"Gibbs," I answer the phone brusquely. I'm not watching the clock. I'm not.
"Agent Gibbs, my name is Mac Taylor and I'm the head of the CSI lab in New York."
The name sounds vaguely familiar to me. "What can I do for you, Mr. Taylor?"
"I'm . . . I'm not sure why I called. FBI Agent Jack Malone suggested I talk to you since you've been to a planet called Home." The hesitation in his voice tells me what I need to know.
"Yes, I have. I'm going to assume you've got a case with extra-terrestrial connections." I sit back in my chair. "Tell me about it and I'll try to help."
"I don't think . . . I mean the case itself doesn't seem to have any aliens in it but one of my men ended up on Home being operated on by a doctor named Janet." The strain in his voice reaches through the phone lines to me.
I stifle a sigh. "Agent Taylor, hold off on the explanation. I'm coming up. Just let me clear it with my boss and I'll be there in a few moments."
"Teleportation . . . it's interesting." He sighs. "Thank you, Agent Gibbs."
"Call me Jethro. I'll see you in a few." I hang up and hit speed dial one. It's Tony's day to leave early and take Ezra home.
"Hello, lover. What's up?" His sexy voice makes me smile.
"I just spoke to a harried CSI in New York who has an agent on Home being operated on. I thought I'd pop up there and explain a few things. Jack Malone gave him my name. I'd rather be coming home but he sounds like he's at the end of his rope."
"If Jack gave him your name, there's probably a missing person and/or a murder. Do you think you'll be home for dinner?" He sounds disappointed and that warms my heart.
"Don't know. How about you give me an hour or so to sort it out? Then I'll either come home or ask Mother to bring you both up to New York. We can have dinner with Jack, Martin, and Vin," I offer.
"Good idea. Ask Mother first if she's too busy."
//never too busy for you, bright ones//
"Thanks, Mother." Tony and I speak simultaneously and have to chuckle.
"See you soon, love," I tell him. "Give Ezra a hug for me."
"I will. Love you. Bye."
I call Tom in the director's office to let him know I'm popping up to NY for a consult. He chuckles and approves. Life is definitely different since Mother Earth woke up.
********* Mac *********
It's ten minutes and suddenly a gray-haired, steely-eyed man is standing in front of my desk. "Agent Taylor, I'm Jethro Gibbs."
Standing, I circle my desk to shake his hand. "It's Mac please, Jethro. Thanks for coming so quickly."
"By any chance, are you ex-Marine?" His grip is firm but not crushing.
"Yes . . . you too?" He has the look and his nod confirms it. "Welcome to the New York CSI labs, Jethro. I've got a case with tentacles going every which way. We're setting up in the break room so I can bring in everyone who's involved with it. I'll take you down."
"Good idea. Is Malone's team nearby," he asks me while we walk down the hall.
"Not in this building but a few blocks away."
"Mother, could you see if Jack or Martin is available to come over?" He speaks into the air.
I shake my head and blink. "Does that ever get . . . normal? Talking to a planet?"
He smiles. "You get used to it although we ask first if she's busy before we ask for a lift anywhere."
And suddenly Jack Malone is standing in front of us. "Hey, Jethro, it's good to see you. How's the family?" He and Jethro exchange handshakes and half-hugs while I wonder how they met.
"We're good. Do you guys have time for dinner tonight? Tony and Ezra would love to come up."
"Great idea. Hi, Mac." Jack smiles at me while flipping open his phone and punching in a code while he walks along with us. "Martin, I'm at CSI headquarters with Mac and Jethro. Don't start dinner. How about we eat at Viggo's tonight with Jethro and the family?" He listens for a moment, unconsciously nodding at whatever is being said. "I'll call when we're done here. Bye, love."
"Excellent, Jack, I'll call Tony after this meeting." Jethro gives me his attention again. "Now, I'm ready to listen."
The break room is full which makes Danny's absence even harder to bear. Damn it, he should be here, cracking jokes and lightening the air with his zestful outlook. "Everyone, this is Agent Jethro Gibbs from the DC NCIS office. And you all know Jack Malone."
I introduce my team to Gibbs, and we sit down by the white board where Stella has been constructing a time line of events. Lindsey gets up to pour coffee for our guests, making sure I get a cup, too. She's thoughtful like that, and I smile my thanks.
"So, what you've got are a couple of dead cops, a wounded CSI, and a traumatized kid." Jethro sums it up for us.
"Chris is shaken but hanging in there." Jack leans back in the chrome chair, balancing on the back two legs. "He told us his dad had told him what to do if anything ever happened to either parent. Chris was to take a locked box from the floor safe in the parents' closet and get to whoever was still okay."
