Author: Jilly James
Pairing(s): Anthony DiNozzo/Jethro Gibbs
Content Rating: PG-13/Teen for language, off-screen violence, etc.
Warnings: Character bashing (depending upon your interpretation)
Spoilers: Up through season 4 of NCIS and some mentions of information in seasons 5 and 7
Beta: Naelany and Keira. Thank you for making this story better.
Special Thanks: To Keira and Cinna for helping me recover from a bad turn in the story.
Inspiration: Written for the NCIS Reverse Bang, and inspired by the art created by kj_svala. The art master post can be found here.
Author Note: I’ve changed some biographical information for Tony. Also, canon more or less says that Tony always lived in the same apartment for 12 years, but I do what I want
Author Note 2: I’m fully aware that Gibbs and Tony actually met in October 2001 in canon. Again, I do what I want.
Summary: While in Mexico, Gibbs is asked to return to NCIS after Tony uncovers some disturbing things about Ziva and Director Shepard. With his memory still sketchy, he settles back into life in DC without Tony and discovers just what he’s been missing.
Word Count: ~22k
– – – –
– – – –
AD – Assistant Director
ASAP – As Soon As Possible
COD – Carrier Onboard Delivery
DD – Deputy Director
MTAC – Multiple Threat Alert Center
SAC – Special Agent in Charge
SA – Supervisory Agent
SecDef – Secretary of Defense
SecNav – Secretary of the Navy
SFA – Senior Field Agent
– – – –
Gibbs stared out over the ocean, watching the waves come in as the surf washed over his feet. Once again, he was battling his memories. His doctors had told him to let the memories come when they were ready, to not try to force it. Of course, they’d also told him to try to do familiar things and be around familiar people, and instead, he’d gone off to Mexico.
He wondered what they’d say about him actively pushing memories away?
Losing Shannon and Kelly again had been hard enough, but his returning memories weren’t helping. He was grieving all over again, and along with his memories came feelings that made him feel like he was betraying his wife in the worst possible way. So he pushed hard at them, not wanting to explore them the way he was instructed to. He was pretty sure he was hindering his own recovery, but he couldn’t do anything else at the moment.
Despite his efforts to keep memories at bay, he woke every morning with old-but-fresh memories of Shannon competing with newly returning memories of Anthony DiNozzo. He remembered that he’d always had the memories of his wife to help curb his burgeoning feelings for DiNozzo. It wasn’t that DiNozzo was a man, or even that he was Gibbs’ subordinate—rule twelve aside—it was just that he had never been ready to truly let go of her. He’d known, in a way he hadn’t with his three ex-wives, that DiNozzo was the real thing, and he would need to completely open up to the other man—he would have to stop withholding himself from the relationship. In fact, he’d even been at the point that he wanted to take that step.
Curling his hands into fists, he fought the images in his mind. Since he wouldn’t let them be, he couldn’t make sense of them. He couldn’t remember why they’d been in the shell of a house under construction, but the image of DiNozzo in a blue t-shirt and jeans, taking a break was perfectly clear, and the feeling of want so intense, he had to shove it away. Again.
“Probie!” Mike called from back at the house. It was nearing lunch time, and Gibbs figured Mike wanted to head into town and eat at the cantina.
Instead, he found someone standing with Mike, and he spied a car parked up near the road. He blamed the sound of the surf for the fact that he hadn’t heard the vehicle arrive. As he walked toward the house, he put the familiar face together with a name. Leon Vance, Deputy Director NCIS, based out of San Diego. Gibbs let those memories come, getting flashes of times they’d worked together and how they had met.
“Leon,” he greeted somewhat coldly when he got to the house.
“Gibbs,” Vance said just as coolly. He shot a look at Mike.
“Yeah, yeah. I gotcha. I’m going into town. I’ll bring you back some lunch, Probie.”
Gibbs just gave a jerk of his chin in acknowledgment.
“Franks,” Vance said warningly.
“I remember. I’m retired, not senile.” Then Mike was gone.
“What is it he needs to remember?” Gibbs asked taking a seat in one of the Adirondack chairs.
Vance took the other after angling it for better eye contact. “That my presence here can’t be discussed with anyone. SecNav knows, but that’s it.”
Brow furrowing, Gibbs wondered what the hell was going on. “You know I’m retired.”
“Technically, you’re on leave. Shepard didn’t file your paperwork. Most people figure you’ll get bored out here and come back to work once your head is on straight.” Vance cocked his head to the side. “Question is… is the three months you’ve had here enough time?”
“You want to just cut to the chase and tell me what’s going on?”
“Truth be told, I don’t really need you for what we’re doing. It’d be easier with you, but, frankly, we both know you’re a loose cannon, so I’m probably better off without you on this. Still, I hope you’ll legitimately want to help. But before I say another word, you need to be really clear that this stays between you and me and the Secretary of the Navy.” Vance hesitated. “And one other person.”
“I’m not gonna say anything, Leon, so spit it out.”
“Last weekend, I got a call from Agent DiNozzo. Said he needed to speak with me urgently.”
Gibbs forced himself not to react to the news that this involved DiNozzo. “Why?”
“He hopped a flight to San Diego on Friday night, and then called me from a pre-paid cell. I agreed to meet him at a local bar where he presented me with some information he’s been gathering since your departure. It seems Jennifer Shepard’s primary aim in getting the director’s chair was to get revenge on René Benoit, aka La Grenouille, an arms dealer she blames for the death of her father.”
A memory slotted into place. “Jasper Shepard committed suicide,” Gibbs retorted.
“She doesn’t believe that. Rather, she’s convinced Benoit murdered him. Benoit is apparently a CIA asset, so Shepard is sticking her fingers in a situation she can’t possibly hope to control. Nevertheless, she asked for Agent DiNozzo’s assistance in setting up an undercover operation to gather intel on Benoit by luring his daughter into a relationship.”
Gibbs winced. He sure as hell hoped DiNozzo had done no such thing. “And?”
“Once DiNozzo had set up the op and gotten background on the daughter, who is a medical doctor with no ties to her father’s business, he recommended the op be aborted as having no significant chance of obtaining the needed intel. From there, he realized how deeply he was in over his head. His personal logbook indicates that this is when he realized the operation was likely not sanctioned.
“He was instructed to go undercover anyway; he has no backup besides Director Shepard herself, and is holding down a full-time position as team lead while spending all his off-duty hours on the operation. And it was made abundantly clear that if he backed out, she’d get someone else. He feels certain that she would find a way to terminate him under suspicious circumstances if he did refuse so that he’d have no credibility if he should try to blow the whistle.”
Gibbs just stared. What the hell was Jenny doing? “This can’t be right,” he said disbelievingly.
“Save your skepticism because it gets worse. I didn’t want to believe it myself, but he had a lot of proof. Before we get to the truly egregious offense, it’s worth noting Shepard is abusing her position in other ways—things that aren’t as damning, but which I believe were designed to isolate DiNozzo, keep him from confiding in anyone.”
Eyes narrowing, Gibbs asked, “Like what?”
“She’s refusing to let him deal with discipline issues on the team—pulling reprimands, countermanding his orders directly in some cases. She’s entirely over-involved in the MCRT and not in ways that make sense unless her goal is to piss off a team lead, or make sure certain that her bad acts are kept quiet. However, in the case of this team, her interference just served to mostly make the team lead miserable. He’s clearly exhausted, stressed, and running on fumes.”
“What discipline issues?” That was his team, dammit! He didn’t have discipline issues.
“That’s really not germane right now. And, frankly, Gibbs, it doesn’t particularly matter if you’re not on board with helping, so let me get it all out.” Vance pulled a toothpick out of a small case and started chewing on it. “A little more than two months ago, DiNozzo stumbled on evidence that Officer David was stealing confidential and classified NCIS files. It seems like it was a fluke of timing that he realized she had system access that far outstripped her security clearance.
“He began investigating quietly and realized she was using the access granted to her by special waiver by the director herself to download the files to flash drives and smuggle them out of NCIS. Our best guess is she’s sending them to Mossad, but that’s not certain. Further investigation into phone records revealed a troubling amount of contact between Shepard and Eli David. While some contact between them could be understandable, not this amount. And there are no significant cases to justify it.
“DiNozzo’s theory, and I think it’s a damn good one, is that Shepard agreed to put Ziva David at NCIS and give her access she shouldn’t have if Eli David would supply her with intel about René Benoit.”
Gibbs felt gutted. He wanted to deny that it couldn’t be true, but it also made too much sense. Eli David was opportunistic, like any intelligence agency head would be, and getting intel on NCIS and military ops would be worth dropping that info to Shepard. “So what was DiNozzo’s plan?”
“He was at the point he couldn’t gather any more information without getting someone else involved. For very good reasons, there’s no one at NCIS he trusts at the moment. He chose to bring what information he had to me. DiNozzo’s obviously a fighter—I got that in about five minutes—but he knew he was in a no-win situation. He morally objects to continuing the undercover operation, and he’s stalled out on gathering more information about David without outside assistance. He had his resignation with him.”
No. He couldn’t leave. Gibbs’ reaction was so strong and visceral, it nearly took his breath away, and the memories of DiNozzo battered at his mind. “You let him quit?” Gibbs nearly snarled.
“No. I did not. I asked him to give me a week to come up with something. In the interim, I went to SecNav with the situation. We both agree DiNozzo is at risk from Mossad. Even though DiNozzo didn’t bring that point up, I don’t think he missed it. If Shepard thinks he’s a loose end, or David catches wind of anything, they could, either of them, ask Eli to take care of the problem. And I have no doubt that he would.”
“I can handle DiNozzo,” Gibbs said abruptly.
“You barely remember who I am!” Vance snapped. “In any case, we solved the problem already. Thursday, two days ago, SecNav went to Shepard with a high-priority, top secret operation that he wanted DiNozzo for. He didn’t give her a choice. Right now, your boy is Agent Afloat on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower—he shipped out sometime yesterday. Not due back on dry land for six weeks.”
Gibbs reluctantly conceded that was a safe place to stash DiNozzo.
“He’s being set up with a secondary email account through the DoD so he can answer any questions we might have and assist in the investigation if necessary.”
“And what is it you need me for?” Gibbs asked, his brain already putting pieces together, he just wasn’t sure he had the right picture.
“I want normal operations to resume ASAP with the MCRT so we can investigate Shepard’s treason and David’s espionage. Considering how out of control the junior agents on the team are, you’d be the best way to get things running like usual. Give everyone a sense of normalcy.”
“What the hell is going on with my team? What did DiNozzo do?”
Vance glared at him. “Maybe you should look in the mirror on that one, Gibbs. I’m sure you’ll find out exactly how badly it’s gone the minute you pull your head out of the sand. It just remains to be seen if you’re really going to blame DiNozzo for it.”
Gibbs was pissed, but he wasn’t even sure what to be pissed at. Without more information, he didn’t know what to do. “It’s ironic that DiNozzo came to you considering your connections to Eli David,” he countered. Yeah, he was wondering about DiNozzo’s judgment.
Snorting, Vance just shook his head. “It’s one of the reasons he picked me. Your boy is a good investigator. He knows more than I’d like about my connections to Eli, and he knew I’d be the best person to evaluate the realistic threat level from Mossad. DiNozzo was assessing me the whole damn meeting, and by the time we parted ways, he told me he felt that he’d made the right calculated risk. Because he’s damn right in his evaluation that, A — I’m the best person at the agency to handle this, and B — that my oath of office and my loyalty to my country are all that matters. Eli and I have a history, but that in no way bridges to allowing espionage and treason.”
“So what’s the damn plan?” he snapped, feeling out of his depth and wrong-footed. He wasn’t interested in Vance at the moment.
“With you in place, we’re hoping Shepard will table the undercover op for now, and not try to recruit someone else. And David will get lulled back into a sense of security and give us a chance to catch her.”
“So you want me to be a diversion?” he asked incredulously.
“Damn straight. You think I can’t see that you’re taking a few extra seconds to slot memories into place? I have no doubt your skills as an investigator are still there, but you’re not going to be on you’re A-game. Also, you’re a technology dinosaur, and this will be solved in ones and zeroes.”
“McGee and Abby can–”
“Considering the things I’ve read and heard, I wouldn’t trust Agent McGee as far as I could throw him at the moment. And certainly not with this investigation. As for Sciuto, she’s got her head so far up her own ass about you being gone, I’ve heard rumors of it in San Diego. I don’t have the time or the patience for childish tantrums from anyone who’s not my own damn child.”
What the hell was going on in DC? “I don’t…” Gibbs just trailed off, feeling like he was missing big pieces of the puzzle, and it was a feeling he hated.
“I’m not filling you in on the rest of the plan unless you’re on board. If you come back to DC, you can take over the team, and keep everyone focused away from what I’m going to be doing.”
Gibbs considered for several seconds. “How am I supposed to get the information I need?”
“What information, Gibbs? You know what we’re after. You just need to do your job.”
He wanted to protest, but he knew he wasn’t going to get anything else out of Vance. He’d have to hope DiNozzo had left him some clues, because Gibbs hated being in the dark.
