Dec 2005

Spoilers for most of this past season of WAT. I've never done something like this before, but it latched on and wouldn't go away. It's definitely a pre-emptive strike against some WAT storyline elements that have me worried, so I'm getting my version out first, and what better way than bringing Vin to the rescue! 8-)

Obviously none of the characters you've heard of belong to me; I suppose the ones you haven't do. It's all in good fun, and so I can quit fretting about what this and that scene are foreshadowing. No suing — America's too litigious already (you wouldn't get much, anyway) and really, how is this any different from the umpteen billion follow-up books in the Star Wars, Star Trek, and every other scifi universe?

Oh, I guess there's a fair amount of swear-words, but nothing you wouldn't hear in daily conversations, sad to say.

Friday evening
Martin hurt. He hurt a lot. Those damn horse-pills had knocked him on his ass a month ago, so he'd stopped taking them; now they were barely taking the edge off the sharp, throbbing ache in his hip. It had hurt when he rolled down the stairs, but a kind of numb-hurt. That, and he'd been pissed that the guy surprised him. Way to go Marty. Half-assed, white-collar, Daddy's got-to-get-him-a-job, and now he can't even deal with an exchange of fire and a 2x4 without screwing up. He'd thought he was gonna have a heart attack when that guy first started firing. Shit, he hurt!

He tried pacing the living room and hall, but it wasn't getting better. Shooting pains kept lancing down to his screwed-up knee (and wasn't THAT a great shade of purple and black) and up into his screwed up guts, all the way to his shoulder. Shit! This was not an ibuprofen-kind of pain. And he didn't have anything else, and he didn't want to want anything else. But God!, this was a puke and whimper kinda pain...

He finally nuked a wet towel as hot as he could stand, and crashed on the couch in his gym shorts. He let the TV drone on and tried to get a grip on himself. He didn't need to call and whine to Sam. Yeah, she'd probably want to come over and take care of him, and that sounded really good at the moment, but he was also sick of needing taking care of. God, he missed Aunt Bonnie. He wished he could call Viv, she always seemed to be able to just handle everything so easily, but she had a family and a life...

Just relax, let the muscles calm down, it'll stop... it's got to. He closed his eyes and scrubbed them hard to make the burning go away. His eyelashes were suspiciously wet when he finally fell asleep.

+ + + + + + +

Danny had run back in to find his cable bill — that's what he got for doing personal stuff at work — leave shit scattered everywhere. But he didn't like paying it on-line. The memories of picking which bill to pay each month were plenty vivid. So he did it the old-fashioned way.

He was just turning to go when his eye caught the orange flash in the trash next to his desk. No, his trash was in the footwell; the custodian always left it there and he kicked it over when he sat down in the mornings. This was... Elena's? Or Martin's. He took a good look — nothing gross — and dug it out. Yup, Martin's. His Codiene3 from the shooting; the prescription was 2 months old. But he'd heard more rattle in it when he'd caught Martin taking them this morning. "One every 8 hours"?! Shit, Fitz had pounded down at least two that he saw, and the rest were gone now, maybe 12 hours later. And he knew how that stuff could fuck you up. Martin hadn't looked like it touched him at all.

Shit; not good. Real not good. He sat down and just stared at the bottle. One kinda depressant was a lot like another, and he and Martin had joked once that Martin would've gone for uppers, not downers. Caffeine, sugar, those were his fixes; not much booze that he'd ever mentioned. Said he'd never tried smoking either. The guy was a serious jogger. Marathon-type stuff. He liked the rush, not the fuzzy-blanket.

Danny kept staring at the bottle. One refill left. Huh. And he trashed the bottle. You still had to take the thing in to get it filled again, right? So, maybe there wasn't a problem? But then why was Martin eating these like candy? He'd said his hip was screwed up again, but he wasn't limping around anymore. Not jogging up the halls, but not limping. He'd been kind of perking back up, until those stairs.

He hadn't looked real good today. Real quiet. No smart-ass comments. No burgers for breakfast, either. Not much for any meal that Danny'd seen lately. He hadn't really asked how the guy was doing. He'd just let it slide when Martin came back to work. Shit, you don't just go runnin' out of a car and start a fire-fight without at least looking at your partner. Way to go there, smart guy. He'd finally been kind of getting along with Martin, too. He hadn't been too friendly when the head honcho's kid first joined the team. Especially with that dumb-ass stunt on his first case — gettin' cracked in the head. But that was no pansy move. Stupid, not SOP, got himself ripped a new one, but for all he didn't look like much, Martin was no wimp.

It had taken a while to drag him out of his shell. Hell, it still seemed like the guy kept waiting to be smacked down. And what was up with that?! Rich, white-bread family. His dad can get him any job he wants, and Marty can't hardly stand to be in the same room with the guy. Sam had taken to calling him "Marty" a while after that thing with his aunt. Didn't that suck. But "Marty" fit a lot better — not so stiff and formal.

He had a bad feeling about this bottle. A deep-in-his-gut bad feeling. He dropped the bottle back in the trash and grabbed his jacket.

+ + + + + + +


Martin startled awake. Cell phone, where was the cell phone? On the door-table, with his keys. He rolled off the couch, damn near fell when pain shot up and down from his hip, and limped over.

"H'llo. Yeah?"

"Hey, man! Open the door!"

"What? Danny?! Where are you? What door?"

"Your door! I got pizza. Come on. Open up. We can watch your fancy TV. Sam's not there, is she? I thought she said she was going to her sister's this weekend."

"Uh. Yeah. No. She's not here. What do you — "

Danny started kicking the bottom of the door.

"Come on, man. Lemme in!"

Martin fumbled with the bolt and Danny walked in before he could even reach for the knob.

Danny closed his phone, closed Martin's, and put them on the table by the door. The guy did not look good. In his shorts and t-shirt; hair sticking up. Martin just stood there blinking at him. He turned away to find the kitchen and saw Martin finally move. He tried to step forward. Lurched, more like. Somehow Danny got a hand under Martin's arm without dumping the pizza on the carpet. They made it over to the couch, barely. Martin sank down, looking miserable, and Danny dropped the pizza on the coffee table. Martin hadn't said anything since Danny came in. He just sat there, kind of hunched over, panting a little, with his eyes clenched shut.

"Shit, man. You look awful. You alright?"

Martin just sat there.

"Well, duh. That'd be a 'no,' huh? Alright man, don't puke or anything. I'm gonna find you some water. Ok?"

Danny crouched down to get in Martin's line of sight, but his eyes were still closed. Martin bobbed his head up and down, and Danny got up and went to root through the kitchen.

He came back to find Martin leaning back on the couch, kind of slumped onto the right arm, and wincing as he rubbed at his hip, eyes still clenched shut. Danny'd had to wash a glass. Granted, he'd only been here a couple times, but he'd gotten the impression Martin was a neat-freak. Now the sink was full of dishes, shoes were in a pile at the door, and sweats draped over the other half of the couch.

He tapped the glass against Martin's hand until he took it, then crouched back down.

"What's goin' on, man?"

Martin took a couple sips before opening tired eyes to meet Danny's serious gaze.

Martin sighed in frustration. "This should be over by now. I thought it was all getting better."

"Yeah, well. You look like shit. You didn't look this bad earlier. Is this old, or new? You went down those stairs pretty hard, man."

Martin's eyes had drifted shut again, but he opened them to stare back at Danny, apologetic.

"New? Maybe? I dunno. I didn't think it hurt that bad at the time, but when I got up this morning my whole side had seized up. I tried to take the last of the pain-pills I had? But... they mess with me — those first ones, that you caught me taking... well... they... didn't stay down... So... I chewed up the last of them, and... I suppose a little more of those got into my system before... well... before they... uh... they came back up, too..." He sighed again. "I'm just so sick of feeling like crap."

He thumped his head against the back of the couch.

"Anyone would. I thought you were dead, man. It's gonna take time. I know everyone says that and it sounds stupid, but it's true. It's gettin' better right?"

Martin made a face and drank more of his water.

"It was. Now I'm not so sure." He shut his eyes and leaned his head back against the couch.

"Ya know, umm... we probably ought to take you to a doctor."

Martin didn't say anything, but his shoulders slumped.

"You coulda torn something. And it's not like the tendon or whatever will just grown back on."

Martin's shoulders slumped more.

"Besides, we'll need the paperwork for the insurance at work."

Martin sighed and opened his eyes.

"I really don't want to."

"You really don't have a choice, man. You can't go into the field like this."

"Jack's going to kill me."

"Naw. He's gonna kill me for not knowing you were hurt. That's... that's twice, now — "

"Hey. No, Danny. Look — "

"Come on." Danny popped to his feet. He wasn't ready for that conversation yet. "You probably need clothes for the ER."

"Maybe we could make do with Urgent Care?"

"With a knee like that? And you're hip's gotta look worse, right? They'd just send you to the ER, anyway. Might as well go there in the first place."

Danny grabbed the top pair of sweats and tossed them to Martin.

"I'm gonna throw this in the fridge."

He took the pizza into the kitchen and stalled a while so Martin could have some privacy.

When he got back, Martin had the top on, but looked to have stalled out with only one leg and the other foot in the pants, on over his shorts.

"Problems?" Danny smiled in sympathy.

"I think I'm stuck. I should've done the left first. I can't bend my knee enough to get my foot the rest of the way in, and now I can't bend my hip enough to get them off and start over."

"The things I do for you." Danny griped good-naturedly while he helped get the pants on right.

"I suppose you want shoes, too?" he joked, and grabbed the old running shoes at the door.

"Thanks, man." Martin grimaced as Danny helped him stand, but didn't hesitate to lean on the offered support as they made their way out the door.

+ + + + + + +

Special Agent Christopher Larabee, ATF Teamleader, Region 7, look a last look around his office, patted his notebook and jacket as reminders he had them, and turned off the lights. They were heading out for a raid on a major "suspected" meth cook/distributor in 30 minutes. All the guys were deep into their prelim routines: psych profiler Josiah Sanchez, PhD was intent on a journal, biochemist Nathan Jackson, MD, PhD was on the phone with his wife, Raine, explosives expert William "Buck" Willmington and computer specialist JD Dunne were in the loading dock doing a last-minute electronics and weapons check, undercover operative Ezra Standish was out somewhere having an $8 cappuccino before going to his "buy," and Vin Tanner, his second in command, was just strolling back up the hall from the bathroom. He'd put on the black flight pants, tee and combat boots he preferred when he was on rooftops. When he saw Larabee he smirked good-humoredly and flicked his still-damp braid for the "boss" to see. The clean plait had been Larabee's compromise with regs in order to honor Tanner's emblem of his Comanche heritage. When not in a potentially hostile situation (a raid or a meeting with the higher-ups), Tanner's brown, slightly curly hair hung loose to the middle of his shoulder blades.

"Ready to go, Boss-man?" Tanner drawled as he slouched bonelessly against the nearest desk.

Larabee nodded and glanced at the other two: Jackson was just closing his cell, and Sanchez was glancing between his article and Tanner.

"Josiah? Ready?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes. Certainly." He put down the journal he'd been so intent on.

"Watcha readin' there, 'Ziah?" Tanner craned half-heartedly toward the desk. He was mildly interested, but most of his focus was already on the insert-strategy he and Larabee'd laid out for the bust. He'd be more interested later.

"Just the inter-agency quarterly. Keeping track of old acquaintances, you know. Remind me to tell you later, brother." The big man shoved the newsletter in his back pocket when he stood up and the four made their way to the elevator.