"Poor boy, he watched them both get killed." Stella shakes her head. "Did he get the box?"
"We've got it in our office." Jack's face is grim. "It's damning to say the least. The 18th is riddled with corruption from the bottom all the way to the top. Chris is in protective federal custody from here on out. In fact, we're contemplating taking him off planet."
I blink and exchange a wide-eyed look with Stella. "Where?"
"Home, for choice," Jethro says calmly. "Your Danny is already there and its colonists are warriors. It would give him something to focus on rather than his grief."
********* Don *********
Gua'ange . . . it's pretty good. I sip the juice slowly while I watch Janet start dripping my blood into Danny's veins. He's whiter than white and so still it makes my heart hurt. I'd give anything to see those big blue eyes open.
"He's going to make it, Don." The pretty red headed doctor smiles tiredly at me, and sits down with a sigh. Peeling off the latex gloves, she looks at me. "Is there a reason he'd tell me to 'let him go'?"
I hear the quotation marks around the phrase and feel as if I'd been punched. My eyes go to him again, muttering to myself. "Ah, Danny, is it that bad?"
Dry-scrubbing my face with both hands, I think about what to say. "He's had a bad year. Danny grew up in a mob family and had to fight like hell to make his way out. I always knew I'd be a cop like my dad. We met my first year in college in Forensics 101. He's a science geek at heart."
She nods encouragingly. "So he doesn't have family support. What about friends?"
I rub the side of my face and take another drink, stalling for time. But one look with an arched eyebrow, just like Stella's, and she has me talking. "He's had an even rougher year with his co-workers and friends. One of the CSI's got fired then murdered. The gal replacing her isn't one of his favorite people. His supervisor is an ex-marine who I could have sworn would back him to hell and gone."
"But he isn't," she sits back with a little stretch of tired muscles.
"He was at first . . . then with the whole Tanglewood incident . . . um, something from Danny's past that came back to bite him in the ass. Mac closed down and backed away from him." It's my turn to sigh. "Danny likes him, maybe even more than he should."
"How about you, Don? Is he a friend you give blood to or something more?" She's relentless.
"I consider him my best friend." I've been doing nothing but think about our relationship for the last few hours. "I let him get away with pulling away before but no more. I finally figured out he's been trying to protect me from getting smeared with the same shit he's been fighting. Cops who don't back him up because he's 'dirty'. Colleagues who accuse him of doing slipshod work. Lawyers who look down on him and call him a 'street rat'. He deserves better."
"He's going to need you now more than ever." Her eyes go steely, and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. "One of the bullets lodged near his spine. Before I put him out to repair the bullet damage, he said he couldn't feel his legs anymore. He told me to let him go. He said no one would really miss him."
My heart squeezes so hard I can hardly breathe. "God."
"Home removed the bullets so I didn't have to cause any more damage to the nerves. It may just be the trauma from the impact or some swelling. But he might be paralyzed. He's going to need friends who will stand by him. No matter the final result, he's looking at months of physical therapy."
"I'll be there." I think about the CSI team. "So will Stella and Sheldon. I just don't know about Mac or Lindsay."
"If I think for one minute he's not getting enough support, I'll keep him here." Her voice is steel. "We're a family here and he'd make a great addition to our world."
********* Jack Malone *********
I look around the round table with the festive red and white checked tablecloth. Tony and Martin have their heads together; Vin and Ezra are talking a mile a minute on either side of a slightly bewildered Chris, who's hanging in there with surprising grace; Jethro is smiling at something the kids are saying. I am a lucky, lucky man.
Martin's gaze meets mine. His smile is so sexy, I can feel myself blush. Jethro pokes my arm. "None of that at the dinner table, Jack. Besides, the food's here."
Chuckling, I sit back to let the waitress set three bowls of different kinds of pasta in the middle of the table. She's back a moment later with three bowls of different sauces and finally a heaping platter of garlic bread.
"That should hold you for a bit, Jack." Sally has known me for the twenty years I've been coming to Viggo's. "Everybody's drinks all right?"
When we all nod, she gives us a cheery 'bon apetite'. I use the prongs to put some spaghetti on Vin's plate while Tony serves Ezra some shell pasta. Once the little ones are okay, we start passing around the pasta and sauces. Vin's favorite is tomato and basil while Ezra likes the alfredo sauce. Chris takes a little bit of each pasta and sticks with the tomato and basil.
