BACK TO BAJA
As he pulled a cold Corona from the cooler next to his hammock, Mike Franks looked up in time to see a very bedraggled someone coming down the beach toward his little house. As the figure got closer Mike realized it was Jethro Gibbs. Damn, Mike thought, he looks bad. Worse than when I first saw him years ago after his wife and daugher were killed. Hell, worse than when he got himself blown up a couple of years ago. Mike took note of the obvious weight loss, unshaven face and generally sad condition of the man now standing in front of his porch.
"Damn Probie, you look like crap. What happened to you after I left DC?"
"Good to see you too, Boss. Got another one of those?, Gibbs asked pointing to the Corona.
"You know I do. Help yourself."
"You don't seem surprised to see me Mike."
"Ducky called a couple of days ago. Said you had gone missing. Wondered if you were here."
"What else did he say?"
"That your team was busted up and you were a mess. Said he was worried about you."
"Yeah well Ducky worries too much but he's right this time, I am a mess, Mike. Can I stay awhile?"
"Long as you need to Probie. Aliana and the baby are staying in town with a friend for a while. Make yourself at home."
With that Gibbs disappeared into the house and Mike went back to his beer and his hammock. When Jethro came outside almost an hour later Mike was working on his old pickup. Jethro wandered down to the beach and sat looking out at the water and drinking more of Mike's beer. He wasn't sure what he hoped to find here but he knew whatever he needed it wasn't in DC. Jenny being gone was already more than he wanted to face and when that idiot Leon had reassigned his team he knew he had to get away from there. In the back of his mind – the very back - he knew he had to pull himself together and find a way to get his team back. The question of who had compromised Agent Becker and consequently Jenny and himself kept popping into his brain but he wasn't ready to deal with that either. Watching the waves come and go Jethro decided the only thing he wanted to deal with was getting another beer, or four, and seeing if he could stop thinking all together.
Gibbs eventually made his way back to the house and helped himself to another beer and some crackers. It was obvious to Mike that Jethro was in no mood or condition to talk so he left him alone. Gibbs finally fell asleep in the hammock and Mike threw a light cover over him before going in the house for the night.
The next morning when he came outside Mike saw Jethro down at the water sitting and drinking a cup of coffee. At least it's not a beer yet Mike thought. He considered going down and talking to his friend but decided to wait until Jethro was ready. Something told him this morning was not the time. The day passed with little conversation between the two men. Both were used to living alone and keeping their thoughts to themselves. Jethro spent most of the his time the next few days drinking and brooding. He walked on the beach and stared out over the water as if waiting for something. He and Mike talked very little and when they did it wasn't about anything important. Both of them knew there were things that needed to be said but each was reluctant to start the conversation.
On the afternoon of Gibbs' fifth day there, Mike was jolted from his siesta in the hammock by a loud ruckus near the house. He looked around to see Jethro violently destroying his decrepit fishing boat with a two by four. When the boat was reduced to splinters, Jethro turned his attention to the falling down shed behind the house. Mike didn't care about the shed or the boat but he wondered where Jethro would head next. When he saw Jethro moving toward his pickup he knew he had to stop him. After all, Jethro could rebuild the shed and even the boat but not his beloved old truck.
"Probie, stop!" Mike put his hands up and stepped in front of his friend. He saw so much anger and pain on Jethro's face he wasn't sure what he would do if the younger man kept coming. Luckily, Jethro did stop. He stood staring at Mike with fury in his eyes. The rage was so great it seemed to roll off Gibbs like heat waves on a highway. When he didn't speak Mike finally took a chance and said, "Go ahead, Probie. Say what you need to say."
With an anguished voice Jethro shouted, "Why Mike, why didn't you call me? Why didn't Jenny call me when she knew what was happening? Why didn't you stop her for God's sake? Why weren't you in there with her when they came in? She shouldn't have died in there alone. Why Mike, why?" This last question was barely loud enough for Mike to hear it. Gibbs' rage was finally spent and he slumped down beside the truck and leaned against the tire with his head in his hands. His breathing was ragged and Mike was pretty sure he was crying although he had never seen him do that before. When Jethro had calmed down Mike handed him a beer and began to try and answer him.
