After The Storm
Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace.
Jethro hung up the phone then looked across the office. Ziva and Romero were standing around McGee’s desk, shoulder to shoulder in a huddle that spelt mischief. He stood up and stalked silently up behind them, peering over Ziva’s shoulder in time to see McGee shove two twenty dollar bills into his shirt pocket, a look of triumph on his face.
“What’s going on?” he asked quietly. Romero jumped guiltily and Jethro meted out a double-handed smack to the back of his and Ziva’s heads. “Care to explain, McGee?”
McGee blushed crimson. “It was Ziva’s idea,” he said quickly.
“It was a bet,” she replied, backing away from the desk while eyeing his hands warily. “McGee believed you would not be able to last more than an hour without calling Tony to check on him. I told him that was ridiculous. You are far too focused when you are at work to allow yourself to be distracted.”
“How about you, Romero?” Jethro looked at his newest team member. “You played too?”
“Well, yeah, I never pass up a bet,” Romero replied, grinning disarmingly. “Besides if my wife was at home with a sick baby I know I’d want to call her.”
“DiNozzo’s not my wife,” Jethro snapped, walking back to his desk where he opened his top drawer and pulled out his wallet.
“No, no, of course not. I just meant…” Romero stammered, blushing hotly.
“I know what you meant,” Jethro said, dropping a twenty dollar bill on McGee’s desk then turning and walking away up the stairs to the Director’s office. “You win, McGee. I bet myself I’d make it to at least lunchtime.”
He walked through Cynthia’s office and gave her a nod. “He’s expecting me,” he said before she could get up.
She rolled her eyes. “Just go on in.”
He opened the door without knocking and walked across to stand in front of Vance’s desk, finally sighing heavily as the Director continued writing and didn’t look up immediately.
Vance placed the pen neatly at the side of the report folder then pushed back his chair and looked up at him. “Special Agent Gibbs.”
“You wanted to see me, Director.” Gibbs took the chair indicated then leaned forward, hands clasped.
“How’s DiNozzo?” Vance asked.
“He’s better,” Gibbs replied.
“And the child?”
“Okay. Not well but she’s holding her own. Can I ask why you want to know?”
“It’s come to my attention that DiNozzo wants to come back to work for us.”
“Who told you that?” Gibbs asked.
“Let’s just say it was a little bird and leave it at that,” Vance said easily.
“More like a duck,” Jethro muttered.
“Well, yes, Dr. Mallard did say he was happy to give DiNozzo his medical and psychological blessing to return to work on desk duty for now but I thought I should see how you felt about it. He’d still be pretty much on your team, albeit as an adjunct. So?” Vance stood and poured two cups of coffee from the carafe on the corner table, handing one to Jethro as he took his seat again.
Jethro made the shrug he gave look casual as if having Tony back on his team wasn’t one of the most important things in his life right now. “He needs a job and if we’re going to have an extra agent doing paperwork and following up leads while we’re out in the field, I’d rather it be DiNozzo than some wet behind the ears rookie.”
“You’re not thinking of trying to jockey Romero out to bring DiNozzo back in?” Vance asked shrewdly and Jethro tried to look as if the idea had never crossed his mind, shaking his head no as he sipped at the coffee.
“DiNozzo’s nowhere near field fitness yet and his mind’s too focused on his child. I don’t see that changing in the foreseeable future. If it does, I’ll talk it over with you first.” He put the half-empty cup on the table and stood to leave. “So, does he get the job?”
Vance pulled a sheaf of papers out of his inbox and handed them to him. “Get him to fill these out. He can pick up his badge on his first day. Oh, make sure he gets his weapons certification done before then too.”
Jethro nodded and turned towards the door.
“Jethro. This… relationship between you and DiNozzo… Is it going to cause any problems for the department?”
Jethro opened the door then turned back to look at Vance. “No. None,” he said firmly, meaning it if it meant Tony could come back to work. Besides, he told himself as he headed back downstairs, did they even have a relationship now? Two or three barely there kisses weren’t anyone’s idea of a relationship and that thought made him feel unaccountably cold inside. He glowered at Ziva when she smiled at him on his way past her desk. “Are any of us actually working on anything today?” he snapped out, throwing Tony’s paperwork onto his desk.
“Of course,” she replied. “As a matter of fact, McGee and I went to interview the airman who believed he was the last person to see Petty Officer Jason alive.”
“And?” Gibbs fixed her with an interrogative glare.
“His information was vague,” she replied. “In fact he was neutered.”
Jethro felt his jaw drop even as he looked to McGee for clarification.
“Neutral, Boss,” McGee translated with a grin. “Now he’s saying he’s not sure it was her. Could have been but he thinks the woman he saw had longer hair.”
“However,” Romero jumped in, bringing a picture up on the plasma, “we do have a photo taken at an ATM half a block from where Airman Josephs originally claimed he’d last seen the Petty Officer.”
Jethro peered at the grainy picture, sighed and reached into his drawer for his glasses, slipping them on as unobtrusively as possible. “Looks like her,” he said.
“I believe she has simply gone AWOL,” Ziva said crisply. “People do not tend to withdraw the contents of their bank accounts before being murdered or kidnapped.”
Jethro took his glasses off, rubbed at his eyes, put the glasses back on and took a closer look. “They do if someone’s holding a gun on them,” he said. He tapped the screen. “There. You can just see the edge of the barrel pressing into the side of her neck.”
“She does look a little nervous,” McGee observed.
“And this is all we’ve got?” Jethro asked, throwing the glasses back into the drawer.
“So far,” Romero said. “Apart from this, Petty Officer Jason seems to have vanished off the face of the earth.”
“Find me more,” Jethro ordered, standing up and walking around his desk. “I’ll be in the morgue.”
“Ah, Jethro, I was just about to call you,” Ducky said, looking up from the cadaver he was about to cut into. He patted the corpse gently on the shoulder. “Don’t go anywhere, will you? I’ll just be a moment.”
“What about?” Jethro asked, perching a hip on the corner of Ducky’s desk and folding his arms across his chest.
“Well, I wanted to tell you that I’d given Tony a clean bill of health to come back to work, albeit in a sedentary position for now,” Ducky replied.
“Why’d you tell Vance about it?” Jethro asked flatly.
“I felt he’d take my opinion under review when he made his decision,” Ducky said. “Would you have preferred it if he’d said no outright?”
“Did you also tell him about Tony and me?” Jethro asked bluntly.
“No! Of course not! Jethro, for goodness sake, I’ve kept your secret for many months. Why on earth would I go and blab about it to Vance. I’ve never much liked the man. He reminds me of a professor I had at University, well, apart from the fact that Director Vance is African American and my Professor was a Scot but nevertheless-“
“Ducky, shut up, will you?” Jethro shouted, more harshly than he’d planned.
“Sorry,” Ducky said contritely and Jethro shook his head.
“No, I’m sorry. Look, it’s just Vance knows and I want to know how he knows.”
“Is it going to cause him to stop Tony from coming back?” Ducky asked.
“No, he’s already given him the go ahead. I didn’t really think it was you, Duck. I just-“
“Forget about it, dear boy. No offence taken. If I hear anything around the water cooler though, I’ll let you know. How’s the child?”
Jethro shrugged. “Better than yesterday. I don’t know. Tony says it’s always like that. You take the good days when you can. Your pediatrician friend’s been great, calling out to the house to see her.”
“I’m glad he’s been helpful.”
“Okay, I’ll let you get back to your friend there.” Jethro stopped just inside the door. “Sorry for going off at you like that, Ducky.”
“Already forgotten.” Ducky walked back to the table and patted the corpse’s bloodied head. “So sorry about all the shouting. With a bang like that on your head, I imagine you have quite a headache. Now, where were we?” he asked, picking up a scalpel. “Oh right, my friend, Chillers…”
Jethro slumped back against the wall of the elevator when it came. He was exhausted already, his eyes burned, and he had that weird déjŕ vu feeling of standing outside himself looking on that he always got when he was this tired. Truth be told, he didn’t think Emmy was as well as Tony thought she was. She’d cried on and off most of the night and Jethro had finally insisted he and Tony take turns getting up to her rather than have Tony running himself into the ground again. He didn’t remember it being this hard with Kelly but then Kelly wasn’t born with a disease that was draining her life from the moment she was born. He shoved down the pain those thoughts brought as the elevator bumped to a halt, and straightened his shoulders as he walked out. “Anything more?” he barked as he settled at his desk.
Ziva shrugged and shook her head.
“It’s a dead end, Boss,” Romero ventured.
Jethro scrubbed a hand over his weary eyes. “Okay, let’s start at the beginning again. McGee?”
