Part of me is curious about what Mother is going to do to Tony but most of me is gibbering at the very thought of having kids. Sebal'c is a cute little boy but mostly the babies on Home are drooling little bundles of need. I know I'm not main stream in this feeling. Everybody at the party we just left is gaga over them. Ducky cuddling little Cheyenne was cute but she is so tiny, there's no way I want to hold her.
Tony is nervous but so am I. Mother transports us to our bedroom at my place before speaking to us again.
//Tony needs to rest afterwards// she informs us
I help him undress before he slides into bed. He holds out his hand to me, and I quickly strip to join him. Under the covers, I cuddle him close.
He takes a deep breath, and lets it out slowly. "Okay, Mother, I'm ready."
Nothing seems to happen for a long moment then slowly Tony's skin begins to glow. I'm so busy watching the light radiating from his skin I don't notice his facial expression changing. But when I do look, his face is a mask of pain. Before I can panic, he gasps, his whole body going rigid in my arms, and then melting like wax.
"Tony!" I shout, afraid to hold him too tightly. "What's wrong?"
//changes go deep// her thought is apologetic
"It's . . . okay . . . Jethro," his voice is just short of a whisper. "Sleep . . . now."
"I've got you, Tony." I soothe a kiss to the tender skin at his temple. "Sweet dreams, love."
His lips tilt up a hair before slackening in sleep. He's a brave man, my Tony. I don't understand this need he has but I'm going to have to if I want to keep him happy. Maybe if I spend more time with the kids of Home, I'll come to understand what he's feeling. I mean it feels good that he loves me so much he wants to give us a child. But I just never felt the need for a son or daughter.
I fall asleep still wondering where this will end.
********* Ezra *********
A shout wakes me up. Was it inside or outside? Has the owner come home? I shiver all over, bumping my ankle when I move too fast to sit up. White-hot pain flashes through it, and I have to bite my fingers to keep from whimpering out loud. I touch it gingerly, and it's all swollen. It's dark in the closet but I think it will be all red 'cause it feels really hot.
It feels like my arm did when I fell two homes ago. That foster mother told me it was my fault because I was a clumsy, disrespectful child. I had to wear a cast for six long weeks, and I never wanted to do that again. Maybe it's just sprained, I tell myself over and over until the pain feels a little less.
The closet door isn't quite shut just like it was when I went to sleep. Maybe the owner isn't home yet, and the shout really was outside. I'm feeling hot all over, and I really need another glass of water. Taking a deep breath, I awkwardly crawl out of the closet. I look around carefully but there's nothing different in the hall or what I can see in the kitchen.
It takes a long time to crawl there, and I hurt all over when I reach the table. The counter seems awfully tall when I look up but I'm really thirsty so I pull the chair over to climb up. I have to cry once I get there because I jar my ankle. Rocking back and forth a little seems to help so I rest a while before turning on the water. My hands are shaking, and I don't fill it as full as before.
It tastes even better now so I drink three more times before regretfully putting the glass back in the drainer and hopping down to the chair. I need a bathroom. I really hope there's one on this floor. I don't want to climb the stairs. Once on the floor again, I decide hopping will be faster so I keep a hand on the wall, and venture into the living room.
It's nice with a comfortable looking leather sofa. I'd really like to sleep on it instead of the floor but what if the owner comes home and finds me? He might shoot me. Maybe once it's dark I can try it out. There's a door further down so I hop on, and peek into the room. It's full of bookcases and lots and lots of boxes. One of them is open so I look inside, and see big books stacked on top of each other.
Wow, he's got a lot of books. But why are they in boxes still? Maybe new people moved in recently? Maybe they're nice. I hug myself, hoping even though I know I shouldn't. There's another door leading out of this room, and I hop over to find a little bathroom. It's just a toilet and sink but real clean with pretty yellow towels. It will be easier to get water here 'cause all I'll have to do is climb up on the toilet seat.
There's even a matching yellow plastic glass on the sink top that won't be so heavy to lift. I unfasten my jeans and push them down with my droopy underwear. They're from my last home, and probably hand-me-downs from some other kid before me. They're dirty, and I hate being dirty but maybe I can wash them in the sink before the owner comes home. I hop up so I can sit and pee. I'm careful, making sure I don't spray anywhere. I don't need to poop so I wipe carefully before sliding back down.
