As the glowing red numbers above the TV rolled over from 6:59 to 7:00am, Erica Evans rose to her feet, cell phone clutched in her hand. Since arriving home and discovering her son had defied her wishes and gotten involved with the V's, had gone up to one of their ships, she had tried to contact Tyler dozens of times.
He had yet to answer or return any of her frantic messages.
Considering that she had just taken part in a strike against the V's, blown up a warehouse where the aliens had been tainting flu vaccines and was a part of the small group who knew the true, malicious intent of the V's, she was understandably worried. She cursed herself for not telling Tyler why he shouldn't with the aliens, whom he thought of as cool.
She knew she should keep her distance from the V's, for the security of the resistance, but she refused not to take action when her son was involved. Grabbing her keys and bag, she exited her house, jogging to the SUV. She wasn't exactly sure how she was going to do it, but she was going to get her son back.
As she headed into the city, muttering under her breath at the morning traffic that caused back ups, even on a Saturday, she dialed her phone again, this time to contact her friend and fellow resistance fighter, Jack Landry.
The phone rang several times before the call was picked up. "Hello?"
That was certainly not Jack. It was the voice of an older man, who sounded tired and afraid.
"I…I'm sorry," she said, puzzled. She knew this was Jack's number. It was on her speed dial. "I'm trying to reach Jack…Ah, Father Landry."
There was a pause, then sort of a strangled, choking sound. "Jack is…there was an incident last night. He's at Mercy hospital."
"No," she breathed, terrible images of the slaughtered people at the resistance meeting where she and Jack had met. Obviously, they had found him. "What happened?"
"He was attacked," the older man said. "May I ask who you are?"
"Special Agent Evans," she decided her rank would probably put the man at ease. "And you are?"
"Father Travis." Some of the tension did indeed leave his voice. "Agent, do you think this could be related to…to the other unpleasantness that happened here recently?"
"I don't know." She wondered how much of a sin it was to lie to a priest. "But we'll let you know if we find anything."
Brief goodbyes were exchanged and Erica took a deep breath, staring out the windshield at the cars ahead of her. The muted sounds of the city, car horns, construction, voices, like a pulse pounding all around her. None of them knew about the danger hovering above them, any of them could be a V in disguise.
And now the one man she truly trusted was lying in a hospital bed. He's a freaking priest! I should have protected him somehow, especially after last night. Jack's not a trained agent like me, a long term paranoid like Georgie or a rebel V like Ryan. He was trusting and kind…
"Damn it!" she shouted, slamming her hand down on the steering wheel, once, twice, three times. "Damn!"
The balls she had been struggling to keep in the air seemed to be dropping, one by one, and she knew she couldn't do this alone. Someone had to go to the hospital, make sure the V's didn't finish what they started. Tyler was still on the V ship, which meant she need to go after him…and possibly lock his stupid ass in the basement until she got all this alien invasion shit sorted out.
Taking a calming breath, she picked up her phone again. Time to call Ryan and see what wisdom the resistance's resident V had to offer.
Apparently, retrieving one's wayward son from an orbiting alien spaceship was significantly harder than dragging him out of a kegger by the ear. The hardest part about the kegger extraction was the sullen teenaged emo pouting crap. This time, she couldn't even get aboard the ship to see Tyler.
Marcus, the V she had saved from assasination., came down to speak with her at the V compund. He seemed genuinely disturbed that she had been unaware of Tyler's involvement with the Peace Ambassador program and had only complimentary things to say about him. He also revealed that Lisa, the half naked girl from Tyler's room, was a V and obviously quite taken with her son.
But Tyler, who finally returned her call, apparently at Marcus's urging, refused to leave the ship. He even hung up on her when she told he return to the planet.
Her demands to be taken up to the ship were rebuffed, as, according to Marcus, Anna felt everyone involved needed some time to relax and reflect before coming face to face. He would, he assured her, speak to Tyler on her behalf and implore him to contact her again soon.
Frustrated, she spun to leave the room and collided with the V, a young male, who was entering.
"Excuse me," he said politely, stepping aside to allow her access to the door.
In no mood for niceties, she continued on her way, barely making note of Marcus asking, "What is it, Joshua?"
She left the V compound in an even worse mood than she arrived in. Angrily, she thrust her hand into her coat pocket to grab her keys and froze.
Her fingers touched a tube of paper, wrapped around something cool. She desperately wanted to see what it was, but knew the V's had the lot under surveillance. Instead, she pulled out her keys and hopped into the car.
Safely ensconced in traffic, several blocks away, she pulled the paper out, finding it was a simple note wrapped around a vial like the one's that had been tainted.
The note written in small, neat, block script, read:
IT DOESN'T END THERE H1N1 TB CIPRO OTC MEDS INJECTABLES STREET DRUGS WARN RYAN VALARIE'S SCANS SOON ANNA WILL KNOW ABOUT THE BABY
YOU ARE NOT ALONE LONG LIVE THE FIFTH COLUMN
Erica stared at the note. The V who had bumped her must have slipped the note into her pocket. What had Marcus called him? It took her a moment to recall the name Joshua.
At the moment, she couldn't do anything about Tyler and, though that was killing her, she knew she had to share this news with Ryan. Who just happened to be at Mercy Hospital, ensuring no more V hit men got near Jack.
She could kill several birds with one stone. Take the note and vial to Ryan, have a confab with her one able bodied ally and check on Jack. She really didn't want to think about how concerned she was for the blond priest, as such thoughts could lead nowhere good.
Mercy Hospital was always abuzz with activity. The corridors were never abandoned, constantly full of random staff and visitors (not the alien kind, just people there to see the sick or wounded). This worked well in Ryan's favor as he drifted in and out of the priest's room, eyes peeled for any of the more unpleasant members of his species. Unconscious and immobile in a sickbed, still sedated from the surgery that had saved his life, Landry was an easy target.
Not that he had been able to avoid being attacked when he was at full health, but Ryan didn't fault him for not besting a trained alien assassin. For a man of his people's God, the priest had proven to be a decent fighter and had done a good job patching up the hole in Georgie's side. They needed multi-taskers, if the resistance was going to succeed.
The hole in Landry had been far more serious and, from what Ryan had overheard from a pair of interns, who for some reason were very disappointed that Landry was a priest, the surgeons had been forced to remove an internal organ. Fortunately, it was one of those odd redundant or otherwise unnecessary ones. To be honest, Ryan wasn't an expert on the internal anatomy of humans.
So far, things had been quiet and, though he had received a few funny looks, no one had questioned his presence. He decided, if asked, he'd say he was a concerned parishioner. It could work.
He was mulling over other potential covers when Agent Evans practically hurled herself out of the elevator beyond the nurses station. The blond woman looked around sharply and, upon catching sight of him, made a bee line down the hall.
"How is he?" she asked, clearly still agitated. From her demeanor, he assumed she had not gotten her son off of the V mother ship.
"Still out of it," he replied, indicating Landry's room with a hand and letting her precede him through the door. "Did your son…"
"No," she muttered angrily. "He likes it there. Doesn't want to talk to me. And I've been told by my superiors not to cause an inter-species incident and resolve this quietly."
Ryan nodded. "Anna's not going to want any bad press until it's too late," he said, watching as her attention was caught by the man in the bed.
She took a few steps toward Landry, then stopped and turned to Ryan, pulling something from her pocket. "As I was leaving, a V ran into me. Literally. He slipped me this."
Taking the offered paper and vial, Ryan scanned the note then peered at the vial. "This is worse than we thought," he said, handing the items back to her. "Basically, any medication will have to be suspect now."
Both of them looked over at Landry, sleeping under a haze of heavy sedation, antibiotics and antivirals coursing through his system.
"Who's Valarie?" Evans asked as she picked up the chart from the end of Landry's bed.
Ryan swallowed. "My fiancée," he said, then motioned to the door. "She's pregnant…I didn't think that was possible, but I have to go get her…explain…."
Evans looked at him. "She doesn't know about…" she hesitated, then gestured toward the window, up at the sky where the V ship hovered.
He shook his head. "I'll check in with you two later."
She nodded and he left the room. At this hour, despite being a Saturday, Valarie would be at her office, catching up on paperwork. Maybe he could pay a visit, play it off like he was there to take her to lunch. He only hoped she loved him enough to be able to handle what he was about to tell her.
The doctors who had operated on Jack had been forced to remove his spleen to stop the internal bleeding. They had managed to sew up the nicked Kidney and intestine without too much trouble and somehow the only other damage had been done to muscle and soft tissue, which would heal, given some time. Setting the medical chart back on it's hook at the foot of his bed, Erica regarded her friend critically.