“Hey, you’re early,” Tony said, looking up from where he was seated on the living room floor next to Emmy.
Jethro grimaced. “Case is going nowhere. Starting to think the good Petty Officer’s done a Stonehouse even if we did get a photo of her at an ATM with what looked like a gun in her neck.”
“Disappeared herself?” Tony frowned. “What’s her background?”
“Later, hey? I just want to switch off for a while. Hiya, kiddo!” Jethro sat down on the floor on the other side of Emmy and reached out to tickle her tummy.
Emmy grinned up at him and reached down to wrap tiny fingers around his big ones.
“She seems better,” Jethro said.
“Yeah, she’s bouncing back,” Tony replied. “ Oh hey, watch this. She rolled over today.” He patted the floor beside him. “Come on, sweetie. Roll over.”
“She’s not a puppy, Tony,” Jethro said with a smile.
“She did it three times just before you got home.” Tony held a small teddy just of the baby’s reach then moved it away as she held her hands out for it, setting it on the floor next to him.
“Guess she doesn’t feel like performing,” Jethro said then laughed as Emmy abruptly rolled onto her tummy. She looked endearingly surprised and then chuckled as she managed to pick up the bear.
“Told ya,” Tony said smugly.
“Oh, before I forget, I have some paperwork for you.” Jethro levered himself off the floor and went across to where he’d dropped his briefcase just inside the door. He pulled out the papers then walked back and dropped them in Tony’s lap. “How about you get the kid settled while I make dinner then you can get started on that?” he suggested.
“Vance is letting me go back?”
“As a supernumerary only on desk work at this stage,” Jethro replied as he headed into the kitchen. “You gonna be okay with that.”
“Yeah. Hear that, baby,” he heard Tony croon. “Daddy’s got a job.”
“You need to get your weapons certification up to par before you go back,” Jethro warned him.
“No problem. I’m probably a little rusty but I’ll make it through,” Tony said, coming out to rummage through the fridge for Emmy’s food and meds.
“How about we get Abby to babysit Emmy tomorrow afternoon and I’ll take you out to the range for some practice?” Jethro suggested.
Tony settled Emmy in the high chair while he heated up her food. “It’s a date.”
Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.
“You okay with all of this?” Jethro asked quietly as he and Tony watched as Linda Acres fussed over Emmy.
The child care center at the Navy Yard hadn’t been happy with the idea of taking Emmy on, citing the need she’d have for one on one care and the fact that they were already at capacity in the baby room with the maximum allowable number of fifteen infants and only five staff. Tony had despaired of finding someone else, citing the problems he’d had keeping babysitters while he’d been in California. Then Abby had mentioned a friend of her mother’s, an ex-nurse who’d worked in a pediatric AIDS wing for several years before leaving in order to work from home so she could spend more time with her teenage children. Her resume was impressive and Tony had liked the sweetly smiling, plump, fortyish woman on sight when she’d swooped Emmy from his arms and kissed the baby’s soft, downy hair. Emmy had responded positively to her when they’d left her with Linda a couple of times while Tony had undertaken his weapons certification and so Tony had agreed they’d drop Emmy off at Linda’s house in the suburbs on their way into work. Emmy still wasn’t completely up to par but he told Jethro he felt confident that Linda would take good care of her. Now he turned to Jethro and nodded as he waved a seemingly casual goodbye to his daughter and walked through Linda’s front door. “Yeah, Linda’s nice, Emmy’s happy. I’m good.”
Jethro patted him on the shoulder as they walked to the car and decided not to mention the way Tony turned in his seat and watched over his shoulder as they drove away from Linda’s house.
Jethro looked Tony over and gave him a nod of approval as they stepped into the elevator together. He reached and pressed the button for the office floor then turned to look at Tony again. “Nervous?” he asked.
Tony shook his head. “Nothing to be nervous about,” he said. “I’m not going to be the one heading out into the field and risking getting my head shot off.”
“Well, I’m guessing that’s one part of the job you won’t miss,” Jethro observed as the car stopped and the doors slid open.
Tony shrugged as he preceded Jethro through the doors. “It had its moments. I’m kinda missing the adrenaline rush.”
“We’ll get you back to it,” Jethro said easily as he made his way to his own desk and pointed Tony to his new one.
Ziva looked up as he passed and gave him a small smile. “It’s good to have you back, Tony.”
“Thanks. That’s it? No insults about what I’m wearing, about whatever you think I got up to last night?”
“You look quite respectable and considering you have a small child to look after, your activities last night were no doubt respectable as well.” She blushed at that and turned to Gibbs. “We may have a lead on Petty Officer Jason’s most recent whereabouts,” she said quickly.
“Hey, Tony,” McGee called from his own desk. “I’ve got you set up with the top of the line computer system. You need any help just give me a yell, okay?”
“Thanks, McGee.” Tony sat at the desk and turned on the computer, running his hands over the slim plasma screen. “Wow, nice,” he said.
“I see you playing games on there, DiNozzo, and you’ll be back to typing up reports on a typewriter,” Jethro said gruffly. “You’re here to work, remember.”
“Sure, Boss.” Tony flashed a grin across at McGee as he noticed the icon for Hollywood Trivia in the tray at the bottom of his screen. “Thanks, McGee. Nice PC.”
“We haven’t met.”
Tony looked up. “No, guess not. You must be Romero. Heard a lot of good things about you.”
“Yeah?” Romero grinned, his eyes crinkling attractively. “Find that hard to believe.”
Tony stood up and shook his hand, noticing that while he had a couple of inches height on Romero, the other man was strongly muscled and fit-looking. He had short black hair and startlingly blue eyes framed by long, dark eyelashes.
“Well, Abby likes you,” Tony said with a grin.
“Ah, that explains it then,” Romero replied. “Abby only says good things about everyone.”
“Stop fishing for compliments,” Jethro barked. He smiled to himself as Romero quickly walked back to his own desk and sat down. “Well, now we’re all friends, someone gonna fill me in on what this latest info is on our missing PO? David?”
“We got a call to the tips hotline to say she’d been seen yesterday near where she disappeared from,” Ziva said quickly.
“Only thing wrong with that intel,” Romero interjected, “is that the lady was known to be a teetotaller.”
Jethro shrugged. “Doesn’t mean much. You can buy ginger ale in a bar. She might have been there for some other reason.”
“The bar’s called The Sundowner. It’s on Western,” McGee put in. “They do have a security camera at the entrance so I thought maybe if we could get the tapes for the time she was supposedly seen…”
“Go,” Jethro ordered. “David and Romero. McGee, check into her bank account again. Go as far as you can. I want to know any time any sums of money larger than what she’d need to pay her bills has been withdrawn.”
“On it, Boss.” McGee turned back to his computer and Ziva and Romero headed for the elevator.
Tony visibly jumped and Jethro hid a grin. He guessed it had been a while since Tony had been on the receiving end of his bark.
“Yeah, Boss?” Tony said quickly.
“Don’t just sit there. Get onto that fancy computer McGee got you and do another background check on PO Jason. Look a little deeper this time. Family, friends, hell, go all the way back to who she played kiss chasey with in kindergarten if you have to.”
Tony swivelled his chair to face his computer and started typing.
A half-hour later Jethro plonked a cup of coffee down on Tony’s desk. “How’s it going?” he asked.
“I’m not sure. There’s something weird here but I’m not sure if it means anything or not.”
“Well?” Jethro perched on the edge of Tony’s desk, sipping at his own cup.
“She’s a twin.”
“And? Nothing weird about being a twin. My grandma Gibbs was a twin.”
“Yeah, well, the Jason twins weren’t raised together. PO Jason was raised by their natural parents, her twin sister was fostered out at the age of eight,” Tony replied, canting a look up at Jethro before turning back to the screen. “Their parents were both killed in a house fire a few weeks before PO Jason went missing so we have no way of finding out why they kept one twin and fostered the other out.”
“Um, I might have something that plays into that,” McGee said, hurrying across from his desk. “About two years ago, PO Jason started paying out $400 of her salary into another bank account. That bank account is also in the name of Jason but it’s not our Petty Officer. This account’s in the name of Jennifer Jason. The money was paid in every two weeks and withdrawn pretty much as soon as it went in. Then, four weeks ago, the direct debits from Amanda Jason’s account stopped.”
“She got tired of giving her sister an easy ride,” Tony said. “Could be a motive.”
“Yeah, could be. Track down the sister,” Gibbs said, giving Tony’s back a pat. “Good work, both of you.” He went back to his desk and picked up his phone just as it started ringing. “Gibbs.” He listened for a moment then swung a glance over at McGee. “I’m on my way.” He slammed the phone down . “David’s been hit. Grab your gear, McGee.”