Getting everything buttoned and zipped takes me longer because of my ankle. I'm right, it's red and purple. I almost forget to flush but I remember before leaving. I'll wash my hands later when I get thirsty. Back in the cluttered room, I investigate it a little more before heading for the sofa. Do I take a chance? Biting my lip, I decide to lie down for just a little.
I really like it. There's even a soft pillow for my head. I don't need a blanket because I'm really, really hot. Oh, this is much better than the floor.
********* Tony *********
I snap awake. Blinking my eyes slowly, I wonder why. Jethro's arm is lying across my stomach, and I can feel some lingering ache inside of me. Part of me is wondering what Mother did to my body while part is pondering what awakened me. Jethro snores a little. He does that especially when he's on his stomach.
It's a gurgle in the pipes that finally clues me in. The downstairs toilet sounds like that when it flushes. I blink again. Why in the world would it be flushing? Sitting up, I listen for any other sounds of an intruder.
"Tony?" Jethro's sleepy voice comes from the squished pillow.
I throw back the covers, leaving the bed. "I thought I heard the downstairs toilet flush."
"What?" He wakes up quickly and joins me. "Why would a burglar use the john?"
I grin at him, saying in a low voice, "One with bladder problems?"
"Very funny," he whispers, grabbing his gun from the bedside table drawer while I'm shrugging on my robe and tying it off.
My gun is locked up in the gun locker in our closet so I grab the malachite ball that usually sits in the window on my side of the bed. My fast throw should take out anybody I can see.
At the top of the stairs, we pause to listen but there's no sound at all.
We creep down and I check the kitchen before coming back to Jethro. It may be inappropriate but all I can really think of is how cute he looks wearing only a pair of boxers. The hall closet is slightly open, and Jethro checks it out before we head into the living room. We kept my sofa when I moved in a month ago. And we definitely kept my TV and stereo system.
Something green on the sofa catches my eye. Easing over, I blink twice before touching Jethro's arm. There's a child in a green t-shirt, sound asleep on the cushions. He has dark hair curling all over his head but his skin is flushed, and I need to touch him to check the fever I suspect he has. Catching Jethro's eye, I jerk my head back towards the stairs, and mime him getting a little more dressed.
Touching the gun still in his hand, I make a cutting movement. He nods, his eyes going back to the small figure with such an amazed look. I know exactly what he's feeling, surprise, shock, and worry. He leaves like the cat I call him while I quietly move around the sofa to sit on the coffee table. In the light from the window my eyes travel slowly down the small body.
His clothes are dirty; I count at least three bruises on the small arms; his t-shirt is too big for him, likely a hand-me-down, I decide. But when I reach his feet, I spot potential trouble. His left ankle is three times its normal size, streaked with purple bruising. I wince in sympathy. That has to hurt, and may be one of the reasons his little face is scrunched in pain even while asleep.
Jethro appears by my side, and I gesture him over to the old recliner so we don't scare the kid half to death. Taking a deep breath, I reach over to gently stroke the tiny hand nearest me. He flinches awake with startling speed, scooting away until the sofa back stops him. And my heart breaks at the tell-tale sign. He's been abused on a regular basis.
Takes one to know one.
"Hi, my name is Tony. You're safe here, little one. We're not going to hurt you. I promise."
His eyes dart around the room until they find Jethro, trying to look friendly and unthreatening. He's still tense but when his eyes come back to me, they're brave. "Ezra . . . my name is Ezra."
I smile tenderly. "Nice to meet you, Ezra. We just got home from a little trip. I'm glad you were able to come in where it's warm. But we're curious why you're not at home."
"Bad men came." His voice trembles when he remembers. "Big bangs and then crashing sounds. I ran away."
"Where did the bad men come?"
He points to the west. "Mr. Rivers' house on the other side of the woods."
"Are you Ezra Rivers?" I didn't think the man had kids.
He shakes his head. "Foster center sent me to him last week."
I close my eyes while silently cursing the foster system. Dave Rivers has at least two priors for violence, and they're still sending him foster children. Opening my eyes, I send him another reassuring smile. "It's okay, Ezra. Can you tell me when your ankle got hurt?"
