Title: Baptisms of Fire
Author: Kristin (midnight_blue)
Rating: Strong PG-13 - Mild R
Disclaimer: Never mine, these characters belong to Hank, CBS, and Bruckheimer, with the exception of my own original characters.
Summary: You can't see the worst scars

Notes: This was a long project. Writing it in one month put a lot of pressure on me and all the other NaNo authors, but I was successful and I'm proud of that. That success, however, was not gained alone. I want to thank Lauren so much for just being there and being a great friend and staying up some late nights getting me through plot points and encouraging me and telling me my story didn't suck! And my family for the time I spent ignoring them. And lastly, the readers. And I'd just like the say...I do some horrible things in this story and I really hope you all don't hate the story for it, but it just seemed to fit. And also...I usually tread very lightly when it comes to original characters, but the ones I created were necessary for the story, so I hope they're not annoying and unlikeable. Enjoy!

baptism of fire: A severe ordeal experienced for the first time.

~*~

There is no street with mute stones and no house without echoes.
-Gongora

~*~

*****

Chapter 1: Little Boys Don't Live Forever

He'd been a boy once and his mom smoked Newports -- only halfway -- then she'd stop and throw the smoking butt into the night off their back porch, cross her arms over her knees as she pulled them to her chest. She'd just sit there, sit there for...hours, it seemed, and he'd push aside a curtain and watch her and wonder what made her stare at the stars that she couldn't see and cry to a voice that wasn't there.

One night, he sat next to her and she puffed a cigarette like a pro, clutched it in her right hand and blew the smoke lazily from her mouth as it caught the cold night air and the two merged in a brilliant dance of loneliness.

"You okay, Ma?"

The air hit his skin with pinpricks and he suddenly wished he'd brought his jacket as he looked down at his pajama bottoms and tugged his sleeves further down his arm. The rest of the house was silent, his father gone...to the bar perhaps. Seemed even when he was home, he wasn't. He missed the way the house felt since his sister had left and his brother was working. But a moment like this, alone with his mother -- he wouldn't appreciate until he never had it again.

"Just balancing my checkbook, " she smiled from the corner of her mouth and he laughed.

"You got a great laugh, kid."

She brought the cigarette back to her mouth, watched her progress, and tossed it as usual into the air. She pulled her legs against her chest and studied herself for a moment. She thought of her husband and children and the way they took her for granted unless they needed something. Her husband, even, had started regarding her as the woman who did the chores around the house and she wanted to stop being that woman, wanted to be the woman she had once been.

She didn't look at him -- her son; not yet. She didn't want to see the unwavering trust in his eyes; the trust she knew she might one day break. She was glad for his ignorance, glad that tonight it could be just them like it might never be again.

"It gets damn lonely sometimes."

His young mind couldn't comprehend the words beyond their bluntness, though he realized it meant his mother wasn't as simple as he'd always thought -- it meant, he supposed, that not everything was perfect, and that cold night long ago he realized for the first time that nothing lasted forever, because his mother had lost something long ago. And when he would sit on this same spot ten years from now, her face would be a memory, gone with the rest of the world's lost and lonely people smiling through their tears.

Ten years from now, he would remember the way her soft, curly, brunette hair had been let down from its hasty ponytail and been allowed to float on the cold breeze.

Ten years from now, he would remember the way her hands looked as the pathetic porch light illuminated their quiet moment, holding them in the spotlight and he would notice the way they seemed to carry her pain in the cracks and wrinkles no one as young as she should have.

Ten years from now, he'd remember the face she held at this moment -- the one that seemed to carry a pain she had never asked for. The face that lied in her sleep and whispered platitudes to her children she wanted to believe could free them where she couldn't.

Ten years from now, he would remember the two tears that fell down her cheek and the way she tried to hide it and the pain he felt for a moment that maybe he was sharing something with her that no one else ever would.

Two tears -- one for herself and one for all the things she would never do, looking at him and picturing the man he might become only in the illusions she could conjure up.

Ten years from now, he would remember her and how she was more than just Doris Malone, more than just a woman who had been pushed aside and defined by her husband and children. She was more than that.

She was beautiful.

"So lonely sometimes I don't even know..."

She stopped and looked at him, cupped his face in her cold hands.

"Listen, Jack Malone...you're gonna grow up and get married and you're gonna be in love...for a while..."

One hand fell into her lap, the other continuing its caress on his cheek.

"...and then, Jackie, maybe you won't, maybe you'll remember how it used to be and how it isn't and you'll forget it all. But, just -- you don't always know who you belong to and sometimes the one you're with isn't the one you need to be with and maybe...maybe you'll never know..."

'Mom?' He wanted to ask. 'What's wrong?' But he didn't.

He could hear the distant sound of a door closing and knew his father had returned and his mother became Mrs. Jonathan Malone once again, but he would always remember that she had let him see a part of her that had once been just...Doris...a girl once, young like he was now, and he smiled at the thought.

She stood and pushed her hair behind her ears, picked up the apron she had thrown on the patio chairs, tied it around her waist, and paused before she entered the house again, smoothing out the wrinkles, and glanced at her young son whose flannel pajama bottoms reminded her she needed to do a load of laundry tomorrow.

Her hand went out and he stood, his black hair moving in swift motions with the cold breeze, a half smile still lingering on his face. He took her hand and looked up at her, watching her smile in return with an odd look on her face.

"What?"

"Some girl's going to fall hard and fast for you and it'll be magic, " she spoke, smiling wider, " oh, you're gonna break some hearts, Valentino."

Valentino. She liked calling him after that old silent film actor he'd catch her watching on their black and white. She liked him for some reason -- perhaps because he was mysterious and she could pretend what he was really saying -- and maybe because he had these dark, beautiful, tragic eyes she could forget herself in.

If she had to call him something, he didn't mind that. He wanted to be beautiful to someone someday. He wanted to be someone worth loving.

He thought of what she'd said and wondered if maybe one day they would make sense, but they didn't until he'd married himself and felt the distance pass between them and he could understand maybe the lonely woman he'd once seen sitting on their back porch smoking when no one was watching.

He didn't understand the words until he met Samantha Spade.

"Jackie, " his mother whispered as she tucked him back into bed, "sleep tight."

He couldn't see her face anymore and she asked one more thing of him.

"Will you do something for me?"

"Yeah, " he replied.

"Will you keep smiling, no matter what, just -- just keep your smile?"

"Sure, Ma."

The door shut and the little boy grew up.