Tony was on his feet too, Gibbs noticed, even as he grabbed his weapon out of the desk drawer and holstered it. “Sorry, Tony, you’ll have to stay here,” he said as he took off for the elevator at a run, McGee hot on his heels.
Tony’s face was white as he slumped back into his chair. “How bad?” he called after them.
“I’ll let you know,” Gibbs said over his shoulder, hating leaving Tony like this, as if he really was just a peripheral member of the team but knowing he had no choice.
Tony looked away, down at the keyboard and nodded.
The Sundowner Bar was a scene of controlled chaos, people milling about the room looking shell-shocked, some still holding drinks in their hands, others off in corners holding each other up.
Gibbs walked directly over to Romero who was leaning against the bar. “What the hell happened? Where’s Ziva?”
“They already took her to the hospital. They said she’ll be okay. Bullet went right through her arm.”
“What happened?” Jethro asked again, more forcefully this time.
“Honestly, I’m not sure.” Romero shook his head. He was pale and sweating heavily. “We got here, asked to see the tapes and then Ziva looked toward the door and saw PO Jason just walking in. She went to talk to her and then there were a couple of gunshots and Ziva went down.” He shook his head again. “I didn’t even get time to pull my gun. By the time I got over there the woman was gone. I would have gone after her but Ziva was bleeding pretty heavily and I thought I should stay with her.”
“You did the right thing,” Jethro said. “You’re sure it was Jason?”
Romero shrugged. “Ziva was. I didn’t really get a good look at her before all hell broke loose.”
“Okay. Make sure this area’s completely blocked off. I don’t want her making it out of here.” Gibbs turned to McGee who already had his camera out. “I want photos of every inch of this place, McGee. I’m going to get those surveillance tapes.”
He turned back to where the barman stood, pale and shaking, a glass still dangling from his fingers. “The tapes from the security camera. I need them now!”
“Um, I’ll have to call the manager,” the barman stammered. He jumped as the glass slipped from his hand and smashed on the floor.
“Fine. McGee! Grab a chair and get that tape out of there,” he shouted, pointing up at the camera.
“You got it, Boss.” McGee put his camera back in his bag, dragged over a chair and climbed up to the camera, prising the tape out and handing it down to Gibbs. “Okay, get it back to Abby. Romero,” he called, seeing his newest agent re-entering the bar, “take over for McGee.”
“Sure thing, Boss.” Romero took Tim’s camera and started shooting.
“Any sign of her?” Gibbs asked, frustration making his voice curt.
“Not yet. A guy down the street said he saw a woman run past but he didn’t see if she had a gun, said the woman just looked scared. He thinks someone in a green sedan picked her up on the corner. Didn’t make the plate or the make.”
“Damn!” Gibbs shook his head. “We’re missing something here.” His phone rang and he dragged it out then connected the call. “DiNozzo? You got something?”
“How’s Ziva?” Tony asked quickly.
Gibbs sighed. “I told you I’d call you. She’ll be okay, it’s a through and through.”
“Good.” Gibbs heard the palpable relief in Tony’s voice. “Listen, Boss, I think I found something else.”
“Well, spit it out,” Gibbs barked. Tony’d never been hesitant about crowing about something that he thought might break a case before. He sighed. He had to keep reminding himself this wasn’t the same Tony he’d known before.
“PO Jason had an insurance policy, a big one.”
“That’s not that unusual. Could provide motive for someone though.”
“That’s not the weird thing though.”
“Yeah,” Gibbs tried to be patient. Getting information out of this Tony was like pulling teeth.
“She took out the policy herself for a moderate amount. Beneficiaries were her parents. Two weeks later she came back, upped the payout amount and changed the beneficiary to her sister,” Tony said.
“And…” Gibbs waited, tapping his fingers against his thigh.
“She signed the new policy the day after she was photographed at that ATM with a gun in her neck.”
“And several weeks after her parents died in that fire,” Gibbs added, making the connection at last. “Dig up everything on the sister. McGee’s bringing the tape from the security camera back to Abby. Get him to hack into the child services records if you have to. I want to know why she was given up.”
“You called Linda yet?” Gibbs asked more softly.
“Nah. She would have called me if there was a problem,” Tony replied, a little too quickly Gibbs thought.
“Okay. I’m going to the hospital before I head back there. Bye.” Gibbs shut the phone and walked over to Romero. “Find me something we can use,” he said. “I don’t care if you have to keep these people here all day. Someone’s got to know something about this. Anyone you think isn’t telling you everything they know, send them into headquarters. DiNozzo and I’ll interview them there.”
“I could head back and cover the interviews with you,” Romero suggested, apparently oblivious to the glare Jethro was sending him.
“You’ve got a job to do here. DiNozzo can handle the interviews with me.”
“Sure. No problem, Boss.”
Jethro walked quickly to his car, climbed behind the wheel then pulled out his phone again. “Hi, Linda,” he said, “Jethro Gibbs. Just wondering how Emmy’s doing? She giving you any problems?” He listened for a few moments then said quickly, “No, Tony’s fine. We’re just a little busy right now so I thought I’d check in for him.” He smiled when Linda held the phone to Emmy’s ear and he heard her laugh at the sound of his voice. “Okay, thanks. I’ll let Tony know she’s fine. Bye, Linda.” Grinning to himself at letting his soft belly show he clicked the phone shut and pulled out into the traffic.
Three hours later, they finally had the lead they needed. Jethro had watched with wry amusement as Tony slouched on the corner of the interview table and convinced one of the witnesses, who turned out to be Jennifer’s current boyfriend, to give up all he knew about the Jason twins and Jennifer Jason’s probable whereabouts.
He gave Tony a congratulatory smile as they walked back to the office. “Good job,” he said.
“I just let him identify with me,” Tony said with a grin. “I remember doing sleaze with the best of them.”
“You were never a sleaze, Tony,” Jethro said quietly. He looked over to where Romero was sitting. “Romero, we’ve got a lead. Where’s McGee?”
“Down in the lab, helping Abby with those tapes. He said something about 3 D identification processing.” Romero gave a disarming grin. “Want me to call him?”
“Nope, no time. I want to get out to pick up Jennifer Jason before it’s too late for her sister, if it’s not already.” Jethro glanced around at Tony. “Get your weapon, DiNozzo, you and Romero are with me.”
Romero flashed a quick look at Tony then shrugged and led the way to the elevator.
It had gone down easier than he’d expected, Gibbs thought later as he and Tony headed to Linda’s to pick up Emmy. PO Jason was suffering shock and a few cuts and bruises from her twin’s rough treatment but she was alive and going to be fine though Jethro had no doubt there was a lot of counselling in her future. It wasn’t every day you found out, after all, that your sister was a sociopath who’d murdered your parents because she resented being fostered out.
Jethro glanced across at Tony, who looked deep in thought. “Penny for ‘em,” he said.
Tony shrugged then turned in his seat. “Just thinking about Jennifer Jason. Must have been pretty rough on an eight year old, being sent away from home with virtually no explanation for why.”
“Her parents were scared of her,” Gibbs replied. “She killed their pets, set fire to things, even tried to kill her sister a couple of times. They tried everything they could to help her and then, I guess, it all just got too hard for them to cope with.”
“If I hadn’t taken Emmy, she would have ended up in a foster home too. Maybe those people would have decided her problems were just too hard to deal with too. She could have ended up being passed from home to home…”
“But she didn’t. She got you and now she has a home.”
Tony reached for Jethro’s hand on the steering wheel and gave it a quick squeeze. “I love you,” he said quietly.
“Backatchya,” Jethro said with a grin.
They’d fallen into a pretty normal routine after that. They’d eat breakfast then drop Emmy off and if Jethro had to stay behind working on a case, Tony would take the car and go pick Emmy up then come back for him. Things in the office were relatively slow though, for a change, and Jethro was perversely happy about that. It gave him time to see how well Tony was adjusting. He looked fitter, thanks to daily runs and gym workouts two or three times a week, he ate well and seemed to have more energy. In fact, he was looking so much better than Jethro was beginning to have serious doubts about continuing to let Tony and Emmy stay with him. He’d woken more than once in the past weeks with Tony plastered against him, in the usual position he’d slept in before he’d left to be with Jeanne – one arm around Jethro’s waist, his head on his shoulder, and the familiarity of the affection in the position without the accompanying afterglow of lovemaking had almost brought Jethro undone. He’d had to stumble out of bed and into the shower to take the edge off his hard on with a quick hand job more mornings than he wanted to think about.
Emmy seemed stable enough at the moment though they’d had a few bad nights when she’d been cutting her first tooth recently. Jethro was beginning to hope that Tony’s prognosis for her may have been unnecessarily gloomy. She was, in general, a happy baby and she seemed to have grown to love Jethro as much as he had come to care for her.
