Disclaimer: I do not own or profit from NCIS.
Author's Note: This story is 12 chapters long and complete. I'll post every other day (trying to post every day about did me in the last time). Forgive any plot holes, sometimes I think I wouldn't qualify to write a Scooby-Doo episode.
This takes place in Season 7, sometime after Flesh and Blood but before Patriot Down. Tried not to go OOC or AU, but I did let the characters grow and change a little. I hope in a good way.
My apologies to everyone who reviewed the end of my last story and I didn't get to reply—life got really crazy. I hope to do better this time! So let me know what you think :)
The beer bottles clinked as Tony sat them on the kitchen counter. "So, what are we having at Cafe Gibbs tonight? Steak? Burgers?" The NCIS Senior Field Agent looked around for signs of what was on the dinner menu.
The Lead Agent for the Major Crimes Response Team was removing something from the oven. "Meatloaf and mashed potatoes," he replied.
Tony shot an eyebrow up. "Comfort food. So what's up? Why the need for breaking out Grandma's cuisine?" he asked. The younger man was already getting out plates and setting the table. He had stayed there enough the layout was familiar and he never hesitated to be a good second-in-command, even if it was in the cooking department.
Gibbs chuckled as he found some glasses and took a seat at the table. "No wonder I haven't fired you yet. You decided something's going on based on a meatloaf?" the silver-haired agent asked.
DiNozzo grinned as he helped himself to a slab of what was now diagnostic evidence and a huge helping of mashed potatoes. Gibbs just shook his head at the other man. "Not just that," Tony explained. "Add in the fact you invited me over for dinner on the spur of the moment on a school night. Plus, you've been even quieter than your normal functional mute self. The last clue was that mysterious call from the SecNav today you took in the conference room." He finished laying out his case and pointed at his friend and mentor with his fork. "Factor in the meatloaf, and obviously something significant is afoot." He added another grin for effect.
Gibbs gave his typical closed smile at his agent's fairly sound logic. Tony might not act like he was paying attention half the time, but few details escaped him. Now, those green eyes were scrutinizing him, waiting for an explanation. Gibbs sat his own fork down and folded his hands.
"I'm going out of town for a few weeks," the Lead Agent stated.
Tony stopped eating, fork raised in mid-air. "Why?" he asked. This was not a time for a lot of words.
Gibbs glanced down, looked back up and met the gaze. "The SecNav has asked me to investigate something for him. It's classified, so I can't really explain much about the assignment. Hopefully, I can resolve the matter fairly quickly and be back in about two weeks," he detailed.
Tony chewed and thought for a minute. "Is it dangerous?" he inquired soberly.
Gibbs shook his head and smiled again, wondering for the millionth time why DiNozzo cared so much, since most of the agents he had ever worked with considered him a grade A bastard. There weren't many people in his life he could count as close friends, and Tony had made it onto that short list. The field agent was actually much more than a friend; after ten years he had become more like a surrogate son. That was why the ex-marine had taken the opportunity to tell Tony about the new mission in a more private setting. He knew the younger man would worry. "Nah," Gibbs answered off-handedly. "It isn't anything I shouldn't be able to handle. Mostly intelligence stuff."
"Can you tell me where you're going?" Tony followed up curiously.
Gibbs paused a moment. "Russia," he finally said.
"Russia?" Tony repeated, surprise evident in his voice. "Are you gonna have back-up?" The field agent was growing more concerned about the unusual situation.
Gibbs shook his head again. "That's all I can tell you, Tony. You'll have the team until I get back," he said, ending the discussion. "I'm sure there'll be lots of stories about campfires and DiNozzo's rules when I return."
Tony smiled, knowing his boss had faith in him to lead the team in his absence, but still worried about the unknown assignment. Something in his gut churned darkly. "When are you leaving?" DiNozzo asked.
"Tomorrow," the blue-eyed man replied, picking up the dishes. He'd lost his appetite. "You can drive me to the airport in the morning."