He was very pale, blood loss leeching the healthy tan from his handsome face. With the fair hair and wan skin, he seemed to almost fade into the crisp, white hospital sheets.
Determined to do something, she moved around the room, closing the door. She then placed a cup on the door handle. If anyone attempted to enter the room, the cup would clatter to the floor. Basically, it was a low rent, MacGyvered alarm system.
Heaving a sigh, she dragged a chair over to the side of his bed and flopped into it with a tired groan. She looked at his face, noting that he looked peaceful and smiled sadly.
"I know you're hurting, Jack, but I need you to wake up soon. Some bad stuff is about to go down and you're not safe here…not safe at your church either, apparently. That was my fault. I should have known you've exposed yourself too much…or at least given you a lesson on what not to do when trying to go unnoticed."
"Just another ball I dropped, I guess. Turns out Tyler joined the Peace Ambassadors and has gotten involved with some V girl. I suppose I'm gonna take you up on that offer to talk now. Maybe if I keep babbling, you'll wake up and offer some advice."
"So, from what I can tell, Tyler has been lying to me since the V's arrived. He's obsessed with them, spends all his time at the Peace Ambassador compound…Oh! And the other night I caught him with a half-naked girl in his room and guess what? She was a visitor. I didn't know that at the time, of course…I don't know if it's appropriate to mention the naked thing, considering, you know, you're a priest. But you've probably heard worse."
"So anyhow, I feel like I've failed him by not warning him about the V's more. But he's so enamored of them, if I had, he might have told them. I don't know what to think. Any advice?"
There was no reaction from Jack and Erica sighed. Reaching out, she took his hand, bigger than her own, broader with calluses that spoke of hard work, and laced their fingers together. He had done that the night they met and despite the trauma and the onset of shock, there had been a spark. Now, she could fell his pulse, steady and strong, hear his soft breathing. It was quite soothing….
She sat up straight as the cup alarm clattered to the floor. Her hand flew under her coat, to her weapon as some portion of her mind noted that the clock indicated two hours had passed since she had taken Jack's hand. Must have nodded off, dammit!
She felt a tiny bit of relief when it was not a V assassin at the door, but Agent Sarita Malik of the Visitor Threat Assessment Taskforce. She and Erica had worked together for years, but, considering her own partner had turned out to be a V sleeper agent, Erica wasn't about to assume the woman was on her side.
"Erica?" Agent Malik questioned as she stepped slightly closer. What are you doing here? And why are you holding hands with a priest?"
She hadn't realized her left hand still clasped Jack's right and, though embarrassed, knew better than to react too strongly. That would just make Malik more suspicious. "I'm here because Jack's my friend," she said evenly. "What are you doing here?"
Malik gave her a look. "A paranoid, alien crazy wacko was murdered in his church, then someone tries to gut Father What-A-Waste. Gee, I wonder why that would catch our attention?"
Cheeks coloring at Sarita's What-A-Waste comment, Erica said, "If you're hoping to interview him, you're out of luck. He's not awake yet."
"You gonna sit with him until he wakes up?" Malik questioned, seemingly innocent, but words just dripping with innuendo.
Erica gave a curt nod. Great, the talk around the water cooler's now gonna be about my 'relationship' with Jack, instead of the fact that my ex-partner was a traitor (or so they think). Wonderful. Not sure if this is better or worse.
"Have him give me a call when he wakes up and is feeling up to talking," Malik said, then made her way back to the door. She paused however, and let a little smirk cross her features. "He is nice looking, even with the whole priest thing…though that holds it's own allure, doesn't it?"
"Sarita!" The name came out in a surprised bark of laughter and Erica smiled reflexively. Returning the grin, Malik slipped from the room, chuckling.
Erica relaxed back into her chair and gently jostled the hand she still held. "You know, it was bad enough with my nosy neighbors, gossiping about the priest coming and going from my house at all hours, but now my co-workers are going to think I'm here doing some corrupting."
Still he slept on and Erica sighed again. "Please Jack. There's a lot for us to do. I need you to wake up. God, I feel like such a cliché…."
OW. That was the first thought that filtered through the dawn of awareness leaking into Jack Landry's mind. It was soon followed by Really OW! And What the hell happened?
Then memories came flooding back. The Church. A desperate man, who was in fact a V hit man. Brief fight, then the sick, cold feel of alien metal cutting through his body like a hot knife through butter. Falling. Father Travis's voice, his scared face. EMT's…then nothing till OW.
He hoped the pain would subside, but it seemed there to stay. He could see light beyond his eyelids and, steeling himself, he cracked open his eyes.
A supernova went off inside his brain as result of that action.
"Nrrgh!" he groaned, snapping his eyes shut again, deciding the attempt was a resounding failure. Maybe, he thought, if I wait, my brain won't actually liquefy itself.
A voice beside him. A woman, she smelled like strawberries…nice. One side of the bed dipped under him and the warmth and berries came closer…He knew who this was….Erica.
"Come on Jack. Open your eyes." Yes, she was much closer, probably sitting on the bed and leaning in. "Look at me!"
There was a hint of sadness and desperation in her voice that he hadn't heard since that first night, after the warehouse, when she had spoken of her partners betrayal. Marshalling his resolve, he opened his eyes again, this time ready for the stab of pain the light would cause.
Erica was indeed hovering over him, concern and relief warring for dominance on her face. There were dark circles under her eyes. The source of the headache inducing light was the overhead fixtures, as he could see the barely lit sky out the window. Is it dawn or dusk? What time is it? Hell, what day is it?
"Hey!" she said as he met her eyes, a relieved smile gracing her pretty face. "There you are."
His throat was dry and he tried to wet his lips before replying. "What happened?"
She looked around as though checking to see that they were alone. "You were stabbed in your church. Father Travis found you and called for help."
He nodded and instinctively reached for his wounded side. He remembered the feel of hot blood spilling into his hand, leaking through his fingers. She caught his wrist before he could even graze the bump of bandages concealed by a hospital gown and blankets.
"Don't," she warned him, placing his hand on his chest and patting it. "The doctors had to take out your spleen and sew up a few other things, but you're going to be fine…In a way, you were lucky."
"Abdominal wounds take a while to bleed out," he agreed offhandedly, rolling his head from side to side in an attempt to throw off the muzzy, cloudy, drugged feeling in his head. "What are they giving me?"
"Painkillers, antibiotics, fluids," Erica told him, now looking grim. "You feel up to hearing some news?"
He really didn't, but he knew they didn't have the luxury of self indulgence. "Wasn't really using that spleen, anyhow," he tried to joke. "What's happening?"
Who would have thought a skewer through the gut would turn out to be one of the least worrisome occurrences of the past 24 hours?
"What is this place?"
Valerie Holt was not a happy woman. A few days ago, she'd been on top of the world. She loved her job, adored the man she was going to marry and a whole new world of possibilities had been opened to the Human race by their friendly alien allies. The V's had cured her congenital heart defect and also informed her of her pregnancy.
She didn't think anything could strike the smile from her face.
Then Ryan had shown up at her office. At first, she had thought he was being sweet and doting, not wanting her to tire herself out by working on her day off, but when they got home, he told her to pack a bag. For a minute, she fancied he was whisking her off to elope, but then the look on his face convinced her otherwise.
As she packed, he told her the most incredible, horrifying, unreal story…but it was real.
Ryan Nichols, the man she loved, was a V. Not that she had anything against the V's, was grateful for their healing, but this meant he had been lying to her for years. Then he said the V's were bad, he was a rebel and the new V's would be coming for her once they realized her baby wasn't entirely human…She balked, had screamed at him to get out.
But when he said they'd come for her baby, she realized she had to err on the side of caution. Even if Ryan had lied, she had no doubts that he loved her and would do nothing to endanger their child.
They spent a couple of days popping from one small motel to another and that allowed her anger time to simmer. She was extremely angry with him and, by the time he got a call from a "friend", she was ready to burst with it. He led her, stone faced and cranky, to an interesting little building in DUMBO, practically under the Manhattan Bridge.
"A friend's niece's home. She's out of town, but okay with guests. It's safe here," Ryan told her as the door cracked open, then was pulled wide.
A pretty, tired looking blond woman in jeans and a white t-shirt waved them in. As they entered, Valerie noted the gun on the woman's hip.
"You must be Valerie," the woman was saying, reaching out to shake her hand. "Nice to meet…You're my son's psychologist!"