“How’d you like to be back in the field?” he asked now as they drove into the parking garage at the Navy yard.
“Already?” Tony asked, sounding surprised.
“Sure. You’re fit again and I’m shorthanded with Ziva on sick leave for another couple of weeks.”
Tony rubbed a finger along his eyebrow. “I want to,” he said after a minute. “I hate being behind that desk all the time but-“
“I’m worried about getting pulled into cases and not being able to spend enough time with Em,” Tony said worriedly.
“We’ll work around it. No undercover jobs or anything like that,” Jethro assured him. He stopped the car in his usual spot then turned to face Tony. “I was thinking maybe you might want to get your own place now you’re drawing a salary.”
“Um, sure, if that’s what you want,” Tony said so softly Jethro almost missed the words.
Jethro switched off the ignition and climbed out of the car. “Yeah. I think it’d be for the best.”
“Okay.” Tony stood beside the car and looked across at him. “I’ll see what I can find.”
He who learns must
suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon
the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the
awful grace of God.
Three months later:
“Hey, it’s me,” Jethro called as he walked into Tony’s apartment, placing the grocery bag he was carrying carefully on the floor by the door. Emmy was on the floor on a blanket and he swooped her up, blew a raspberry on her belly then held her easily astride his hip. “Where’s your dad, kiddo?” he asked rhetorically.
“Right here.” Tony peeked around the kitchen door, grinning. “Cooking, like I promised you.”
“Hey.” Jethro crossed the room and pecked a quick kiss on Tony’s lips. “Smells good,” he said, sniffing appreciatively.
“See, told you he’d like it,” Tony said, bending down so he was eye level with Emmy who smiled broadly and batted at his face with one small hand.
“She looks great,” Jethro said.
“Yeah, she’s doing okay. Doc said that cold she had bumped her T cell count down a little but she seems to be mostly over it and as long as she stays out of contact with any more bad bugs, she’ll be back to normal in no time.”
Jethro walked back out to the living room and put Emmy in the wind up swing that stood opposite the kitchen door. He wound the swing up and gave it a gentle shove, smiling as Emmy clapped her hands delightedly as the music started to play. He looked around the apartment then over at Tony, who’d gone back to stirring something on the stove. This had been the right thing to do, he decided. Right for Tony and Emmy and right for him too. With Tony in his own apartment, working at NCIS, earning a decent living, and happy with the childcare they’d found for Emmy, there were no strings anymore. Which reminded him… He went over to the grocery bag he’d put on the floor and pulled out the bottle he’d hidden in there then carried it out to the kitchen, touching the back of Tony’s neck with the chilly glass.
“Hey!” Tony jumped and spun around then reached out and grabbed the bottle. “Dom Perignon?” He raised an eyebrow at Jethro who shrugged. “You planning on trying to seducing me?”
“Would it work?” Jethro asked.
“Here, taste this.” Tony grinned as Jethro sipped at the spoon he held to his lips. “Good, huh? I got the recipe from Mario at Bellarico.”
“It’s great. What is it?” Jethro laughed as Tony whapped the back of his head lightly.
“Your favourite Bellarico lasagne.” Tony frowned. “You’re yanking my chain, aren’t you?”
“Maybe a little. So will it?”
“What? Oh.” Tony’s frown disappeared to be replaced by a broad smile. “Pretty sure it’ll work. Um…” he paused then stumbled on, “if you’re sure you want to…”
Jethro pulled him in for a deep kiss then pushed him away. “I’m sure. Cook,” he ordered. “Linda picking Emmy up?”
“Yep, she should be here any minute.” Tony rolled his eyes. “She thought it was romantic I was cooking dinner for you. The woman’s a walking Harlequin novel, I swear.”
“And you lap it up, don’t you?” Jethro smiled at the repartee. He’d missed this casual, easy back and forth between them, and for a while after Tony had come back had wondered if they’d ever get it back. Tony had seemed so withdrawn for so long that Jethro had all but given up on the idea of them ever having any sort of relationship beside that of co-workers again.
“What are you thinking about?” Tony asked.
“You’re not mad I asked you to move out of my place, are you?” Jethro asked.
“No. It was the right thing to do for all of us. I do hope…” Tony turned back to the stove and busied himself with stirring the sauce.
“What? Spit out, DiNozzo,” Jethro ordered when Tony didn’t respond immediately.
“That maybe one day we might be able to live together again.”
“I want that too,” Jethro replied softly. “I just want it to be for the right reasons. You told me that, remember?”
“Yeah, I remember.” Tony turned his head, giving him a wry smile. “I sometimes wonder, when I’m here and you’re over there at your place, what the hell I was thinking.”
“You were thinking that we needed to get things back on an equal footing, that you weren’t just with me because you felt you had nowhere else to go, that we were together because it’s what was right for us, and for Emmy.”
“I know. It’s just…” Tony sighed then laughed as the doorbell rang. “Saved by the bell.” He turned and swooped Emmy from the swing then went to the front door and opened it, stepping back as he saw who was there. “Um, Director Vance. Sorry, I was expecting the sitter. Come on in, I guess.”
Jethro walked into the room and watched as Vance stepped inside. “I do have a cell phone,” he said as he watched Vance pat Emmy’s hair then gently shake her small hand in his and murmur hello to her.
“I wasn’t looking for you, Agent Gibbs,” he said mildly as he turned back to Tony. “Sorry to disturb you, Agent DiNozzo. I know I could have called you both down to my office but I wasn’t sure if there’d be someone to look after the child and, frankly, I’d rather do this here than there.” He looked over at Gibbs. “As a matter of fact, while I really only needed to speak to Agent DiNozzo, perhaps it’s just as well that you’re here.”
“What’s up?” Gibbs was aware he’d moved slightly in front of Tony and Emmy as if he was protecting them from Vance but he didn’t really care how it looked. This was off limits space, Tony’s space, even *his* space a little and he wasn’t going to give Vance even half a chance to sully that.
The doorbell rang again and Tony murmured an apology to Vance as he walked over to open the door. Emmy crowed with delight as Linda came in and held her arms out.
“Hi, Linda, thanks so much for this,” Tony said, handing Emmy over with a kiss to the top of her head.
“Everything okay, Tony?” Linda asked, looking over at Gibbs and Vance, who still stood as if facing each other down, a few feet away.
“Everything’s fine,” Gibbs said, breaking the standoff for now. He walked away, over to the door, feeling Vance’s eyes boring into his back as if recording every move he made. Deliberately, slowly, he leaned in and pressed his lips to Emmy’s cheek. “Be good for Linda, kiddo,” he said, looping an arm around Tony’s back. “You need a hand with her stuff?” he asked Tony who shook his head, picked up the bag, and followed Linda out of the apartment.
“What’s going on?” Jethro asked flatly, turning back to face Vance as soon as the door closed behind them.
“I’d rather wait till Agent DiNozzo gets back,” Vance said. “You gonna let me sit down?”
“Sure. I’d prefer it if you didn’t get too comfortable though,” Jethro said. “Tony and I have plans tonight.”
“I’ll try not to take up too much of your time,” Vance said, sitting down on the sofa, perching on the very edge of it as if ready to take off at the first sign of trouble.
They stayed like that, neither saying a word till Tony came back.
“So what’s wrong?” Tony asked. He moved over to stand next to Jethro, watching Vance warily as the Director stood up.
“You remember when I asked you if your relationship would cause problems for the agency?” Vance asked, looking at Jethro.
“Yeah, I remember. I told you no. It hasn’t,” Jethro replied, his words clipped.
“Actually it has.” Vance ran his hand over his short-cropped hair. “A complaint was made to SecNav that you’ve been favoring Agent DiNozzo, giving him choice of jobs and roles because of your relationship with him-“
“That’s bullshit!” Tony said at the same time that Jethro barked out, “Who made the complaint?”
Vance looked at Jethro first. “You know I can’t tell you that. What I can tell you is that it was the same person who gave me the heads up about your relationship, and I can tell you that wasn’t Dr. Mallard.” He turned to look at Tony. “You’ll both get a fair hearing on this, DiNozzo, but, in the meantime, while the complaint is being investigated, I’ve been ‘advised’,” his fingers made air quotes around the word, “to transfer you to another team-“
“No way!” Jethro stepped forward, into Vance’s personal space, his finger jabbing at the Director’s chest. “Tony’s been a member of my team for six years. We were together for a year before anybody even thought we might be and there were no hints of partiality made until now. I know who’s behind this.”
“Who?” Tony swung his head to look at Jethro, a look of absolute surprise on his face.
