McGee calls 911 the moment we open the door and find blood spattered everywhere. River's body lies in the middle of the hall and looks curiously depleted, like a child's toy without its stuffing. My stomach is churning at the very thought Ezra might have been caught by the sadists who killed the man and tore his house apart. Tim keeps watch while I run back to my place for my ID. The cops aren't going to take my word of who I am without proof.
But a little luck comes our way when Sergeant Woods gets out of the first squad car. He and I are friends from way back. Shaking his hand, I nod briskly. "Hey, Woods, I'm glad it's you. Rivers is dead and the place is a mess. The front door was ajar when I drove home, and I was curious so I came over to check it out."
"He's on our drug watch list." Woods opens the door and gets his first glimpse of the blood. "Whoa, what all did they do to him? Mike," he calls back to the cop still in the patrol car. "Get the lab guys here, pronto. It's a bloodbath." He lets the door swing shut behind him. "Nasty. Glad old Mrs. Hennie from the other side didn't see it first. She'd have had a heart attack."
"Yeah," I'm saying silent prayers myself. "Oh, Woods, this is Special Agent Tim McGee, one of my team. Tim, this is Alan Woods, one of Arlington's finest." They shake hands. "We'll type up our statements for you, Woods. Tim will bring them over when they're finished"
Then we calmly leave for my house. Once inside, I finally breathe a little easier.
"Boss, why didn't we tell him about Ezra?" McGee is trying to figure it out but he's missing a piece of Tony's psychology.
"Did you see the way Tony was holding him?" I head for the kitchen and the coffee maker. I need caffeine before writing a bunch of lies.
"Yes, I saw him." Tim follows me with the little wrinkle between his eyes that Abby calls cute.
"Tony bonded with him the moment their eyes met. If you think for one minute, he's letting go of Ezra, you'd be wrong." I measure out the coffee and pour in the carafe of water that Tim hands me. "Mother, it's a faint chance but could you check Ezra's DNA to see if he has any relatives living?"
//already did, no one alive// her thought is sad //I fixed it//
Tim and I share a puzzled look before I ask the question we're both thinking. "How can you fix that?"
//changed it to match Tony's// is her smug answer
What? I barely keep my mouth closed. Tim looks like he swallowed a lemon.
//Tony said it was all right, this way Ezra already belongs with you//
She's so matter of fact, I gulp and urge the coffee maker to work faster. "O-okay, Mother. Thank you."
"How are we going to explain this?" Tim asks in bewilderment.
And my brain kicks into high gear. "The sperm bank from his college days - some woman used it to have a baby then got . . . uh, killed and nobody knew to contact Tony because he isn't listed as the father. We'll need to find out what Ezra's full name is."
Tim shakes himself all over. "Where's Tony's laptop? I'll log on and find out what we need to know. The Department of Human Services uses a real antiquated system. I should be able to access it from here."
"It's in the den on the desk. You'll need to move a few boxes to get to it. He rewired the phone jack so it gets the DSL service which should be ready to go." I pour a cup of coffee, and give it to him before getting another cup for myself. "I'll write up the report for Woods. Then I'll pack a bag for Tony. I don't think he's going to want to come back until Ezra feels better."
"Right, Boss." Tim leaves with his cup while I breathe the lovely scent of fresh brewed coffee into my lungs.
My eyes fall on the bowl of fruit and I recall the fear in Ezra's voice when he admitted he'd eaten an apple. The very thought of that little boy being hungry on an ongoing basis makes my heart hurt. Maybe this family thing can work after all? He isn't a baby but a small person with his own thoughts and feelings.
Tony isn't letting go even if I waffle. So I better not give him a reason for leaving me for a pint-sized version of himself. And that's when it hits me, what Mother has done. She changed a little boy's DNA to match my Tony's. For the first time, I realize just how powerful our sentient planet really is.
It's a damn good thing she loves us. I shake my head and take the coffee upstairs to pack a bag while Tim uses the computer. I'm already thinking about how to winkle Ezra out of the system. I wonder if I should call Rabb over at JAG. He's a good lawyer and might be able to cut through the red tape.
