Disclaimer: Without A Trace and The Magnificent Seven belong to people who are not me.
Challenge: Magnificent Seven Little Britches ATF / Without A Trace crossover challenge from the WAT_Martin_GenFic list.
Note: A huge thank you to Sealie for her wonderful beta work. Any mistakes remaining are mine alone.
Rating: FRT - Fan Rated Suitable for Teens, one or two bad words, high angst, adult situation
Characters: Written from Martin’s perspective (first person Martin?) But all of the WAT team is there and Chris, Vin, JD and Buck from M7 LB-ATF
Feedback: To MMW
I stand before the building, behind Jack, my gun drawn and ready, my heart pounding, my mind awash in chaos. Gone is the cool, calm, experienced agent. In his place is someone I don’t recognize as myself. But then, I’m not who I was this morning, not anymore. Today my whole life changed.
I walked into the office a little late, but I’d had an appointment with the dentist and after waiting three months to get in, I wasn’t about to postpone it.
What I wasn’t expecting was what I walked into.
Making my way through the lobby and upstairs, nothing indicated anything unusual. I would have thought something would have. That there would have been some great omen, some prophecy, something... But there wasn’t. All I saw as I entered the bullpen area of our office was my co-workers rushing around and sorting through files, exactly what always happens at the beginning of a new case.
I took off my coat and dropped it on my chair before turning to walk to Viv in order to find out what was going on.
It was as I turned and I caught sight of the whiteboard that my heart stopped and my world changed because the picture hanging there could have been me.
I know that sounds... normal. After all, any kid can disappear, but that’s not what I mean. I mean it could have been *me* in that picture. Except for the length of hair I looked *exactly* like that kid at age seven - right down to the missing tooth.
I turned to look at Sam, the only other team member who’d ever seen my kid pictures, at least the ones my aunt has. When her eyes met mine, I could read that her surprise matched my own - and I also read a lot of questions there, questions I couldn’t answer.
Looking at the picture one more time, I shook myself and went to talk to Vivian. She handed me the background folder on the kid and the family and told me to read it. When I was caught up she would tell me what to do, because Jack was in with the family.
I could only nod mutely as I headed back to my desk and sat down.
I stared at that folder for a few minutes, afraid to open it, afraid of what it would say. Seems stupid to be afraid of a bunch of papers but I was.
Finally I opened it. The first thing I saw was a copy of his birth certificate. I would have thought I’d see something else, something to ease me into the truth, but it didn’t happen. I read the stark data in black and white and my whole world changed.
Vin Tanner. Mother Mary Louise Tanner. Father - unknown. Date of birth - May 24 - seven years ago... in San Antonio...
I couldn’t read further; my mind was already flying through the years to mostly forgotten memories of a final summer fling. I’d gone down to San Antonio with a few of my college friends. We were under-aged, but it wasn’t that hard to get beer, especially not on-campus down there. There were kids from all over. I wasn’t quite three sheets to the wind, but maybe about one and a half, when I saw her... The most beautiful woman I’d ever seen - my Mary-Lou. We hit it off right away and talked and drank and... well.. I don’t exactly remember all the details, but we woke up in the same bed, in her bed, naked, the next morning. But there had been a used condom on the floor, so we used protection. I think. I had to go that afternoon and she was adamant she’d had fun and it was just a fling. No need to worry.
I tried to write her a few times, but she never answered.
Looking at the file, I knew why, but I couldn’t understand it. I wasn’t ready to be a father back then, but I would have helped.... I would have... I would have ruined my father’s plans for me.
The anger that flared was sudden and intense. I didn’t even question if he *could* interfere, I knew with certainty that he *had*. That’s why my letters went unanswered...
Of course, it was possible that despite the timing, despite my memory, I wasn’t the father... But looking up at that picture, I knew. I knew with absolute certainty that I was.
And with that revelation, a determination like I’d never known filled me - destroying the fear. I would find my son and nothing and no one would stop me.
I focused my attention back on the folder, devouring the details of my son’s life and what I read caused the anger I harbored toward my father to grow to an almost raging inferno. No child should suffer what he had, no child should feel the streets are a better option, and no child of mine should ever know what it was like to go hungry. And by denying me knowledge of this, my father had sentenced his own flesh and blood - his own grandson to a life no child should know.
As I read further, I discovered the account of how Vin was found, of how my son had been taken in by an ATF agent and eventually adopted.
That stopped me. My son was adopted. I could fight it if I needed to - the adoption, that is. I could win custody, but would that be best? Would that be what Vin needed? I still wasn’t ready to be a father, but what if this Larabee character didn’t measure up?
Shaking off these thoughts, I finished the folder and set it aside. My next order of business was to check out this Larabee person and see if he was worthy to raise my son. As I lifted his folder, I automatically began listing out additional reports I would want on Larabee. He may not be a suspect, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t thoroughly research him.
As I read his folder, I had mixed emotions. Reading the data, I couldn’t understand how a man like this could care for a boy, yet there was a time when he’d had his own wife and son. Something I’d been denied.
Pushing the anger aside again, I continued to read.
When I finished, I knew I had to meet the man. I had to judge for myself if he was fit to raise my boy. I quickly absorbed the information from the other files and stacked them neatly in a pile to return to Vivan. As I was about to rise, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Looking up I saw it was Samantha.
“You need to go outside and talk,” she said, her voice no-nonsense, but there was a hint of sympathy in her eyes.
I wanted to protest, but knew she was right. Nodding, I stood and walked to the door that led to our small balcony.
As I stood there looking out at the city, I wanted to scream, but the question that came out wasn’t the one I expected. “Why isn’t Denver MisPers handling this case?”