+ + + + + + +

Danny came-to to the sound of gunfire. His vision was fuzzy as he looked around for the source of the noise.


Still in a daze, he watched Setaina topple, riddled with bullets.

Shit. Shit. Gotta get that bastard!

He rolled out of the car and exchanged fire with Dornvald until the vehicle was too far away to safely fire at.

Damn it, Martin. Thanks for the help there.

He came around the back of the car and peered in.


Martin was sagged against the seatbelt, looking down at the passenger seat. Just staring.

"Come on, Martin. Quit screwing around. Why didn't you back me up?"

Martin didn't answer. He didn't blink either.

"Martin?" Danny reached out, half-afraid. Then he noticed the blood seeping through the gap in Martin's suit jacket. And dripping from his mouth to puddle in his lap. He grabbed Martin's chin and pulled his face up. The eyes were already filming over.

"Danny, wake up!"

Danny jerked awake and looked up at Jack, who was shaking his shoulder.

"Jack! What're you doing here?"

"I get notified any time one of the team's admitted. It's standard. What the hell's going on? What's wrong with Martin?"

Danny tried to scrub the nightmare from his face. Shit. He hadn't had one of those in weeks. And his mouth felt like dirty socks. How the hell long had he been waiting, anyway?

"What time is it? I — We got here about 8 — "

"It's 12:30. They said Martin's getting an MRI — We've got some time. Let's go find some coffee and get you awake."

Jack pulled the younger man to his feet. Danny looked half-asleep. He looked scared.

"Danny? What's going on with Martin? Did he get hurt?"

"Um — Yeah. When he fell down those stairs the other day... He said it screwed his hip up again. I — I went over tonight to see if he was ok... And — He couldn't hardly stand... His knee's the size of a melon. He's messed up, Jack..."

Danny looked up as Jack lead him into the small cafeteria. "I screwed up, Jack. I did it again. I'm — I'm sorry. I keep — I — I saw him come back up the stairs. He was limping. He — But he said he was ok — "

Danny was babbling like he had just after the shooting. Jack had attributed it to getting his bell rung. Now he was starting to think this was how Taylor reacted to extreme stress. He'd never seen Danny act this way in the four years he'd been on the team. 'Course, he'd also never had a team member seriously injured in an attack. Yeah, they'd all been stressed when Sam was in that damn bookstore. But that was a drop gone bad. They had to be concerned with the rest of the hostages, not just react. And Viv's heart problems had just kind of been sprung on them — first she seemed fine, then she was in the hospital. Nothing any of them could really do. This was turning around and finding your coworker bleeding to death. And still being afraid that Humpty Dumpty's glue hadn't quite set.

Jack pushed Danny into a chair and got two coffees. Large, black.

"Alright. Go slow. From the beginning."

"Ok. Ok. Uh.. We came out onto the roof... And... the perp was running right at us. I saw the board on the ground behind him. But I just didn't think anything about it... Shit, Jack! Why didn't I think?! He stopped when he saw us, and he started back the other way... And then Martin — " Danny was babbling again.

"Whoa. Whoa. Danny, slow down. Drink your coffee. Ok. Start with today. He seemed fine at work. I saw you both leave. It didn't sound like you had plans. What happened this evening?"

+ + + + + + +

"Man, that was so awesome when Vin went in through the window! That is so cool!" JD gushed as he recounted, yet again, the sight of the team's assault on the meth house from his position in the surveillance van.

Buck, who'd been doing a fair job of getting the computer tech drunk, leaned back in his chair.

"Hell, JD. I could do that. Ain't nothin' but swingin' on a rope."

"Gotta make sure ya don't go through th' window ass-first, Bucklin," Tanner jabbed, as he reached out his boot and gave Willmington's chair a threatening nudge up before forcing it back down onto all four feet.

Vin was half-way through his first tequila shot, and not likely to go any further, and all the way through his third Coke. He'd probably end up driving Willmington and Dunne home. Sanchez and Jackson were still sober, but Nathan would take the quietly inebriated Standish, since their condo complexes were only a mile apart, and Josiah would be given Larabee's keys as soon as the team-leader ordered his third drink, which was just about...

"Another, sir?" The waitress knew when to time her visits.

"Josiah? Your spare room open tonight?"

"Certainly. It's yours, Chris."

Larabee tossed his keys to the profiler and ordered another whiskey.

"What can I get anyone else?" she asked smiling and glanced around the table. Buck and JD ordered another pitcher. Ezra was still sipping his third Eden Ridge, Nathan waved her off, and Josiah asked for another coffee.


"Think I'll have another Coke, miss. And how about an order of nachos. Extra jalapenos. Oh! And a bottle of Tabasco."

"You got it," she chirped and left.

"Ah, Vin. Why d'you always have to do that? It ruins the flavor!"

"That's why I do it, Buck. Best way to keep you away from my food, 'les I wanna spit on the plate when it gets here." Vin laughed. JD was doing a much better job of getting Buck drunk than the other way around. Kid kept switching their glasses so Buck always had the full one. He tried not to think about the back-wash.

"That and them peppers make me fart all night."

"I didn't need to know that about you, Buck."

Vin shared a look with the other sober members of their party. Sitting next to Nathan, Ezra was moaning that he'd lost his favorite loafers. One of the meth-heads had knocked over a cooking pan, and the mostly dry product had gone everywhere. Ezra was the closest, and his clothes had had to be destroyed as soon as the scene was secure. On top of that indignity he'd had to have an emergency shower and scrub-down to get the stuff off his skin and hair. The biochemist had been plying the undercover expert with food and fluids to make sure any drug he'd accidentally ingested went through his system as quickly as possible. Chris was watching the scene with half-closed eyes, pleasantly but not overly buzzed. It had all gone down just as planned. No problems (expect Ezra's wardrobe). They'd finish up the paperwork Saturday, then get a couple of comp days to have the entire week off for Thanksgiving.

+ + + + + + +

"So, 'Ziah, " Vin quipped as he popped a sliced jalapeno in his mouth. "It's later. Gonna tell me what in that paper had you on-point?"

"Ah, yes Brother. How could I forget?" Josiah pulled the much-abused newsletter from his jacket pocket, where he'd tucked it after they'd all cleaned up, and opened it.

"Do you have any family back East, perhaps?" he asked while he studied the pages again, as if he still couldn't quite accept whatever he found there.

"Me?" Sanchez nodded. "Not so's I know of. Family's been in Texas an' New Mexico since time began. How come?"

Josiah looked up. "Well then, Vin. You have a doppelganger."

He tossed the newsletter across the table to the team second.

Vin glanced at it briefly and frowned. "'Killed in the Line of Duty: Manuel Ortiz-'"

"The next section — 'Injured,' about a third of the way down."

He scanned down and suddenly went still.

"What the fuck?! Fritz...Fitz — Gerald? Martin? He looks like me! Shit! He looks exactly like me!"

"He could be you, Brother. Shorter hair, less tan, but nearly identical."

Vin propped his head on a fist and stared intently at the page. "Damn. They don't give you much info on these, do they? 'Missing Persons, FBI, New York, NY. Recovering.' That's a fuckin' lot of help." Vin continued to stare at his mirror image in the tiny 1x1 picture. Larabee leaned over from his right, while Nathan looked over Ezra from the left.

"A lot of times they don't even give pictures. He must not do any undercover work," Nathan added.

"You gotta 'twin,' Vin? That's way cool!" JD was trying to keep Buck from stealing his fried ravioli. "I thought you didn't have any brothers or sisters. Come on Buck. Get your own!"

"I don't, JD. I have no idea where this guy came from."

"I know! Twins sep'rated at birth! Like the Corsican Brothers — Cheech and Chong! Hey, we gotta rent that movie. Tha's a classic — " he slurred.

"Alright, Buck. You're cut off." Vin laughed. "Time ta go home." Vin grabbed his jacket and waited for Larabee and JD to let him out of the back end of the booth.

"Hey, JD? Go buy him a bottle of water, will you? He's gonna be hung over enough as-is."

"Sure, Vin." JD went over to the bar while Vin picked the newsletter back up.

"So, whatcha going to do?" Chris asked.

Vin shook his head. "Gotta wait until morning and call m' grandparents, maybe they'll know who this could be. How do ya call someone up an' tell 'em they could be your double? Guy's gonna think I'm on crack." He snorted and grinned. "Mind if I hang on to it, Josiah?"

"By all means, Brother. I hope this turns out to be a good thing."

"Yeah, 'Ziah. Me too."

+ + + + + + +

"Well, Mr. Fitzgerald. We've got your test results back-" The attending walked into the cubicle and stopped when he noticed Danny and Jack.

Martin was in obvious pain, but not excruciating now that he wasn't being told to twist this way and that, and noticed the pause.

"It's ok. Let's just hear it. What'd I do now?"

"If you don't mind my speaking in front of — "

"No. It's ok. They'd both need to know anyway."

"Well, first off I'd like to get your electrolytes stabilized. I imagine that's not helping you at all. Have you been eating properly?"

Martin bowed his head. Busted. "Not really. I've... been having trouble keeping things down since — since I got shot."

"What kinds of foods are giving you problems, exactly?"

"Umm..." Martin rubbed his hand across his mouth. "Meat, a lot of vegetables, anything really heavy. I've always been allergic to raw dairy, but now any kind bothers me. I'm getting really tired of rice and applesauce."

"Not to make you uncomfortable in front of your friends, but do you mean nausea or diarrhea?"

Martin flushed and scrubbed at his temple self-consciously. "Um... yes?"

The doctor made notes on his clipboard. "We may have to look into that. You're not running any fever, so I don't think there could be any problem with the original wound — the small intestines, right?"


"I think you'd be having more pronounced problems if that wasn't healing properly. Sometimes a trauma can exacerbate slight existing allergies — "

"I — Hamburger used to make me sick when I was a kid. But it went away."

"How did it 'go away'?"

"They — I — kept eating it until it didn't. Make me sick, that is."

"Strictly beef? What about chicken? Or lamb?"

"I don't like lamb. I — I didn't think about chicken. I don't remember it ever bothering me before. But the hamburger — Uh... I didn't want to try anything else. Soy stayed down ok. I have to mash it up, otherwise it's kind of slimy, though. Scrambled eggs are ok, I guess. I'm not really fond of them..."

"Ok. Well, I'd strongly recommend a supplement. And perhaps some nutrition bars or powdered-drinks, for the time being. You should really talk to your doctor about this..."

Antoine paused and gave the man a questioning glance — young guy, reasonably fit —

"I — I don't really have a regular doctor..."

"In that case I'm going to recommend you to a nutritionist. I know it seems trivial, but it's not. In fact, I'd say it's contributed to the problem."

"Huh?" Martin glanced at Jack. Shit. Was this his fault, too?

"Have you ever had stress fractures, Mr. Fitzgerald?"

"'Martin,' please. Um... Yeah. I used to get them when I'd do marathons and stuff. In my feet. But I haven't done any of those recently."

"Well 'Martin,' with your dairy allergy I suspect you have low blood calcium normally. You certainly do at the moment. It's not really uncommon in men. Your recent additional food allergies have probably made it worse. When you fell down the stairs you appear to have developed several stress fractures in your femur — in the neck where the bone articulates with the pelvis — " Antoine pointed to his own hip joint.

Danny blinked in confusion. "Are you saying Martin broke his hip?!"

"It's not broken. But there are at least three visible, though incomplete fractures."

"So, what do we do about it?" Jack asked.

