Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, but I love playing with them and wish they were mine.
A/N: Many thanks to Rinne for her beta work and Research Geek for the helpful suggestions.
The basement had always been his sanctuary, his port away from the turbulent world of murder, espionage, terror and other acts that man committed against man. Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs painstakingly lined up the hand-drilled holes of two planks of wood, positioning them carefully so he could slip in the handcrafted pin that would join the two flexible objects into one solid surface, able to withstand the ocean waves that would someday beat against them
In the background the small black and white television droned, the sound of the news nothing but white noise to the man. After applying a generous layer of glue, Gibbs tightened the vices, clamping the wood together. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he reached over to the coffee mug filled with bourbon and took a generous swallow, not even wincing as the liquid burned its way down his throat and settled into his empty stomach. He stood there, staring at the skeleton of the boat he had been building for years, his eyes sweeping over the fruits of his labor, but felt no pride or satisfaction. The solace that he searched for eluded him. The events of the past week came unbidden, unwanted, mocking him for seeking any kind of peace and comfort.
Closing his eyes, Gibbs gave in to the wave of memories. The team had gotten a particularly difficult case early in the week. The young daughter of a Navy Captain had been kidnapped. Captain Edward Latham, his wife Alexis and daughters Sarah and Molly appeared to be the perfect family. Latham was a devoted family man, a small arms instructor at Quantico. Mrs. Latham was a stay-at-home mother, shepherding nine-year-old Sarah and six-year-old Molly to school and various extracurricular activities. Sarah was a talented dancer, taking ballet lessons twice a week. Shy Molly played the piano, spending hours after school practicing on the beloved upright piano in the family's living room.
Someone broke into the Latham house in the middle of the night and grabbed Sarah. No one heard anything and the evidence was scarce. A panic-stricken Latham called the base police, who then called NCIS. From the minute the team entered the house Gibbs felt that something was off. As he questioned the father the feeling got stronger. His senior field agent, Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo shared the feeling, but neither one could come up with a reason why.
Gibbs smiled, reached for the bottle of bourbon and poured himself another healthy dose of the strong liquor. DiNozzo had come to his team as a brash ex-cop, cocky and playful, hiding the street smarts and intelligence behind the façade of an ex-jock womanizer. The fact that no one ever had him brought up on sexual harassment charges was a testament to how skillfully he played the role. He always knew just when to pull back, when he was reaching the invisible line between flirting and stalking, dancing on it like a tightrope walker. Most of the other agents in NCIS wondered how he got to be on Gibbs' team, and how he managed to stay there. Had they paid close attention to the young man, listened as he and the rest of the team discussed cases, they would have noticed that DiNozzo had amazing powers of observation and a keen insight into human nature.
Gibbs and DiNozzo appeared as different as night and day, but the two men were more alike than outward appearances would reveal. Both shared a strong sense of justice, a sense of honor that was deeply ingrained. They both worked tirelessly to solve a case. When a case became particularly difficult, Tony always managed to defuse the tension with his sense of humor. He could read Gibbs better than anyone, with the possible exception of Ducky, and knew how to temper Gibbs' intensity by providing a lightning rod for his anger, all the while proving his exemplary investigative skills.
It was DiNozzo who pointed out the inconsistencies of the Latham's story, arguing with Gibbs when the older man's anger at the disappearance of the young girl caused him to fixate on a young handyman who worked for the family. When Sarah's body was found two days after her disappearance, Gibbs was like madman, his determination to find her killer causing him to growl at anything and anyone who crossed his path. Seeing the small body on Ducky's autopsy table made his mood worse.
The child had been beaten to death, her body dumped in a small ravine miles away from the base. She hadn't been sexually assaulted, one small mercy granted. Wilson Fisher had proven a viable suspect. Fisher was the slightly mentally disabled young man Alexis Latham hired to do odd jobs around the house. He had developed an instant rapport with the Latham girls, his childlike nature making him a good playmate for the withdrawn Molly. Past encounters with the law revealed a quick temper, but the flashes of anger and violence had always been directed at men, overbearing men with a tendency to intimidate smaller, weaker people.
Further investigation into the family revealed that the Latham household was not the happy home they would like others to believe. Edward Latham was a bully, browbeating his soft-spoken wife and reprimanding his daughters to be better in school.