“I’m in.” There really wasn’t any decision to be made. He hoped that Ziva and Jenny weren’t really engaging in espionage and treason. Jenny being on a crusade to avenge her father? That he didn’t have a lot of doubt about.
“Good. I’m headed back to San Diego for the time being. You’ll come back to DC and get settled on the team. SecNav is going to order security upgrades to prevent NCIS from being hacked the way the FBI was a few weeks back. Secretary Davenport will insist on me handling it since I’m the most technology-savvy person in senior management. I’ll come to DC and bring in someone to work on the supposed beef-up of our security protocols. DiNozzo’s assessment is that as long as we make it clear we’re focused on possible intrusions from outside NCIS, that David’s arrogance will drive her to continue her bad acts.” He raised a brow in question.
Gibbs reluctantly nodded. Yeah, that was exactly how Ziva would be—assuming she was committing said bad acts at all.
“Good. We’ll be ostensibly focused on threats from outside the agency, so hopefully DiNozzo’s right, and she’ll make this easy for us.” Vance gave him a harshly assessing look. “Tell me now if your head isn’t in the right place for this.”
Gibbs bristled. “I’m fine. I want to be able to contact DiNozzo, though.”
“I’ll think about it,” Vance shot back getting to his feet. “Be sure you’re in DC Monday morning to take control of that team. Don’t want to give Shepard time to make a plan B. Gives you a day and a half to get your ass home.”
– – – –
Gibbs opened the door to his house, not fighting his memories this time. There were so many echoes of the past in this place, it froze him in the doorway for several long minutes. His eyes felt wet, and he squeezed them shut as images of Kelly and Shannon raced through his mind. Pictures of their life together—their wedding, Kelly’s birth, playing in the backyard…
Then the images of DiNozzo came, and instead of pushing them away, for the first time, he let them be. There were so many, and because he’d been refusing to deal with memories, it was hard to put some of them in context. He could see DiNozzo in a hospital bed looking near death, standing outside with blood spray on his face, soaking wet with evidence bags in hand. Slowly he let the memories begin to fit themselves with others until whole pictures started to come together. It wasn’t comfortable. Actually, it was damn painful, but he knew he had to start integrating his past.
Thoughts of Shannon and Kelly kept popping in, stirring his grief and making it even harder to deal with his more recent memories of life after them. Life without them.
When he came back to the present, he found himself on the floor, propped against the doorjamb, his bag dropped carelessly beside him. Getting himself together, he pushed all the emotions down, got up and glanced around the house. He’d expected dust and disuse, but someone had been keeping the house clean. The mail was gathered on the dining table, flyers and junk mail having already been discarded.
In the kitchen, he found two new bags of coffee by the coffee maker and a small assortment of fresh groceries in the refrigerator. He got coffee going as he absorbed what DiNozzo had done here. And there was no doubt in his mind that it was DiNozzo. The groceries and coffee — only DiNozzo knew he was coming, and even though he’d shipped out as Agent Afloat only two days ago, he’d taken some of his limited time to do this. It was hard to say if he’d been tending the house all along or just cleaned up Friday. Considering what he’d allowed himself to remember, neither would really surprise him.
He was still pissed that Vance wouldn’t let him have contact with DiNozzo. Gibbs could, of course, email him through his NCIS address, but he wouldn’t be able to say anything of any importance that way. For secrecy reasons, Vance had given him a cellphone prepaid in cash with only Vance’s burner programmed into it. Gibbs really wished it was a way to DiNozzo instead.
While the coffee brewed, he considered where DiNozzo might have left something for him—if he had done so at all. The pictures of various things raced through his mind, and he was immediately headed down to the basement. Unless it was food, DiNozzo always left stuff on Gibbs’ workbench. If there was something, that’s where it would be.
Being in the basement nearly took his breath away at the surge of memories from the far distant past and many things more recent. Okay, he could see why the doctors had wanted him to remain somewhere familiar as he was recovering, but dammit, it had been too painful at the time. However, maybe he shouldn’t have been gone quite so long, he conceded, if only to himself.
Getting himself under control, he crossed to his workbench and didn’t see anything obvious. He suddenly flashed on an undercover op when DiNozzo was new… he’d left a locker key for Gibbs in the—
He was immediately dumping out the jar of miscellaneous screws and nuts. Something wrapped in paper clattered to the work surface. He pulled off the paper to find a standard door key. The paper had a short note.
You’ve never been to my place, so it won’t be familiar to you. The safe is in the floor of my master bedroom closet. Combination is the day we met. –ADD
There was an address at the bottom that was not at all familiar and a security code for the door.
The tone of the note had Gibbs’ gut tightening with anxiety, why would DiNozzo be so terse with him? That wasn’t the way he remembered the man at all. But he shoved the questions away and let the memories slot into place. He knew he’d been to DiNozzo’s place, he remembered that, so that meant the man had moved. But when?
The familiar feeling of a piece being missing began to make itself known, but this time, he was pretty sure it was because he truly didn’t know, and not that his memory was bad. The part that was related to his fractured memory was figuring out the day they met. He knew it was early spring of 2001, but the exact date eluded him.
Hoping he’d put the pieces together soon, he jogged up the stairs, poured half the coffee in a large commuter mug, grabbed the truck keys and headed out. The truck shouldn’t have started, but it purred to life and Gibbs wasn’t really surprised. He figured DiNozzo again.
When he pulled up in front of the building in Kalorama Heights, there were some fragments of memories teasing at him and he waited for everything to sort itself out in his head. DiNozzo used to live in a building on the northeast side of DC. It had been clean with reasonable rent. Though he recalled that because it was a historic building, there had been frequent issues with heat, water, and even the electrical.
The building in front of him was upscale condos, and Gibbs vaguely remembered them questioning a witness here at some point and that DiNozzo had liked the place. He wondered why DiNozzo hadn’t told him he was moving, and what prompted him to go with a swanky address like this? He knew DiNozzo had money from his mother, they’d gone through the whole disclosure process when he’d started at NCIS, but DiNozzo had also stated he’d always tried to keep it off the radar. This was not off the radar.
Inside, he found a security guard who checked his ID against the approved visitors’ list, then directed him to the second floor, apartment 22. The place was elegant and refined and shouldn’t have surprised him, but it did. There was something about the place that disturbed him, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on why. No doubt because his memories and feelings about DiNozzo were still fragmented to a degree.
Gibbs had been to DiNozzo’s old apartment, and he didn’t remember a piano, much less a baby grand, though he vaguely recalled the guitar. Shaking off his ruminations, he tried the nearest doorknob and found it unlocked. Inside, there was a bedroom with a twin size bed. The DiNozzo he remembered was a ladies’ man. Why would he have a single?
He made himself not think about that as he crossed to the closet. The walk-in was spacious, but DiNozzo had a hell of a lot of clothes. Gibbs found the floor safe readily enough. A print of some piece of art had fallen on it, so he set that to the side.
He stared at the safe, dates and memories swirling around in his head, but nothing was coming into focus. He did not want to call Vance to have him email DiNozzo to get the damn date! Just when he was about to call it quits, he caught sight of the fallen art print, and his investigator’s mind snapped on. Why was that in the closet? There was no other art here. Had that been left on purpose?
He grabbed the print. He knew it was a painting of some event in Roman history, but Gibbs wasn’t an art history major; he really had no idea what he was looking at. Flipping it over, he found the back was stamped with, ‘Death of Caesar by Vincenzo Camuccini’.
Suddenly, everything snapped into focus. The assassination of Julius Caesar. They’d met on the Ides of March.
– – – –
Gibbs set aside yet another piece of paper with information he just didn’t know how to fit into his worldview. What had happened to his team? It was easy to go to the place of blaming it on DiNozzo, but the problems seemed to start practically before Gibbs’ chair was cold. And considering what he was reading, it was hard to square putting the lion share of the blame on his former SFA.
In addition to the documentation about what had happened the last three months from a procedural point of view, DiNozzo had included the information he’d turned over to Vance. For that, Gibbs was grateful, because he felt less in the dark. However, the evidence against Ziva was damning. The notes indicated Vance had video from the spy cameras DiNozzo had set up, but he’d printed out some stills for Gibbs to review.
With a sigh, he took off his reading glasses and tossed them on the folder. Sitting back, he rubbed his eyes. The worst thing in there was DiNozzo’s assessment of the situation between Ziva, Eli David, and Shepard. DiNozzo had asked some questions in his analysis that were painful to even contemplate.
Somehow DiNozzo knew Ziva had killed Ari. If Ziva’s placement at NCIS was to facilitate espionage, DiNozzo theorized that she had been, in fact, ordered to kill Ari. And then she had waited to act on those orders until he had conveniently opened up a place on the team for her to fill. Gibbs actually hoped that part wasn’t true, even if everything else was proven to be fact. The idea that he’d mentored and protected someone who might have been in any way complicit in Kate’s death made him feel sick.
The only personal comment in the whole four-inch stack of paper that had been left for him was a handwritten note on top. It advised Gibbs that Ducky was really angry with him, and if he had any sense, he’d sort that out before going back to work. The tone of everything was just off. It wasn’t the DiNozzo he remembered. He wondered if he forgot something… something crucial. He resolved to spend more time on his memories of DiNozzo, no matter how painful they might be, because he didn’t remember DiNozzo being this cold to him.
With some reservation, Gibbs reached for his regular cellphone, which had been charging for the last hour, and dialed Ducky’s number.
“Jethro?” Ducky’s voice came over after the second ring. “Is that really you?”
“My goodness gracious… is everything all right?”
“Yeah. Well, as good as it can be. I’m back in DC,” he offered, not knowing what else to say.
The silence stretched on for so long, it was damn uncomfortable. Finally, Ducky said, “I hope for good reasons?”
Gibbs didn’t even know how to respond to that. “Look, can we talk? I know you care for your mother on Sunday nights, but it’d be good to talk before tomorrow.”
There was another pregnant pause. “My door is always open to you, Jethro.”
– – – –
Gibbs sat in the overly fussy and sort of dainty armchair, waiting while Ducky took care of his mother. Several Welsh Corgis were seated by his chair, staring up at him, and pieces of memories swirled into place. Bodies cut up in fifty-gallon drums. DiNozzo on protection detail for Ducky’s mother, and begging not to be left with the pack of yapping hounds. The memory made his lips twitch in amusement.
“The corgis amuse you?” Ducky asked, carrying in a tea tray, and Gibbs hoped it was actually coffee.
“Memory. When DiNozzo was on protection duty for your mother.”
“Ah,” Ducky murmured as he began to pour. “Anthony can be quite charming. Mother still asks about him.” He handed over a cup of tea. Yeah, Gibbs was on Ducky’s shit list.
He took a sip of the tea, grimacing a bit at the taste. “It’s been suggested that I needed to square things with you before anything else.”
Ducky sighed. “Anthony?”
“Who else?” Gibbs said with a bit of a huff. “I didn’t mean for any of my actions to hurt you, but I had to go.”
“I am only slightly upset with you for leaving, Jethro.” Ducky set down his teacup. “While I find it appalling that you would ignore sound medical advice about how to approach your recovery, I do understand the desire to retreat — perhaps not for three months, but I do understand.
“No, what I found most troubling was that after many years of friendship, you would keep something so vital from me.” Ducky stopped and blinked a few times. He sighed, shaking his head. “And even as I say those words, I know they are unfair. We all have painful moments in our pasts we choose to keep to ourselves. Though I cannot make myself not be hurt, it was entirely unfair to take those feelings out on you or anyone else. I gather if Anthony brought you to task, my discontent was not without its impact on him?”
“He didn’t explicitly say,” Gibbs hedged.
“When did you speak?”
For now, even with Ducky, Gibbs had to use their prepared cover story. “I spoke with him right before he shipped out on Friday.”
“Has Anthony known how to get in touch with you?”
“He had means to reach me in an emergency.”
Ducky frowned. “While his reassignment does not quite constitute an emergency, it is most troubling to have the team split further.”
“He was worried about the team. It’s why he called.”
“Yes, I can see that Anthony would put the team’s welfare above his own discontentment at being sent away to sea. I do hope you’ll be able to bring the dear boy home soonest,” Ducky replied with a frown, expression twisted with concern.
“He didn’t ask me to return. I offered.”
Head cocked to the side, Ducky asked, “And will you be here to stay?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You do realize Anthony was promoted when you left? As was Timothy. With your return, they both will be forced to take a step down.”
Gibbs just shrugged. There wasn’t really anything he could do about that, and Ducky didn’t have the whole story. It wasn’t like DiNozzo didn’t know Gibbs was back as team lead.
To his surprise, Ducky let it go. “Tell me how your memory is?”
“Please elucidate, Jethro. Have you been doing the exercises the doctors recommended? You do realize you potentially slowed your recovery by leaving familiar environs.”
“Ducky… my returning memories were near impossible to deal with,” he admitted.