Antoine shrugged apologetically and addressed all three. "There's not much we can do with the hip. Luckily this isn't really severe. We won't need to pin anything — it should all heal fine on its own. But — " And he fixed a firm gaze on the younger, obviously disappointed and somewhat embarrassed man on the bed, "You're going to have to stay off it. Preferably reclining, not sitting. And I mean most of the day. Do you have any sick time, any vacation time?"

Jack walked over to stand closer to Martin. The poor guy looked utterly miserable. "He'll have all he needs. What do you recommend?"

Martin looked up at Jack briefly, surprised and cautiously hopeful.

"Really, I'd recommend about six weeks. A solid three to four off his feet completely: 18-20 hours a day." He turned back to Martin, again, whose mouth had fallen open.

"Um.. You're kidding, right?! What about crutches or something? I — "

He looked up at Jack again. Shit, he really was going to get fired. Twice in how many months? God, he really was a fuck-up sometimes.

Antoine hardened his resolve and proceeded to crush his patient's hopes. "I am going to give you crutches, but they're only for absolute necessities — bed to bathroom to sofa. Even if you kept your weight off it, just the rest of your leg hanging from your hip puts a strain on the femoral neck. It would take twice as long to heal, and especially this time of year, the chances of you falling and making the existing fractures worse is unfortunately quite high. I don't want your foot to touch the ground for at least three weeks, probably more."

Jack looked at his agent curl his shoulders even tighter in response to the restrictions. Martin was an active guy, this must be killing him. He should've made him hold off coming back to work so soon. Maybe then this wouldn't have happened. But Martin had seemed so earnest about getting back to work, as if he couldn't stand to stay home one more day.

"You're really going to need follow up on this. That time may be enough, it may not. Everyone's different. I'll give you the name of a good osteopath. I don't think a GP would be as versed in these. Although a sports doctor might do just as well, if you'd prefer?"

Martin shrugged. "I — I don't care." He shut his eyes. He hurt, and this was his own stupid fault. If he'd just sucked it up and choked something down he wouldn't be here now. And the stupid, damned milk. He'd felt so... relieved... when he got out on his own and refused to ever drink it again —

"What about his knee?" Danny asked.

Martin looked up. Oh yeah, there was more wrong with him.

"Luckily that's just soft-tissue. There doesn't appear to be any damage to the joint. It's just swelling. Painful, but it'll heal. I'd recommend keeping cold packs on it for a few days."

Saturday Morning

Chris was into the office by 8:30 — not bad for a Saturday. Nevertheless, Vin was already there, his report on the bust almost finished.

"You're sick, you know that, right?"

Vin grinned. "That's what you get for swilling the fire-water, Boss. I 'bin up, had m' run, and got here by 7:00. Th' thing's almost done." He waved at the monitor.

"Nice." Chris walked toward the suite kitchenette, and suddenly froze in his steps. "Hey! Does that mean you made that sludge you call coffee?!"

"I per'fer to call it 'th' simple man's expresso'," Tanner smirked. But I drank all a' that already. You c'n make some a' that watered-down dish water ya like."

Larabee was coming out of the coffee room with a mug of unadulterated brew when Tanner got up from the keyboard to go stare out the bank of windows. Probably going through the sequence of events last night one more time before he closed his report... Or not. He was staring at Josiah's newsletter — looking at the miniscule picture in the natural light.

Chris was going to leave the man undisturbed and get his own paperwork started when Tanner turned around.

"Hey, Chris? Ya think maybe you could look inta this fella fer me?"

"I thought you were going to talk to your grandparents first?"

"I already done that — talked to Grandad this morning after m'run.." He hesitated, staring off into space.

"He an' Nana ain't ever heard of any 'Fitzgeralds,' but they didn't know... He — Grandad said he weren't sure where m'mother was livin' 'fore she come home with me, but it coulda been back East. Nana said she got a postcard from one a' the Carolinas couple'a months before..." Tanner shrugged.

"Could be we's related after-all. It'd be nice ta know. Mebe it'll keep th' ol' folks from gittin' on me 'bout gettin' married." He grinned.

Larabee nodded. "Sure. I'll find out his supervisor and give 'em a call."

"Thanks, Boss." Vin straightened from the window and ambled back to his desk.

+ + + + + + +

Martin was just stowing his crutches against the foot of the couch when someone knocked on the door. Having already been busted once by Danny, he called out first.

"Yeah, who is it?"

"It's Jack."

"Oh, hey! Just a minute — "

He laboriously got back up, clumped over to the door and undid the bolt.

"Hey, Jack. Come on in."

Jack grinned at the array on the coffee table. Martin's dvd player and laptop were laid out, along with a stack of dvds, the cell phone, the cordless, and — he chuckled — there was a mostly empty coffee maker on the floor.

"Looks like you're all set."

"Yeah." Martin grinned. "Danny came by this morning and set me up. He even brought me some Flintstones vitamins, since that's my age-group, he says."

"Nice." He looked a lot better... well, a little, anyway. "Well, go on. Sit back down."

Martin hesitated. He was already looking for any excuse.

"Well, but do you want some coffee or something? Water? — "

Martin gestured toward the kitchen, but Jack waved him toward the couch.

Jack shoot his head negative. "Sit down; sit down." Martin clumped back over and settled reluctantly into his nest.

"Have you had lunch yet?"

Martin ducked his head. Watch it, Jack. Go easy on the guy.

"Uh.. well... I didn't want to push my luck. I ate breakfast! — I had a bagel. But — I got some of those meal-bars; I've been kind of putting off trying them-"

"Well here." Jack held out the deli and pharmacy bags. "I figured plain chicken soup from Tony's might work. And I got you some of those chocolate calcium things they have."

"Oh, wow. Thanks, Jack. You didn't have to do all that." Martin peered in the bags and pulled the soup out. It did smell good...

Martin gestured at the suit. "Are you going in to work?"

"Just finished. I only had a couple hours' worth to do. Paperwork is neverending, " he joked. But Martin grimaced. Way to go, Jack. Part of that paperwork was his.

"Jack.. I really am.. I'm really sorry about all this — I — "

"Martin." Jack sat on the corner of the coffee table. "Look — "

"I'm sorry, Jack! I just — "

"Martin, quiet! Just shut it and let me talk. Now, did you think you were ready to come back to work?"

"Well, yeah! I didn't know-"

Jack held his hand up for silence. "Next question: have you been trying to take care of yourself and get back in shape?"

"Uh... yes. Why wouldn't — "

Jack held him off again. "Lastly: did you fall down the stairs on purpose?"

"What?! Jack! — "

"Martin, you didn't do any of this intentionally. You've been making an effort to recover as quickly as possible. I probably should have made you wait longer before coming back, but none of this is your fault. Even these allergies. Shit just happens sometimes."

He caught and held the younger man's gaze, "We're good, ok. Ok?"

"Yeah. Ok, Jack. I — Ok."

Jack turned the laptop to look at the back.

"So, you got wireless on this thing?"

"Uh... Yeah. It's in the whole building."

"Good. Good. I got my end of your paperwork all done. I think you can just do your stuff online from here."

"Yeah. I was going to do that — "

"No rush. You know it's going to take them a week to even start processing things, especially with the holiday coming up."

"I — I was thinkin' maybe I could come in some? I mean — If I'm sitting in a chair in the office — "

Jack needed to shut this down before Martin got any further along that track. "Whoa, whoa. You heard the doc; I heard the doc." He pointed to the crutches. "Those are for trips to the john only. Hell, you're supposed to be lying down now — " He gave Martin a look, and the younger man tried to slump down on the couch and look more 'reclined.'

"Sorry, Jack. I just — "

Jack kept talking over him. "I was thinkin' though, if you promise to keep your butt right there, and stay down like the doctor said, you could do some telecommuting. A lot of the computer work doesn't need you to be in the office at all. But you're going to have to do what the docs tell you — "

"Yeah, Jack. I will — "

"Well anyway, we can wait on that for now. I've got something I think'll keep you entertained for a while."

Martin perked up, curious.

Jack reached into his pocket for the note he'd made. "I got a call this morning — You ever heard of the Interagency Quarterly?"

Martin shook his head.

"It's this little publication — the only thing everybody can seem to work together on. It's mostly position announcements and retirement notices, but there's a section on injured-and killed-on-duty — "

Martin made a face. "Oh. I — Am I supposed to send them something? I mean, do I have to? I don't — "

"No. It's automatic, unless you're file's flagged. Your name and ID photo were in the latest issue — "

"Oh, great..."

"Well, you never know — I got a call this morning from an ATF guy in Denver... Do you have any family out there?"

Martin looked confused. "Uh... No. I think all the family's back here. Mom's people are from Philadelphia, and the Fitzgeralds are mostly up around Boston."

"Well, apparently you look exactly like one of this guy's team members. He was kind of ticked — I guess his man does some undercover and he doesn't want to jeopardize that."

"Well, I mean, how alike can we be?"

Jack wordlessly handed over the jpeg he'd printed out. It was a little grainy — an office Christmas party showing six men: an older man with a mustache had a younger man in a head-lock, a large grey-haired man was trying to separate them, a slim man with reddish hair was adjusting his tie, and a tall black man was laughing while he shook a vegetable plate at the sixth man. Off to one side, Martin saw a man with his face but long hair laughing and pretending to cringe from the platter being held out.

Martin took the picture and stared at the face. "Jesus, Jack. He — Who is this guy? I mean — "

He looked up — at a loss for words.

+ + + + + + +

Dear Mr. Fitzgerald,

Hello. My name is Vin Tanner. I work for the ATF in Denver, CO. I saw your picture in the Quarterly journal. I hope you are feeling better. I wanted to write to you because in your picture we look alot alike. I grew up near Mescalero, NM and Alpine, TX. Maybe we are related? I would like to talk to you more about this, if you would like. You can email me, or call me at 720-555-8320.


Vin Tanner

+ + + + + + +

Dear Mr. Tanner,

Hello. My name is Martin Fitzgerald. I work in the FBI's Missing Persons Unit, NY, NY. Your supervisor called mine about a picture of me that was in a recent newsletter. He sent a jpeg of your team, and I was surprised at how much we look alike. I don't know of any relatives from out there, but I think we could be related. My family are from Boston and Philadelphia. I have attached another picture — I am next to the last on the right. I think it would be very interesting to look into this more, if you want. My email is: My cell number is: 202-555-1423. I hope to hear from you. Thank you very much.


Martin Fitzgerald

+ + + + + + +

Vin looked over his email — he hated writing letters. They always sounded like something out of a grade-school primer. He read it through a couple more times, still didn't like it, highlighted the text, deleted it, and started over.

+ + + + + + +

Martin went over his letter three times. Everything was spelled right, he was sure. It was simple and straightforward; interested but not too demanding. He checked the email address again — correct. Should he send it? The guy knew he existed. His boss had called Jack. The guy had his email — should he wait?

He hesitated, hands tense over the keyboard. Finally, he moved the mouse over SEND, shut his eyes, and clicked.

+ + + + + + +

Vin finally decided to try working on his letter later. It was midafternoon on a Saturday and he hadn't been outside since early morning. He carefully tucked the email address in his wallet and grabbed his jacket. He'd head out to his grandparents' and see what chores needed doing. Maybe they'd know what he should say to this 'Martin.'

+ + + + + + +

Martin tried to resist checking his email–he'd just done it half an hour ago. Still nothing. Of course, it was Saturday, and this was the guy's work email. He probably wouldn't even get it until Monday. But his boss had called Jack, so he must be expecting to hear from Martin.

