A/N: Hey you guys! So this is the first of my series of one-shots that will all be set in the 'Married' and 'Outnumbered' verse.
This one is set just after the end of Married, and a few months before Outnumbered. Ralph is 14 years old in this fic.
Suit, Shirt, Stilettos
"Hello… anyone home?"
A vaguely familiar voice called out into the empty expanse that was the garage.
Walter looked over the staircase nervously, waving to make sure whoever was down there had seen him. He then turned his attention back to his furious wife, completely red in the face and looking like she was ready to blow her top at the phone call she had just received.
"Love? Are you sure you may be over-reacting… just… a little… " he trailed off at the glare she shot him. It was comical that she could be that scary while still only in formal trousers and black silk and lace lingerie. She continued to glare at him as she yanked a deep red blouse over her head, and then sat on the edge of the bed to slip her feet into a pair of deadly looking stilletos.
"Don't you dare Walter… don't you dare!"
Sensing he was quickly losing a battle he didn't even realise he was in, the genius raised his hands in surrender and quickly decamped to the ground floor of the garage where two men stood, looking at the whiteboard in the middle of the room in curiosity.
The board usually contained equations and different theorems being solved by one of the team, but today the only thing on it was a form of Tic Tac Toe.
Toby and Sly were playing a game that combined mathematical combinations with Toby's excuse for a linguistics experiment.
Sly was playing with zeros and was allowed to use symbols, short problems or any kind of formula that ended with the answer being zero. Toby was playing with the Xs and therefore used anything that represented the letter.
He took this quite literally and one of the examples was a number ten with a wreath of poorly drawn laurel leaves to act as the Roman numeral X.
The game had been paused while Sly and Toby argued the usage of cartoonish symbolism, and the argument had moved to Kovelsky's where Walter had sent them to pick up coffee and doughnuts. He and Ralph had an evening of stargazing planned, and he wanted to be well prepared.
Cabe and Happy were out on a quick case, and Walter had assumed it would have been an ideal time for some highly unprofessional fooling around with his new wife.
Barely a couple of months after the wedding, and he still hadn't been able to fully reconcile how absolutely 'right' the entire 'being married' situation felt.
Approaching the whiteboard from the bottom of the stairs, Walter felt a moment's hesitation at their Navy Seal uniforms. From the height, weight and general dimensions, he knew neither one of them was their former 'intern' Tim Armstrong, but he couldn't help that tiny frisson that climbed up his spine.
His logical mind told him that neither of these men were the same man he had almost lost his wife to, through his own stupidity no less, but his developing EQ allowed him to acknowledge that fear as subconscious, and to move on.
As the first man turned around, Walter was surprised that he recognised him. "Jim?"
Lieutenant James Corbin smiled widely at the 'professor' from that long ago mission to Bosnia.
"Good to see you again O'Brien. I heard 'Congratulations' are in order… unless of course you're the reason she's pissed off," he added, glancing upwards at a muffled swear unmistakably in Paige's voice.
Walter rolled his eyes, before dropping his voice to speak in an almost whisper. "Remember our son we mentioned on that mission?"
He didn't notice Corbin's amused expression at his unhesitant claim of Ralph as his own. "The principal at his high school is being a little… heavy handed… with his opinions on Ralph's education. Paige disagrees with his approach, and his methods…" he winced at a door slamming upstairs, "She really REALLY disagrees."
Jim looked up at the blonde descending the stairs like a vengeful Greek goddess. She looked spectacular, even as visibly angry as she clearly was. Her expression cleared comically quickly as she caught sight of him, and his companion. "Lieutenant Corbin! Its been years! How are you?"
He was surprised at her enthusiastic hug, and barely gathered his wits to respond in kind, catching sight of Walter's goofy expression as he watched his wife. He pulled back and introduced his companion.
"Miss Dineen.. I mean Mrs. O'Brien," he over exaggerated his correction, satisfied that it seemed to make Paige laugh.
"Allow me to introduce Lieutenant Garrick Newman. He just transferred to our unit."
He gave them all a moment to shake hands and get acquainted.