He flinches again, and I make a silent vow to personally hurt Rivers if he is the cause. Ezra sits up a little to speak. "Went out the window. I kind of fell a little but the bad men were coming, and I was scared."
"You don't have to be scared here, Ezra." Jethro's voice startles me and Ezra, too. "I promise you're safe, and I'm glad you let yourself in."
Those blue eyes of his promise safety to our little waif, and I give him a grateful smile.
Ezra's voice is stronger when he nods to Jethro. "Thank you, Sir. The door opened like magic so I could come inside."
Magic, I may just start believing in it myself. For now, we need to get a doctor to see him. If the ankle is broken, he needs a cast. "Ezra, I know a nice doctor who will look at your ankle and fix it. Do you mind if we take you to him?"
He blinks up at me as if no one has ever asked his permission for anything. Then he nods slowly. "I broke my arm once. It kind of feels like that now."
Poor kid, I know what he means. "I've broken bones before, too. Not a nice feeling but Ducky will fix you right up. Is it all right if I carry you? That way you don't have to hop."
He thinks about that for a long moment but we've got time. Then he nods again. "Okay. Um, what should I call you?"
"Call me Tony for now. And that's Gibbs over there. Would you like another glass of water while we get dressed? I'll bet you're hot and thirsty?"
His wide-eyed look tells me I read his mind. Been there, done that, little one. "Yes, please. I used the glass in the drainer. Oh!" He bites his lip and splits a look between us. "I took an apple from the big bowl. I didn't mean to steal but I was hungry. I can do chores to pay you back."
An apple, he's afraid we're upset about an apple. There's a boulder in my throat the size of DC. Luckily, Jethro finds his voice first. "Ezra, I'm glad you ate the apple. I would never refuse a hungry person food. You don't have to do any chores for food, I promise. Do you like bananas?"
"Yes, Sir." His little head nods.
"Good, I'll fix you a banana while Tony gets you a glass of water. Then we'll dress and take you to Ducky." Jethro stands up slowly but Ezra still flinches a little. "On second thought, I'll get your banana and water while Tony keeps you company."
I know what he's thinking. One of us needs to stay with him. The urge to run and hide is ingrained in an abused child. I know the syndrome well. But Ezra is going to have a better outcome. No way in hell is he going back into the system that failed him.
********* Jack *********
Jethro and Tony return as the party is winding down. A hush falls over the room when we see the little boy clasped protectively in Tony's arms. Big green eyes stare back at us, and I wonder at how like Tony's they are.
"Ducky, we have a patient for you." Jethro singles out the good doctor. "Ezra hurt his ankle earlier today."
"My goodness, Ezra, that looks like it hurts. Why don't we go to the medical center here so I can take examine it?" His reassuring smile draws an answering smile from the little boy. "Now, my name is Dr. Mallard but my friends call me Ducky. I can see we're going to be good friends."
They leave but Jethro stays behind. All eyes turn to him while he gives us the brief story behind the little boy. He finishes up with, "Tony thinks the ankle may be broken. I've got to go back check out the Rivers house. If Rivers isn't already dead, I may kill him myself. Those bruises on Ezra's arms are a couple of days old. Bastard."
I hug Sebal'c closer to me. "Agreed, Jethro but you can't go alone."
"I'll go with you, Boss." McGee steps up, looking determined.
"Good, let's go so we can get back quickly." Jethro nods to the rest of us before the two of them disappear.
Well, I'll admit my curiosity is in high gear so with a quick jerk of my head at Teal'c, we hotfoot it down to the medical center. Maybe Sebal'c will make Ezra more comfortable with all the changes he's undergoing. I've noticed a babbling baby brings more smiles than frowns. And if the protectiveness Tony is radiating is anything to go by, our son just got a big boy cousin.
The door slides open silently for us. Ezra is sitting on the exam table with his jeans off and a soft blanket across his legs to give him some modesty. Tony is beside him with one arm wrapped protectively around the small shoulders. The little boy is biting his lip hard while his hands twist the blanket with a white knuckled grip. Ducky is trying hard to be gentle but the swollen monstrosity that is his ankle is going to react to any touch.
