Well, this isn't how I thought our family would grow but I'm not giving him back. It's been six days since Home delivered another son to us and we're slowly getting to know each other. Nat'an is as stoic as I used to think Teal'c was. He only smiles when he thinks no one is looking. Sebal'c however is the one who made him laugh once.
Okay, so it was more of a chuckle than a laugh. It's a good sign just the same.
Teal'c is still coming to grips with the knowledge his brother, Sen'tin has been dead for almost seven years. It seems his mate, Grel'nic didn't think much of his in-laws so he shut down all communications. I expect we're lucky we even knew Nat'an exists. Well, Teal'c did. I didn't.
Still, he's here and if he's half as intelligent as my Teal'c, he'll be able to become anything he wishes. The only time he got less silent was when Janet was checking him out in the medical center. His eyes lit up and he actually asked questions. We may have an incipient healer in our third bedroom.
"O'Neill, may I go to visit Dr. Frazier?" His voice is soft and still a little unsure.
I'm burping Sebal'c and I wait for the gargantuan sound before answering. "You bet. I'll walk you down to her then head to my office for a couple of hours. Just tell Home when you want to come back. We need to show you the beach and our sun bathing cove. Do you know how to swim?"
His eyes widen. "What is . . . swim?"
"Big 'no' there." I smile reassuringly. "No problem, Nat'an. Swimming is moving through water. Teal'c and I will be glad to teach you. Now, do I have everything?" Handing off Sebal'c to him, I make a show of stuffing some supplies into the bag which goes everywhere with us.
He smiles a little when my son grabs his nose with a giggle. His fingers tickle a bare tummy and the smile widens when Sebal'c wiggles like the little fish he is.
"Ready?" I ask him and he nods. Each smile brings him closer to us. No kid should have to live through what he did. How many others are out there? Heading down the corridor, I make myself a firm promise to find out.
********* Gibbs *********
The smile is pure DiNozzo and I catch my breath when I hear him call out. Will I ever get used to the thrill of being called 'papa'? I don't think so.
"Dad!" Another joyous cry comes from the small table where Ezra and a little blond are coloring.
Looking around I see Agent Jack Malone from the New York FBI office. His eyes are on the other little boy and his smile is blinding. Well, what do you know? We exchange a sheepish look while walking over to our boys.
"Papa, this is Vin." Ezra tells me. "He has a pony."
"Dad, this is Ezra." Vin says. "He has two dads, too."
I kneel down and drop a kiss on tousled dark hair. "Hi, munchkin. It's nice to meet you, Vin. Ezra, we don't have room for a pony."
Jack drops his own kiss on the messy blond hair of his son. "Nice to meet you, Ezra. Vin, is that a picture of Diamond?"
The little boys nod vigorously and Vin answers. "Yeah, see he's in his stall and that's me feeding him an apple."
"Agent Malone, where are you staying?" I have an idea.
"Holiday Inn about five minutes from here." He shoots me a 'why are you asking look'.
"We're grilling out on the deck tonight. Why don't you bring Vin and join us?" I grin when two pairs of eyes gaze pleadingly at him.
He grins. "Martin and I accept. You sure you want this ruffian, too?"
"Da-d-d," Vin rolls his eyes.
"Oh, I think he'll enjoy playing with Ezra's jungle gym." I assure him. Ezra is practically bouncing in his seat and I hug him gently. He's still a quiet child although he's getting better at expressing his needs.
He's still unsure his wants are even possible or that we want to hear about them. We're working on that. This may be just the opening for which we've been looking. Our neighborhood is short on children so his only interaction is with the daycare kids and he's been shy about mixing with them much. He's still afraid he'll do something wrong and get sent back to Child Services.
Not going to happen and I watch him get ready to leave with a smile at his proper 'thank you' to Mrs. Carey, the head nanny. She returns his hand shake and winks at me over his head while he's pulling on his Daffy Duck backpack. She's already told us he's a bright little boy who knows his alphabet, numbers and a few words from his favorite books.
I feel a little hand slip into mine and I squeeze it gently. I will never get over the thrill that gives me. After believing I didn't want to be a father, it hit me out of the blue that I am one now. The DiNozzo touch is powerful and I'm actually considering the whole pregnant male thing.
Walking out to the lobby, I see Tony waiting for us with a tall, slim blond standing beside him. Both little boys tug us to move faster.
"Daddy," they call out in tandem.
Yeah, maybe kids in the plural could be a good thing.
********* Vin *********
Ezra's house is neat. His Papa has a boat in the basement. A real boat, well kind of a skeleton boat, I guess. He's building it himself but Ezra says he helps sand sometimes. But it's the backyard of his house I really like. It's huge, with lots of room to run around and play. There's trees and flowers and cool stuff to play with. We're in the sandbox making a castle while the grownups cook our dinner on the big grill.
