Vin's hands beat a staccato rhythm on the Jaguar's steering wheel as he sang along with the raucous melody pouring out of the radio.
Having fun? came the amused whisper in his mind.
Sure am! he thought back. She handles like a dream!
She sure does, Ezra laughed in his mind. Add a meatball sub to your order.
Let me guess – Buck came in.
An image of Buck leaning on JD's desk and teasing him came into his mind, and Vin chuckled. Meatball sub. Got it.
A mental hug full of affection, and Ezra withdrew slightly, leaving only the 'buzz' of his presence in Vin's mind.
As the Jaguar pulled up outside a sandwich shop, a watcher across the road slapped the arm of another. "Look at that...."
"Hey, I know that car! That's Maude's boy's car!"
"Don't she owe you money?" the first mused. "Several hundred grand she skipped town with?"
"Yup," the second tough grinned as he pulled a gun from his waistband. "Time to get my interest. Family collateral, as it were."
The Jaguar's door opened, and the driver started to emerge.
Ezra suddenly lurched to his feet and arched backward in the same movement. His hand flew to his temple and he let out a pained groan as he crashed to the ground.
Nathan raced to Ezra's side. Buck's eyes widened and he roared to Chris's door, jerking it open.
Sure enough, Chris was on the floor, eyes glazed and breathing hard. Buck helped him sit up. "What happened?"
Chris's eyes were open, but he didn't seem to be seeing Buck. "Vin..." he gasped. "Some.... something's happened to Vin..."
Nathan appeared in the doorway. "How's he?"
"Stunned," Buck looked up. "He said--"
"Something's happened to Vin. I know." Nathan looked shaken. "Vin's fled his head – they're both inside Ezra."
Buck stood up, helping Chris back into his chair. "They're what?"
"That's bad, ain't it?"
"I don't know," Nathan sighed. "This whole thing is beyond my realm of experience. I don't know how long Vin's body can survive without him and I don't know how long Ezra's body can survive havin' two souls inside him."
Chris stood by the glass window, staring at the motionless body on the bed.
Machines were keeping Vin's body alive. A doctor had approached Chris not twenty minutes earlier and had sadly informed him that their tests showed that Vin was brain-dead and would he consider organ donation....
Chris had cut him off and had told him to keep the body alive until he gave them permission to turn off life-support. Since he had medical POA for Vin – as did Ezra – they obeyed his orders.
Another doctor was in there right now, doing what she could to heal the bullet graze to Vin's head. Chris watched her working, not interfering with her.
He felt rather than heard Ezra's approach. He turned to face him. "How are you doing?"
"Fine, now that we figured out how t'keep our heart from racin'," Vin's voice rippled from Ezra's throat. "Thought Nathan was gonna have a stroke till our blood pressure came down." He lay a hand on the glass. "So that's what happened. I got shot."
"Any idea who?"
"Nope." Then something shifted and Ezra sent, I might.
Repeat that? Chris sent, tilting his head slightly.
Vin, you said the last thing you remember is getting out of the Jag?
Vin nodded their shared head. All I heard was something about a message and 'Ma'.
Something about giving or sending a message to... your Ma?
Yeah. It makes no sense. Ma died when I's--
Vin, it makes perfect sense. Ezra sighed. They recognised the Jag, obviously. They recognised it as my car. They mistook Vin for me.
"Shit," Chris breathed. Someone who crossed Maude?
"That would be my best theory," Ezra said aloud. "And it fits all the available facts."
"Well, then," Vin's voice took over and Chris barely managed to restrain the automatic double-take. Vin's shy, crooked smile on Ezra's face showed a flash of gold before he turned back to the window. "We find Maude, we'll find them." He sighed. "In the meanwhile, we got another problem."
Chris lay a hand on the Armani-jacketed shoulder. "What's that?"
"I been tryin' t'go back t'my own body." His eyes locked on the limp form surrounded by machines. "And I cain't."
JD's fingers flew over the keys as Ezra dictated. "Are you sure this will work?"
"I know my mother," Ezra said with a tight smile. "If she's anywhere near a computer – this will work."
The mouse clicked twice, and then JD refreshed the page. "There it is."
Ezra studied the coded message and then gave a swift nod, squeezing JD's shoulder in thanks. JD bit his lip – it was such a Vin move that he was sure it came from the displaced soul.