“They’re stretched too thin with their own cases at the moment and asked for our help. All the normal procedures have been followed - Amber alert, monitoring the phones...”
Her voice faded. She knew that’s not what I needed to hear. And I felt guilty dumping it on her, knowing she’d gone through enough. Then her first question came. “He’s yours isn’t he?” I could feel my jaw clench as anger threatened me once more. I nodded. “You didn’t know.” It was a statement. She wasn’t asking, she was making an observation.
I let out a long sigh and looked heavenward. “If I’d known, if I even had a clue...” I looked right at her, anger more evident in my voice than I had intended. “No child should have to live through that. I...”
She placed a hand on my arm to stop me, her face reflecting the consummate professional. “You’re right. No child deserves that. But he’s got a family that loves him now and a good home.” She paused for a moment before continuing. “I can’t even begin to imagine how you feel right now. But whatever it is, unless they agree to do a paternity test, it doesn’t matter what you know. That boy is someone else’s son and you need to treat this case that way.”
I could feel my teeth clenching again, my pride pricked by the fact she would even question my professionalism. Then I realized, she had every right to question it. If I couldn’t keep my emotions under control, I could cause a disaster - it had almost happened before. Looking out at the city and taking several deep breaths, I allowed the tension and anger to flow out of me and then nodded at Sam to let her know I was ready to go.
She smiled and headed back in. I followed and got right down to business.
Vivian had me start looking through Larabee’s active files. As an ATF agent, and a Team Leader, he’d made some enemies over the years, but the ones that concerned us first were the ones coming up for trial. I dug in and was able to weed out a lot of the ones that wouldn’t have a reason to snatch Vin.
I was still elbow-deep in current files when Jack stepped in and called us all to the table to give us the details.
“OK,” he began, “here’s what we know. Vin Tanner, aged seven and a half, was in town on vacation with his father, Chris Larabee, his father’s friend, Buck Wilmington and Wlimington’s son, John Dunne. The group had gone to Central Park to look at the animals since they are apparently a source of interest to the boys. The four of them were walking toward another exhibit when the younger boy, JD, called out and pointed to a clown blowing balloons as a group passed by behind them. The men turned to look and by the time they turned back, Tanner was gone.”
“We’ve been trying to determine if it was an organized group that passed by them,” Danny broke in. “I’ve been in touch with the police and they’ve given me the names of several of the groups who were there today as well as that of the clown in question.”
“Good,” Jack said.
“Martin and I have been going through Larabee and Wilmington’s open files,” Vivian said. “We’ve narrowed down the list of suspects so far.” Jack nodded
“I’m in contact with the hotel and people back in Denver,” Sam said.
“Ok,” Jack said, absorbing all the information. “Martin, I want you to go with Danny to the park. Sam, keep on with what you’re doing.”
“And me?” Vivian asked.
“You and I have a date with files. Besides, I think I’ll let you deal with those two. I’m betting Larabee won’t hit a woman,” Jack said with his wry half-smirk in evidence. “Let’s move it, people.”
And with that I found myself headed toward Central Park.
Looking around I have no idea how we got here. I remember Jack telling us to go to Central Park and track down the lead there and I remember leaving, but I don’t remember getting here.
On my way out I caught sight of the two men and the boy in the hall. One had dark hair and was trying to comfort a scared looking dark-haired boy. The other was a tall, thin, blond man dressed all in black. It was Larabee, the man who adopted my son.
I felt a shiver run through me as I thought of that –– my son. I didn’t know what to make of it. My world had been rocked by this revelation and I didn’t even have anything to say about it, didn’t even know about it.
Looking at that man as his head lifted, my step actually faltered. I’ve seen parents torn to shreds. My job requires I see people at their worst –– but the hell I read in those green eyes, that will stay with me forever.
Danny called back then and I got moving, but my mind was too occupied to pay attention to what he was saying. I reached up and unconsciously ran a hand through my hair.
What right did I have to worry about the boy? What claim did I have? I’ve seen the hearts ripped out of parents when their kids go missing. But there was something more in Larabee’s eyes –– like he wasn’t complete –– like a part of him was missing… I thought back to what I’d read in his file about how he lost his wife and son. I couldn’t imagine that. I couldn’t imagine what that does to a man, how that scars him. I just hoped he cherishes my boy the way Vin deserves - with all his heart and all his soul - the way all children should be cared for by their parents.
“That OK?” Danny asked me, snapping me from my reverie.
“What?” I replied. Not the most clever response; but I was a little distracted. Fortunately the fading sound of a truck gave me the excuse I needed. It passed behind while he was talking.
He sighed and rolled his eyes. “I swear you need your ears checked,” he lamented as I focused on him. “I said I’ll check around with the other vendors while you speak to the clown there.”
I nodded. “Sounds good.” He shook his head slightly and I headed off. I had the clown in my sights and I wouldn’t be deterred.
I waited until the kid he’s making a balloon for wanders off and feel a pang of … something, maybe jealousy or longing as I watched the kid run up to his mom and dad.
I can’t ever remember being that excited to show my parents anything. I hope my boy has the opportunity. I hope Chris Larabee is a good father.
“Hi!” I greeted as the clown looks at me. “Martin Fitzgerald. I’m with the FBI, Missing Persons.”
The clown nodded and held out his hand. “Richard O’Ryan,” he replied. “This about the little boy who went missing.”
He sighed. “I don’t know what more I can tell you than what I already told the officer.”
“I know it’s repetitive Mr. O’Ryan,” I said, trying not to roll my eyes. How many times do I say the same thing and to how many witnesses? “But it’s important. You might recall something when you retell it that you didn’t before.”
