I'm watching at the front window 'cause it's almost time for Jethro to come home. While I watch, I think about what having people who care about me means. There are so many good things about having a home, but mostly it's about Tony and Jethro.
I like sitting on Tony's lap. I thought maybe I was too old for that but it feels so good, safe and warm. He told me he likes it too and he's always picking me up with a smile and swinging me around until I giggle. Jethro likes to hold both of us while we watch neat movies on the DVD player.
Tony asked me which ones I liked but I didn't know any of the titles he read off to me. Gibbs growled when I admitted that, and I was afraid for a minute he was angry. But he wasn't at all. Nobody's been mad since I came here. I like that a lot. I don't have to hide or worry about getting hit. I think this is what a real home feels like, and I really, really like it.
"What are you thinking, munchkin?" Tony's voice startles me and I jump a little. "Sorry, Ezra, I thought you heard me come in."
"I was thinking about how safe it feels here," I tell him truthfully.
He picks me up and hugs me tight. "I'm glad, Ezra. We want you to always feel safe here."
He sits down on the sofa while I hug him back. I know I can do that now. It's kind of cool to know deep inside of me I can get close and not get hurt.
"Ezra, I need to talk to you about something." His big hands stroke my hair while his heart beats a little fast under my ear. But before I start to worry, he drops a kiss on my head and bends so I can see his smile. "When you first came to us, we looked to see if you have any family. Mother Earth said you didn't have any living relatives so we asked if we could keep you forever."
"Wow," I whisper into his shirt. "Nobody ever wanted me forever before."
He drops another kiss on my hair. "We do, Ezra. Aunt Abby did some research for us and found out your mother, Maude Standish, died in a car crash when you were just a year old. I'm sure if she hadn't had that accident, you'd have a wonderful mom right now."
"I 'member someone singing to me and hugs like this." I snuggle in closer. "Then she went away and things got kind of . . ." I have to shiver and push away the bad memories.
Tony lays his cheek on my hair and his voice sounds a little choked. "I'm sorrier than I can say that you had to go through those lonely years. But Jethro and I are very, very glad you escaped to come live with us."
I lean back a little bit so I can look up at him. "I'm glad too. Even breaking my foot wasn't so bad with you."
"Is it aching, Ezra?" He looks down my leg, and his big hand strokes my foot. It's warm even through my sock.
"A little bit but not really bad. It feels so good to have the cast off." I wiggle my toes and feel the muscles there pull a little.
"It's time for your afternoon massage, munchkin." He shifts me off his lap and into the corner of the couch. Reaching for the massage oil he left on the coffee table yesterday, he warms up a little between his hands while I take my sock off.
It feels so good when he pulls on each toe, I just have to wiggle all over. He grins at me and uses his thumbs up the bottom of my foot just stroking it. "Feel good?"
"Oh, yes." I nod hard.
"Good. I remember my nanny doing this when I broke my foot as a kid." He has a kind of sad smile and I think maybe I won't ask about her right this moment. Then he shakes himself and keeps on talking. "Now, back to when we asked Mother Earth if we could keep you. She said yes but then she did something without asking if it was okay."
He pauses, and I wonder what she could have done. Clearing his throat, his eyes look right into mine. "She . . . changed some of your DNA to match mine so we could become your family."
"What's DNA?" I don't know that word.
//human DNA comes from both your mother and father inside of the seed that makes you who you are// Mother Earth feels like a tickle inside my head
Tony nods so he must hear her, too. "Your birth certificate didn't name your father so we don't know his name. What Mother did was change that part of your DNA to mine," he pauses so I nod to show I understand, although I'm not really sure I get all of it. "Okay, we can talk some more about it later. Ducky says to ask him when we have questions. But what it really means is that you are officially a member of the DiNozzo-Gibbs family. The Welfare people can't have you and neither can anybody else."
I can feel a really big smile on my face. Then I think of something really neat. "Does . . . does that mean you're my . . . daddy?'
