Deep Lacerations: Epilogue
A/N: So I was going to wait a few days to post this and leave you hanging for a bit in a blatant attempt to get more reviews, but I decided I'm not that mean. Enjoy!
12 Months Later
NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs shielded his eyes with his hands as he stepped out of the jump seat of the C-130, the bright Baghdad sun contrasting with the dim airplane. "Welcome to Ibn Sina, sir," a young Army specialist standing at attention said as he lowered his arm. "Specialist West, sir. I'm here to help you find your way around this place." The specialist waited as he grabbed his small duffle before continuing. "Would you like me to show you to your quarters, sir?"
"No," Gibbs replied, maybe shorter than he should have been. "I'd rather get started right away. I need to speak the medical examiner who performed Corporal Littlefield's autopsy."
Specialist West seemed a little uncertain, but finally nodded. "Yes, sir. Right this way, sir."
The air inside the hospital was easily thirty degrees cooler than the air outside, a fact Gibbs didn't really appreciate as the sweat that had already managed to soak into his clothes instantly felt cold. "The morgue is this way, sir," the specialist said needlessly. Gibbs figured that's why he was following.
They finally arrived at the double doors marked 'Morgue' in both English and Arabic, only to find the space completely empty. "You do have a medical examiner, don't you, Specialist?" Gibbs asked, frustrated.
"Uh, yes, sir," West stammered. "Uh, follow me, sir." They made their way back to a waiting room-like space, where West gestured for him to stay put while he consulted with another soldier.
Less than two minutes had passed before that soldier approached Gibbs. "Special Agent Gibbs?" he asked. "I'm Sergeant Delaney. Sorry about the confusion. Our pathologist rotates through a lot of hospitals and was out at another one this morning. The convoy should be arriving any minute." As if on cue, the radio on Delaney's waist crackled to life, announcing that the convoy had passed through the gates. "Just a couple of minutes, sir," Delaney said with a nod. "The docs come through here, so if you don't mind waiting…" His voice trailed off, letting Gibbs know he had little choice in the matter. Instead of sitting in the offered seat, he took up position against the wall, his small duffle at his feet.
As promised, less than three minutes had gone by before the outside doors opened, revealing a few dusty-looking Army officers, all physicians and nurses, judging by the patches on their left shoulders. "Major?" Sergeant Delaney asked, approaching one. "There's an NCIS agent to see you about Corporal Littlefield's autopsy."
"Finally," a strangely familiar female voice replied. Gibbs frowned, trying to place it as she removed her boonie hat to reveal dirt-streaked light auburn hair, but in an Army hospital in Baghdad, completely out of any context he knew of, his memory failed him. "I've been trying to get in touch with her about Littlefield for a week."
"I'm not Agent Stowe," Gibbs replied, annoyed. She turned in astonishment at the voice, and then it was his turn to be surprised. The hair was lighter from time in the sun, her freckles seemingly more numerous on the tanned face, but there was no mistaking that tall athletic build or those light brown eyes. "Agent Gracy?"
Major Sonja Gracy grinned at him. "Actually, it's 'Major' or 'Doctor' now, Jethro," she said, her voice almost teasing. He remembered her saying the opposite to Ducky more than fifteen months before, but then, she had sounded sad about the statement.
"Back in the medical corps," she finished for him, turning so he could see the familiar green and black caduceus patch on her left arm, identical to the one that was still in the top drawer of his desk after the last time he had seen her in uniform. She glanced out one of the windows before turning back to him. "It's a bit chilly out there—only about 110 in the shade. You want to get some coffee and talk about the case?"
Although she mentioned the weather outside, Gracy didn't make any move to leave the hospital, leading him through a somewhat confusing network of hallways until they arrived at a cafeteria. A private handed Gracy the two cups of coffee with a smile, never asking for any payment. "Doctors get free coffee," she explained as they walked away. "My files are in my office. This way." She tilted her head to the side and led the way.
"It's like a real hospital," Gibbs commented. Gracy laughed.
"It is a real hospital," she said. "This isn't Desert Storm, Gibbs. We have infrastructure. And I have a real office, not some tent somewhere." She paused as she thought about that statement. "Well, I have a desk in the morgue, but it's like a real office."
He followed her into the morgue, where her hand reached for the light switch before she realized that the lights were already on. "Sergeant?" she called out. A head peaked out from behind a partial wall, reminding Gibbs, strangely enough, of Jimmy Palmer.