“You haven’t noticed Romero bitching every time I’ve given you a job he thinks should be his?” Jethro asked. He’d noticed it, even McGee had remarked on it. Surely Tony couldn’t have been that oblivious to Romero’s grumblings.
Tony shrugged. “He’s never said anything to me. Told me he was glad I was back to help take some of the load off him having to be the gung ho guy of the team all the time.”
“So you admit you have given Agent DiNozzo jobs that Agent Romero could have done as well?” Vance put in.
“Tony has seniority,” Jethro spat back. “He’s been on my team longer than Romero.”
“*Was* on your team longer. He then took a sizeable chunk of leave from that position and you brought in Romero as the man best able to fill his shoes,” Vance said.
“Romero was never anything but a placeholder till Tony came back,” Jethro retorted hotly. He glanced sideways at Tony. “I knew he would, just wasn’t sure when.”
Tony smiled at that, a sweet, grateful smile that made Gibbs glad he’d said it.
“Nevertheless, Romero may have some backing for what he’s saying.” Vance shook his head. “You should have had DiNozzo placed on another team as soon as he came back to work.”
“I didn’t want him on another team,” Jethro yelled. “I wanted him on mine. Not because of our relationship, as you so euphemistically put it, but because he’s the best at what he does. He solved the Jason case three months ago and he’s helped to solve just about every case we’ve worked on since. I’ve given him precedence over Romero only when I knew he was the right man for the job. Here’s an idea for ya! How about you transfer Romero to another team?”
Vance sighed then shook his head and stood up. “I’m actually trying to help you out here, Jethro,” he said quietly. “Regardless of what the Navy may publicly say about DADT, SecNav’s not known for being tolerant towards gay lifestyles. His wife died of AIDS received from a contaminated blood transfusion back in the seventies, remember? If it was up to him, he’d have shipped DiNozzo off as an agent afloat somewhere or transferred him interstate.” He smiled coldly. “Fortunately, it’s not up to him and I think he’ll be satisfied with DiNozzo working on another team. That way Romero keeps his spot, you’re back to a four person team, and DiNozzo gets to stay in the same building at least.” He held up a hand as Jethro opened his mouth. “Agent DiNozzo?” he said, turning to Tony.
“Fine.” Tony shrugged. “No point me pretending I don’t think it sucks like a Hoover, because it does but I’ll accept the transfer.” He looked at Jethro. “It’s not that big a deal.” He looked back at Vance. “My new team leader needs to be aware the same conditions apply. No undercover work, and when possible, I want to be home in the evenings and on weekends with my daughter.”
“I’m placing you on Jack Emerson’s team. He’s a family man himself.”
“Will he need to know about…” Tony waved a hand between himself and Jethro.
“No. SecNav prefers it’s kept under the rug and out of the office. Your team already knows, Agent Gibbs, but I think they’re well aware of the need for discretion here.”
Jethro snorted out a laugh. “They kept the secret for the past couple of years,” he said, “until I was stupid enough to bring Romero on board.” He looked at Tony. “You sure you’re okay with this?”
“I’m fine with it.” Tony gave him a broad smile then looked at Vance as he walked to the door. “Sorry to shove you out, sir, but unfortunately I didn’t cook enough for three.”
“No problem. I need to be heading home anyway.” Vance stood in the doorway and looked back at Jethro. “Good luck, to all of you.”
Tony pushed the door shut behind him then turned and gave Jethro a wry grin. “So that’s that,” he said. “Should have known it was too good to last.”
Jethro crossed the room in a couple of strides and pulled Tony into his arms, hugging him close. “If you’re really not okay with it, I’ll fight them on it. Hell, I’ll threaten to resign if I have to…”
Tony kissed him, a sweet tender caress. “No, you won’t,” he said. “I’m fine with it, really. We don’t need to work together to…” he bumped his groin gently against Jethro’s…”well, you know.”
Jethro groaned and buried his face against Tony’s neck. “How hungry are you?” he muttered. “Can dinner wait?”
“Give me a few minutes to put it all together and we’ve got all the time in the world,” Tony said, pulling free of Jethro’s arms.
“Need a hand?”
“Nope, got it all under control. You could just go wait for me, you know, in the bedroom.” Tony winked and Jethro swallowed hard.
“Right. I’ll just go wait for you then,” he said.
In the aftermath of their lovemaking, with Tony held securely in his arms, Jethro wondered if life could get any better than this. Their lovemaking had been gentle and slow, as if they had all the time in the world and all the past days and nights apart to make up for. He knew, as much as he’d told everyone that he always knew Tony would come back, that hadn’t really been the case. There’d been long, dark, lonely nights when he’d almost crawled into that bourbon bottle and not come out. It was only in the mornings, when the sun was shining, giving promise to a new day, that he dared to hope that Tony would.
“What ya thinking?” Tony mumbled sleepily, his cock limp and sated and still damp against Jethro’s thigh.
“Nothing much. Just how glad I am you’re back,” Jethro said, kissing the top of Tony’s spiky hair. “I like your hair short like this,” he added.
“It’s just easier. Don’t get much time in the mornings to primp like I used to,” Tony said around a yawn.
“Never thought that day would come,” Jethro replied.
“I told you I was different now,” Tony said. He rolled to his back and looked over at Jethro. “Does it bother you? That I’m not the suave, confident Tony DiNozzo you fell in love with?”
Jethro pulled him in for a long, passionate kiss. “You are still the man I fell in love with,” he said as he pulled away. “You’ve just got more facets to you now.”
“That’s a good thing, right?”
“Oh yeah, that’s a great thing.” Jethro moved over and blanketed Tony’s body with his own, rubbing his already half-hard erection against Tony’s, enjoying the way Tony groaned his name when he did. “You up for another round?” he asked, planting small kisses from Tony’s eyelids down to his jaw line.
Tony rocked up against him. “What do you think?” he whispered.
Two months later:
Jethro had to admit it hadn’t turned out as badly as he’d thought it would. While he missed having Tony working with him, and still burned with righteous indignation every time he so much as looked at Romero, having them on different teams hadn’t impacted their renewed relationship at all. If anything, it had brought a new spice and pleasure to it, as the times they were able to spend together seemed doubly precious. They wasted less time on things that didn’t matter, rarely talking shop, instead spending their time either taking care of Emmy together or having long nights together filled with good food, conversation and lovemaking. Jethro was careful not to spend every night with Tony, still wary of intruding on his lover’s space and hard-won independence. It was working and he felt the relationship they were building now was one that could withstand anything life might throw at them.
Tony’s new Boss was happy with him, telling Jethro when they met from time to time how impressed he was with his new team member’s capacity for hard work and sharp insight into the cases they worked together. Tony liked his new team, they seemed to like him, and he still got together with Ziva, McGee, Ducky, and Abby for a drink on Friday nights.
All in all, Jethro thought, life was about as good as it could get.
Emmy was the only shadow darkening their bright life together. Jethro had grown to love the little girl as much as he loved Tony. She was bright and cheerful even when she was sick, simply becoming more clingy when she’d had a spell in hospital. Of late, she’d become as happy to cling to him as to Tony, and Jethro lapped it up, relishing the feel of the little warm body against his chest, the tiny arms wrapped around his neck, the scent of her soft downy hair as she nuzzled into his neck. But she wasn’t doing well, her paediatrician had told Tony that the next few months would see her going downhill and he’d warned them that another infection could be disastrous. It was to be expected, Tony told Jethro later. He’d known it from the moment she was first diagnosed and he’d been determined from that day not to wrap her in cotton wool but to give her as full a life as any loved little girl deserved. So he took her to the park to play on the swings on his days off, invited friends with kids round for playdates and joined a playgroup for children with AIDS and HiV.
“How can you bear it?” Jethro asked Tony one night as they cuddled on the couch together while Emmy crawled on the rug amongst her toys, at their feet.
“How did you bear losing Kelly?” Tony asked. “Whatever time I have with her is worth it. Would you have given up the chance to be Kelly’s father if you’d known she was going to die?”
Jethro had shaken his head. He’d never thought about it like that before but it was true. No matter what had happened, the years he’d had with his child were worth the pain of her loss.
“I keep hoping for a cure,” Tony had whispered, picking Emmy up and sitting her on his lap, cuddling her close. “I know it’s not going to happen in her lifetime but I hope anyway.”
“Me too.” Jethro reached out and pulled them both in against his side, kissing first Tony’s hair and then Emmy’s. “Whatever happens, we’ll get through it together,” he murmured.
The phone rang and Jethro jumped, startled from his memories. He scooped the phone up and stood, ready to grab his weapon from his desk drawer.