Tony helped clean up, the whole time wondering what this "secret mission" was really all about. Even though Gibbs was playing it down as nothing serious, DiNozzo had a strange sense of foreboding about the entire scenario.
Later that evening, as they sat in Gibb's basement, the older man sanding a project while Tony nursed a beer and watched him, the field agent asked, "Does this have anything to do with the Russian prostitute we found murdered a few weeks ago?" He observed quietly for the Lead Agent's reaction.
Of course it does, the silver-haired man thought. It turned out the dead prostitute was the daughter of one of Gibb's and the SecNav's old friends; he had recognized her immediately because of the girl's striking resemblance to the beautiful Russian spy who passed away several years ago. The surprise has been finding out the SecNav was the girl's father. Gibb's wanted to discover as much as possible about the relationship between Secretary of the Navy Philip Davenport and the dead girl's mother. Something about the situation was "hinky" as Abby would say. But he had decided not to tell the team any details yet; he would wait until he returned with more information.
So in response to Tony's inquiry, Gibbs only smiled, a small grin that revealed nothing. "Don't ask too many questions, DiNozzo," he replied, never looking up or slowing his sanding.
Tony took a swig of his beer while his gut continued to churn.
"When is Gibbs coming back?" McGee asked, glancing around to make sure Tony wasn't anywhere nearby.
"Tomorrow," Ziva answered. "Why, Tim, are you tired of being Tony's Senior Field Agent?"
"Oh, come on, Ziva," he replied. "You can't tell me you aren't ready for the boss to come back, too. I mean, it's not like Tony hasn't done his job or anything, but with the campfires, looking over my shoulder, and smacking me on the back of the head, I just don't know how much more I can take."
Ziva laughed, "Well, Tony does have an unconventional style, but we have closed three cases in two weeks even if he has driven us crazy in the process. I hate to admit it, but he has been a pretty good Lead Agent."
"Can I have that in writing?" the smooth voice asked, as Tony grinned down at her from the top of the cubicle. He was smiling broadly.
Ziva groaned, while Tim smiled despite himself. "You need to stop doing that!" the former Mossad agent said, throwing a paper wad at his head. Tony ducked and it hit a passing secretary who glanced around in irritation.
Tony sat down at his desk. The two weeks had gone fairly well, with no major issues and a lot of work completed. He wouldn't admit it to the other two agents, but he, too, was ready for ole blue eyes to come back. There hadn't been one word from the Lead Agent, and Tony's gut had worked non-stop. At night, he'd been reviewing the murder of the Russian prostitute and her marine client. There were few leads and the case had gone cold fast, but Tony couldn't shake the belief that the murder had something to do with Gibb's current absence.
Abby had discovered the name of the young woman. Katerina Sokolov. The girl had been in the US a few months, probably as part of the human sex trade. There was little to no information on her during the short time she had been in the United States, and requests to Russian officials regarding her background were met with, "We'll let you know." The marine who was found shot along side her was well known to frequent prostitutes, but there was no indication the murders had been linked to him. It appeared to be a case of "wrong place, wrong time."
Tony had returned to Katerina's seedy apartment building on several occasions, but failed to get anyone to provide him with any substantial leads. The federal agent had grown increasingly frustrated at his lack of progress. He pulled up Katerina's picture again; long blonde hair, dark blue eyes, porcelain skin. She had been beautiful, if a little weathered, for her 25 years of age. What did Gibbs find out about you? the agent mused. That caused the SecNav to send him running off to Russia?
His reverie was broken by a phone call from Director Vance. "Tony, I need to see you in my office immediately," Vance said curtly. The line went dead.
Strange, Tony thought, as he headed up the stairs. He always felt like he was going to the principal's office whenever Vance called. McGee and Ziva glanced at each other across the bullpen, curious about the summons.
"Trouble?" McGee whispered.
"I do not know," Ziva shrugged back quietly.