“I understand that having to go through the grieving process again was quite difficult–”
“It wasn’t just that,” he interjected, running his hands through his hair. “I had these old memories of learning of their deaths that felt new. At the same time, I had more recent memories returning… some of them with uncomfortable feelings attached.”
“What manner of feelings?”
“The sort that made me feel I was betraying my wife,” he said bluntly.
“Oh my.” Ducky looked surprised then sympathetic. “Jethro, are you in love with someone?”
He winced. “I don’t know. I’ve been trying not to let the memories get too close.”
“Well, that is incredibly detrimental!” Ducky said impassioned. “You need to let your memories come as they will and accept them, even if they make you uncomfortable.”
“Ducky, I can’t deal with this right now.” He had a job to do and a life to recover, he didn’t have time to deal with these inconvenient feelings. But he knew he needed to bring back the memories of DiNozzo, and that was in direct conflict with his desire to not feel those things.
“I’m afraid you really don’t have much choice. I am certain your Shannon was an amazing woman, and it is neither trite nor cliché to say that she would have wanted you to move on. Perhaps the timing is not right to embrace a relationship with this new woman, but to resist the memories is the height of absurdity. You mean to return to work, so you need your mind functioning in top condition.”
Ducky sighed. “I can’t pretend to know what you’re going through, Jethro, no one can. But I also know that you won’t accept anything less than giving your best to your cases, which means, you have to give into your memories. Feelings, no matter how painful or intense, are not necessarily reflections of reality. You feel you are betraying Shannon, but you know that to not be the case.”
Gibbs scrubbed his hands over his face. It wasn’t in his nature to seek out advice or help with personal things, but he also knew he was floundering. “So what do you suggest?”
“Accept that it’s going to feel terrible and do it anyway. Remind yourself that it’s an emotion, not the truth.”
“So push the feeling away instead of the memory?”
“No, absolutely not. I am not in any way suggesting you invalidate what you feel, I am simply saying that feelings are not facts. You can acknowledge something, but not let it control you as if it were the truth.”
Ducky’s expression softened. “I apologize, Jethro. I did not mean to imply that’s what you’ve been doing.”
“But I have, right?”
“Only you can answer that. Did you allow the feeling of betraying your wife to control you and drive your decisions when the fact is that you have done no such thing?”
Yeah, he had. Both of them knew that that was exactly what he’d done. He’d panicked when thoughts and feelings for his subordinate were some of the first things to come back to him. The more he’d been around familiar people and places, the harder it had been to keep those at bay. He’d needed time to deal with losing Shannon and Kelly again. The conflicting feelings had been too much.
“I don’t know how to accept all this,” he uncharacteristically admitted.
“You don’t have to accept, just let it be, my friend. Give yourself time to mend. The future will take care of itself.”
– – – –
Gibbs arrived at NCIS before 0700. He greeted the security guards and asked them to keep his arrival quiet. They grinned knowingly and agreed, presumably thinking Gibbs was pulling one over on his team. It was partly the truth. He needed to see what was going on when they weren’t expecting him.
He’d turned in his badge and security credentials when he’d left back in May, but since he was apparently still listed as an active field agent, he was able to get new credentials with his ID. The badge he’d have to get later, and definitely before he went out into the field. He’d also hit the armory right after he got his badge back.
Walking into the bullpen was odd. He’d spent so much of his time in this space, but the memories were oddly separate… like he was watching a stranger live this life, and not himself. His desk wasn’t at all like he remembered, covered as it was with DiNozzo’s things. The spy cams had been in the various items on the desk. Vance had said DiNozzo removed them to prevent them accidentally being discovered. Once Vance was in town, he was going to set up new cameras to watch Ziva.
0800 came and went, and his team hadn’t arrived. Then 0900. Gibbs shouldn’t be surprised, this was exactly what was reported in DiNozzo’s notes, but nonetheless, he was. Why would McGee and Ziva act the way DiNozzo described in his work log? Why would the chain of command have fallen apart just because Gibbs left?
Having no answers for those questions, and no way to get them, he finished clearing DiNozzo’s personal effects from the desk and set the box on his old workstation. McGee could sort out getting everyone back in the right place.
At 0930, he spotted McGee rounding the corner. He was surprised he hadn’t even seen the director yet, but the security guards had apparently managed to keep his presence to themselves as requested. And Shepard clearly didn’t care what was going on down here without DiNozzo around.
“You’re late!” Gibbs barked.
“Boss!” McGee yelped; the start of surprise caused his bag and cup of coffee to slip from his hands. “You’re back,” he stated, staring wide-eyed.
“Ya think?” he bit out caustically. “You want to tell me why you’re strolling in here an hour and a half late?”
“I… well, I mean…” he stuttered, then swallowed hard. “Tony didn’t really care what time we started,” he blurted out.
Gibbs forced himself not to display any facial expression as he stepped right up into McGee’s space, hearing the wet squish of the coffee spill on the floor. “You want to try that again?”
McGee’s eyes were like saucers. “Wha-what do you mean?”
“You sticking with that story, Agent McGee?”
McGee went from pale to flushed. “Sorry, Boss, it won’t happen again.”
“Damn right it won’t.” Gibbs turned back to his desk, then added, “And, McGee, next time you lie to me, you find a new team.”
Aware of eyes on him, Gibbs looked up into the stunned gaze of Jenny Shepard, his former protégé, from where she was standing on the balcony.
Seemingly getting herself together, she came down the steps. “Jethro, I wasn’t aware you had returned to NCIS.”
“DiNozzo called. Said he was sent afloat. I decided to come back—seeing as how I was on leave rather than retired.”
Her eyes narrowed fractionally before her expression cleared. “And what else did Agent DiNozzo have to say?”
Gibbs raised a brow. “Not much of anything, Director. He was shipping out and, with the limited time he had, wanted me to know the team was going to get a new lead.” He stared at her intently. “Is there something he was supposed to tell me?”
“I thought he might have taken the time to brief you on the current caseload,” she said evasively.
Gibbs snorted. “SecNav gave him twelve hours to get his life in order before he had to board a boat. He barely said ‘hi’. I’m not going to fault him for letting the junior agents handle the sitrep.”
“Well, I’m sure I can fill you in as well. If you’ll come up to my office?”
“Why would you be able to fill me in on the team status?”
“I’ve been rather keeping an eye on things,” she replied, tipping her chin up.
“DiNozzo not able to do the job?” he asked bluntly. He could see that McGee wanted to say something, but he shot the man quick glare to keep him silent.
“No, Agent DiNozzo was a competent leader,” Jenny finally said.
“Then why would you be keeping an eye on?”
“Is that a problem, Agent Gibbs?” she challenged.
“You know how I feel about you messing with my team!”
She seemed to relax fractionally even as she glared at him. “Well, it wasn’t your team, now was it? And I’d like to remind you that I am the head of this agency, and I’ll do as I please.”
Feeling like he’d diverted any suspicions she had for the moment, he just glared and offered nothing else.
“I’d like to see you in my office.”
“Later. I need to get my team settled and my liaison officer is late.”
“Sometime this morning, Agent Gibbs,” she insisted.
He gave a curt nod. “Who am I getting TAD?”
She frowned. “No one. The team has a probationary agent, Michelle Lee, she’ll remain on the MCRT.”
Yeah, he had issue with that. “She’s not qualified for the MCRT, I checked. Also, I can’t have a probie and a liaison… puts too much burden on the SFA.”
“Officer David has performed admirably. I don’t see any reason to change things.”
“Not a matter of competence, matter of regulations.” He infused a touch of a question into it. Was she so far caught up in her games that she was slipping on stupid shit? Putting an actual fresh out of FLETC probie on the MCRT was a bad idea to begin with, but with a liaison officer, it wasn’t possible.
“Right. Of course. My apologies, Jethro, with Ziva’s skills, it’s easy to forget that she’s not truly ours.”
Needing to play this right, he added. “She’s coming along… told you I’d work with her, but need another fully qualified agent on the team.”
“Yes, well, I’ll get on that. I’ll have an answer for you when you come see me in an hour. In the meantime, please work with Agent Lee until I can find a suitable alternative.”
He didn’t respond, and she finally just nodded and left after reminding him to be in her office in an hour.
He rounded on McGee. “You got something to say about DiNozzo’s performance as team lead?”
McGee swallowed nervously but still firmed his shoulders. “He wasn’t the best at it, Boss.”
“Is that right?”
“He tried to do everything differently,” McGee managed to get out.
“So?” DiNozzo had outlined the changes he made in his log, and Gibbs saw no issue with them.
“Uh, it… it wasn’t the way you did things.”
“And… he stopped?”
“Yeah, uh, then he started trying to be like you.” McGee winced as he said it.
“And that wasn’t good enough for you either?”
“He’s not you, Boss.”
“So, for you, he wasn’t good enough being himself, but he wasn’t good enough acting like me?”
McGee flushed. “You don’t understand.”
“I’m sure that I do.” Gibbs stepped close again. “He left me the copies of the reprimands.”
McGee’s eyes widened. “The director pulled those!”
“Which she should not have done!” Gibbs forced himself to calm down. “We’re going to have a talk about this later. Now, where the hell is David?”
“She usually comes in about ten.”
Gibbs forced back a snarl. “Get this mess cleaned up and then get to work. I don’t know where anything is, or the status, so I want copies of all the recent team reports on my desk by the time I get back. I’m going to see Abby. And if you give her a heads’ up that I’m coming, you can consider yourself suspended.” He turned and walked away, not waiting for a response.
He heard the music from Abby’s lab before he ever got off the elevator. Was she listening to it even louder? It was possible this volume was something he forgot, but he didn’t think so. She didn’t notice when he stepped into the lab, as she was occupied on her computer, so he took a moment to look around, and immediately wanted nothing more than to turn around and leave.
Every available space was plastered with pictures of him. It was ridiculous. It was obscene. When he managed to school his expression away from complete horror, he turned off her music.
“Hey!” she whipped around, then stared with her mouth hanging open. “Gibbs!” she finally screeched and flew at him, grabbing him into a huge hug. He returned it hesitantly. “When did you get back? Are you back for good? Please, please, please be back for good.”
“I’m back,” he replied disentangling himself and stepping away. “What’s this?” He gestured to the walls plastered with shots of him.
“Oh, Gibbs, I missed you! I wanted to keep you with me every day.”
“Think you could keep me with you just fine with only one. Seems like this’d make it harder to let go.”
She looked stricken. “I wasn’t going to let go. I knew you’d come back, you just had to.”
“I had no intention of coming back when I left here, Abby, and it worries me that this is the environment you chose to work in.”
“Gibbs!” she whined, and he frowned, wondering when that had started. “You just had to come back.”
“NCIS would have got on without me just fine.”
“It wouldn’t have been the same!” she said with a little foot stomp that surprised him.
“Of course not, but change happens.”
“I don’t like change.”
He looked around the lab, taking in more details. “I see that.” A stack of stickers caught his eye, and he looked closer even as he said, “It’s not okay that you did this, Abby. It’s been three months. You needed to let go.”
“I wasn’t giving up so soon, Gibbs. In fact, the only person who gave up on you was Tony!”
“Really, how so?”
“He just–” she broke off and threw her hands up in the air. “It’s like he didn’t care that you were gone.”
“So he did his job instead of wallowing in misery over my retirement?” She made a face, but didn’t immediately answer, so he held up a couple of the stickers that said, ‘trainee.’ “What are these? You get a new assistant?” He remembered her swearing to never have another assistant, though details were a bit sketchy in his mind. Something to do with DiNozzo and being framed for murder. The fact that it was a DiNozzo-centric memory explained why Gibbs had some blank spots. He made a mental note to spend some time tonight thinking about that case and seeing if he could bring more of it back.
Abby made a raspberry sound in response. “No. Not after Chippers! Never again! No, those were for Tony.”
Now Gibbs was really confused. “Why would DiNozzo need trainee stickers?”
She shrugged nonchalantly. “He was learning how to do things right… you know, get here on time, bring my Caf-Pow, ask the right questions.”
Gibbs had a hard time not reacting. “You put trainee stickers on DiNozzo because he didn’t do things exactly like me?”
“Oh, he tried too hard to do things like you!” she laughed. “But he was no Gibbs.”
“I wouldn’t want him to be,” Gibbs said softly. “I trained him to stand on his own, not in my shadow.” He remembered that clearly. DiNozzo had only needed a little guidance in the very beginning. Abby had even remarked to him early in DiNozzo’s tenure at NCIS that Gibbs had finally found one who didn’t need hand-holding.
Abby blinked at him, it finally sinking in that Gibbs wasn’t pleased. “Gibbs… it was just Tony.”
“Tony DiNozzo, who has more than eleven years of law enforcement experience, and who I trained personally to take over the team one day. That Tony?”
“I, you don’t… it wasn’t like that, Gibbs! But what does it matter? You’re back!”
“And DiNozzo’s at sea,” Gibbs reminded her.
She waved it away. “I’m sure you’ll get him back eventually. I mean, things can’t go back to the way they were without him, but I know Ziva and Timmy could use a break from him trying to be you all the time. Things will get back to normal, and then you can bring him home, and everything will be perfect again!”
