Martin stood on the balcony outside the office staring down at the streets below. Even from high up here, he could hear the constant beep of horns as cars came to a standstill, caught in massive traffic jams as people tried to leave the city by the few bridges still open. Tension and frustration had sent the crime rate soaring, keeping him and his fellow FBI agents busy as they tried to track missing persons through the troubled city. He drew his coat tighter around him, shivering as the cold rain whipped across his face, driven by the wind funneled between the high buildings. The rain had been falling for days without a break.
Martin cursed softly. Yesterday, the authorities stopped the ferries and closed the tunnels leading off Manhattan due to high winds, rough water and flooding and, as of this morning, even the trains were no longer running as Grand Central Station came to a standstill. As he looked down at the street below he shook his head. Now, even the roads seemed impassable as people resorted to the only form of transportation left to them -- their cars -- and even those were crawling along in knee deep water.
Yet Martin's thoughts lay not with those trying to leave the city but with a single man who was on his way in -- his lover of almost a year.
When Martin left the warmth of their bed three days earlier, he never expected to end up trapped in the FBI headquarters because of so many missing persons' cases arriving on his desk all at once. In hindsight, he wished he had not called Brent, wished he had not pleaded with him to come into the city so they could spend at least a couple of hours together.
Yesterday, Brent had refused for he was the sheriff of the small town where they lived and he had an obligation to the people of that town, especially after panic set in. People had started looting from the stores in the town and its surrounding areas as the weather conditions worsened, leaving food and fresh water in short supply. Today, however, Brent had promised to be here, knowing his deputies could handle the problems by themselves for a few hours.
With the latest problems caused by the seemingly never-ending rain, Martin wished he had been able to contact Brent and tell him to stay at home. However, all he got from his cellphone was static and the certain knowledge that Brent was probably caught in one of the horrendous traffic jams that had ground the city to a halt as people tried to leave using those few remaining bridges.
From the latest report, all but one lane on each bridge had been designated as an exit lane from the city. It made sense as no one in their right mind would come into Manhattan today.
He looked back over his shoulder as someone rapped on the glass, smiling his assurances to Sam as she watched him from within the dry interior. Sam mouthed the words 'come in' and Martin raised a hand, nodding and implicitly asking for a few minutes more. He knew she was worried because the rain was freezing cold and he had been standing out here for some time but he had needed to get away from the constant ringing of phones and the frantic pace inside the office. The flooding had hindered their work today, making it near impossible to follow any leads beyond the confines of the building because they just could not seem to make any headway through the city streets. Instead, they had resorted to phone calls and internet searches.
He blew out a deep breath and started to turn away, taking one step towards the door that would lead him back inside. However, the sudden rise in the noise level from below, sent him turning back to check out the cause, and he gasped in horror at the wall of water approaching rapidly, swallowing up everything in its path.
A single name screamed through his head as the water destroyed most everything in its path, picking up cars and hurling them before it.
Jack knew he was going to be late for work but he did not care. His only regret was that he had to go in at all. Not because he hated the rain that had fallen ceaselessly for days but because he had the girls with him. Maria had brought them from Chicago to stay with him while she went to a conference in Miami. Neither of them had wanted to go out in the rain but the babysitter had not shown up, giving Jack little option but to take them in with him as he could hardly leave them in the apartment all alone.
By the time he had driven part way across the city, Jack knew he would get little further. He almost turned back but cars seemed to block every side street as people tried to escape the city, leaving no turning space. Noticing an empty spot at the curb, Jack made a swift decision and pulled in. He turned off the engine and sat for a moment, contemplating his options as the rain beat down upon the windscreen. Leaving the car here meant walking but, on reflection, the office was a lot closer than the apartment, perhaps only three blocks away. He made sure both girls were bundled up in their coats before stepping out into the knee deep water, cursing softly as the water drenched him within seconds, overflowing his boots and soaking into his pants.
"Come on," he said gruffly, grunting as he removed Hannah from the car and placed her on the roof. He grabbed Kate and held onto her as he locked up the car. After putting away his keys, Jack offered up his spare arm to Hannah, grunting at the strain of holding two children.
As he approached the entrance, threading his way through the abandoned cars through ever deepening water, and with his arms aching from holding the girls, the sudden rise in noise as people began to shout and scream made in turn round.
Where others froze in shock, all of Jack's instincts and FBI training kicked along with the adrenaline pumping through his blood, boosting his strength, and he pushed up the final steps and into the building. He headed straight for the stairway, uncaring of security guard at the entrance calling his name. The man recognized him and would not dare shoot anyway, not while he had two small children in his arms. Jack wanted to yell at the man, tell him to start climbing too, but he could not spare the breath. Already, his legs were threatening to fold beneath him from the physical strain as the water level rose swiftly, slowing him down and making each upward step even more difficult. Still, he pushed upwards, ignoring the cries of Hannah and Kate as the water crashed through the entrance, smashing through glass with incredible force. He knew they could see back over his shoulder at what he could not, and he knew it terrified them.
His legs threatened to buckle under the combined weight of two children, and under the strain of lifting each foot upon each stair as he pushed through the freezing, rapidly rising water, but he knew he could not falter or they were all dead. Digging deep into the last ounces of his reserves, he found renewed strength to continue pushing onwards and upwards as water swept into the foyer below, feeling it rising quickly passed his knees, thighs, and to his waist. It began to drop as he climbed higher, still clasping a terrified child in each of his arms as tightly as he could, but Jack's strength was waning fast.
Suddenly, part of the weight lifted from him and he looked up to find Danny in front of him, holding Hannah.
"Come on!" Danny yelled, reaching out to grab his arm and drag at him.
