Chapter 18- Case Closed
Gibbs and Abby sat in the elaborate waiting area outside the Oval Office waiting for President Hayes to call them in for their formal out-briefing. Gibbs expected Jon to arrive any minute. Hopefully, before they were asked into the office.
An elegant woman with an air of authority approached them from one of the Administrative offices. She gave them a warm, welcoming smile. "The President is ready to see you now."
"Thank you," Gibbs replied politely. "Um… I'm still expecting one more member of my team."
She gave him a mischievous grin, "Jon, the young scamp, called ahead to send his regrets."
"Uh huh," Gibbs replied with a frown.
"Really? He bagged on the President?" Abby asked with a raised eyebrow and suppressed giggle.
"Truly," the woman replied and gestured for them to precede her to the door.
Gibbs led Abby into the President's Office with a professional air. But, he allowed himself one small smirk as he identified the other people in the room. President Hayes, of course, was expected; as was General O'Neill. But the Defense Secretaries and the Joint Chiefs were not. He wasn't sure he liked this level of scrutiny.
"Welcome back, Special Agent Gibbs." The President greeted him with a genuine smile. He turned to Abby. "And Ms. Scuito, it is my pleasure to make your acquaintance. I've heard so many good things about you," he said as Abby blushed with the praise. "Please take a seat."
Once they were seated, the President continued, "I hope you don't mind that I invited a few more people to the out-briefing. General O'Neill you've already met," he said smoothly and then worked his way around the room to each of the Generals and Admirals and then the each of the Defense Secretaries ending with the SecNav, who seemed to relish Gibbs' discomfort.
"Mr. President, Gentlemen, Abby," Gibbs started with a small smile. "As you are well aware, I was asked to review the facts of a MIA case on behalf of the family by the President. My team and I fully reviewed the written reports and conducted various interviews for clarification. My team was given the full cooperation of the entire expedition and access to any and all materials we requested. It was a refreshing change of pace," he joked blandly. The various men chuckled in response.
Gibbs let the humor fade from his face, "During one of my interviews, new information came to light and we were able to successfully locate the remains of the missing lieutenant. His status was changed from MIA to Killed In Action (KIA) before we left Colorado. His family has the funeral planned four days from now." Gibbs nodded to General O'Neill, "At the family's request and pending approval, Lt Ford will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery."
Gibbs handed a thick report to the President and took a breath before continuing, "My complete findings are in the report. But, in summary, this is a clear case of 'alien influence' as previously defined in the SGC operations guidance. It is my opinion that all members of the of the Atlantis expedition, including its leadership, are not directly or indirectly culpable in the lieutenant's death."
"I knew it," General O'Neill stated to the room, gathering several disapproving stares. "What? I told you they were the best of the best." He smirked back at the others as if daring them to protest.
"Yes, you did, Jack," President Hayes chuckled. "Not that we had any doubts." He turned back to Gibbs. "Now, Special Agent Gibbs, Ms. Scuito, what about future investigations? Is this something we should continue?"
Gibbs was surprised at the question, "Well, for one, I don't think it should be for special cases only. I spent far too much time trying to play catch up. If I had already been read into the program, the investigation would have gone much faster." He grinned at Jack across the room, "Although, Jon O'Neill was a big help in getting Abby and I up to speed." Gibbs was gratified by the confused looks on the faces of the Joint Chiefs and the smug smile of the general.
Abby nodded, "And there were so many technologies available on Atlantis that I had to learn to use in order to verify the lab results in the reports. If Dr Beckett had been less than forthcoming; I don't know how I could have verified them." She turned to the SecNav with her eyes light up with excitement. "Not to mention how much time they would save if we could use them in my lab here," she hinted.
Gibbs cut in before Abby to really get started, "Our full recommendations are in the report." He paused briefly and addressed the President directly, "Sir, I'd like to brief the family at the funeral."
"Of course, get with General O'Neill and flesh out a cover story for the family." The President smiled, "Excellent job, all of you," the President said as he dismissed them. Gibbs and Abby filed out, followed shortly by General O'Neill.