Gibbs let all but one of the trainee stickers slip into the trash. He peeled the backing off the final one and placed it on the lapel of Abby’s lab coat.
“Gibbs?” she asked, sounding completely confused.
“Seems like DiNozzo isn’t the one around here who needs remedial training. I think you should wear that until you can see how you screwed up.” He headed toward the door, ignoring her wounded expression. “Get this shit off the walls. I never want to see it again.” Hesitating, he turned back and softly said, “I’m really disappointed in you, Abby. I thought, of anyone, I could count on you to back up DiNozzo as team lead. He really wasn’t the one who needed training apparently.”
For the moment, he was a little grateful for his memory issues. He knew he felt affection for Abby, but it was almost separate from himself—as if it hadn’t all integrated yet. That little divide in his own mind allowed him to walk away from her look of complete devastation.
Upstairs he found Ziva still not arrived, but McGee quickly hung up the phone mid-word.
“You trying to warn Ziva to get her ass in here?”
McGee flinched a bit. “Yes, Boss.”
Well, he hadn’t told McGee not to call her. “You got those reports?”
“On your desk.”
The stack of paper was minimal. “Where’s the rest?”
“Yes. The rest!” he flipped through the papers. “Where’s the loss/damage report, the supply report, the supply requests, the scene reports, the team calendar, the case summary, injury reports, travel summaries, re-qualification schedule…” he trailed off and pinned McGee with a look. “Where are the rest?”
“Uh, Boss, Tony does those.”
Gibbs brows snapped together. “DiNozzo does your work? Why?” Was he missing something? He had that feeling of memories shifting and reorganizing. DiNozzo always made sure no one knew just how hard he worked. The team rarely saw him doing paperwork, but surely McGee knew what the SFA job actually entailed? Did he really, stupidly, think Gibbs had been letting DiNozzo not do his job all these years?
“What the hell has been going on here?”
“He said, but I didn’t…” McGee stopped, gulping audibly.
“Gibbs?” Ziva’s voice interrupted. “You have returned.”
He turned to face her, finding her halted at the edge of the bullpen. “You’re two hours late,” he snapped. “Was DiNozzo the only one doing his damn job while I was gone?”
She scoffed. “Tony is a baboon.”
“Buffoon,” McGee corrected, then wilted under the heat of Gibbs’ glare.
Ziva waved the correction away. “Whichever, but he is not qualified to lead.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes.” She raised her chin defiantly.
“So, you, who were pushed on my team and have been an investigator for less than a year, are qualified to judge the man I hand-picked to be my Senior Field Agent, with the goal of him taking over the team when I retire. You, the assassin in all but title, think you’re qualified to judge the merits of any investigator at NCIS?”
Ziva looked flummoxed for a moment but then obviously steeled her resolve. “I have learned more in the last year than Tony could possibly know, and it is, after all, my opinion.”
“You get to have an opinion when I say you do,” Gibbs snapped. “You seem to think that because the director wants you on this team that you can do whatever the hell you please. Is that it, Officer David?” He knew he couldn’t really kick her off the team, not with Vance’s investigation, but him putting up with this bullshit would be completely out of character.
She frowned, obviously not expecting him to threaten her position. “I thought we had an understanding, you and I, about my place here. I did not think it was just Jenny’s influence.”
“I agreed to mentor you. I did not agree to put up with blatant insubordination.”
“I have always followed your orders,” she shot back quickly. “I understand the chain of command.”
Was she that obtuse? Really? “And ignoring DiNozzo’s orders?”
“Bah. He is not fit to–” she broke off, startled when he got in her face.
“He. Is. Your. Superior. In every damn way. You ignore an order from him again, you find another team.”
Ziva quickly got her bearings. “He is gone now, yes?”
“He’ll be back,” Gibbs ground out as he turned away. “I’ll damn well make sure of it.” As he started up the stairs to see Shepard, he called back. “When I get back, if I find Hebrew in a single report of yours from the last three months, you won’t have to worry about the chain of command. You’ll be gone immediately.”
He figured that would get her scrambling while he talked to Shepard. Gibbs would probably need to make a coffee run to really give them enough time. No doubt McGee would be occupied as well—it was highly unlikely Ziva would be able to correct those reports without help. He couldn’t really kick her off the team after all.
Not yet, anyway.
– – – –
A week later and Gibbs was ready to kill someone. The who was up for grabs. Shepard for hovering over his shoulder, McGee for being completely incapable of doing the work of a Senior Field Agent, or David for just being… her. And he couldn’t forget Abby, who gave him pouts and tragic eyes every time he went to the lab. She hadn’t outright questioned the lack of Caf-Pows, but she should be able to figure it out. She needed to get her head out of her ass.
Gibbs pushed away from his workbench. The day had been long and nightmarish. He needed an SFA who could do the job. He’d told the director to get a TAD for him who could fill in for SFA, but she’d dug her heels in about McGee for some damn reason. He’d apprised Vance of that surprising fact. Was McGee involved in this goat rope, too? His gut said no, but he’d actually started to wonder if could trust his gut anymore.
His memories were getting better, but they weren’t all together yet. And dealing with the memories of DiNozzo were getting harder every damn day. The more things didn’t go right at work, the more he thought about DiNozzo, the more he had feelings he didn’t want to deal with, the more frustrated he became. He knew that even in his thoughts, he was mentally distancing himself from the other man, but he couldn’t seem to stop.
He heard his front door open, then a very distinctive tread crossing the floor. He wasn’t truly surprised that Ducky was checking on him. He’d been watching Gibbs carefully all week long. The team had been on rotation over the weekend, and they’d had two cases come in, so tonight was the first night in several anyone had significant downtime.
When Ducky had reached the bottom of the stairs, Gibbs asked, “Bourbon, Duck?” even though he knew what the other man would say.
“Goodness gracious, no, Jethro. I couldn’t possibly. That swill you drink is only fit for removing tarnish.”
Gibbs’ lips twitched. The argument was old and familiar, and he truly felt the familiarity rather than just recalling it. “What’s on your mind, then?”
“You’ve been rather on a tear the last week. I thought it prudent to see how you were faring.”
Gibbs snorted. “They chewing your ear off with their bitching?”
“Perhaps I’ve had more than a visit or two. What seems to be the difficulty?”
He admitted to himself that he was a little disappointed. “You were blind to the nonsense going on while I was in Mexico?”
Ducky opened his mouth to reply, then closed it and looked thoughtful. “I’ll concede the children had some difficulties adjusting.”
“Difficulties?” Gibbs repeated incredulously. “And they’re not children, Duck! Abby is two years older than DiNozzo and has a damn Ph.D.! McGee can’t stop talking about his qualifications, but can’t actually do the job. David is nowhere near where she should be after a year of training—she’s stuck in the Mossad method of expediency, and we’re lucky she hasn’t screwed the pooch in regards to getting a conviction on some of our cases.”
He turned to face Ducky more squarely. “Not to mention the rampant back biting and insubordination that was going on while I was away. You didn’t notice? Really, Duck?”
“Jethro, I confess, I’ve been rather wrapped up in my own issues. I did see things on occasion, and I, somewhat abashedly, admit that they were quite egregious infractions. And Mr. Palmer did try to share some of these concerns with me. I’m afraid I wasn’t in a place to hear it.”
“Palmer?” Gibbs asked bemusedly. “Why Palmer?”
“I gather that he and Anthony struck up something of a friendship in your absence.”
That seemed so improbable.
“Needs must, my dear boy,” Ducky added. “Do you know why Anthony was sent to the Eisenhower?”
Gibbs wanted to confide in Ducky, but he couldn’t risk it. “I was told there was a high priority investigation, and SecNav wanted a seasoned investigator who was sociable enough to get over the barrier between Agent Afloat and the crew, young enough to handle some rigorous physical demands, and good undercover.”
“Well, Anthony does rather fit that bill perfectly, I’d say.”
“Beyond that, I’ve been told it’s need-to-know, and I don’t.”
“That must frustrate you greatly.”
Oh, Ducky had no idea just how frustrated Gibbs was when it came to DiNozzo. He kept asking Vance for the safe email address. Vance said no, but it wasn’t like Gibbs had tried to reach out via the regular email. He knew he could have at least said something, but he wasn’t sure what to say.
“I’ll get him back as soon as I can,” Gibbs finally said.
“Will he want to come back?”
“Well, if what you say is true about the behavior while you were away, why would he wish to come back to more of that and a demotion?”
“I’ll fix it, Ducky,” Gibbs insisted. They had to get through this investigation, and then DiNozzo would get off that damn boat, and things could get back to normal.
Ducky was watching him carefully. “What is really going on, Jethro?”
“I don’t take your meaning.” Had Gibbs given something away about the investigation?
“With you and Anthony? What is it? Something strikes me as odd about your behavior with regards to him, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.”
Gibbs braced his hands on the workbench and blew out a heavy breath. “I don’t want to get into this, Ducky.”
“Oh, my goodness gracious!” Ducky suddenly exclaimed. “Jethro, is Anthony the person for whom you have developed such profound feelings?”
Flinching a little, Gibbs didn’t reply.
“Jethro… I admit, you’ve taken me by surprise, but I don’t understand the source of your torment. Anthony is an amazing young man. Or is it that he is, in fact, a man?”
“That’s not it. It’s not my first rodeo, if you take my meaning.” He shot Ducky a pointed look.
“Ah! Well, that does rather take me by surprise, but if the gender is not at issue… please tell me it’s not your vaunted rules, Jethro!”
“He’s my subordinate,” Gibbs answered, not really addressing the question.
“Not exactly. He was your peer when he went afloat, and, if I recall, afloat agents are Senior Agents in their own right.”
“They have to be because of the level of responsibility they have,” he admitted. “But he’ll be my subordinate again.”
“That is sheer stubbornness and selfishness talking. It is certainly not best for Anthony to return to his prior situation, if what you’ve told me is true. While I would mourn the end of such a dynamic team and surrogate family, I fail to see why you wish anything but the best for him.”
Okay, yeah… he was a selfish bastard, but he wanted DiNozzo back where he belonged! He remembered how DiNozzo had gelled with him right from the start. There’d been hiccups, but he’d immediately trusted the man at his back. Somewhere along the way, that trust had turned into something else, but anything else was probably impossible, so Gibbs would take what he could get. And damn if he didn’t hate his own internal monologue about DiNozzo these days. “Having him on my team is as close as I can get to having him,” Gibbs finally admitted.
“That’s ridiculous. Granted, you cannot know Anthony’s feelings, but what do your memories say?”
“I don’t know. It’s a jumble,” he hedged.
“Jethro,” Ducky chastised.
“I think… he might have been receptive. I’m not sure anymore.”
“You won’t know anything if you do not ask.”
Gibbs snorted. “Right. I can’t do that. I can’t… I can’t replace her.”
Ducky laid a hand on his shoulder. “No one requires that of you. You should take joy in the happiness you had with Shannon, but why does that mean that you cannot embrace new happiness?”
Gibbs just shook his head. Losing her was just too fresh. But he couldn’t stop the feelings of wanting something new with someone in particular, and the push/pull was driving him insane.
“Time to grieve is fine, Jethro, but do not sabotage what you might have in the future in your attempts to recreate something just because the status quo is comfortable.”
“I’m not,” he started to protest.
“You most assuredly are. Your plans to bring Anthony back into the fold are certainly not for his benefit. I think it would do his heart good to hear that he is wanted, but also supported in doing the best thing for him.”
Why did Ducky have to make so much damn sense?
– – – –
Wednesday morning, Gibbs was finishing his latest case report, and trying to not growl at everyone, when his pre-paid cell vibrated. He got quickly got up. “I’m getting coffee.”
He waited till he’d cleared the front doors and was halfway to the coffee shop before he pulled out the cell. He had several texts from Vance. He’d seen the man just this morning, having recently arrived from the West Coast to begin overseeing the “security upgrades.”
— email@example.com —
— that email address was not my choice! —
— Now stop asking me about DiNozzo! —
The Agent 86 was a rare pop culture reference that Gibbs actually got, and it was so perfectly DiNozzo, that he found himself smiling.
With a sharp pang, he realized that he missed the man—missed his laughter, and his insights, and the security of having DiNozzo at his back. His memories seemed to shift and settle a little more, feeling less distant and more real. He didn’t fight what he was feeling for once, letting the image of DiNozzo in the frame of that ripped up house fill his mind. He just let it be and went to get his coffee. While he was walking back, feelings and images began to come together in his mind, and he started to get why that memory was so important.
When he got home that night, he was grateful that he’d made some preparations for the possibility that he’d be able to contact DiNozzo. He’d had Internet installed, and bought a freaking laptop for his home use. Vance had recommended both in case they needed Gibbs to have access away from NCIS, but Gibbs’ motivation for complying had been DiNozzo.
But as he sat in front of the laptop, he had no idea what to say.
Date/Time: 09/06/2006, 8:34 PM
– You okay?