"Hi, Ezra, my name is Jack, and this is my mate, Teal'c. I'm sorry you got hurt." I try to distract him from the pain. "This is our son, Sebal'c. He's four months old tomorrow. How old are you?"
He looks at us, tilting his head a little to one side. "I'm five. I think my birthday was last month."
Bastard system, he's obviously not celebrated a birthday in his memory. I catch a twist in Tony's lips before he cuddles the little boy a little closer. "Well, that's good to know, Ezra. Jethro told us about how brave you were, escaping from the bad men. He went to check out the neighbor's house."
"Alone?" Tony's head snaps up.
"No, Anthony, McGee went with him." Teal'c reassures him.
He relaxes. "Good, that's good."
"Home, can you tell me if there's a broken bone in Ezra's ankle?" Ducky speaks out loud, and I see Ezra looking around for the person he's talking to.
//small bone snapped in two// is her sorrowful answer
"Ah, I was afraid of that." Ducky sighs. "It's too swollen to put a cast on right now. We'll wrap it up for support, and wait for the swelling to go down."
"Could I wash first?" Ezra turns his head up to see Tony's face.
"That's an excellent idea, Ezra. How about we show you a special place here at Home?" Tony smiles at him. "Have you ever seen a waterfall?"
Ezra shakes his head.
"Well, it's a place where the water cascades into a pool of warm water."
Good choice. I'll bet the kid has never seen the ocean so that might be a bit scary. The waterfall chamber will be grand enough for his first glimpse at the world of water.
"May we come too? Sebal'c loves splashing." I smile at Ezra, and get my first real smile from the little boy. Oh, he is a charmer. "And maybe Sam, Janet and Terry could find some clean clothes for you to change into? Would that be all right, Ezra?"
He looks a little bewildered at being asked his opinion. "I don't want to be an eggs-pense."
Tony grimaces before smoothing his expression. "Not to worry, Ezra, the girls will enjoy getting big boy clothes since all they have are babies at the moment. I promise they'll get you something nice and not expensive at all."
Ducky nods decisively. "Be gentle with the ankle, Tony. Once he's clean and dry, I'll wrap it up and put some ice on it. I'll just go and ask the ladies to prepare to shop."
"Take the old clothes with you, Ducky. They're too big but it will give them a place to start. Ezra, do you mind taking off your t-shirt for me? We'll wrap the blanket around you so you'll stay warm." Tony gently strokes the dark curls.
"Okay," Ezra nods, sitting upright and peeling off the slightly raggedy shirt. There are more bruises on the small torso, and I turn away to give him some privacy.
All I can think is that torture is too good for the foster parent who should have been taking care of this little boy. Taking a deep breath, I lean against my mate and let him hold me close. Sebal'c senses my turmoil, and pats my face with his tiny hand. I nuzzle the top of his head, and immediately feel better.
********* Samantha *********
I cuddle Cheyenne closer and listen to Ducky's report. How in the world could someone be cruel to that precious little boy? The pathetic hand-me-downs the doctor hands us are just another reminder of how the system failed Ezra.
"Danny, take the baby. This calls for power shopping." I say decisively, handing our daughter over. "Sweetheart, be good for Mama. We'll be back in an hour or so."
Janet nods too. "Let's get the slings for Te'ak and Jonathan. We're coming, too."
Abby is practically bouncing. "Can Kate and I come, too? Pretty please."
She's such a hoot, I think with a grin. "Good idea, Abby the more eyes, the better."
Danny kisses me goodbye while Mel'tic starts quizzing Ducky on what little human boys might like to eat. It looks like grilled cheese sandwiches will be on the menu shortly.
Once we're all gathered together, I ask Home to send us to San Francisco and the children's clothes store next to 'Stylin' Mamas'. 'Cool Kids' knows Terry, Janet and I by name so we introduce Abby and Kate to our favorite store clerk, Wendy.
"We need something a little different, this time, Wendy. One of our friends just adopted a five year old boy and he came with literally nothing but the clothes on his back." I smile at her. "He needs everything from underwear to shoes but he's seriously underweight and undersized so I'm not sure about his size."
"Cool, we can fit him from head to toe." She bounces in place, kind of like Abby is doing. "If he's small for his age, let's start with four year old sizes for now. You can get his measurements later. Anything you take today, if it doesn't fit, just bring it back and exchange it."