He nodded and began. “I was set up here. This is my usual spot. I’m here probably five days a week, gives me something to do since I retired and gets me out of the house so I don’t get on the wife’s nerves too much.”
I smiled politely at this little insight. “And what are you retired from?” I asked, getting what information I can.
“I was a clerk at Montgomery, Finch and Reason Investments down on Wall Street. To be honest, I prefer being a clown.”
I made a note, smiled and nodded for him to continue.
“Honestly, today was a pretty normal day. There were a lot of the usual groups around. Most of them came through this morning.”
“Was there anything unusual? Anyone hanging around? Anyone who seemed unusually interested in the kids?” I might have been leading him a little, but I had to know; a little boy’s life. I pulled myself up short at that thought. I was being overly dramatic, overly emotional. I had to pull back –– but I wasn’t sure how. After all, I went into work this morning just like always and found out I was a father. Add that to the knowledge that the boy was seven and missing… I took a deep breath and shoved my own concerns to the side. I had to get this information. I had to do it right.
I could see he was thinking about it. “I came here around my usual time. There were some parents out with their kids, a few adults sitting and reading. The first group of kids that I see is the preschool just across the way. They come over once a day with all the kids holding onto a rope. Then there was a group of maybe ten teens... I remember seeing the two men and their boys. You could tell they belonged together - the two blonds and the two brunets.”
I felt a pang in my heart. Vin was my boy, he should belong with me. Then another part of me rebelled at the thought of how much time a trouble a kid would be. “But you didn’t notice anything else?”
I could see the denial forming on his lips, but he stopped as if he just remembered something. “There was a lady staring at the family. At the time I thought it a little odd, but dismissed it, after all, the boys were laughing kind of loudly.”
I felt excitement build in my stomach. “Can you describe the woman?”
I watched his face contort in concentration before he shook his head no. “There wasn’t anything remarkable about her except the large sunglasses. Most people when they read don’t wear them.” He paused a moment. “Her hair was curly and kind of a dark blond, like the boy’s.”
“Did you see her make any move to approach the group?”
“No. Just about that time the church’s daycare came through and I got distracted by them. The police were already talking to the two men and the boy by the time the kids cleared out.”
“What church’s daycare was it, Mr. O’Ryan? Maybe one of the kids or the teachers saw something.”
He pointed out the church and I thanked him, gave him my card in case he thought of anything else and headed off to talk to Danny who was just finishing up.
“What did Chuckles have to say?” he asked, a smirk on his face.
“He remembered seeing a woman looking at the boys. She had dark blond, curly hair about the same color as Vin’s and was wearing sunglasses. The group that cut off his view is from the church there. I figured we should go talk to the teachers and see about talking to the students.”
“We’ll probably need parental permission to speak to the kids one on one,” Danny said. ”Especially if any of them got a good look at the woman - if she’s our suspect.”
I nodded. We could probably ask the kids as a group and then if anyone had anything, contact their parents and bring them down to the office to talk to an artist. “I suppose a promise to come down and talk to the kids about safety and not talking to strangers wouldn’t hurt either,” I mused, knowing it was the job of the police to hold such classes.
“Depends on how pretty the teachers are,” Danny replied, his grin widening to a smile and his eyebrows wiggling. I couldn’t help but smile back.
We made our way to the church and then to the daycare room. The lady in charge was nice, but couldn’t recall anything. She arranged for us to speak to each of the other teachers individually to see what we could find out and then, with a few smiles from Danny and myself, we managed to persuade her to allow us to speak to the children as a group and ask them what they remembered.
We got some very general information, mostly about the height of the woman, from the teachers, but it was the kids who gave us what we needed - the details.
“She smelled funny,” one girl said.
“Yeah, like that guy on the street with the bag,” a boy agreed.
Looking to the teacher for some help, she clarified, “There’s a man who drinks and lives on the street near here. He’s harmless, but the kids comment on the smell.”
“Was she dirty smelling?” Danny asked, trying to narrow it down.
“No,” the boy said thoughtfully. “She smelled more like the bag and the bottle.”
Great. She was drunk, although that might explain the glasses. Hopefully she wasn’t high as well.
“She had really white skin,” the first girl commented.
“And she didn’t have a purse,” another little girl observed.
“This is great, kids,” I encouraged. “Does anyone remember anything else?”
“She looked really sad when she took off her glasses,” a third girl offered quietly.
“She didn’t take off her glasses,” the first girl contradicted.
“Yeah,” the boy backed up.
“She did too,” the softly spoken girl said, looking at the floor, obviously distressed by the fact the others didn’t believe her.
I nodded to Danny to keep the kids talking and motioned the teacher to come with me. While Danny kept the other kids distracted. We drew the girl to the side of the room and I asked, “Would you tell me everything you saw?”
She seemed a little uncertain, but eventually agreed. Apparently she’d been lagging behind a little, having had to stop to tie her shoe. She saw the woman take off her glasses to reveal sad brown eyes. Then Miss Molly, one of the assistants, called to her and she ran to catch up.
I tried to hide my excitement and asked, “Do you think if your mom or dad came with you, you’d be able to help a friend of mine draw a picture of her?” I could see her thinking it over for a few minutes before glancing at her teacher and nodding. I smiled at her; she smiled back “That’s terrific,” I said. “Thank you.” Catching Danny’s eye, I mouthed ‘got it’ and he smiled.
Five minutes later I was talking to Ellen’s mother. Five minutes after that I was talking to Vivian to set up a meeting with the artist and hoping this was the break we needed to get my boy back.