Still holding Kate tight in his arms, Jack struggled on, finally collapsing to his knees on dry flooring, unable to take another step. He looked back down the stairwell and saw only water, and realized how close he had come to losing his precious girls and his own life. In a matter of minutes, the water had arisen over thirty feet and if he had left them in his second floor apartment then they would have drowned.
Vivian appeared at his side, taking the remaining child from him. He accepted Martin's help to rise back to his feet and to climb the remaining flights of stairs to their office, grateful for the supporting arms around him.
As he slumped onto the couch in his office, barely able to catch his breath, his girls slipped back into his arms, burying their small faces against his wet shoulders. Jack held them close, hugging them, knowing the wet tracks running down his face were not just rivulets of rain. A full minute passed before Jack looked back up and caught Martin's haunted eyes. Instantly, he understood the shock in the bright blue eyes.
Martin shook his head slowly and Jack felt his stomach lurch. He had overheard Martin asking Brent to come into New York today. If Brent had been caught up in the traffic as he tried to reach the building, then he would have been caught in the tidal wave that had swept over the city.
"He might have turned back when he saw the state of the roads," Jack murmured but in his heart, he knew Brent had been out there -- and so did Martin. Jack shivered as that knowledge crept through him.
"You need to get out those wet clothes," Martin stated in a shaky voice, and he reached into Jack's cupboard, extracting a bag containing spare clothing. They all kept spares at the office in case they had to leave New York at short notice. Martin set the bag down beside Jack before turning away, leaving Jack alone. He stared at the bag for several long minutes until Vivian returned with dry clothing scrounged up from somewhere for his girls.
A search through the building revealed a total of seventy-five FBI officers, some with their children. The rest had either decided not to turn up today or more likely, had been caught in the horrendous traffic -- and the tsunami. Already, Jack could see the rain turning to snow as he looked beyond the windows and he shivered again.
Danny spoke up first. "We need to get warm clothing, blankets, heating, food and water supplies together."
Jack took over. "Okay. Tell everyone to go in pairs and search every floor for anything we can use. Check desk drawers for food, and check the medical rooms for blankets and supplies. Danny, make sure they check all the closets for bottled water. There has to be a supply of that some place around here," he stated, as his eyes moved towards the water cooler.
Agent James came over. "We're going to need heat and light. The generators were down in the basement and that's under thirty feet of water so it's going to get dark and cold in here pretty quick."
"Okay, people," Jack yelled, "we also need flashlights, batteries... and add anything combustible to the list." Jack turned back to Danny and his team. "We also need to figure out if there's any place we can light a fire inside in safety, and preferably some place more closed in," he added, staring at the bank of glass windows surrounding them.
"What about the Director's Lounge, two floors up?" asked Sam. "It's got proper walling rather than just these flimsy screens... and we could use the privacy screens to board up the windows along that floor, to preserve more heat."
Jack nodded. He had been inside the inner sanctum that was the Director's Lounge only once when Deputy Director Fitzgerald had demanded to speak with him privately concerning his son, Martin. The lounge was brick-built and set in the center of the floor, constructed with acoustic dampening material and bullet proof glass on the four windows that offered visual surveillance in all directions. An equivalent structure existed in the basement -- called the 'bunker' -- but that was well out of reach. The security advisors had ordered the construction of the Lounge in case the Director, Deputy, and Assistant Directors were caught on the top floors and could not make it all the way down to the Bunker.
They made their way up the stairs and Jack chewed on his lower lip thoughtfully as he looked inside the purpose-built room. Getting over seventy-five people inside the Lounge would be a logistical nightmare. The room was not built to hold that many people at one time and Jack decided that he needed to consider all his options before he could even begin to set up the interior.
Martin looked up, his eyes rimmed with red and sparkling from unshed tears. Although he knew Martin was not the only person walking around shell-shocked, and not the only one who had lost someone special this day, Jack felt protective of his team member. He had liked Brent too and he had seen the changes in Martin since Brent came to share his life. Martin had lost that chip off his shoulder and had started to relax, knowing he belonged somewhere... and with someone.
"Would you look after my daughters while I get things moving?"
He gained a blank look at first before Martin physically pulled himself together and nodded. Martin stepped forward with a determined look on his handsome face, shaking off the pain for one moment.
"People are more vulnerable to cold when they sleep... or if they're young, elderly or sick. We could use the Lounge for sleeping accommodation and to protect the weaker ones. Rotate its use so not everyone sleeps at the same time."
Jack nodded, grateful at finding an answer to that particular logic puzzle. He had a feeling Martin had seen the inside of the Lounge on more than one occasion and, probably, for not the best of reasons. Gently, he pushed Martin onto the couch in a nearby office and set a small girl down on either side of him, waiting until Martin had wrapped an arm around each before offering his girls assurances that he would not be gone too long. Jack paused on the threshold as Martin began to tell them a story haltingly, though his words grew stronger as he forced the numbing pain of loss aside to deal with another time. Jack swallowed hard, knowing he had been spared that terrible grief by what had seemed to be pure bad luck at the time.
Slowly, everyone gathered on the floor, carrying whatever supplies they had located including coats left behind in cupboards and spare clothing from teams like Jack's that might have to leave New York at short notice. Several people had push carts piled high with factual books on criminal and tax law, while the sound of hammering began to echo through the floor as modesty boards were used to insulate the floor.
Several of the women had set themselves up to make and bring coffee to the workers. Jack accepted a mug gratefully, aware of the drop in temperature that made every breath visible. They needed to get the floor insulated quickly and set a fire going to ward off the ever-increasing coldness.
Stopping for a moment, Jack wandered past the office where he had left Martin with his children and was not surprised to discover that it had become a nursery for more than just his girls. Several other children, including a toddler, sat huddled in coats in the small room but Martin was nowhere in sight. Instead, Jack recognized the young woman as someone who had manned the reception at the front of the building, greeting non-employees who wanted access to the building or to one of the many people stationed there.
