It was the sort of cold that's actually quite pleasant, as long as you're wrapped up well, and your extremities haven't frozen. DiNozzo in his British Warm, and McGee in his Burberry, weren't fazed by a bit of frost. Neither one would ever have admitted to the other, or to anyone else for that matter, that the socks they'd put on this morning were thermal, although they both confessed to insulated linings to their gloves.
"Makes sense to keep your gun hand warm," Tony said.
"There's that," Tim had agreed, his breath visible in a thin white cloud, "I just like to be warm. Don't call me McWimp, either. I guess if you're having an outdoor Winter Fair, you can't book the weather in advance. At least this is better than rain."
Tony just nodded thoughtfully, as they walked beneath the bare branches of the cherry trees in West Potomac Park. Tim had observed that his friend wasn't in a talkative mood, and put it down to the case they were working on. Earlier that morning they'd been talking to the family of a young Ensign, a beautiful, smart girl, who was being put through Yale by Naval Intelligence. The intention was for her to then join them as a satellite imaging analyst. On the first morning of the Christmas holiday, she'd driven to Rock Creek Park, sat on a boulder overlooking a stream, put her father's Desert Eagle to her temple, and pulled the trigger.
Her parents and sisters had been completely devastated, and although the physical and forensic evidence clearly confirmed the suicide, both agents felt that they owed it to the family to find out more. Lydia's roomie, Orla, was also from DC, and was working at the charity fair. "I don't much feel like it," she told Tony on the phone, "but I've promised. I'll be home after six, or you could come down and talk to me here."
They found her serving at the hot refreshments stall.
"Was I expecting it? No, not at all." She looked seriously at Tim, who'd asked the question. "If I'd suspected such a thing with anyone I'd have done something. And Lydia was a friend. I do know she had a boyfriend who was making her unhappy; at least it seemed to me that every time she saw him she came back stressed and sad; I tried to get her to talk about it."
"You say tried," Tim said. "Was she reluctant?"
"Oh, yes," Orla said sadly. "She just told me I couldn't help. She…" Her face twisted, and she went pink. "She… look, sometimes she'd come back, and I'd think she was in pain. Er… sexually, I mean. She'd go and spend ages in the bath or the shower. I think he ill-treated her. I tried once to say she should get rid of him. I wish I'd tried harder."
The agents looked at each other sickly, and both sighed. Tim pushed aside his own feelings, to try to ease Orla's. "Don't think like that," he said firmly. "You may feel as if it's your fault, but take it from us, it's not."
"Whose fault is it?" Orla asked, painfully. "Can you tell me?"
"Not yet," Tim said. "But if there's anything to find, we'll find it." He was aware of Tony raising one sardonic eyebrow, but the SFA had the grace not to tease him in front of the young woman. Then he realised he was being sent a message; ask more.
"What do you know about the boyfriend?"
"His first name was Ian. He was older than her; I saw them meeting once on campus. I knew it wasn't her dad, too young, but he kissed her when she got in his car, and I thought it must be him, so I watched them. He wore uniform; navy blue is all I can tell you. I'm not from a military background myself. He looked about thirty… thirty-five even… average height, dark brown hair." She paused, regarding them anxiously. "That's not much, is it?"
"We've worked with less," McGee told her. "Thank you, you have actually been a great help."
"Yes, thank you," Tony said, speaking for the first time. He began to move away, then said suddenly, "Hey, can we get some of that mulled wine? And the hot mince pies?" To Tim's surprise, he bought a dozen mince pies and enough of the hot spiced wine to take back. Orla put everything in a grocery bag and packed it with newspaper to keep it all warm.
As they headed back, Tony was quiet again. Tim sat in the car, nursing the bag of goodies on his knee, and tried carefully, "This was a nice idea, Tony. They won't be expecting Christmas treats."
"Ah, well, that's what makes it fun, McSanta. Taking people by surprise!"