All totaled, we ended up arranging for four kids and their parents to show up at the office. It might not be the easiest thing, but by taking all four descriptions and having them sketched, we would probably be able to figure out what the woman really looked like.
As I walked passed the room where Larabee was waiting with his friend and the other boy, I froze as I saw him throw the empty paper cup against the wall.
My insides went cold at the sight of such violence. Looking at the wide brown eyes of the other boy, I almost felt sick. Could this man be hiding a violent temper? Could he be taking that temper out on my Vin? If he ever lifted his hand against my son...
Before I was able to stop my self, I walked in. To my dying day I will never know how I managed to be so calm in the face of this man. “Is there a problem with the coffee?” I asked, a tight smile on my face.
Larabee cursed softly and ran a hand through his hair as he turned away.
“No,” Wilmington assured with a tight smile of his own. “Just venting some frustration at being cooped up here instead of out there doing something.”
Larabee turned and I locked eyes with him. “What would you do if you were out there looking?” I asked, thinking back to a time when Jack had asked me a very similar question.
Larabee glared at me. What is it about supervisors in government positions and glares? “I’d be doing a damn sight more than you people,” he growled. Stepping closer he practically spat, “In case you haven’t noticed, my son is missing and I don’t see you people doing a thing!”
I just stared him in the face. I’d had lots of practice at this with my own father. I could only wish he had ever cared so passionately about me. “So, what would you do if you were in charge?” I asked a second time, wondering exactly how close I was to experiencing physical violence.
“I...” Larabee began before trailing off.
I could see the minute it registered with him: that he lacked the skills needed for this type of work. I’d read his records. I knew how good he and his team were at their job. Now it was time for him to admit that this was an entirely different ballpark. I stood and waited, my own iron stance softening slightly as he deflated and turned to sit in a chair.
“I don’t know,” he admitted in defeat.
“I assure you, we’re doing everything we can,” I said, my voice holding a note of sympathy and comfort. “Let us help you. Let us do our jobs.”
He nodded his head in surrender. As I turned to leave, I saw Wilmington staring at me, a puzzled look on his face and I felt a bolt of fear. What if he realized? What if he had me pulled from the case? I nodded to him and left. Turning to look at the man who called my boy son one last time, I saw the other child - JD - walk up to him and place a hand on his arm. I also saw Larabee take the child into a fierce hug.
A lump in my throat and a strange longing in my heart, I headed toward my desk, my emotions and thoughts no clearer than before on the topic of Vin and his adopted father.
I met with Jack and Vivian, gave them my update and told them Danny was with one of the kids giving a description to the sketch artist. I also told them about what I’d seen in the conference room. I explained what Larabee’s state was and what I’d done and said as well as how I’d left him. A small portion of me perked up at the approval I read in both Jack and Vivian’s eyes.
Just then, Danny came in and announced, “We have it!”
“The composite?” Jack asked.
“Yes. We don’t have an ID yet, but they’re running it through the computers to see if we get any hits. They’re starting with Manhattan and then moving out to the boroughs...”
“Jack!” Sam called, moving across the room after hanging up the phone. “That was the Denver office,” she said breathlessly. “They got a call from the kid. One of Larabee’s friends confirmed it was Vin’s voice. They have it on tape.”
“Did they get a number?” Jack demanded.
“No,” Samantha informed, shaking her head. “But they’re digitizing the tape now and going to forward it to us. We should have it in a few minutes.”
“Are they analyzing it for background noise?” Vivian inquired.
Samantha nodded affirmative. “A copy is in their lab. The boys there will get the original as soon as possible.” Sending a look first at Martin and then at Jack, she continued, “Larabee’s co-worker said it might be best if he didn’t hear it. According to the office out there, the co-worker seemed pretty upset.”
I felt myself blanch at this information. What was happening to my boy? What was my son suffering at the hands of this woman? My son who I'd never met and, up until a few hours ago, didn’t even know existed.
“Martin, I want you to check with the lab on the recording when it comes in. Danny, you stick with the sketch. Sam, you and I will hit the park with the picture. Vivian,” he said, turning to face her, “you get Larabee and Wilmington. Update them on what we have, but don’t tell them about the tape. Go.”
“Aren’t I the lucky one?” Vivian intoned as she rose to deal with Larabee once more.
As the others moved out, Samantha moved up to me. “You OK?” she asked.
Was I ok? My life had been turned upside down, inside out and completely uprooted and changed and she wanted to know if I was ok. I stopped and honestly evaluated. I might be an emotional wreck right now, but I was still operating efficiently as a professional. “Yeah,” I answered before heading off to the audio lab to hear my son’s voice for the first time.
Swiss timing my... I don’t care what the watch says or how good it is, whoever made it has a cruel streak in them that would make Vlad the Impaler look warm and cuddly.
I knew that realistically it was only ten minutes and that time was passing at the same rate it always passed, but I can’t remember it ever taking so long. The clue to Vin’s whereabouts could be in his message. My son could be suffering even now because of the chance he took calling home and those idiots in Denver were taking forever to get us the message!
“Wow, they are fast,” one of the technicians said to the other when the digitized recording arrived via email.
“I was expecting at least another five minutes,” the other technician said.
I stopped dead in my tracks, not even realizing until that moment that I’d been pacing. I never would have made it five more minutes. Moving forward, I felt an odd mixture of anticipation and fear grip me. I didn’t know what to expect, but as the tape begins to play, the small, frightened voice ripped into me.
Voice 1: “Larabee residence”
Voice 2:“Un... Unca Ezra?”