Jack reached out at Vivian passed by, snagging her arm. "Where's Martin?"
Vivian tilted her head towards the windows where Martin was standing on a desk, using a hammer from some workman's tool bag to board up one of the many windows. Already, the interior was getting warmer and darker but, outside, the snow was falling thick and fast.
"Here comes trouble," murmured Vivian, and Jack grimaced as Supervisor Shaw came stalking across. Technically, Shaw had a slight seniority edge over Jack but Jack was not about to let the likes of Shaw dictate the lives of him, his girls, or his people. The man was an imbecile as far as Jack was concerned.
"Malone, if your people keep boarding up the windows, we won't be able to see."
"We're leaving one small bank clear which should give us enough light for now. Once we have a fire going, there'll be more light, and keeping this place warm is the priority right now."
"And how will boarding up all the windows help with that?" Shaw responded sarcastically, much to Jack's disbelief.
Beside him, Jack could see Vivian shaking her head in disbelief too and though it pained him to do it, Jack felt compelled to answer with as little condescension as possible. He did not need a leadership battle right now but he was not prepared to simply hand over the reins to someone like Shaw.
"Glass doesn't make a good temperature barrier. It'll bleed any heat to the outside, and we need to keep the heat in here in case the temperature drops any further. It's got to be below freezing out there already, and night's not even fallen yet."
Shaw drew in closer, whispering harshly. "You think you are so clever, Malone, but I'm more senior so I'm taking control of this situation, and I say we stop blocking off the light."
He turned away with the intention of asserting his authority over those present but Jack grabbed his arm and pulled him back around.
"With all due respect, if this was a white collar crime with some accountant laundering money for the Mafia then I'd cede to your experience but there's no computer program for solving this problem. This is field work at its dirtiest and you are ill equipped and untrained in that area."
"And I suppose you think you are?"
"No... But I have a far better idea of how to deal with this than you. You want to take control of something? You're a people manager. Go figure out how we can feed all these people and roster the Director's Lounge so everyone gets the chance to sleep in a warm place. I wouldn't even know where to start."
His words seemed to placate Shaw but, as soon as the man moved away to begin organizing the people, Vivian sidled up to Jack.
"You know that won't keep him away forever."
"No... But it might get us through the next few days and, by then, we'll have a better idea of our situation."
Vivian nodded. "I'll get back to organizing the foodstuffs Danny's search teams are bringing back but it's mainly packet soups and cookies so far."
Jack nodded, having expected little better and lamenting the fact that the restaurant had been on the ground floor. Danny had suggested taking a dive inside to see if he could reach the storage area and recover some of the water-sealed food but the water was ice cold. Hypothermia would set in quickly.
Jack sighed. The searchers were slowly returning with whatever they had scavenged and someone had cleared an area to get a fire started. With the outside light quickly being extinguished by the boarding, and with desks moved to the edges to be pulled apart for firewood, the long open office space had become almost alien to him.
He took a moment to look at the people. Most were huddled in small groups but every face held the same numbed expression of shocked disbelief. He had seen that look a hundred times in the past. It was an all too familiar part of his work dealing with people who had lost loved ones. He had just never expected to see it on this scale before. Checking his wristwatch, Jack was surprised to see how much time had passed since the tsunami hit but, with the snow falling thicker and faster, the remaining daylight was swallowed quickly. He shivered as the temperature plummeted further.
Martin boarded up one last window and stopped in front of the only one left uncovered. He could see nothing through the thick blanket of snow that had been falling since the wall of water struck the city. Inside, his heart felt like a block of ice, frozen in grief. Regrets filled his head. He should never have cajoled Brent into coming into the city. If he had stayed at home then, maybe, he might still have been alive.
His last time with Brent played through his head and he clung on tight to the memory...
The rain had been falling for a few days now, spattering against the window is an almost comforting pitter, patter. Or maybe the fact that he was curled up all snug and warm in bed just made it seem comforting. Either way, the solid weight of Brent's body lying partially on top of him felt too good and Martin hated that the weekend had come to an end. A rare weekend, at that; one where neither of them was called away to duty. Perhaps the softly falling rain had kept the criminals off the streets of the town Brent policed, and had kept others from wanting to venture out into the big wide world alone to be lost among the sea of faces in New York.
Martin sighed at the almost poetic thoughts that slipped through his mind but having Brent snoring softly beside him always brought out the romantic in him.
He gave Brent a gentle nudge and the soft snores disappeared into gentle snuffles as Brent turned to bury his face in Martin's neck and shoulder with an arm thrown carelessly over Martin's chest. Martin reached out to stroke the silken flesh of Brent's shoulder, running his hand down the side, across the ridges of his rib cage to the soft hollow at his waist before letting his hand rest on the sharp hip bone. There were times when he thought Brent was just a little too lean and that he needed a few more meals to add some padding to the sharp angles of bone. He smiled, knowing what Brent's reaction would be to that declaration.
Another snuffle was followed by the body in his arms stretching, legs banging against his, and his face pushing harder into the junction of Martin's neck and shoulder. He waited until Brent had rolled onto his back before pushing onto his side to watch as the sleepy eyes opened, revealing a hint of green surrounding large, sleep-darkened pupils. Blond strands fell over Brent's forehead and Brent reached up to push them aside, his soft lips spreading in a smile of greeting. Martin leaned forward and pressed his lips against Brent's, feeling them part beneath the questing tip of his tongue. He felt as well as heard Brent moaning softly as they kissed, with hands reaching for Martin, drawing him in closer as their bodies surged against one another. The hardness of Brent's morning erection strained against Martin's, sending frissons of need racing through him like a mild electric current, making him tingle from the tip of his fingers to his toes. Martin's hands roamed lower, cupping the firmly muscles ass cheeks and thrusting himself against Brent, holding him close. He knew there would be little finesse with their lovemaking this morning but it excited him, knowing he could draw such a strong response from Brent with just his touch. Brent began to thrust harder against him, short hard jerks that were almost out of control and, as warmth flooded between them, Martin felt his own bones melt with the power of his release, driving hard against Brent, gasping until Brent sucked away his breath in a searing kiss.