"What a difference a few degrees in latitude makes." Dad is smiling at Ezra's daddy, Tony. "We had almost a foot of snow when we left New York. And it's shirt sleeve weather here. Must be nice."
Tony is sitting on the steps watching us play. His grin is kind of like my Daddy's. "It's great but what's even greater is our home away from home. We're just a blink away from the most beautiful planet in any galaxy."
"That still freaks me out a little." Daddy shakes his head but with a smile. "Planets, as in more than one, still seem like a series of weird fantasy novels."
Ezra's papa, Jethro, chuckles. "Me too, Martin. The more you talk to Mother Earth though, the more real she becomes."
Dad is drinking a beer while watching Jethro turn the steaks. I hope we eat soon, I'm hungry. The juice and cookies we had in the daycare were a couple of hours ago. And they were store bought, too. I can always tell. Me and Dad baked real ones before we drove down here so my dads could go to a conference. They were really good so they didn't make all the way to Washington, DC. We ate every single one.
"What's that like?" Daddy asks and I listen real hard because I think it sounds neat to talk to a planet.
//I like talking to those who want to hear me//
I look around because I hear a lady's voice and there isn't one near by.
"We like talking to you too, Mother." Ezra pats the sand we're sitting on then looks at me. "That's Mother Earth inside your head."
"Wow," I pat the sand, too. "Hi, Mother Earth, it's nice to meet you."
Warm tingles run up my whole body. //I like making new friends//
"Me, too," I say in satisfaction. "That's cool you can talk to the planet, Ezra."
"Yeah," he nods vigorously. "She's really nice but so is Home. Maybe you could come with us when we visit her this weekend?"
"Home?" Daddy asks Tony.
"The sentient planet who helped wake up Mother is called Home by the men and women who colonized her." Tony smiles at him. "She's a semi-tropical world with the most unspoiled landscape you can imagine. She's a very nice lady where some good friends live."
"Yeah, it's fun to visit and go swimming at the beach." Ezra leaves the sandbox to go hug his daddy.
That's a good idea so I do it, too. Daddy always holds me tight and whispers 'I love you' when we hug, just like Mama used to. I still miss her but living with Daddy and Dad almost makes up for her going away. I won't ever forget her but the apartment is starting to feel like home.
"You've actually traveled to another planet?" Dad asks with his eyes real big and wide.
"Yeah, the whole teleporting thing is pretty easy." Jethro nods matter-of-factly. "Weird at first but now it just takes a moment and we're there. Haven't taken Teal'c up on visiting his home world, Chulak, but we will one of these days."
"Wow," Daddy shakes his head. "And it's safe, Tony, no predators or radiation or anything like that?"
"Safe as can be. What do you have planned this weekend?"
Daddy hugs me closer and his voice is a little tight. "We have a meeting with my father on Saturday. It should take two hours tops. Another planet sounds like just the thing for afterwards."
"Yeah!" I grin at Ezra. "I've never been swimming before."
"It's fun." Ezra smiles back. "I didn't know how either but Home helped me learn."
********* Jack Malone *********
Thank God we didn't bring Vin with us. I will be forever grateful for Gibb's offer to watch our son while we drove out to the Fitzgerald estate.
I've stayed silent up to this point but no way am I going to let Victor Fitzgerald berate his son like this. The jerk hadn't even asked us to sit down, just let loose a diatribe on how 'disappointed' he is in Martin. How 'stupid' his actions are in taking in Vin. How 'insane' he is to take on a 'used up has-been male lover'.
"Stop, just stop, Fitzgerald." I take a step closer to the gleaming cherry desk that's twice the size of mine. "Perhaps you could listen to Martin instead of lecturing him?"
"No, he can't." Martin lays a hand on my arm and I feel the tremor through the fabric of my sweater. "Father doesn't listen." Blue eyes meet mine and the pain there lances through me like a knife.
"Don't be absurd, Martin. If you had anything intelligent to say, I'd be glad to listen." His snort of contempt makes me grit my teeth. "But you never do. I'm just glad your mother isn't here to see what a hash you're making of your career. She'd have been as shocked and appalled as I am with a bastard grandchild."
"Let's leave my mother out of it, Father. She loved me and she would have loved Vin." He takes a deep breath and slides his hand down to take mine. "I wish I could say I'm surprised by your reaction, but I'm not. You've always wanted a puppet instead of a son and I can't be that for you."
Cold blue eyes pierce us both. "I only want what is best for you and this family. Your career will suffer because of these unwise choices. I won't be able to help you further."
"Help me? You never helped me, Father. You directed, berated me, made me feel more like a step-child than your son. I won't do that with Vin." His jaw clenches and not in a good way. Briefly, I worry about tooth enamel, both his and mine. "I love Jack. He's the other half of my soul and I won't give him up, even for some mythical benefit. Together we're going to raise Vin to be what-ever he wants to be. We'll love him and each other forever. I'm sorry you won't be a part of our lives."