Voice 1: “Vin! Yes, Vin. It’s me. Are you all right?”
Voice 2: “Ye... yeah. She ain’t hurt me none.”
Voice 1: “She who, Vin?”
Voice 2: “The woman. She says I should call her Ma, but Ma’s dead.”
Voice 1: “I know Vin. Vin? Do you know where you are?” A pause. “I need you to say it.”
Voice 2: “N... no.”
Voice 1: “Can you see out a window?”
Voice 2: “Yeah.”
Voice 1: “What do you see?”
Voice 2: “I see a p’liceman on a horse.”
Voice 1: “Anything else?”
Voice 2: “I see...”
Voice 3: “What are you doing, Timmy? I told you not to get on the phone.”
My mind froze in a vapor lock. My son... His voice was so scared, so unsure. He should be home safe, not calling halfway across the country to people who can’t help him.
“Agent Fitzgerald?” the voice repeated.
Shaking myself out of my stupor I nodded to the others. “Can you make me a copy?” Wow, what an obvious question. I took the tape he offered a moment later and headed back to the table. Samantha and Danny were there and I could see Vivian and Jack in with Larabee and Wilmington. I nodded to them to indicate they should come out before heading over.
Danny’s had the composite there. I brought over the tape and we all settled at the table.
“What do you have?” Jack asked me as he approached.
I’m already sitting on the edge of my chair trying to keep from flying apart but I leaned forward anyway. “Denver didn’t get a full trace, but we’ve narrowed it down. Vin wasn’t able to give much information just that he was unhurt and he saw a mounted police officer outside of the window. Just before the phone was hung up, the woman called out to him and called him Timmy. My guess would be Timmy was her son and she took Vin because he looked like him.”
“We can worry about that in a while. Right now I want to get in touch with the police to find out where all of their mounted officers have been in the past fifteen to twenty minutes. I want to get this composite out to them and find out if any of them know her. In the meantime, Sam, work with the police. Danny, you work with her. Martin, you start searching for children named Timothy around Vin’s age who have passed away, Viv, you and I will help him once we’ve spoken with the family.”
“Great,” Vivian said as she stood. “This should be fun.”
I watched them disappear toward the room holding my son’s adopted father and a part of me wanted to go and see how he would react to the news, to see... I don’t know what. I just wanted to know my boy, know he was all right, know he would be safe. As for me... I had the wonderful job of waiting for the Techs to finish with the tape and sifting through reams of data looking for a seven or eight year old boy with golden-brown hair and blue eyes who died in Manhattan within the past ten years.
If it hadn’t been for the fact I’d done searches like this often enough to do them in my sleep, I don’t think I would have been able to get Jack his information and keep my secret. As it was, the computer started in on the search parameters I’d put in and my eyes were drawn to the innocent face of my son. Standing, I walked over to the photo hanging on the whiteboard. Staring at it, into those eyes I could see a missing innocence as well. Maybe it was my imagination, after all, I’d read the reports in his file, but...
Running a hand through my hair, I shook my head and turned to see how far my search had gotten.
I sat down and winced at the results I saw already compiled. Looking through them, I tried to weed out the ones that didn’t seem to match our circumstances. There were a number of ways to narrow down the results, I decided to first eliminate all those parents who no longer lived in New York. Then I eliminated all couples who were still married. It was most likely our suspect was single.
I have no idea how long I’d been working through narrowing down our potential suspects when Jack and Vivian returned. I quickly caught them up on what I was doing and where things stood. They joined in and we progressed more quickly.
It wasn’t too long after Viv and Jack joined me that Danny and Samantha reappeared. “We have the locations and routes of all the mounted officers in the Manhattan area at and around the time of the call.”
“Good,” Jack said reaching out for the information. “We’re still going through the data Martin’s gathering. His computer is still spitting out leads, so you can pull up a few and start searching while we’re waiting on word from the police.”
They settled in as well and began searching. I couldn’t stand sitting and reading anymore. I had to move, I had to do something else. Standing, I lifted my coffee cup and headed toward the machine. Deciding I really wasn’t thirsty, I called that I was going to check on the tape.
Leaving the coffee mug by the pot, I headed off on my self-appointed task. I wanted to scream, shout, throw something. I knew we were getting close. This was always the most difficult part of a case for me - knowing we were getting close yet having the answer just out of reach as we waited for that final break.
I glanced into the room where Larabee was seated and I studied his face for a few minutes. I could see the boy was asleep on Wilmington’s lap. The dark haired man was speaking softly to his friend. A part of me wanted to go in and spend time getting to know Christopher Larabee, but I knew I couldn’t. I couldn’t let on that I was Vin’s father. If I did that, I would be pulled from the case not to mention the fall-out not only from his new family but from my own - especially since I didn’t have the proof. Still he’s my boy. I must...
Tearing myself away, I continued on my original path. The information was still being processed so I headed back and almost bumped into Wilmington. I muttered my excuse. “Do you know where you’re going?”
He was staring at me, a puzzled expression on his face. Finally, he shook himself and offered a half-smile. “Just off to use the facilities. I’ll find my way back,” he supplied before heading off.
I smiled and headed off toward the others, but I felt his eyes on me again. Somehow he suspected something. Settling into my chair with my fresh cup of coffee, I picked up where I left off and continued the search.
I’m not sure how much more time passed before Samantha’s phone rang and she went to answer it.
I could feel my heartbeat increase at the thought that this call was the one we needed. I tried to keep my focus on the sheets in front of me, but quickly gave up the pretense and turned to stare at Samantha and listen in on the conversation. It was a relief to discover that I wasn’t the only one staring.
