Disclaimer: Jack Malone is not mine, unfortunately.

A/N: Sorry for the long wait… work is way too busy and my ADD muse has moved on to play with new toys, but I'm black-mailing her into finishing this one before letting her work on any of the new ones! I'm thinking two chapters left, maybe. Thanks for reading. :)

Thirty Five

When his wife had told him that she was free to go home the next day, Jack had stupidly assumed that this had been one of her doctor's ideas. He really should have known better. He should have known that the result she wanted had been achieved through bulldozing her way over whatever obstacles were in her way of what she wanted, including but not limited to a threat of walking out the door against medical advice. Now he was waiting with Mike Gregory for the scan of her brain that would decide whether his life was about to become impossible or merely arduous.

The doctor looked at him. "After talking with your wife in detail, I have a new respect for you, Malone," he said with a grin that made Jack cock a brow. "She's rather… pushy, I've noticed."

Jack laughed. That was the understatement of the year. "She doesn't hear the word 'no,' that's for sure," he said dryly.

"You know that if there's damage to the brain I won't be able to let her leave here, no matter what she says," he said quietly. "These types of injuries usually take weeks to heal, and that's the ones that do exceptionally well. We're talking life and death here, Jack."

Jack nodded grimly. "I'll handcuff her to the bed if I have to."

Gregory laughed. "Let's hope it doesn't come to that."

Two hours later, Jack was really wishing he had his handcuffs on him. Dr. Gregory had said that everything looked good, but he wanted to keep her one more day, at the very least, just to be sure, and his wife wasn't having it. Looking at her, he sighed. "Katie, please just do this, for me. I almost lost you. I don't want to take any chances. Our house is too far away from a hospital. If something happened, there wouldn't be anything we could do for you. If anything were to happen to you…" He trailed off, shaking his head. He was no good at this kind of thing. He would have preferred the handcuffs to this. And probably would have gotten further.

Kate just looked at him. He looked so worried and frustrated and she sighed to herself. Even if she did go home today, he would be going out of his mind with worry the entire time. She knew she couldn't do that to him. She took his hands in hers. "I'm sorry," she said finally. "If you're that worried, I'll stay here. It's just… we were supposed to bring Tommy home today. I didn't want to postpone it."

He was so relieved he could have laughed out loud. "I'll bring him home. I'll pick him up and bring him here to see you first, and then I'll take him home."

"You need to go back to work."

"I'm taking the rest of the week off."

Kate looked alarmed at that. "You just took a week off. You can't take another."

Jack snorted. "I can and I will. I haven't taken a vacation in years. They owe me. You need me now; they understand that." He kissed her, wishing he had the words to make her understand everything he was feeling right now. She came first. Her and their kids. She had to know that.

Her face softened. Maybe she did. "Okay. Thank you." She let herself slump heavily back into the pillows. "Go and get Tommy and the kids, and get your ex-wife the hell out of my house. I'll be good until you get back."

Jack grinned, just shaking his head. "Hey, you're the one who invited her. I would've made her get a hotel room."

He kissed her quickly and laughed as she stuck her tongue out at him. "Rest," he told her, and ducked the pillow she tossed at him with surprisingly good aim.

Jack found Tommy surprisingly playing with a small group of children on the playground, and left him to it while he signed the necessary documents and gathered the boy's few possessions. He thanked the nurses and doctors who had cared for him, and there was a tearful group waiting for one of their favorite kids when Tommy came back inside. They even had a cake. It was an impromptu going away party, and Tommy looked around in awe when he realized it was all for him.

"Never had a party for me before," he said thoughtfully, and Jack put his arm around his thin shoulders.

"This is just the first of many," he told him. "I'm sure Mrs. J. will want to have a party for you soon at the house." He knelt next to the boy. They had spoken of this before but he wasn't sure it had really sunk in. "You're going to come home with me today, Tommy, and live with me and Mrs. J. and our kids." He smiled again. "Although her name isn't Mrs. J. any more. She married me so now her name in Mrs. Malone. But you can call her Mrs. J. or Mrs. M., or even Mom, if you ever decide that you want to."

Tommy looked at him, his head cocked to the side. "Mrs. J. gonna be my new mom?"

Jack nodded. "Yeah, Tommy, you're going to live with us and be our son. We love you very much and we won't ever hurt you. We won't let anyone hurt you ever again."

Tommy smiled at that. "Jack, you silly. Tommy know you never hurt him. You help him. You take care of him. Tommy don't forget that."

Jack smiled again. "I'm glad. Now let's have this party with your friends and eat your cake and then we can go see your new mom."

Tommy grinned happily, and everyone around him laughed. He looked around at them all, at the doctors and nurses and all of the people that had been a part of his life for so long. "I'm gonna have a new mom!" he told them, the excitement evident in his voice. "And a dad!" He looked at Jack to confirm, and he nodded gently. That toothy grin stretched even larger. "A good dad," he said quietly, his eyes warming as they stayed on Jack. "I always want a good dad."