"You bet it does, Ezra." His arms gather me into another big hug and I hug back really hard. "You're my very own, very special son."
"Daddy," I try it out softly, maybe we're both kind of happy and sad at the same time because I've got tears in my eyes.
His whisper sounds like he's crying, too. "You've made me very, very happy, munchkin."
We hug for a long time but then he puts me back so he can keep massaging my foot. Now I have another question. "Daddy, what should I call Jethro? Is he my father, too?"
"We're mated on both Earth and Home so, yes, he is your other father. There are a few legal hoops we still have to jump through on this planet but once they're finished, we'll be a family in the eyes of the legal system, too." He grins at me again. "As to what you want to call him, there are lots of choices. Father is pretty formal, Dad not so much, there's also Papa or the French Pere or Da, hm-m-m, Pop . . . we can look up some more on the Internet if none of them work for you."
I think about it for a few minutes. "I like Papa. Do you think he would mind being my papa?"
His eyes gleam a little like maybe he wants to cry again and he has to clear his throat. "Oh, Ezra, I think he'll really, really like being your papa."
I smile up at him until he finishes massaging my foot. Once I get my sock and shoe back on, he helps me get my crutches under me. I've gotten really good as using them, even on the stairs up to our bedrooms. Although, mostly I hop going up them and then go down on my bottom, one step at a time. I can hardly wait until my muscles get back to normal.
But now we're going to the kitchen so I can have a snack before Jethro, no . . . I think 'papa' . . . for my papa to come home. I'm smiling again. I really like having a family of my very own. Living with people who love you is a good feeling and I think it's going to last this time.
//really, really true, little Ezra// Mother Earth gives me an inside-hug
I wish I could hug her back with my arms but instead I think warm feelings. She likes that a lot so I try to remember to do it often. I'm glad she changed that DNA stuff inside of me. I wish the other foster kids in bad homes could all find real families, too.
//working on that// she says warmly
********* Vin *********
It hurts. Mama is dead.
She left me even though I wanted her to stay.
I begged her not to go away but she did anyway.
I wasn't going to cry since I'm a big boy now.
But Jack said it was okay and he and Daddy both cried at the funeral.
I couldn't cry then. It was like I was all frozen inside like the jack rabbit we found last winter in the back yard.
Mama said the cold was too much and he went to sleep. He didn't wake up again just like her.
We're back home in Wyoming where we scattered her ashes on the prairie where we liked to walk. Everything looked cold because she wasn't there. She liked to sing and suddenly I missed her voice so bad.
I didn't even know I was crying until Daddy picked me up and hugged me tight. Jack wrapped his arms around both of us so I was surrounded by their warmth. And most of the ice melted inside of me and came out in tears.
I thought I'd cried myself out but I still burst into tears every now and then.
Like now when we're packing up the furniture in our house. Mama had started before our trip but her energy was so low, we hadn't gotten very far. Jack is packing up Mama's clothing and her pretty things while Daddy helps me with mine.
"Vin, what's wrong?" Daddy sits on the edge of my big boy bed and holds out his arms.
I climb up into his lap so he can wrap me up in one of his great hugs. "I miss Mama."
He rocks me a little while his hands stroke my back. "I know you do, tadpole. I miss her, too. But even though it hurts, your mama was one of the best things to happen to me. Her friendship and love gave me you, and I'm so grateful for her courage in finding me and bringing you to New York."
"How did you get lost, Daddy?" I blow my nose on the Kleenex he hands me while leaning into his chest so I can listen to his heartbeat like I used to with Mama..
He chuckles but it's kind of a sad sound rather than a happy one. "My father, your grandfather, hadn't planned for me to marry and have a family so quickly. So he asked your mama to not tell me about you. He bought this house for the two of you and set money aside for your education. I wish . . ."