He was trembling by the time Brent flopped back on the messy bed. His body thrummed with post-coital bliss, heart racing with pure joy as he let his fingers slide through the sticky residue of their lovemaking that coated Brent's belly.
The strident call of the alarm clock ruined the perfect moment and Martin groaned as he rolled quickly to send it back into silence. Monday was upon them and Martin knew he had to answer its call. He dragged himself out of the warm bed, offering one final lover's kiss before disappearing into the bathroom to shower.
They fell into the normal pattern of a work day morning, moving like well choreographed dancers as they showered, dressed and made breakfast around each other. Brent still had another hour before he was due at the station but Martin had a drive ahead of him into the center of New York. Once ready, he stepped back into the small kitchen diner and held down his tie as he leaned over, planting a soft kiss on Brent's lips and sneakily grabbing a slice of toast off his lover's plate.
Martin taunted its possession on the threshold, grinning at the empty threat before taking a healthy bite of toast.
"I'll try to get back early," he mumbled around the mouthful, knowing that would have driven his parent's crazy but Brent just shook his head and smiled. They both knew they could make no promises in their line of work and Martin let his eyes linger over his lover just one more time before he turned away, shutting the door behind me as he headed off to wards the city...
His thoughts returned to the present and to the snow falling heavily outside the window, blocking out what little daylight remained. Three days ago, he had left the warmth of his lover's embrace, never realizing that he might never see him again.
He turned away from the dark grey view at the sound of Jack's voice, finding Jack at his side. A hand dropped onto his shoulder, squeezing gently to offer what little comfort he could manage under the circumstances.
"It's cold over here. Come back to the fire and get some hot soup inside you."
Martin stared at Jack for a moment. He wanted to tell him about that last morning with Brent, wanted to reminisce with someone who might actually give a damn but at the same time, he wanted to hold on to that private moment and wrap it around himself like a security blanket. He did not want to admit out loud that Brent was gone, afraid that he would lose even the ghost of those warm arms around him. He wanted to grieve but the wound was still too raw, still bleeding, so he said nothing. Instead, Martin nodded and allowed Jack to draw him to one of the small fires, taking the mug of soup and dropping down to the floor beside Danny. The brush of Danny's hand on his leg, the gentle pressure of fingers offering reassurance almost undid him and he shook slightly, catching himself before he spilled the hot soup.
The snow came down heavily for three more days, trapping the people inside with an ever-dwindling supply of food and the heaviness of grief. A small radio had yielded little in the way of hope with the government ordering all those in the lower states to head as far south as they could to avoid the coming storm. It warned all others to stay indoors and wait out the storm but, on the third day, they woke up to sunshine streaming through the single uncovered window.
Looking out, someone shouted that there were people out there, walking along in the strange world that was barely recognizable as New York. The water had not subsided, merely freezing over in the canals formed by the city streets. Martin estimated that the ice was twenty feet deep in places. He frowned when Shaw pushed him aside to gain a better view.
"They're leaving the city," he stated, watching the ragged, dark shapes of people slowly moving along the frozen street beneath the headquarters building. Shaw turned to face the others. "We should go too, before we're trapped here with no food and no strength to walk out."
Jack pushed forward as people began to murmur in agreement.
"You heard the radio. There's a storm approaching and anyone caught outside will freeze to death."
"No," replied Shaw. "The storm has passed. Look at it out there. This is the time to go, while the skies are clear and the snow is not too deep to walk in. If we wait, we'll die."
"He's right. We've waited out the storm. We ought to follow the rest of these people, and head south."
"You heard the radio, Shaw. The worst is yet to come," stated Danny but Shaw snorted.
"I realize you and Malone don't want to let go of this petty dictatorship you've established, ordering people where and when to sleep and eat. The storm's passed and I, for one, am not going to wait around in the vain hope of rescue before I starve or freeze to death just to satisfy your delusions of leadership. Anyone else here with me?"
Martin could not believe the man's arrogance. He had spent the past three days bitching about every decision Jack made, whispering his poisonous remarks into the ears of others. Now he was about to reap the reward of his endeavors and, though Martin would be happy enough to see the man walk out, he was afraid for the innocent people he would take to their deaths with him. He pushed through the crowd as they began to grab blankets and coats to wrap around themselves.
"Don't be stupid. You can't hope to make it," he implored to the people in general but focused on one woman with two small children, one of them a toddler, and the other barely four years old; Shaw sneered.
"Don't need no fucking queer telling me what we can or can't do."
Martin felt Jack's hand gripping his arm tightly, holding him back when all Martin wanted to do was wipe the smug grin off the man's face. He turned away as Shaw gently pushed the woman and her children through the door, not even bothering to stay and listen to Jack's further pleas as many of those present began to file out with whatever they could carry. As the sounds of receding footsteps disappeared, Martin turned back to face those who had decided to risk staying behind with Jack. He saw Vivian with her son and Jack's daughters, Sam, Danny, Jack and just a dozen more out of the seventy-five plus. Martin sank to the ground, head in his hands as Jack turned back from the stairwell and faced those that had chosen to remain. He saw Jack take a deep breath.
"Let's gather up what supplies remain and move everything into the Director's Lounge. Should be plenty of space for us all now. Danny, Martin, go grab some breakfast first and then go gather more fire wood. We need to stock up before the storm hits. I got the impression this storm will be a killer and the only thing that will keep us alive is keeping that fire going."