He closed the laptop and shoved it away. He was bored. There was nothing on TV, and he didn't want to watch any of his movies. His hip still hurt, though not excruciating as long as he didn't move. Bored, bored, bored. He'd lost the feeling in his knee, so he probably didn't need to put any more ice on it for a while. The soup Jack brought him had been really good, so he wasn't hungry. His gaze flicked to his cell on the table. Who could he call? Not Sam. He liked her, but he couldn't seem to figure out what she wanted in their relationship. Danny'd been great, but he didn't need to keep Martin entertained 24/7. Viv? — No... And his sisters would be doing stuff with their kids, too. Mom? She'd flutter and worry and complain that he shouldn't have such a dangerous job. He finally slumped down further on the couch, turned the TV back on, and surfed until he fell asleep.

Sunday, 8:45pm EST




"Hello? Is anyone there?"

"H'llo? Is... iz'is Martin Fitzgerald?"

"Yeah, this is Martin.... Is — is this — Are you Vin Tanner?"

"Yeah. I gotcher picture ya sent. It's funny seein' m'self with short hair." He laughed. So did Martin.

"Yeah. Now I know what I look like with long hair."

They both paused. Martin got nervous first.

"I — I don't know what to say. Um.. Do — Do you think we're related?"

"Dunno. Far as I know I ain't got any family back there, but I s'pose m'father could be from there somewhere."

"Oh? What's his name? I don't know of any Tanners in the family, but..."

"Naw. Tanner's m'mother's family. She never quite settled down. M'grandparents raised me."

There was another awkward pause. This time Vin broke it first.

"Say, that newsletter didn't say much but that you'd got hurt. Are ya doin' ok, now?"

Martin sighed.

"You prob'ly bin asked that too much lately, huh?" Vin laughed. "Sorry 'bout that, never-mind."

"No! That's not it." Martin chuckled at the irony. He had been sick of people asking him how he was, but now that he wasn't fine he actually felt better, and it was kind of nice to have this stranger concerned about him.

"I — Well, I was doing fine. But we had a — a bust the other day. I fell down some stairs. It kinda screwed my hip up again. So now I'm back on sick-leave, for a while."

"Yeah? Your hip? That's gotta be hard ta get around."

"I'm not supposed to — get around. I'm supposed to just sit, excuse me, lay on the couch all day. I'm allowed to get up to go to the bathroom." Martin sighed again, this time in frustration.

"Sucks not bein' able to move around however ya want."

"When I got shot — that's what happened before — I got hit in the abdomen, and it tore up a bunch of muscle and stuff. I — I haven't been eating really well since, and when I fell down the stairs I cracked my femur."

"Ouch! Damn! Bet that hurt somethin' fierce! You not eatin' regular what made ya go down them stairs? If'n I don't eat I get kinda messed up — "

"No. I mean, yeah, if I don't eat I get kind of sick, but that's not why I fell. I was chasing a suspect up onto a roof and he decided he didn't want to run anymore. He caught me with a board just as I was coming up. I went rolling down a flight of metal stairs."

"Damn! You're lucky all ya cracked was whatcha did! Fella coulda broke yer head open, or you coulda got all busted up goin' down metal steps."

"I — guess I didn't think of that. I was just so mad he got he drop on me. I haven't been back to work too long, especially field work, and here I screwed up again."

Vin chuckled. "Right. 'Cuz you jus' knew a runnin' man was suddenly gonna change his mind and find somethin' to swing atcha."

Martin laughed. "That's what Jack and Danny both said."

"Jack's yer boss, right?"

"Yeah, Danny's one of my teammates."

"How many folks ya got on yer team?"

"Well, there's Jack, Viv, Danny, Sam — Samantha, and Elena — she's new."

"Yeah? They a good bunch?"

"I think so. I mean — we all get along well. What about you?"

Sunday, 10:15pm EST

"What are your grandparents like?"

"Ah, they's real good folks. Grandad's full-blood Comanche. And Nana's from New Zealand. They met when he'us stationed over there in World War II. She was one a' them orphans the Brits was sendin' all over hell 'n' creation back b'fore the war?, so she ain't got any real ties back there, though. She come back with him and they lived on the Mescalero Res. 'til I's 8. Then Alamagorda was 'downsizin,' so we moved ta Alpine, so's Grandad could work at McDonald and Sul Ross. I talked 'em inta moving ta Colorada when I got the job with ATF. They got a little place out on the flats, 'bout an hour from Limon. I go out most weekends to help out. I's out there most of yesterday an' t'day. Hope ya weren't waitin' ta hear..."

"No, that's Ok." Martin smiled over the phone. He really liked this guy, and his thick accent. "It gave me something to do."

"What's yer folks like?"

"My parents? Well... My father's in the FBI too, but he's in Administration — "

"That why ya went ta work there? Cuz yer dad does?"

"Not really. I mean, I wanted to do some sort of law enforcement, but something more — I don't know. I studied math and poly sci in college, then went to Quantico. He wanted me to do something with politics, but I just... it's just not my thing. We don't really talk a whole lot...."

"What about yer ma? My mother couldn't never seem ta find her place in life — she was always runnin' from one thing to another. Brought me back ta the folks when I's 3 weeks old and went off again. She'd come and visit sometimes, but I didn't really know her much. She passed when I's 9. Hope she finally found 'er peace..."

"Wow. I — I'm sorry — "

"Naw! Hell. I had me a real good childhood. Grandad and Nana's always done their best fer me. And ya can't really fall through the cracks when there's only 80 'r 90-some kids in the whole school."

Martin laughed. "There were 300 in my class, and I went to private school! Mom did International Relations when I was little, so they were always traveling a lot. She does mostly charity work now..."

Monday 12:45am EST

"Shit! What the hell time is it there?! If it's near 11:00 here — "

"It's not quite 1:00. I didn't even realize how long we've been on the phone. I hope you've got free minutes on your cell? — "

"Yeah. Hell, that's nothin'. But ain'tcha gotta get ta work tomorraw?"

"No. I'm out for a couple-three weeks at least. But I bet you have to work tomorrow though, don't you? I'm sorry, I didn't even think — "

"Naw. I'm all good. Chris likes ta give the guys a long break when 'e can. We had a bust on Friday, finished the reports yesterday mornin', now we got the whole week off fer Thanksgivin'."

"Yeah? That's great! Are you going to have a big dinner with your grandparents?"

"I dunno. Grandad's not real hard-core, but he don't cotton much ta all that pilgrim-nonsense. Nana likes ta have a nice dinner though — some kinda harvest festival they all'us had when she was a kid. How 'bout you?"

"I — I don't know. I — I haven't told them, my parents, yet — about getting hurt again. My Dad'll want to know what went wrong, or why I was chasing the guy alone or something, and Mom'll start in again about how dangerous it is. I'll probably just hang out here; watch the parade on TV..."

Monday 1:30am EST

"Ya got any brothers or sisters? Me, I don' got any. Couple a' distant cousins scattered through the Southwest an' somewheres in England, I guess. But it'us always jus' me and the folks."

"Yeah — two sisters. Jeannie's 12 years older than me, and Debra's 9 years older. Jeannie's married to some investment guy-stuffed shirt — Dad loves him... And they've got three girls: 8, 6, and 2. They just moved down to Atlanta... well, some suburb, anyway — I always forget the name. Debra's divorced — he turned into a real ass... Mason's 11 and Dianna's 5. They live up in Vermont ."

"Damn! Ya got yerself a whole passel a' kin!"

"Yeah... I — I had an older brother, too — David. He... died when I was little. Leukemia. Mom and Dad don't really talk about him much."

"That's real hard — losin' a li'l un like that."

"Yeah. I think its made them kind of hyper-concerned about whatever I do — Especially being 'the baby,' and all... and... well... the only boy, now... Anyway, with the girls so much older than me, it was kind of like being an only child..."

"Well, yeah. Makes sense. Hey, how old are ya, anyway?"

"Oh. I'm 34. June 6th. How about you?"



"M' birthday's May 24th...'71. Huh. Whadda ya make a' that?"

"Wow. That is weird... I suppose — I suppose I should ask my parents about this, huh? They — I just — "

"Well, we might's well wait an' see what you 'n' me c'n figure out first. Ain't no need ta start askin' things that'll upset 'em... So... you're just gonna sit in yer apartment for Thanksgivin' — ain't gonna invite that girlfriend or What's-his-name — "


"'Danny' over?"

"Sam's going to her sister's — I guess Helen's got a new baby, and with a toddler already, she's pretty much exhausted. And Danny'll do something with his sister-in-law, I'm sure. I just — Well, Jeannie's family is still getting settled in, so they're not going to be coming back for it, and I think Debra was going to take the kids skiing — something kind of different, you know?, since this'll be their first Thanksgiving without Mr. 'I-need-to-find-myself'..."

Vin chuckled.

..."So none of them will be coming in — it would just end up being me and my parents, and..." He sighed. "I don't want to get harped at about being careful at work again. My mother'll make a big deal out of things. And my father — Anyway, I'm just going to stay here, I think."

"But ain'tcha gonna need someone helpin' out 'round the place fer a bit?"

Martin, just coming back from the kitchen with a mug of coffee — He was using his crutches! — well, one anyway, with the cellphone scrunched up against his free shoulder, flushed guiltily. "I don't know. I — I don't want to bother any of them — "

"An' how ya s'posed ta go git yer groceries an' such?"

"I... can get some stuff delivered — take-out and some basics from the market a couple blocks down... I did that before — "

"Bet that cost ya a perty penny — "

"It was worth it, to have a little quiet. I told you what having them here that first week was like — "

"Yeah. Drive a sane man crazy, that would... Cain't stand ta be smothered, m'self. Well... How's 'bout I come back there fer a bit — we could have us a time, figurin' out this look-a-like thing?"

"Really? — But! — It's the holiday! Don't you — want to spend it with your grandparents? Or what about Chris and them?"

"Ah, hell. I tol' ya, I don' know that the folks'll do much fer it — it ain't a real big deal to 'em. An' the boys all got their kin or plans: Chris's havin' dinner with Mary's family, 'Ziah and Ez'll be down at the Shelter helpin' out, Nathan an' Raine's goin' down to Texas ta visit her family, and Buck 'n' JD'll be throwin' a big party fer all the single people in their buildin'. I figure, why not? I c'n fly out there, keep you comp'ny, if'n ya want?"

"Well... Yeah! I mean — That'd be awesome! But — Are you sure you wanna go to all that trouble? I mean — You don't really know me, and — "

"Hell. We bin on the phone fer what? — 5 hours 'n' some? What's not ta know? It'll be fun! Yer gonna have ta give me yer address, though — "

"Oh! I could come meet you — "

"Like hell! — 'at's why ya need a keeper. Ya keep playin' rough on that bone it won't never heal up right! You jus' give me yer address — m' real good with a map," Tanner chuckled. "If yer that frettin' over it, you c'n call that Danny, have 'im meet me... Hey, he seen that picture a' me yet?"

"No... he hasn't..." Martin started a slow grin.

"Don' show him. Bet it'll knock 'im on 'is ass when I git off the plane!"

They both laughed — hard. It was getting way too late — they were tired and making less and less sense.

"Yeah. Let's do that — it'll be too funny just to see his face."

''At's a plan, then. I'll give ya a call with m'flight info — prob'ly tomorraw... Make that t'day!" He laughed again.