Valerie blinked at her. "What?"
"Tyler Evans," she said, "I'm his mother, Erica."
"Oh!" She knew Tyler well, and he talked about his mother, the constantly busy FBI agent, a lot…when he wasn't extolling the virtues of the V's. Awkward. "Hi."
There was a moment of silence, which Ryan filled by asking, "How's Landry doing?"
"He's a bit grumpy," Eric responded as she led them on through into a colorful living room.
"I am not grumpy."
An attractive, blond man was seated on a puffy couch, soft Moroccan print blanket thrown over his lap and pillows propped around him. His plain gray t-shirt seemed at odds with the surroundings, which were rich and vibrant, the walls, saffron, burnt orange and bright red. Patterned fabrics were hung as drapes and none of the furniture seemed to match. It had a Bohemian flair that seemed genuine instead of fake as it often did now that the style was trendy.
"Hello," Valerie said, stepping toward the man and hoping he wasn't the father of one of her patients. She was pretty sure the man was not Tyler's father, as everything teenager said indicated it would take far more than an alien invasion to convince his parents to be civil. "I'm Valerie."
"Jack…" he began, leaning up to take her hand and wincing sharply. His hand flew to his side and he bit down a pained groan.
Erica stepped in, easing him back into the seat. "You're taking one of the painkillers the doctor prescribed and then you're gonna lie down and rest," she said in a tone that brooked no argument. Ryan smiled faintly, then drifted towards the front windows to peer out at the street.
Apparently, pain dulled Jack's ability to read moods and he mumbled a defiant, "No, not unless it's too bad to stand. I can deal with this pain."
Stranger involved with this alien resistance weirdness or not, Valerie did not like the pallor of his skin, the pinched look of pain or the sweat that had appeared on his brow. As a healthcare professional, she felt a need to say, "You know, they give you painkillers for a reason. You heal faster when you're not suffering."
"Thank you!" Erica said, obviously pleased to have some support and she stalked into the kitchen, pulling open cabinets and removing a glass.
"They're tainting the drug supply," Ryan said, turning from his survey of the street. "Probably not in the supply just yet. It'll take some time to manufacture the mass quantities and distribute them."
"You mean the booster shots?" The thought was horrible, all those innocent people, lining up for the shots, thinking them helpful when in fact they were bad….It was insidious.
"No," Erica said, pressing a glass-- a small mason jar, actually-- of water into Jack's hand, as well as several pills. "We figure that's just a vitamin shot. They're tainting our meds."
"Flu shots, vaccines, antibiotics," Jack said, pausing to toss back the pills and the drink. "Possibly painkillers."
Dropping into one of the armchairs, Ryan added, "The FDA won't be concerned with those when there's the V booster shot to freak them out."
"Oh." Valerie sunk down onto the end of the couch, feeling a sharp stab of fear in her heart. If they could do that, what might they do to people in their healing centers? Had they done anything to her when they had healed her heart condition? They were tampering with medicines…what else were they doing?
Turning to look at the injured man, she said, "How did…what happened?"
"I was stabbed," he said in a tone she knew well. He was trying to be kind and comforting, so as not to push the unstable person beyond their limits. She'd employed that tone often enough in her own line of work and though he used it to good effect.
"By a V assassin," Erica added bluntly, looking down at Jack. "Time for me to get you into bed."
His face flared an amusing shade of red and Ryan coughed. Val didn't understand, but Erica blushed as well and muttered, "You know what I mean."
Still blushing, Jack allowed himself to be levered to his feet and, slowly, the pair shuffled toward the stairs.
After they'd left the room, Erica supporting Jack up the stairs, Valerie turned to Ryan. "They seem nice. How long have you known them?"
"Less than a week," he replied, then with a sigh apologized again. "I am so sorry for getting you involved in all of this."
Choosing to ignore the apology, she instead focused on their new friends, "So, how long have they been together?"
Ryan blinked at her. "He's a Catholic priest."
"You're kidding me!" For a moment, she forgot to be angry and just gaped at him. "I thought…."
He snorted. "Yeah, me too."
The climb up the stairs had taken a lot out of Jack and, again, Erica questioned the wisdom of taking him from the hospital so soon after his injury. The doctors had fussed, but Jack had insisted upon leaving as soon as he could force himself to his feet and Ryan had supported the decision. In a public hospital, the V's would have far too much access and Jack was a target as long as he was there.
Going back to the rectory was out of the question and, with Tyler now appearing to live on a V ship, Erica was fairly sure the aliens knew where she lived. Ryan and Valerie were staying in motels and Georgie, well, only Ryan knew where Georgie actually lived and said it wasn't equip for any guests.
With a huff, Jack gave them an address. Apparently, he had a niece, Molly, who lived in DUMBO, but was out of town at a conference in Quebec. He was close with the young woman and had keys to the house, even, Erica discovered, a room of his own.
It was a nice room,, simple and clean, with sturdy furniture. The walls were a nice, sandy shade above wood paneling that came to waist height, a gentle contrast to the bright colors on the first floor. The wood floor was bare and the plain curtains matched the blankets on the bed. She smiled when she noted the Ipod dock/clock radio beside the lamp on the bedside table. First cell phones and now Ipods…she guessed even priests were becoming techno savvy.
She got him settled on the bed, atop the slate blue comforter, before pulling a sheet of paper from her pocket and saying, "I have to check the wound for infection."
One of the doctors had given her the paper when Jack had left the hospital AMA. It detailed how to care for his wound and check for infections.
"I can do that myself, I…" he began, then took note of the look on her face, "I'll just wait here quietly while you wash your hands. I think there's a first aid kit in the hall closet."
"That's right," she said, leaving the room to sterilize her hands in the washroom off the hall. The walls in there were painted a soothing shade of green and the tiles looked like they had been hand painted. It was quirky and cute, like the rest of the narrow building.
The first aid kit was just where Jack said it would be and she grabbed it, allowing herself a moment to take a breath before returning to the bedroom.
Jack was where she had left him, leaning back on a small pile of pillows. He had turned on the small lamp that sat on the bedside table and pulled a blanket over his legs, but had stayed put and behaved.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, she opened the kit and set it on the bedside table with the wound care instructions. "Okay," she said, "First things first…remove the old dressing…."
Which was hidden under Jack's loose grey t-shirt. Until it wasn't, as Jack gripped the hem and pulled the fabric up and out of the way to allow her access.
Soft black cotton drawstring pants sat low on slim hips, baring an impressive display of firm abdominal muscles. She didn't want to think about the jolt this sent through her, dismissing it as surprise. After all, who thought of priests as having the sort of bodies that would look great in a pair of swim trunks? No one. They definitely didn't think about how inviting the soft, taught skin stretched over the prominent iliac crest looked or about the light dusting of hair that started just under his navel and disappeared below the black sleep pants…She certainly didn't. Nope. Not at all.
"Erica?" Jack was peering at her as she zoned out.
Shaking herself, she replied, "Sorry. Just a bit tired I guess."
He nodded and his gaze was soft on her. "You should get some sleep. Molly's room is beyond the bath and there are guest beds upstairs."
"We'll see," she said, then placed one hand on his skin, holding the skin down as she peeled back the dressing, tossing it into the small trash bin for the moment.
The wound and surgical incision stood out in stark contrast to his smooth, unblemished skin. The incision was red, but not an angry shade and the stitches seemed to be holding up well. There was no visible pus, swelling or faint red lines emanating from around the wound,, which was a relief. "Looks good so far," she informed Jack, who craned his neck to get a look for himself.
Consulting the instructions, she reached forward, with the intent to feel the area surrounding the wound for any heat. Before her fingertips made contact with flesh (flesh that looked surprisingly tanned next to her own. It must be his natural coloration, because she somehow didn't think priests spent a lot of time sunbathing), Jack caught her hands in his own.
She looked at him in surprise as he rubbed her hands, calloused fingers rasping over the sensitive skin of her palms. "Cold hands," he said, with a soft smile.
"Oh." Wonderful retort, Erica, she chided herself for allowing the simple touch to distract her. If she thought about such things, which she didn't, she'd realize Jack did touch her quite often. A quick squeeze of the hand, a brush on the arm, a palm at her back. With any other man, she'd think it was flirting…
Their eyes met and his hands stilled around hers. It was one of those moments when they both felt the spark between them flare, a connection that shouldn't be but was almost undeniable.