Martin dragged himself back to his feet and looked to Danny, nodding silently. He knelt by one of the smaller food fires and made up a packet soup, offering half to Danny along with a few crackers that remained. He could see Vivian and Sam going through the food supplies but those who had followed Shaw had taken most of it, leaving only the water in the belief that they would be able to melt snow to fulfill that need. He sipped at his hot soup in silence.
The sound of footsteps brought his head up and Martin watched in surprise as almost two dozen people walked in. Some he recognized but others were new faces. Martin put down his mug and jumped up, concerned to know what had happened. He grabbed Mike Grady, who had left with some reluctance and had decided to return.
"This lot was coming in as we were leaving. The guy in charge said the same thing as Jack, that the storm was coming and that we'd die if we were caught out in it. Shaw gave him the same spiel and most people carried on walking. But I got to thinking. Malone's always been a straight up guy, not bending to the whims of office politics and empire building. He's got a good reputation for caring about his people. Figured I'd be better off putting my trust in him."
Martin nodded, dredging up a small smile from somewhere. He watched as a few more filed through the door, dropping heavy bags that Sam joyously proclaimed were filled with food. The woman with the two small boys stepped through the door, looking a little embarrassed and anxious but Sam went over and welcomed her back. Martin saw Sam freeze as she went to take the older child out of a hidden new arrival's hands.
Sam threw her arms around the man, almost crushing the boy between them before he gently pulled back, eyes darkened with fear.
"Martin!" Sam shouted as she turned, her eyes automatically scanning the people behind her.
She took the boy from Brent's arms and stood back as she watched Martin walk forward on unsteady feet. His expression was a strange mix of hope, desire and fear, as if he was afraid to believe that Brent was really standing here. Suddenly, the gap between the two lovers closed rapidly and they were holding onto each other so tightly that Sam was convinced that both would be sporting bruises.
Jack and Danny closed in on the pair, clapping hands on the shoulders of both men. Sam stood and grinned until the small child in her arms made his demand for attention. She turned away, handing the boy back to his mother and led her back to the fire, unable to shake the happy grin stretched across her face.
Brent refused to let go of Martin until necessity forced him to do so. He let go so he could drag the thick Sheriff's jacket from his body, letting it drop to the floor, and then he hunched down beside the fire, rubbing his cold hands together. When Jack dropped down beside him, he looked up with a saddened smile.
"Sorry... I couldn't persuade the others to come back."
He felt Martin take one of his hands and smiled warmly at his lover, all the tension from the past three days dropping away as he stared into the deep blue eyes.
"You brought the woman with the two kids back," Martin said softly, voice rough with emotion, and Brent nodded, recognizing how much that meant to Martin. He'd always had a soft spot for the kids with those missing persons' cases hitting him hardest when they never found the child, or found only a body.
"I asked her who she expected to carry her little boy once he grew tired of walking. Told her she'd be lucky to make it to where the Holland Tunnel used to be let alone all the way to Mexico, even without the storm heading our way." Brent nodded across the Director's Lounge. "Few of the others saw sense too but the rest...?"
Jack patted his arm. "You did what you could." He stood up. "I'll let you two have a moment's privacy... and then we have to get prepared for the worst."
"Jack?" Jack looked back on hearing Martin. "Thanks."
Jack smiled and Brent knew Martin was thanking him for more than just the kind words and welcome for Brent. These past few days had been hard on Brent and so he could imagine how hard they must have been for Martin too. Brent waited until Jack was out of earshot before leaning in and cupping Martin's face with both of his hands. He kissed him gently before drawing back.
"I thought I'd lost you."
Martin snorted in disbelief. "Think that's my line. I wasn't the one out there when the wave hit."
"Wasn't to know that. Just held out hope that you'd be here."
Brent fell silent for a moment, reliving those terrifying moments.
"Took forever, but I managed to get across the Brooklyn Bridge and a few blocks in when people started screaming. Took one look through the rearview and abandoned the car, headed for the nearest tall building, one of them glass towers... and headed straight up the stairs. Never run so damn fast in all my life. When the wave hit, I was only at the third floor but... see that big guy over there?"
Brent pointed to a large black guy in a battered suit that might have been an Armani once upon a time.
"His name's Jeffrey. He grabbed my wrist before the water could sweep me right out the side of the building, held on tight until the worst eased and then hauled me the rest of the way in." Brent laughed softly. "Likes to fish. Said I was the biggest catch he'd had all season." He sobered. "He saved my life so I figured I owed it to him and the rest of his people to do my best to save them. Figured we should hole up until the snow stopped and then try for here. Hoped you Feds would be a little more prepared."
"Where'd all the food come from?"
"Staff restaurant on the top floor of the building. Great view from up there." Brent shivered again and rubbed his hands together. "Damn building was a modern nightmare though. All glass and chrome. Plastic seats and Perspex desks. We've spent the last three days trapped inside because of the water and the snow, freezing slowly to death with nothing to burn but books. My police issue radio was good for a time. That's how we learned about the storm heading this way. The battery died late yesterday evening."
Brent recounted his tale as his thoughts traveled back to the night before the snow stopped...
He checked across the floor at the dozen people huddled together, trying to retain what little warmth they could under the circumstances. Last night they had sat around the meager fire listening to the crackled report coming through over the radio, warning people to seek out decent shelter and stay indoors. The room fell into silence, the crackle dying as the batteries finally gave out but they had heard enough of the warning.
"This building's not good enough," Jeffrey said quietly. "These three days, we've burned most every item left, including all the checks and invoices. If we stay here any longer, we'll gonna freeze to death even before this mega-storm hits."
Brent nodded, noticing no dissent among the dozen people huddled around them. "Report says the snow will stop by first light. We should pack up everything we can carry. Food, water and blankets, and be prepared to move out at daybreak."