********* Teal'c *********
My One is playing 'blow a raspberry on his offspring's stomach' while I watch indulgently. It's an ever fascinating game between the two of them that Sebal'c never tires of. We are sitting on a blanket in our special cove which we share with Anthony, Jethro, and Ezra.
It's the little boy's second day on Home and he's gazing wide-eyed at the ocean. I remember the first time I saw such a large body of water - I was mesmerized. I smile down at our giggling son. The ocean is just a big bathtub for him. He has no fear of the water and by the time he is a year old, he will be as good as we at swimming. That makes me feel better about his safety.
"Tony, how big is the ocean?" Ezra looks up at the tall man sitting beside him.
"It's pretty big, Ezra but I'm not sure just how large." He smiles at him. "Home, how big is your ocean?"
//biggest water, covers most of me//
"Wow, that's really big," Ezra pats the sand between his legs. "Thank you, Home."
//you're welcome// her mental reply is like a warm hug to all of us
"Are you ready to wade, Ezra?" Jethro asks him.
He looks up at his second guardian with barely controlled excitement. "Yes, please, if you'll hold my hand?"
"You bet I will." Jethro's smile is bigger than I've ever seen it.
Anthony is beaming at both of them. "First we need to cover up your cast. Ducky told us we can't get it wet."
Ezra stands up between the two men, and Jethro holds him steady while Anthony pulls a plastic bag up over the blue plaster that encases his lower leg and foot. A rubber band holds the top tight around his knee.
"Is it too tight, Ezra?" Anthony asks him anxiously.
"Nope, can we go down now?" Ezra is being polite but his eagerness is easy to see.
"Here we go, Ezra." Jethro holds one little hand while Anthony takes the other.
His gait is awkward but nothing is going to keep him from wading into the ocean. My One leans into me while we watch the little boy feel the rushing tide beneath his feet. The happy giggles make us both smile.
"Thank god Ezra escaped to their house." O'Neill kisses my cheek. "I can't bear to think of that sweet kid being abused. Do you think Home could do the same DNA changes in a body that Mother Earth did?"
//of course I can// her thought is indignant
I can feel O'Neill's smile in my shoulder where he's hiding his face. "I hope we never need you to do so but it is good to know you can if we need it."
He raises his head and looks thoughtfully at the three playing in the surf. Anthony and Gibbs are swinging the little boy above each wave while he giggles happily. "You know, there are kids on Earth who could use a good home, and people who love them, Teal'c."
I wondered when he might think of this. "Very true, my One, both on Earth and Chulak. We have much love to give such a child."
His smile is so bright it rivals the sun. "You big softie, I love you."
Our kiss is comfortable rather than passionate. Having children quiets passion unless they are asleep. O'Neill just tells me we're getting to be old-time lovers. I think I shall surprise him when Sebal'c goes down for his nap. I do not feel old when I have him in my arms.
But our son is demanding attention, and my mate's nipple. O'Neill settles into my arms while Sebal'c nurses. I still believe it the most beautiful sight in any world. The sun is moving towards the horizon while another day draws to a close. I look for the others, and find them walking slowly back to their blanket. Ezra is looking at O'Neill with a puzzled expression on his face.
"Tony, what is Jack doing?" He asks before sitting down next to Jethro.
"Jack is nursing Sebal'c. When a person gives birth to a baby, they can feed them with their own milk. Some use a bottle and cow's milk but others nurse with their nipples," Tony says matter-of-factly.
"Oh, can anybody do it?"
"No, just people who give birth to their babies, Ezra. Maybe someday if I get pregnant, you can watch your little brother or sister nurse from me." He smiles down at his new son while Ezra looks back and forth between his guardians.
I watch Jethro give a little smile and reach out for his mate's hand. "We'll explain it more when you get older. Someday in the future, we'll both watch you. Ezra will be a great big brother."
And Anthony's smile is bright.
********* Jack Malone *********
I don't remember ever being this tired. Ever since our planet announced its sentience, violence and disappearances seem to be the norm. I've been sleeping on my couch here in the office because there's no reason to go back to the tiny apartment I now call home.
For the first time since my divorce, I'm glad the girls are with Marie, safe in suburban Chicago. They seem to have fewer crazies.
"Jack?" The gentle tap at my door brings my head up so I can watch my crappy day turn golden.