"Do we have any cases?"
"Um, no, ma'am," he replied. "I can, uh, check through your messages from the clinics and other hospitals…"
"No, Sergeant, that won't be necessary," she said with a wave of her hand. "I need to discuss a case with Agent Gibbs, so why don't you take the afternoon off?"
"The Littlefield case?" She looked at him sternly. "Oh. Right. I'll, uh, be going now." Gibbs couldn't help but smile as he scurried away.
"Is there some autopsy assistant catalog that you guys order from?" he asked. She rolled her eyes.
"It takes a special sort to be a pathologist's assistant," she replied dryly. "Anyway, Marine Corporal Littlefield came to my attention a week ago. Looked like a routine blast victim."
"Why'd you do an autopsy if it was a routine blast victim?"
"All deaths in theater get an autopsy," she replied. "I'm the only forensic pathologist in country, but all pathologists can perform autopsies. Actually, legally, any MD or DO can perform an autopsy. Anyway, we split the country into jurisdictions, so to speak, that each pathologist covers. Because of my forensics training, I do all the deaths that occur in my jurisdiction, as well as posts on any suspicious deaths in country. Littlefield, though, was one of the 'in my jurisdiction' autopsies.
"At first, everything seemed normal. Death was due to exsanguination—he bled out after his femoral artery was severed. I retrieved a piece of shrapnel from the wound, which confirmed COD. What got my attention, though, was the lack of defensive markings."
She nodded, absently tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. He almost smiled at the gesture; he had gotten used to it in the three months she sat across from him. He wondered then, as now, how she could keep the rest of her hair tightly bound, but that one lock always managed to work its way loose. "The natural instinct is to try to shield the head at a large noise. He should have more wounds dorsal surfaces of his forearms—the outside of his arms-but his wound patterns were more consistent with someone whose arms were tucked under him. Also, he wasn't wearing his Kevlar helmet."
"Which he should have been."
She rolled her eyes. "I may be a POG, Gibbs, but I know when Kevlar should be worn."
"POG?" he echoed, earning him a laugh.
"Oh, come on, that's jarhead lingo."
"I wasn't aware you knew what 'People Other than Grunts' meant."
She shrugged. "I know you guys think of that as an insult, but I don't mind." He still looked confused, so she said, "My usual rounds includes a Navy hospital every other Tuesday. Most of the patients are Marines. I talk to them sometimes." She grinned at his astonished look as she took in the Marine digital camouflage and how comfortable he looked in it, despite his leaving the Corps over a decade before Marines began wearing it. "I like Marines," she said with a shrug. "You tell it like it is. It's...comforting." He just chuckled and took a sip of coffee, allowing her to continue. "I ran an extended tox screen on his blood, which was positive for sodium oxybate. The trade name is Xyrem, but it's also known as GHB. He was so doped up he couldn't move."
"The date rape drug?"
She nodded. "But Xyrem is prescribed for narcolepsy."
"Wasn't aware you could be deployed with narcolepsy."
"Not if the powers that be know you have it," she agreed. She rolled her eyes at his dubious expression. "Oh, come on, we both know how easy it is to 'forget' to disclose medical conditions in order to join the military or be deployed. Anyway, I managed to gain access to AHLTA-T—the in-theater medical record system—and discovered that there are currently seven men in Iraq who have been prescribed Xyrem at some point—four Army, two Air Force, and one Marine."
"That's a small enough list."
"Well, not quite," she corrected. "That doesn't include contractors, or the pharmacists and pharmacy techs who have access to medication."
"The point, Gracy?" he asked with an exasperated sigh. She grinned at the familiar expression.
"One Navy pharmacy tech on the same base as Littlefield had been stationed at Camp Pendleton at the same time as Littlefield. I did some looking into it, and apparently, there was a police report involving Littlefield and HM2 Christopher Woodford's sister." She shrugged. "I had a nice chat with Woodford. He confessed everything. He's been hanging out in the brig for the last four days waiting for you to take him back home. He'll probably plead guilty, so you can skip the court martial and go straight for incarceration at Leavenworth."
He stared at her for a moment, not missing the satisfied expression on her face. "I flew all the way here from Washington, and you already solved my case?"
She grinned. "Well, I learned from the best. Anyway, why do you think I've been so eager to get hold of Agent Stowe for the last week?"