He hit send, knowing it was a pathetic attempt at communicating, but it didn’t stop his nerves at all. He was halfway through dinner when he noticed he’d received a reply.
Subject: re: Update
– Verify ID. Why is that your email address?
He quickly replied.
– Movie I quoted when I offered you a job.
The response from DiNozzo came back immediately.
– Good enough. What do you want?
– Checking on you.
Gibbs was perplexed. The DiNozzo he remembered would have been eager to have Gibbs checking on him.
– What happened?
He needed DiNozzo to give him something, anything, to work with.
– In what respect?
– You’re not being yourself.
– Pathetic, you mean?
Gibbs reared back. What the hell?
– I don’t understand. What’s happened?
– We happened.
– Just say it clearly. I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me.
– WE happened. You and me. You treated me without respect, and like neither I nor my position mattered. I LET you. I let you undermine me and make a joke of my role on the team. I don’t really blame you, I fucked up, but I’m not eager for a repeat
Gibbs realized he was staring at the computer, mouth open in astonishment. Was that true?
– I’ve never made a joke of you or your position.
The pause before he got a response was longer than he would have liked.
– Your memories are still fucked up, aren’t they?
Okay, that was uncalled for, he thought.
– I remember just fine.
– Apparently not! How many times did you literally say to a subordinate that they didn’t have to listen to me? I can think of several. Can you remember any, or is your memory still Swiss cheese?
He was stunned at how DiNozzo wasn’t pulling his punches. Before he could type a reply, another email came in.
I’m not going to fight with you. Either you see it, or you don’t. I don’t care anymore. Facing myself in the mirror was painful, but I got through it. I hope I’ve learned from my mistakes. Goodbye, Gibbs.
– We are not done!
Over the next hour, he sent several variations of that, but there was never a response, and Gibbs was left wondering it were a case of not remembering, or simply not seeing.
– – – –
The next day in the midst of an extremely busy case, Gibbs mind kept going back to DiNozzo’s brush off. Even though he didn’t want to, memories that fit DiNozzo’s version of events kept crowding his mind and making it hard to focus. Had he really been that much of a bastard? And why? Now that it had been pointed out, he could see the various incidents and how they could be taken badly by outsiders, so why had he let it go so out of control? Since when did he have such lack of insight into his own damn behavior?
Even though they had a case, McGee kept babbling on at the TAD and David about the security upgrades. He would normally have told McGee to shut up and focus on the damn case, but he noted that David was paying close attention to McGee’s babble.
Eventually, she asked, “I do not understand the purpose of these ‘improvements’, McGee.”
“Don’t you remember the FBI being hacked a while back? These upgrades are state of the art and should prevent anyone from getting inside our firewall.”
“Will they be upgrading our inside security?” Ziva asked, and Gibbs feigned continuing to read his report as he began paying closer attention.
“Will they be changing the way we do our jobs, McGee. Will we have to learn new security techniques to access our logs and reports?”
“Oh, no. The upgrades are to prevent outside intrusion. From what I understand very little is being done to our internal systems. Nothing should change in the way we work.”
Gibbs noted that she relaxed fractionally, and the slight confirmation of her activities was painful. “That is good,” she remarked. “It took me weeks to figure out the expense reports. I would hate to have to start again.”
McGee made a face. “We all would, Ziva. I thought Tony was going to kill you over those expense reports.”
She snorted. “He is not capable of even causing a bruise.”
Laughing lightly, McGee devolved into technobabble about ‘encryption protocols’.
“You angling to be off my team and move to IT, McGee?” Gibbs asked.
“What? No, Boss!”
“Then focus on the case!”
The director had been in something of a strop since Gibbs got back, presumably because SecNav had sent DiNozzo out to sea. Then she tried to have McGee brought into the security upgrades, but Vance had vetoed it, which she’d tried to overrule, and then SecNav stepped in. She’d been in a snit ever since.
“You got all the incident reports done yet, McGee?” They were already overdue, and Gibbs was getting tired of “training” McGee to be a decent SFA. Gibbs knew DiNozzo was a good trainer, and much more patient than Gibbs could ever hope to be, so the fact that McGee knew practically nothing of the job said that he just refused to do it.
Gibbs had again tried to get Shepard to appoint a TAD who had some SFA experience, but she’d declined once more, in an obvious snit, stating that McGee was the team SFA. So Gibbs was riding McGee hard about the team paperwork, but also picking up a fair amount of the work himself. He knew he was getting grouchy from all the damn paperwork he hadn’t had to do in more than half a decade.
McGee popped up with a stack of paperwork. The top page wasn’t what he was expecting, so he flipped through them. “Where’s the summary report?”
Gibbs wanted to bang his head on his desk. “Yes, the summary!”
“Oh, well, I can summarize everything for you.”
“I mean the report called ‘Summary of Incidents’.”
McGee made a face. “You mean, I have to do all those different types of incident reports, and then I have to do a summary of incidents report? That’s stupid.”
He just glared. Actually, it was one of the few reports Gibbs didn’t think was useless. All the various incidents they had to track over the month–loss/damage, injuries, altercations, after-action, etcetera ad infinitum–the summary of those reports saved him a ton of reading.
“I’ll… I’ll figure it out, Boss.”
“Figure it out later. Take Agent…” he waved toward the TAD whose name he couldn’t be bothered to remember, “and get statements from the victim’s shipmates.” Part of the plan was to give David opportunities to continue her illegal file access, which meant she needed plenty of time in the office.
“Coffee,” he said, getting to his feet.
At the coffee shop, he wasn’t really surprised when Vance wound up in line behind him. Since they’d known each other for years, it wasn’t at all odd to stop outside and chat for a few minutes, then walk back together.
“We’ve got David already—had her within minutes actually—but we’re not going to move until we have something more concrete on Shepard. Though we may get our hands forced if she gets access to something more classified than what she has accessed so far.”
“What’s she been after?” he asked, stomach feeling like lead.
“We only have a few days of data, but mostly special operations in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.”
“Damn.” That was information the US government was not going to be happy had gotten out to Mossad.
“DiNozzo underestimated how much she was accessing, I think, but he had to rely on spy cams and sneakiness. We’re just monitoring every keystroke on her computer. When we’re ready to move on them, we’ll wait until she has files on a flash drive in her possession, and trying to leave the building. Don’t do anything to interfere with her normal activities.”
Gibbs shot Vance a half-hearted glare.
“Not sure if you’ll be relieved by this or not, but doesn’t appear to be anyone involved outside of Shepard and David.”
He supposed that was good news. Having McGee, or god help him, Abby, involved would have made him question his judgment.
Once Vance split off to return to his cyber-stalking, Gibbs’ thoughts once again turned to DiNozzo. He wanted to deny DiNozzo’s accusation, but there had been several verbal barbs about, or jokes made of DiNozzo already today. Gibbs knew he’d almost never stopped those remarks in the past, even when he thought they were over the line. His style of management had been to let them sort it out amongst themselves unless they proved incapable of it.
Yes, DiNozzo had been holding his own with his teammates for years, but, for starters, Ziva wasn’t Kate, and second, Gibbs recognized that he’d been wrong to let the disrespect for DiNozzo go without any comment. And he also could see that it had been going on for years. While Kate hadn’t usually been spiteful, she also wasn’t often respectful either. Aside from the position itself deserving respect, DiNozzo had certainly earned it.
The odd dynamic that developed after Kate joined had worked to settle her and McGee into their roles. They’d had someone they could learn from and compete with, but along the way Gibbs had forgotten to remind everyone, even DiNozzo, that the SFA was the boss when Gibbs wasn’t around. That DiNozzo was part of the chain of command, and that deserved respect.
It galled Gibbs to admit that DiNozzo was right. They had created the situation. He knew he needed to analyze the fucked up mess further, but first, he had a case to solve.
– – – –
Gibbs sanded the boat, the familiar rhythm was almost automatic and allowed him plenty of time to think. And to remember.
The more he opened the door to the idea that his leadership had some flaws, the more incidents popped into his mind to illustrate the damn point. In truth, DiNozzo hadn’t stood a chance as team leader, not with this team anyway. He’d been set up for failure, and it was a testament to his skill and just sheer stubbornness that he’d managed for three months without losing his shit, or letting the solve rate drop.
And DiNozzo was also right about this clusterfuck being a joint effort. Gibbs had screwed up, and DiNozzo had accepted things as they were. DiNozzo was no shrinking violet… he’d always been willing to stand up to Gibbs when necessary, and he apparently hadn’t thought this situation warranted it. That was also DiNozzo’s mistake. Still, Gibbs knew more of the responsibility was on his shoulders than on DiNozzo’s. He just wasn’t sure what to do about it.
Abruptly, he put down his sanding block and jogged up the stairs, grabbing his keys and heading out.
When he arrived at Ducky’s, he hesitated briefly. He knew he should have called first. Gibbs didn’t normally put much thought into social niceties, but Ducky had his mother to contend with, and unexpected visitors could cause problems for him.
Just as he’d talked himself out of going in, the porch light went on and Ducky was framed in the doorway. He made a welcoming gesture and left the door open for Gibbs.
He took the same seat he’d had the last visit, but this time Ducky served him coffee. Confiding in Ducky had always been easy; they’d known each other a long time and the man tended to not be judgmental or forceful with his opinions. Still, seeking advice wasn’t something Gibbs was really comfortable with.
“What can I do for you, Jethro?” Ducky prompted gently.
“And? How is the dear boy?”
“Angry, I think.”
Gibbs ran his hand over his face. “He said some things… about how he and I created the situation on the team. That I didn’t respect him or his position.”
Ducky cocked his head to the side and looked thoughtful. “Anthony found himself in an untenable situation, apparently, and seems to have spent some time in introspection.”
“You agree with him?”
“About you not respecting him? No. No, I rather think you respect Anthony more than most people you know. I think it’s a matter of did you ever let yourself show him, or even tell him, that?”
Gibbs made a face. “I’m not in the habit of giving pats on the back, Duck.”
“And we both know there’s a distinction between approval and respect. Could he have sought your approval so diligently because he felt it was a path to gaining your respect?”
“He always had my respect,” Gibbs snapped.
“Which makes it both ironic and tragic,” Ducky countered.
“I kept him on my team for five years! That says something.”
“It’s unlike you to rely so heavily on nuance, Jethro. ‘I haven’t kicked you off my team’ is not quite the same thing as ‘you’ve done well’.”
“It is to me.”
“And there’s only room in your world for your interpretation, is that it?”
Gibbs sighed. “I don’t know what he wants from me?”
“What did he say?”
“He said he wasn’t going to argue with me. That he and I created the situation that allowed things to fall apart. He didn’t say the words, but the ‘I’m done,’ was sort of in there.” Gibbs hesitated, then added, “He said ‘goodbye’ and it sounded very… final.” And that had been like a kick in the gut.
Ducky looked concerned. “And how did you leave it?”
“I told him we weren’t done, several times, but he hasn’t been responding.”
“Hmm. Are you able to see his point of view now that you’ve had some time for reflection?”
Gibbs winced. “Yeah. Too well. The more I thought about it, the more I remembered. It all seemed so small at the time…”
“Oh, Jethro, please don’t make me bring up tired clichés about straw and camels. Because while it’s incredibly trite, it’s painfully true.”
“I get it. We screwed up. More me,” he admitted. “But now what?”
“Did you ever acknowledge the validity of his viewpoint?”
Ducky’s brows shot up. “So you’ve just been demanding and not really listening.”
“I listened! I even agree with him.”
“And yet, if you’d truly paid attention, you’d have said that to him, and not just kept the realization to yourself.”
Gibbs glared half-heartedly. “I can’t have a heart-to-heart with an email.”
“Why ever not? It seems to be the means at your disposal, and you already had some degree of discourse via electronic messaging.” He pinned Gibbs with a hard stare. “Or is it simply that you don’t wish to admit you’re wrong?”
“I’m not perfect, Duck. I’m wrong sometimes.”
“How often do you admit it to anyone but yourself? Self-awareness, in this case, is only useful if it results in some sort of change.”
Gibbs admitted he wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of airing his mistakes at all, but certainly not through email!
Ducky sighed. “I understand you’re averse to communicating, Jethro, but if you want to salvage your relationship with the young man, or perhaps forge a new, more intimate one, you’re going to have to communicate. You’ll have to use actual words, and possibly even apologize.”
“That’s a sign of–”
“Oh, do hush!” Ducky interjected, surprising Gibbs. “Perhaps it would be a sign of weakness to apologize to an adversary. Is that Anthony’s role in your life? Is it mine? Why should those closest to you be treated with the level of contempt you’d show an enemy?”
“Ducky,” Gibbs began, completely taken aback, but then couldn’t think of a thing to say.
“I apologize for being harsh, Jethro, but sometimes you need a good talking to! If you value Anthony simply for himself, you’ll at least acknowledge that he has a legitimate reason to be angry. If you value the time he’s given you, and the years he’s had your back—or your six, as you might say—you’ll admit you made a mistake. And if you wish to have the possibility of more with that fine young man, you’ll break your rules and offer an apology! I believe you deserve happiness, and I think Anthony could be a source of great joy for you, but you must break away from your rules, and put him above your own ego.”