It didn't take Gibbs long to break the arrogant captain during interrogation. While his wife and youngest daughter were visiting his sick mother-in-law, Latham had lost his temper with Sarah and his disciplinary spanking had turned into a fatal beating. He wrapped his daughter up in a blanket and carried her out to the car, driving to the wooded area near the base where he disposed of the small body. Returning home, he broke the bedroom window from the outside, went into the house and called the police.
"He didn't plant much evidence pointing to an outside intruder," Tony said.
"Maybe on some level he wanted to be caught," replied Ducky. "It's a shame, such a beautiful child, cut down so young."
Gibbs, Tony and Ziva went to the home of Alexis Latham's mother. The young woman and her remaining child had gone there after Captain Latham had been arrested. There were no words that could console the woman for the loss of her daughter, but they needed to pay their respects and see that Alexis and Molly were safe.
The three agents left the home in silence, each buried deep in their thoughts. A basketball came bouncing over from across the street as they headed back to the car. Fielding it handily, Tony began dribbling it and performed some fancy footwork as he zig zagged his way to the young boys playing in the driveway across the street. Gibbs shook his head indulgently, knowing the younger man needed to work off some of the tension.
Everything seemed to move in slow motion. A car swerved around the corner and sped down the street. Gibbs called out a warning but before he could react, Tony was struck head-on, smashing into the windshield before being propelled over the speeding car. He landed on the street with a sickening thud. The car stopped briefly, then tore off.
Gibbs and Ziva ran to their fallen teammate. Tony lay still, his body twisted in an unnatural position. Gibbs' pulse was racing as he knelt next to the injured man. He could hear Ziva calling for an ambulance, but her voice seemed far away and was practically drowned out by the rushing sound in his ears. Blood was pooling around the young man's head and logically Gibbs knew Tony had suffered a fatal blow, but he still searched desperately for a pulse in the twisted neck.
The funeral was a blur. Tony's estranged family showed up, but there were no real tears. Abby was practically inconsolable, clinging to McGee for support. The young agent looked as if he could use some support himself. He was unable to take his eyes off the casket that held his friend and teammate, as if staring long enough would make the lid open and Tony pop up, laughing at another joke he had played on the probie.
It was such a senseless death. At least Kate had died while doing her job. She died in the line of duty, honorably. Tony was struck down in the prime of life by a drunk driver. There was no justice in that, no honor. Seeing Tony's empty desk sent a pain through Gibbs' very soul. Knowing that there would be no more laughter, no more silly pranks, no more "On your six, Boss," made Gibbs feel tired, older, but no wiser.
The week after Tony's funeral, Jimmy Palmer surprised them all by ordering Tony's favorite pizza and an impromptu memorial was held in the squad room. Each member of the team told stories of some outrageous act Tony had done, along with stories of how thoughtful he could be, when no one was looking. The memories were bittersweet and if some of the tears shed with the laughter were tears of mourning, no one said anything.
The Director had a service medal awarded to Tony, posthumously. It was the first award ceremony Gibbs attended. He took Tony's medal and placed it in the box of medals he found in Tony's bottom desk drawer. Gibbs had been touched, but not too surprised when he found that the younger agent had been holding his medals for him. It was something Tony would do.
Gibbs shook his head, bringing his thoughts back to the present. He picked up his sander and stepped up to the ribs of the half-finished boat. Seeing a movement out of the corner of his eye he turned and looked toward the stairs.
Sitting there watching him was the faint figure of his senior field agent. Gibbs could just make out the soft smile on the younger man's face.
"Don't you have any place better to be, DiNozzo?" he asked gruffly. He caught his breath when the familiar grin broke out on the wispy face.
"So that's what it takes to keep you quiet," Gibbs said softly.
Gibbs stood there silently, staring at the familiar features, and a peaceful feeling came over him. He smiled at his agent, his protégé, his friend, then turned back to his sanding, letting himself get carried away by the rhythm of the work.
Over the years, after a hard case, Gibbs could always be certain he would see the figure of the young man in his basement, either sitting on the stairs or leaning against the workbench, silently watching his mentor, smiling when their eyes met.
He could always trust Tony to have his back.
A/N: I know that people will be angry with me for not putting a warning at the beginning of this story. I felt that putting in a warning would lessen the impact, which I hope was strong. To those that don't like to read stories with character deaths, I apologize.