"Come on in, Martin." I damn well hope I'm not showing anything inappropriate in my gaze but oh-h . . . what I want to do with my beautiful agent.
Sunshine and beaches, that's what I think about when I look at him. His smile is the sunshine and his tan I like to fantasize goes all the way down to his cute toes. Not that I know if his toes are cute, I blink to clear the strong urge to ask him to take off his shoes and socks so I can find out.
"When did you last eat, Jack?" Martin's voice is always soft when he talks to me.
I like to think of it as bedroom soft. I replay the last sentence. "Um, dinner?"
"On what day, Jack?" There's a little smile on those kissable lips, and he's coming around the desk while my eyes track him hypnotically. "Upsy-daisy, Jack, we're going downstairs for some food. Then I'm taking you home for a good night's sleep."
"Not really a home anymore, Martin." I let him prod me out of the office and down the hall. "Just a place to eat and sleep."
"I know about that, Jack." His hand is warm on my arm. "My place has been in the family for three generations but some days I feel like an interloper. I'm not a very good Fitzgerald."
"Yes, you are." I frown and straighten up a little. "You're one of the best agents in the state."
His slow curling smile and slight blush is breathtaking. "Thank you, Jack. I appreciate it." He pushes the button for the elevator and I watch those long, elegant fingers. "Don't think we haven't noticed you pushing your limits, Jack. We drew straws to see who got to take you home."
"You lost, huh?" I wish he wouldn't stand so close. I have a strong urge to lean into him and that would be inappropriate.
The slow smile is back, the one that makes me smile, too. "No, Jack, I won. In you go."
He won? I mull over that puzzling statement. Does that mean he wanted to take me home? Nah, that can't be. I'm just his middle aged boss. Beautiful man like him wants a beautiful young woman or a sexy man like . . . like Danny.
"Don't look so sad, Jack." Warm hands guide me from the elevator, out to the eerily silent street, and into the deli next door. It smells good, and my stomach growls suddenly. He chuckles, and I forget about food to smile at him. "That's better, Jack. Sit here while I get your soup and sandwich. Ernie got a shipment of supplies in today, so you'll enjoy it."
I sit when he pulls out a chair. Food has been a bit of a problem since the transportation systems went down. It was only for four days but a city as large as New York depends heavily on outside resources. The only thing back up and running is the electric trains. All fossil fuel vehicles are still dead as a doornail.
Our agents are scattered among the Burroughs. Danny, Martin and Sam have all started using bicycles to get around the thirty block radius we're covering. Yet another reason for me to stay in my office. I'll tell Martin when he gets back, I decide. Some food and I'll be good to go for another couple of days.
"Here we go, tomato soup and a corned beef on rye." Martin sets a tray down in front of me before sitting down across the table. "And I'm having the chicken noodle soup with another CB on rye."
For a moment my stomach rebels at the thought of food but the first spoonful of hot soup unclenches something deep inside of me, and I tuck into my dinner with relish. I alternate bites of sandwich with spoonfuls of soup until the plates are polished clean. A bottle of water is uncapped and handed to me. It tastes good, and I realize how badly I needed this.
"Thanks, Martin. You were right, I was hungry," I admit rather shamefacedly.
"You always take care of us, Jack. It's time we take better care of you." Martin rises and takes the tray full of empty dishes back to the counter where Saul, the owner smiles at him.
Everybody smiles at Martin, and he likes smiling back. Sometimes though, I wish he'd smile just for me. He's coming back now, so I better put on my boss face.
"Come on, Jack let's walk home." His hand is on my elbow, and that warms my whole body. Maybe I'll just give in for now. See how it goes.
********* Martin *********
I know Jack's really tired. But I just can't help looking at him and touching him. Danny and Sam didn't even have to push to get me to volunteer to take him home. I've wanted him since almost the first time I met him. He's bright, compassionate, and sexy as hell in a rumpled and huggable kind of way. But he was trying so hard to make his marriage work, and I didn't have the heart for even a mild seduction. But Marie is gone, and it's my turn now.
My turn to take care of him. My turn to love him into smiling. I don't know why but there's just something about the way he looks longingly at me when he's tired that gives me hope I'll get kissed rather than punched when I make my move.
