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Shades of Mars

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Spring -- 2014
Garment District, Los Angeles

The third floor of the building had been recently gutted, but the sewing tables were bolted to the floor, offering poor cover. The windows were covered with mesh, sealed shut, leaving the floor mostly in shadows. Squatters must have used the place at night, leaving stained mattresses and empty beer cans in a pile near the center. Along the front, emptied cabinets were tossed onto their sides. Jack could see the dull shine of gunmetal and the hostiles hiding. He aimed and fired.

Return fire thudded against the back wall, sending up dust and showering debris over his head. Jack flinched, ducking behind a cement pillar. He wiped at the sweat dripping into his eyes, counted to three, then laid down more cover fire for Tony. Crouching low, Tony scooted out from behind a table. He cried out, stumbling to the ground. Cursing, Jack ran to him, firing his gun in the direction of the shooting. He hooked one arm around Tony's chest and hauled him behind the pillar. Jack sank down next to him, wincing as sharp chunks of cement rained down. Tony curled over onto his side. Jack grabbed him and propped him up beside him.

They had no kind of cover where they were. He put a finger into his ear, but comms were still out. The shooters kept shooting, letting loose a barrage of bullets, peppering the cement. Jack counted six men total, not including Horace who was probably long gone. They had to get out of there. He checked his clip. Almost out. Taking a deep breath, he marked the location of the shooters. The exit was a good twenty meters away.

Tony was breathing hard, grunting quietly.

"Let me see," said Jack, pushing Tony's shirt up, revealing the oozing wound.

"I'm all right." Tony thinned his lips, nostrils flaring.

Blood dribbled slowly down Tony's stomach, bright red and slick. Cursing, Jack took off his outer shirt, taking his knife out of his pocket, started cutting up long strips. His hands shook as he tore the fabric, but he ignored them, ignored Tony's eyes following him. He needed to stop the bleeding. The wound was high on Tony's left side, above the stomach. Tony's breathing was labored but even enough. "Think it missed your lung. You're one lucky son-of-a-bitch."

More gunfire pounded into the pillar, bits of cement everywhere. Tony's eyes were black, piercing and deep. "Fuck you," said Tony, quietly. Jack felt the irony of his words hit him almost as hard as the bullets hitting the pillar.

Jack dropped his head for a moment, then took the rags and wrapped them around Tony's stomach, applying direct pressure. Tony groaned.

"You bastard."

Jack didn't answer, only shifted around. The shooting had ceased for a moment. He reached into his pocket and took out a small mirror. The hostiles were moving in a line, approaching slowly, cautiously. "Tell me about Horace," he whispered to Tony. "What orders would he give? What would their plan be?"

They'd been ambushed, their intel bad or had been leaked. Jack would deal with that later, first they had to get out of there, preferably alive.

Tony gripped his stomach, breathing hard and fast, expression defiant and angry. His hair was plastered against his forehead. He licked his lips.

Jack didn't have time for this. "You know how he thinks, and how Emerson would have trained him. You can get us out of this. Hate me, fine, I can live with that. If you want to die, you're going to get your wish. We got about a minute before they reach us."

"You think it was me," said Tony. He was staring at Jack, still holding his gut, eyes almost lazy. "Leaked to Horace, gave away the plan. Some kind of revenge."

"You telling me you did that?" It was the most obvious answer, and therefore the least likely.

Tony's eyes fell blankly down to his lap. He cradled his stomach, blood seeping through, dying the fabric, his hands, the floor. "I could die." Tony's voice was a husky whisper. "Wouldn't be so bad."

Jack stood and grabbed Tony by the armpits, pushed him up against the pillar. Tony grimaced. Jack wanted to shake him, wanted to yell and fight and cry. He could do none of those things. He let go, but didn't step back. Tony watched him, dark eyes flat and empty. With a sigh, Jack bowed his head against Tony's shoulder. He leaned in, giving Tony all of his weight. They were like sacks of grain, propped against each other and then against a wall.

Any rescue couldn't come in time. Renee had said they were twenty minutes out. That was ten minutes ago. Horace's men were closing in on them. Any second now, they'd get the drop. Jack was suddenly very tired, exhaustion dragging him down. His recovery had been a miracle, something he hadn't asked for. He was living on borrowed time, anyway.

After a moment, Jack felt warm fingers at the back of his neck, squeezing. "How much ammo have you got?"

Jack kept one hand against Tony's good side, meeting those dark, wet eyes of his, wet with the sweat of memories. "Half a clip," he answered.

