
"Oh, okay," Harry easily accepted the response. "Does Uncle Brick know you're here?"
Finished with his questions, Harry turned to his mother. "Can I have some cookies and milk Mom?"
Harry sighed and Vin hid a grin. "May I have some cookies and milk Mom?"
Leigh tousled his hair. "You may." As she went about getting Harry's snack she asked him where his sister was.
Harry looked disgusted. "She's walking slow and all googly eyed cause Timmy Graves kissed her."
"Harry McKenna!" Rose screeched from the doorway. She'd walked through the door just in time to hear her little brother's words. "Were you spying on me?" she asked as she walked towards him in a threatening manner.
"Why would I spy on you?" Harry asked. "I don't want to see you kissing Timmy Graves or any other boy."
"Any other boy? I don't go kissing every boy I know," Rose snapped.
"Alright that's enough you two," Leigh interrupted them. She knew if she didn't they could go on for half an hour or more. "Rose there's somebody here you should meet."
Rose turned towards the direction her mother indicated. Her mouth fell open when she saw the two men. "You're Uncle Brick's twin aren't you?"
"I am," Vin confirmed once more. He was almost sorry the argument between the siblings had ended, it had been pretty entertaining and a good distraction while it lasted.
"You look just like him."
"Twins usually do don't they?" Vin smiled.
Rose shrugged, "Not always. Does Grandpa know you're here?"
Vin shook his head. "He wasn't home when I got here."
The sound of tires rolling over gravel interrupted them. Leigh looked out the window; she wasn't surprised to see Jack's truck. "They're home," she announced. She watched as the McKenna men got out of the truck, curiously eyeing the black truck in the drive. "Cassidy why don't you take Vin and Chris into the living room," she suggested.
"Sure," Cassidy quickly agreed.
"Wonder who that belongs to?" Jack commented as they walked past the truck. He knew there were no guests expected until next week. His family would never believe it but he'd actually been looking forward to the break.
"We don't have any place for guests," Brick commented.
"I guess if we have to we can do it like the old days."
"Should send them to another outfitter," was Brick's opinion.
Jack shrugged, "Maybe." He reached for the door, jerking back when it was pulled open. "Leigh," he greeted. He hadn't expected to be met at the door; he wondered if something was wrong. "Everything okay?"
Leigh grinned, "Everything's fine Jack. We have an unexpected guest."
"We saw the truck," Jack said, giving her a puzzled look.
Leigh blushed. "Right, sorry."
"You going to let us in?"
Leigh's face grew more red as she stepped aside.
"You okay?" Brick asked as he passed his sister-in-law.
Leigh nodded. "Come on," she encouraged. Taking him by the arm she led him through the kitchen and into the living room.
Brick stopped, staring at the man sitting on the couch. From the corner of his eye he noticed Jack doing the same.
"You're here," Jack finally spoke. A grin blossomed on his face as he realized his missing child was really here. Instincts took over and he stepped closer, he needed to touch the boy. At the last moment he realized his son might not be comfortable with a hug from a man who was a stranger to him. Changing course slightly he sat in the chair placed near the couch. "Why didn't you tell us you were coming?"
Vin's eyes widened as the man approached him. He'd seen that look before and was sure the man intended to hug him or something. He knew this was his father, he'd seen his picture on the website, but he didn't know him. He was relieved when Jack instead sat in a nearby chair.
Vin shrugged, "Too nervous." He shot a sidelong glance towards his brother, still standing uncertainly in the center of the room.
"Brick sit down son," Jack said. He was concerned by the look on his son's face. The younger man was obviously shaken to see his twin. Jack knew his son had been looking forward to meeting his brother yet at the same time the situation was stressful for him.
"Here you can have my seat," Cassidy jumped to her feet and moved to another chair further from the couch.
Gratefully Brick sank into the chair. It had been a shock to see his twin sitting in their living room. Intellectually he had known the other man was identical to him in looks and he had looked forward to finally meeting him. He hadn't expected to be slammed with a tidal wave of emotion not entirely his own.
The room became silent as the twins stared at each other. Vin too had been shocked by the emotions he was feeling. He realized immediately that at least half the emotions belonged to his brother. He had wondered if they would share that connection twins were reported to have. Vin honestly hadn't expected it, having been separated for so long he thought any connection would have been lost. "So you're my twin," Vin drawled. Reaching across the space between them he held out his hand.