"Well, let me get your ticket for you, anyway! You're going to all this trouble — "

"Ah, hell! You worry too much! M'gonna be crashin' on yer floor, eatin' yer food. We'll work it all out. Now," his voice was still full of humor, but firmer, "I bin hearin' ya gittin' up and screwin' around there th' whole time we bin on the phone. Ya git yer ass ta bed and stay there fer a piece. Ain't got no need ta be runnin' all over the damned house just cuz ya ain't got nothin' else ta do — "

"Alright! Alright! I will! It's — I've — I've really enjoyed talking to you — "

"Me too. Me too. Ah, hell. I'll talk to ya tomorrow. You git yerself some sleep now, a'right?"

"Yeah, yeah, you too."

Monday Evening

By evening, Martin still wasn't sure if Monday'd been good or bad. He was still really, really sore — he probably had been moving around too much yesterday. Sam had called and complained because he hadn't called her. Viv had called to see how he was, and said she was going to bring over some pasta-thing later. Danny came by again on his way to work... on his way if he lived on the other end of town from where he did, but Martin hadn't said anything. They had been kind of rocky when he started the job, and then Danny'd been really reserved when he first came back to work. So if it made them get along better for Danny to bring him bagels a couple days, he was going to relax and enjoy it.

There wasn't really much for him to do for work. He'd done some file searches, sent out a few inquiries, but that had been about it. He'd finished his insurance paperwork — Jack had had it all set up for him; he'd just had to put in his description of the events and the doctor's diagnosis info. He still hadn't called his mom about not coming for Thanksgiving. That was going to be a scene whenever he did it. He figured he'd wait until Wednesday night, when there wasn't time for them to talk him out of staying in the City.

Vin had called midafternoon. He was coming into Newark tomorrow afternoon. Martin had asked Danny to pick Tanner up — that was going to be fun, even if he had to hear about it second-hand instead of watching.

So now he was camped out on the couch again, and there was still precious little on TV. The Food Channel was still turning his stomach, and Scifi had some marathon on that he couldn't seem to get into. He'd been flipping between BBC-News and the Weather Channel most of the day. There didn't seem to be much going on in the rest of the world either. They kept looping the same stories every couple hours. He resumed surfing.

Tuesday Afternoon


"Hey, Martin! It's Danny. And your 'guest'!"

Martin grinned as he opened the door. Taylor strode into the living-room, followed by Tanner, carrying a duffel.

"You suck, man! You know that?! 'Hey, Danny. I got a friend comin' in to the airport. Can you get him? You can't miss him.' Shit, man! I damn near freaked when this guy came up the ramp! I'm thinkin' he's gonna have some sign, or have me paged... And here you come strollin' off a flight from Colorado! And with all that hair!!"

Vin was laughing as he sat on the far arm of the couch. "Ya shoulda seen 'im, Marty. He'us flappin' 'is jaw like a landed fish! Thought I's gonna bust a gut jus' watchin'!"

Martin balanced on his crutches and enjoyed watching them both. God, he was in a good mood today. "Alright, so what can I get you guys? I've got coffee, soda — "

Danny walked over to drop Tanner's smaller carry-on beside the couch. "Ah, shit. I can't, man. Sylvia called and she an' Nicky want to make real tamales for Thanksgiving. I gotta pick up stuff and get over there — "

"Y'all 're makin' tamales?" Tanner's eyes lit up.

Danny laughed again. "Some of them are spoken for, but I'll hook you up, man."

"Hot damn, Dan! Yer m'hero! Hey, hang out a sec, will ya?" He turned to Martin and cocked a brow. "A'right you, gimme the penny-tour a' this place, then ya best git back ta sittin' on yer ass," he smirked.

It didn't take long. Martin showed them the small kitchen, where Tanner made him sit at the table with his leg up, while Vin poked his head in the bath and bedroom.

"'S'a good lookin' place ya got here," he commented as he came back into the kitchen. Tanner stopped in front of Martin and squinted at him. "Yer a might underfed 'neath them sweats, aren'tcha?"

Martin had been just about mortified when the intern, Dr. Jones, had commented on his weight-loss in front of Jack and Danny. Now he just gave Tanner a wry grin. "It's the latest diet — works well, don't you think?"

Tanner gave him a look before turning to look into the fridge — there wasn't much.

"Down ta 'bout nothin' — ." Tanner straightened from the almost empty fridge and waved at the cabinets. "Which is which?"

Martin pointed, starting on the left and going around: "Glasses, dishes, and dry-goods. On the bottom there're pots and pans, canned goods, and cleaning stuff."

Tanner turned from the equally empty cabinets, and leaned against the counter. "A'right. I best be getting' us some real food 'fore ya come down with scurvy, 'r some-such. Ya got a real grocery store 'round here?" He turned to Danny. "Or can ya give me a ride ta one? I c'n all'us walk back — "

Martin tried interrupt. "Oh — I can — "

Tanner turned back, serious this time. "Ya gonna sit in a wheelchair an' behave yerself while I git us some food that don't come in styr'foam boxes?"

"Well — but — I don't — "

Tanner relented some. "Yer prob'ly 'bout stir-crazy after bein' cooped up here all weekend, right?"

Martin slumped a bit. He was really enjoying having people here. And he was getting sick of looking at the walls...

"Th' firs' couple weeks is the worst — I know. But ya gotta tough it out, else ya won't never heal right."

Tanner rubbed his jaw and looked at Taylor. "How long ya got 'fore ya gotta be at'cher sister-n-law's?"

Danny shrugged. "They were talking about getting started when Sylvia got home from work about 6:30, but I need to pick up the masa, chorizo, and husks. It'll take me about 45 minutes to get there from here, so — maybe half an hour or so?"

Vin nodded thoughtfully, then laid out his plan.

+ + + + + + +

Martin was tired when he finally unlocked the door to let them both back in (Danny'd only had time to drop them off at the curb), and he'd just sat in the car, while the other two shopped. But God it had been good to get out, even for a just a little while. He laid down on the couch without protest while Tanner carried the bags into the kitchen and started putting things away. He had just gotten settled comfortably when Vin came back in the room with a small paper container and a spoon.

"Gottcha a treat while I'm workin' sumthin' up fer supper." He picked up the coffee cups on the table. "Ya want some tea or somethin'?"

Martin was looking at the 'treat' and answered distractedly. "Yeah, that's fine." Lemon sorbet. Organic, no dairy. He looked up, surprised, and in the back of his head embarrassed that he was. He'd underestimated Tanner.

Vin smiled and nodded. "Oughtta sit alright. Ya lemme know." He grabbed the remote, tossed it at Martin, and went back into the kitchen.

+ + + + + + +

Martin looked across the coffee table at the man sitting on the floor. Vin had packed his Kurasawa collection, and they were watching The Seven Samurai on mute while they ate. And what they were eating! —

"I can't believe you made this," Martin said again as he continued to eat. Salmon with some sort of white dill sauce he could dip it in if he wanted, boiled red potatoes and sugar snap peas. And even better than how it all tasted was that it wasn't bothering his stomach at all.

Vin shrugged and grinned. "A man who cain't cook is liable ta starve."

+ + + + + + +

Martin turned back again, hesitant. "Are you sure you're going to be alright there? I mean — "

Vin was pulling off his cowboy boots and looked up from the floor. He grinned boyishly. "Hell, m' campin' in style!" He nodded at the 97cent air mattress he had blown up and thrown his sleeping bag onto.

"I've got more blankets, another sleeping bag — "

"Naw. This'uns good ta ten below — I use it fer winter campin.' Don't reckon it'll get down that far t'night," he laughed. "Go on. M'good here. I'll try not ta wake ya up b'fore dawn."

Wednesday Morning


There were warm peaches in his apartment. And cinnamon.

Martin inhaled deeply and came awake. The smell stayed. He could hear the shower running. Vin had said he might take an early run, so Martin had left the key out. He felt a stab of jealousy that he couldn't have gone too. But overall he felt good. Not so tired, not in so much pain. His hip just ached now, instead of stabbing. And the headache he'd had for days seemed to be gone. Eating real food had probably had a lot to do with that. He heard the shower turn off and slowly levered himself out of bed. By the time he got to his door, Vin was coming out of the bathroom, shirtless in his jeans, rubbing his long hair with a towel.

"All yours. Breakfast'll be ready when yer out."

While Martin balanced under the water, he processed what he'd seen when they passed in the hall — it looked like Vin knew what he was talking about about recovering. He'd spotted a couple GSW scars, what looked like it had been a wicked knife wound, and a Special Forces tattoo on Vin's shoulder, the edge just mottled by a hand's span of scar-tissue — from a burn or something. The guy'd done a hell of a lot more living in his 34 years than Martin had, it seemed.

When he got to the kitchen, Vin was just pouring coffee into two mugs. Martin sat and propped his leg up while Vin started setting stuff on the table.

Martin took the coffee gratefully. He teased as he held the mug up to savor the aroma, "I thought I wasn't going to be allowed coffee?"

Vin was scooping something, the source of the great peach smell, out of a baking pan. "Yer not 'llowed caffeine. Inhibits calcium a'sorption. Tha's decaf. It'll still perk ya up. Psycha'somatic something er other."

Martin sipped gratefully — It was strong! But really good...

Vin sat a bowl of what looked like peach cobbler, but with oatmeal, in front of Martin, along with a couple chewable vitamins, and began spooning vanilla yogurt, organic again, on his own. The cobbler was awesome, but Martin looked suspiciously at the yogurt.

Vin added one last scoop and dug in. "Th' cultures break down them proteins some." He shrugged. "The plain didn' bother ya las' night." He ate a huge spoonful with obvious relish and bobbed his eyebrows. "'S like pie-a-la-mode!"

+ + + + + + +

They were playing the Nintendo Danny had brought over Monday when there was a perfunctory knock at the door, as someone began to key himself in. "Martin, it's your father! Why haven't you called your mother? — she's worried."

The tension was palpable when the elder Fitzgerald opened the door to find Tanner standing casually, but completely, in the way. They all spoke at once:

"Sorry, sir. C'n I help ya wi' somethin'?"

"It's Ok, Vin. That's my dad."

"Who the Hell are you?!"

Martin was surprised at his father's vehemence — he'd always said swearing was vulgar. And there was something in his tone — fear with the anger?

"Martin! Who is this person?" Victor blustered, but he didn't move to touch Tanner, who might look relaxed, but Martin could see he was perfectly balanced on the balls of his sock-clad feet. Vin was ready for anything...

+ + + + + + +

Martin looked hard at Vin once Tanner shut the door behind the elder Fitzgerald.

"Why do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Play up your accent. You were laying it on thick there at the end."

Vin grinned and folded onto the floor in front of the dvd player. "It's th' accent I was raised with. Nothin' ta be ashamed of."

"Yeah, but you were really playing it up," He tried to imitate Tanner's responses to his father: "Nah, sur. Ah'm jus' a cuntry feller frum Tex-ahs. Ah ain't never bin tuh thuh big citee b'fore."

Vin smiled as he held up a Miazaki anime and Martin nodded. He inserted the disc and moved back to settle against the far end of the couch before turning to give Martin a knowing grin.

"People think a thick accent means yer stupid. Makes 'em underestimate me." He wiped the grin off and took on the emotionless face and clipped tones Victor had left with. "I choose to speak in a manner I enjoy. If someone is incapable of seeing beyond my use of a particular vernacular, that is to my advantage." Then he winked and the grin came back even bigger than before.

Martin threw back his head and laughed.

+ + + + + + +

They didn't talk about the visit until they were sitting down to an early supper.

Martin was seated at the table, tearing up some lettuce for a salad. Just iceberg, that he didn't normally buy, but Vin had a point, what it lacked in taste ought to make it pretty easy on his stomach. And if it sounded good hopefully it wouldn't give him any problems.

