This is probably about the same length as the other chapters, but I'm calling it an epilogue as it takes place some time after the end of the episode.


Epilogue: Princeton

A warm mid-morning in the fall of the year; the autumnal colours drifting down from the trees to the grass of McCosh courtyard, where a young couple sat, their heads close together, bent over a lap-top. The girl, pretty, vital, dark haired and grey eyed, looked anxious. The young man was smiling. Their voices carried on the breeze.

"No," Josh Cooper was saying. "I don't see why you shouldn't put a bit of humour into an essay. Lots of history was funny!"

"I don't know if Dr. Wilkie will see the joke!

Josh took the girl's hand, and squeezed reassuringly. "Well, if you mean that you don't think he will, leave it out. If you don't know, and you think he's a nice guy, leave it in. If he's OK, he'll either tell you no jokes in future, without telling you off, (she looked at him in alarm,) "Or, you'll give him a laugh."

"Mmm, all right, it stays." She handed him a pad. "Would you read out this list to me when I ask?"

"Sure," he said amiably, and fell to studying her as she turned back to rattle her keyboard.

He was lucky, he knew. He'd gone to Princeton thinking it would be a great way to meet lots of girls, but instead he'd met Anne-Marie on the first day, and really didn't want to meet anyone else. He'd been at one of those welcome lunches that most people dread, but everyone feels they have to attend; he'd been picking at a plate of fancy lord-knows-what, and thinking about his dad. He'd been worried about Mom too, although she'd said "Go on, shoo – I'll be fine." She'd smiled as she drove away, but he didn't feel particularly reassured.

A voice beside him said, concernedly, "Does that hurt?"

"Er, I'm sorry, what d'you mean?"

The girl beside him pointed to the wounds on his face, and the bandages almost hidden by his cuffs. "They look painful. And you look in pain."

He could have taken offence at her curiosity, but he didn't. "No," he said honestly, "It's my thoughts that hurt." They looked at each other, astonished at how their conversation had somehow started in the middle. Josh managed a small smile. "I'll tell you some time," he said, "But not right now. I'm Josh Cooper."

"Anne-Marie Devereux. Pleased to meet you, Josh Cooper."

He smiled at the memory, and studied her as she worked. It was fortunate that they weren't in the same faculty; and they'd made a pact early on to work in the evenings alone or in the library if they were together – or nothing would ever get done, and they both wanted to do well.

She hadn't an unkind bone in her body, and she was the most healing creature he'd ever known. She always seemed to know when he was grieving, and always seemed to be there. He wasn't sure about chucking the 'L' word about so soon, but he thought this must be what it felt like. He simply wanted to be wherever she was.

She felt his eyes on her, and looked up. "What?"

"Can't I look at you? I like looking at you."

Anne-Marie laughed, and pecked his cheek. They smiled together and bumped foreheads. Before she could speak, however, a voice called out, "Ooh, incident alert! Incident alert!"

Elaine and Caroline, the terrible twins of the History Department, were hurrying towards them, bringing lunch in carry-out bags.

"If we wanted an incident, and I'm not saying we don't," Josh began, "We wouldn't have it in the middle of McCosh!" Anne-Marie finished for him.

Their two friends dropped themselves down on the grass and passed the food around, and for a while there was only happy chatter and the sound of munching, until Elaine sat bolt upright.

"Wasp?" Caroline asked. Elaine didn't reply directly. The sound that came out of her mouth could never have been described.

"Awwooo!" She spluttered crumbs. "Whatever course he teaches, I'm signing up. Right now." They all looked to see what, or who had caught her attention.

A tall, long-legged man, smartly dressed in dark cords and a chestnut brown leather jacket, had emerged from the shadow of the stately arch of McCosh Hall, and was standing looking round him. To the astonishment of the three girls, (especially the terrible twins, who were looking at the handsome newcomer as if he were their next meal,) Josh leapt to his feet with a delighted yell, scattering papers and sandwiches.


He ran across the courtyard as Tony turned towards the sound of his voice, and then skidded to a halt, suddenly awkward. It probably wasn't appropriate to hug another man, even if you were pleased to see him – and then he realised it must be, because the big guy hugged him, so he reciprocated.

"Hey…. What are you doing here? I mean, it's good to see you, really good – but what – I mean why – how did you find me?"

"Slow down! What am I doing here? I'm visiting you. It's good to see you too. Why – I'll explain in a minute. How did I find you? Well, I went to your dorm and asked, and your friends told me exactly where you'd be, and who you'd be with."

