My back hurts. While I stir the scrambled eggs, I think over what we did yesterday. Routine day at work going over cold cases, watched 'Summer Magic' after dinner, gave Ezra a bath, read the Cat in the Hat for the thirty-fifth time, made mad passionate love to Jethro, and been made love to. Absolutely normal day and no reason for a backache today.
I think about taking an ibuprofen but I hate taking drugs so I make a deal with myself. If it still hurts at lunch time, I'll take something. Decision made, I listen to steps overhead. Ezra is up and Jethro is probably helping him get dressed. Our son is still working on tying his shoes. He can be impatient like me but Jethro is endlessly patient with him.
I wish I'd had a dad like him.
"Good morning, Daddy." Ezra runs in and hugs me.
I hug back. "Good morning, munchkin. Did you sleep well?"
"No dreams." He says it quietly but with a smile.
I move the eggs off the flame to one side and kneel down to his level. "Not all dreams are bad, Ezra." I cup his cheek and kiss it. "Some of my dreams can be scary, too. But I can reach out and touch Jethro. He makes all the bad dreams go away. Come to us if one like that comes to you."
He smiles so brightly, he glows. "I know, Daddy. If the door is open, it's okay to come in."
"And if it's closed, you can knock." I remind him. Having a child takes some of the spontaneity from love making but that just means we need to plan a little better. He nods and hugs my neck while I squeeze him tight.
Jethro is standing in the kitchen doorway, looking at us with so much love it makes my eyes tear. What the hell is wrong with me this week? My emotions are all over the map. Maybe it's getting everything I ever wanted or needed? A man to love, who loves me back; a child with a bright spirit; a job I love; friends who like me for who I really am and not an image I hide behind; a planet for whom I'm a 'bright one'.
//you make the world better my Anthony//
//love you, Mother// I wrap her in a mental hug just the way I wrap Ezra physically. Then I have to clear my throat to speak out loud. "Love you both, so much. How about eggs and toast this morning?"
Ezra nods vigorously. "I like your eggs, Tony. They're never nasty, slimy things."
And just like that, my stomach does a loop-de-loop.
********* Danny Messer *********
It's been years since I've been to a beach. Home whisked me here this morning and I'm lying in a hammock with a baby asleep on my chest. His little hand is fisted tight in my t-shirt and his brown hair is soft against my jaw. Jack and Teal'c are frolicking in the surf with their adopted twelve-year old.
Odd how normal it feels. Seems I've known these people forever. In the week since the shooting, I've been cosseted by Janet and Terry; listened to wondrous stories from Daniel and Samantha; eaten delicious meals prepared by Mel'tic. All the while staying in Jack and Teal'c's third bedroom, so I always have someone on call but can still be alone when I need to be. And Nat'an listens to me as if I were the font of all wisdom about Earth.
Kinda heady stuff, having my stories and experiences amaze someone. He's grown up so sheltered, with only books and his father's teaching. I wish I could teach him baseball. Maybe his dads can take him to a game when the season starts? I absentmindedly pat baby Seb's back when he squirms a little.
I like this new world. Even the fear of never walking again seems to be a faint, faraway emotion. Maybe Home is suppressing it for me?
//no, Danny, I'm merely wrapping my love around the pain//
Blinking back tears, I feel something I haven't felt in a long time. Acceptance, unconditional and complete acceptance. Have I ever felt that before? Maybe my mom felt it when I was born? My big brother must have felt it when he was teaching me to throw a baseball or he'd never have been so patient. Aiden always said she liked my weird sense of humor. At least she always laughed at my jokes.
A soft hand pats my cheek and a little face smiles up at me. "Ge-ble, de-de, daj-sa."
"Hey, Sebal'c, did you have a nice nap? You still dry?" I check the diaper but no surprises so far. His little lips are moving in and out but that's not something I can help with so I look towards the water.
Jack is already on his way up the beach. I've always been able to appreciate a great specimen but this planet has nothing but gorgeous men. Well, except for me.
"Hey, DM thanks for watching Sebal'c. Dinner time isn't it?" Jack smiles at us before picking up his son. Sitting cross-legged on the big blanket, he holds Seb to his nipple.
That still amazes me. Jack actually birthed his own son. I always wanted a family but it isn't going to happen now. From the moment I realized it was guys who made me tingle, I knew a family was out of the question. Still, I'd dreamed a dream or two when no one could see.
//you are worthy of love, Danny, do not let anyone tell you differently//
//I love you, Home//
Her return mental hug makes me feel so loved; I have to rub my stinging eyes.