Martin takes the rigatoni and the creamy garlic sauce. I decide to do the same. Tony and Jethro both take the shells but Tony hesitates before just putting a little alfredo on his. Gibbs smothers his in the tomato sauce. The garlic bread makes the rounds until everybody is satisfied. And we're eating. Everything is so good, we pay the chef the ultimate tribute . . . contented silence.
Sally checks back and refills our water glasses while accepting our hums of appreciation. Vin accepts a little help from me on cutting the too long strands of spaghetti into more manageable proportions. He's got tomato red on both cheeks before I realize it. I dip a corner of my cloth napkin in my water glass and wipe him off.
He gives me a sweet smile before digging back in. My heart gives an extra thump while I look around the table at my family and friends. I am the luckiest man in the world.
"I know what you're thinking and you're right." Jethro says quietly. "You're one of the luckiest men in this world. I'm the other one."
We exchange a look and smile. I have a hard time putting into words how blessed I am. I find myself lighting several candles every Sunday when I go to mass at the cathedral. One for my first family living in Chicago and one for my current family, which seems to be expanding.
Chris is still dazed at the speed of the changes in his young life. Martin and I are trying to give him support and space at the same time. But Vin is the one who's painting his love over the gaping wounds of his loss. It's so odd to watch the two of them speak without words. I've got the best little boy in the world and just maybe . . . a big brother for him.
********* Danny *********
I don't hurt that much. Huh, I think fuzzily. Must be on the good stuff. My eyes feel gummy and I think about opening them. But it's too much trouble so I just go back to sleep instead.
There's an odd sound near my head. It sounds like tinkling bells . . . teeny tiny bells. Kind a pretty and sweet. Never had much of that in my life. 'Pretty is as pretty does' my grandma used to say. She's been dead for years.
Maybe I'm dead. Doesn't hurt much. That's a good thing. I slip back into the dark.
Something smells good. Citrus-y but sweet. I smelled an orange blossom tree once at the botanical center where they found a dead body. I never knew they could smell so good. Not the dead body, he didn't smell good at all. But the petals lying on him, they smelled sweet. I take a deeper breath. Yeah, whatever it is, it smells just like that.
Hey, I'm lying on my side this time. Something squishy and soft is packed behind my back so I can't lie on it. There's a reason for that but I don't really want to remember why so I let it go and fall back asleep.
Something soft and silky is stroking my arm. It's warm and wet. Somebody is giving me a bed bath. I kind of remember my mom doing that once a lifetime ago when I had the measles. I think I was six years old. I was feeling miserable and she spent a long time making me feel better.
That's a good memory, and I wonder why it's been so long since I remembered it. Has it been that long since someone else took the time to make me feel more comfortable. I drift through my life. How sad.
But that reminds me of the kid. The little boy I was trying to protect. Is he okay? I frown and struggle to open my eyes.
"Hush now, Daniel Messer. You're safe." The voice is soft but firm and male.
I cough to clear my throat but what comes out is slurred. "K-k-k-kid . . . okay?"
"Christopher is fine. You protected him with your own body." Big hands reposition me when I flail one arm and start to teeter. "Please be careful, Daniel Messer. Your body is still healing from the gun shots."
"How . . . how bad?" I finally get my eyes open. Can't see much without my glasses but the guy in front of me is big . . . really, really big.
"Excellent, you're awake, Danny." A new voice catches my attention and a blurry white shape comes closer. "My name is Janet Frasier. I'm the doctor who operated on you three days ago. Both bullets came out without a problem. There was some tearing and collateral damage but nothing serious. How do you feel?"
I have to think about that for a moment. "Fuzzy . . . tired . . . hot."
Cool fingers take my pulse, a cool hand touches my forehead. "Hm-m-m, Teal'c, could you bring me the digital thermometer?"
Something slides into my ear and I twitch. "It's all right, Danny. You're just running a bit of a temp. I'll add a little analgesic to your IV. Can you squeeze my hand?"
Sure, I think, and squeeze my left hand around her fingers. She tests my other hand and my chest. I wonder why she doesn't move lower and suddenly my eyes fly open.
And she gets right in my face, her hand tight around mine. "You are going to be fine, Danny. There's some residual paralysis left from the surgery. You are NOT to worry about your spine until another week or more goes by. Do you hear me, young man? You are going to lie here and continue healing. Get it?"
I nod shakily. "Got it, Doc. No worrying."
"Good. Teal'c, would you tell Don and Stella that our Sleeping Beauty has finally awakened." She strokes my hair back. "Everyone has been worried about you, Danny. There will be rejoicing at CSI headquarters today."
I manage a smile for her. She doesn't need to know the only two who'll be glad for me are the two coming in right now.
end part 20