Jack nodded. "And don't forget you're going to have three brothers and two sisters to take care of you."

Tommy's eyes got big. "Really? That many people take care of Tommy?"

Jack nodded. "Yeah. Lots of people love Tommy. Don't forget your Uncle Danny and your Uncle Martin, and your Aunt Elena, Aunt Samantha, and Aunt Vivian." He smiled again. "And a little baby cousin that you can take care of."

Tommy was happily stunned into silence for a moment, and everyone laughed. "Thas a lotta people, Jack. I like that. And I do a good job take care of my baby cousin."

Jack nodded at him, smiling again both at his reaction and at the fact that he had had his arm around the boy for probably a good ten minutes and he hadn't minded in the least. He was glad. The boy obviously trusted him, and that would make the transition that much easier. It struck him in that moment that if it wasn't for this boy he would never have met Kate Janoreski. Now Kate Malone. Maybe his wife was right, he thought, about everything happening for a reason, but he would be damned if he'd let her know it. She'd be impossible to live with.

He straightened, pulling Tommy with him to the table. "Hmmm. I wonder what kind of cake this could be." He looked at Tommy. "What kind to you think it is?"

Tommy smiled up at Jack. "Gotta be chocolate."

Jack fixed a comically shocked expression on his face. "How'd you know?"

Tommy just looked at him with a long-suffering expression that he knew had to be copied from either himself or his wife. "Because Mrs. J. know that is my favoritest cake in the world. Oops—my new mama."

Jack smiled. "You new mama knows a lot of things, doesn't she?"

"She does," Tommy agreed. "She the best."

Jack had to agree with that one.

It was later than expected when Jack returned to the hospital with the children, all of whom were very eager to see Kate. Tommy was worried but holding it together with help from his new brothers and sisters. Rusty was his new best friend and was never more than a foot from his side. Which was a good thing, since they would be sharing a room. In a breief stop at the house, he had sent the boys upstairs with Tommy's very few belongings to get settled in while he spoke briefly with Maria.

He found her in the kitchen, having just cleared off the breakfast dishes and loaded the dishwasher. She looked at him in bemusement, having just spent the night and the morning with his and Kate's children, and having seen firsthand just how much his life had evolved. How he had evolved. She had never seen him so happy, events of the past few days notwithstanding.

"Thanks for staying," he told her seriously. "I didn't want her to be alone last night."

"You're welcome, although I really need to get back today." Worried flashed across her features, and it made him smile. There was truly no one that his wife couldn't charm.

"How is she?" popped out of her mouth just as "She's doing fine," came out of his, and they both smiled. "I'm glad." She shook her head, and then looked at him warningly. ""Don't screw this up. She's a keeper, and she loves you."

Jack just grinned at the irony of this conversation. "I know, and I know. I think she'd kick my ass if I did screw up."

Maria squeezed his arm as she walked past him to say good-bye to the kids. "I'm glad."

As they all bounded into Kate's hospital room, she smiled widely, still tired and sore but feeling more happy than she thought anyone had the right to be. The girls came in first, hugging her tightly, but not too tightly, followed by Kevin and Brent who hugged her carefully and kissed her lovingly. She sought out her babies in the crowd, and felt a fierce rush of pride and love at the sight of her beautiful boy, her youngest with the biggest heart of anyone she'd ever met, with his arm around his new brother's shoulders, their heads together as Rusty whispered into Tommy's ear, no doubt words of reassurance that her little boy sensed were needed in that uncanny way that was his.

Both of their eyes lit up when they looked up and landed on her, and Kate felt her heart literally melt within her chest. "Hey, guys," she said with a warm smile, and held out her good arm to them. Without a moment's hesitation, they scrambled up onto the bed on either side of her, being theatrically careful nonetheless of her injuries as they hugged her. She pulled back to smile at both of them, pleased to see them already inseparable as she'd known they would be. "I missed you, mom!" Rusty exclaimed, and Tommy nodded immediately. "Me, too!" His head cocked to the side in thought, and Kate noted with approval that he looked much better even than the last time she'd seen him. He'd obviously been eating and now, with just a few hours with his new family, he fairly glowed with happiness. Her heart swelled at how relaxed and happy he looked. "I call you Mom or Mrs. J.? Or Mrs. Jack?"

Kate laughed at that. "You can call me whatever you want, sweetheart. I would love for you to call me Mom, but whenever you want to is fine."

He nodded decisively. "Okay, then I call you Mom, 'cause you're my new mom now. Right?" he asked, and grinned when she nodded. "For a long time, right?" he asked, and she hugged him close.

"Forever, Tommy, I'm your mom forever. And I'll love you forever."

He relaxed against her good shoulder, nodding happily. "Thas good." And then, after just a moment… "Mom."