Tony winced a little. "All right," he said, awkwardly checking his own gun while still pressing his arm against his stomach. "Two bullets. This is what we can do." Tony turned his head, whispering the details, his breath warm against the skin of Jack's neck.


Ten Days Earlier

Jack sat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper, watching his granddaughter mash a banana with her hands. He picked up his coffee, but his hand shook, and he put it down again. The experimental procedure the doctors used had been more effective than anyone could have hoped for, but he tired easily, and sometimes he couldn't hide the tremors that hadn't quite gone away.

Teri looked up, her small face alight with a dazzling, toothless smile.

Jack turned his head away. She was incredibly beautiful. It hurt to look at her.

"You're a messy kid," he heard Kim say, with a laugh at her giggling daughter. She crouched with a washcloth. "Yes you are."

Someone knocked on the door. Jack twitched, repressing the urge to reach for his gun.

"I'll get it," said Kim, tossing the soiled washcloth onto the counter.

Jack breathed deep, poised, listening to Kim's footsteps. From where he sat he could just see the top of her head, and part of the front door.

It was the silence, when she opened the door, that tipped him off. Before his next heartbeat, he was up and moving. He kept a gun in the study. Grabbed it, checked to make sure it was loaded, he approached the front door by way of the den.

Kim stood with the door open. From his angle, he couldn't see who she was looking at. The shock on her face should have warned him.

Jack breathed in deep, then turned and aimed his gun directly at Tony Almeida's head.

He narrowed his eyes, felt the jolt of unease, betrayal, guilt. Jack looked beyond Tony, out to the yard, to the street. Who had he brought? What was going down? "How'd you get out? What're you doing here?"

"Hello, Jack." Tony's raspy voice was soft and his expression one of measured uncertainty, almost tentative but for the edge of hard steel glinting in his eyes. Tony stepped to the side, revealing Renee Walker.

Jack breathed in, lowering his gun.

"He's out on my recognizance," she said. "I asked for him. May we come in? We have something we'd like to discuss."


Garment District, Los Angeles

Tony held his gun in two bloody hands, sweat dripped down his face. They had one chance at this. Jack didn't need his mirror to tell him the hostiles were practically right on top of them, he could feel it, like a hand pushing at his back. He held his gun up, met Tony's eyes. They silently counted to three.

As he came around, Jack ducked, bullets flying overhead. He went down on one knee, aimed, fired. The first man went down. On the other side, two more went down. Tony went behind the pillar again. Jack grabbed the dead guy, used him as a shield, then kicked the dead guy's gun back toward Tony.

Behind him, Tony took up the new gun and laid down cover fire. Jack picked up the two other guns, still holding the dead guy's Kevlar covered chest up as a shield. The remaining hostiles retreated, hunkering behind a few of the old sewing tables.

Jack dropped the dead body, firing as he walked backward, stepping behind the pillar again.

Catching his breath, he checked his remaining ammo. "Again?" he asked.

Tony's face was gray from loss of blood, but he was still on his feet. He nodded, leaning against the pillar.

Pointing, Jack indicated the left side of the room, telling Tony approximately in which direction to shoot. He'd take the other two. "Go low," said Jack.

They stepped out, shooting.


Ten Days Earlier

Sunshine streamed into the living room in big white splotches. Teri's toys were scattered across the carpet: a squeaky dog, letter blocks, a teething ring. Jack stood by the fireplace. He put the gun down on the mantel, and faced his two guests. Renee took a seat on the couch, setting aside one of Teri's cloth dolls with a smile. Tony remained standing, hands at his side, his black leather jacket hanging open. He looked Jack up and down. "You look good, Jack," he said, something close to a smile on his lips. "For a dead man."

"What do you want?" asked Jack. "You'd better make it quick."

Renee handed over a briefing folder. "For the last few months, the FBI has been tracking the actions of a domestic terrorist group that goes by the name of 'Shades of Mars', working out of the inland empire. The FBI hasn't been able to get any men on the inside, but a couple of weeks ago they intercepted a communication between Shades of Mars and Freddie Horace, an arms dealer."

Jack rifled through the folder, taking note of what was there and what wasn't. He could tell with just a cursory glance why the FBI had failed getting close to the group, going about it ass backward. "I know Horace," he said. "He's a two-bit hustler."

"You knew Horace," said Tony, who had remained where he stood but looked off to the side, to the wall where Kim had hung several framed photographs of her and her husband, and the baby. Tony faced him again. "A couple of years ago he joined Emerson's crew, started to make quite a name for himself."