He sighs a little and I look up to see a really sad face so I reach and kiss his cheek. That makes him smile just like it used to make Mama smile. "Why did grandpa do that?"
Pressing a kiss back to my forehead, he shakes his head. "I have no idea, Vin, but I'm going to ask him once we get back to New York. Do you mind leaving Cedar Bend to come to live with Jack and me?"
"Nah, I'll miss Diamond but he wouldn't fit in your apartment." I love my pony but I just can't see how we could take him with us.
"Actually, Jack found a stable about an hour away from the apartment where we are going to board him. If that's okay with you?" His grin gets bigger when I bounce on his lap and throw my arms around his neck.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," I didn't have to leave him behind like I was leaving Mama.
This time his laugh is happy. "It's been ages since I went riding but I'm ready to get back in the saddle. We're going to have to work really hard to get Jack up on a horse though."
"I can teach him, Daddy." I draw back a little to watch his eyes crinkle up like Mama's used to when she smiled.
"We'll both teach him, okay?" He waits for me to nod. "Good, we'll tell him later. Now, I've got a hard question for you. What do you want us to do with your mom's clothes? And her personal items?"
It's hard but I know what Mama would want. "Goodwill is good for her clothes. I'd like to keep her hairbrush though. It was my present to her last year for Mother's Day. And I don't know about the other stuff."
His eyes get watery again but he just nods. "Okay, we'll keep the brush, her jewelry and scrapbooks so you can tell me about them. For now, we'll pack the rest for decisions later. Her books and yours will look nice in the bookcase in your room."
"I miss her reading to me." I rest my head against his shoulder, suddenly tired.
He hums a little and rocks me gently while I close my eyes. I must fall asleep because when I open my eyes again, I'm tucked into my bed with my brown stuffed rabbit, Mr. Jingles, nearby to watch over me. I can hear Daddy's voice in the kitchen and the low rumble of Jack's voice. His is kind of like thunder in the distance but instead of being scary, it's comforting.
My friend Mike's dad has a voice like that. Mike says, it makes him feel safe whenever he hears his dad talking. He's right. Getting up, I ignore my shoes and head for the others with Mr. Jingles under my left arm. I hate wearing shoes although I'll probably have to wear them more when we move to the city.
They're sitting at the table with cups of coffee in front of them. Jack sees me first and smiles at me. "Hey, Vin, did you have a good nap?"
I nod and head for the cupboard where Mama keeps my juice boxes. "I didn't mean to fall asleep."
Daddy turns in the chair and watches me get a tropical punch box. Then he holds the chair while I climb up into my booster seat. Once I'm sitting and drinking, he looks at Jack then back at me.
"Vin, it's okay to sleep when you're tired. Being sad is one of the most tiring things a guy can do." Daddy brushes my hair back behind my ear. Mama used to do that, too.
"I know, Daddy. When Buster died, I cried lots and Mama and me took a nap whenever we missed him." I have a sudden bad thought. "When we leave what happens to this house and the land?"
"We'll put it on the market and sell it so someone else can make good memories here." Daddy says with a little wrinkle between his eyes.
"But Buster is buried in the back yard." I can feel my lip start to quiver and I make it stop. "Mama said he'd be safe here."
Jack and Daddy look at each other then back at me. Jack finally asks me. "Vin, who was Buster?"
"My gold fish that I won at the county fair." I sniff a little and rub my nose on my sleeve.
"Ah, I see. Was this last year?" Jack asks.
"Yeah, in August . . . he lived until November and Mama buried him in the backyard." I finish my juice with a slurp.
"No slurping, Vin," Daddy says automatically.
"Buster will be okay here, Vin. He's already dissolved into the earth and is fertilizing the soil so more flowers can grow." Jack knows everything.
"Okay, I guess it's all right. Can we have spaghetti for dinner tonight?" I'm hungry again.
********* Nat'an *********
My heart is beating so fast I'm afraid my pursuers will hear it. I know the sound of running feet isn't from my parent. My eyes water and I blink hard to keep the unmanly tears from falling. Father would be so disappointed in me.