Gibbs had arrived at the funeral late and tried to hang in the background. The lonely notes from the bugler echoed across the cemetery as the flag was carefully folded and carried to the family, sitting on one side.
Gibbs could just make out the solemn words of the Marine presenting the flag to Adele Ford, Aiden's grandmother. "On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to Country and Corps."
Adele gently accepted the flag with a teary thank you. Several hands comforted her as the ceremony progressed. Finally, the coffin was slowly lowered into the ground as the Marine Chaplain recited the 23rd Psalm to the quiet snuffling from the crowd surrounding the family. "…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…"
Soon the family was receiving the condolences of the crowd. Gibbs wasn't surprised to see LtCol Sheppard or his team as one of the first to line up. He also recognized the Marines that had defended LtCol Sheppard so strongly on Atlantis. As the crowd began to thin, Gibbs made his way towards the lieutenant's family.
Adele Ford sat frail and worn with her grief making her appear older than her years. A stout man of roughly the same age, sat beside her holding her hand and offering support to Adele. Gibbs assumed that this was Frank Ford, the grandfather. The rest of the family surrounded the couple with a protective air.
"Special Agent Gibbs," Adele greeted him as she wiped tears from her eyes and offered him her hand.
"Ma'am," Gibbs returned gently. "I'm sorry for your loss."
She harrumphed and turned a sage eye on him, "So am I. I… I knew he was gone..," she said tearing up again. "But I'm being a silly old woman, again." She took a deep breath, "I've been meaning to thank you. You did more than you promised…You brought my boy home." Her voice cracked with grief, "Thank you."
Gibbs knelt down, leaned in and gently kissed her hand, "You're welcome, Ma'am."
The man, Frank, nodded solemnly, "Can you tell us anything about his death?"
Adele turned her eyes to the man next to her and he wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "Are you sure, Frank?"
Frank smiled down at Adele gently, "I'm sure." He turned back to Gibbs, his eyes pleading, "I need to know."
Gibbs understood that need. The need to know how and why a loved one died. And he was more than happy to give them what they needed. If in a somewhat edited version.
"Lt Ford was in a fire fight and got separated from his team. He was eventually captured by the enemy. His teammates continued looking for him, but couldn't find him. Approximately, six months after he was captured, his team was captured by the same group. Together, with the lieutenant's knowledge, they were able to escape their cells. While covering the escape of his teammates, the lieutenant became separated again and missed his rendezvous with the escape aircraft. Shortly after the team escaped, the installation was completely destroyed. Once again, his teammates searched and couldn't find him."
Gibbs paused briefly, "They held out hope until the end. They were still looking for him. Even after all this time." He glanced at the faces around him and continued, "It was only while reviewing the case files, with his teammates that we were able to locate his body. He had stolen a second aircraft and made his own escape from the installation. But he was no pilot. The second aircraft crashed some distance from the installation. We found his remains a short distance from the crash. He died from the injuries he sustained in the crash."
Adele wept openly as she nodded in acceptance of the tale. "Thank you," she said in a choked whisper.
"Your grandson was very highly regarded by his men and his commander. His base is still mourning his loss," Gibbs finished softly.
Frank shook Gibbs' hand stoically. "Thank you, Agent Gibbs. I… That helps."
Adele slowly rose to her feet with Frank at her side, smiling sadly through her tears. "You've done us a great favor, young man. I know my boy can rest in peace now." She gently patted his arm as she allowed Frank to escort her to the waiting limousine surrounded by her family.
Gibbs turned to the grave one final time and recalled the face of the young officer he had seen in the video. The video the lieutenant had made just for his family. The one where, even after a year of hard combat and survival in a separate galaxy, the young man still had a shiny newness about him as he tried to explain to his grandparents that he was fine and not to worry about him. The one he made with full knowledge of the imminent invasion by the Wraith. That Marine, that man, still had hope. Somehow, he knew he would eventually make it home.
Gibbs slowly allowed the image of that man to fill him as he addressed the grave, "You've done good, Marine." Feeling lighter, Gibbs left the cemetery. It was time he got back to work.
AN: Thank you all for reading. This ends this story.