Jack looked at Renee. "I was pulled from D.C. for this," she said. "Horace is our best way in."

From further within the house, Jack heard his granddaughter's shrieks of laughter, and over that Kim's voice. Jack looked down at the folder in his hand, setting it on the coffee table in front of Renee. "Haven't we been here before?" he asked, looking at both of them. "The three of us? What do you want from me?"

The shrieking grew louder. Teri came running into the living room, laughing, heading straight for Tony. She collided with his legs, wrapped her arms around his calves, and beamed up to him with a watery smile.

Kim followed. "I'm sorry," she said, reaching for her daughter.

Tony bent down, taking Teri's arms and separating himself from her. Kim picked her up. "Kim," said Tony, one hand still holding Teri.

Jack moved between Kim and Tony, slamming him up against the wall. "You keep away from her."

He was close enough to smell Tony's sweat, and the leather of his jacket. Tony's eyes were at half-mast, his body relaxed against Jack's.

"Jack," said Renee, coming around the coffee table to stand next to them. Jack didn't look at her. "We have intel that Shades of Mars is preparing a series of attacks in Southern California. Our latest information indicates at least five separate attacks, in malls, school campuses, downtown."

He pushed harder against Tony. He could feel Tony's breathing, chest expanding and contracting, his gaze boring down on him, dark and knowing and closed. "You have him," said Jack, with a flick of his chin at Tony. "What do you need me for?"

Teri was crying. Jack turned his head slightly and saw Kim holding her in her arms, her face calm but pale. Jack bent his head, then stepped back, letting Tony go. He turned away. Jack couldn't look at Kim.

"It's all right, Dad," she said, and he felt her touch his arm. She took Teri and left the room.

Without turning around, Jack spoke to Renee and Tony. "Leave."

A long silence followed. Then, "I asked for you. Could use you're help on this, Jack." Tony's voice was rough and so damned familiar.

Jack didn't believe him, didn't want to believe him. He heard Renee and Tony move toward the door. "Wait," he said, before they walked through the front door. "Give me the details."


Garment District, Los Angeles

Jack shot his way across the floor, leapt over the table, falling bodily onto one of the shooters. He took him in a headlock, scrambling for purchase, rolling around on the floor. The man went limp. Jack reached for his gun, but it was kicked from his hand. Someone grabbed him by his hair and stretched his head back. He looked up into the eyes of a stranger, the third hostile. He felt the cold bite of a knife blade along his neck.

Everything had gone silent, no more gunfire, no more yelling. Distantly, Jack thought he heard the sound of an engine, and stampeding footsteps.

The crack of a single gunshot rang out. The knife dug in, then fell away. Jack clapped his hand over his neck. The hostile lay dead next to him, a bullet hole between his eyes.

"Hold still," said Tony, dropping his gun to the floor. He wrinkled his forehead, peering at Jack's neck. Jack sat back, falling on his ass, suddenly losing all strength. Blood dripped from his fingers. "Doesn't look too deep. Keep pressure there."

Jack met Tony's eyes. So much was said, then unsaid. Jack was the first to look away.

The FBI tactical team swarmed in like ants over a hill. Jack struggled to rise, then to speak. He pointed to the only remaining living hostile, starting to regain consciousness. "Hold him," he managed. "Questioning."

He heard his name called and turned to see Renee approaching. She took one look at him and Tony, and the next moment medical personnel were called over.

"Jack," said Tony, already strapped onto a gurney for transport to the clinic. He called again, beckoning him.

Jack came close. Tony grabbed him right at the elbow with his thumb pressing hard into the crook of his arm. Jack breathed in sharply, pried Tony's fingers away, but he held on until he couldn't any more.


Late Summer -- 2004
Nine Years Earlier

The drawn shades and curtains trapped the heat of the day but only let in a sliver of sunshine. It was barely enough light to see by.

Jack lay in bed, shivering even though he was soaked in sweat, a million ants crawling all over his body, inside his veins, in his eyeballs. His stomach cramped, and he gagged. The pain was constant, and enveloping. He couldn't see his way past it, couldn't get a handle on it. But he had to, goddamn it.

The shadows moved. He startled, thought he heard a noise, a ringing, a banging. Thought he saw something coming for him. He flinched, cowered a little bit, and then felt sicker than he ever had in his life. He felt like dying.

A cool hand touched his forehead, cupped his face, opened his eyes wide. All Jack could see was a blur. He grabbed that hand and twisted. Adrenaline battled the craving in his blood, instinct kicking in. He head-locked the intruder, pulled the hand all the way back until he felt the bones grind.