I gulp hard and leave the cover of the jeruba bushes to run through the thick underbrush of the Forest. I know every part of this land and I hope very hard my pursuers do not realize where I am leading them. It's not a direct path to the Gate-Between-Worlds where they expect me to head.
The underbrush suddenly disappears and soft moss replaces dead leaves. I begin the short zigzags that will lead me safely through the bog. It's a good thing I weigh so little for my age. The ground quivers beneath my feet and tremors radiate out into the even more liquid parts of this marsh. The smell of sulfur rises up and tickles my nose. I flare my nostrils and keep my mind on the invisible path which will lead me safely through this dangerous part of the Forest.
Father bought my current freedom with his life. I will not fail him now. Loud crashing and cursing arise behind me and I struggle not to speed up. They will only follow if they can still see me. I am my own bait to draw them into the quaking bog.
"There he is." Harsh voices send a shiver down my back but I keep to my path.
Risking a quick look over my shoulder, I breathe a sigh of relief at finding all four of them still behind me. I feared they would split up. If I am very lucky, the bog will take them all. Moss turns to bark and I speed up again, bending low to miss the frothy branches of the Giant Rial Ferns. They look soft but cut like a sword.
Loud cries suddenly erupt behind me and I smile grimly. They will die slowly. Tears come again when I replay my father falling to their power staffs. He killed two of them before the others killed him. I stumble but dash the water from my cheeks and keep running. There might be more than one team delegated to bringing me to the God of my world.
The ferns begin to thin and I slow to catch my breath. Dropping to the ground, I wiggle to the edge of the forest for a reconnaissance. My eyes search the open field that surrounds the Gate Between the Worlds. I traveled through it once with my father when I was ten. I am afraid to do what I must but I will not dishonor my ancestors by failing my father's last command.
'Escape to Chulak and find Teal'c, your mother's brother.' I can still hear his deep voice ringing in my mind.
Taking a deep breath, I jump to my feet and sprint the distance to the great ring. Before his death two years ago my mother had me memorize the address of his birth world so I dial it now without hesitation. There is a loud ringing and suddenly the air within the ring changes to deep blue. I cast a last look at the world of my youth and with a sob turn my back on all that is familiar. Stepping into the water-like substance, I feel myself turn inside out.
Squeezing my eyes shut, I try not to disgrace myself by throwing up. But my stomach is on fire, and I can feel my control draining away. Suddenly, I am free of the twisting Gate matter and under a different sun. I fall to my knees and take deep breaths until I am calm.
"You, boy, where are you from?"
The harsh voice reminds me of the Jaffa I just left and my eyes dart about me to find an escape route should I need it. The space around this Gate is empty with no place to hide. The speaker is a tall man who limps towards me from a small hut a slight distance away.
I swallow hard and try to gather enough spit to moisten my mouth enough to speak. Rising, I bow to the Gate Guard. "I seek Teal'c. He is my mother's brother."
//Teal'c is not here, little one// a soft voice appears to come from nowhere
I turn my head to find the speaker but the guard is bowing to me and his face wears a smile. "The voice you hear is our world, young sir. She will transport you to your uncle."
Chulak is both a world and a . . . spirit? I try to understand but it is too much for me. I am suddenly so tired I can hardly stand.
//sleep now, Nat'an, when you awake you will be with your uncle//
I feel the world spin again but not in a bad way. I barely have time to say 'thank you' before my mind falls into slumber.
********* Teal'c *********
For what seems like the two thousandth time, I catch Sebal'c before he escapes off the blanket and onto the sand. O'Neill just lies there and laughs at me. Our son's giggles join his, and I find myself smiling with the joy that is mine.
"Ducky says a little sand won't hurt him, my own." O'Neill wiggles his fingers and our son's attention moves to those enticing digits. Moving back and forth, he launches himself towards the long fingers that so often tease me.