"What's wrong, DM?" Jack's voice reminds me I've got an audience bigger than the planet.
"I'm okay," I say over the lump in my throat. I think I'm jealous of him and Teal'c's loving relationship.
"Try again." His voice is soft while he switches Sebal'c to his other nipple. "Are you in pain? Do we need to get Janet?"
I shake my head. "Nah, don't need to bother her. Home just told me she loves me. It's been a long time since anyone told me that. My mom said it once, I think."
Jack shakes his head. "You're surrounded by idiots, DM. Is there someone special you'd like to see now? Someone who could help you through this healing time?"
Mac, I wish Mac was someone like that. I sigh. "Nah, Don and Stella have already been to visit. They're busy, too busy to waste time with me."
"I do not think Donald Flack would see it as wasting time." Teal'c joins us with his nephew, and I appreciate their god-like naked bodies. Jack really hit the jackpot with him, although Jack has an excellent physique, too.
What had he said? I replay it and smile sheepishly. "Yeah, Don's been a better friend to me than I probably deserve."
"You do important work on your world, DM." Nat'an says solemnly from beside Teal'c. "Is this not worthy of respect and friendship?"
How the hell do I explain how badly I fuck up everything I do? Even when I try to do the right thing, I still end up on the wrong end of the stick. And the stick is usually beating me up.
"Perhaps others do not appreciate your dedication to the law?" Teal'c is quite the diplomat.
"Thanks, guys. I don't hear that very often. I do my best but sometimes it's not enough." For some reason it's never enough. I paste a smile on my face. "Is there any more gua'ange juice in the cooler?"
********* Gibbs *********
Okay, I can admit I'm scared shitless. Rubbing a circle on Tony's back, I wait for him to finish throwing up in the kitchen sink. One minute he's fine and the next he's turning green and dashing over. Luckily, he'd already taken the eggs off the gas flame.
"Ick, double ick and blech." He's still head down over the porcelain. "Jethro, could you grab a glass for me? I need to rinse my mouth out."
"Sure," I pull open the cupboard and hand him a juice glass.
"Thanks." He runs the water and takes a mouthful, spitting it out almost immediately.
Twice more and he finally swallows a little. I use the spray to rinse the vomit down the drain. He's still pale and the hand holding the glass is trembling. What the hell is wrong and what can I do to help?
"Okay, that was different. Can you finish off the eggs, Jethro? I bet you're both hungry."
"Are you okay, Daddy?" Ezra is on his other side, patting his leg gently. I'd forgotten he was there.
"Better, munchkin. I may have a touch of the flu. Mary Albright from team 6 went down yesterday. Tami said she threw up for six hours straight. Her husband took her into the emergency room because he was afraid she'd dehydrate." Tony splits a smile between us but I can tell it's an effort. "I think I need to sit down."
Ezra pulls out the chair nearest us and Tony sits down abruptly, swallowing convulsively. His eyes are closed and his fingers are white where he's clutching the table edge. Ezra stands as close as he can get while looking up at me anxiously.
I smile as reassuringly as I can while swallowing my own adrenalin. "I'll put the tea kettle on so you can try some of that tea you've been drinking."
"Ah, maybe," he grimaces. "Maybe some of the chamomile since my stomach is upset. But while the water is heating, please finish the eggs. Maybe some dry toast for me?"
"Sure, I can do that. Ezra, why don't you start the toast?" I move the kitchen step stool over to the counter and he reluctantly leaves Tony's side.
"Okay, Papa." He climbs up and pulls the bread closer to him so he can open it.
When we moved in together, Tony brought some fancy appliances with him. The four slice stainless steel toaster was one of them. He loves toast in all its forms from plain buttered to sugar and cinnamon covered. Ezra does too so it gets a work out most days.
I finish stirring the eggs over a low flame while my brain makes a list. I better call Morrow first and call us both in sick. But getting Ducky is number two. Ever since Tony got infected with the plague, I worry about colds and flu. His lungs aren't one hundred percent and may never be again. What if he's really ill?
The kettle whistles while I'm dishing up the eggs. Hastily, I turn off the gas to both burners. "Ezra, would you please look for the chamomile tea?"
"Okay," he scoots over the counter to the cupboard housing the variety of tea, coffee, cocoa, and apple cider packets. "Um, how do you spell chamomile?"
"C-h-a-m, those should be enough letters, Ezra." Tony still looks green to me when I look over my shoulder. "Jethro, I think we may need to call Ducky. The ache in my back is worse than my stomach upset."