He just shook his head. "You're a medical examiner. Don't go giving Ducky any ideas, or he'll start thinking he can investigate our scenes and solving our crimes."
She laughed as she leaned back in her chair, almost toppling over as she was caught by a sudden yawn. "Sorry," she said. "Seven months of working sixteen hour days, seven days a week is catching up to me. So now that we got business out of the way, tell me about the team."
He rolled his eyes. "Ziva and DiNozzo are sleeping together, but they're doing a good job of keeping that under wraps. What?" he asked, misinterpreting the puzzled expression on her face. "You can't tell me you didn't see that coming."
"No, it's just...I thought they already were sleeping together. Never mind. Why does it matter if-oh. It's one of those rules, isn't it?"
"Number twelve: never date a co-worker."
She rolled her eyes. "Right. Heaven forbid you get involved with someone you already know and trust."
He smiled slightly. "So," he said, suddenly feeling the need to change the subject. "Baghdad?"
"Well, I never did like the cold," she joked before becoming serious. "My name came up a couple of months after I started at Tripler, and I found myself here in September. Caught Nate's first day of kindergarten, but missed his fifth birthday. I did manage to get R&R in December, so I was home for Christmas and Maddie's birthday."
"Tripler," he echoed, naming the Army hospital in Hawaii. "So when you said you were assigned to Hawaii…"
She nodded. "I decided to go back to the medical corps about a month before I left the team," she admitted. "I could have gone back to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and stayed in DC, but Chief of Forensic Pathology of the Pacific Region looked better on my resume, and I've always wanted to live in Hawaii." She shrugged and looked away before again meeting his gaze. "You healed me, Gibbs. I guess it took actually seeing Scott in every body I looked at to stop seeing Scott in every body I looked at."
"You healed yourself, Sonja," he replied. He finally broke her gaze to study the bulletin board in front of her desk. There were several random notes on colored pieces of paper, but one corner was dedicated to photos. He gently lifted one away, smiling slightly at the picture of Gracy and her kids at the beach, probably taken during her leave in December. For a minute, he studied the black-haired girl, a set of dogtags-likely Scott Gracy's dogtags that McGee had tossed across the bullpen on that last day-hanging over her swimsuit. "They look look happy," he finally said.
"They are," she said with a nod. "Maddie's doing well. Most days, she's just your typical eight-year-old." She rolled her eyes. "Eight, going on eighteen. You have any advice for surviving the next decade before I can legally kick her out of the house?"
"Sorry," he said. "My parenting expertise ends at eight."
She grimaced. "Sorry, Jethro, I wasn't thinking."
"Don't apologize." That lock of hair had gotten loose again, falling in front of her face. Without thinking about it, he reached over and tucked it behind her ear, which made her laugh.
"Thanks, Gunny, for making sure my hair is regulation, even when I haven't showered in two days."
He chuckled as he lowered his hand. "You look good, Sonja," he finally said. She rolled her eyes.
"You're not the first Marine to try to hit on me in the middle of a warzone, but I didn't come to Iraq to find a boyfriend," she joked.
"No what I meant, Gracy." He took another drink of coffee. "Not often you see someone so relaxed and happy in a warzone, away from her children."
"Well, you said it, Gibbs—I'm away from my children." She grinned before her expression became serious. "When I said you healed me…I wasn't being sarcastic. After my time on your team, I realized that this is where I belong. Not Baghdad, but…in uniform, in the autopsy suite. I had a really good experience working with you at NCIS, but I'm not cut out to be a special agent. Being a medical examiner is what I really love. After Musawi and Hauser…well, I realized it's time to come back."
He nodded, seeming to accept that. "So where do you go from here?"
"I'm leaving Iraq on September 5," she said. "I'll be home for Nate's sixth birthday. I already promised them another full school year in Hawaii, but after that?" She shrugged. "I like Hawaii. I like our house and the swimming pool in the backyard and the beach down the street, but the work is a little boring. There's not much forensics work for me, and while bread-and-butter pathology has its perks, it's not really my thing." She met his gaze, a slight smile in her light brown eyes. "I think maybe after that year, I'll see what they have for me back at AFIP. I'm thinking that DC has much more to offer."
So there it is-I hope you liked it! I really enjoyed writing this and I'm starting to think that Gracy's not done yet. I'm working on something completely unrelated right now, but I have an idea for a sequel somewhere in the back of my mind. If you think there's potential for more, let me know. And thank you to everyone who stuck with it through the end.