Taking a quick breath, Jack averted his eyes, his hands tightening around hers for a moment before he released them. "Should be okay now," he murmured, shifting around awkwardly, hip brushing hers as he bent one knee. His hands fell to his sides, one set of knuckles brushing her thigh. He jerked slightly, moving it to grip the comforter. Normally, at this point, he would have pulled back or she would have left, but that wasn't an option….
"Right," she replied, dropping her gaze back to the wound. Focus on that, she commanded herself, Not on the inappropriate tension between you and the freakin' priest!
Carefully, so as not to cause any more pain than was necessary, Erica paced her hands on either side of the incision, applying gentle pressure as she gauged the heat of the skin. It was a bit warmer than normal body temperature, but nothing to be alarmed about. She could both feel and see his muscles contract under her hands and he let out a soft hitched, huff of breath.
She swallowed with a suddenly dry throat. "Any pain?" she asked, fingers still resting on tremulous flesh. "Chills?"
"No chills," he responded a bit hoarsely, then cleared his throat. "No unexpected pain."
She offered a smile. "That's good."
Removing her hands from his skin, she looked back at the instruction sheet. …Look for swelling or tenderness in the lymph nodes, located under the armpits, in the groin and neck areas, and behind the ears….The groin, yeah, like that wouldn't be awkward! Knowing her face had flushed, she said in as professional a tone as she could muster, "I'm going to check your lymph nodes, but maybe…the, ah, lower ones…."
"I know what to check," he said quickly, startled and blushing himself. If it had been anyone else, it would have been amusing, two fully grown adults reduced to blushing and stammering, but since she was directly involved, it was more than a bit embarrassing.
Leaning forward, she placed her hands on either side of his strong jaw line, fingers searching for any sign of swelling. She could feel his pulse quicken and saw his Adams apple bob and, as her fingers walked up to probe below his ears, Jack's eyes drifted shut, pale lashes catching the light and casting a shadow.
She bit her lower lip and, before she lost her nerve, released his jaw and slid her hands up under his shirt to search for the nodes under his arms. The move caused Jack to jump, eyes flying open and hand, previously clenched on the blanket, to find purchase on her leg. He looked at her, short breaths escaping from between parted lips, then turned his eyes toward the ceiling.
She tried to be quick but thorough, not wanting to miss signs of infection that could be devastating. A small part of her mind noted that he had a small spray of tawny hair at the center of his chest, between smooth, firm pectoral muscles. Silently, she asked any higher powers that might be listening, What the hell? Like we don't have enough on our plates, you have to throw this ridiculously strong, but totally forbidden attraction at us! Really not cool.
Finishing the inspection she was almost relieved to note the next step was to take Jack's temperature. Nothing even mildly sexual about jamming an electronic thermometer into his ear. It gave them both a moment to regroup. It beeped and read 99.0, which, while slightly higher than normal, was no cause for alarm.
"I think it's time for a new dressing, then I'll let you get some sleep," she informed Jack, who, while still looking slightly discomforted and flushed, was starting to succumb to the effects of the Percocet she had convinced him to take. His eyelids were starting to droop and he peered at her from beneath heavy lids.
This made reapplying the dressing easier, as he didn't jump every time she brushed bare skin. Concentrating on her task and listening to the rising voices of Ryan and Valerie downstairs provided ample distraction from his hand, which was still grasping her thigh, thumb lazily rubbing the denim. She secured the gauze padding with surgical tape, then gently tugged his shirt back down, most definitely not noticing what her wrist brushed against. Thankfully, Jack was close enough to sleep not to noticeably react other than with a slight shift of his hips.
Gently, she removed his hand from her leg and, as she rose, placed it by his side before tugging folded afghan at the foot of the bed up and over him. He was still watching her and reached out, arm clumsy with sleep and narcotic haze, but he caught her hand, entwining their fingers easily, as if it was something they did everyday.
"Erica." Her name came out in a deep, sleepy rumble that shot through her and her fingers tightened around his. There was a brief search for words, before exhaustion won out and he murmured, Thanks."
"You're welcome, Jack," she replied and, as his eyes finally shut all the way, tucked his arm under the blanket and gathered up the first aid kit. She slipped from the room and closed the door before walking over to the closet and replacing the kit.
She stood there for a moment, looking at the neatly folded stacks of towels and bed linens. If impure thoughts are a mortal sin, what the hell are impure thoughts about a priest? An express ticket to hell probably, or maybe that dubious honor was saved for those who acted on said impure thoughts….
Contemplating theses thoughts, she slowly became more aware of the ever increasing sounds of Valerie's anger and Ryan's attempts to explain. With a deep breath, she turned and headed for the stairs, intent on mediating the dispute. After all, dealing with other peoples problems was always easier than dealing with your own.
It had been years since he'd awoken with anything but a sudden jerk, the instant clarity that was needed to survive in a war zone. He hadn't managed to shake the habit upon his return to New York, so the feeling of gradual awakening was a novelty. The warmth of being cocooned in blankets that held a lingering scent of Eucalyptus detergent, a faint smell of Strawberry coming from somewhere, the soft light filtering in from the window, through which he could see a light snowfall, the sense of peace…it was all kind of nice.
As was the small hand sliding up his belly. The new sensation pulled Jack further towards awareness and little oddities began to register, though he was most definitely not complaining. Slim, smooth skinned legs tangled with his own and warm, gently rounded skin pressed up against his back. He hadn't allowed himself to enjoy a relationship that would lead to this since before he'd entered the seminary, really not since he'd decided that the Church was his calling…but it felt so nice to be touched and he couldn't bring himself to question this.
He'd almost come undone earlier, whether it was from stress or the haze of narcotics combined with the gentleness of her touch or just the fact that it was Erica… but whatever it was, he had felt a sudden streak of arousal arrow through him, something he normally was much better at keeping under control. He was certain she'd noticed, either his physical reaction or then sounds he'd so tried to bite back
But her hands had been touching his stomach and chest and it was so easy—too easy—to imagine the light touch of her fingers on other parts of his body, the part of his body that had responded to her gentle ministrations… Not that Erica meant anything beyond caring with the gentle touches that sometimes almost seemed like caresses, he knew she hadn't...But he'd so wanted to forget who and what he was and pull her close, had wanted that since they first met.
Sometimes, in the back of his mind, he wondered why he hadn't introduced himself to her as Father Jack Landry. Had it been paranoia or something more personal, more…male reacting to the presence of a truly lovely woman.
Her breath was warm against the back of his neck and her wandering hand reversed it's trajectory, nails lightly scraping down from the center of his chest.
Smiling, he shifted, rolling around to face her, enjoying her peal of laughter as he trapped her beneath his broader body. He held no illusion that he could keep her there if she wanted to get away, but, at the moment, she seemed to have no desire to throw him off. Instead, she wrapped her arms around him, one hand sliding down his back, the other catching in the short hair at the nape of his neck.
Her fingers pressed against him, and he reveled in her body, the feel of her warm and soft. Supporting his weight with one arm, he wrapped the other around her, pulling her closer. The hand on his neck slid around and brushed across his cheeks, very softly, and it felt good, so good that the whole situation, which should have been raising alarms, didn't bother him as much as it should. Or at all really.
She kissed him for a long moment, lips as soft and warm as her body, and resistance he might have been considering melted away. It was a lush, lustful tangle of lips and tongues, a heated thing fed by the sparks between them that had simmered to this point. He wanted to keep touching her, wanted to see her, wanted to keep kissing her like this forever. He wanted, he wanted, he wanted…
A moan passed from her lips to his and he responded as her hands flitted in light circles over the heated, hyper-sensitized skin of his back. He broke the kiss an rested his brow against hers, breath mingling before she leaned in and bit just under his jaw. With a sharp gasp, Jack reached up and buried his hand in her hair, tilting her head back to capture her mouth again before moving to her neck, alternating wet, open mouthed kisses with broad sweeps of his tongue. It was her turn to grab at his hair, though it's shorter length offered far less purchase.
Moving slightly southward, he stopped and stared, drinking in the sight of her, the round breasts peaked with pink nipples, already hard and darkened with her arousal. He felt her thighs, wrapped around his waist, tighten as though she thought he was going to pull away. Not Likely.
"You're beautiful," he breathed as he reached for her, his hands cupping, gently squeezing, as she moaned, her back arching and pushing herself further into his hands. Firm but yielding, he'd forgotten how silky and utterly feminine this particular part of the female form was and, giving in to temptation, he replaced his hand with his mouth, his lips fastening to one nipple, suckling it and then laving it with his tongue. Her fingers tangled deeper into his hair, clutching him to her (not that he had any intention or desire to stop his attentions).