We're almost there, and I'm a little nervous. First he needs to sleep than I'll see about anything else. Misha, the day doorman, opens the door for us.
"Mr. Fitzgerald. There's a lady to see you," he says apologetically.
"Danny. I hoped you'd come soon." The voice is one I haven't heard in a long time.
"Michelle?" I look in disbelief at the girl I haven't seen since college. "What are you doing here?"
"There's something I need to tell you, Marty." She looks nervous.
"Okay, how about we go up to the apartment? Michelle, this is Agent Jack Malone. Jack, this is my chemistry study buddy from college, Michelle Tanner." They shake hands, while I call for the elevator. Why do I think the news she brings is big?
I unlock my door and usher them inside.. "Okay, what can I get for you to drink? Jack, I know you'll want coffee. How about you, Michelle?"
"Coffee sounds good." She sinks onto the couch with an almost inaudible sigh.
Once in my small kitchen, I start it brewing before getting a bottle of water for myself.
After serving their coffee, I settle down in the big leather chair by the sofa where they are sitting. "So Michelle what's up? You don't have a missing person do you?"
"No, nobody's missing yet." Her gaze drifts around the room, taking everything in while her hands turn the cup around and around restlessly. "But . . . I will be soon. There's no good way to say this. I'm dying of cancer. I guess all those years of secondhand smoke from my dad before he died finally caught up with me." Her face is resigned, but there's still a spark in her blue eyes.
"Damn Michelle, I'm so sorry." I put down my water and move to sit on the coffee table in front of her, touching her cold hand. "What can I do to help?"
"This isn't how I meant to tell you, Marty." Setting down her coffee cup, she puts both hands on mine. "There's no other way to say it. We have a son. He'll be five next month."
A son? How could we have a son? I shake my head a little and look at Jack as if he could make sense of this. He's got his thinking look on, one of his sexiest looks. "Um, Michelle, are you nuts? We never even had sex. Did we?"
"Well, actually, we did. Do you remember our last chemistry final and the party we had afterwards?" Her smile is the rueful one, that's familiar even after all these years.
"I remember drinking, dancing, winning the kissing contest, and waking up the next morning in a strange bed." Oh god, what else did I do? "Please don't tell me I raped you."
"Of course not, silly. We had mutual very satisfying sex." She flicks the end of my nose and smiles the gamin smile, I remember. "Six weeks later I discovered I was pregnant. And nine months later we had a son. I wanted to tell you but your dad got there first. He offered to pay for all the costs and set up a trust fund for little Vin if I disappeared. You were trying so hard to be what he wanted, and I just couldn't burden you with the pregnancy. So I took the deal and moved back to Wyoming."
"We have a son? His name is Vin?" I run a shaky hand through my hair.
"I named him after my grandfather who died when I was six. His middle name is Martin." Her hand pats mine weakly and I grip it, wishing I could give her some of my strength.
"Vincent Martin Tanner, it sounds good. My dad . . . he really takes the cake. I wish . . . I mean I understand, Michelle, I really do but I wish you'd told me then. He's going to be five? I've missed so much of his life."
"If you want, you won't miss any more. Your name is on his birth certificate and in my will. There's no one I'd rather see raise him when I'm gone. But time is running out. I've got maybe three weeks left before the cancer finishes off my lungs." Now it's her turn to run a hand through her short blonde hair. It's not the thick mane I remember from before. "I thought I had more time but the chemo didn't work."
I look at Jack with bewildered eyes. Just when had the universe gone so strange? He has the saddest smile on his face. "Martin, I can head back to the office. I'll put you down for personal leave."
"No! I mean, I need you to stay, especially if I'm going to meet my son for the first time. Please stay?" I send a pleading look his way.
"All right, if you're sure?" His gaze is soft, and his lips curl into a much stronger smile.
"I'm sure. OK Michelle, where are you staying?"
"We're at the Four Seasons." She looks so relieved and suddenly exhausted.
"Are you up for the walk back? It's six blocks." I think a slight breeze would blow her away.
"Actually, he's down with Misha. I was hoping you'd say yes." She needs help getting up, and I wrap an arm around her. "We introduced ourselves earlier and he offered to watch him. He reminded me of Grandpa Vin."