"Gary, this is Walter O'Brien, and his wife Paige. Their team was responsible for figuring out that Barrios was captured, and not lost with the software on that Bosnia mission. If it wasn't for O'Brien noticing the fake software was planted, I don't think we'd have got Javier back."
The other man nodded and then finally spoke, "I just wanted to meet you guys, and say thank you myself. Its been a while since I've been stateside at the same time as Corbin, so I apologise I haven't been by earlier."
Paige smiled and replied, "But you don't owe us a thank you, Lieutenant, we were just doing what was right."
Newman cut his eyes at Corbin and at his encouraging expression, continued, "That may be true, Mrs. O'Brien,"
"Paige, please," she interrupted.
"Paige, then," he acquiesced, "but Barrios isn't just a team-mate or fellow member of the military. He's also my brother-in-law. He's married to my big sister. So you see… its a lot more personal for me."
Paige had teared up, and reached over to hug the man, while Walter just stood by, trying to process what he had just learned. He was used to doing what he thought was right, for the greater good. To make sure that the actions he took were beneficial to the world in some way. It was rare for him to see the results at such a personal level.
Knowing it was taking him a while to process it, Paige said nothing to interrupt his train of thought, but just gently slipped her hand into his, grounding him.
He nodded at the man in front of him, and shook his hand.
Newman didn't seem to find his behaviour odd, or off-putting in any way. He had wanted to express his thanks to the team that had saved his sister and their family a lot of heart-ache, and he had done exactly what he wanted to do.
Corbin looked around at the empty garage and spoke up, "Where is everyone else actually, I was hoping to introduce Gary to the rest of the team."
Walter spoke up, "Cabe and Happy are just finishing up on a job, but they should be back in about half an hour or so… In fact, Toby and Sly should have already been back by now. If you both don't have anywhere to be immediately, you could stay a while, we're getting in some coffee and doughnuts," he glanced at Paige as he made the offer, hoping it hadn't come off as awkward.
He had been making a lot of improvements recently, but sometimes his enthusiasm at issuing an invitation had the tendency to sound far too commanding. At Paige's encouraging smile, he relaxed, knowing he'd got it right. Nuances were still tough for him.
As if they had been summoned, the door opened, and Cabe and Happy walked in, followed by a still bickering Toby and Sylvester.
Once again, there was an air of chaos as greetings were exchanged, and introductions were made.
The jovial air came to an abrupt halt as Happy took in Paige's formal outfit and asked, "What are you all dressed up for Dineen?"
Paige's answering scowl was magnificent as she was reminded what had put her in such a foul mood before the Navy Seals had shown up. She didn't notice Walter's resigned expression as her fury was re-ignited.
"Oh not much Happy. Principal Nunez called me to personally inform me that he's put my son in detention. Again. For missing gym. Again. After me explaining to him multiple times that Ralph has been excused from attending gym this semester, because it clashes with his classes at Cal-Tech, and he doesn't need gym anyway, and he's received permission to miss it, but the man refuses to listen to reason, and he thinks I'm lying about Cal-Tech classes, because Ralph is just 14, so he can't possibly be attending college classes, forget having an IQ beyond what that nasty little man can comprehend… "
The level of acid that dripped off of Paige's tone was enough to eat through the surface of the earth. The others made sure she couldn't see their amused expressions as she continued to rant about the stupidity of a man who thought Ralph was forging permission slips so he didn't have to go to gym.
If there was one thing they didn't mess with, it was Paige in Mama Bear mode.
Absail off a cliff? Fine.
Freefall from a skyscraper so the wind would blow you back into it. Also fine.
Pissing Paige Dineen O'Brien off when it came to the 2 men in her life? Hell no.
None of them were ready to die. And Sylvester had already run those odds.
Cabe had finally had enough of the rant she was on. This wasn't the first time the principal was giving his surrogate grandson a hard time because of his own superiority complex.
"Ok, that's enough."
Paige looked surprised and offended at being interrupted by the Homeland Agent's gravelly tone. "He's gone far enough with this nonsense. Paige, let's go talk to him. I'm assuming that's where you were going all dressed to kill?"