"Government ordered most people to head south." Nikkie's voice trembled with the cold and she pushed in closer to the man seated next to her.
"Only those from the lower states," said Jeffrey. "You heard the radio. Rest of us have been told to stay inside and ride out the storm. Says we'll die for sure if we get caught out in it. Super-cooled air that will freeze you where you stand."
Brent agreed with Jeffrey. "You know I was planning to head for the FBI headquarters building as soon as I could." He looked around at the others. "Come with me. The building's not so modern. There's should be plenty of desks to burn and I know there's an interior lounge area on one floor that we could board up to conserve heat. Though I'm willing to bet the Feds are holed up in there."
"What makes you think they'll let us in?" asked Jeffrey.
"First, I'm a cop. Second, I know a few important names to throw around... and lastly, because we're not going in empty handed. We have food." He glanced around in earnest. "Lots of food." He saw them agree. "If you head south then you know it's unlikely you'll even make it beyond the city limits before the storm hits. Walking on snow is tough going. If you're lucky, you'll get maybe ten or twelve miles in two days without the proper gear... and you'll probably have to sleep out in the open."
"How far to the FBI building?"
"If we leave at first light, I reckon we can get there by late morning. If the Feds are there then we can lend a hand getting ready for the storm. If the place is deserted then we'll still have time to prepare."
"But you're banking on them being there."
"Yeah. I am. I've got a... friend there. If..." Brent swallowed hard. "If he's still alive then he'll be waiting there for me."
"Okay, I'm convinced. Let's get packed up and then get some rest. We'll head out as soon as it's light enough to see... if the snow's stopped."
A muffled silence filled the outside world, the thick blanket of snow wiping away all traces of the thousands of cars that would have normally been crawling along the streets in the early morning rush to work. Brent knew many of those cars lay hidden beneath the sheets of ice that covered those streets, twelve feet deep or more, probably with their owners still seated behind the wheel.
The strangely shaped plastic bucket seats from the lounge area in the building came in handy as sleds, with electrical cabling making adequate harnesses. They loaded everything quickly and head out as the first streaks of light heralded a cold, grey dawn. Brent navigated by memory alone, recalling the higher upper floor shapes of buildings, for all street signs had been obliterated or swallowed by the tsunami. They made better time than he had anticipated; ignoring the occasional calls from others they met telling them they were heading the wrong way. Brent stopped once, easily convincing a family to give up on the idea of walking out of New York with their four children and join them instead. They fell in behind him, already aware that they could not walk out with the four kids and hope to survive after just a few hours.
He was relieved when the familiar shape of the FBI headquarters loomed up but it was short-lived. People were leaving the building through a shattered window that would have been part of the third floor originally. The rest of the building was buried beneath the ice.
"Where're you going?"
The man giving the orders turned abruptly. "Who the hell are you?"
"Sheriff Marken. Look. The storm's going to hit within the next two days. How far do you think you're going to get in that time?"
"For your information, the storm's already passed. We're heading south so you've got a choice. You can come with us, or you can join that bunch of losers who've decide to sit tight and die of starvation while they wait to be rescued."
"Who's in charge up there?"
"Nobody you'd know."
Brent felt a ripple of tension like butterflies in his stomach. If Jack was there then maybe the rest of the team was there too. Maybe Martin was there.
"Look, you're making a big mistake. Last night, the government urged everyone in the northern states to stay inside and get a fire going. This storm is different. You get caught out there without heat and cover, and you'll freeze to death."
The man snorted as if Brent was deluded. He turned away and Jeffrey caught Brent's arm before he could push the issue any further.
"You can only help those that want to be saved. You can't help them all."
Feeling helpless, Brent watched as the people trudged by, carrying too few provisions for the long trek ahead. A woman with two small boys stepped out and Brent could stay silent no longer. He reached for her, grasping her upper arm through the thin coat she wore.
"Don't go. You'll die out there. Your kids will die out there."
"Agent Shaw says it's our best chance."
Brent could see she was in a quandary, uncertain what to do for the best. Brent decided it was time to be cruel in the hope that hard hitting facts might cut through her indecision.
"It's taken us four hours to walk from the Brooklyn Bridge to here. How far you think you're going to get with two kids slowing you down?" Brent looked her straight in the face. "Who's going to carry your boy when he's too tired to walk any further? Who's going to carry your toddler when *your* strength gives out?" He looked at the people walking away. "You think any of them will? You think that guy will?" He let the coldness seep out of his eyes and pleaded with her, his voice soft but desperate. "Please stay."
Shaw came back and grabbed the woman's arm. "Come on... we've got to get off Manhattan before night falls."
Brent refused to drop his eyes from hers, holding them fast, seeing her hesitate and then firm with resolve. For a moment he thought he had lost her but, instead, she shook off the so-called leader's arm.
"Your choice, lady."
Shaw stormed off without even trying to convince her otherwise and Brent saw her eyes widen in shock. Here was the final proof that she needed that no one would care should she and her children fall behind. As the last of Shaw's people filed away, Brent urged his group through the makeshift entrance and up the stairs. Partial relief filled him as other footsteps fell in behind him from those who had heard Brent's plea to the woman and their leader's response, having second thoughts and choosing to remain too....
"You know the rest," he stated, eyes softening once more in remembrance of seeing Martin through the parting crowd. He took a deep breath only to let it go when Vivian nudged his shoulder and handed him a mug filled with thick, hot soup. He smiled warmly at her, holding her hand for a moment in thanks before she moved away to offer soup to the other newcomers.
Danny dropped down beside him and opened his palm, holding out a lithium battery pack that was exactly what Brent needed to get his radio working again.
"Spotted them in a storage closet but couldn't see any use for them without a radio... until you showed up." He grinned broadly and Brent smiled back, nodding his thanks as he set to installing the new battery.