Director Vance had gone over it with him several times. Tony looked at images of the plane crash playing on the plasma screen; the crash site showed total devastation. No one could have walked away from the twisted, burning scraps of metal that littered the Russian countryside. Once Vance had gotten past the words, "There were no survivors," Tony had blanked out, heard nothing, felt nothing. Just stared at the screen, trying to make sense out of what Vance was telling him. Nothing else the Director said registered after that, not until he felt the man's hand on his shoulder shaking him, offering him a glass of water, telling him…what? That it was ok? That everything was going to be alright? Tony felt his throat constrict, his head pound.
Gibbs had been due back in DC the following morning and now he was dead. From that moment Tony knew nothing would be alright again.
Tony stared at Vance and asked, "Where's the proof? I won't believe it until someone proves it to me." His hands clenched into fists and his emerald eyes blazed. This can't be happening, he thought. He was asleep somewhere and having a nightmare; he would wake up soon and everything would be back to normal.
Vance, for all his faults, showed patience with the overwhelmed agent. "The proof is on the screen, Tony," he said softly. He knew that Tony and the Lead Agent were close; he watched the younger man grip the arms of the chair like he was hanging on to a life raft. "Gibbs was on that plane, and it was destroyed on impact; the SecNav has confirmed it. I know this is hard…."
"You don't know anything!" Tony yelled as he rose to his feet, reality slipping into his numb mind. "You don't know anything," he repeated more quietly, running a shaky hand through his hair, trying to calm down.
Vance took him by the arm and gazed steadily into his burning eyes, "The team needs you now, Tony. I know how close you were to Gibbs, and this is going to be difficult for you. But you have to hold it together for them. You are their team leader now." Vance refused to look away from the green eyes and pained expression. "You can do this, DiNozzo. We've all lost people we care about; you can do this."
I don't know if I can, Tony thought silently, fighting back the urge to run from the room.
"Let me…" Tony cleared his throat when his normally strong voice cracked. "Let me tell them." The Director nodded, understanding the request.
The rest of the day was a blur.
Vance stood by solemnly as Tony informed the rest of the team. Ducky grabbed the edge of the desk and then sat down heavily, his eyes going watery. Abby burst into tears and hung on to McGee, who gazed on in shocked silence, unable to speak. Ziva did not cry, but her face held such sorrow that Tony wanted to wrap the petite agent in his arms to keep her from falling down. Instead, he just stood there at Vance's elbow trying to contain his own crushing grief, wondering when the four horses of the apocalypse would come riding through, since obviously the world was coming to an end.
The world didn't end. Vance told them all to go home and take the week off while funeral arrangements were made. Tony sat at his desk staring blankly. Was Gibbs really dead? It didn't feel like he was dead. I would know, he thought. Abruptly, the agent stood.
"I'm going to Stillwater," he told his teammates, who were all gathered in the bullpen trying to wrap their minds around the sudden loss and provide each other with what little support they could. "I need to tell Jack in person."
Ziva rose from her seat, "I will go with you," she said.
"No," Tony directed firmly, shaking his head. "I…," he paused. "I'd really like to go alone," he explained, looking down at her and hoping she would understand.
Seeing the haunted look in his eyes, she smiled sadly. "Ok, Tony," she agreed. "But call me when you get there. Promise?"
"Promise," he responded, not knowing what else to add. With another glance at his boss' empty desk, the former Senior Field Agent walked out the door. Ziva watched his departing back, knowing that no matter how encompassing their grief, Tony was in a very dark place all his own.
By the time Tony arrived in Stillwater, it was getting late. Standing in front of the quaint store, the NCIS agent steeled himself for what was to come. Walking inside, the elderly Gibbs looked up and smiled, "Tony! What a nice surprise! Why didn't you tell me you were coming? Is Leroy with you?" His blue eyes gazed with their usual spark, looking behind Tony to see if his son was coming through the door.
Taking off his dark sunglasses, Tony once again ran a hand through his hair. Damn. I don't want to do this" he thought nervously. He shifted uncomfortably and shook his head.
"No, Jack, Gibbs isn't with me. Why don't we go over here and sit down," he indicated the small table.
Jackson Gibbs immediately knew something was wrong. Stepping from behind the counter, he met Tony's eyes and asked softly, "What's happened?"