“Okay, that’s not fair,” Gibbs bit out.
“Isn’t it? Your rules may be about a code to live your life, but your inability to bend or break them when they are so desperately working against you is sheer vanity, my friend. You must decide what’s more important. Your ego, or your friend.”
– – – –
Ducky’s words rattled around in Gibbs’ head as he closed out the week. All the questions remained unanswered… what did he want from DiNozzo, could he admit he was wrong, was bringing him back to be SFA just Gibbs being selfish? Those questions and so many more prodded him constantly. Plus, the more he thought about DiNozzo, the more his memories seemed to settle into feeling like him and not some stranger.
“Boss, did you need anything else?”
Gibbs thought about keeping McGee later but ultimately decided to let him go for the weekend. He’d been pushing hard, and he thought McGee was really getting the message that he’d screwed up. Bits and pieces of various conversations came together in his mind, and he got to his feet. “My office,” he said shortly, walking toward the elevator.
McGee looked like he was going to his funeral as the elevator doors closed. Gibbs waited until the elevator was in motion before slamming on the emergency stop.
“I want an explanation.”
“You’ve had a two-week reality check. You should have some damn insight into your stupidity while I was gone.”
McGee winced. “I screwed up, Boss.”
“That I already know,” he sniped. “Why?”
McGee fidgeted, and Gibbs was forcefully reminded that McGee was still a work in progress. He had only a couple years of field experience and still relied more on technology than actual investigating. He wasn’t fully baked yet, and Gibbs had always relied on DiNozzo to bring the junior agents along.
“It’s just… Tony being the boss was a joke,” he began.
“We’ll table your assessment of DiNozzo for the moment. Assuming you’re right, and he wasn’t fit to be team lead, what gave you the right to ignore the chain of command?”
McGee deflated. “Nothing.”
“That’s right! Nothing! If they’d brought in an overbearing, by-the-book ass like Compton, would you have pulled this shit?”
“So it was a malicious attack on DiNozzo.”
“Not malicious,” McGee countered. “I mean, Ziva was always saying how he wasn’t qualified, and he’s just a playboy.” He shrugged. “It made sense.”
“You wanted it to make sense!” Gibbs snapped. “Is it envy, McGee?”
McGee scoffed, but he also looked uncomfortable.
“Envy,” Gibbs repeated in disgust. “He’s a much better investigator than you’ll ever be. And don’t give me that look! I can’t train DiNozzo’s instincts into you. I can’t teach you how to make his intuitive leaps. You have your strengths, but DiNozzo’s style of investigating is not one of them. You brought a skillset to the team that we needed. As a team we are better than any of us individually. But because you don’t like being second string, you turned into an insubordinate asshole just because you thought you could get away with it.”
“Boss,” McGee said imploringly, “he’s a jock. His degree is in physical education!”
“So. What.” Gibbs bit out. “Mine is in military history. It in no way prepared me to be an NCIS agent. Your degree in computer forensics set you up to be in Cyber Crimes, but didn’t do a damn thing for you in the field, now did it?”
“It’s just… how do I take him seriously?”
Gibbs just shook his head. DiNozzo was completely right. They’d let this shit get way out of hand. The problem was, Gibbs hadn’t realized just how poisoned this particular tree had become. “He’s your superior. He has more field experience, more life experience, and he’s above you in the chain of command since the day you started on my team. In fact, DiNozzo is the one who wanted you. I said no in the beginning.”
He gave McGee a searching look. “I think you’ve been listening to Ziva’s bullshit. I don’t know why she has an axe to grind against DiNozzo, but it ends. Now.”
McGee looked alternately upset and stubborn. “I thought you were okay with taking Tony down a peg sometimes.”
Gibbs blinked. “Me? Why the hell would I want you treating my SFA like shit?”
“You’ve never said anything before, and you helped…” McGee trailed off, shaking his head.
“What exactly is it that I helped do, McGee?” When he didn’t answer, Gibbs barked, “McGee!”
The junior agent jumped. “You helped us play that joke on Tony, and everyone knew he felt like shit about it. I thought… I thought you wanted to get his ego in check.”
“What joke are you talking about?” Gibbs asked in confusion.
“That thing with Ziva’s dinner party.”
Gibbs was drawing a blank. “Explain, McGee!”
“Right, Boss! Uh… you remember, right before Ziva and Tony got caught in that shipping container? Ziva had a dinner party for the whole team?”
He had to think on that for a second. He remembered the shipping container because he’d been so worried about losing his team… he vaguely remembered a team dinner and being annoyed at DiNozzo for flaking out.
“What about it?”
“Well, she didn’t invite Tony.”
“Um, no? She told Abby and me that she wanted a grown-up evening. And you know how Tony hates to be excluded from stuff.”
Gibbs’ eyes narrowed. He did know—DiNozzo needed to feel like he belonged. He nearly winced at recalling how he’d sometimes used that knowledge to keep DiNozzo in his place. “But then you all had to rub it in his face that you’d deliberately left him out.” He dragged his hand over his face, frustrated and painfully disappointed—with his team, and himself. The kicker was that DiNozzo had to think Gibbs was a participant in that petty, high-school backbiting. And it was a reasonable assumption. After they’d gotten DiNozzo out of the sewers with Sergeant Atlas, Gibbs let him believe he’d been ready to replace DiNozzo with McGee. An empty threat if there ever was one.
Blowing out a breath, he shook his head. “You’ll act like an NCIS agent, and follow the chain of command, or you’re gone. If you want to be led around by the nose, I don’t want you on my team. Next time you let Ziva, or even Abby, give you your opinion, you might as well request a transfer. I’ve been waiting two weeks for you to have some insight into your own behavior, and even in the face of overwhelming evidence that you were wrong, you’re letting other people run you. I can’t have that. Get your head out of your ass, or get gone.”
He released the emergency stop. “You’ve got the weekend to get your head on straight.”
Gibbs stalked off the elevator, his own words now blaring in his head. ‘…even in the face of overwhelming evidence that you were wrong…’
Frustrated, he got his sidearm out of his desk and grabbed his keys. “Finish that report, Ziva, then get out of here.” He knew Vance and his team were watching and assumed Ziva would take the opportunity to access more files. It was good for the investigation for him to go, but he was really leaving because he needed to take care of something.
When he got home, he pulled out the laptop and powered it up. As soon as he had email open, he sent off a message before he had a chance to talk himself out of it.
– I see it. I get it. How can I fix it?
There was no immediate response. He took the laptop down to the basement and began working on his boat. It was nearly two hours before a reply came.
– Why do you want to fix it?
How did he answer that question without getting into things he didn’t want to discuss in email? Things he wasn’t sure he was actually ready for.
– Rule 5.
– Cop out. You’ve been breaking that rule for years.
That physically hurt. He didn’t want to delve into his feelings right now, but he had to fix this.
– I forgot. Long before I lost my memories.
– Why now?
– I’m remembering. Remembering that I can be wrong. Was wrong. Remembering that rule 5 wasn’t about the job.
– Damn you. Seriously.
– I’m angry. At you, at me, at the fucked up situation.
– You’re taking the wind out of my sails, and I want to be pissed.
– Because the last 3 months were shit, and being pissed off has kept me going.
Before Gibbs could reply, another email came in.
– I’m not coming back to the team.
He closed his eyes, feeling possibilities slip away. Yes, having DiNozzo back on the team would be comfortable, but Ducky was right that it wasn’t fair if it wasn’t what DiNozzo wanted. He deserved better.
– It’s okay if you don’t come back to the team. Just come back.
– I need you to be in my life.
The delay was so long, Gibbs felt like he’d not just gone out on a limb, but had actually fallen off.
– Dammit, Gibbs. NOW?!?
– I’ve remembered a lot of things.
– Just because you remember and you see, doesn’t mean I can trust you.
Gibbs fought with himself for several seconds.
– Ducky would say there’s a difference between knowing you’re wrong and actual regret.
– Ducky would be right.
He felt all the barriers he’d been trying to put up crumble like dust.
– I’m sorry, Tony.
– I hate you.
Another email immediately followed.
– Figure out how to get me home.
– – – –
Gibbs lay awake, contemplating going back down to the boat. Or, more accurately, to his bourbon. It was remarkably uncomfortable, the situation he was in. He’d basically declared himself, however obliquely, even though he hadn’t been sure he was ready to go down that path. And, as usual, DiNozzo—Tony—knew exactly what Gibbs meant and had reciprocated. At least, he thought that’s what that was. He wished he could have seen Tony’s face, then he’d have known for sure.
His burner phone suddenly vibrated, rattling loudly on the nightstand. It was a text message from Vance.
— Need you at the FBI ASAP. Hoover Building, DC. —
Okay, so they’d had some break in the case. Grateful to have an excuse to get away from his own thoughts, he quickly dressed and headed into DC.
It was nearly 2 AM when he pulled up in front of the Hoover Building and was met by Fornell and Vance. “What happened?” he asked immediately.
“We had to move on David tonight,” Vance replied. “I read in Fornell, and we’re hoping the arrest will stay off the Director’s radar for now.” They began walking inside.
“She’s not actually been arrested yet,” Fornell added. “She’s being detained under the provisions of the Patriot Act.”
“That’s just a smokescreen, right?” Gibbs clarified.
“Maybe,” Vance hedged. “She managed to get the names of all the undercover assets for NCIS and their current operations. It was information we couldn’t risk getting out to anyone. Presumably, terrorism was not her aim, but we don’t actually know what she is doing with the information, and if it is going to Mossad, what they’re doing with it.”
Gibbs blew out a breath, incredibly frustrated by the entire situation. How could Shepard condone this, and how could he have been so wrong about Ziva David?
Fornell offered, “She did not come quietly, and three agents were injured. Even if there were nothing else, we’re not letting that go. A highly encrypted laptop was found in her apartment, which we think was used to transmit the information to Mossad, or whomever, but it’s going to take time to crack it.”
“So what do you need me for?”
“We’re hoping she’ll roll over on Shepard. Other than various misconduct allegations, we don’t have much on her yet, and with David out of the picture, we’re not likely to get it. By Monday, Shepard is out, but our best chance of having something that will stick is if David cooperates. I figure you are more likely to get through to her.”
Gibbs thought that could go either way. She could give in easier or clam up, but he agreed to question her. After reviewing the evidence, he entered the interrogation room where Ziva was cuffed by the wrist to a heavy steel ring on the table.
“Gibbs!” she immediately exclaimed. “You must have them release me!”
He calmly took the seat across from her and leaned back in the chair. “You know I can’t do that. They found you in possession of classified materials.”
She tipped her chin up. “I had authorization to access those materials.”
“Someone giving you access is not the same as authorization.”
“Semantics,” she said dismissively.
“Maybe, but those semantics are going to see you in jail if you don’t cooperate.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You will not help me?”
“Help you get out of this? No. Help you by advising you to tell the truth? Yes.”
“I have nothing to say. I will speak with my father.”
Gibbs shook his head slowly. “Nope. And no contact with your embassy or a lawyer, either.”
“You cannot do that! I have rights.”
“Which rights would those be? You’re a foreign operative—a spy and an assassin—on US soil in possession of the names and locations of undercover assets. You have no rights. If you don’t cooperate, you’ll be on a flight to Cuba.”
Ziva paled, but then clearly got angry. “I am not a terrorist!”
“Really? We can’t know that. Your brother was a terrorist. Did you kill him so that no one would be able to question him and find out how you were involved with Hamas?” He knew that was bullshit, but interrogation was not about the truth.
“You said no one would know about that,” she snapped.
“They didn’t hear it from me. But you already know that, don’t you?” When she looked away, he added, “Daddy David knows, doesn’t he? It was his idea after all.”
Her gaze snapped to him instantly. “How do you know that?” she hissed.
He let his lips turn up in a smug smile. “We’ve been onto you for a while, Ziva. You just got cocky and went a step too far in your espionage today.” He cocked his head. “Shepard had to increase your access for you to be able to get that information. Why don’t you tell me about your deal with her? What did she get in exchange for giving you unfettered access to classified information?”
“I have nothing to say. I have the right to remain silent, yes?” she said smugly.
“Patriot Act,” he reminded her and watched the smile fall from her lips. “You can choose to remain silent, but not sure how long they’ll let you get away with it.”
“You would let this happen to me? After everything?”
“This has nothing to do with me. You think I have some influence here? The Secretary of Defense has already been apprised of the situation. I was given the opportunity, because of our history, to try to get you to cooperate. I don’t want to see you hurt, Ziva. You need to tell them what your deal with Shepard was, and maybe they’ll just deport you to Israel.”
“This is my home!” she snapped.
“Not anymore it’s not,” he countered. “No matter which way this goes down—Israel or Gitmo—you won’t ever be allowed back on US soil. If you want to go home, you’re going to need to buy some good will. And the currency is a confession.”
Her jaw was set, but she looked uncertain.