"Oh Jack… Oh…" she gasped, making him smile against her skin, before he moved on to her other breast, leaving a trail of damp kisses along the way.
He could feet the moist heat of her against his stomach and she moaned, pressing herself against him in an instinctive motion and he groaned, his mouth falling away from her chest as he fought to get himself under control and not embarrass himself then and there.
A particularly insistent tug on his hair brought him back, face to face with her and kissed her hard, his tongue surging into her mouth until he felt her hands flatten on his chest, pushing him back enough to hear her husky whisper in his ear, "I want to touch you now."
A breathy laugh escaped him. She wanted to touch him? Hadn't that been what started this in the first place, her touching him? "You already have."
She smiled slowly, sensuously, glimmering eyes on his. "Not like this," she said, arching up and levering them over so she was now on top, resting on his chest and kneeling over his hips.
Her hands traced random patterns on the skin of his chest and her lips followed the paths, leaving a damp trail of kisses that positively scorched his already over-heated skin. He shuddered and tensed at the first touch of her fingers to his navel, one dipping into the little indentation teasingly before her nails slid through the trail of blond hairs below. The nip at the navel was almost his undoing and she grinned up at him as he gasped and shuddered. A tiny part of his brain wondered why the still healing wound on his side wasn't screaming in agony over this.
Lapping gently at the bite reddened skin, she whispered, "What's your desire…."
With no secrets, no obsession
This time I'm speeding, with no direction,
Without a reason, what is this fire?
Burning slowly, my one and only...mmm."
The clock radio on his bedside table had gone off, the volume set low, but loud enough to unceremoniously wrench Jack from a very pleasant but oh so very unwise dream. He lay there panting, sweaty and frustrated, flaring ache in his side making it known that it did not appreciated the clenching muscles and shifting the fantasy had caused.
You know me, you don't mind waiting
You just can't show me, but God I'm praying
That you'll find me, and that you'll see me
That you'll run and never tire...mmm
Apt song, he mused, reaching over to mute the Ipod. He could hear muted voices echoing up from downstairs and wondered if he'd be able to make it to the relative safety of the bathroom without Erica hearing him and coming charging up the stairs. As much as he enjoyed her company, and he really, really did, the last thing he wanted was her to find him in this condition.
Slowly, carefully, he pushed himself upright, careful of the injury. It was feeling a little better, so perhaps the pills and the rest had helped. His steps were slow and measured, but the old floorboards creaked and he was relieved when he closed the bathroom door, seconds before he heard her voice.
"Jack? Are you all right?"
"Fine," he called back, filling the sink with cold water and splashing some on his face.
Her voice was close like she was standing right up against the door. "You sound funny. Does something hurt?"
You have no idea. "Just a little hoarse," he said, rubbing a hand over his face with a sigh. "Just woke up."
She sounded doubtful. "Okay…I'll be right here if you need me."
That's the problem, he sighed to himself, but all he could say was, "Thanks."
Being honest with himself, he knew he didn't want her to go, despite the whole new can of worms their interactions was opening.
"She just doesn't stop!"
With a bracing sigh, Joshua looked up from the tissue sample he was analyzing and turned to regard the person who had wandered into his lab. Again. Since taking up residence on the mother ship, Tyler Evans had been allowed pretty much free reign of the place and had, for some reason, taken to haunting the medical bay.
Honestly, after hearing about the boy's mother from Dale, Joshua had bee intrigued, almost eager to meet him. That soon ended when he actually encountered him. The kid was a brat, a whiner and obviously not the most intelligent mammal his plant had ever spawned.
Despite his attempts to express his distaste for the boy (Perhaps he was not as adept at expressing human emotion as he had thought), Tyler continued to loiter around him when Lisa was busy. She assured Joshua that Tyler gravitated towards him simply because he appeared to be a younger male, and thus fit into Tyler's acceptable comfort level. Up till that point, he'd never really had any opinion about the skin he wore. It was simply a tool, but now he wished for a different form. Possibly something more like Marcus's.
But, since the boy was favored by Lisa, and thus Anna, he had to be nice to him.
And, his mother was a member of the resistance, which meant, personal feelings aside, he felt a responsibility to look after the boy. Hopefully, at some point, he'd be able to deliver him back to his mother, preferably in one piece.
"Who won't stop?" He attempted to ask the question in a tone that implied mild interest, but also indicated he was far too busy to engage in any long, drawn out conversation about the subject.
Pulling out a chair, Tyler sat, "Mom, of course. And you really need to get some more comfortable seats in here, Josh."
Again with the Josh thing. Was two syllables too difficult for the little primate to remember? And what was with the kid's obsession with his mother. It was a little creepy and he was fairly certain the humans called it an Oedipus complex. Every time he came down here it was "Mom this," and "Lisa that,".
He really needed to broaden his spectrum of interests. Or at least shut the hell up.
Ignoring the gibe about the furniture, because this was a work space and not designed for comfort, he asked, "What has she done now?" Besides, if it was more comfortable down here, I'd have an even harder time getting you to go away!
Crossing his arms and slumping into a sulk, Tyler waggled his short range, human communication device. "She calls. She texts. She leaves messages. Why can't she understand that I'm fine. I like it here. And I'm old enough to make my own decisions!"
Perhaps, what she understands is that you are a blithering moron and shouldn't be inflicted upon the populace without her there to act as your keeper! "She is your mother. It is her biological imperative to care for and protect you. With you up here she feels unable to do that."
"Please, like she was ever all that concerned and protective. All she ever did was work. She's just mad she can't control me any more! Besides, she was acting even weirder than usual lately. Started spending time with a priest and we're not even Catholic. Tell something strange isn't going on there."
Joshua wondered if all humans of a similar age were as self centered and off putting as Tyler. He couldn't imagine that was the case, as their species would have died out long ago, no human would be allowed to live till adulthood and thus would have would have died out as a species due to lack of breeding stock.
If he lived to get the opportunity to meet Erica, he'd have to ask her why she was so desperate for Tyler's return. Perhaps it was simply maternal instinct, or maybe the boy had some appeal Joshua failed to grasp. Either way, he'd like to hear her opinion.
The priest comment made him twitch slightly, as he'd learned of the attack on the man well after the fact and was gratified that he had survived.
"It is my understanding that priests offer guidance and counsel to those in need. Perhaps she sought an unbiased ear. As to her reasoning on the other matter, you might ask the opinion of someone with offspring of their own," Joshua suggested, hoping the jumped up ape would take the hint and leave.
He respected the humans a species, he really did, but he'd seen the genetic comparisons between them and some of their worlds simians and the similarities were undeniable. Some humans were obviously closer in temperament to their genetic ancestors than others. Often, when dealing with Tyler, he recalled the footage he had seen of a caged monkey throwing it's own feces at as wall. The animals facial expression was quite similar to that of the moping teenage boy.
"Nah, I'll just chill here for a while."
Heaving a sigh, Joshua turned back to his work and mused, I wonder if it would be disloyal to the aims of the Fifth Column if I hope a particular human does not survive the coming conflict?
Cause really, if Anna or Lisa chose to eat Tyler, he would not miss him…or the dirty sneakers he was propping up on one of Joshua's lab tables.
"So, do you mind me asking, how did you get involved with…this?"
With Erica off at work (It would be far too suspicious if she up and disappeared) and Ryan off…doing whatever it was that he was doing, contacting other rebel V's or old resistance members, Valerie found herself with only Father Jack for company. He was up again today, had insisted on making his way down to the living room before the other two left for the morning and she found him a pleasant conversationalist.
He had inquired about her work and family, asked how she was coping with the new information about the V's and Ryan specifically, and he had listened to her answers attentively. What endeared him to her most was the fact that he had congratulated her on the baby and seemed to truly mean it. She knew Ryan was happy, but he was tense about the whole situation and Erica seemed to have no idea how she should react. Jack seemed to be of the mindset that a baby was a blessing, which she found herself quite grateful for.
But, glad as she was to have someone to talk to, he still seemed like an odd choice for someone who would be involved in any sort of resistance movement.
Smiling over the top of a mug of Oolong tea, Jack said, "That depends. Do you believe in destiny?"
"If you mean predestination, then no," she replied, then considered how best to continue. "I don't dismiss the idea of fate though. In some things."
He nodded. "Sometimes I think things are fated to happen and how you react, well that is entirely up to you. It's a person's own choices that determine the path they take. My path led me here."
Valerie pondered his words, then let out a bark of laughter. "Oh, you're good!" she said, wagging a finger. "Answering without really answering, a skill I am familiar with. Now come on, truth!"