"Why didn't I stop her? Hell, Probie how many times did you ever stop Jenny when she was set on doing something? I couldn't stop her and I don't know if I should have. She was taking care of some unfinished business. She knew they were going after you next and she wanted to buy you some time. I've told you all that already."
"I know Mike. I just can't accept that she had to die in order to do that. There had to be another way."
"Wanting it don't make it so Probie. Jenny was dying and she loved you. Those are two facts you need to accept and remember. She didn't want to put you through all that her dying slowly was going to mean. And maybe she didn't want to go through it herself. Can't say I blame her. She had a chance to make her dying mean something instead of just wasting away in a hospital while you stood around being helpless and miserable. She knew you loved her and like I said she loved you back. Whatever made it so hard for the two of you to admit that doesn't matter now. What matters is you know and that has to be enough. You can go on with all the why's and how's but you of all people know you won't get the answers you want." Mike paused and then added quietly, "I'm sorry I couldn't save her Jethro."
Jethro looked up at the man who had been his teacher and friend for so many years. "I know Boss. You're right, when Jenny made up her mind no one could change it. I just wasn't prepared for how much this would hurt. I can't seem to get a grip on my emotions and move forward. I'm not sure I can go back to NCIS now. I don't seem to be able to focus anymore."
The two men sat in silence for a few minutes and then Mike said, "Well maybe you just need a project or two to keep you busy."
"A project huh. What did you have in mind?"
"Well for starters a new shed since you just destroyed the old one and likewise the fishing boat. And how about that hot tub you didn't get to last time because you had to go rescue Ziva?"
Jethro laughed for the first time in weeks. "Yeah, I guess that would keep me focused for a while. Tomorrow we'll go to town and buy lumber and get started".
The next morning Mike and Jethro went into town and bought lumber, groceries and plenty of beer. They had lunch in the cantina with Aliana and the baby so Mike could see his grandchild and Gibbs his godchild. Jethro used the phone in the cantina to call Ducky and let him know he was okay. The next week was spent rebuilding the shed and adding a new deck on the side of the house for the hot tub. Jethro decided building another boat was not something he wanted to do so he bought Mike a new skiff with a small outboard motor and had it delivered. Mike was more than pleased with the boat and immediately loaded his fishing gear promising to return with fresh fish for supper.
While Mike was out fishing, Jethro sketched out where he wanted to build the hot tub, took measurements and made a list of what supplies he would need for the project. He was so engrossed in what he was doing he didn't hear the young woman approaching from the road until she was almost on the porch. The woman stood admiring the tanned, fit man on the deck wearing only shorts and tennis shoes. He looks better than when I last saw him she thought to herself. Knowing it wasn't a good idea to sneak up on Jethro Gibbs the young woman intentionally made a noise causing Gibbs to look up.
Jethro just stared at her for a long moment before he finally said, "Hello Ziva."
"Hello, Gibbs. You are looking better. How are you?"
Jethro reached for a tee shirt and pulled it on. "I'm alright. You?"
"I am fine. I decided to do some traveling instead of going back to Israel. I hope you do not mind that I am here".
"No, not at all. I'm happy to see you in fact. But I am surprised you would come all this way to see me. How did you find me anyway?"
"Well, I am a spy remember. Gibbs I think we have some things to talk about and I have some information I want to share with you."
"Come and sit down. Do you want something to drink or eat?"
"Some water would be fine. Thank you. Have you talked to McGee or Tony since we were reassigned?"
"No. I left DC a couple of days after that meeting. Have you been in contact with them?"
"Yes, they are both fine. Tony feels he got what he deserved. He does not think you trust him or that you should trust him. I think he is miserable on the ship but he thinks he should be miserable. McGee is being kept busy and he still has Abby and Abby has Tim. Ducky is fine as well. He is sad about Jenny and worried about you of course."