The younger man took a deep breath and plunged in. It was bad enough informing strangers when their loved ones unexpectedly passed; this was beyond horrible. "Gibbs went to Russia on a special assignment for the Secretary of the Navy. He was due back tomorrow. The plane he was on," Tony stopped and closed his eyes. When they reopened he couldn't hide the watery tears that threatened to fall. "The plane he was on crashed; according to the Navy…." Tony hesitated again. Saying the words made it more real. Finally, he added softly, "There were no survivors." Tony waited for his information to register.
The older man teetered a little, reaching out to the back of a chair for support. Slowly he sank down into the seat. "Are you telling me that Leroy is dead?" Jackson asked, looking up at DiNozzo, his wrinkled blue eyes filling with tears of his own.
Tony thought he might choke on the thick wave of emotion rising in his throat. "Yes, that's what I'm telling you," he whispered, taking a seat across from the older man. They both sat there, saying nothing, as large, silent tears fell from Jackson's eyes. He wasn't a man prone to crying, but he seemed incapable of stopping the action right now.
Eventually, Tony stirred. "Why don't you let me help you close up and I'll drive you home," he said, unsure of what else to do.
"Yes, yes," Jackson agreed in a detached way, patting the younger man on the hand. "Thank you, Tony."
Jackson insisted the agent spend the night at his house. The older man seemed to pull himself together, even though the distant, far-away expression never left him. "I always figured Leroy would get himself killed eventually. I just thought it would be at the end of a gun, not in some plane crash a world away."
"I know," Tony agreed miserably. He met the blue eyes so like the ones of his mentor. "It doesn't really feel like he's gone."
Jackson smiled in understanding, noticing the sorrowful expression on the man's face. He had been able to tell from the beginning there was a special friendship between Tony and his son, he just hadn't been able to exactly figure it out. Observing the hollow look of the young man in his living room, Jackson knew he had been right.
"How long did you work with Leroy?" Jackson asked.
"Around ten years," Tony replied, sitting down on the couch. "He…" Tony started, but didn't know if he could finish. "He was one of my best friends…..more than that," the agent stated painfully, not meeting the father's gaze. There weren't words to express what Gibbs had been to him.
Jackson's smile was filled with warmth and pride, "There was a time I wondered if that boy would ever get his own head on straight. It's nice to see he was able to do that and more." The old man sat beside him, "Did he ever tell you about when he was being picked on by the Smith boy down the street?" Tony shook his head no. "He was about eight years old…."
DiNozzo listened to stories about his boss growing up until late into the night. It seemed to help Jackson to talk about his son, and Tony enjoyed listening. Finally, Jack herded an exhausted Tony into a bedroom and told him to make himself at home. Before closing the door, the elder Gibbs looked around and sighed, "This was Leroy's room. Not much about it has changed." He gave the same sad smile and shut the door.
Tony walked around the room, looking at the possessions which revealed Gibb's former life. Boxing gloves. A BB gun. School pictures of a skinny young kid with ice blue eyes and a cocky grin. Four football trophies that proclaimed, "Stillwater Player of the Year." Tony touched the nameplates. Four years in a row. Not a surprise at all.
Feeling strangely disconnected, Tony sat on the edge of the bed. He honestly didn't know what to do. There was no way he could sleep, despite his bone-weary fatigue. For the first time in years, he felt like a boat without a rudder, not knowing what direction to take. Staring around the bedroom of the man he had come to rely on for that direction, he felt the hot sting of tears in his eyes and on his cheeks. Tony leaned back on the bed and, for the first time in many years, allowed himself to cry.
The funeral, or he guessed rather memorial service, since they were told the body had been destroyed, took place one week later. Tony sat between Jackson and Ziva, listening to colleagues extol the virtues of the man he still wasn't sure was actually dead.
Tony had mentioned it to the team, that maybe since there was no body that Gibbs wasn't really on the plane in the first place. He had more or less been met with sympathetic stares indicating he was in denial. Rather than be told he was crazy, Tony let the topic drop. But deep in his gut, no matter how crazy it seemed, he still wasn't convinced.