His back? I blink at him. "Why haven't I heard about your back? How long has it been hurting?"
"A couple of days, off and on." He's sipping his water gingerly.
"Does flu hurt your back, too?" Ezra is clutching a box of Celestial Seasonings in his small hands.
"Not that I'm aware of, munchkin, but maybe it's a new kind." Tony smiles at him but it's not one of his best. "Can you reach the white tea pot, Ezra? I think it's going to take more than a cup today."
"I'll call Tom and the daycare center. I think we'll all take a sick day." I open the cabinet where we keep the cups and hand down the teapot.
"How many teabags should I put in, Daddy?"
"Four should do it, Ezra." Tony has his eyes closed again and the little pucker between his eyes tells me he's in pain.
"How about we make up a tray with the teapot, a cup and a couple pieces of toast?" I ask Ezra and his smile is good to see. "You put the teabags in and I'll pour the hot water.
"Maybe an apple," Tony muses out loud then bites his lip. "Nah, just a piece of toast, guys. My stomach doesn't appear to want to chance anything else."
Ezra is busy buttering our toast after carefully setting one aside for Tony. I take it to the table and run my fingers through my lover's hair. He leans into me rather like our son does when he's tired. My heart gives an extra beat every time. It's such an intimate thing to do . . . show weakness without fear it will be used against you.
"Love you, Tony," I lean down and kiss his temple. "Eat your toast while your tea is steeping."
********* Mac *********
The circles of corruption are widening beyond the 18th precinct. I have serious doubts about the Chief of Police's office and some of the city aldermen. The Feds are tight-lipped but Jack Malone is keeping me informed through nightly visits via Mother Earth. I still jump a foot when he appears out of thin air in my living room.
Maybe this old dog has reached his limits?
I rub my forehead and wonder where I put the ibuprofen. A tap on the door brings my head up and I smile at Flack. "Come in, Don. What's the news?"
"I got a death threat in my locker." He sits down a little more heavily than usual. "Sheldon is dusting the area for fingerprints. But would they be stupid enough not to wear gloves? And what if it had been a bomb instead of paper?"
"Damn, this is escalating too quickly." I find the bottle of ibuprofen and shake out a couple, holding it up for Don with a questioning look.
"Yeah, I could use some." He holds out his hand and I it to him. He takes three and pulls out a bottle of water from his jacket pocket. After swallowing them, Don continues to drink until his bottle is empty.
I swallow mine with some cold coffee that's been sitting there since I don't remember when. "How far up does it go?"
"Not sure but too far if they can get into our locker room without anyone noticing." He looks tired and angry.
"Yeah, I almost wish it was aliens. Then our planet could pick them out for us." Remembering the story Gibbs had given us during our first get together, I almost smile.
"We all look the same unfortunately. It's what is inside their minds and hearts that's different from you and me."
//evil exists in so many ways// her sorrowful tones make me wish I could give her a hug
"We know, Mother. We do our best to keep people safe but too many times the bad guys work under cover." Don's voice is affectionate.
//all people have some greed in their minds// she speaks slowly
"True, we all wish for more of something. But there's a matter of degree and I don't know how you could tell the difference between someone who wants more chocolate and someone who wants to rule the world without reading their minds." I suddenly wonder if that's possible. Is she reading me right now?
But before I can ask, Don does. "Um, Mother, you don't read our minds, do you?"
//I can but usually I don't . . . there are so many of you// her tones are matter-of-fact
My eyes widen and I share a panicked look with Don. "We appreciate that, Mother."
//certain bright ones are always touching me . . . children and adults . . . more as time goes by//
"I wish we had more time to work with you, Mother." Don's voice is wistful. "Have you talked with Home lately? How is Danny doing?"
//he's sad and hurting . . . Home is taking good care of him//
'Hurting', that doesn't sound good at all. I swallow hard. "Don, is there anything we can do to help?"
He shakes his head, rubbing his chin in a familiar frustrated gesture. "The paralysis may be permanent. Janet . . . I mean Dr. Frazier says the nerves need time to heal. But everybody on Home is so nice, I'm afraid he won't want to leave to come back to Earth."
Not come back? I catch my breath in dismay and start shaking my head. "No . . . not just no but hell no, he has to come back."
"Why? You showed what you thought of him the last few months. Why should he come back so he can be marginalized into a disability retirement?" Don's voice is calm. "He told Janet to let him go before she operated. Tell me why he should come back, Mac. Give me one good reason. Or better yet, go to Home and tell him why."
I stare mutely at him. Maybe he's right? Maybe I should take a chance.
End part 21