"And you, Ziva. How are you really?"
Ziva got up from her chair and began pacing back and forth on the porch. She never had any problem voicing her opinions but feelings were a different matter. She and Gibbs had a strong bond and she trusted him but they were on new ground now that Jenny was gone. Jenny had been their common denominator and Ziva was unsure of how things would be with Gibbs now. She deeply regretted her part in Jenny's death and she missed her friend very much. Even though Gibbs had told her he understood what she and Tony had done in California, Ziva couldn't help but wonder how he really felt. She knew Gibbs and Jenny were deeply connected and that he was torn apart by her death. How could he forgive me she wondered when I can't forgive myself.
Jethro watch Ziva pacing back and forth and he knew she was struggling with what she wanted or needed to say. He knew how close she and Jenny had been so he was sure Ziva was grieving the loss of her friend. Gibbs decided to try and help the conversation along. "I know you miss her Ziva", he said quietly.
"Yes, I do very much. You and I have both lost too many people we loved. But we must accept that they are gone and move forward, I know that. It is not losing Jenny that I am struggling with Gibbs."
Jethro assumed she meant the team being split up and her returning to Israel so he said, "I'm sorry about what the new director did Ziva. I don't know if it can be changed or not. I'm just not up to fighting that battle right now."
"That is not it Gibbs. I can stay in America as long as I want. That has been taken care of by some friends if you get my meaning."
By now Ziva had stopped pacing and stood looking out toward the beach and the water. Gibbs got up and went to stand beside her. "Then what are you struggling with Ziva?" As he said this Gibbs took Ziva by the arm and turned her to face him. When she didn't look at him he lifted her chin with his finger and looking her in the eye said, "What is it Ziva. Tell me what's wrong".
Ziva look at her boss – she still thought of Gibbs as her boss – and his concern for her was plainly written on his face. Somehow that didn't make this any easier. Finally she turned away from him and said, " I have accepted what Tony and I did in California. I know Jenny was never going to be persuaded to let us help her. What I cannot get past is that we, I, let you down Gibbs. I knew how much Jenny meant to you and you entrusted her safety to Tony and me and we let you down."
"Ziva, I…" Jethro tried to interrupt her but Ziva turned back to him and put her hand on his mouth.
"No Gibbs. Let me finish please. I have needed to say this for a while now. I cannot erase my memory of the look on your face when you first got to that awful diner. I saw such profound sadness and pain in your eyes that day and I have not been able to come to terms with the fact that I had a part in causing you that pain."
Jethro was stunned. "I don't know what to say Ziva. I don't want you to feel responsible for me."
"You don't have to say anything and I don't expect you to magically fix this. I think I am hoping that saying it out loud and saying it to you will help me accept what I've done. I don't want to add to what you are already dealing with and yet I know that is, in a way, what I have just done. I know I have told you I am sorry for what happened to Jenny and you have said you forgive me. I think what I really came here for was to tell you how very sorry I am for my part in what happened to YOU that day. I would gladly have died in that diner if it meant Jenny going home safely to you.".
When he heard that Jethro gasped, "No Ziva. Don't say that. Then I would be grieving for both of you." He held Ziva at arms length and looked at looked at her intently. "Jenny and I had a wonderful past but we had no real future, you know that. Our pride and stubbornness would have seen to that if her illness didn't. I loved Jenny very much and she was very important to me but what good would it have done for you or Tony to die so she could come back to me only to die two or three months later? I don't want you to think like that anymore."
Jethro reached up and wiped away the tears that had trailed down Ziva's face then he kissed her on the forehead and pulled her close and held her. Ziva laid her head on his chest and wrapped her arms around him tightly. For the first time since that terrible day in California she felt safe. Somehow telling Gibbs how she felt actually did make it easier to accept. They stayed in that comforting embrace for a long time, neither of them wanting to let go of the other. They finally stepped apart when Mike appeared and said, "I see we have company for supper. Welcome to the beach Ziva."