Keeping in a sigh, I realize we have another hour before Sebal'c takes his afternoon nap. But then those fingers are mine, along with the rest of my tempting mate. "I do not think he meant our son should eat it by the handful."
Laughing eyes meet mine. "A little grit in his diet won't be the end of the world, Teal'c."
"I shall remind you of that when his copious discharge turns sand-colored." My voice is dry while I remember the interesting color of his bowel movements after he ate some of the gua'ange from our breakfast. Bright orange and green 'poop', as O'Neill calls it, is not a sight I wish to ever see again.
"Yeah, it might hurt coming out." He scoops up our wiggling son and holds him above his head. "No sand diets, young man."
Happy giggles are his only answer.
//bright ones, we have a visitor// Home's happy tones fill my mind
"Who is it, Home?" O'Neill asks.
//a young man from Chulak// she sounds excited //he is related to Teal'c//
My eyes meet O'Neill's. "Is it my son, Ry'ac?"
//he says you are his mother's brother//
I freeze. It has been years since I have seen my brother. Without even thinking twice, I rise to my feet and automatically bring O'Neill and our son up with me. "Please take us to him, Home."
O'Neill is silent but his arm goes around my waist to offer his support nonverbally. Home transports us to our quarters, more specifically to the third bedroom we usually use for Anthony and Gibbs when they come to visit. The young man lying on the bed is the very image of my brother, Sen'tin.
When he mated with Grel'nic, we became estranged. His mate is a rigid thinker and not one who approves of warrior ways. Sen'tin told me of his great joy when he conceived and bore his son. I sent a gift, only to have it returned with a short note from Grel'nic. Neither I nor my Jaffa gifts were welcome. But that was almost twelve years ago.
We stand there for a long moment while I try to understand why my nephew now lies before us.
But our combined gazes and the little babble from Sebal'c wake him and dark eyes look up at us in a daze. I drop to my knees beside him and hold out my arm for him to grasp. "Welcome to our home. I am Teal'c, brother of Sen'tin, your mother. This is My One, Jack O'Neill. He holds our son, Sebal'c. And what of your parents?"
He sits up and grasps my arm with a cold, trembling hand. "I am Nat'an, son of Sen'tin and Grel'nic. Mother died two years ago and Father . . . today."
Our eyes meet, and I see such pain in them. "Welcome, Nat'an. I sorrow for your loss and my own. I am eager to learn your story but for the moment, do you hunger?"
He nods. "It has been two days since I last ate. The Guards said I must fast before meeting our God."
"Oh no," O'Neill hugs our son closer. "Nat'an, how old are you?"
"I attain my twelfth year tomorrow." The low tones waver just a bit.
I close my eyes against the pain. "We shall speak more of this after we eat. It is time for the noon meal."
He nods and moves to the edge of the bed. I rise and offer him a hand off the mattress. He eyes it for a moment then accepts my help. Good, he is willing to try for a relationship between us. I give him the ritual hug between family and he returns it without hesitation.
"Welcome to our family, Nat'an." O'Neill smiles at both of us. "Sebal'c needs a big brother to help him grow up to be a good man."
Young Nat'an smiles a little at that statement and nods. "I envied those families with more than one child. I can help with his lessons."
O'Neill smiles a little sadly before turning towards the door. "And playtime, Nat'an, he's going to need to know all the good Jaffa games to go along with the human ones."
Nat'an sighs softly. "I do not know many games, O'Neill. My father thought them frivolous wastes of time."
Now it is my turn to sigh. Grel'nic was always such a stickler for formality. "Then we shall have the fun of teaching you some of the best ones, Nat'an. Now, let us go eat."
Our family grows unexpectedly, I think walking on my nephew's other side. O'Neill and I exchange a glance over his head. Love and acceptance is what I read in his dark gaze. I am the luckiest Jaffa in the galaxy.
The end of part 16