Brick smiled shyly. Taking the extended hand, he clasped it firmly. "Brother, good to meet you," he slowly drawled. The stress of the moment was making it exceedingly difficult to find the words.
Hearing the drawl Vin jerked back like he'd been burned. He didn't know what he had expected but for his twin to mock him surely wasn't it. "Think I talk funny?" he snapped.
Chris glared at the younger McKenna. "It wasn't easy for him to come here you know."
"Let's go Chris," Vin said pushing to his feet.
"No," Brick cried out. The connection between them roiled with anger and hurt feelings making him feel sick. He opened his mouth to explain but the stress was too much, he couldn't find the words. Desperately he turned to his father, his eyes pleading for help. "Jack...tell," he managed.
Jack had stood as soon as Vin had. He wasn't going to let the boy leave thinking his twin was mocking him. He wouldn't lose his son again over a misunderstanding. "Vin..."
"He can't help it," Cassidy interrupted. "Brick wasn't making fun of you!"
"Sure sounded like it," Vin growled.
"Cassidy's right," Jack said. "Look I know you don't know us but we're your family. Will you give us the chance to explain?"
Chris didn't know what was going on but he could see that Brick was devastated by what was happening. He didn't think the man would react that way if he'd been intentionally mocking Vin. Wrapping one hand around the back of Vin's neck he gave a gentle squeeze. "Maybe you should listen Vin," he quietly suggested.
Vin turned to Chris, he couldn't believe the blond would suggest he listen to their excuses. That was all they could offer wasn't it? After a moment he nodded and turned back to his twin. "Fine, explain then."
"Why don't we all sit back down," Jack suggested. The suggestion was met with sullen silence but they did sit. Jack gave Brick a concerned glance. "You okay son?" He wasn't surprised when Brick only nodded rather than responding verbally. Vin couldn't have known but this would have been a lot easier on Brick if he'd known ahead of time that he'd be meeting his twin. Jack turned back towards the couch.
"Like Cassidy said Brick can't help that drawl."
"Really? Didn't know he grew up in Texas," Vin scoffed.
Jack sighed. Damn McKenna stubbornness and temper. "He didn't but then he isn't speaking in a Texas drawl. I know it sounds a lot like one but that isn't the case. The truth is Brick has a medical condition that causes him to talk like he does."
Vin looked at him in disbelief. "A medical condition, right."
"It's called Broca's Aphasia," Leigh interjected. She could see Jack fighting to control his own temper. McKenna men, even when you loved them you couldn't help sometimes wanting to smack them upside the head. "Brick was injured a couple of years ago."
Cassidy growled low in her throat. "You're making it sound like some kind of accident."
"It wasn't?" Vin asked. He wasn't sure he believed them but why would they resort to such an elaborate lie?
"No, it wasn't," Jack replied. "Brick was attacked one night out in the barn. The other man used a board to beat him. Cassidy found him the next morning lying in a pool of blood." Jack swallowed hard, taking a couple of deep breaths before continuing. "Brick was in a coma for weeks, the doctors weren't sure he'd even wake up. When he did we found out the damage had caused this thing called Broca's Aphasia. He had to endure months of speech therapy to regain the ability to speak properly, though much more slowly than he used to."
"That's why he has a drawl?" Chris asked. He could see that Vin was still processing the shocking information.
"Yes," Jack confirmed. "And when he's stressed he sometimes loses most of his words. That's one of the effects of Broca's, difficulty finding the correct word or losing some words all together."
"The bastard that did it get caught?" Vin growled. The thought of his twin being beaten so badly made his blood run cold.
"He's in prison."
"Good." Turning to his brother he could feel the fear coming from him. Time to fix that. "Sorry Brick. I ought to know better than to jump to conclusions."
"Not mad?" Brick needed the confirmation. He'd thought his aphasia was going to cost him his twin before he had a chance to know the man.
Vin smiled, "Not at you. Now that jerk that hurt you, well it's just a good thing he's in prison."
"So who is this?" Jack asked, indicating the blond. It was clear the two men were close, he wondered how close.
