Christmas Countdown: December 18
Without a Trace
It was with a sense of relief that Jack Malone entered the apartment. The place wasn’t as big as the house he’d shared with his ex-wife, Marie, but he felt more at home there. Perhaps the difference was because he’d just been going through the motions with his wife for the last several years, for the sake of their daughters. In contrast, he loved Martin with his whole heart and it showed.
Jack hated to admit it, but Marie had been right to leave. They’d been miserable together and it wasn’t doing the girls any good to grow up in a home where their parents merely tolerated one another. Now that the divorce was final and he had some perspective, Jack was finding he could remember why he’d fallen in love with Marie in the first place. They’d never be lovers again, but he was beginning to think they could become friends and that was a win-win situation for everyone.
“Martin?” Jack called out softly. As Martin’s supervisor, he knew damn well that the younger man had left the office hours before he had, because he’d been the one to send Martin home.
“Huh.” Jack grunted when he didn’t get an answer.
As he went further into the apartment to investigate, he noticed a large fruit basket sitting on the kitchen table. It was elaborate in an overdone sort of way, practically screaming that the people who sent it had money and wanted the recipient to know it. With that in mind, Jack wasn’t really surprised when he read the card attached to it and found the typed sentiment “Happy Holidays from the Fitzgeralds.” The card wasn’t even signed.
Jack was tempted to go out onto the balcony and drop the gift basket and its snooty card right off the side, but that wouldn’t really be fair. They were on the eighth floor and there was too much chance that he’d hit an innocent bystander. Jack did go out to the balcony, anyway, but for a different reason. It was where Martin liked to go when he needed to think and contact with his parents, even an impersonal one, tended to spark intense introspection in his lover.
Just as Jack expected, Martin was out there, without a coat, leaning against the rail and staring pensively out at the New York skyline. Jack walked over to join him.
“At least they sent a gift,” Jack stated quietly. “That’s more than my father usually does.”
Martin didn’t even turn to look at him. “Your father doesn’t know what day it is, most of the time.”
Jack sighed and wished he could wrap an arm around Martin, for warmth as well as comfort. The stiff posture of the younger man, however, was a clear sign that the gesture wouldn’t be welcome yet.
“We could take it to the Brooklyn Bridge and drop it over the side,” he finally suggested.
“No, I already called Danny,” Martin shook his head. “A friend of his runs a shelter. Normally they don’t take perishables, but with the holiday season, they’ll take anything they can get. I’ll take it in to the office with me in the morning and Danny’ll drop it off tomorrow after work.”
Nodding in agreement with the plan, Jack couldn’t help but smile. It was just like Martin, to find something to do with the unwanted gift that would benefit others.
For a few minutes, the two men stood there in silence, but then Jack noticed that Martin was shivering. Not wanting that to continue, he knew he’d have to break through the icy shell that Martin had drawn around himself in response to the hurt.
“Do you think there was a message intended?” Jack asked. “You know, since it was fruit and all.”
To say that the Fitzgeralds had been displeased to find out that their son was dating a man was a gross understatement. The only reason that Papa Fitzgerald hadn’t tried to put the kibosh on it was that, as much as he hated the idea of his son sleeping with another man, having the knowledge public would have been even worse. He and Jack had already exchanged some heated words about the situation, as had Martin. A truce of sorts had been reached. Martin’s father didn’t create any overt trouble for either of them with the FBI and the couple agreed to remain very discreet. Outside of family, only Danny and Viv knew the truth.
At Jack’s comment, Martin’s lips twitched and he finally turned to look at the older man. “That’s more subtly than I think my folks are capable of.”
“Ah.” Was all Jack said in response.
“My Aunt Bonnie, on the other hand, wants us to come for dinner on Christmas Day,” Martin cocked his head to the side as he regarding Jack. “I told her that we already had plans. I hope that’s okay.”
Jack shrugged. “Of course.”
In fact, Jack was relieved. Marie had the girls this Christmas and Jack was missing them more than he thought possible. He had every intention of burying himself in Martin over the holiday, both figuratively and literally, as a means of dealing with it.
Martin went back to studying the skyline and, greatly daring, Jack put his arm around the other man’s shoulders. Martin leaned into him, accepting both the warmth and the emotional support.
“A man can’t pick his family,” Jack stated. “But he can pick his friends. A man’s family says something about where he came from; the quality of his friends say something about what kind of man he has chosen to be.”
“Oh, really?” Martin looked up at him and Jack was relieved to see some twinkle back in his lover’s eyes. “And what do the type of friends I have say about me?”
“Your friendship with Danny shows that you don’t have a pretentious bone in your body,” Jack claimed. “Danny would never put up with that.”
Martin nodded solemnly. “And Viv?”
“That you’re strong,” Jack responded promptly. Viv was gentleness incarnate with victims, but she had different expectations for her colleagues. She wouldn’t have taken Martin under her wing the way she had if he’d been weak.
“Sam?” Martin asked quietly, a serious expression on his face. He obviously knew that asking about the blonde woman would be a loaded question.
Jack smiled. “That, even though you’re intelligent, you’re capable of being led around by your dick as much as the next man.”
Since he’d also been Sam’s lover, Jack’s comment was directed as much at himself as it was Martin. Both of them shared a rueful chuckle.
“And what about you?” Martin asked. “What does being your lover say about me?”
The question wasn’t unexpected, given the direction their conversation had taken, but Jack still took a minute to answer. “It says that you’ve got lousy taste in men.”
Martin straightened, shrugging off Jack’s arm to glare at the older man. “Hey. You shouldn’t say that about yourself.”
“You could do better, Martin.” Jack bent to kiss the other man. Martin’s automatic rise to his defense was good for the ego, even if it was wasted on Jack.
“The friends you mentioned and the good things having them showed about me?” Martin persisted. “Well, they’re your friends too.”
“I know,” Jack admitted. Then, not wanting to argue about it, decided to change the subject. “Can we go inside now? It’s kind of cold out here.”
”Sure,” Martin seemed to notice the temperature for the first time. Taking Jack’s hand, he led him indoors. “Suddenly, I have a craving for an apple. Danny’s friend with the shelter won’t mind if we take one.”
“The forbidden fruit, huh?” Jack teased.
Martin grinned and Jack’s heart turned over. That smile made Martin look young enough that Jack felt like a dirty old man. “I’ll cut it up and you can feed it to me.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Jack agreed. “And if you’re willing to deprive the shelter of two pieces of fruit, I can think of something interesting to do with one of the bananas too.”
And if either of them thought that the Fitzgeralds would have fits about how their gift was being used. . . well, that was only a plus.
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