He indicated her outfit. She nodded as an almost evil smile crept over her face.
Toby studied her expression in curiosity. There was something… different… but he couldn't put his finger on it right then.
"I'm coming too," Walter spoke up.
"Road trip, Sly, let's go," called out Happy, as she and Toby made their way out to her truck.
Cabe rolled his eyes at the mass exodus from the garage. He smiled apologetically at the Seals, "This cyclone protects the Scorpling above all else," he said, by way of explanation.
Grinning mischievously, Corbin asked, "Mind if we ride along Agent Gallo? Maybe a show of force might be necessary. To protect government assets, of course."
Smirking, Cabe could see exactly how the intimidation tactic could work on a Napoleonic high school principal.
"Lieutenant, you might just have a point. Let's go."
About 20 minutes later, the foot traffic in the main hallway of Ralph's high school came to a grinding halt at the motley crew striding down it, on the way to the principal's office. Owen Cooper was just leaving Biology when he spotted them, and he quickly leaned back into the classroom. "Ralph, quick, you have to see this."
He could barely restrain his laughter as his best friend scrambled to get to the doorway.
They both dissolved into laughter as they watched the procession. Cabe, Paige and Walter led the pack, 2 Navy Seals they didn't know following them, Happy, Toby and Sly bringing up the rear. Toby winked at the 2 teens as they passed. The rest of them hadn't seen them. Paige was laser focused on the Principal's doorway, and she wasn't going to be deterred.
As the poor secretary tried to stop them from entering without an appointment, she gave up at a cold stare from the uniformed Seals. She wasn't paid enough to deal with this.
Cabe walked right into the office, Walter holding the door open for Paige to follow him through, before walking in himself. The man behind the desk spluttered at the intrusion while he was on the phone, and looked up to see what had caused the interruption. It took a moment for the scene in front of him to fully register.
A pretty blonde woman in a red blouse, and a black pantsuit sat across from him. If looks could kill, they'd be prepping him for burial right now. A stone-faced man sat to her left. His dark curls matched his dark eyes, but as grim as he looked, there was a spark of amusement in his visage. A visibly annoyed older man in a suit sat to the woman's right. 2 Navy Seals had followed them into the room, both taking up positions directly behind the woman where she sat on the office furniture like it was a throne. Neither one removed their dark glasses, and it gave him a shiver of unease.
Another 3 individuals had followed them in, and he was only now taking notice of them. A man wearing a fedora and an irreverent expression, was leaning against the file cabinet in the corner. A tiny Asian woman stood alongside him, a tiny smirk playing around her lips. A large man in a sweater vest had promptly taken a seat in the row next to the doorway, just on the inside of his office.
As Principal Nunez watched this strange tableau, the older man removed his mirrored sunglasses, and leaned forward, as if ready to do battle. "Principal Nunez. My name is Agent Cabe Gallo. I'm with Homeland Security. This is Mr. And Mrs. O'Brien. They're high value government assets. For some reason, you see fit to constantly harass their son, Ralph Dineen. Another high value government asset. Now I wouldn't normally interfere with parents taking issue with incompetent school administrators."
He talked right over Principals Nunez's insulted squawk, continuing on, as if there had been no interruption. "But your constant interference with my team is causing a lot of trouble, so if you would like me to get Deputy Director of Homeland Katherine Cooper on the phone, I can do that. But let me tell you, she is not going to be pleased to hear about this."
Principal Nunez puffed himself up, preparing to speak. "I don't know who you are, or why you think you can interfere with how I run this school, but the boy you mentioned needs discipline. He comes up with outlandish claims and stories about taking college classes. He's got forged letters giving him permission to skip classes. This is unacceptable behaviour if he plans to succeed at anything in life."
He was either unaware of, or ignoring Paige's growing rage, even though it was fully visible to everyone else in the room. Trying to be the voice of reason wasn't something Walter was used to, but he thought he'd be able to prevent some unnecessary bloodshed.