The intruder cried out in pain, struggled. "It's me. It's Tony."

Slowly, realization flooded over Jack. In horror, he let go, collapsing on his side. He tried to say he was sorry, but he was shaking too hard to speak. All he could do was curl in on himself, bunch the sheets in his hands.

He thought Tony must have left in disgust, but then the cool hand was back on his forehead, through his hair. His left arm was raised, a light touch caressing over the puncture marks. "Jesus Christ, Jack."

Those same hands grabbed him by the torso, made him sit up. He was given water and stale sugary coffee. The world came into greater focus. Jack stared at Tony sitting across from him in a chair.

"You weren't answering the phone," said Tony and Jack had to look away from the depth of knowledge he saw in Tony's eyes. "It was all I could do to stop Chase from coming over. Shaye called and demanded a meeting at two. Told Chase you'd meet him there, and to stall if need be."

The clock on the bedside table said it was half past one already. Jack lowered his head. "Thanks," he mumbled, struggling to rise. He'd get dressed and go. He'd pull it together.

Tony pushed him down again, hands firm on Jack's shoulders. He shook his head.

"I got this, Tony." He spoke through gritted teeth. "Too much is at stake for me to fuck it up. I'm not going to let this be a problem."

Tony's eyes were sad. "I know that, Jack. I'm not worried about the mission, or Salazar, or Mexico. But you can't go like this."

Jack pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes, took a shuddering breath. He heard Tony rise and start checking dresser drawers and opening closets. After a moment, something was tossed onto the bed next him.

Even though every cell in his body screamed with want, Jack didn't pick it up right away. He let it sit there, next to him. Tony stayed in the room, by the window, checking out the street, not looking at him.

Jack waited a moment, then slowly unwrapped the leather to reveal syringes, and the little bottle of liquid. He filled a syringe, rolled up his sleeve, wrapped the rubber tourniquet. The vein popped up, dusty blue. He pressed the needle against the vein, but he didn't push in.

He wanted it; he didn't want it. His hands shook, his entire body vibrated.

Softly, Tony moved from the window and sat down once again facing Jack. He pulled the chair in close. Jack looked at him, watched his every movement. Gently, Tony took the syringe from Jack's lax fingers. Tony tapped it. He pushed Jack's sleeve up further.

Their eyes met and Jack felt his dick go hard when the needle entered his vein, surrendering to the rush of sweet indescribable pleasure, so good it hurt. Jack opened his mouth, unable to take his eyes off Tony. It was like falling. Months of heroin use had dulled any sexual desire, but at that moment he felt like he might come in his pants and it'd be the best orgasm of his entire life. He panted and leaned forward, seeking more, pressing his lips against the skin of Tony's neck, not caring that Tony knew how hard he was. He grabbed fistfuls of Tony's shirt and pulled him in.

It was just enough to take the edge off. The needle withdrew. Tony cupped his head, pushed him back a little. "Come on," he said. "Let's get you changed."


Spring -- 2014
Three days later

Horace's man talked, revealing times and dates and likely areas where the FBI could attempt another capture.

They were staked out in a grungy studio apartment on East 3rd, waiting for word from Renee. She kept both Jack and Tony out of the action this time. Horace knew they were after him, he might even know why, but Renee still needed Jack and Tony to help turn Horace so they could use him to infiltrate the terrorist group.

At night, downtown Los Angeles became a ghost town. Jack stood by the window, checking out the corner and the alley across the street. Besides the FBI Agent stationed out front, he'd only seen a handful of pedestrians.

"Renee thinks you're going to try and run." Jack looked over at Tony who was sitting upright against the back of the bed, shirtless, thick white bandages wrapped around his stomach. Without his leather jacket, Tony looked vulnerable.

Tony huffed a laugh, but there was no accompanying smile. "Where would I go? What would I do?"

Jack looked down for a moment, then resumed watching through the window. "Yeah."

Keeping his eyes on the street, he heard the bed shift and creak, and then Tony stifle a complaint. Jack turned to look. Tony rose from the bed, revealing his back and the dark, spreading red stain.

With one last look to the street, Jack left the window. "You have to change your bandage," he said, approaching.

Tony looked back at him, watching him closely. Jack took his arm and led him to the bathroom. He switched the small night light on, leaving the overhead off, wanting to keep the apartment dark for the benefit of anyone watching. The first aid supplies were already there.

Jack leaned Tony up against the sink, indicating he should raise his arms. He cut the soiled bandage away. With gauze, he wiped at the wound, front and back, slathering antibacterial ointment. The exit wound was still leaking blood. He took another piece of gauze and pressed. Tony hissed. Jack looked at him, meeting his eyes.