Vance tried to get him to speak at the memorial, but Tony refused. His friendship with Gibbs was a private matter, and he didn't need to display it for the world. Instead, Ducky, Jackson, and Fornell had given heartfelt eulogies filled with both laughter and tears. After the service was over, Tony felt deflated, and he wanted to escape from the church and go back to his apartment so he could get out of the constricting suit and tie, have a drink, try to untangle his thoughts. Instead, he was drug back to Gibb's house for dinner, where everyone continued to talk and share stories about the gruff marine. Tony smiled, drank some beer, tried to act normal. Whenever the noise became too much, or someone mentioned a memory that was particularly painful, Tony would somehow find Jackson Gibbs standing at his side, the warm hand on his back, providing a comforting presence. DiNozzo understood more every day how this older man had been the driving force behind the crusty NCIS agent he admired so much.
Jackson was staying at Gibb's house for the next few days to get everything in order. Before DiNozzo finally left to go home, the elderly man stopped the agent by the door. "Tony, there's a meeting tomorrow you need to go to with me," he explained.
"Sure, Jack," Tony agreed, ready to help him with anything he could do. "What kind of meeting?"
"It's with an attorney. They're reading Leroy's will, and I'd like you to take me," Jackson requested somberly.
Tony smiled. He liked that Jackson was letting him help. Truth be known, being with the older man made him feel connected to his boss. "Sure. I'll come over around 8:00," the agent replied.
The next morning went nothing like Tony expected. Gibbs had left the Senior Field Agent everything he owned; the house, the car, even the sawdust. Tony tried to protest. "This should go to you," he told Jack, looking back and forth between the old man and the attorney. "I'm not even family."
Jack put a hand on DiNozzo's knee. "Tony, you were more family to him the last ten years than I was. Besides, I already got a house and a car. What would I need with two?" his eyes twinkled as he explained. "I feel good knowing Leroy's things will be with someone who cared about him. So it's right they go to you."
Tony had no idea what to say. The last few weeks had left him in a daze; this was the final blow. He always wanted to prove to everyone else that Gibbs liked him best; had spent most of the last decade seeking the man's approval. And here it was, in black and white. It should have made him happy to know that in the end Gibbs cared about him even more than he ever guessed. But the moment left him feeling more bereft and alone than he ever thought possible. How could he ever fill the void that Gibb's death had left in his life?
Jackson thought Tony would be pleased, but instead the younger man appeared ready to throw up. "It's ok, Tony," Jack said comfortingly. "It's going to be ok."
Tony wished he believed him.
Abby and McGee went out to dinner; neither wanting to be alone. After picking at their food for a while, they decided to go for a drive. "Do you know what I remember most about him?" Abby asked, her eyes red with tears from continual crying. She sniffled into a handkerchief.
"Regular Caf-Pow deliveries?" McGee answered, trying to help her feel better.
"Well, yeah," she smiled at the sweet memory. "No, the way he always knew what everyone needed most. The way he knew if I needed a hug, or Ziva needed a smile. He always knew when you needed to hear a "good job." And what about the head slaps? Tony would've never survived without the head slaps."
"How do you think Tony's doing? " McGee asked. "He hasn't been looking so good."
Deciding to check on their friend, Abby dialed his number. "Straight to voice-mail," she said, shaking her head. "Maybe we should go over and see him in person. He looked really out of it at the funeral yesterday." They drove by his apartment, but no one was home.
"Do you think he's gone out to get a drink or something to eat?" Abby asked. She was concerned; Tony never turned his phone off unless something was wrong.
McGee was lost in thought. "Maybe he's at Gibb's house," he suggested.
"Let's go," Abby decided quickly. She had a sense Tony needed them.
DiNozzo's car was parked outside the neat shaker cottage, but the only light was the one shining from the window in the basement.
"Tony," McGee called out, opening the door. It was unlocked as always. "Tony, it's me and Abby."