"Hello Mike and thank you. I would like to stay and eat if that is alright. I can go back to town later."
Jethro spoke up, "Of course you will stay and eat with us and no, you will not go back to town. You can stay with us. Right Mike?"
"Absolutely, Probie here needs to sleep outside anyway, he snores too loudly. Ziva, you can have his bed."
"But I…" Ziva tried to say no but Mike cut her off.
"It's not up for discussion. You would be doing me a favor. Now let me go clean these fish and see about some food. Probie, get the girl a beer or something."
So, Ziva stayed for supper and spent the night. Jethro didn't really mind sleeping in the hammock. In fact, for some reason he didn't try to understand, he slept better that night than he had in weeks. In the morning Jethro joined Ziva for a run on the beach. Two weeks of beer drinking and very little physical activity had taken its toll; Ziva ran him into the sand! When they got back to the house Gibbs was bent over trying to catch his breath when Ziva poked him in the ribs and said, "You are out of shape Gibbs".
"Ya think Ziva!"
"Damn Probie, no more beer for you. Letting a woman run you down! I think you better stick around a while Ziva and get our boy here back in shape."
"Gee Mike, thanks for the support" Gibbs growled but he was smiling.
"I would like to stay if that is really okay. One condition though." Ziva looked from Mike to Jethro and paused before saying, "I do the cooking for you".
Mike and Jethro looked at each other and grinned. "Deal" they said in unison.
After showers and breakfast, Gibbs and Ziva went to town for groceries and lumber and supplies for the hot tub project. For the next several days the trio fell into an easy routine. Jethro and Ziva ran every morning, swam in the ocean every afternoon and took long walks on the beach every evening. In between Jethro worked on the long promised hot tub while Mike supervised from the hammock. Some days Ziva helped Jethro and other days she went into town where she had access to a computer. She told Gibbs she was working her contacts for information but she wasn't ready to talk about it yet.
Finally the hot tub was ready and it was christened one evening after another of Ziva's special dinners. The three friends toasted Jethro's efforts with two bottles of wine then Jethro and Ziva took a long walk on the beach and sat on the sand talking long after the stars came out. Eventually the conversation stopped and they sat in comfortable silence each lost in their own thoughts. When he felt Ziva yawning, Jethro put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. Ziva rested her head on his shoulder with a sigh. These two friends, both so wounded by recent events and both very guarded with their emotions were now each feeling a rare sense of peace.
Neither of them would be able to say later what triggered what happened next. Before too long Ziva sat up and Gibbs turned to her as she leaned in to kiss him. It started out as a mere brushing of lips but before they knew what was happening the kiss was deep and passionate and neither of them wanted it to end. Finally, when there was no more air around them they separated just enough to refill their lungs.
"I…" they both started at once. They laughed and Jethro said, ,"Ladies first."
"I don't know where that came from", Ziva said looking at those blue eyes that used to scare her but now seemed to be pulling her in somewhere she really wanted to go.
"Do you think we could try and find out because I'd really like to have another one", Jethro replied as his hands found their way into Ziva's thick black hair.
Ziva traced her fingers up Jethro's arms from his wrists to his shoulders and leaning in whispered in his ear, "On second thought maybe I do know". Having said that she rolled into him, pushed him onto his back and kissed him sweet and slow taking him to a place he had not visited in a very long time.
When Jethro could put together a coherent thought he asked, "Does this mean I'm not sleeping in the hammock tonight?"
"Unless that hammock can hold us both I would say your nights in the hammock are over. If that is what you want of course."