"Your entire statement is illogical." His blunt words and deadpan expression knocked Nunez off kilter.
"You claim he has no discipline, you claim his reports and records are forged, but you have no proof to present. You're willing to disagree with a senior agent of Homeland Security to prove what exactly?"
Paige watched the man bluster and realised she had reached the end of her patience.
"Let me make something very, very clear to you Principal Munez."
"Nunez," he corrected.
"Inconsequential," she waved her hand at him in dismissal.
"You are a sad, sorry little man, who has no power except for the kind he can wield over teenagers. And even then, there's a limit to what you can and cannot do. Let me assure you, my son is more than qualified to have graduated 2 years ago. He is still in high school to make sure he has enough comfort with social integration. Something he does to please me actually. But when he isn't coasting through classes he could pass in his sleep, he tutors other students in concepts they haven't fully understood. He also attends classes at Cal-Tech on a number of subjects I'm not sure you will be able to grasp. I've had all this explained to you multiple times. Especially as to why he has permission to skip gym this semester. But you insist on putting him in detention. And that is unacceptable."
Cabe barely managed to swallow his smirk at the man visibly shrinking when faced with the angry mother. "Ralph Dineen is a government asset. You will treat him accordingly. He does not have to answer to you. He does so because he accords you the respect that typically goes with your position. Not that you've earned it."
Unwilling to go down without a fight, Principal Nunez gathered what was left of his dignity and spoke again, "How can he be a government asset when he's barely 14 years old. What could he possibly be working on that would be of any help?"
The dark haired man cut off the woman as she opened her mouth to retort, "He's made more progress with compression software for data storage than there has been since digital files were invented. I'd explain the details, but that's classified."
Agent Gallo stood, buttoning his jacket, and said, "Most of what the kid does is classified, but rest assured, I'll have Director Cooper's office get in touch."
"There was no need to bring Navy Seals in to try and intimidate me Agent Gallo." Principal's Nunez's bluster seemed to be fading a little as he spoke.
For the first time since they had arrived, Lieutenant Corbin spoke up, "Actually we're Mr. And Mrs. O'Brien's military escort. We're here just to make sure they have the… resources… they need when confronted with a hostile situation."
The odious little man paled at the suggestion that they were there as basically muscle, and sat back down in his chair as the others stood to leave his office. The only one who didn't leave immediately was the still fuming mother.
"I've never been one to abuse my power Principal Nunez. But you seem to have an issue with anyone that YOU don't deem worthy of being treated with the respect they deserve. My son might be 14 years old, but he's done more to save lives and protect this country than you'll ever know. If you try to target him again, believe you me, I will not be so polite."
Her voice had lowered into a sibilant hiss, filled with venom.
Toby was still watching her, and as she said the words, 'my son,' his eyes widened and he spun to look at Happy as they left the room quickly. Making sure he couldn't be overheard, he whispered in his wife's ear, "You remember on the way over here, I said I thought Mrs. O'Brien's maternal instincts were off the charts today? I think I've figured out why."
Happy raised an eyebrow at him.
"Watch her body language. Her maternal markers are practically screaming."
Intrigued, Happy observed the liaison, as they met Owen and Ralph in front of the school. She brushed Ralph's hair back, her other hand brushing against her stomach as she did. As she spoke to Owen, and asked after his parents, she did it again, but seemed completely unaware.
"What made you realise that Doc?"
He grinned, "A complete coincidence actually. She's wearing the same thing she wore when we worked that UN gig. So my memory of her with the fake pregnant stomach just popped out when she placed such an emphasis on calling Ralph her child. I don't think she even knows yet. Walter definitely doesn't."
"Well don't ruin it for them, then," Happy warned her husband as they all piled into the cars to head back to the garage. Owen and Ralph climbed into the back of her truck, chattering away at the rumours going through the school after seeing Ralph's protection detail in full force.
Toby just smiled to himself.
The Cyclone was growing. And he couldn't wait for the phone call that he and Happy could go pick up their own children from foster care.
As always - please let me know what you think? This was just a little plot bunny that I couldn't get rid of.