"Oh, sorry about that. This is my friend Chris Larabee," Vin introduced the intimidating blond.
"Chris," Jack held out his hand. "Jack McKenna."
"Nice to meet you," Chris greeted as they shook hands.
"You're both welcome to stay here. We're working on the cabins right now but we can find a spot for you as long as you don't mind being in a construction zone."
"That's okay, we got a room in town," Vin said.
"You sure?" Jack asked.
"I know you didn't grow up here son but I want you to know this is as much your home as anybody else's. "
Vin shrugged. "Appreciate that but it don't feel that way. Maybe it will someday but..."
"Too soon?" Brick asked.
Vin nodded. "You understand?"
"Mom when are we going to eat?" Harry asked from where he and Rose sat on the stairs.
Leigh startled. They'd been so quiet she'd forgotten the kids were in the room. "Just as soon as the roast is done," she replied. Thank goodness she had chosen to make a roast for supper today. "You'll stay for supper won't you?" she asked turning to Vin and Chris.
"Don't want to impose," Vin replied.
"You're family Vin and I'm sure Leigh made more than enough," Jack spoke in a tone that allowed for no argument.
Vin nodded. "Reckon we'll stay then."
"How'd the FBI finally find me?" Vin asked. He knew the FBI hadn't loaded the case into their computers yet but he hadn't thought to ask Agent Price.
"Actually that was thanks to a friend of the family," Jack chuckled. "The local sheriff Dale Goodwin is a friend of Brick's mostly. But they've known each other since they were kids so we all consider him a friend too. Anyway he came out here one day mad as hell, convinced Brick was playing some kind of prank on him."
"Damn they've got that in common too?" Chris playfully whined.
"Watch it cowboy I know where ya live," Vin retorted.
Jack chuckled, "Guess so. "
"So why did Dale think Brick was pranking him?" Vin asked.
"There was an article in a magazine, one for law enforcement..."
Vin groaned. "The one by Jock Steele?"
"That's the one," Jack confirmed. "There a problem with it?"
Vin shook his head. "I reckon not, just don't like Steele much. He's an annoying little gnat. None of us liked having to deal with him. He was in our way the whole time, nearly blew one of our ops too."
"You know you're going to have to thank him," Chris pointed out. After all if it hadn't been for the article Vin might never have been reunited with his family.
"How about I just don't shoot him?" Vin offered.
Chris grinned. "I really think you should thank him Vin." He only laughed when Vin glared at him.
"Guess that must've been a shock to you," Vin said turning back to his father.
"I thought he was having a heart attack," Leigh put in. "Dale yelled for me and when I came upstairs Jack was white as a sheet and not responding to Dale at all."
"Once I got over the shock and Brick had come into the office I explained everything to them."
"Brick didn't know about me?" Vin hadn't expected that. He had just assumed the whole family had known about his existence for years.
"No we had never told him. It was enough that we were carrying that burden, the children didn't need the pain."
"What happened to my...our mother?" He could have found a lot of information about his family from the FBI but Vin had decided he would rather hear it from them. If nothing else it would give them a starting point. He had noticed Price only ever mentioned his father and had assumed his mother was out of the picture but whether through death or divorce he didn't know.
"She was an incredible woman, strong," Jack smiled wistfully as he thought back to the early days of his marriage to Elizabeth. "Your kidnapping was extremely difficult for both of us but it was hardest on Elizabeth. She never stopped missing you. I'm pretty sure having Brick here was the only thing that got her through it all. Even if she couldn't see you, hug you, she knew what you looked like. She told me once that every time she would hug Brick she imagined she was hugging you too. I wish you could have met her. " Jack sighed. "We lost her to cancer when Cassidy was just over a year old," he quietly explained.
"Must've been hard for you."
"It was hard on all of us," Jack admitted. "She told me, not long before she died, that she could accept leaving me and the children only because now she'd be able to look after you. "
"How'd she know she'd be able to?"
Jack laughed. "Elizabeth wasn't somebody you could say no to, especially if it involved protecting her children. She said if God didn't want her looking after you she'd raise hell in heaven until he gave in. I don't doubt she would have either."
Vin smiled. "I think she convinced him. I imagine Mama helped her too, lord knows I had to have angels looking over me a few times."