"I had questions about the V's from the start, thought we needed to be more cautious," he said with a shrug and a sigh. "I said as much, even from the pulpit, despite what we were told to advise. A resistance member heard me speak and, when he was attacked, came to me for help. Gave me photo's of V's living amongst us and asked me to bring them to a meeting. It was a dying request."
"So, I went. Met Georgie and Erica…The V's attacked, killed a lot of people…Ryan arrived and saved Georgie. Erica and I got away. To tell you the truth, I was hesitant at first…War isn't exactly a place where you remain a non-combatant and that's what that is. A war to save our species."
"Doesn't look like you managed to avoid combat, Father," Valerie said, glancing down at his wounded side. Erica had mentioned he had his spleen removed and other organs sutured, so it wasn't exactly a flesh wound. A sudden burst of insight made her wonder how Ryan had actually wounded his arm.
"Tried and failed," Jack said ruefully, shifting in his seat. He did that a lot, tried to find a more comfortable position, didn't, then tried again.
She sat back, pulling her legs up underneath herself and sipped her own tea. "I never thought waiting would be such a big part of joining a resistance. Not that I've thought about joining a resistance, but you know, secret messages, sneaking around and the occasional gunfight…That's the random little daydream, you know…."
This time it was Jack who laughed. "Moments of blinding terror interspersed amongst long stretches of monotony," he said, then smirked ruefully. "Then there's an occasional stabbing."
She smiled, then sobered and asked, "Do you…What do they want? Ryan won't tell me. I know he thinks he's protecting me, but it's just making me nervous."
"I don't know," Jack admitted, open face becoming pensive. "Obviously, it's not good, but I don't even think Ryan knows the full story."
As he spoke, he grimaced in pain again and she raised a brow. "You should take a pill. It's been more than long enough since the last one."
He cast an unhappy look at the orange prescription bottle on the table. "I'm good."
"Erica told me to call her if you don't take your meds. Want water or juice with it?"
Trying to convince Georgie to relax even fractionally was not an easy task. It wasn't like Ryan was asking him to do out and dance the night away, he just wanted the man to come have a chat with Landry and Evans. Unfortunately, his recent injury was making him even more argumentative and paranoid.
And that was saying a lot.
It took him three days to convince Georgie to emerge from his bolt hole and follow him over to DUMBO and once there Ryan almost had to choke back a laugh. This had to be something out of Georgie's nightmares, being in a room with a V, an FBI agent, a priest and a psychotherapist. From the look on the resistance leaders face, Ryan's musings were pretty damn close to the truth.
The five of them sat around the living area, Father Landry, Agent Evans and Val on the couch, while Ryan and Georgie claimed the arm chairs, discussing the limited progress Ryan had managed in gathering support for their movement. He'd managed to get in touch with three members of the Fifth Column, as well as Joshua aboard the V mothership.
This interested Evans, as she was eager for any news of her son. Ryan was happy to provide assurances that the boy was in perfect health, but he left out the medic's less than flattering commentary. Joshua seemed to honestly and vehemently dislike Tyler to an extent that almost amused Ryan.
"So he's okay," Evans breathed, relief clear in her voice and smile broader than any Ryan had seen her wear. Her hand had reached towards Landry, gripping his arm in her happiness. The priest grinned at her and clasped a hand over hers. The FBI agent settled back into the couch, keeping a hold of Landry's hand as they turned to him to hear the rest of his news.
Neither of them seemed to think anything of the gesture and Georgie didn't care, but Ryan noticed and he knew Val did too. She found their relationship…interesting, which Ryan knew meant she was going to be a bit more attentive to their interactions than one normally would be. The night before she had even made a Thornbirds allusion when referencing the pair and Ryan had been grateful neither was in the room.
The three Fifth Column members he had heard back from were now scattered, but, at one point, he had known all of them. Last time he had seen Commander Rebekah Dylan, she had been a mere lieutenant j.g. in the US Navy. Now, she was in intelligence and was understandably among those advising caution to her superiors. As soon as she got an opportunity, she promised to make a trip up from Langley to discuss their situation.
Connor Tucker was a doctor with the World Health Organization, based out of Geneva, Switzerland, so, for now, his participation was going to be restricted to the expertise he could offer from afar. Ryan had sent him some of the sample of the V drug for analysis. Neela Kapoor was also, oddly enough, working in Geneva, at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. She was a physicist working with the LHC and had been in contact with Connor since his posting at WHO HQ.
All three were onboard with the idea of standing up to Anna and her followers when the time came. They did, however, share their fears about the limited number of Fifth Column left alive to help. Apparently, both Rebekah and Connor had maintained contact with some of their old associates and many of them had mysteriously vanished since the arrival of the ships. They had all been saddened to hear that one of their former colleagues had been turning members of the Column in, hoping that Anna would reconnect him to Bliss.
Georgie was the first to ask, "Are you sure we can trust them? I mean, you said one of your old buddies was turning resistance members in. How can you be sure these three aren't doing that too?"
He smiled a little. "Believe me, Georgie, as paranoid as these three are, there's no way they're working for Anna…Seriously, we could all take lessons in discretion from them."
At that statement, he glanced over at Landry, and was amused to see Georgie and Evans do the same. Val followed their gazes, obviously puzzled.
Under the weight of their stares, Landry heaved a sigh. "I know, I know. Leaving a card with one's name and place of employment is not a good idea. I've learned my lesson."
"Also wearing your collar while trying to be subtle…not a good idea," Evans added, jostling the hand she was still holding before she realized she was, in fact, still holding it. They both pulled back at the same time and looked away.
Ryan shook his head. He'd been on Earth long enough to know about the rules priest lived by, but some of them seemed really counterintuitive.
From her seat, Val piped up, "Priest's have business cards?"
Tension broken, Landry let out a huff of a laugh and Erica smirked. Georgie glanced over at Ryan, who shrugged. Okay, so they weren't exactly a commando squad, but they could be trusted. And in this sort of fight, trust meant a lot.
The water, hot as she could stand it, created a cloud of steam in the small bathroom. The near scalding fluid pounded down into the old, porcelain, claw foot tub, beading on the curtain that enclosed the bath.
Erica stood beneath the shower head, letting the water sooth away the worries of the day. She still couldn't get Tyler to answer his phone and now even his friend Brandon had clammed up. Work was a constant struggle, as she just knew some of her fellow agents were sleeper V's like Dale. She just didn't know who, if anyone, could be trusted. To top it all off, what she did know was that war with the V's was inevitable and every day she saw that her fellow humans were still trying to kill each other.
It was almost enough to make her scream.
Most nights, she had taken to sleeping at the safe house in DUMBO, something she knew would irritate Tyler to no end. He had always bugged her about moving into the city, had wanted to be closer to the action, but she always said no. It just didn't make financial sense.
Presently, a lot didn't make sense, so, for a brief moment, she decided not to dwell. Instead she listened to the sound of the water, enjoyed the soothing heat on her skin, the faint, clean smell of the cake in the soap dish.
She smiled a bit at that. It seemed the personal hygiene product revolution had passed over Jack without impact and he'd never switched to body wash like most folks.
That innocent musing made her think of the priest, who was probably sitting in his room just a door down the hall. When she had poked her head in to check on him before taking her shower, he was propped up on the end of his bed, thick book open on his lap. He had informed her in a rather amusing, disgruntled tone that Valerie had banished him for a nap before dinner.
The past couple of days, he had been doing much better, moving more easily and not going grey every time he had to climb the stairs. He was even starting to make noises about returning to St. Josephine's, not to stay, he was aware enough to know she'd cuff him to a radiator before she let that happen, but to speak with Father Travis. Apparently, the church frowned upon their priests up and disappearing on them.
She figured they had a few more day, at least, before he pressed the matter.
Finishing up her shower, she turned off the taps and quickly dried off. Pulling her damp hair back into a ponytail, she tugged on a clean set of clothes. It didn't matter that she had no plans to go out for the night, she was simply not going to wander around the house in grubby sweats or pajamas with Val and Jack present. At some point, Ryan would probably arrive, as well, as he had mentioned visiting some old friend. Sometimes that took a while.
She found Jack still focused on his book and took a moment to observe him. It was times like this this when she could almost forget he was a priest. In beat up jeans and a grey t-shirt bare feet propped up on the bed as he read, he looked like any other guy, real and touchable….
Oops, not going there. She shook her head and asked, "Think you've had enough nap time to satisfy Val?"