She's nothing but skin and bones. And so brittle, she feels near to breaking. Jack follows us to the elevator. In the lobby, she steps out and calls his name. "Vin, come to Mama."
********* Vin *********
Boy, am I glad Mama came back. Mr. Misha is nice, but this lobby is cold. I run to her side and give her a gentle hug. It hurts her if I hug too hard now. She brought the tall men back with her. One kneels beside me and offers me his hand. So I shake it.
"I'm very glad to meet you, Vin. My name is Martin, and this is Jack. Why don't we go upstairs and get comfortable?" He has blue eyes, just like mine.
I look at Mama, and she nods yes. She takes my hand and leads me into the elevator. We all get on and go way-y-y up. When we get out, Martin's apartment is really nice. The sofa is squishy and made from real leather. Mama says nothing smells as good as real leather. And she's right, it smells like my saddle back home.
"Vin, would you like something to drink?" The tall man asks.
"No, sir. I'm good. Mr. Misha gave me some bottled water while I was waiting."
"Vin likes lemonade, Marty." Mama tells him.
"I do too, Vin." His smile makes me smile too. "I'll make sure we get some for you. Your mama and you are going to stay here with me for a while."
Mama hugs me. "Sweetheart, Martin is your daddy."
"He is?" I look back and forth between them. "I always wondered why I didn't have a daddy like the other kids do."
"We got separated and Martin didn't know you were born."
The tall man smiles at me. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to help take care of you, Vin. I promise I'll be here for you and your mama from here on out."
He's got a nice smile, kind of like Mama's smile. But she's sighing her tired sigh.
"Mama, you need to rest." I look at Martin anxiously, and he nods to both of us.
"Let's get you down for a rest in the guest bedroom, Michelle. Vin can watch over you, and maybe take his own nap." He stands and helps Mama up.
She's really tired. The guest bedroom is pretty in greens and blues, but she just closes her eyes and goes right to sleep. I crawl up beside her, and Martin pulls a blanket up over us. It's nice and quiet here, much better than the hotel. Maybe we can stay here for a while, until Mama feels better.
********* Jack *********
We leave the two of them sleeping and I steer Martin into what appears to be the master bedroom. We've all had enough shocks today. At the foot of the bed, he turns and hugs me. It feels more like desperation than the passion I was hoping for. Damn it! But I'm not turning it down. So I hug him back.
"My God, Jack, I have a son." His voice is a curious combination of joy and bitterness. "How like my father to take away any choice I might have had at a family because she didn't measure up to the 'Fitzgerald standard'. Oh God, I don't know anything about kids."
"You love them; look after them; teach them right and wrong; love them some more; make sure they get lots of hugs; depend on your friends for help." My hands stroke his back tenderly.
His chuckle is also a sob. "All I was going to do was tell you 'I love you' today."
I freeze in place. He was going to what? "Tell me anyway."
His head comes up from my shoulder. "I love you, Jack. I have for a while now. But you were trying so hard with Marie. So I let it slide. But I don't want to anymore. I just want to hold you and love you."
"But I thought you were straight?" He loves me?
His hand cups my cheek. "I've been bi since I was 14. Tell me I haven't just screwed up a year of friendship."
Bi? My Martin is a brave man. Can I be any less brave? "I love you too, Martin. It's been a long time for me, but I did some experimenting in college. I guess I'd like to take that chance with you."
His eyes light up, and his mouth curls into a grin. Then his lips are on mine and we're sharing our first kiss. It's a good thing we both had the corned beef. I've never tasted anything so good in my life. It's his turn to stroke my back, and I turn on like a teenager. I haven't gotten this hard . . . this fast . . . in years.
We're both panting when we break apart to breathe. He speaks first. "Jack, are you sure? I've only known him for a half-hour, but he's my son. I want him with all my heart."
"Then we'll raise him together. We were both little boys once, we'll be able to figure it out." I feel the room swirl a little. "But right now, I really need a nap."
"We can do that." He backs me up to the side of the bed and pushes me down. Kneeling at my feet, he slips my shoes off. With a groan I lie back and let myself relax. It feels so good to be prone. Then he's lying down beside me and pulling up the comforter over us. His arms around me, I fall asleep almost instantly.
the end of part 15