Having drained a mug, Brent joined the Martin and the others as they prepared for the storm. If the storm was as bad as the report insisted, then the safest place would be inside the Director's Lounge so Martin knew they needed to stock pile as much wood within the Lounge as possible, and keep all the food and water stored in there too. Between them, the group thought of every conceivable need for the thirty-seven men, women and children who had chosen to remain. All the bedding was laid in a ring surrounding the fire, pushed up close together so people could make use of body warmth too.
Martin laid his bed out next to Brent's, unconcerned that others would see them snuggled up together. He had already spent three days in Hell, believing he had lost Brent and he had no plans on letting his lover out of his sight again until the worst of the storm was over. The drop in temperature warned them when night had fallen and everyone retreated into the warm interior, sealing the door and stretching out as best they could in the cramped space. The man who had saved Brent's life had offered to take first watch with Jack and Vivian, keeping the fire going through the first part of the night. Others had agreed to take the second watch and Martin and Brent had offered to take over the final few hours before dawn.
The close press of bodies and the heat from the fire kept the cold at bay as Martin snuggled down into his lover's embrace, resting his head upon Brent's shoulder. Without the grief to keep him awake, Martin drifted off to sleep quickly, reassured by the gentle breathing and the familiar scent of his lover, cocooned in his lover's embrace, but it seemed as if no time had past at all before someone was shaking him awake.
His panic-stricken eyes sought Brent. For one terrifying moment, he thought he had only dreamed Brent's presence but Martin relaxed when he saw the beloved face reflected back in the firelight, accepting the gentle squeeze of a hand that sent fresh reassurance. Stepping carefully over the sleeping people, he followed Brent to the fire's edge and took over joint responsibility for keeping the fire going.
Sam stepped up and Martin murmured his thanks as she handed him a freshly made coffee before dropping down beside him and Brent. No one spoke, allowing the comfortable silence of friendship to warm the air between them as they sipped at the coffee. When daybreak came, Martin relinquished the fire to another safe pair of hands and, together with Brent, he approached Jack.
Danny joined them. "We ought to send out one more scout party for wood while there's still time."
"I agree," said Jack, "but don't go far. I get the impression that once this super-storm hits, you won't have much time to get to safety. As it is, I'm going to insist that everyone stays inside the Lounge unless they really need to be someplace else.... and no one else goes any farther than the washrooms on this floor."
"Sounds good to me," Martin agreed and left Jack to deal with the others while he, Brent and Danny formulated a plan to head up three floors and bring down as much wood as they could carry -- while they could.
As they gathered the second batch of wood, Martin felt the hairs go up at the nape of his neck. A gentle breeze had whistled along the side of the building, unheard beneath the normal sound of traffic but so loud in the abnormal silence of the city but now it had gone. Martin realized that it was the absolute silence that had given him a chill racing down his spine. He turned to see Brent staring out of the window. The wind had dropped completely and Brent edged back from the window.
"Let's head back... fast. Just take what you can carry comfortably."
No one argued as they snatched up the pieces of wood and hurried along to the stairwell, taking the stairs two or three at a time. As Martin entered the lounge floor, a strange cracking sound came from outside the building and Martin knew, instinctively, that the super-freeze had begun. The sound of glass splintering from many floors high above, quickly moved closer propelling him back into action and he yelled out. "Get everyone inside... now!"
Martin looked around in shock, realizing that the four-year-old had wandered off to play while his mother fed the toddler. In horror, he watched as Brent sprinted away towards the boy, eyes widening in shock as the terrible cracking sound drew steadily closer. He saw Brent snatch up the child, turn and start running back, hearing the scream of glass shattering from behind the boarded up windows as tendrils of ice snaked across the ceiling and floor with Brent barely a few steps ahead of it. As Brent crossed the threshold into the Lounge, Martin slammed shut the door and jumped back as ice crystals grew exponentially around the whole circumference of the room. Everyone had pushed close to the fire in terror, while Jack and Jeffrey shoved more wood on top of it, sending the flames burning higher and fiercer.
Martin sank to the floor in relief as the heat from the fire halted the spread of the ice. He felt the warmth of a familiar body sink down behind him and he leaned back into it, closing his eyes as strong arms wrapped around him, holding him tight.
Two days passed by slowly as they tended to the fire, mostly sleeping to conserve energy though Brent knew what he would have liked to be doing. Uppermost in his thoughts now was his daughter, Jody, and his sister. Ginny had taken Jody down to Florida at the start of the bad weather, wanting to get away from the cold and rain in New York but he had no idea if they were still there or if they had been evacuated into Mexico and South America along with millions of other Americans, fleeing the new ice age.
He wanted to be out there searching for them.
However, he knew there was little point in worrying about them, and that he had to keep his hopes high. After all, he had found Martin alive and well. He smiled at that thought, tightening his hold on his lover's strong frame as he snuggled up against Martin's back. He wished they could do more than simply hold one another. He wanted to touch Martin, to feel the warm, silken flesh beneath his hands and bring Martin to a slow, exquisite climax but that would have to wait until they had some privacy. Secretly, he hoped the storm would pass today and that it would be safe to leave the confines of the Lounge so he could reaffirm the love he felt for Martin physically.
The crackle of his radio brought him upright and he snatched it up, glancing towards Jack who was making his way across the stirring bodies.
"This is Romeo Zulu two-niner. Anyone reading? Over."
"Romeo Zulu two-niner. This is Sheriff Marken. I read you, over."
"Sheriff Marken. State your position. Over."
"FBI headquarters, New York City. Over."
Brent grinned when he heard several tinny whoops come over the radio before the operator spoke again. "How many require evac, Sheriff? Over."
"We have thirty-seven here. Eleven kids and the rest adults. Over."