Vin had made some sort of Moroccan stew, to go with rice. With lentils and chickpeas and orange squash; it smelled like cumin, but not overwhelming. He'd grilled some chicken too, but that was on a separate plate, so Martin could try it and see how it sat first.

"He's hidin' somethin'," Vin commented as he brought the plates over, plus some of the chocolate calcium chews Jack had bought. He'd just dished stuff up at the counter, which was fine by Martin. Damn, the guy could cook.

"Ya gotta eat these fer 'em ta work — They's good, taste like Tootsie Rolls..."

Martin obediently ate the little squares and shrugged — not bad.

"That's his natural state." Martin pushed the salad bowl over. "I — I don't know what to do — How do we get him to tell us what happened? The more I think about it, we couldn't look this alike even if we were half-brothers..."

"Yeah. Tha's what I's thinkin'." They ate for a while.

"Reckon it'd be hurtful ta ask yer ma?"

"I — Maybe. And she tries. She's not as distant as he is a lot of the time."

"They's just doin' like they was raised. Don't reckon they mean it bad."

"I know. Doesn't mean I have to like it."

Vin nodded and they continued eating.

+ + + + + + +

Vin came in the living-room from finishing the dishes and leaned against the half-wall between the rooms.

"I's thinkin'... any chance ya got a copy a' yer birth certificate?"

Martin looked up from his laptop for a long moment. "I do... And I am an FBI agent... I could contact the hospital and get the original records. I don't suppose you brought yours?"

Vin grinned and nodded. "Matter a' fact, I thought I jus' might need it." He crouched and pulled a slim leather portfolio from his pack.

He perched on the coffee table next to the computer. "A'right, Fibee, le's put them investigatin' skills a yers ta work."

Thursday, late morning

Martin was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the back of the pumpkin can and mixing together ingredients while Vin cut up the potatoes to boil.

It had taken surprisingly little time to resolve their first question — the birth certificates.

"I can't believe he thought no one would notice."

"No one almos' did. Didn' try real hard ta hide it, neither."

"He didn't think anyone would question him — "

"Or he didn' wanna burn yer bridges completely."

Martin grunted. "What am I supposed to say to Mom? And I like her family!"

Vin grunted in derision. "Tha's white-thinkin'. Genes ain't what make ya kin. She's still yer ma — She raised ya, right?" Martin nodded and continued stirring. "She's took care a'ya, worried over ya. She's still yer ma..." Martin nodded slowly, thoughtful.

"'M startin' ta think real serious that ya got yerself another set a' gran'parents, though." He unconsciously flipped his long hair as he looked over his shoulder at Martin and cocked a brow.

Martin made a small smile and shrugged as he poured the filling into the pieshell. Vin had already taken the small turkey out of the oven — the whole place smelled like it, but (he was surprised) it smelled good. "I guess the next step's a DNA test, then. That'll have to wait until tomorrow, if we can find someone to do it then. It's just weird. Having my birthday not be my birthday." He scraped out the last of the filling and shook the piepan to spread it all out, then looked up again. "What if 'Martin' isn't my real name?"

Vin turned around to lean against the counter and shrugged. "Hell. 'S worked well 'nough fer ya this long. Be a bitch ta change all yer papers, other people's address books..." He grinned. "'Member ta answer ta somethin' else."

Martin smiled.

+ + + + + + +

..."that's Abby, she's definitely the extrovert of the family, and the little one's Clara — she's just starting to get into everything — drives Jeannie nuts!"

"What's with th' pink scarf an' such?" Vin pointed at a picture on the facing page.

Martin chuckled. "Paige is all princess — her entire room, and most of her wardrobe are pink!" They both grinned hugely at the photo.

Vin turned the page and barked a laugh, "'M thinkin' yer nephew's feelin' a might outnumbered there..."

"Yeah, he kept trying to take out the Barbies with his LazerTag..."


..."Seattle was awesome! Have you ever been there? You'd like all the coffee places..." He looked over and grinned, to see what Vin thought of his move.

"Bin there fer a conf'rence once. Hard ta make m'self pay that much fer coffee, though." Vin reached for his knight, then decided on the rook instead.

"Why'd ya move all th' way out there, anyway? Just cuz?"

Martin grinned again and blushed. "Following a girl. And... maybe because it was so far away..." He shrugged and turned all his attention to the board. He'd had Vin in check three times — he wasn't getting out again...

+ + + + + + +

"Ever bin ta Denver? Ya oughtta come — it's got all the big-city stuff, but right next ta th' mountains. An' I really like th' flats..." He looked over from the steefatho he was stewing to check the speckled-up recipe Martin had dug out. "Sure does smell good... thought ya was pullin' m' leg with that vinegar..."

"You'll like it, I promise. I've never fixed it with venison before, though..."

Vin looked back over, "You'll like it," he grinned.

"The high plains is m' favorite, I think. Ya gotta like the desert, though. It's kinda humblin', bein' the tallest thing on the land, out in the middle a' no-where..."

Martin tossed him the spice bag he'd made up at the table.

"Ain't never had meat with pickle-spice in it..."

"Trust me. ...I've been out there, actually. Or through, anyway. Took I-70 all the way to Salt Lake City..."

"Doin' what? Vacation?"

Martin snorted. "Sort of... sort of not... I... Teen-angst, I guess." He shrugged. "I was 14 and stupid. The girls had both just gotten married... My best friend was moving..." He shrugged again. "I ran away — hid in their moving van..."

Vin looked over, brows up. "Ain't alot a' air in them things..."

Martin nodded wryly, and chuckled. "In June, too."

Vin made a face.

"Yeah, I'm lucky they found me. Had to spend a night in the hospital — heat exhaustion."

"Not surprised."

Martin nodded. "They flew out and got me the next day. I really caught hell for that one..." He sighed.

Vin watched his friend for a moment. "So, what we s'posed ta eat this stuff on?"

Saturday evening

Vin let Jack in before resuming his spot on the floor. Seeing them together in person made it even more clear how identical the two men were. He was happy to see that Martin didn't try to get up. He looked better too.

Martin pulled his knees up and started to gesture to the other end of the couch, but Jack grabbed one of the kitchen chairs and straddled it backwards.

"Thanks a lot for getting that test done so quick, Jack. Doesn't it usually take a couple weeks?"

Jack waved it away. "It was no problem — I'm glad I could help. Jim told me they did it all a second time before they printed that out, just to make sure they hadn't somehow tested the same sample twice." He handed over the sealed envelop and shook his head in wonder as he crossed his arms on the chair-back.

The two looked at the results briefly, nodding to themselves; neither really surprised at this point. "'S kinda what I figur'd," Vin murmured. Martin was silent — contemplative.

"So, what're you two gonna do now?"

"I — We're not really sure. My — Um — " Martin came to a stuttering halt and looked over at Vin, who picked up the thread.

"Victor's gotta know how it all come about, but he ain't sayin', and Marty here don't wanna upset his ma askin' her a bunch a' questions. We's hopin' you had some ideas how ta go from here?"

+ + + + + + +



"Hey, Tanner! You gonna stay back there forever? When're you comin' home?"

Chris sounded like he'd had a good vacation. "Well..." Vin stretched his stocking-feet out toward the blue glow of the muted TV. Martin had gone to bed already, but Vin figured Chris'd be up 'til at least midnight, mountain-time. "M' actually thinkin' I might take some vacation time, if'n I could, Boss?"

He could hear Chris nuking something and banging around in some cabinets. "Yeah? So, things are workin' out good, then? What's he like?"

Vin leaned back on one elbow and chuckled. "He's real cool, Chris. Had a rough piece recent-like, gettin' hurt 'n' all, but he's doin' alot better now, it seems. Real smart feller, too." He scratched one foot with the other.

"He really look that much like you in person?"

He could hear Chris settling into his recliner. "Sure 'nough. Like lookin' in a mirror — "

"Well, they say everyone has a 'twin' out there somewhere..."

Vin chuckled, a little nervous... "Yeah, 'bout that... We... Well, um... Turns out his birth certificate weren't 'ntirely legal... so we got one a' them DNA tests done? His boss, Jack, had the lab expedite it fer us..."


"And... Well... We's got the same DNA.... All the same."

Vin chuckled again, this time to hear the recliner foot-rest thump down and Larabee curse.

"Shit, shit — spilled coffee everywhere," Larabee muttered. "You're telling me you're actually related!? Closely?"

"Cain't git much closer, Chris. They done the test twice cuz they's afraid they'd only run the one of us. We's identical, top ta bottom." He rolled over to sprawl on his stomach. "Marty ain't quite sure what ta make of it'all. I mean, I all'us knowed Mother come back home when I's a baby, so anythin' coulda happened 'fore then, not that I ev'r thought it'd be somethin' like this! But I ain't never knowed who m' father were. Now Marty, he's got hisself a set a' parents, 'n' a' couple a' sisters, with cousins 'n' shit on both sides. I guess he had an older brother even, what they lost when he'us a li'l un. He ain't never had any gaps what needed fillin'."

"That's gotta be one hell of a shock — "

"Ya c'n say that a'gin. Not ta speak ill o' what's maybe kin, but his dad's bein' a real prick 'bout it, too. Won't fess up ta nothin', even though we know he set the whole thing up — he's th' one what fixed up Marty's fake certificate." Vin was mad for his friend — his twin! — "C'n ya 'magine that, Chris?! Guy's thirty-some years ol'.. well, hell, he's 'zactly the same age as me, so 34, and he finds out his birthday ain't his birthday; that his mom he had all his life didn' — Well... didn' birth 'im, anyway. Ain't that jus' a kick in th' head?"

"That sucks, alright. So, what's the hold up finding out what happened?"

"Well, Marty's dad's real high up in the Fibees. He ain't quite Jack's boss, but close enough ta be able ta make trouble. An' Marty really don' wanna go askin' his ma — he's partial ta her..."

Larabee grunted and they sat in shared silence for a moment. "What if I asked the AD look into it? Unofficially? Sure sounds like what's been done isn't entirely legally. It's not really the ATF's business, but I don't know what else you could do except go to IA — "

"Naw. I don' wanna do that ta 'im. But maybe some pressure from outside'd get th' ol' man talkin'."

Larabee was nodding. Somehow Vin knew, and that's all they needed.

"So, should I tell the boys about all this?" Larabee grinned over the phone.

Vin chuckled. "I dunno, Boss. Ya wan' them all ta go awol on ya so's they c'n come back here and scare off m' brother?"

"I might be leadin' the pack..."


Vin turned the sticky-note upside-down and tried, again, to figure out what it said. "I know my writin's bad, but I cain't make heads n'r tails a' this..."

Martin reached over — "Oh! Uh... Babylon 5: Beginning, Gathering, and Call to Arms..."

Vin put the tape in the vcr and took the note again. "What kinda language is'zat? 'T'ain't Arabic, r' nothin'." He looked up, questioning.

Martin shrugged, a little self-conscious. "It's short-hand. My aunt taught it to me, while I was still in high school. I was having trouble taking notes fast enough, and — " He shrugged again. "It's quick — I just write down what it sounds like, so I don't get hung up spelling everything out." He grinned as the B-5 theme came on, "It screws with Danny's head when he tries to read my notes."

Vin leaned back against the foot of the couch and passed over the plain popcorn he'd made. "Might have ta have ya teach me some a' that..."

Monday, late afternoon

Martin closed the cell and looked at it for a moment.

"Wa'zat Jack?"