"Yeah… expect the unexpected…"
Tony smiled slightly. "Last time I said that I got egg on my face, remember? Dead Fornell turned out to be live Fornell?"
"That one got us all. But hey, that's the first time I've seen you smile all day, so the memory's got to be good for something."
"Hey!" Tony protested. "I was glad that Toby hadn't topped himself! I –"
"I didn't mean that. You've been quiet all morning. Now tell me that's not unusual."
"Unusual. It's a bad case, I know…"
Tony sighed, and decided to come clean.
"It's not the case. Although, seeing Ensign Griffiths' family in that state was not good, I'll grant you – fact is, we've seen it before, and no doubt will again," he said heavily.
"Mmm… it does motivate us to find out the truth… but what is bothering you, then?"
Tony stopped the Agency saloon in the same spot they'd collected it from, and switched off. He looked down at his knees, and said quietly, "My father's been in touch."
"Your father?" Tim echoed in astonishment. "How long since - "
"Getting on twenty years," Tony told him.
"Does he want to see you for Christmas?"
"Oh, no," Tony said quickly, a flash of hurt in his eyes. "No, he says he's coming to DC in the New Year, and would like to talk to me. He doesn't explain why, he doesn't wish me Merry Christmas, or ask what my plans are, or how I'm doing…"
"So now you're going to be worrying instead of enjoying the holiday," Tim said thoughtfully. "It's almost as if he did it deliberately."
The SFA looked at the floor as they stepped into the elevator. "No almost about it, McGee."
For a moment, Tim was speechless. He felt surprised, and actually a tiny bit pleased, that DiNozzo was opening up to him, DiNozzo who never let anyone see what he was feeling, especially if what he was feeling was pain; but then he realised that this put a hell of a responsibility on him to handle it right. "Wow," he finally said derisively. "Nice guy. Are you going to meet him?"
Tony leaned his head back against the lift wall. "Tim, I have absolutely no idea," he told him. The doors opened. "Come on, let's surprise them."
"Wait." He said it so softly that Tony almost didn't hear. He stopped and turned back to his friend, almost upsetting the bag of goodies he was carrying. "Gibbs?"
"What about – oh. I've not told him yet."
"I know," Tony told him ruefully. "But if he goes Poppa Bear…. You know he'll go head to head with any dirtbag alive… but I don't want him going head to head with my father's lawyers. Look… not yet, Tim, OK?"
"OK. But you need to talk… I'm here."
Tony smiled, and silently nodded his thanks.
The Christmas treat was warmly received. Ziva had never tasted a mince pie; they told her that her education was incomplete. She completed it at once, and said it tasted delicious. Gibbs, who ate two, also admitted that mulled wine was something he looked forward to at this time of year. Abby came up from the lab to claim a share, and Tim was just remarking that they ought to take some down to Ducky, while there was some left to take, when the man himself spoke up. He came hurrying over from the elevator, his face set and his jaw clenched in anger.
"Thank you, Tim, but no. I don't believe I could eat at this moment, without feeling very ill. I have just completed the autopsy on poor young Ensign Griffiths; I will leave the report here for your consideration. I have no wish to repeat the sordid contents out loud; suffice it to say that she had been hurt, repeatedly, during so-called lovemaking, over a period of at least three months, judging by new bruising over old; new and old bite-marks… well, you will see for yourselves, no doubt. I recovered semen, and a couple of hairs that did not appear to be the victim's, and have sent them to your lab, Abby. I have left Mr. Palmer taking moulds of the bite marks."
He thrust his chin out again, in that same fury. "You will also see, that the poor child was nine weeks pregnant. She may have killed herself, Jethro, but there is a man somewhere responsible for this. I don't for a moment think that this innocent girl was his first victim; he was practised at what he did. If she is to be his last, find him!" The ME left without waiting for a reply, his body language demonstrating his distress as he bustled away.