"That is what I what". Jethro took her hand and they walked to the house. When they got to the deck they looked at the hot tub then at each other and grinned like two teenagers. Jethro pulled Ziva to him and proceeded to drop a series of light, hot kisses from her eyes to her throat while he unbuttoned her shirt. He stopped just long enough to pull off his own shirt and unbutton Ziva's shorts pushing them off her hips as he pulled her closer. They took their time touching and exploring each other with lips and tongues until that wasn't enough. Finally shed of their clothes, they climbed in the hot tub and gave it another more thorough and very enthusiastic christening. Afterwards, afraid they would fall asleep and drown, Jethro got Ziva out and they made their way to the bedroom where they fell asleep wrapped in each other's arms.
When Jethro woke up the next morning Ziva was already gone from the bed. He thought back to what had happened last night and hoped she was okay. Jethro tried to take mental stock of how he felt and was surprised to discover he felt confused and happy at the same time. He went outside with his coffee and joined Mike on the new deck.
"Is Ziva out running".
"No, she went into town early this morning. Said she needed to get on the computer. Something about McGee finding out something she needed. Everything alright Probie?"
"Yeah, sure. Why are you asking?
"Well Ziva seemed a little distracted and I noticed you didn't sleep in the hammock last night".
"No, Mike, I didn't sleep in the hammock last night. What do you mean she seemed distracted? Was she okay?"
"Yeah, she was okay I guess. She just seemed to have a lot on her mind. She was smiling a lot if that makes you feel any better. Anything you want to talk about Probie?"
Jethro looked at Mike surprised he had asked that question and even more surprised at himself when he answered. "I don't know Mike. I mean I'm not sure what I'm doing right now. Hell, Jenny's been gone a month and I'm sleeping with her best friend who just happens to be one of my agents. You tell me Mike, what is that?"
"I think they call it comfort, Probie. You give it to someone and they give it back to you. Nothing wrong with that if you keep it honest. As far as the other part goes, Ziva isn't one of your agents anymore and you were Jenny's best friend, not Ziva. I'm pretty sure Jenny would approve anyway. If you care for this woman Jethro don't let what you had with Jenny stop you from being happy. That would be the last thing Jenny would want for either of you."
"When did you get to be so damn smart, Mike?, Jethro asked with a laugh.
"Live long enough Probie and you learn a few things".
"Well, I'm going for a run before it gets too hot. Thanks Mike."
While Jethro was gone Ziva returned to the house. "Hey Mike is Jethro around?"
"He's out running. Just left a few minutes ago. You could probably catch him if you want."
"Actually, I would like to talk to you if you don't mind".
"Sure, what's on your mind?"
Ziva hesitated, not quite sure how to begin. She wanted Mike's opinion but was not certain how much she should share with him. When she didn't say anything for a while Mike spoke up.
"I noticed Jethro didn't sleep in the hammock last night. Is that what you want to talk about?"
Ziva laughed, "Well, yes that is it. I am not quite sure how to say this so I will just jump right in as you say. I am not sure what we are doing really. No, I mean I know what we were doing of course. I mean Jenny hasn't been gone that long and here we are, Jethro and me, you know. I'm not making any sense am I?"
"Actually, Ziva you make perfect sense. Would it help you to know that Jethro has the same confusion?"
"He does? You have talked about this?" Ziva was surprised that Jethro had shared this information with Mike already.
"Yes we talked about this very thing before he went running. Lately, Jethro is better about talking for some reason. Anyway I'm going to tell you what I told him. You two comfort each other. That is obvious even to an old man like me. Don't turn you backs on that. Don't worry about Jenny and Jethro or Jenny and you. She would want you both to be happy and if you can help each other with that how is that a bad thing?"
Ziva gave Mike a hug and said, "Thank you. Thank you for saying that and thank you for all you have done for Jethro. I don't know what he would do without you, Mike."
"Hey, I've only been gone for half an hour and you two are getting pretty chummy", Jethro appeared on the porch laughing at Mike and Ziva as they continued their hug. Ziva turned around and embraced Jethro saying, "Jealousy doesn't become you."