Those beautiful eyes come to me again and the love shining there makes me catch my breath. I'm pretty sure I've got a fatuous look on my face.
"You're throwing away everything." Victor pushes his chair back angrily and we both tense. "If you walk out that door, you are no longer my son. I will disinherit you for once and for all."
"Do what you have to, Father." He leans into me and I slide my hand around his with a squeeze. "I wish you well."
Pivoting away from the sour man behind the desk, Martin heads for the door and pulls me with him. I'm more than ready to go, even if it does mean kissing my FBI career goodbye. Fitzgerald probably has the paperwork ready to go. Maybe Gibbs knows of a job opening?
Martin pauses in the doorway and an interesting look crosses his face. "Actually, Father, have you thought about how politics are going to change now that Mother Earth is sentient?"
"Pah!" He sneers. "New age idiocy."
Martin's smile is just short of beaming. "Keep telling yourself that, Father."
Oh god, that's just cruel, I think, but I save my snicker for outside the front door.
//How rude// our planet sounds affronted
Martin bites his lip and coughs away his own laugh. "He's always been a very practical man. I think we're both looking for jobs, Mother. If you know of any openings, can you let us know?"
//bright ones// her warmth is a mental hug
I probably have a silly grin on my face to match the one on Martin's.
"I think we're going to be just fine." He brushes a kiss to my knuckles and my heart melts. "Love you, Jack."
Pulling him into my arms, I kiss his smiling lips. I'll be 102 before I get used to his taste.
********* Mac Taylor *********
There are days I hate my job. Snapping photos of the burnt out husk of a car, I try to ignore the charred bodies waiting for removal. Finally I'm done and I nod for the paramedics to do their job. Stella is talking to the neighbor who called in the explosion and I spot Lindsay photographing some of the debris that has been blown a good thirty feet nearer the suburban house.
Where the hell is Danny? The front door of the house is open and I can see him crouched just inside the hall. "Messer, what are you doing?"
He doesn't answer, just stands and holds out a baseball bat and glove.
"Oh, my God, where's Chris?" The neighbor starts to cry again. "He ran back in to get his sports gear. Where is he?"
Stella comforts her and as I draw nearer, she sobs out the basics. Chris Larabee, twelve years old, son of Adam and Sarah Larabee, baseball fanatic and a bit of a hell-raiser should be on his way to school but is nowhere in sight. Don disappears inside the house with Danny and I know they'll find him if he's there.
"Oh God, no." An unmarked cop car arrives and almost before it's stopped, the passenger has leapt out to gaze at the wreck. He's about my age but wears his authority like a well-worn suit. Blazing blue eyes meet mine. "You the CSI in charge of the crime scene?"
"Mac Taylor," I meet him half-way between the house and the car smoldering in the street.
"Captain Nestle from the 18th Precinct," his handshake is firm. "Who all was in the car?"
"Two adults, one male and one female. It appears the son wasn't in the vehicle when it exploded." I've always found it's best to be blunt when dealing with another professional.
"Dear God," he closes his eyes tight and takes a moment to get a grip on his emotions. "Adam was Lt. Larabee out of Homicide under me. Sarah taught special ed in Chris' school, Washington Irving."
Damn, another brother-in-justice dead. This case either just got simple or a hundred times harder. "I'm sorry for your loss, Captain. Our first concern though has to be their son. According to the neighbor, he ran back in to get something he'd forgotten then the car blew up."
"So, did he run away from the horror of watching his parents burn alive or was somebody waiting to snatch him?" Captain Nestle says grimly.
"Or, did he have instructions from his father to head to safety should something like this ever happen?" I add. "Whatever the answer, we need to call in Missing Persons."
"My men will handle it, Mr. Taylor." His gaze is fierce.
"I'm sorry, Captain, but we need to call in the experts. Every moment we're not looking for him, he could be in grave danger. Especially if he saw or knows something." I speak firmly but he's not listening.
I hate being suspicious but it's part of my job. It is beginning to look like a hit. But who ordered it and why? Don comes up to me and whispers the house is empty. Nodding, I get out my cell phone and punch in a number.
"Jack? It's Mac Taylor. We've got a missing person and two dead bodies. We need your team fast."
********* Chris *********
Get to safety . . . get to safety . . . get to safety.
Dad's words keep repeating inside my head. "If anything happens to me or your mom, grab the lock box in my closet floor if you can and leave immediately. Go to Peso and hide there until one of us comes for you."
I bite my lip hard and hold in a sob. What if neither of them will come? Who can I trust to come for me if they are both . . . gone?
I want to cry and scream and hit something but everything is locked inside of me. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. The box's sharp edge digs into my back again and I automatically shift my back pack an inch or so to stop it. It's going to be a long ten mile hike to Peso.
He's the only one I can trust now.
The end for now