"Can you get to the helipad at the top of the building? Over."
"Reckon we can. Over."
"ETA, twenty minutes. Over."
"We'll be there. Over and out."
Amid all the cheering, Jack yelled out. "You heard the man. Let's get moving, people."
It took most of the twenty minutes to reach the top of the building and break through the final door to the outside that had frozen solid during the storm. Through brute force, they managed to get through, and stumbled out into the cold but clear daylight.
"Would you look at that," Jeffrey exclaimed.
Brent moved to the edge and stared in awe while Martin moved up behind him, equally transfixed. Black dots that had to be people were appearing on the tops of buildings all around them, waving and cheering as Chinooks and other transporter helicopters filled the air. Brent protected his face as one Chinook came in towards them and landed with a gentle bump, everyone cheering when the doors opened and they were quickly urged onboard.
"Sheriff Marken? Lt. Garven." The co-pilot introduced himself having spotted the sheriff's badge on Brent's jacket. Quickly, Brent introduced Jack Malone and Martin.
"Are you Assistant Director Fitzgerald's son?"
The co-pilot grinned. "Welcome aboard. There's going to be one very happy man waiting for you in Mexico."
"My dad made it out okay?"
The co-pilot nodded. Martin turned to Brent with a huge grin; he had made his peace with his dad after Brent came into his life but, even without that, he loved his father and had worried about him. All they needed now was assurance that Jody and Ginny were safe too.
The Chinook lifted off, sweeping across lower Manhattan in a wide arc before heading over a sea of ice. Brent felt elated as he watched helicopters picking up other survivors. He felt the tight squeeze of Martin's fingers and looked down in time to see the top half of the Statue of Liberty sticking out above the ice. Only now did the sheer enormity of what had happened truly sink in. The world as they knew it had come to an end with the start of the long predicted ice age. He had just never believed that it would happen in his lifetime.
Brent gripped hold of Martin's hand just a little tighter as the helicopter headed south, thankful to still be alive.
Brent had never been to Mexico before but he had seen old westerns that depicted it as an arid land of dust and scrubland but, with the coming of the ice age, the soaring temperatures had dropped and plants had begun to flourish. The Mexican government leased huge swathes of former desert to the displaced Northerners of America and Canada and people who had once been the jobless dregs of society found an important role as laborers and farmers, helping the struggling survivors towards self sufficiency. People used the skills of the past to the benefit of the present, paid in kind with food and a place to sleep in safety.
Law enforcement still had its place, perhaps more so than ever because there was always a small element that wanted to take advantage of a disaster for their own gain. The Feds rallied around Victor Fitzgerald, who had stepped in as director after the former head of the FBI perished alongside the President. Fitzgerald was given carte blanche over all civilian police enforcement while the military protected the displaced people from the outside world.
Brent worried at first, uncertain if the newfound peace between father and son, especially concerning that son's choice of life partner, would continue to hold under the exceptional circumstances but he was pleasantly surprised. Fitzgerald welcomed him almost as warmly, offering him a position in the police force.
Millions of refugees had fled into the southern hemisphere, far fewer than anyone had hoped but enough to keep the American culture and beliefs alive. Most of the survivors had doubts though, on how long they would last before they outstayed their welcome with the Mexican and other South American countries, leading to conflict. Brent guessed that other northern nations had the same problem -- the Europeans in Africa, the Russians heading south into Asia. Only Australia and New Zealand had benefited from the climatic change with the vast interior of Australia now becoming inhabitable. According to the political reports filtering in from abroad, they had opened their doors to their mother country and affected commonwealth partners, slowly airlifting the surviving British and Canadians away, much to the resentment of other European countries.
With a soft smile, Brent wondered if the Australians would open their doors to a former British colony too, should push come to shove with the South American governments. He snorted, knowing it would be the greatest irony, with America asking to come back into the fold after gaining their independence all those centuries ago.
"Are you thinking again?"
Martin rolled over onto one elbow and stared down at Brent, his blue eyes glowing with a love that seemed to grow stronger with each passing day.
Although the tents provided far less privacy than anyone would care for, he and Martin managed to snatch moments of intimacy whenever possible; Brent grinned as Martin decided that this was one of those moments. He sighed as a warm hand stroked over him, smiling against the lips that pressed against his and welcoming the small invasion as Martin's tongue swept into his mouth, claiming possession. Strong fingers wrapped around his hard erection, sliding from base to tip, thumb pressing over the sensitive head to draw exquisite sensations from his body. He reciprocated; loving the way Martin moaned and bucked into his hand.
With quick, eager strokes, they brought each other over the edge, swallowing cries of passion as they kissed deep and hard, wishing they had time for the more gentle loving that had filled many a lazy Sunday afternoon in the past. Martin fell back, sated and content, and Brent leaned up on one elbow, looking down at his lover while his fingers trailed through the evidence of their joint pleasure; the heady scent of sex filled the air. He leaned down and kissed Martin gently, expressing all the love he felt in that heartfelt kiss before turning aside to gather up a damp cloth left beside the makeshift bed just for these occasions. With quick swipes, he wiped Martin clean and then himself before pushing up and gathering up his clothes.
Jody and Ginny would return soon and Brent wanted to air out the tent a little before they got back. Also, he and Martin had work to do. They moved quickly, straightening out the inner room within the tent that had become their bedroom for the past three weeks, dressing quickly within the cramped space before parting at the tent flap with a chaste kiss.
As they went their separate way through the encampment to take up the roles they had been given in this new world, Brent considered all he had gained and lost.
Whatever the future held, he knew he would not face it alone. All the people he cared for most in this world had escaped the global disaster. Martin, Jody, Ginny... and Martin's family. As long as he had them, tomorrow was another day to look forward to, for he had not lost anything of any true value.