So we dive into the brightly colored racks, splitting up by type of clothes. Kate shops for shoes and socks; Abby heads for pants; Janet and Terry start pulling out shirts while I head for underwear. The briefs that Ducky showed us were obviously destined for the dustbin when they were given to Ezra. I wonder if he liked superheroes or cartoon characters.
From what I know of Tony, he'd probably choose cartoons so I pull out two different sizes of cotton briefs covered with Tweety Bird and Sylvester the Cat. Maybe they'd make the little boy smile. T-shirts are right next to the underwear so I start leafing through them. A Kermit the Frog shirt catches my eye, and I remember what a brilliant green Ezra's eyes are.
This will do nicely, I think with a smile.
"Oh, this is adorable." Terry holds up a little polo shirt in bright green. "Doesn't Tony have a shirt just like this?"
Janet nods. "He wore it for the barbeque last week. They'll look so cute together."
"Hey, guys, were the sneakers too big, too?" Kate is holding up a pair of little Nike's.
Abby has a pair of black jeans in her hands. "The one foot is so swollen, it was kind of hard to tell. Do you think Gibbs will freak if I get Ezra his own Goth outfit?"
Kate starts laughing. "Absolutely . . . get a pair of plain for after he starts glaring."
Having caught the Gibbs' Glare, suitably muted after a few drinks, I start to snicker. "Tony looks great in black so I expect Ezra will, too. And we all know how Gibbs enjoys looking at Tony."
We're all smiling when we go back to looking. By the time we check out, Wendy is beaming. Even if we have to bring some things back, little Ezra will be fashionably dressed for any occasion. Teleporting back to Home, we assemble back in the guest quarters where Tony and Gibbs stay when they visit. Unwrapping everything takes almost as long as the shopping trip did.
********* Ezra *********
The waterfall is so neat. I like watching it fall and splash. The water is nice and warm. Tony washes me so gently it doesn't even hurt. Baby Seb is splashing next to me, his daddy holding him safely. His other daddy is really big, and he has a big x on his stomach that looks like a scar. Maybe he was in a car accident.
I like it here. Tony stays by me when I'm done washing. He's just wearing boxers like Jack and Teal are wearing shorts. It must be really warm here although I don't know where we are. Tony had me close my eyes when we were ready to leave for the doctor. My head kind of ached for a second then we were here in this new place. I don't quite understand but Tony said he'd eggs-plain it to me later. I feel safe here with him and his friends. There are an awful lot of babies around but Jack said Seb is the oldest before I came.
Does that mean I can stay here, too? I bite my lip and try not to wish too hard.
"What's wrong, Ezra?" Tony strokes my hair.
Looking up into eyes almost the same color as mine, I decide to ask. "Can I stay with you, Tony?"
"Yes," he says at once. "You are not going back into the system. If they raise a fuss, we'll just move you here to Home while Jethro and I commute to work. Home is a very special place. How much do you know about outer space and the space program, Ezra?"
I frown a little. "I watched a show called Nova once. It was about the planet Mars, and how we sent a little robot up to 'splore it."
"Good boy," Jack smiles at me. "Home is another planet kind of like Mars or planet Earth where you were born."
"Are you aliens?" I gasp a little.
"Nope, Ezra, we were all born on Earth except for Sebal'c and his father, Teal'c. Seb was born here on Home while Teal'c was born on another planet called Chulak." Jack tells me. "Some of other friends are from Chulak. You'll meet them later."
"Did we travel in a space ship?" I thought that took a long time.
"No, we traveled with the help of Home, the same way Jethro went back to Earth to check out the neighborhood." Tony hugs me a little closer and that feels so good. "Home is a special planet who can talk to us inside our heads."
//welcome, Ezra, I'm glad you're here//
"Wow, she talked to me, Tony." I feel her wrapping me in a warm hug just like Tony's but inside my head instead.
"That's because you're a very smart little boy, Ezra." He drops a kiss on my head, and I look up at him with amazement.
I can't remember ever being kissed before. Hesitantly I put my arms as far around him as I can, returning his hug. Maybe I've found a real home with someone who can love me. Maybe.
The end of part fourteen