When Samantha turned around, her face revealed everything before she said it. “We’ve found her.”
And that leads me back to where I started, standing here waiting for things to begin.
Too slow. Everything is too slow. I know where my son is and I can’t get to him fast enough. But as we climb the steps, I can feel the acid churning in my stomach and my head screaming as emotions tear through me. Is this right? Can I see Vin and give him back? Can I see Vin? What would I be? What am I doing here? I know better than to do this. I’m too involved.
I have to see my son, make sure for myself he’s all right. Make sure he’s safe.
And now I stand here, waiting, as Jack knocks on the door and identifies himself. We hear a door slam inside and Jack doesn’t wait. He kicks open the door.
In a heartbeat he is inside. I allow the others to go in and secure the apartment. Danny finds the woman and has her pinned to the floor. I don’t even look at her. I have to get to my boy. I have to get to Vin.
I can’t tell how I know, but I just do. The woman is screaming incoherently on the floor, of no use to anyone in that state. Vivian and Samantha are looking in the closets, but I know where Vin is.
Pushing past my co-workers, I head for the kitchen and immediately see the locked cabinet. There is no sign of the key and I don’t want Vin to wait any longer. I can only assume it was a weak lock or rotted wood because, as I take hold of the handle and pull, one of the two doors comes off, the other swinging open now that it is no longer held in place by the lock.
And then my world stops.
All noise fades away.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t think.
I am overwhelmed.
There, beneath a shelf, in a space too small for any boy, is Vin.
I crouch down to be eye level with him. I read the shock in his eyes, which is quickly replaced by wonder and puzzlement.
I don’t know what I’m doing, what I’m thinking. That’s not true, I’m not thinking.
Eventually, though I find my voice. “Vin?” I ask softly. I wonder if he can hear the emotions playing through the name. I fight against the prickling behind my eyes that I know is the precursor to tears. No man should ever find their boy like this.
Vin scoots closer to the edge of the cabinet, his eyes never leaving mine. When he is at the edge and has a clear escape path, he allows his eyes to drop and sees my badge. Reaching out a small, shaking hand, he traces a finger over it before raising his eyes to meet mine. Those eyes are so expressive, they are so full. If mine show even half of what his do it’s no wonder the others can read me like a book.
“It’s okay, son,” I manage to whisper before my throat closes completely as emotion overwhelms me.
As I finish those words, he looks up and scans my eyes once more and then... I don’t have the words to describe what happens next. The action itself is so simple, so ordinary and yet...
Vin reaches out then and circles his arms around my neck, burying his face in my shoulder.
I wrap my own arms around him and hold him so tightly. I... I never want this moment to end. I’ve never felt... I didn’t know... Again, words fail me. There just is no description for what it’s like to hold your child in your arms for the first time - to feel their trust, to know they are a part of you.
For all the shifting and tilting my world has been doing today, nothing else matters at this moment.
I don’t remember what I say. I will always remember his hot tears soaking me and the silent, trembling sobs that shake his body.
At some point I must have sat on the floor still holding him.
Time has no meaning during those moments, sitting on the floor holding and rocking my son.
Then time begins again as Vivian places a hand on my shoulder and softly tells me that the paramedics need to check Vin over before we go to the hospital. I nod and catch sight of Sam’s face. I can see the tears she tries to wipe away. Her eyes are showing understanding and... loss. A strange combination, but I don’t have time to do more than register it before the paramedics come into view.
With soft words I try to coax Vin into letting them take a look at him. He refuses until the paramedics assure him that I can hold him while they check him out. Only then does he utter a soft, “Okay.”
As they are taking his vitals, I find myself overawed by the trust Vin displays in me. I am a stranger to him, someone he’s never known, probably never knew existed. Yet there is this trust that he shows for me that baffles me. A vague memory comes to me of a professor once telling me that little kids seem to instinctively know if you are a parent or not and trust accordingly. I had laughed it off as nonsense at the time. I still don’t think there’s any foundation in fact for it, but I’d like to think Vin somehow, on some level, knows I am his father, that I love him and want what is best for him.
When the paramedics are finish with their exam, they inform us that Vin is fine. They had been asking questions, questions I had asked before, questions that sickened me to ask. Never have I been more sickened, more angry than when they were asked of the child in my arms. Thank God the answer was “no” to all of them.
As Vin buries his face in my shoulder once more and wraps his hand in my shirt, I tighten my grip on him and tell him it will be fine and we’ll bring him to his family.
Jack is off talking with the police. Sam is helping Danny with the woman in question. Vivian is standing beside me and hears the break in my voice when I say family. I don’t think she’s figured out that I am Vin’s father, at least not yet. But I realize she will figure it out and that means Jack will too. And once Jack figures it out, I am going to be in trouble - again.
Sam comes over just then and crouches down beside me. She tells me she has a question for Vin.
With me encouraging him, he turns to face Sam, his head still resting on my shoulder. Sam asks if the lady had put something smelly over his face in the park. He nods yes and says she put a cloth over his mouth and nose. It made him feel strange and he didn’t like it.
She thanks Vin and then answers the question in my eyes by mouthing ‘chloroform’.
I manage to quickly stamp out the murderous rage that flares within me at the thought of someone putting my son through that. Anger isn’t what Vin needs now. Right now he needs me. Right now he needs his fath...
And that’s where my thoughts stop.
Vin bears half of my genes, he is my son.
I was never given the chance to be his father. That opportunity was taken away from me before I ever knew I had the chance.
Chris Larabee is Vin’s father now and I have no right to take that away from him, to take Vin from where he belongs.