"Yeah. Your boss — he's got good connections — "

"Chris's pretty tight with the AD — th' 'ssistant direct'r — Travis. They was gonna try ta give ol' Vic a nudge, unofficial-like — We's uh... We's hopin' ta find out what happ'ned without gittin' him in any real big trouble — "

"No, I — I think it worked. I mean... Jack said if we came down to the office, he — my — Uh... that they'd have some sort of paperwork... about me — us — " He looked up and took a deep breath. "So! You — wanna see where I work?" He smiled, a little nervously.

+ + + + + + +

Vin leaned to peer at the file over Martin's shoulder. It was still eerie, Jack thought. Seeing their faces — so different but identical — right next to each other. They were out in the lobby, so Martin could sit on the little couch, but it was after-hours, so no one was around. Victor was in Jack's office — he wasn't really welcome in the outer room just yet.

Vin pulled a rolled-up overlay from his back pocket. He leaned down to hold the rose-colored plastic over the densely printed page.

"That bother ya? Keeps the words from jumpin' around on me."

Martin looked intently at his double for a split second.

"Naw. That's cool. Kind of makes it easier — not so much contrast."


The twins went back to studying the yellowed surrogacy contract, while Jack and Chris, who'd only gotten into town a few hours earlier, shared a glance before resuming their own study of the twins.

Tanner was more built, and less tense. He had a ruddier complexion, from years spent considerably out-of-doors, and all that hair, of course. He seemed more confident in himself, too, and that relaxation showed in both his clothes and posture, though he didn't seem to have as much confidence in his academics as Martin did.

Martin was always meticulous in his appearance. Everything about him was tightly controlled. He was whipcord thin after the last couple months, and paler from averaging more time inside. He was also quicker to make leaps of logic (and assumption), while Vin was more reserved until he had overwhelming evidence.

Vin seemed content with his life, Jack decided. He thought he finally understood why Martin always seemed on the edge of desperation to reach some goal just beyond him.

+ + + + + + +

They'd had to make a pit-stop on the way out of the building. Vin stopped briefly at a little Asian market on their way home while Martin stayed in the car, trying or pretending to sleep against the window. He was still a little green around the gills.

Vin handed him a bottle of ginger-ale when he got back in the car with his purchases.

"Here. Give this a try."

Martin looked over wearily and took the bottle, but Vin took it back to open it at the next stoplight when Martin just sat there holding it.

"How're ya doin'?"

Martin shrugged. He should be excited. He should be pissed. He finally had the whole story on him and Vin, or as close as they were ever going to get, anyway. He also had incontrovertible proof that he'd been lied to... by his father, anyway. It was hard to even think of him as 'Dad,' even if he also had proof of that. And David was still his brother, and the girls — he'd been worried about that. That hadn't really changed. But Mom... He sighed. He just felt drained more than anything else. "Sorry, I'm just — I dunno..."

"We'll getcha home; getcha fed. That'll help."

Martin took a small mouthful of the soda. "This might be all the supper I need tonight..."

"Naw. I'll make ya some good miso, li'l udon 'n' tofu. Mebbe some sushi — "

Martin swallowed hard, "Oh, God." He wrapped an arm around his rebellious stomach. "Don't even joke about that..."

Vin patted his brother's shoulder briefly as he changed lanes. "It ain't whatcher thinkin' — I'm jus' talkin' 'bout some rice, mebbe some cucumber or sumthin', rolled up. Nothin' excitin'."

Martin leaned his head back and shrugged again. "You ought to go hang out with your friends while they're here; I'll be fine."

"Mebbe tomorrow, if'n yer feelin' better. I bin tryin' ta think where we could all git t'gether, but I don' think ya want all the boys invadin' yer house — it'd be awful crowded... 'n' they's a rowdy bunch, sometimes..."

"No. You're right. I mean, I'd like to have them all over here, but there's just not enough room, and those efficiencies they're in are even smaller... ...maybe — ...Maybe I'll call my mom..."

Tuesday afternoon

Barbara Fitzgerald knocked hesitantly, not quite sure how the next few minutes might go...

The door opened and Martin smiled shyly at her, "Hi, Mom. I'm — I'm sorry I haven't called..."

"Oh, sweetheart!" She came in the apartment and hugged and kissed and cried over him, and Martin didn't mind for once. He'd missed her, too. He settled back in his spot on the couch and she perched on the arm next to him.

"How are you? Does it hurt? Oh sweetheart, I'm so sorry! Why didn't you call us!? You know I would have come over to help..."

"Mom. Really, I didn't think it was anything until Danny came over. I didn't think it was important, honest."

"Oh, and look at you! You're so skinny! Honey, why didn't you say something?! You know I would have — "

"I know. I know! I just — I wanted everything to get back to normal.."

"Oh, honey..." She hugged him again from behind.

"Alright. Now, your father..." They both hesitated awkwardly. "He... Well... What happened, honey? You fell? Or you were knocked down or something? And what did you break exactly? Why don't you have a cast or a brace or something?"

"I'm Ok, really. I was chasing a guy and... I came out on this roof, and... he hit me with a board — "

"Oh, honey! — "

"I ended up rolling down the stairs. I really didn't think I'd hurt anything! I mean, I just thought I'd bruised myself..."

"But why didn't you go to the doctor? Aren't you supposed to do that? — to make sure there's nothing wrong?"

"Well, if you think you're hurt. I really didn't think there was anything wrong! I mean, I was just kind of sore all over, and I didn't break the skin anywhere. I figured I was just still tender and it would go away! — "

"Now, did you hurt your knee? Your father said it had to do with when you got hurt before — " She cupped his face with her hand.

"No, yeah, it's my hip again. But it's not really where I got shot — I — " He ducked his head. "I cracked the top of my femur — up at the neck? So there's not really anything they can do but make me stay off it."

"Good heavens! How ever did you — "

"Well. It's kind of my own fault — "

"No, sweetheart — "

"I... I've been kind of sick to my stomach a lot since I got hurt. I mean... Well, at first I thought it was just from getting shot, or from the medicine, but it just wouldn't go away — "

"And you've gotten so skinny! Didn't anyone notice? Why didn't you say anything!? — "

"I — ! I don't know! I didn't really notice at first — And then — " He shrugged. "I don't know. I figured it was just because I wasn't working out — "

"Well, are you eating? Don't you have any food here?"

"I do! I did! — I was trying, anyway!" He hugged her back and tried to show her he wasn't so run-down anymore.

He grabbed her hand, to reassure her while he tried to explain. "The doctor, when Danny made me go to the hospital, he said if you get hurt it can sometimes make your allergies worse or make them come back — Well... And you know how I never could really stand milk, or anything like that. Even cheese or cream cheese would make me sick. And I tried to eat a hamburger! God, Mom. I thought I was going to die, it made me so sick, and sick for days! You know? And you remember, when I was little, how it used to make me sick? It was like that, but worse. Nothing sounded good, nothing smelled good. And I just figured it wouldn't do any harm. I'd just wait and it'd go away and I'd be fine." Here was the worst of it...

"Well, the doctor, he said that's probably why I ended up cracking my bone, because I hadn't been eating much of anything, and especially anything with calcium... because spinach or anything like that was just as bad as any kind of dairy thing."

"Oh, Martin! Oh, honey. I wish you'd told me! — "

"I just wanted everything to go back to normal. I'm sorry, Mom! I didn't mean for anything bad to happen! — "

"Well, are you eating now, at least?! Are you taking anything — vitamins or something? What about those drinks — those supplement-things?"

"A lot of those have milk, but yeah, I got some vitamins, and those calcium vitamins, and some of those bars from the healthfood section, powdered drink mixes — "

"Well, are they helping? Are you eating now? — "

"I haven't actually tried much of all that. I mean... Danny brought me some stuff, and Jack and Viv did. And then... Well, then... umm.. Vin, he..."

Barbara looked around the room. There was a duffel in the corner, and a smaller bag next to the entertainment center, and she could see the edge of what looked like a sleeping bag sticking out from beyond the far end of the couch. She took a deep breath, "Oh! Uh, wh — where is — "

"He — he's over at the hotel — his teammates flew in to visit. They're all real close, and... well..." He shrugged, and took her hand again.

"I want you to meet him, Mom. He's really cool — you'll like him — "

"Well, honey... Maybe he doesn't want to — "

"No. No, I'm sure he does. He said his moth... Well... Anyway, his grandparents raised him, and I guess it was pretty much just them — not really any aunts and uncles or cousins or anything — "

"Well, certainly honey, of course! I — Oh sweetheart! I'm so sorry! I wanted to tell you, I did! I — But I — We didn't want to lose you! I NEVER knew that — I mean... Martin, I swear to you, I never knew there were two of you — "

+ + + + + + +

They were all crowded into the room Buck and JD were sharing. There were pizza boxes, beer bottles and pop cans scattered across the little hotel-table and the tiny kitchen counter.

Unusual for the group, Vin was the center of attention:

..." 'n' I bet he could give ya a run fer yer money with all a' yer computer stuff, JD. He's jus' a real smart feller. Not that he shows it off 'r nothin' — he's real nice. Gotta great apartment, too. Kinda small, but bein' in the city 'n' all, I bet it's real roomy, compared — Anyways, I want y'all ta meet him. Mebbe not jus' now, he's... He's feelin' kinda poorly, I'm thinkin'. Findin' out 'bout all this, 'n' just bein' laid up... But — "

Tuesday, 6:45pm

They just kind of started assembling. Martin had barely gotten off the phone with Vin when Danny showed up at the door. Then Sam called. And his mom had to go out of town again the day after next. By the time they got to the hotel lobby, the desk-manager was already unlocking a meeting room to get the ATF men out of the way. It just kind of came together. Viv's husband was grading midterms, but she came over with Reggie. And Jack was on his way. Elena's daughter had a cold, but she sent her well-wishes. Buck and JD were starting to complain about the hotel not having a restaurant when Barbara thought to call her caterer-friend, Karoline, and she had a couple of platters that had never been picked up. Barbara was going to decline — she didn't want to offer them all something left-over — but when the younger ATF agent brought back an armful of cookies from the vending machine, she hastily accepted the deli and relish plates...with rush delivery!

+ + + + + + +

They'd pushed a couple of long tables together; Barbara was sitting between the two boys — her arms around them both, and theirs around her.

"I cain't b'lieve ya eat them things — they look like brains 'r sumthin'." Vin made a face as Martin reached for another piece of cauliflower.

"They don't really have a lot of taste," Martin shrugged as he popped the smaller piece in his mouth and just touched another to the dip — he'd go a little more cautiously with that. He grinned — "You don't want to get scurvy, you know — "

"I eat veg'tables! Bin feedin' 'em ta you all week — "

Nathan laughed. "Vin Tanner voluntarily eating healthy? I'll believe it when I see it! — "

Martin laughed. "Aw... He's been great, Nathan — really." He winked at his mom and brother — "We've only had Velveeta once a day... well, sometimes twice — "

Vin was laughing too, now. He reached around Barb to shove his brother, "Hey! — "

+ + + + + + +

"So, what do you do with the ATF, Vin?"

"I help ol' Chris stragedize..."

Chris grunted and leaned back in his seat next to Jack.

"An' I can usually hit what I aim at..."

Buck snorted and elbowed Danny next to him — "with one eye shut, 'n' one arm tied behind his back, upta like a thousand yards away! — "

"...But mostly I do alot a' listenin' ta tapes an' translatin'," he chuckled.

"Translating what?" Sam asked.

"Why, languages, my dear." Ezra leaned around Viv to offer a soda to Reggie, once Viv had nodded her approval. "Master Tanner is our linguist. He speaks... how many is it now, Vin?"