From downstairs, they could hear the clatter of pans and occasional cursing. Jack grimaced, glanced at the clock and sighed. "I was told not to come down before 7 pm and I'm a little afraid to defy her."
Erica grinned. "She was rather intense about whatever she's cooking down there," the FBI agent said, stepping further into his room. "I'd offer to help, but my culinary forte is take out, so…."
"I can actually cook," he laughed, only grimacing slightly as the action pulled at his side. "But I think it best to avoid the angry person with the knives for a while. At least until this wound is healed up."
"Sounds like a good plan," she agreed, dropping down onto the bed to sit beside him. "What are you reading?"
"The Recursive Universe," he said, flipping the book to offer her a view of the black book jacket covered in random green symbols.
"Never heard of it," she said lightly, "Is it good?"
He made a face. "It's…more interesting than good. There's "The Game of Life.", which isn't actually a game at all, but more of pattern generator by an unorthodox mathematician, John Conway. You know, screen savers, with the morphing, surprisingly complex patterns based off of a simple algorithm. That's like "The Game." But the more closely you look at this "game," the more astonishing it becomes, and the author dissects it. By the time he is done you can see how intelligent life could, in principle, evolve in a system consisting only of dots on a grid which do nothing but twinkle on and off depending on how many neighboring dots they have….and I'm rambling."
Erica looked at him. "You're kind of an odd priest, aren't you?"
He paused and then shrugged. "Yeah, I am."
"Got any books I may have heard of around here?"
He pointed at a small shelf. "I might have a copy of the DaVinci Code over there."
She spent a few minutes laughing before she went and grabbed the book. Cracking open the cover, she continued to stifle giggles and wonder at how this had become her life. Sitting on a priest's bed, reading the DaVinci Code while he read an obscure science for laymen book.
It was almost weirder than aliens showing up over their cities.
It was late, well after 2 am, when the creak of a door opening jostled Ryan from a deep sleep. The old house, with it's bare, wood floors, provided good echoes up and down the staircase. For a moment, he lay still, listening and distinctly heard someone moving around on the first floor.
They were here. Swiftly, he rose, shaking Val with one hand as he pulled a pistol from the drawer of the bedside table.
"Wha?" Val grunted, rolling over as if to escape his touch. She hated to wake up in the middle of the night.
"They're here," he murmured, which cause her to bolt upright.
The pair of them hurried down the stairs. On the second floor, Erica appeared, her own weapon in hand. Silently, she nodded down the stairs, ready to face the enemy head on.
"Go wake Landry," Ryan said, pushing Val in the direction of the priest's room. She hurried off as he and Erica silently descended the stairs.
Eyes scanning the small foyer and living room, they cleared those area's. At a hand signal from Erica, Ryan swung around the door frame into the living room, weapon aimed at the kitchen area. Someone was in there, back to them and moving around.
"Freeze!" Erica shouted from behind Ryan.
The intruder jumped and spun around to face them. For a moment, Ryan found himself looking into the startled, young face of a pretty woman. Then she screamed and ducked down behind the kitchen counter.
"Get the hell out of my house!"
A heavy frying pan came hurling up and over the counter, missing Ryan's head by mere inches. Exchanging a glance with Erica, Ryan said, "Your house?"
"Molly!" There was a commotion as Jack hurried down the stairs. "It's fine, Molls!"
The lights popped on as Landry and Val tumbled into the room, though Ryan was pleased to note the priest had a gun in his hand. Across the room, a pair of wide, blue eyes peered over the counter, then the woman. Jack's niece Molly, stood.
The family resemblance was clear. Tall, broad shoulders, sandy blond hair, blue eyes, square jaw … defiantly a Landry. She wore jeans and a bold print, colorful top and was staring at them in shock.
"Um, do I even want to know what this all is?" she asked, waving a finger at the four of them.
Ryan blinked and realized things might look a little odd. There was Landry, armed, clad in blue flannel pajama pants, stark white bandage visible on his bare side. Evans had moved beside him, still clutching her side arm, wearing tiny shorts and a t-shirt. Val was hovering nearby in a soft cotton nightie. Finally, Ryan knew he looked imposing, gun in hand and wearing his own sleep pants.
They had all been obviously asleep and from the look on Molly's face, she was trying to work out what was going on, but didn't like any scenario she was imagining.
"Everyone, this is Molly," Landry was saying as he gingerly approached his niece. "Molly, meet Erica, Ryan and Valerie."
They all made sounds of greeting and the girl offered a weak, "Hi."
"I know this looks a little odd," he continued and Ryan wanted to know exactly what he was going to say to the girl, but she suddenly yelped.
"What happened to you?"
He eyes were on the bandages on Jack's side and Erica said, "Maybe we should all sit down."
Jack nodded in agreement. "It's a long story, Molls."
"Yeah," she drawled, "I kinda guessed that."
Well, Ryan thought, maybe they'd get a new recruit to their cause.
V V V V V
The rectory was cool, dark and quiet, despite the fact that it was barely mid day. Jack Landry looked down at the letter in his hands, the letter Father Travis had handed him after expressing both his pleasure that Jack was alive and his displeasure that Jack had gone missing from the hospital. The older man's demeanor should have been a clue that he wasn't going to like whatever was in the envelope, but he hadn't been expecting this.
With a sigh, he looked down at the crumpled paper in his hands, ran his fingers over the embossed seal of the Archdiocese of New York. Over his years of service, he'd seen the letter head innumerable times, but never one bearing content like this. For what seemed like the hundredth time since Father Travis, in a mood of great conflict, had handed him the letter, he scanned the text, certain lines popping out as if illuminated.
….been informed of your public disagreement regarding Church doctrine…speaking against the directed message of the Church…allegations of conduct unbecoming an ordained officiate…dismissed from the clerical state, laicized…forbidden to exercise ministerial functions, but indelible character is held to remain on your soul, as is sung at ordination, "You are a priest forever, like Melchizedek of old"…Go with God
He had taken Holy Orders at 26, entered seminary barely a month after graduating college. The vast majority of his adult life, he had dedicated to the service of God and had done his best to act in accordance with His wishes…though, sometimes, Jack felt the Church office did not act in the intended spirit of their faith. Still, despite his occasional questions of policy, he'd known no other life for a very long time. Even as a soldier, he'd been a priest, the padre, a friend, but held apart, even when not wearing the white collar of his office.
Honestly, he didn't know how to define himself without the avocation that had called to him for so many years. True, he had felt occasional doubts and temptations, but he had not given in, never strayed, never given in. He questioned things, but had never felt that a violation of his oath…but apparently others did.
Frustrated, he shoved the letter into his bible before tossing the book into his canvas rucksack. He didn't have a lot of things, so most of his clothes fit neatly into the bag. There were appeals processes, but they took time and with all the V craziness going on, there simply wasn't the time. Besides, maybe this was the path God wanted for him.
To big a believer in free will, Jack didn't buy into the idea of predestination, though he did believe some events in the world were fated to happen. It was how one reacted to theses events that shaped the sort of person you could and did become. Perhaps leaving the choice was the next step in his path, a hint of what role he should take in the coming fight with the V's.
Leaving his room, he emptied the contents of his lockbox into him bag. As he closed the zipper, he crossed the room to stand at the spot where he had fallen after the V assassin had stabbed him. The porous, old floor had been cleaned, but was still discolored from the pool of blood that had spilled from his side. It was a bit eerie.
With a final look around, he shouldered his bag and walked out the door. He fully expected Val and Molly to be waiting when he got back to his nieces, both accusatory and worried by his disappearing act. If he was lucky, they wouldn't have called Erica to tell her that he flew the coop. They tended to act like he shouldn't be let out on his own after the attempt on his life.
Yeah, he was gonna be hearing about this for a while.
"What were you thinking!"
Erica hadn't been able to leave work when a truly freaked out Molly (who, all things considered, was taking the whole news about the V's being evil pretty well) called her to say Jack had gone missing. A few hours later, he had come back, perfectly fine, but that didn't mean she thought his little flight had been a good idea. After all, he had been in perfect health when the V got the drop on him and now he was still suffering the effects of having been stabbed.
Jack looked up from whatever it was that he was doing at his desk and met her gaze. He sighed as he said, "I needed to stop by St. Josephine's. Don't worry, I took precautions."
"You still should have waited for Ryan or I to take you…."
"Damn it, Erica, I'm a grown man, not a child!" Jack's outburst surprised her, for it seemed a bit out of character. He rose quickly, nearly knocking over the chair as he shoved it back. "There were things I needed to do. Alone."