“They have your laptop, they have the flash drives. It’s only a matter of time before the encryption is broken.”
She swallowed heavily and looked away briefly. “There are recordings on my laptop… Jenny and I discussing our arrangement. I can give you the encryption key.”
Gibbs huffed out a laugh. “And would that key be a kill switch? Wipes out the data when we enter it?” She glared hotly. “Have you learned nothing working for me? You may not have much respect for law enforcement agencies in the US, but we’re not that stupid.” He got to his feet abruptly, startling her. “Gitmo it is. I’ll tell them you weren’t interested in their offer.”
He had the door open and was almost out when she called, “Gibbs! Wait!”
Not looking back, he just shook his head. “Not gonna play these games, Ziva. Goodbye.”
She hurriedly said, “Jenny agreed to give me as much access as possible if Mossad would provide her with necessary intelligence she could not access herself when it was needed.”
Closing the door softly, he leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. “Explain.”
“She wants to track the movements of an arms dealer named René Benoit. For reasons I was not privy to, she was unable to obtain the information through legitimate channels. My father agreed to provide the information she requested if Jenny would reciprocate. When she became director, she said the best way to get the information would be if I were placed at NCIS. She would give me access, and I would smuggle the information out.”
That was pretty much what they needed. “Are there actually recordings of you and Shepard on the laptop?”
They’d have the proof they needed on Shepard as soon as they cracked the encryption. “As soon as they verify the information, someone will come explain your options.” He knew they were going to have the State Department contact the Prime Minister of Israel over this clusterfuck. He had no doubt they’d deport Ziva at some point, but she’d be held in FBI custody for some time.
He turned to leave, but decided to ask the question that had been weighing on him since he’d read Tony’s notes. “If you were in the US, ostensibly as Ari’s handler, but in actuality to kill him, why did it take you so long?”
Ziva looked away but answered. “I needed his death to have a purpose. I needed it to cement a bond between us.”
“You could have cemented a bond between us by saving Kate,” he said, trying for no inflection.
Her expression was shuttered, but Gibbs thought he detected a bit of viciousness in her eyes. “I meant to be on your team. Your team was full. But you could have had your precious Kate if Ari had listened to me. I wanted him to kill the buffoon, but he thought killing a woman would hurt you more.”
The door to the interrogation room opened and Tobias pulled him out before he could come across the table and strangle her. He let himself be maneuvered to another room where Vance joined them.
“We’re going to wait until we crack the encryption, and verify David’s story, before we move on Shepard,” Fornell announced.
“And then what?” Gibbs asked.
“Then those higher in the food chain than anyone here will have to figure it out. They might choose to cover up the whole thing, or there could be a messy trial. David could get prosecuted for espionage, or they might just ship her back to Israel. Whatever it is, after we arrest Shepard, it’s out of our hands.”
Gibbs just shook his head, completely disgusted. “When will DiNozzo be back?”
Vance raised a brow. “Four more weeks before the Eisenhower hits port in Norfolk.”
“I want him back ASAP.”
“Why? He’s already been clear to me that he’s not coming back to your team.”
Gibbs wanted to grind his teeth. “He and I need to clear the air.”
Fornell and Vance exchanged a look, but Vance just said, “We’ll get through this mess, and I’ll see about bringing your boy home.”
– – – –
Gibbs heard nothing from Vance over the weekend. Sunday evening, he logged in to send DiNozzo an email but found he already had one waiting already.
– Heard that I might be on dry land earlier than expected at your insistence. Why?
– We need to talk.
DiNozzo was obviously online because there was only a few minutes’ gap before the reply came in.
– That it?
– Okay, then.
He never did need a lot of words with Tony… they just had to be the right words.
– – – –
Monday morning was quiet, and Gibbs was waiting for the chaos to descend. McGee kept shooting worried glances at David’s desk as the clock inched towards 0900 when she would have been an hour late.
“I tried calling her, Boss,” McGee finally said.
“She won’t be here,” he offered. Yeah, he could have told McGee that an hour ago, but McGee could also speak up sooner.
It was pushing 1100 hours when Vance rounded the corner and stopped in front of Gibbs’ desk. “Join me in MTAC, Gibbs?”
He nodded and followed Vance up the stairs. In MTAC, all the SACs, Assistant Directors, and several key team leads were dialed in, and Secretary Davenport was there in person, positioned in front of the main camera. Gibbs took a seat in one of the chairs, outside of the camera line, and he was joined by Leon.
SecNav immediately took the reins. “Last night, at 2130, the FBI, with assistance from NCIS, detained former director of NCIS, Jennifer Shepard, as a suspect in an ongoing investigation.” He paused to let the murmuring and questions die down. “The details of that investigation are classified at this time. However, regardless of the outcome of that investigation, she will not be returning to any position within this agency. As of this morning, I have appointed Leon Vance as acting Director. I will review all possible candidates before making a decision about Shepard’s permanent replacement.
“I would like to stress that there is no further information available in regards to this matter at this time, and I will not be entertaining questions. Your jobs are rumor control and containment, and getting back to business as usual. I now turn the meeting over to Director Vance.”
Davenport and Vance swapped places, and Vance began a rundown of everything he expected from the SACs in the days to come while he assessed the current state of the director’s office.
“Gibbs,” Philip Davenport acknowledged softly as he took the seat Vance vacated.
“He’s going to get his pick of assignments when he gets back,” Davenport said softly, seemingly paying attention to the meeting.
Gibbs couldn’t be surprised by that. “He’ll do well.”
“No fuss from you?”
“Nope.” Yes, part of him wanted things the way they were. But a part that was getting stronger every day was ready for something new.
“If I have my way, he’ll be your boss someday,” Davenport said in a warning tone.
Gibbs found himself smiling. Yeah, he’d be okay with that.
– – – –
The music coming from Abby’s lab was so bizarre, he stopped in his tracks for several seconds. What the hell was that weird singing? Forcing himself back into motion, he entered, noticing her slumped in front of her computer, clicking aimlessly with her mouse.
When he turned off the music, she spun around, and her expression brightened a bit, but not as much as it used to. He jerked his head toward the music player. “What the hell was that?”
“Gregorian chant. It fit my mood.” She turned pleading eyes on him. “I don’t understand this silliness with Ziva.”
“It’s not silliness, Abby. She was caught taking classified information out of the building that she was not supposed to have access to.” That was the limit of what was public knowledge in Ziva’s case.
“But, Gibbs! Can’t you do something?”
He’d always known Abby didn’t like change, but she’d also never been confronted with much of it in the time he’d known her. “Ziva committed espionage. What do you think I can do? Call the Secretary of Defense and ask him to live and let live?”
“But…” she trailed off and slumped again. “How could she be so stupid as to get caught?”
“Abby!” he barked, nearly startling her out of her chair. “Are you really so stuck in your little fantasy world that you think the problem is that she got caught?”
She opened her mouth but then slammed it shut. He was somewhat pleased that she at least seemed to be thinking through what he’d said. Suddenly, she flushed a little and looked away. “When is Tony coming back? With Ziva gone, I need as many of my Gibbletts back together as possible.”
“He’ll be off the ship soon, but he’s not coming back to my team.”
Abby sat up straight, looking indignant. “What?! Did you talk to Vance? He can’t take Tony from us!”
“He didn’t.” Gibbs was trying to keep calm, because he wasn’t certain if anger would help or hinder at this point. “DiNozzo made it clear that he does not want to take a demotion, and he’s not returning to the MCRT.” Part of Gibbs still struggled with the idea of not having Tony at his back, but he understood why this change needed to happen.
Abby’s mouth was hanging open. Suddenly, she hopped off her chair and began to pace, arms waving as she spoke. “How could he do this! He’s not ready for all that responsibility. Look at the mess he made of things while you were gone! I swear when he–”
“Hey!” Gibbs yelled, temper snapping, and he startled her into stopping her orbit. “DiNozzo is not the one who screwed up while I was gone. That would be David, McGee and you.”
He was so frustrated with her at the moment, he wasn’t sure he could stay calm. “We’ve talked repeatedly, and I thought I was getting through your stubborn skull. DiNozzo held it together when you idiots were practically working against him. If I were even slightly objective about it, I’d have recommended to Vance that you all be suspended, and possibly transferred! Other field offices were gossiping about your summer tantrum! While it may be my soft spot for you that’s kept me from taking disciplinary action, I’ll be damned if I’m going to keep putting up with this bullshit! Get your head on straight. I’m not having this conversation with you again! Is that clear enough?”
Tears were pooling in her eyes, but for once he was too angry to bend even slightly. “You don’t understand. I just want everything to go back like it was before you got hurt,” she whispered.
He stepped close and steeled himself to say what was needed. “This is not some fantasy family you’ve concocted in your head, and I am not your father.” Her tears spilled over. “I care about you, and I’ll have your back, but you’re not my kid.” He ignored her wounded expression.
“Tell me something, where does DiNozzo fit in your little family drama? Is he even a person to you, Abby? Or is he more like the family pet? When you want hugs and cuddles, he’s great, and all good families should have one, right?” She looked stricken, but he continued. “And when you’re tired of your pet’s antics, or you need a break, you just smack him on the nose with a trainee sticker. And if he gets sent off to the kennel, that’s fine with you. You need a break after all. Besides, you know the dad will get him back when you want something to cuddle again. Is that it, Abby?” he asked harshly, only a few inches from her, ignoring the tears streaming down her face. “Your big sister got sent off to jail, and you want the family dog home to cry on and make you feel better?”
“Gibbs,” she choked out. “Stop.”
“Tony is not an emotional crutch or punching bag for this team. And the last ten minutes confirmed that he made the right decision to not come back. I’m hopeful he’ll still be close—I consider DiNozzo a friend, even if I forgot to act like it for a while. But if you can’t put the emotional crap away and do your job, you need to go.
“This is it. No more chances. I’ve tried talking you around, but you’re too stubborn for the softer approach. Get your damn head together.”
He made himself leave. Maybe the harsh reality check was what she needed. He hoped she’d come around and start getting her act together, because he did not want to have to transfer her or, even worse, have her fired. He did care about her but he wasn’t allowing this crap any longer.
He stopped short when he found Vance leaning against the wall outside forensics. He gave Gibbs a thoughtful look, then nodded his head in approval before walking away.
– – – –
Parked at the edge of the tarmac, Gibbs watched the Hercules C-130 land at Andrews Air Force Base. He’d hoped they’d get Tony off the Eisenhower immediately, but it had taken almost a week before a COD was scheduled off the ship headed in the right direction. Tony then caught a priority ride to Andrews.
He hadn’t emailed or spoken to Tony since the last exchange where Tony had questioned why Gibbs was insisting on him coming home early. Though Tony had been on his mind, work had been so busy that he hadn’t had time for more than thoughts. Well, that and trying to deal with Abby’s attitude adjustment. In addition, he had a new probie who he doubted would last a month, had demoted McGee, and now had a by-the-book, uptight veteran agent working TAD as his SFA. The man had no imagination, was incapable of thinking outside the box, and Gibbs couldn’t stand him.
Various people began exiting the rear of the plane, and even though it was some distance, he knew immediately when Tony strode out. He had only taken a few steps before he paused, clearly having caught sight of Gibbs, then he began moving again, adjusting his course. As he neared, Gibbs noticed Tony was leaner than he remembered and his hair shorter, but he looked damn good. As Gibbs watched Tony close the distance, he let himself admit just how beautiful the other man was, and really embraced how much he wanted Tony to be his.
“Gibbs,” Tony said in greeting as he halted a few feet away, duffle bag in hand and another bag on his shoulder.
Gibbs tilted his head toward the truck. “Get in.”
Tony hesitated briefly, then threw his stuff in the back and climbed in the passenger side. “Wasn’t expecting you,” he said as they pulled away from the base.
“Figured we needed to talk. No point in waiting.”
Tony snorted. “You’re not going to give me even five minutes to get my bearings?”
Gibbs tilted his head consideringly. “Maybe five minutes.”
“You can be such an ass,” Tony remarked without rancor.
“True. But you’ve never called me on it before.”
“Yeah, well, my mistake. Maybe if I’d called you on it, I wouldn’t have had it bite me in the ass when you left.” Tony blew out a breath. “Yeah, I’m not ready for this. Tell me about the case. I’ve spoken once by satellite with Vance, and once with SecNav, but that was right after the case broke. I’ve been in an information vacuum for a week.”
“Not sure yet how it’s all going to play out, but State Department is keeping it all quiet. Israel is embarrassed, and trials would expose them in ways not even our government wants. If people had died as a result of Jenny’s actions, it’d probably be different, but as is…”
“They’re not going to do anything?” Tony clarified.
“Not sure. Seems like Jenny’s going to lose her pension and be blacklisted from any federal agency—she’ll never hold a security clearance again. Going to be public that she was dismissed for misuse of power—mostly that unsanctioned undercover op. Eli David is probably going to have to step down and leave Mossad. Prime Minister is blaming him for the mess with Ari and Ziva.”
“How much of a mess are we talking about?” Tony asked immediately.