The MCRT all looked at each other grimly, then Tony swept up what was left of the mince pies and dumped them in the trash. So much for a Christmas treat. They found themselves standing round the plasma screen, looking at the young woman's photo; a girl just turned nineteen, with so much promise… Tony resolutely pushed aside a picture that jumped unwelcome into his head; his father's face inches from his own, red and flicking whisky smelling spittle. 'You'll never amount to anything…' He shook himself. It wasn't so much the promise that would never now be fulfilled that bothered them all, he knew… nobody deserved to be driven to do what Lydia Griffiths did.
Finding the guy would be easy; there would be DNA, and Abby, who'd already raced off, would find it. Tim was already going through Navy listings, narrowing down the number of suspects by physical description and age; when Tony said suddenly, "Try this one, McGee. Apparently young Navy personnel in Ensign Griffith's position have a mentor to look after their welfare and progress. Hers was a Lieutenant Commander Ian Phillips."
"OK," Tim muttered, concentrating, and a moment later, said, "There." Up on the plasma screen he put up the record of a dark haired man aged thirty-four.
Tony let his breath out slowly. "Right…. Let's not jump to conclusions here… but it would appear that our mentor has been abusing his position."
Gibbs said "It's not the first time we've seen it."
Tony nodded. "Gunnery Sergeant Leeka. Midshipman Ashley Collins. She was just a kid too."
"What happened?" Ziva asked.
"She didn't die. But a guy died trying to protect her. Gibbs took Leeka down." He smiled briefly at the memory.
"It was more clear cut then," Gibbs said. "Murder is against the law. Rough sex isn't, nor is getting someone pregnant. And Ducky would have told us if there was grounds for calling it rape. We'll have a helluva job proving coercion."
"Ducky reckoned she wasn't his first victim," Tony said.
"So if we could find others…" Ziva continued.
"Pulling up a list of Phillips' former mentees now, Boss," Tim finished off triumphantly.
After that it was easy. Three other young officers, who would never have spoken up, told similar stories. "I'd have carried it for the rest of my life," one girl told Tony, sobbing, "you've no idea how glad I am that you've found him out. He said no-one would believe me if I told, and that he could harm my future career."
"He won't hurt anyone else," Tony said.
Ian Phillips was arrested in Connecticut that afternoon by local officers; he admitted everything to them as soon as they mentioned the bite-mark moulds. They were bringing him to DC right away.
"Pity," Tony said viciously.
"Pity? Ziva queried.
" Pity he confessed. Gibbs was looking forward to interrogating him."
"Oh yeah," the Boss agreed. "I think I might have a word anyway. Do you two want to go visit the family again?"
"No," Tony said honestly. "But we will, huh, McGee?"
Tim nodded solemnly, and they left without a word.
The visit was as traumatic as the earlier one. The Griffiths family were grateful that NCIS had discovered the truth so quickly, and both relieved and appalled by it. They were heartbroken that Lydia hadn't come to them, and that the tragedy could have been avoided. The two agents both felt wrung out as they began the short journey back from Glen Echo. Tim had offered to drive, but Tony had demurred.
"Let me," he said. "Gives me something to occupy my fried brain with. Unless you really need something to think about?"
"No, I'm good. Ish. Like you said, not the first time, and it won't be the last. My guess is, you're feeling this bad because your father's still on your mind."
Tony looked across at him briefly, with a slight smile, then turned his attention back to the road. "Yeah," he said. "You sure you want to go there, McCounsellor? I don't particularly want to inflict him on you."
"You can't talk to Gibbs yet. You won't talk to Ziva. Abby's not here, neither's Ducky. Who's left?"
The Senior Field Agent nodded thoughtfully. "Always knew you were smart," he said, and Tim shot him a look, but realised it was spoken without sarcasm. "Hadn't pegged you before as a wise man."
AN: This was meant to be a short introductory paragraph in a one-shot. Like Topsy, it just growed.