He paced the room, one hand gripping the opposite elbow as he pressed the other hand to his injured side. Erica watched him, unsure what had happened, but knowing something had thrown him into a vary troubled mood. "Jack," she began stepping into his room, "What's wrong?"
Heaving a sigh, Jack said, "Nothing. Everything…Not exactly the clearest answer, huh?"
"No," she agreed, taking a seat on the foot of the bed and folding her legs Indian style. "Want to tell me about it?"
He looked at her intently, then released his elbow in favor of rubbing the back of his neck. "I think I need to process things myself first."
"Okay," Erica said gently, then looked around. "So, did Val banish you up here for naptime again?"
He let out a huff of a sigh and turned the desk chair around to face her. Settling back down on to it, he muttered, "No. It was Molly this time. She and Val have bonded. It's a bit terrifying, really."
"They were taking their rage out on chicken cutlets," he elaborated. "So I felt it wise to listen to Molly and come up here. Took a nap."
Erica looked at him and noted he did seem a bit tired. Probably from the days outing. "Did you get what you needed at the church?" she asked, hoping he wouldn't have to return for a while.
An odd cloud passed over his face as Jack nodded. "Yeah…how was your day?"
"Same as usual," she shrugged. "Tracked some terrorists. Looked into some V activity. Tried not to catch the attention of any V sleepers. Fun, fun, fun…and any idea what that really nice smell is?"
"Pear Bread and Apple Butter," Jack replied quickly. "One of Molly's desserts."
Smiling at him, she said, "You know, I never pictured getting gourmet meals as part of the package when we started this."
Jack offered he a weak smile in return and she watched as his eyes drifted back to the book on his desk. He seemed sad now, but she didn't want to push. After all, she wasn't one to talk about her feelings either.
Like everything else, they'd just wait and see what happened before acting. Sometimes it was easier that way.
V V V V V
The denim of the human pants provided by Ryan at their appointed meeting point felt rough and stiff against Joshua's thighs, but the shirt and…sweatshirt were less bothersome. But the hat was surely the worst, brim pulled low to offer his features some disguise, it cut off a significant percentage of his vertical visual range.
"Stop fussing with it," Ryan muttered at him as they moved through the crowded shopping center where they had met in an unused side room. There Joshua had traded his easily recognizable V uniform for more traditional Earth garb.
Dropping his hand from the thrice damned brim of the hat, Joshua frowned and stuffed his hands into the pouch on the front of the outer shirt. For a brief moment, he wondered if perhaps that was the function of the marsupial like pouch. After all, with no kind of closures on either side, it seemed like one would be prone to losing anything one might carry around in there.
Despite the need for subterfuge and uncomfortable haberdashery, Joshua was quite pleased to be off of the mother ship and on his way to meet the members of the Fifth column and the human resistance that Ryan had assembled. He was looking forward to meeting some of the humans, especially Agent Evans. He just had to see the person who had managed to nearly kill Dale and yet had produced offspring as unpleasant as Tyler. Perhaps the paternal genetics were responsible for the boy.
When they reached one of the crowded streets, Ryan quickly steered him to the curb and into the rear compartment of an automobile. To his surprise, he found himself with traveling companions. Two women were seated on the bench with him and a man was twisted around to peer back from the front passenger seat as Ryan settled behind the steering column.
The woman nearest him was petite with a mop of chin length black hair, tawny skin and brown eyes. Beside her, the other woman was taller, pale skinned with long, wavy brown hair and paler brown eyes. The man was blond and blue eyed, with tan skin and bigger than Joshua, but possessing a smaller build than Ryan.
It took a moment for him to register that they, like Ryan, were V's that had been living on Earth. They were other members of the Fifth Column.
"Hello," he said softly, unsure how to greet these people who held a sort of folk hero mythos to the new members of the Fifth Column.
"Hey." The male stuck his hand back over the seat and waited patiently until Joshua remembered humans greeted each other by clasping hands. When Joshua awkwardly reciprocated the greeting, the man grinned. "I'm Connor." His voice held an odd, rolling drawl in it that didn't make the words hard to understand, but at the same time ran them together.
"Neela." The smaller woman, whose accent was different, softer and lilting.
"Rebekah." Deeper than he expected, husky and crisp, no discernable accent, but for the slight… humanizing of her tone.
All of them really, they sounded more like humans than they did the others aboard the ships.
"Joshua," he replied, offering a shaky smile. "It is very good to meet you all."
"You as well, Brother," Rebekah reached around Neela and clapped a hand on his forearm briefly. The battered looking mammal skin of her coat brushed the back of his hand, the softest article of clothing he'd yet to encounter.
The rest of their trip to wherever Ryan deemed safe was fairly quiet…as far as conversation went. The automobile's internal combustion engine was loud, as were those of the many vehicles around them. Some emitted blaring noises, apparently to indicate the users discontent with the performance of other pilots. The crowds flanking the roadways shouted, machinery clanged, a pandemonium of sound and vibration unlike anything he had ever known aboard the mother ship. Beneath it all, the small device mounted to the front console emitted a low sound, music Neela hummed softly in tune with.
When they finally stopped, Joshua looked up at the building Ryan led them to and had to admit it seemed a good place to run a clandestine operation from. No one would expect a resistance force to be assembled in such an odd, bright building. The door even had some bright yellow flower painted on the front.
The wood of the stairs clattered under their feet as they followed Ryan up the short flight to the door, which he opened before ushering them in. While Ryan hung back to secure the door, Rebekah proceeded toward the room to the right, then froze in the door way, raising her hands and saying, "Whoa. We come in peace!"
"They're with me!" Ryan called out as he locked the door. "It's cool…They're with us."
Intrigued, Joshua poked his head around the door frame and peered into what appeared to be a sitting area. Five humans were scattered around the room, two of whom still had small hand weapons pointed at the door and a third was holding a lowered weapon.
He recognized Agent Evans as the blond woman with the weapon from the time she saved Marcus's life and their brief brush at the V Compound and the dark haired woman was Valerie Stevens, Ryan's fiancée, from her records from the Healing Center.
The armed men were a scruffy brunette and a tall blond and the final person present was the youngest, another blond woman with big, scared eyes. Still, they all seemed fairly calm, but for the dark haired man who appeared to be a bit twitchy.
Ryan moved past the small cluster of Fifth Column members and stepped into the room. "Put down the gun, Georgie….Erica. They're here to help."
Neither person looked too happy, but they lowered their weapons and the younger blond startled everyone by speaking up.
"Can I get anyone a drink? Coffee, tea, water, juice…." she made the offer with a shaky smile, hands fluttering around like nervous baby birds.
"Coffee'd be great, thanks darlin'," Connor said, shooting the woman an easy smile that caused her to flush, then hurry off to the kitchen visible beyond a long counter top.
"All right," Ryan began, keeping a wary eye on the man he'd called Georgie. "Now that everyone's calm, introductions. Rebekah, Connor, Neela, Joshua," he pointed to each of them in turn, then indicated the humans, "Georgie, Valerie, Erica, Jack and Molly."
The silence that followed, broken only by the small sounds of Molly puttering about the kitchen, was deafening. Both groups stared at each other and no one seemed to know exactly how to extend a conversational gambit.
Inspiration striking, Joshua fished a small recorder from his pocket and flicked the display on. An image of Lisa and Tyler, sharing a meal as the boy regaled the girl with some story about a human sporting event, appeared and the doctor extended the device to Erica. "I thought you might like to see that your son is all right."
With a soft noise, Erica stepped forward and accepted the recorder. "Thank you," she breathed, smiling down at her son's image, obviously relieved. Stepping back, she tipped the device to show Jack, who placed a hand on her back as she said, "He looks good. Happy…."
Yes, she did seem to love the boy, though Joshua still had trouble grasping why. A mother's instinct, he supposed. Mammals were often extremely attached to their young.
"Question," Neela said, drawing everyone's attention to where she still stood slightly behind Rebekah. "Am I to understand that you are the entirety of the resistance here?"
The humans exchanged looks and shrugs and it was odd, jumpy Georgie who said, "There were more of us, but a bunch of V assassins showed up and…."
He was cut off as a cup of dark, hot liquid was placed in his hand by Molly, who then proceeded to stuff a small baked good in his mouth. She smiled and, before moving around to had out drinks and snacks, said, "Don't talk with your mouth full."
Evans accepted her cup and nodded, "We're a bit of a work in progress."
That was a fairly succinct was to sum up the resistance. And soon, they were going to need to make some progress.