"Uh, lemme see..." Vin started ticking off on his fingers: "Comanche, Lakota, not enough Dine or Hopi, Spanish, some Portuguese — when the Brazilians come up to play. Russians are gettin' into the action now, too. Mandarin, some Cantonese. Japanese — that one wus jus' fer fun..."

"Hey, what about that ketchup-one?"

"'Quechua,' Buck. Yeah, picked up some of that in Peru. I'm workin' on Korean too. That one's gettin' popular. Oh yeah, and Arabic. Kinda embarrassin' ta hear the CIA cain't even understand half what they's eavesdroppin' on! 'M wantin' ta learn Maori 'r somethin', fer Nana, but I cain't seem ta find tapes 'er any-such." He stopped for a minute, with his head cocked. "Yeah, I think that's it."

Danny was stunned for a moment. Being fluent in two languages was normally twice what everyone else could boast. Damn. He definitely felt out-classed by the quiet Texan.

"I jus' all'us had an ear for 'em." Tanner shrugged humbly. "Started out with both Comanche and English. Then the community center started a Lakota program when I's a kid. It just went from there. Teachers noticed and gave me stuff. When I got in the Army they were mighty happy 'bout it. How 'bout you, Marty? You prob'ly like math, or somethin.'"

Danny burst out laughing. "You nailed him! That's where we got him from — Financial."

Martin laughed. "Hey, there's nothing wrong with numbers! There's always a right answer..."

Ezra kicked Buck under the table, and leaned across to renew an old argument, "As I keep telling you. I bet he doesn't have to pay someone else to fill out his EZ tax form." Buck flipped Ezra the bird, while Martin continued without interruption.

"...But no, I haven't done much with languages. I mean, not like that. I took Latin in school; that wasn't too bad — makes watching Harry Potter fun." He grinned. "I played around with Greek in college, but it's Ancient Greek, not modern. I can get by in French, and some Spanish... but not enough, right Danny?" He cocked a brow at his somewhat dumbfounded friend. "I haven't really followed up on it." He shrugged.

"Not followed up?!" Danny was ticking of languages on his fingers. "That's — "

"Prob'ly better off." Vin grinned. "Plays hell with m' spellin'."

Larabee leaned over, "Maybe if you'd stick to one language in your reports, Spell Check wouldn't take you two hours."

"Not m'fault ya gotta small vocabulary, Boss. I's just trying to help with that Continuin' Ed. yer always bitchin' about."


"Martin's a great speller — he's like a walking dictionary," Danny was leaning over the empty chair next to Martin to make another sandwich. "It's freaky — like he's got every word in the English language memorized."

"Just about..." Martin murmured, and caught Vin's eye. His mom gave him a little hug. Vin gave him a short nod. Martin put on a grin and turned back to Danny. "It's easier than trying to get my dictionary back from you every time I want it!" He smacked Danny's back, and stole a handful of carrots off the just-refilled plate.

+ + + + + + +

"So, Vin," Barbara hugged him a little tighter, her wild-haired new son, "is that short for Vincent?"

Buck snorted and Josiah leaned across the table to smack him good-naturedly. "You shouldn't laugh, brother 'Wilhelm' — "

Vin shook his head and smiled a bit sheepishly. "Uh.. No, Ma'am..."

"Kevin?" she tried again. He blushed just like her Martin...

Buck's shoulders were shaking by now, but Vin was grinning too, as he ducked his head and brushed at his temple briefly. "Well, no..."

Martin was leaning around, and he grinned curiously at his brother as she continued to probe, "Well, what's it short for then?"

"Uh..." They were all looking at him now... But none of these people — his team, Martin's team — they weren't going to laugh at him... "It's... Uh... it's short for... uh, for 'Alvin'... Ma'am — "

"Like the chipmunk?! — " Danny asked, joking, before Buck caught him in a headlock, only half in jest.

"Well, I feel a lot better about 'Martin' now," his brother quipped.

"Probably more like 'Alvin C. York,'" Chris commented to Jack with a nod.

"I like it," Barbara whispered, as she hugged him a little tighter.

Martin was grinning at him, so Vin needled him back. "Best watch yerself, bro. Us Indians like matchin' names fer twins — s'posed ta keep us tied t'gether. That 'T' a' yours might jus' be a mix-up — Ya'll might be "Marvin!" He reached over and poked his twin in the stomach. "Alvin and Marvin — whatcha think 'bout that? Huh?"

Martin dropped his head on his mother's shoulder as the group shouted their approval. "Oh, God..." he groaned.

Wednesday morning

Vin was deflating and rolling up his air mattress. His duffel was already full — between the sweatshirt he'd bought, and the extra running shoes Martin had loaned him and refused to take back, and the photo albums Barbara'd put together. Somehow, overnight, she'd made copies of what seemed like every picture she had of Martin — to give to Mortimer and Elizabeth. He had Martin's old backpack as a second carry-on, and hoped it would hold what was still laid out to be packed.

He figured he'd be getting great piles of stuff in the mail, too. Barb had said she was going to call and explain things to Jeannie and Debra... His thoughts turned inward for a moment as he finished tying up the rolled mattress. It was weird to think he had sisters. He'd never thought of having sisters before... and older ones at that... And a bunch of nieces, and that nephew — poor kid — only boy in the whole family. It was really cool... but weird though...

Martin craned backwards over the arm of the couch and enjoyed every crackle that went up through his back, shoulders, and chest. "You suppose we'll ever know which of us is older?"

Vin shrugged. "I figure I'm older." He grinned slyly. "I got the dominant personality."

Martin raised his brows. "You do, huh?" He lightly kicked his twin, who'd settled on the other end of the couch to rearrange the contents of his duffel yet again. "How'd you come up with that?"

Vin just shrugged again and looked smug. "I all'us wanted a li'l brother — figure yer it."

Martin kicked him again and grinned. "Hey, I've been 'the baby' forever. Maybe you're my little brother. You ever think of that?"

"Naw." Vin turned and grabbed Martin's offending foot, careful of the healing left, and shoved. "They all'us say the older one's bigger, and yer a might puny, I'm thinkin'."

"I have extenuating circumstances. Give me a month and I'll be able to take you." He shoved back.

"I'd like ta see ya try — " Vin taunted, laughing as he slowly slid sideways off the couch onto the floor.

"Maybe sooner!" Martin laughed.

+ + + + + + +

Danny had walked to the back of the boarding area after giving Vin a slap on the back, and extracted a promise of tamale reciprocity. Sam had wanted to drive them, but she had some interviews to do; Jack and Viv had said their good-byes last night. The rest of the Region 7 field-response team had gotten the shuttle from their hotel.

Martin balanced on one foot and wrapped his arms around his brother. "I'm gonna miss you."

Vin returned the bear-hug full-force, almost lifting Martin off the ground completely. "Me too, bro. Me, too." He stepped back and gripped Martin's shoulders. "Ya gotta promise me you'll take a' yerself, a'right?" He gave Martin a shake. "Ya do what yer tol', now. Take care a' yerself so's ya c'n come fer Chris'mas, ya hear?"

Martin nodded fervently, "I will," and got settled back on his crutches — only another week! It was hard to believe everything that had happened since Jack and Danny helped him limp into his apartment in the wee hours last Friday night.

Vin grabbed his carry-ons and jogged to the end of the row of passengers, next up in line to the flight attendant taking the boarding passes. The rest of the team had already boarded, after a round of good-byes. Just as he was striding down the ramp he turned and waved one last time at Martin. "Be seein' ya, li'l brother!"

Martin grinned and waved back as Vin turned to go down the ramp. "See you, little brother!"


Victor rolled over again in his sleep. Knowing even deep in REM that he wasn't where he should be... but he was probably going to be in the guest room for a while.

He stalked toward the dilapidated house, music blaring from an upper window, and the stench of pot in the air.

She didn't try to run, the patrol car he had waiting at the curb saw to that.

He walked into the kitchen; she sat at the table and continued to nurse her son, his son.

"Give him to me — "

"No," she didn't shout, but she did clutch him closer and the tears started to fall. "He's mine. You can't have him. I'm going home — "

"We had a contract — a legally binding agreement. You signed it; you can't back out now. He's mine too. I'll sue you for custody; you know I'll win — "

She shook her head wordlessly and held the baby tighter, so much that he stopped nursing and started to squirm.

"But he's mine! You can't have my Mar — " The baby's cry drowned her out and she moved him to her shoulder automatically, to settle him and pat out the burp.

Victor crouched in front of her and reached a tentative hand toward his tiny son.

"He's mine, Rachel. You agreed. Barbara and I have given you everything we could — you've lived with us, all your medical care. You promised." He looked up at her, her brown eyes were wide but not fearful. He barely brushed the baby's wispy black hair, and swallowed. "Think of Barbara. She can't have any more... having David almost killed her. And now he's ill... You're young, beautiful. You've got your bank account — it's all set up. And we'll give him everything. You know that. You — You could even come visit — A friend of the family, maybe? Rachel...give him to me. Please — "

He watched himself settle the tiny baby in the car, in the new baby seat he'd been afraid to put in. They'd panicked when they got home from David's appointment to find her gone. And then they'd found where her water'd broken. He'd put David to bed much, much earlier than normal, while Barbara wept in their bedroom, mentally and physically exhausted. It scared him how easily his little boy fell asleep — and the shadows under his eyes were so dark. The doctors wanted to try some new treatment as soon as they got back to DC, something that might put him into remission — give them a little more time. Anything was better than nothing.

The girls were up in New York with Bonnie and her family. She knew how very hard David's birth had been, but that they had wanted a boy, or that he had anyway, and then when David was diagnosed... Well, she hadn't asked why they wanted Jeannie and Debra to stay with them, especially having to have them change schools most of the spring to do it, she'd just agreed. The girls were worried about David, too. They assumed the trip was something for him. He hadn't thought about how he'd explain a new baby. The girls were young, though; he'd think of something. He'd hoped he'd still need to think of something...

For over a week he'd frantically searched the rural area where they'd been staying during the end of Rachel's pregnancy. None of the doctors remembered her, none of the nearby hospitals. He could only assume she'd gone back to the hippies she'd been living with when she answered their ad. The couple at the otherwise empty commune had sent him here. Reluctantly, but he was the father — he had rights, too. They wouldn't tell him anything about the baby, though, just that she'd had a boy.

He looked back again — She was standing on the stairs — not chasing after him, but crumpled, seated on the top stair holding her hand out, while she covered her sobs with the other.

Just as he was pulling off he saw her turn to look back inside. And this time, in his dream, like the faintest breeze, he heard another tiny wail from the house.

the end


Ok, so as much as I dislike Victor as an obnoxious, domineering father, I can't demonize people — it's too simple to be believable. Let's see, what else is likely to be off... I have no idea how to treat stress fractures — I just made up something that seemed logical — probably wrong; likewise with treating surface exposure to meth. The newsletter is completely contrived, but I didn't feel like putting more mental effort into that part. 8-) I got the matched twin names idea (& the food allergies) from a book on Navajo (Dine) Lost Birds, so that might not necessarily follow for the Comanche. I'm guessing about the long hair, too, but I think that's kind of part of contemporary Pan-Indian tradition — I've seen guys from widely different nations wear it. And yes, I had Vin call himself 'Indian,' not 'Native American,' because that's how I've heard people refer to themselves — pretty sure it's a members-only word, though. I'm sure it's personal preference — nobody be offended, please. I decided to tweak Vin's fanon personal history so he could provide emotional support for Martin.