“This is Linda,” a shaky voice on the other end said. “Emmy’s been taken to the hospital. She got sick so fast. She had a seizure. I’ve been calling Tony’s cell phone but it says it’s out of range and I didn’t know who else to call-“
“That’s fine,” Jethro said quickly. “You did the right thing. I’ll be right there as soon as I can contact Tony. You just hang in there, Linda.” He hung up and looked around the office, waving McGee over as he caught his eye. “Find Tony. His cell phone’s coming up as out of range. I don’t know where he is but you find him somehow. When you do, get out to where he is and pick him up. Tell him Emmy’s sick but don’t let him drive himself. You got that?”
McGee nodded quickly, his face paling, his eyes wide with shock. “It’s bad this time?”
“I don’t know. I think so. Just find him for me, Tim.”
“I will, Boss. I will.”
There is an alchemy in
sorrow. It can be transmuted into wisdom, which, if it does not bring joy, can
yet bring happiness.
The end when it came was peaceful, nothing like other deaths Jethro had been witness to. Emmy simply closed her eyes and went to sleep and passed beyond that into eternal slumber. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting but it wasn’t that… that peaceful passage from life into whatever lies beyond.
He watched Tony pick Emmy up and cradle her against him. He crooned the same lullaby he sang to her every night. He rocked her slowly, rhythmically, back and forth, tears sliding down his pale cheeks to drop on the tiny still face nestled against him.
Jethro brushed a kiss over Tony’s hair then bent and kissed Emmy’s still warm forehead. He whispered that he loved her; that he’d look after her daddy for her, and then he left and walked down six flights of stairs to the lobby and stood there, feeling more lost than he’d ever felt before in his life.
There were people milling around the admissions desk, people scurrying back and forth about their business, and he wanted to yell at them, to ask them how they could just go on with their lives, that a child was dead. But he didn’t. He bought a cup of coffee from the vending machine, added the cream and sugar he never used then took it back upstairs and walked back into Emmy’s room and put the cup on the locker next to her crib.
Tony was still holding her and he looked up as if he hadn’t even noticed Jethro had left. “I miss her already,” he said and the sheer anguish in the words was like a punch to Jethro’s gut.
“I know,” was all he could think of to say because he did know, just as he knew that it didn’t help, that empathy meant nothing at a time like this. Grief is too personal for that. “Do you want to go home?” he asked and Tony nodded slowly then stood and placed Emmy back in the crib, snuggling her under the blankets just like he’d done almost every night of her far too short life.
“Night-night, baby. Daddy loves you, Em,” Tony whispered and Jethro had to bite down on his lip to stop the sob he could feel rising in his throat. Then Tony turned and walked outside and by the time Jethro reached the hallway, he was gone.
Jethro stayed long enough to call his team from the hospital parking lot. He wanted them to know as soon as possible but also because once he and Tony went home, he wanted to shield his lover from well-meaning intrusions. He didn’t call Romero. As far as Jethro was concerned, he wasn’t a real member of his team, simply a placeholder for Tony. He didn’t think the man would care anyway. Then he called Tony’s cell phone but it went to voicemail. He went back up to Emmy’s room to see if he’d returned there and found the doctor and a couple of nurses leaving the room. “Have you seen Tony?” he asked.
“Mr DiNozzo was here a few minutes ago. He signed the autopsy permission form then said he had arrangements to make. He did say that if you came back, to tell you not to worry, he’d see you at home later.” The doctor gave a sympathetic smile. “I’m so sorry about Emmy.”
“Tony and I know you did all you could for her.” Jethro looked at the nurses, one of whom had tears in her eyes. “Thank you for taking such good care of her,” he said gruffly. Then he headed to the elevator. It was only when he was riding down that he wondered what home Tony meant.
Tony looked around, surprised to find he wasn’t exactly sure where he was. He’d left the hospital almost in a daze and just started walking. It was almost as if by the simple act of putting his feet in motion he could put distance between the tragedy of losing Emmy and end up back in a happier time where she still lived and laughed and played. Thinking of that had caused tears to well up in his eyes again so he’d steadfastly banished those memories, put his head down and walked. He had no idea how long he’d trudged along, no sense of people or traffic passing him by, no memory, now that he’d stopped, of even thinking of anything at all.
He was standing in a park, not one he remembered ever visiting before. There was a small lake in front of him, a footbridge arching over it, a gravel path beneath his feet with green lawns a few inches ahead that led down to the lake’s edge. There were a few people around, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine, strolling around the lake or sitting on the wooden benches on the lawn. He stood there for what seemed like an eternity, not really even registering the passage of time. All he could think of was that Emmy would never know this again… the sun on her face, the sound of birds, the laughter of children playing… He brushed impatiently at the tears on his cheeks then turned and headed for home… and Jethro.
Jethro stood in the doorway of Emmy’s room and looked around. Part of him wanted to leave it like this forever, part of him wanted to box up everything that reminded him of her and pack it away, burn it, so there’d be nothing here to hurt Tony again. He’d managed to compartmentalize Shannon and Kelly’s deaths but that was when it was just for him. This was about Tony as well, and he couldn’t make the decision for him. It was something they’d decide together.
He had no idea where Tony was. He’d called his cell over and over but it hadn’t been answered. Finally, Jethro turned off the lights and left the apartment and went home.
“I let myself in.”
Jethro breathed a silent sigh of relief at hearing Tony’s voice coming from the bottom of the basement steps and followed it down, perching one step above him as he reached him. “You okay?” he asked.
Tony shook his head and rubbed his hand over his face. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be okay again. I thought I was prepared for this. I’ve been preparing for it since the day she was born. I should have been ready-“
“You can’t prepare for this kind of thing, Tony,” Jethro said softly. “No parent should outlive their child. It’s against the natural order of things, it seems so damn unfair…”
Tony turned to look up at him. “I know you understand how I feel, Jethro. Is it wrong of me to say it doesn’t help?”
Jethro stood up and stepped around him then pulled him up from the step and into his arms. “No, it’s not wrong. But I wish there was something I could do to help you.”
“This helps,” Tony said against his shoulder, “not enough but it helps.”
“Let’s go upstairs,” Jethro said.
“Soon. Not yet. Just hold me like this for a while.”
“As long as you need,” Jethro replied, kissing the side of his face. “As long as we both need.”
“You don’t have to go back to your apartment,” Jethro said quietly as they walked away from the gravesite and back to the car.
Tony looked at him in surprise. “Why not?”
Jethro stopped, then seeing Abby, Ziva, Ducky, and McGee walking towards them, he ushered Tony over to stand under a tree nearby. His team looked at them as they passed, concern and sympathy on their faces, but they continued walking up to the cars parked on the gravel roadway above the cemetery.
“When I asked you to get your own place it was because you’d said we couldn’t be together as long as there was any reason to think you were only with me for what I could do for you and Emmy.” Jethro glanced back at the mound of dirt under a sweeping oak tree then went on, “The reason is no longer valid. You’re working on Emerson’s team so you’re not reliant on me for work, you’re making your own money, paying your own bills and…” he swallowed down on the hard lump in his throat, “you don’t need me to help you with Emmy. If you want to be with me, Tony, we can be. It’s what I want. It’s what you told me you wanted too.”
Tony looked at him, tears in his eyes. He gripped Jethro’s hand tightly and leaned forward, pressing an achingly sweet kiss to his mouth. Jethro could feel Tony’s lips trembling against his own and he reached around him and hugged him into a close embrace. “Soon, I hope,” Tony whispered as he pulled away. “I’m not sure when but soon. I just need some time to get used to her not being in my life. She was such a major part of it. It’s like there’s a hole in every day and every night.”
“Take some personal time from work,” Jethro said. “We could go away for a few weeks.”
“Maybe,” Tony replied. He looked up at where the others waited. “I should go say thanks to the guys for coming. I think I’m going to want to be alone for a little while, is that okay? I need to go through her things, decide what I’m keeping, what I’m giving to the AIDS baby hospice. Is that all right?”
Jethro smothered the hurt and said, “Yes, of course. You know where I am when you need me.” He watched Tony walk up to the cars, watched Abby wrap her arms around him and hug him tight, watched Tony kiss Ziva’s cheek, pull McGee and then Ducky into a quick hug, watched him climb into his car and drive away.
A week later:
Jethro looked up from the report he was only half-heartedly reading to see Vance standing in front of his desk.
The director held a sheet of paper out to him. “You know anything about this?”
Jethro took the paper and scanned it, his hearting bumping painfully in his chest as he realized what it was. “Tony’s resigned?”
“You didn’t know? He didn’t talk to you about it?” Vance sighed as Jethro shook his head.