Taking clean bandages, Jack wrapped Tony back up. Tony took hold of Jack's left arm, sliding his hand up, a thumb pressing into the crook of Jack's arm.

Jack grunted, leaning forward, instantly hard. He closed his eyes, turning his head to seek warm skin. Tony's arm came around his, hot breath against his neck. Jack reached between them, fumbling with Tony's belt, jamming his hand down his pants.

Tony groaned, tugging at Jack's T-shirt till it came off, unbuttoning and unzipping his jeans until they both had a hard cock in their hands. Groping, thrusting, Jack closed his eyes, pressed his forehead against Tony's, holding on as Tony worked him harder and faster. The angle was awkward but he didn't care. Tony's cock was hot and smooth, the head flaring as he came with a gasp. With one hand, Tony grabbed Jack's arm, dug his thumb into the seam at his elbow. Teeth scraped across Jack's neck. He cursed, knees buckling as he came, vision darkening for a moment, but Tony held him up.

With unsteady hands, Jack grabbed a towel and wiped himself clean, zipping up. Their eyes met, all too brief, too knowing and naked even though they were still mostly clothed. Tony turned on the water, lowering his head to splash his face. Jack let the moment go. He picked up his T-shirt, leaving the bathroom.

A shadow passed across the window. "Tony," he whispered, quietly, taking his gun from where he'd left it on the table. He went to the window, moving the curtain slightly. There was nothing there. It all looked exactly as it had all night: yellow light from the streetlamp, dark night sky. In the corner, nearly out of his line of vision, Jack spotted a moving shadow, creeping closer.

Tony was right behind him, shirt on, jacket on. "Company?"

Jack didn't answer, moving to the comm unit. "Home team, this is Outfielder. Come in." The FBI agent didn't respond.

Without speaking, Jack moved toward the front door of the apartment, Tony behind him. He opened the door, checking right. Tony checked left. Nothing. They crept silently down the hall, down the stairs, finding the dead body of the FBI agent propped against the cinderblock wall. Jack reached into the agent's back pocket and took the restraints.

At the door leading to the back alley, he stopped when he heard voices, holding his hand up to warn Tony. They pressed their backs against the wall. He recognized one of the voices and looked at Tony: Horace.

Tony closed his eyes briefly, breathed in. He went to the other side of the door. Their eyes met across the short distance. Jack counted slowly, then nodded.

Although outnumbered, they had the advantage. It took only two seconds for Jack to mark how many there were, and where they stood: three men, including Horace. He left Tony to take care of the others, going after Horace himself. Horace shot at him, but Jack was quicker, leaping and tackling him to the ground. He dug his knee into Horace's neck, yanking his arm back around, punching him until he passed out. Struggling with Horace's dead weight, he hauled him over to the wrought iron fence that circled the apartment building and secured him with plastic restraints.

Before he could turn, he was attacked from behind. He fell to the ground, hard, struggling to free himself, squirming around. He kicked, heard a grunt. Then, "Jack."

Jack stopped, recognizing Tony. In that moment, Tony twisted Jack's left arm behind his back, hard, pushing him over to the fence, securing him with one of the plastic restraints.

"What are you doing?" Jack fought back, lunging for Tony. With only one arm restrained, he was able to grab Tony's jacket, pulling at him, hitting him. Tony didn't try and stop him, letting Jack yell, rip at his shirt, shake him. "Don't do this."

"You have Horace," said Tony, quietly, voice breaking slightly. He reached around Jack, almost in an embrace, to take his knife and toss it to the ground. "All the other hostiles are dead or restrained. Renee will check in soon, and come looking when she doesn't get an answer. She won't need me any more. You don't need me, either."

Jack looked into Tony's eyes. Since seeing him in the doorway of Kim's house, those eyes had been flat, dark and empty, but they were shining now, catching the light from the streetlamp.

"You said yourself you had nowhere to go." Jack tugged at the restraint. He gripped Tony's jacket tighter, the leather protesting.

"Maybe." Then Tony smiled, laughing bitterly. "Is there really any place on this earth where you think I can hide from you? If you want to find me, you will. But I hope you won't. I'm dead, Jack. Have been for a long time. Let me go."

Tony stepped in close and pressed his lips against Jack's. Dry lips, but soft. Jack sighed.

"You go home to Kim, and her little girl. Get out."

Jack let go, and Tony walked backward, down the alley, and then into the shadows.