Josh looked shy. "Yeah," he agreed. "Come and meet Anne-Marie. And the twins."

"Twins? They don't look– "

"That's 'cus they're not. But they're inseparable, and their hobbies are practical jokes and chasing boys. Ergo, terrible twins."

"Ergo? Ah, well, you're an educated man now."

"Weren't you a college boy Tony? I bet you were. I bet you were a jock."

"Right in one. Ohio State – I was a Buckeye…. Good morning, ladies."

Without hesitation the agent curled up his long frame to sit on the grass beside them, clearly not so fond of himself that he wouldn't risk grass stains on his pants. Josh silently observed however, that he couldn't help preening very slightly at the looks Elaine was giving him. When his jacket flapped open, the two pretty co-eds eyes grew wide at the sight of the badge and the mean looking Sig revealed on his belt.

Josh made the introductions, presenting Tony with his full name, title and agency, just to impress the twins a little more. When the special agent shook Anne-Marie's hand, there was a softer edge to his smile. "He likes her," Josh thought happily.

After a while he asked again, "So what are you doing here, Tony? I mean, it's great that you're here, but they'd never give you a day off just to come visit me."

Tony grew serious. "Well, they would if I asked for it," he said, "But I didn't need to. Er, ladies, may I borrow Josh for a moment? I have some things for him from home, I left them in my car. He won't be long."

Josh's senses went on alert. Clearly Tony wanted to speak to him alone, and his stomach lurched, as the special agent began to explain.

"I would have come anyway, once I had permission from your mom," he said.

"My mom?"

"Yes. I'm on my way to Trenton to pick up a witness – poor guy's got two seriously black eyes and he can't drive at the moment. So, never one to miss an opportunity, I said I'd fetch him. I know my boss guessed I'd come here first, but he didn't say anything. He's OK like that, actually."

Josh nodded his understanding. "So, you went to see my mom. How is she?"

"She's a marine wife, Josh – as brave as they come. She dresses smart, and puts a smile on, and she's doing all right, but have you stopped grieving yet? Nadia keeps an eye on her, and I know the Corps is looking after her and Claire. She's sent you some stuff, and some cash I think, and I waited while she wrote you a quick letter."

He drew a deep breath. "Here it comes," Josh thought.

"The thing is, Josh, I went to see your mom to tell her something. And to see if she wanted to tell you herself, and, well, really to ask her permission 'cus I wanted to tell you."

Josh drew his breath in sharply. "You got the guy who killed Dad," he said softly. They stopped, a few feet from Tony's car.

"Well, not so much got," the agent said softly. Josh couldn't speak, and Tony went on, "His name was Sharif. We knew that much, but it took us six weeks to find him. He had this scheme to poison a lot of people with toxic money. It's a long story, but one of the people he tried to kill was my boss."

"He didn't do it, did he?"

"Oh, no."

"So you killed him?"

The big agent's face broke into a grin, and the mood lightened. "Oh, no," he said again. "I wish I could claim the credit. D'you remember the fierce lady colonel?"

"Yeah," Josh said, smiling in his turn. "I thought she and your boss were going to kill each other."

Tony's grin grew wider, if that were possible, and he gave Josh an odd look. The young man gasped. "Oh… they didn't kill each other, they…." He couldn't find the words.

"Right," his friend told him. "They seem to have a thing going…. And the good lady put three bullets in Sharif."

Josh was silent for several minutes. Tony reached into his car, pulled out a box, and stood it on the hood while he waited for the younger man to collect himself.

"So," Josh said finally, "You were right. Justice, not revenge."

"Doesn't matter whether I was right or not, Josh. I just wanted you to be."

"You're a good man, Tony DiNozzo." The agent blinked, and said nothing for a few seconds.

"So are you, Josh." He handed him the box. "You have a great life ahead of you; you'll do a lot of good one day." He dropped a card into the box. "Keep in touch. Results 'nd all that. My number's on there. If you ever need me, just call. I'll be there. Right?"

Josh gulped. "Right."

Tony squeezed his shoulder, and dropped into his car. "See you, Josh," and off he roared. Josh stood holding the box and feeling strange. He fished the card out, intending to put it somewhere safe, but stood looking at it blankly for a while, until he heard Anne-Marie's voice behind him.

"Josh? Are you OK?"

He turned to face her and smiled. "I'm fine," he said, and meant it.

His girl looked at the card in his hand. "What's that you have there?" she asked with good-natured female curiosity.

Josh looked down at it. "A friend for life," he said thoughtfully.

The End