“Nothing you didn’t expect,” Gibbs hedged.
“Is there a reason why you just evaded that question, because that doesn’t work for me anymore.” For all that the words were sharp, there was a gentle warning in Tony’s tone that Gibbs wasn’t used to.
Gibbs didn’t want to say this, but he knew keeping it from Tony was the wrong thing to do. “You were right about Ziva waiting to deal with Ari until after Kate had been killed. But her recommendation was that you be Ari’s target. Ari disagreed… thought killing Kate would hurt me more.”
There was silence for a long time, before Tony said, “I… see.”
Shooting Tony a quick look, Gibbs found his expression unreadable.
“And what is being done about the duplicitous Officer David?”
“They sent her to Guantanamo Bay.”
Tony choked. “Are you serious?”
Gibbs gave a sharp nod. Any part of him that cared about what happened to Ziva David died when he found out about her role in Kate’s death—and her desire to see Tony assassinated. “It’s not for long, though she doesn’t know that. They’re using her connection to Hamas through Ari to justify it.”
“They trying to scare her?”
“Yeah. She’ll be on a list… never allowed into the US again. But seems like they want to impress the consequences of her even trying anything related to the US or our agents overseas ever again. They’re also not going to let her go until everything is settled with Israel. They’re using the time as a… warning.”
“Well, that’s sure one way to do it. Anyone know of my involvement?”
“Not that we can tell, and we’re trying to keep you out of it. Jenny knows you at least spilled the beans about the Benoit op, but it seems like she assumes you were directly asked about it. The FBI positioned the interrogations as if Vance’s security work found the issues, and he ran with it.”
There was a little grunt from Tony’s direction, but nothing else.
“You good with that?”
“You mean Vance breaking the case? Yeah, of course. I don’t want my name attached to it if the Davids get grumpy about shit.”
“Ducky figured it out.” Gibbs wanted Tony to know that it wasn’t just limited to the two of them—plus SecNav, Vance and Fornell.
“Did he? Huh. I guess that means the two of you sorted things out.”
Gibbs glanced over and raised his brows in question.
“If Ducky were still pissed at you, he wouldn’t have a heart to heart about me.” Tony looked out the window and said nothing further.
“What are you thinking?” Gibbs finally prompted, not accustomed to Tony being so quiet.
“Wondering if there was any way to avoid this,” he murmured.
“Not Kate.” Gibbs took a steadying breath and held on to the steering wheel a little tighter. “Don’t do that to yourself.”
“I just…” he scrubbed his hand over his face. “I want it to have been avoidable.”
“Would that make it easier?” Gibbs couldn’t see how.
“No… not really.” Tony gave a humorless laugh. “What about the rest… after Kate?”
“Maybe,” Gibbs admitted. “Were you always suspicious of Ziva?”
Gibbs wasn’t even sure what to do with that. “You never said anything.”
“And you’d have listened?” Tony snapped.
“It wasn’t an accusation, Tony.” He said, keeping his calm. “I told you I saw what you meant about how we created the problem, and I meant it. I stopped listening, and you stopped talking—about what was important, anyway—and somewhere along the way…”
“We took a wrong turn,” Tony murmured. After a few seconds, he asked, “You think if you and I had been on the same page, we’d have figured out their game earlier?”
“I do.” He shot a quick look at Tony, suddenly noticing a deep fatigue that Tony had been keeping hidden. “You were on to Ziva pretty quick after I was gone… Don’t think I didn’t notice the dates of your first logs about suspicious activity.”
“That wasn’t…” Tony sighed and thumped his hand on the door handle in frustration. “They weren’t listening to me, and I was forced to be sneaky as hell to figure out what was going on. Ziva was winding McGee up, encouraging him to be insubordinate—albeit, in a roundabout way. If I wasn’t watching so closely, and so sneakily, I don’t know that I would have seen what she was doing. I mean, if you look at it the right way, if you and I hadn’t screwed up so bad, it would have been business as usual, and I might not have been spying on my team.”
Gibbs let that sit for a moment before he replied, “Even if that’s true, it’s not…” He struggled with what to say because Gibbs was not used to admitting he was wrong. “It’s still not okay.” Tony didn’t reply, and Gibbs didn’t know which way to go. “You’re angry with me,” he finally said.
“No, not really. At least, not so much anymore. I just don’t know what to say.”
“Never seen you struggle to talk.”
“Yeah, well…” he caught Tony’s shrug out of the corner of his eye. “Things change.”
Gibbs felt like he was walking on quicksand and he didn’t know what to do other than keep being direct. “I’ve known you a lot of years, DiNozzo, and I know when you’ve got something on your mind. Just spit it out.”
Tony was quiet a long time, so long, they covered nearly two-thirds of the forty-five-minute drive to Gibbs’ house. His voice, when it came, was almost startling. “It’s over, and I didn’t know it when it happened, and now I don’t know what to do with it.”
Gibbs’ gut was churning because, for once, he wasn’t sure he was following where Tony had gone. “What’s over?”
“Five years of my life,” he replied softly. “You walked out, and I was okay with it because I believed you’d be back, and I knew you needed the time. It didn’t feel like an ending, you know? But then suddenly, it’s over… our team, our whole vibe. I always thought that someday you and I would get back to the way things were in the beginning. Now it’s all just done and I…” he trailed off and made a noise of frustration.
But Gibbs’ got it. He understood what it was like to be blindsided by something that you weren’t prepared for. It was completely the wrong thing to say, but he couldn’t help but make the offer. “You could come back.”
“No, I can’t,” he shot back immediately but without heat. “Sometimes life shuts the fucking door. I’d rather find a new door than pathetically keep trying to climb back in the windows.”
Part of Gibbs wanted to argue, but he also knew it wasn’t fair. “What will you do?”
“They offered me your job,” he replied without inflection.
“I know. Wondered if you’d tell me.”
“I turned it down.”
Gibbs wasn’t sure if he was relieved or not. “Why?”
“Because you’re not done with your job, and I don’t have anything to prove.”
After a few beats, Tony offered, “I told Vance I wanted to stay in DC.” Gibbs felt the heat of Tony’s gaze on him. “Is that what I want, Gibbs?”
“Jethro,” he corrected.
Gibbs was half surprised that Tony didn’t prompt him for an answer, but he guessed the name was an answer in itself. Still, he felt Tony deserved to hear it. “I want you to stay.”
In his peripheral vision, he saw Tony’s hand briefly fist into the material of his cargos. “Vance is setting up a new general investigation team—a mirror of Balboa’s. And like Rick, I’ll be MCRT backup.”
“You deserve the promotion,” he replied, not sure what else to say. “You should have had it before now.”
Instead of responding to that, Tony asked, “What’s going on with your team?”
“Probie who won’t last, demoted McGee because we both know he can’t do the job, and have Henderson TAD as SFA.”
Tony choked. “Holy shit. Did you piss off Vance? Why the hell would he give you Henderson?”
Gibbs’ face twisted into a mask of displeasure. “To my knowledge, I have not pissed on Vance’s cornflakes recently. I do not know why he saddled me with that officious prick.”
Suddenly, Tony started laughing, and the sound made heat curl in Gibbs’ belly. When Tony was a little more composed, he said, “I’ve been emailing Cassie Yates about being my SFA.”
“Didn’t know she was looking to transfer,” Gibbs mentioned, wishing he’d known she was looking for something else.
“I’ll make you a deal… You get Cassie as your SFA, and I get McGee as my junior agent.”
If Gibbs were a less experienced driver, he might have driven off the road, he was so surprised. “Why the hell would you want McGee on your team?”
“Because he fucked up, but he was also let down by everyone around him. You and I weren’t doing the right things for a long time, Ziva was winding him up, Shepard was enabling him by pulling the disciplinary actions…”
“He should know better than to let someone lead him around by the nose,” Gibbs retorted, feeling annoyed.
“I agree. I’m not saying he’s without blame, because he knew he was insubordinate, knew it was wrong, and did it anyway. But, I still see the same potential in him as when I asked you to put him on the team. He’s not ready to be SFA yet, but he could be in a year if he’s willing to learn. And, honestly, the best punishment for him is to fix his shit under my leadership.”
Gibbs considered that, and could see Tony’s argument, but it would give him an entirely new team to break in. Still, Yates would be a big help. He hadn’t even considered her. Tony was irreplaceable as far as Gibbs was concerned, but he could do with Yates in Tony’s chair. “All right,” he agreed, not needing to put more thought into it. He was sure he’d miss McGee’s skills, but would make sure that someone on his team was at least technologically proficient.
“Eric Sanders,” Tony said apropos of nothing.
“He’ll be out of FLETC in two weeks. Former Marine, and an IT specialist so he has some of McGee’s computer mojo. He’d be a good fit for your team probie since I’m sure you’ll break the current one in short order.”
“I’ll look into it.” He wasn’t sure why Tony was being so helpful, but it was also perfectly in character.
“You just missed the exit to my place,” Tony remarked idly.
“We’re going to mine.”
Tony blew out a breath. “Do you get that it’s not just about you? You want to talk, so you ambush me as I’m literally getting back on solid ground. You decide we’re going to your place and don’t even ask me. I’m not…” he hesitated. “I don’t know what you want us to be, but this can’t be it.”
Gibbs considered that for several minutes, letting the words fit themselves into his view of the world. The issue was that he wasn’t used to Tony not bending to his will, and he hadn’t considered that even that would be different. “All right, Tony. Do you want to go home?”
Tony laughed, but there was no humor in it. “No. Might as well keep going.”
“I wasn’t trying to ambush you, and it wasn’t even about talking,” Gibbs admitted, gripping the steering wheel tightly.
“Then what was it?”
“I… missed you. And I needed to see you.”
“Oh.” After an uncomfortable silence. “Why now?”
“You mean right this moment?” Gibbs asked in confusion.
“No, I mean why after everything has fallen apart. Why– and I suddenly realize I intended to make certain we were talking about the same thing.” He huffed. “Are we talking about the same thing?”
“If you’re talking about me being in love with you, then yes, we’re talking about the same thing,” Gibbs said bluntly, not in the mood to tap dance anymore.
Tony froze, and Gibbs glanced over to find him staring with his mouth open, eyes wide. “You… I…” He swallowed audibly. “When?” he croaked.
“Do you remember when Abby dragged us to build that house?”
“The Habitat for Humanity thing a few days after Kate’s funeral? When she said we needed to do stuff for others so we could all heal?”
“Yeah.” Gibbs was getting close to his house, so he waited the two minutes it took to pull up in front of his place and get the truck in gear. He turned on the seat so he was facing Tony, who mirrored his actions. “I don’t know about the doing for others helping us get over Kate, but I do know that the hard work was a good distraction. Everyone was relaxed for the first time in weeks. I’d been doing tile work and came out of the kitchen. You were sitting down, taking a break, staring off at nothing, and for the first time since before you got the plague, you looked… at peace.”
Tony was maintaining eye contact, but his fingers were moving in some odd motion Gibbs had observed from Tony over the years whenever he was stressed or struggling with something. “Okay. I mean, I don’t really remember that particular break, but… what about it?”
“When my memories were in pieces, that image of you kept coming back, but I didn’t understand why. I couldn’t even remember why we were in the shell of a house.”
“That was your strongest memory of me?” Tony asked incredulously.
“There were others, but that one came up more than the rest. I couldn’t make sense of it because with the images came all these feelings I couldn’t sort out. I couldn’t figure out why that memory was so important.” He didn’t want to get into why he’d pushed away his memories and why it had taken so long for everything to come together. Tony deserved to hear it, but Gibbs didn’t think it was what mattered right now.
Tony was very still, his hands having ceased their movement. “And? Why was that memory important?”
“Because it was when I admitted to myself that I loved you, that my attraction wasn’t an inconvenient desire for my subordinate. And when my mind was in pieces, that memory was trying to show me what was important. I just wasn’t willing to see.”
Tony was watching him closely, expression vulnerable, and Gibbs wondered if he’d been too open too soon. He’d always done better not talking. “Why did everything have to fall apart for us to get our shit together?” Tony asked softly. “Because I’ve loved you for years, but everything I’ve ever known about us is broken.”
Gibbs felt something in him relax at the confirmation that Tony felt the same way. The rest they could deal with. “We’ll just build something new.”
“It doesn’t have to be difficult, Tony. Don’t you think we’ve had enough things be hard the last couple years?”
Tony glanced away, and something in his body language made Gibbs think he was fighting with himself. Taking a chance that he was reading him right, he reached out and pulled Tony across the seat and into his arms. Tony didn’t resist but was stiff for several moments before letting go and relaxing. His arms came around Gibbs’ waist, and he rested against Gibbs’ chest.
It felt so right to finally touch Tony this way. Gibbs pressed a kiss into the short, soft hair and murmured, “Make new memories with me.”
Pulling back enough to meet Gibbs’ eyes, Tony just watched for several long seconds. Then he smiled softly and said, “First kiss,” just before he pressed his lips to Gibbs’.
Gibbs suddenly felt whole again.
– – – –