“He asked me to give him some time alone,” Jethro replied. “I thought it was the right thing to do. I haven’t seen him for a couple of days. I called him and he said he was okay. I didn’t want to pressure him. Maybe I should have.”
“I offered him time off with pay. He said he’d let me know. I came in this morning and found this on my desk. Emerson’s a man down again. I’m moving Romero over to his team. Romero’s not pleased.” Vance gave a thin-lipped smile that suggested Vance might be. “Find him and sort it out, Jethro. I can’t have him up and leaving like this again, regardless of how much sympathy I have for his circumstances. If he wants back in again in the future, I don’t know that I can swing it.”
Jethro stood up. “I still have some leave owed to me and we’re on a slow case period anyway…” He looked over at Ziva and McGee who were sitting at McGee’s desk together, working on something. “Bring in Masterson to head up my team while I’m gone. He’s a good man and he could use a break from Cybercrimes for a while.”
“You’ve got two weeks, Jethro,” Vance said, turning away and heading for the stairs. “David, McGee, my office.”
Ziva and McGee cast surprised glances Jethro’s way but at his nod, they followed the director up the stairs.
Jethro powered down his computer then locked the drawer where he kept his weapon. Tony was running again but this time Jethro was going to follow… and bring him home.
There’s no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Jethro let himself into Tony’s apartment, not really expecting to find him there but hoping to at least get some idea of where he’d gone and why. He castigated himself as he walked around the empty, silent rooms, for not checking up on Tony the night before, for letting him go off on his own again in the first place. But he knew that deep, dark place Tony had crept into after losing Emmy. Jethro had been there himself after losing Shannon and Kelly. He’d needed space then too, away from the sympathetic looks and consoling words of those who meant only the best.
He forced himself to look inside what had been Emmy’s room. It was empty now, nothing there to remind him of the little girl who still lived in his heart. Despondently he closed up the apartment again and headed home.
He called Tony’s name as he walked in the door, his heart sinking at the resounding silence that greeted him. He went down to the basement but Tony wasn’t there, wasn’t anywhere in the house. He checked the answering machine but there were no new messages from Tony, just the usual salespeople calling to try to sell him things he didn’t want.
Frustrated, he picked up the phone and dialled McGee’s desk. “I need you to do something for me, Tim, but I want you to keep it quiet for now, okay?” he said as soon as McGee picked up.
“Just say the word, Boss.”
“Do a dump on Tony’s cellphone and his credit card and financial history for the past few weeks, specifically looking for any calls he made to California and anything that looks like he was planning on taking a trip.”
“He’s gone again, isn’t he?” McGee said flatly.
“Not for long,” Jethro said firmly.
“I’m kind of not surprised,” McGee said softly.
“Why not? Did he say something to you? That he was planning on doing this?” Jethro felt unaccountably angry with McGee, that Tony might have shared something with him and not with Jethro.
“Not really.” McGee sighed. “It was a throwaway comment he made when I saw him the other day. I asked him was he happy working with Emerson’s team and he said something about being as happy as he could be doing work that didn’t really count for anything anymore. That there were other things he could be doing that were more important than catching bad guys and chasing down Marines selling drugs. I’m sorry, Boss, if I’d realized-“
“It’s fine,” Jethro said quickly. “Just get me those records ASAP, okay? Call me at home, will you? I’m staying here in case he comes back.”
Jethro hung up then changed into a t-shirt and jeans and went back down to the basement. The only thing that helped at times like this was working on the boat. He poured a thimbleful of bourbon into a mug and drank it down then put the bottle away. No way was he going to be too drunk to drive if McGee called with information on where Tony was. Then he picked up the plane and went to work.
An hour later, he’d worked up a good sweat when the phone rang. Dropping the plane to the floor, he spun and grabbed the phone up from the table. “Tony?” he said, hope blossoming anew.
“No, sorry, Boss, it’s me,” McGee said, sympathy clear in his voice.
“What ya got, Tim?” Jethro asked, hitching one hip up on the edge of the table, the fingers of his free hand twiddling with a pencil on the table. He almost wanted to tell Tim to stop, not sure he wanted to hear that Tony had booked a flight for California and somewhere even further away.
“No sign of any tickets to anywhere out of state,” McGee replied, sounding as relieved as Jethro felt. “Credit card receipts show the usual stuff, gas for his car, groceries… His cell phone records don’t tell much different from what you’d expect either except…”
“Spit it out, McGee,” Jethro barked impatiently.
“He’s made a lot of calls lately to one number. I checked it out. It’s St Xavier’s church over on Fuller Heights Road, not far from the Marine Base. Um, I didn’t think Tony was Catholic,” McGee said.
“He’s not. Who’s the priest there?”
“Father Joseph Cavello,” McGee replied. “You want the phone number?”
“No, I’ll call in there myself,” Jethro said. “Tim, thanks.”
“Anytime, Boss. When you find Tony, tell him that we… well, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.” Jethro hung up the phone then bounded up the stairs two at a time to shower and change. It was only when he was in the car heading for the church that he noticed his hands were shaking, ever so slightly, on the steering wheel. He wasn’t sure what he was more nervous about – that he’d find Tony and Tony would refuse to come back or that he wouldn’t find Tony at all.
“Don’t you need to go to work, Tony?”
Tony looked up into Father Cavello’s kindly face and shrugged. “No rush,” he said easily. “I’ve taken a kind of sabbatical. Needed a break after everything that happened. Besides, I like being here. You going to tell me you don’t need the help?”
“You know that’s not true. We definitely appreciate the time you’re giving us. However,” the priest took a seat on the bench nest to Tony, “I do hope you’re not using St Xavier’s as an escape. No matter how difficult life is, running away is not the answer.”
“It’s kind of become a conditioned response for me,” Tony said. “When I was a kid I ran away from home at least ten times. Every time my folks had an argument or I was in trouble for something, I hit the road. When my father cut me off because I joined the police force instead of the family business I applied for the furthest posting I could get into, short of going to Canada and joining the Mounties.”
“And this time? What are you running away from now, Tony? I know the death of a child is an almost unbearable sorrow but running away won’t bring Emmy back.”
“I’m not running from that, Father. If I was, I wouldn’t have chosen to be here, would I?” Tony looked across the lawn then stood and smiled down at the priest. “I better go referee before there’s a free for all. Doesn’t look like Sister Mary Margaret is having much luck.”
“And I have a sermon to prepare,” Father Cavello said, rising to his feet and looking across the grass, “though I have to admit I’d rather spend the day out here in God’s sunshine.”
“Well, I’d offer to swap with you, Father, but sermons really aren’t my strong suit.” Tony took off across the grass at an easy lope. “Bree, give the ball back to Matty, he had it first.”
Jethro tapped on the half-open door that bore a nameplate saying, “Father Cavello”. He’d wandered into the church ten minutes before but found it empty apart from a woman arranging flowers who’d pointed him to a hallway off to the side of the altar where she said Father Cavello could be found. When no one responded to his knock he stuck his head around the door and saw a casually dressed gray-haired man sitting behind the desk, typing on a laptop. I’m sorry,” Jethro said when the man looked up, “I was told Father Cavello was in here. I knocked,” he added belatedly.
“I’m sorry. I get so lost in what I’m writing that I don’t even hear the world going by. It’s the curse of a man for whom writing sermons doesn’t come easily,” the man said, standing up and indicating the chair in front of his desk. “I’m Father Joseph Cavello. You are?”
“Jethro Gibbs.” Jethro sat in the proffered seat and waited till the priest took his own seat again.
“Ah, so you’re Jethro.”
Jethro felt as if his heart skipped a beat at the words, words that proved Tony had been here. “You know Tony,” he said making it a statement. “Do you know where he is?”
“Whether I answer that would depend on the reason for you asking,” the priest said, leaning back in his chair and giving Jethro a speculative look.
“I’m worried about him,” Jethro said simply. If Tony had spoken about him to this man there was really no need for him to say anything more.
“Ah.” Father Cavello leaned forward again, clasping his hands together on the desk. “Do you think he wants to be found? If he did, wouldn’t he have called you by now?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I know exactly what he wants now,” Jethro replied honestly. “I thought he wanted to be with me, I thought we’d established that. He said, once there were no strings to us being together…” He trailed off and stood up. “I’d really like to talk to him. Would you at least ask him to call me?”
Father Cavello stood up and walked around the desk, placing a hand on Jethro’s shoulder. “I’ll take you to him. Whether he talks to you is up to him.”
“Look, Bree, you can drop that bottom lip of yours all you want but I’m still giving the ball back to Matty.” Tony fixed the flaxen-haired, angelic looking seven year old with a firm look then turned and tossed the ball to the little boy a couple of feet away. “Nice catch, Matt,” he said approvingly. He looked back at Bree. ‘There are at least ten balls here. Why don’t you get one of the others to play with?”