"A few times Tanner?" Chris smirked.
Vin shrugged. "Well maybe more than a few."
Vin noticed the look on his sister's face. "Something wrong Cassidy?"
"No," she wanted to object to him calling that Tanner woman Mama but she remembered what Brick and Jack had said.
"Reckon it bothers you hearing me call another woman Mama?" Vin had always been perceptive and now was no exception.
"I know that's how you think of her but..." she trailed off uncertainly.
"You think it's disrespectful?"
"She wasn't your mother."
"She raised me for five years and put up a hell of a fight to stay with me but in the end the cancer took her. It was Cynthia Tanner that gave me the strength to carry on when I was being shuffled from one foster home to another. I know she didn't give birth to me but she didn't know I was kidnapped either. She gave everything she had to take care of me and loved me as fiercely as if I'd been her own, I think she earned the title of Mama." Vin had spoken in a soft voice throughout this small speech without a hint of anger.
"I hadn't really thought of it like that," Cassidy admitted. "Were the foster homes really bad?"
Vin looked down at his hands, clearly uncomfortable. "Some were, some were okay, but none of them was home. I never really had a home again until I met Chris."
"Cassidy why don't you help me in the kitchen, the roast should be done by now," Leigh suggested. "Rose, Harry, you set the table," she added.
Conversation during dinner was kept to lighter topics. Stories were exchanged but they were light-hearted ones suitable for the ears of children. Dinner was followed by a delicious peach pie, topped with whipped cream. When Vin commented that it was his favorite he found another thing he shared with his twin.
"Let me show you around a little Vin," Jack invited following dessert. Maybe he was being a little selfish but he wanted to spend some time alone with his son. And he had something to discuss with him.
Vin followed his father outside. They walked in silence as Jack led the way towards the cabins. In a voice filled with pride he explained how the cabins had been Brick's idea and the positive effect they'd had on the family business. From there they made their way to the barn. Vin walked straight to the horses, scratching behind ears and generally becoming friends with the equine members of the family.
"So, um, Vin you and Chris...you're together?" Jack stumbled through the question. The two men seemed closer than friends and the remark about finding a home with Chris had convinced Jack there was something there.
"That a problem?" Vin asked. They weren't of course; Chris was as straight as they came. He, himself, was bi, though he didn't advertise it. He might as well find out now if his family was going to have a problem with his sexuality.
"No, no, I just wondered," Jack quickly responded.
"You sure?" Vin didn't want him to just say what he thought was wanted. "You can be honest."
"I am. I really don't have a problem with the two of you being together, well as long as he doesn't hurt you. Then we'll have a problem," Jack grinned.
"You can relax Jack. I ain't with Chris, we're just good friends, brothers you could say," Vin let him off the hook.
Jack shook his head. "Yeah, you're Brick's twin alright," he said giving his son a rueful smile.
Inside the house a similar conversation was taking place.
"So Chris how long have you and Vin been together?" Leigh asked.
Chris who had just taken a sip of coffee promptly spit it out. "What?"
Leigh blushed. "I guess that means you're not?" she cautiously asked.
Chris shook his head. "I head the ATF team that Vin is sharpshooter on."
"Yeah I remember reading that in the article."
"Then why would you think we're a couple?" Chris was incredulous, were they giving off some kind of vibe?
Leigh shrugged, "I suppose you just seem closer than a boss and employee or even friends."
Chris looked towards the door. He could see Brick standing on the porch, gazing into the distance. The younger man was probably watching Vin and Jack. He wondered why Brick didn't join them. "He's like a brother to me. When we met it was during an op, Vin was working as a bounty hunter at the time."
"A bounty hunter? " Leigh was surprised. The man she'd met hadn't seemed the type to hunt other men down for money.
Chris nodded. "He was good too. It happened that the fugitive he was tracking was involved with the people we were trying to take down. One of my men got caught and they were about to execute him. I started towards them, saw Vin, our eyes met and it was like we could read each other's minds. The next thing I know we're working together like we've been doing it for years as we took steps to save Nathan's life. Once the paper work was done I offered him a job and he accepted."
"Sorry about the mistake," Leigh apologized.