Yet even as I think it and know the rightness of that thought, my soul screams inside me at the wrongness of it. It screams that Vin is mine, my son, my kin and no one can take that from me.
Jack steps into the room just then and quietly announces it is time to go.
Swallowing back my own desires, my own needs, I put Vin’s needs first in my thoughts, first in my heart and stand. Hoping my voice isn’t shaking as badly as I am, I whisper, “Let’s get you back to your dad.”
Jack decided it would be easier on Vin if he went to the hospital for a check-up after being reunited with his family. I don’t know how I feel about that. It’s good that Vin will be back with his family, but that means I have to give him up that much sooner. I find myself losing track of events around me as I hold my boy close and pray that time stops moving forward.
Samantha is driving Vin and I back to the office. I’m not sure how that happened, but I am thankful for it. It gives me time to think, time to spend a few minutes with my son, minutes that might be the only ones I will ever have. I have no idea what to say. What could I possibly say to my boy that would mean anything in so short a time?
Words fail me, so I sit silently by him, my arm around his shoulders, allowing him to seek whatever comfort I have to offer.
I can feel the conflict within me between what I want and what I know is right.
I could keep him with me. Vin could be mine. True, it would be a fight at first, but I would have him. He belongs with his father. Yet, at the same time, I remember the anguish of Larabee and know it to be the true anguish of a parent missing their child. There is no question that Chris Larabee is Vin’s father.
I can see Sam looking at me in the rear view mirror, her eyes speaking volumes. I know if I try to keep Vin with me she will stand against me. Though it hurts to do so, I shove aside my own concern and try to think of something I can say.
“Your Dad, JD and Buck are going to be happy to see you,” I say, smiling down at the child who doesn’t know he’s mine.
His eyes look up into mine and I imagine there’s some sort of connection between us, an understanding. “I didn’t run away,” he states firmly.
I smile softly in understanding. “I know that,” son. I want to call him son. I want him to know, but it’s not the right time, not the right thing to say. Vin has a family and I’m not part of it. God, please let me be from now on. “And so do they,” I assure him, my voice serious. I don’t want him to doubt for a second that his family thought he’d leave them.
He reads my eyes for a few more seconds, probably trying to judge my sincerity. His intensity makes my heart ache for what he’s suffered, for what could have been prevented if I’d only known...
“We’re here,” Sam announces as she turns into the parking garage.
Too soon. It’s too soon. I haven’t had any time with Vin, any time to hold him and talk to him, to tell him... I don’t know what, but ...
But he has an anxious family waiting upstairs, a family who obviously means everything to him. I have to let him go. I have to bring him back. Taking all my emotions and putting them in one of Vivian’s boxes, I smile down at my boy and ask, “Ready to go see your dad?”
I nearly choke on the last word, but he must not have noticed. My question is rewarded with a huge smile and a vigorous nod. Smiling back and reaching out to ruffle his shaggy locks, my breath hitches as a memory catches me off guard. His mother’s hair was this soft. Mine is more coarse. I want to tell him, but I can’t. Sam has opened the door and is staring meaningfully at me.
Pushing away the newly recovered memory, I slide out and reach for Vin’s hand. “Now hold tight,” I say with a smile. He smiles back and nods, excitement and relief dancing in his blue eyes, but I read residual fear there as well and I know he’s going to have nightmares. I can only hope Chris Larabee will be there to comfort my son. Somehow I know he will be.
With a small shake of our joined hands, we set off for the elevator which will lead us up to the office. I look down again, unable to take my eyes off Vin, knowing that these might be the last few moments I ever have with him, the last time I can touch him, the last time I can be with him.
“Why are you sad?” he asks, his face serious, his eyes concerned.
I feel a shot of panic race through me. I can’t tell him. I know I can’t. Not now. Swallowing back the lump in my throat, I smile down, knowing it doesn’t chase away the shadows in my eyes. How do I answer that?. My mouth opens before I think things through. “Because you’re going to go home and I won’t get to see you again.”
I hear Samantha’s small gasp and can see her shocked expression as she stared at me. I nearly kick myself for having said too much, but I can’t take my eyes off of the ones staring up at me.
I’m eventually rewarded with a small, reassuring smile as my wonderful, amazing, brave boy pats my arm with his free hand. “It’s okay. Maybe you can visit us at home? I can ask Chris.”
I’m speechless. I want to scream “yes!” but I’m not sure if it’s appropriate. I know we’ve kept in touch with some of the people we’ve helped, but it’s more a Christmas cards and the occasional email type relationship, not a “come visit for a week” type.
There is a ding and the doors slide open.
“We’re here,” Sam announces unnecessarily, her eyes drilling into mine.
I nod my head and smile down at my son. “Ready?” I ask, feeling the smile soften as his vigorous nod sends shards of glass ripping through my soul. “Okay, then,” I say, stepping into the corridor.
We walk down the short hall and into the one that will lead back to the room where his family is waiting. As we step into the corridor, all sound seems to fade away and I feel almost as if I’m watching someone else. Maybe it’s just my mind’s way of dealing with the emotional overload I’ve been suffering. Maybe it’s how my mind and body react to having my heart ripped out.
Larabee’s blond head turns toward us the minute Vin’s foot hits the hall floor. I watch as his eyes widen and his mouth drops open. I clearly see shock, relief and then joy flash across his face. Seemingly in slow motion, at least to me, I see this man, this ATF Team Leader, one of the most feared and respected men in government, a man who has lost more than most can image, this stoic, supposedly unfeeling man, race down the hall at a full run.
I feel Vin pull free from my hand as Wilmington and his son step out of the room and let out whoops of joy.