“Because I want that one,” she replied with apparently flawless child-logic.
“Of course you do,” Tony muttered. “Here.” He picked up a ball, pulled a pen from his pocket and wrote her name in large letters on it. “There ya go. Now this is your ball. That makes it special, right?”
“I guess.” Bree took the ball then leaned around Tony’s legs. “Why is that man staring at us?”
Tony froze momentarily then patted Bree’s head gently. “He’s a friend of mine. Now go play and don’t give the sister a hard time anymore.” He heard footsteps behind him but didn’t turn around. “Hello, Jethro.”
“Tony. You gonna turn round or do I have to talk to your back?”
Tony turned and felt his heart sink as he looked into Jethro’s face. Jethro looked tired, his face grim. “I’m sorry I haven’t called,” he said. “I kept meaning to but-“
“Why?” Jethro asked. “Just why? Why leave? Why not call? Tell me why?”
Tony looked around and waved at the nun who was watching them curiously. “Hey Sister, I’m going to take some time out, okay?” he called then he turned and led the way back to the bench at the edge of the park.
He waited till they were both seated then turned to Jethro and took a deep breath. “I just don’t want to do it anymore,” he began.
“Us?” Jethro asked.
Tony saw the hard swallow that accompanied the words. “No, the job,” he said. “It just became so unimportant after Emmy died. I wanted to do something that had a chance of making people happier, Jethro. I can do that here.”
“You couldn’t just tell me that? I didn’t even know anything about this place until today,” Jethro said harshly. “I had to get McGee to go through your phone records, your credit cards in case…” His voice trailed off and he looked over at the kids playing in the distance. “You could have just told me,” he said.
“I planned to. I just… I needed some time to make sure I was doing the right thing…” Tony’s voice trailed away then he grabbed Jethro’s arm and turned him to face him. “It wasn’t that,” he said. “I was doing what I do best – running away. But not from you. Not this time. Never again. I swear, Jethro, I would have called you as soon as I knew for sure this was where I wanted to be.”
“What’s with the kids?” Jethro asked. “They’re like Emmy, aren’t they?”
“The church runs a playgroup for kids with AIDS and HIV,” Tony replied. “I met Father Cavello at the hospital just before Emmy got really sick. I brought her here a few times. I could see how short-handed they were. I remembered how hard it was for me, in California. People are scared of getting too close to these kids so volunteers are scarce.”
“What were you going to do for money?” Jethro asked.
“Father Cavello offered me a job running the day-care program. It’s not big bucks like working for NCIS but it’s enough to get by on.”
“You sure you won’t miss the excitement?” Jethro asked.
Tony grinned as two kids started a free for all over the swings on the other side of the park. “More than enough excitement here.”
“It’s not too close to home for you, after Em?” Jethro asked softly.
Tony turned and gripped his hand firmly. “I want to do this because of what happened to Emmy. It suddenly hit me how lucky she was, in comparison to these kids. She had us, Jethro. Some of these kids don’t even have that much.” He looked down at their joined hands. “You gonna want a guy who runs a day-care center instead of a guy who catches killers for a living?”
Jethro let go of his hand then hauled him in for a deep kiss. “I want you,” he said, pulling back, “anyway I can get you.” He smacked the back of Tony’s head. “No more running away, DiNozzo. We’re in this together, for good, or I walk away right now.”
“Deal. I’ll go say goodbye to the kids, tell the sister I’ll be back tomorrow, okay?”
“I’ll be waiting,” Jethro said.
I wish you sunshine on your path and storms to season your journey. I wish you peace in the world in which you live... More I cannot wish you except perhaps love to make all the rest worthwhile.
Robert A. Ward
Two years later:
Jethro tried to hide his smile as Ziva walked into the living room and flopped down onto the sofa. “Problem?” he asked.
“They are little devils,” Ziva replied, closing her eyes. “I have a headache. Back when I was a child, little girls did not scream so loudly, I am sure.”
Jethro looked out into the front yard, grinning at the sight of Tim, Jimmy, and Ducky trying to corral six excitable children into an orderly line for “Pin the Tail On the Donkey”. “Yeah, they get pretty noisy at times.”
Ziva sat up, pinning him with a direct look. “You have surprised me,” she said. “I didn’t think you’d be like this. So… warm. You have changed, just as Tony has.” She blushed then stood up. “If you don’t mind I will skip the cake lighting.”
“We light the candles, not the cake,” Tony said, coming in behind Gibbs and wrapping his arms around Gibbs’ waist. “You sure you want to leave now. There’ll be screams for sure as they all fight over whose turn it is to blow out the candles after Lily as her turn.”
“Yes.” Ziva stood up and walked across to plant a kiss on Tony’s cheek. “I’m sure my head won’t stand it. Besides, tomorrow is my turn to volunteer at the day care center. I could use an early night.”
“Okay, bye. Thanks for the gift. I think it’s Lily’s favorite. Who knew they made militia Barbies?” Jethro turned and planted a kiss on the end of Tony’s nose as the door closed behind Ziva. “Think we could sneak out while Ducky’s back is turned and make a run for it. We could get a motel room for the night,” he wheedled.
“Yeah, sure, that’d be real romantic. You’d spend most of the night on the phone checking on Lily and giving Ducky instructions on what to do if she wakes up,” Tony said with a grin. He pulled free of Jethro’s arms and walked over to the window. “I still can’t believe we’re here, like this,” he said softly. Turning, he picked up a photo from the sideboard and held it in his hand. “I still miss Emmy,” he whispered, “but I’m so glad we have Lily. It’s like new hope.” He put the photo back and shot Jethro a grin. “Getting mushy in my old age.”
“Come on,” Jethro patted him on the backside and led the way outside, “let’s go give the guys a break before they mutiny and jump ship.”
Tony winced as Jethro’s appearance in the backyard led to a renewed round of squeals from the kids, their daughter’s voice ringing out loud and clear above the rest as she screamed, “Papa!” in sheer joy at seeing him. Watching Jethro scoop her up into his arms almost brought tears to Tony’s eyes as he wondered how Emmy would have loved having Jethro as her papa too. He guessed, in a way, he had been. Still was. Putting the sad memories behind him for now, Tony stepped out into the sunshine.
Jethro ran a hand over the smooth wood and smiled. The boat was pretty much done. Now all he had to do was get it out of the basement and onto the trailer and he, Tony, and Lily could set sail. He couldn’t wait for Tony to see the bronze nameplate he’d had made. He was a little nervous at how Tony would take it but he’d decided on the name months ago and he’d let the chips fall where they may.
Things had done a 360 degree turn for Jethro since the day Tony had arrived on his doorstep with a small pink bundle in his arms. Along the way there’d been anger, hurt, recriminations, and not a little pain, and Jethro knew now he wouldn’t have had it any other way. The one thing he wanted to change was beyond his power to do so and so he’d done as he had when Kelly and Shannon had died – he’d learned to accept losing Emmy, just as Tony had to.
When Tony had brought forth the idea of adopting another child with HIV, Jethro had said no instinctively, almost horrified that Tony would even consider putting them through that agony again. Tony was nothing if not persistent however, and by the time he’d brought Lily home on home visits four or five times, Jethro was as much under her spell as Tony was. The difference this time was that Lily was, for the most part, healthy and her doctor felt that with continuing advances in AIDS research, there was no reason she couldn’t live a normal life. That was all Jethro had needed to hear and he’d done his utmost to give her that every day since.
He snorted as he remembered Vance asking him if he’d consider taking over as NCIS Director when Vance received a transfer to Homeland Security. He was an NCIS Special Agent, he told Vance. He had no aspirations to be anything more than that but then two weeks ago on Lily’s fourth birthday, looking out the window at her playing with her friends, he’d realized he did and he’d retired the next day.
“What’s so funny?” said a voice from behind him and Jethro turned within the circle of Tony’s arms.
“Just thinking about when Vance asked me to become Director.”
“Everyone seems pleased to have Tom Morrow back,” Tony said, giving him a long, sweet kiss. He pulled away and looked up at the boat. “She’s ready?”
“Yep. I – I wanted to show you something,” Jethro replied, reaching down for the nameplate at his feet. “If you want me to change it, I can…”
Tony ran his fingers lovingly over the letters etched into the brass then pulled Jethro back in for a hug. “Emmy. It’s perfect. She would have loved the sea,” he murmured. “Thank you,” he whispered into the crook of Jethro’s neck, “for everything.”
“Ditto,” Jethro replied. “So, bed? Tomorrow’s going to be a big day. We need to work out how to get this boat out of the basement.”