"Not a problem," Chris waved it off. "Just do me a favor and don't say anything to Vin. I can just imagine the mileage he'd get out of something like that."
Brick laughed. He had heard the entire conversation from his place on the porch. More importantly he had heard Jack's question to Vin, though he hadn't heard his brother's reply. "Too late," he said as he stepped inside.
Chris raised an eyebrow.
"Jack asked Vin the same thing," Brick grinned. Now that he was feeling more relaxed he was once more able to speak properly, though still in his now normal slow drawl.
Chris let his head fall back against the chair. "Great." He glared as the younger man's laughter rang out. He wasn't too surprised to see his glare had as much effect on Brick as it did Vin, that is to say none. "Why didn't you go with them?"
"Jack needs time with him," Brick replied with a shrug.
"I do but...I can give Jack time too."
"Sounds like something Vin would do," Chris smiled.
"Yeah?" Brick couldn't help being pleased at finding another common point with his brother. He had been worried that there would be no way for them to connect, in spite of being twins. Now that he had met his brother it was clear his fears were unfounded.
"So what was Guy like," Vin asked a few days later as he sat in the kitchen with Leigh.
Leigh smiled wistfully. There was a time when she could barely speak of her husband but it had been several years now since they lost him. And as the old adage said, time heals all wounds, even, as she had found, the most painful.
"Guy was quiet, strong, sure of himself and his place in the world. He belonged here," she continued, gesturing outside. "He was a part of this place and he loved it. I saw it the first time he brought me home to meet the family."
"You loved him," Vin stated.
"With all my heart," Leigh quietly confirmed. "He wasn't perfect though. He had the McKenna temper, though he wasn't as quick to anger as Jack or Brick. You remind me of him in some ways."
Leigh nodded, "In your patience and your obvious comfort with the outdoors."
"Jack and Brick seem pretty patient too."
"They haven't always been. I'd say that's one of the good things that came out of the attack on Brick. The worry and uncertainty over Brick's prognosis forced Jack to become more patient. When he woke up from the coma both men had to learn patience as Brick worked to overcome the disability that animal left him with. And even though they have a better relationship now than they ever had before I know Jack would gladly return to the days of nearly constant misunderstandings if it would mean Brick hadn't suffered."
Vin nodded. He could understand that. He would gladly give up the man he had become if it would have allowed him to keep his Mama with him.
"What was she like?" Cassidy asked as she and her newfound brother walked through the woods.
"Mama?" Vin asked.
"Mrs. Tanner," Cassidy confirmed. She tried to understand and on some level she did but still she wasn't comfortable referring to the woman as her brother's mother. True Vin had told them something of her that first night but strong and fought to stay alive didn't really tell her much. Anybody would fight to stay alive. What she was struggling to understand was the strength of his connection with a woman not his mother and who he couldn't possibly remember much about.
"From what Jack said, she was a lot like Mom." Vin was unwilling to dishonor either woman and had finally compromised with Mama for Cynthia Tanner and Mom for Elizabeth McKenna. "She was strong and loving. She fought to stay here, did everything the doctor said no matter how sick the treatments made her. And I never did without. She could barely hold herself up after a treatment but she made sure I ate, made sure to spend time with me just reading and cuddling. She was a good woman." Vin paused, he didn't know if he should say anything about that last day. He'd never spoken of it to anybody, not even Chris but he knew Cassidy was struggling to understand the bond he shared with a woman who wasn't his mother except she was.
"I guess. But now you know the truth."
"Reckon I do," Vin rasped. "But that truth is just the bare facts Cassidy. I never knew our mother," he glanced at the girl, "reckon you didn't either really."
"No, but I know who she was."
"Cause you grew up hearing about her?"
"I didn't have that and even though I'm hearing about her now that won't mean I stop thinking of Cynthia Tanner as my Mama." Vin inhaled deeply. "That last day was one of her good days. Ironic ain't it? Reckon God was giving me one last good memory to carry through the hard years to come. She felt real good most of the day, took me to the park and bought me ice cream. We hardly ever had the money for such a treat." Vin smile wistfully seeing himself as a small boy holding tight to the hand of the most important woman in his life. "When we got home Mama sat in her rocker and just held me in her lap, singing to me. She had a beautiful voice, like an angel."