After Jethro showered and they all had breakfast, he and Ziva took a walk to discuss what she had learned from McGee. Mike watched as they sat on the sand talking. After a short time Ziva was up pacing around and gesturing with her hands obviously trying to convince Jethro to see things her way. This went on for about fifteen minutes before Jethro finally got up and put his hands on Ziva's shoulders to keep her still. Then he kissed her and Mike took that as his cue to stop watching them.
When Jethro and Ziva came back to the house a couple of hours later the three of them sat down on the deck with some drinks and food. Jethro told Mike that Ziva had been in touch with some of her contacts around and she and McGee had some information they wanted to act on. He said they thought they had a good lead on who compromised Agent Becker. Mike asked some questions and gave them some good ideas to add to their own. Eventually the trio mapped out a plan of action that Jethro believed would give them a good chance to end the nightmare that began in California all those weeks ago. He might even get his team back together in the process. Ziva spoke up and said she would be going back to DC tomorrow to start laying the groundwork for the plan they were calling, 'Operation Redhead'. This was the part Jethro was not in favor of but he had relented and reluctantly agreed that Ziva should go back ahead of him. Ziva left Jethro and Mike to their beer and went to pack her things.
That night she and Jethro walked in the sand one more time. They didn't talk about Operation Redhead preferring instead to focus on each other since this was to be their last night together for a while. They eventually returned to the house and spent another memorable night in the hot tub—Jethro was surely glad Mike had insisted he build that thing! When they finally went to bed their lovemaking was sweet and slow and filled with the desire to please each other.
"I'm going to miss you Ziva. I will be home as soon as possible and I want you to be in my house when I get there. " Jethro was propped up on one elbow looking down at Ziva and tracing lazy patterns on her stomach.
"I will be there Jethro. Do not worry about me, you know I can take care of myself. Now, stop staring at me and kiss me before I have to demonstrate some crazy ninja skill on you." Jethro gladly obliged her and continued to do so long into the night.
The next morning Jethro waited in the truck while Ziva said goodbye to Mike. "Thank you again Mike, for the hospitality and the words of wisdom. Whatever happens from now on you have been a good friend and true help to me. And of course to Jethro. We will keep you informed about everything."
"You better Ziva. And I mean everything", Mike said laughing. He hugged her and told her she was welcome anytime with or without Jethro.
On the fourth day after Ziva had gone Jethro drove into town and went to the library where he could access a computer and get information from McGee and Abby who was now helping from home just like McGee had been for a while now. Then he went to the cantina and called Ziva. She told him everything was in place and they were waiting for him to come home and put Operation Redhead into motion. Jethro told her he would be home the next day, hung up and went back to tell Mike the news. Mike and Jethro went over the plan again and again that night until they were sure they had covered every angle as best they could. When they were satisfied Jethro left Mike for a last walk on the beach. He thought back over the past several weeks and marveled at the changes in his life. He had lost the woman he had loved for 10 years, lost his team and nearly lost his mind. But somehow he was still here. He felt stronger than he had in a long time and maybe just a little bit hopeful What would happen between himself and Ziva when he got home he didn't know but he was looking forward to something for the first time in years.
The next morning Mike drove Jethro to the small airport in town. As they got out of the truck Jethro embraced Mike. "Thank you Mike, for everything. I don't know what I might have done if I hadn't come here. I'll let you know how things are going."
"Listen to me Jethro. I know you have a plan, a good one, but be careful anyway. Don't take any stupid chances."
"I'll be careful, Mike. Don't worry. And if I need help you better be ready to come on a moment's notice."
"I'll be there Probie you count on that. One more thing. You've been given another chance Jethro. If you don't want to have the same regrets ten years from now that you came down here with you have to let Jenny go and hold onto the woman who reached out to save you."
Jethro looked away for a long moment then he said, "Don't worry Mike, I don't ever want to have regrets like that again. I'm going home and take care of business, get my team back and I promise you I won't waste the life that Jenny died to protect."
When Mike heard that he knew his Probie was going to be just fine.