I watch as Vin races forward and as Chris Larabee drops to his knees, wrapping his arms around my son as tears stream from his hazel eyes. I see Vin’s face buried in his shoulder and his arms wrapped around the man’s neck.
I feel something in me shatter and, though finding it nearly impossible to do so, I manage to turn away and head for the small balcony not caring if my actions seem odd or out of character. I can’t handle seeing what I will never have with Vin.
The clicking of the door closing behind me seems to shut out the silence and emotion that was crushing me and I feel... nothing...
I have no idea how long I’ve been standing out here. I have no concept of time.
I finally figure out what I’m feeling. Loss. But I don’t know why.
Placing my hands on the railing, I lean forward and allow my head to drop. This morning I was Martin Fitzgerald, FBI Agent, bachelor, childless.
Then my world was turned upside down. But was it really?
Am I really any different? Vin is my biological son, but I’m not his father. If nothing else could prove that to me, Larabee’s and Vin’s reactions should.
I hear the door behind me open and an unfamiliar tread approach.
The person stops within a foot of me at my side. I don’t have the energy to look up.
“Tell me something,” a deep voice asks. It is hard, and I can hear the tightly controlled anger that he is trying to hide. I say nothing, but he continues. “Did you know about him? Did you know about Vin and just leave...”
I don’t let him finish the question. The anger burning within me won’t allow it. Spinning on my toes, I stare up into the accusing blue eyes of Buck Wilmington. I see he’s figured out the truth. I know I shouldn’t admit it, but the words are out before I can censor them. “How dare you ask that?” I hiss. The rage I feel is causing my heart to race and, I’m sure, turning my face red. “How could any man not want their son? How could any thinking, feeling, caring human being not want to take that child and love him? If I had known, if I’d even had an inkling that I had that boy, I would have married his mother and given him the best home I could have. My God! What kind of monster would allow his child to suffer like that when they could make a difference!”
I’ve said too much. I turn away and look out at the city, afraid to look inside and see the son I can never have, never know, afraid to look at the man beside me wondering if he’s going to report me and not caring.
“How could you not know?” he asks, emotions causing his voice to tremble. Anger is the predominant emotion, but I can hear sadness and disbelief.
I hang my head, my teeth clenching. It’s really none of his business, but I wonder if he doesn’t have a right to know. He is, after all, a part of my son’s family.
Lifting my head, I look at nothing in particular as my eyes lose focus. “I was young. I was stupid. I was drunk and I fell in love. We had one night together and she never contacted me again. I wrote her, tried to call her but...” I can’t continue on it just doesn’t seem to matter. I’m never going to see her or Vin again.
Silence engulfs the small balcony. I can feel the tension level decrease dramatically. “If I’d only known...” I’m startled to realize I said that out loud and can only hope Wilmington didn’t hear it.
Turning I look him in the eye, daring him to judge me.
Instead of judgment I see compassion. I struggle to maintain my control.
He nods his head as if coming to some sort of decision.
I realize it’s now or never. If I’m going to be able to retain any part of my son in my life, I have to ask, but do I have the right?
Swallowing I decide to dive in head first. “I know I don’t have a right to ask,” I begin, not allowing myself to look away. “But I would like to have some part in Vin’s life.” Seeing him take a breath as if to respond, I rush on hoping to find some way to be allowed into my son’s world. “I’m not going to try and take him from Larabee. It would only hurt him,” I choke out as my eyes betray me and slide toward the office where the blond is still holding my son tightly and where my son refuses to relinquish his hold of the man who has clearly become his father.
With great effort I rip my eyes away from the scene and know I can’t hide the pain. “I know I’m not on the birth certificate, but I know he’s my son. Everything matches up. He looks just like me when I was his age,” I whisper as my eyes stray inside once more.
A small shifting of Wilmington’s feet draws my eyes back up to his. “Does Larabee know?” I ask, suddenly needing to find out.
Wilmington shakes his head. “No. Chris hasn’t been able to think rationally since this morning when Vin disappeared,” he admits.
I nod my head. “I don’t know what to ask and what not to. I don’t know if there is a place for me in his life...” My voice trails off and I sigh as I wonder if I’ll be able to be a part of Vin’s life knowing I can never have the role I desire. Reaching into my coat pocket, I pull out a business card and a pen. I quickly jot down my home email address and phone number on the back and press it into Wilmington’s hand.
“I don’t think either of us are ready for this discussion,” I say, nodding toward Larabee. I know to the depths of my soul that I’m not. “That’s my home email address and phone number. I’d like to discuss it with the both of you once we’re all on a more even keel. If nothing else...” My voice trails off, as I try to speak the words. “If nothing else, I ask only that you email me with occasional updates to let me know how he’s doing. I certainly won’t contact him without Larabee’s express permission.” I turn and seek my son once more as if torturing myself in this way will help. “But now that I know he’s out there, I can’t just let him go,” I finish, my voice little more than a whisper as the emotions and desires I’ve been battling all day nearly overwhelm me.
There are several seconds of silence before I feel a hand reach over and rest on my shoulder. I glance over and see Wilmington smiling at me. His eyes are shining and if I didn’t know better, I’d say they were shining with tears almost as if he understood. “I’ll see what I can do,” he promises, as he pats my shoulder one last time and returns inside.
I watch him cross the office, lift his son and sit next to Larabee and Vin.
Somehow a weight’s been lifted from inside of me as the light of hope takes up residence. I can breathe again and feel some of the tension relax inside me knowing that my son, Vin Tanner, will not be lost to me forever.
And for right now that’s enough.
I may never be his dad, but he will always be my son.
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