Cassidy stared at her brother unaware of the tears streaking her cheeks, tears that matched those on Vin's face.
"I must've fallen asleep at some point. When I woke up I was laying in my bed, the covers tucked around me and my teddy bear in my arms. I got up and went looking for Mama. I thought she was just asleep; she looked so peaceful that I didn't want to wake her but I was hungry. I couldn't wake her up no matter how hard I shook her. I guess I knew she was gone but I was only five and I didn't really understand what that meant. The neighbor found me laying across her body, sobbing and begging her to wake up." Blinking rapidly he came out of the memory. Turning his gaze to his sister he was touched by the tears he saw on her face. Reaching out he gently wiped them away. "Do you understand now Cassidy? I can't stop calling her Mama just because she didn't give birth to me."
Cassidy swallowed past the lump in her throat as she stared into the pain filled blue eyes of her brother. She nodded. "I'm sorry Vin," she apologized as she wrapped her arms around him. Together they cried for the mothers lost too soon and for the little boy left alone in a hard world, a little boy that should have grown up happy and loved.
"Do you really have to go back?" Brick asked. He'd only met his twin but the moment their eyes had met it was as if a missing piece had been found. He didn't want to let him go.
"Got a job to do," Vin replied. "I wish I could stay longer," he admitted. "We've got a lot of catching up to do."
"A lot to make up for," Brick said.
Vin raised an eyebrow. "Make up for?"
"You spent a lot of years in foster homes. You said yourself some of them were pretty bad. And while you were living with strangers, maybe being mistreated," and Brick prayed that wasn't the case, "I was arguing with Jack over grades and curfews."
"You ain't got anything to feel guilty over little brother." As he'd hoped the little brother quip distracted Brick from his unwarranted guilt.
"Little brother? We're twins, how do you figure that?"
"Jack said I was born two minutes before you, so," he nudged the other man's shoulder, "little brother you are."
Brick chuckled. "Still you should've been here beside me, arguing with Jack over grades and curfews."
"Let it go Brick," Vin advised. "You can't turn back time. I won't pretend my life hasn't been hard but there's been good in it too. When I met Chris and the team I gained a family and because of them and an annoying little gnat I found the family I had been lost to. All we can do is take life the way it comes."
"You make it sound simple."
"I know it ain't easy to let go of the past, to stop thinking about all the what ifs but if you don't it'll just make you crazy. In your case, though, it might be crazier," Vin smirked.
"We are twins you know," Brick reminded his brother a wide grin spreading across his face.
"You got a point?"
"If I'm crazy then so are you," and now it was Brick who smirked.
"Reckon there's five men in Denver and one here that'd agree with ya," Vin laughed. "Come on little brother, we got another two weeks," Vin threw an arm around Brick's shoulders. "Let's not waste them dreading the ending of ‘em."
Two Weeks Later:
Vin reluctantly packed his bags. The past three weeks had been some of the best of his life as he got to know the family that had been lost to him all these years. Or maybe he should say the family he'd been lost to. Either way he had found a piece of himself here in what Jack called the Great McKenna Outdoors, a piece he hadn't known was missing.
"You almost ready?" Chris asked. "They're expecting us you know," he reminded his younger friend. He had enjoyed watching as Vin almost blossomed before his eyes over the past few weeks. Being with his family obviously agreed with him and Chris couldn't help wishing they could stay longer. But work and Denver beckoned; there were criminals to put away and they were needed.
"Yeah," Vin smiled. Picking up his bag he headed out to the truck. From here they would go to the McKenna ranch once more for another of Leigh's wonderful meals before heading back to Denver. Vin couldn't wipe away the wave of melancholy as he thought of leaving his new found family behind.
"You'll be able to come back and they can always visit Denver," Chris reminded him, almost as if he had read his mind.
Vin nodded. Chris was right. He would be back again, as often as the job would allow. A few weeks ago he hadn't known the McKenna family existed or that he was a part of them, hadn't known what he was missing. Now that they'd found each other he wouldn't lose them again. "Damn," he suddenly cursed.
Chris looked up from putting the key in the ignition, "What?"
"I really do have to tell Steele thank you."
Chris laughed loudly as he turned the key.
Feedback to: email@example.com