Ezra unclipped his cell phone as he made his way to his desk and made certain it was turned on.
Less than an hour later, it rang. Ezra answered it and smiled. "I thought so. Come to the park at eighth. We need to talk and it can't wait."
Ezra sighed. I know.
So do we leave?
I'm gonna give her another fifteen or twenty minutes. Ezra was so focused on watching for her that he didn't even notice the slang. I'm hoping her cab is merely hitting every red light.
And if it's not?
Moot point, Vin. There she is. He stood. "Mother!"
Maude Standish swept over to the park bench and hugged Ezra warmly. "My dear boy – what is the matter?"
"Mother, I need you to come with me. It's a matter of utmost urgency."
She frowned. "Of course, darlin'. But I don't understand--"
"You will, Mother. You will."
The beeping of the monitors seemed overly loud to Maude. The ever-changing numbers and graphs on the video display were garishly bright.
But the sight of the man lying so unnaturally still chilled her while at the same time she felt her cheeks fire with emotion. "That's... Mister Tanner, isn't it?"
"Vin, Mother. His name is Vin."
"What happened to him?"
"Someone shot him, Mother. Thinking he was me. It was a message for you."
Her head snapped around and her eyes narrowed. "Ezra... perhaps you'd better start from the beginning."
Maude pulled the Jaguar up outside the sandwich shop Vin had been shot outside of. She slowly got out of the car, making a show of fussing with her purse.
"Well, well...." the shooter chuckled from across the street. "Will you look who's crawled back into town."
There was no reply from his partner, sitting behind him. Not that he really expected one – he'd shot him dead to settle an argument just an hour prior.
"Reckon I'll go get what she owes me." And he jogged across the street.
Maude turned to face him – and looked genuinely surprised. "What are you doing here?"
He jammed his gun under her ribs. "You're coming with me. There's a little matter of several hundred grand that you owe me."
"Is that why you shot my son?" she snarled back.
"Right on one, Maudie." He forced her back across the street. "Why'd you skip on me?"
"You couldn't be trusted to keep your word," she snarled at him. "And you beat me up. Twice."
"Just business, Maudie."
"Not for you. Now --" she noticed the fresh corpse and cringed away from it momentarily before her shoulders straightened. "Why'd you shoot my boy?"
He laughed. "I told you. Nobody skips on Layton Monroe, lady!"
"And nobody shoots my brother," Ezra drawled as he came out of the shadows, Vin's gun trained on Monroe. His eyes burned with two men's rage at finding out what kind of monster this was.
Monroe whirled as five other men stepped from the shadows, guns drawn.
Now, Monroe was greedy. He was sadistic. He really, really enjoyed hurting and killing people. But one thing Monroe was not was a fool.
He surrendered on the spot.
"Brothers," Maude muttered as JD helped her into the Ranger for the ride back to the office. "What an interesting angle for a con!"
As the Ranger drove off, Vin snorted in Ezra's mind. Ain't an angle. Not no more.
I think I've got it, Vin reported as Ezra and Chris congregated at the hospital. I know why I can't get back.
Tell us, Chris ordered.
It's the machines. And the fact we're separated by walls. When I fled here, it was an emergency situation. Returning, things are a little more.... leisurely.
Chris nodded and they went into the room. The doctor was informed, and papers were signed saying Chris had agreed to total life-support termination.
Then, one by one, the machines were disconnected. With a word of sorrowful sympathy for their loss, the doctor left the room. Vin's body lay motionless and unbreathing.
That, too, Vin ordered. That has to go, too.
Ezra walked over and removed the tube down Vin's lax throat. Then he took each of Vin's limp hands and closed his eyes.
Ten seconds later, Vin gave a shuddering gasp as his body flared back to life. Exhausted blue eyes opened and looked around. Locking on Ezra, a crooked smile touched the bruised lips.
Ezra and Chris whooped as Vin's eyes drifted closed and he surrendered to sleep. Impishly, Ezra put one lead back on Vin's chest and flipped the switch on the monitor.
A startled doctor – the same one that had breathed the words of sympathy – ran back in. Shooing Ezra from the bed, he examined Vin. Then he stepped back, eyes huge. "Gentlemen, I think we've just seen a miracle."
Chris and Ezra smiled at each other. Neither of them would ever be sure who exactly had 'voiced' it.
No miracle. Just brotherly love.
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