There was no answer. The two friends exchanged looks and made their way to the basement. "Tony?" Abby called out, seeing a figure sitting on the floor against the wall. "Tony, is that you? Are you ok?"
The man in the floor looked up. His cloudy eyes lit up at the sight of them, "Hey, Abs! McGoo! Nice to see you here! Did you come by for a drink?"
Tony was holding a nearly empty bottle of bourbon. He finished off the glass in his hand, maneuvering himself to stand. "Let me…. find….. some more gl..glasses," the Senior Field Agent slurred thickly, stumbling into the counter and knocking tools and supplies into the floor.
"Oops, Gibbs'll kill me for that! Oh, wait a minute! No he won't, because the great Leroy Jethro Gibbs is dead!" Tony shouted. Abby glanced at McGee, both worried and appalled.
"Dead as a doornail, pushing up daisies, kicked the bucket," he listed, swaying over to the staircase. "Least, that's what you guys think. My old gut here, it says different." He poured more bourbon in his glass. "But, nobody wants to…..to talk 'bout that." DiNozzo grabbed the railing as he teetered to the side.
"Tony, I think you've had enough," McGee stated firmly, reaching for the bottle.
Tony deftly maneuvered the bottle out of Tim's reach. "Oh, no, McTeetotaller. I'm just getting started!" he was yelling again while he refilled the glass. "This is the good stuff, my friend. Saved for a rainy day. Or maybe just a shitty day. Is it raining?" he asked. "Doesn't matter, cause it sure is shitty." Tony raised his glass and then took another gulp. Trying to head back to the other side of the room, he tangled his feet and nearly tripped.
"Gotta watch that step, McGoo, it's a doozy," he gripped the counter and worked his way over to lean on it.
"Come on, Tony, I think maybe you ought to go on to bed," Abby suggested. She was really worried about the agent's condition.
"No!" Tony yelled and slammed his hand down, knocking a box of nails into the floor. "No, Abby!" The bottle of bourbon slipped from his hand and shattered at his feet. Tony looked at her angrily.
"How could he do it, Abby? He knew what he was doing was dangerous, but he just kept it all a secret like usual. Classified he said. Need to know," Tony was shaking with emotion. He lifted his face toward her, green eyes burning with alcohol and anger. "Well, when did we need to know anything? When did Gibbs tell us a damn thing before he had to? He shouldn't have gone without backup! He shouldn't have gone at all!" Tony emphasized his point by raising his half-filled glass and flinging it across the room where it hit the wall and shattered to the floor.
Tony was breathing heavily now, all the anger and frustration from the last week scorching through him along with the bottle of alcohol. Abby and McGee were barely breathing; neither had seen Tony in such a complete and total rage before.
A loud thump and something breaking upstairs brought them all out of the silence.
"What was that?" Abby asked fearfully.
Tony peered owlishly up the stairs, trying to figure out what could have made the noise.
McGee pulled out his Sig. "I'll check it out," he said, a little nervously.
"I'll go with you," Tony slurred, fumbling on the counter for something to use as a weapon.
"No, Tony, stay with me," Abby insisted, grabbing his arm. "I'm scared." She didn't want to send a drunk Tony upstairs to face unknown intruders. Tony hesitated, his inebriated brain not exactly sure what to do. Before Tony could make a decision, McGee quietly ascended the staircase and eased his way out of the basement.
After a few minutes of waiting, Tony had enough. "Gotta go up, Abs. Here, use this if you need it," he picked up a hammer, nearly tumbling over as he bent to retrieve the tool. Abby wrapped herself around his neck.
"Tony, please," she begged.
"Sorry, Abs, can't let Probie do all the work," he muttered, gently tugging himself loose. He placed a steadying hand on the wall and slowly worked his way up the stairs, swaying after every two or three steps.
"Darn you, Tony," Abby muttered. She slid up beside him, placing her arm around his waist. He looked down at her with foggy eyes as they moved into the hallway.
"Thanks, Abby," he replied a little loudly.
"Shhh," she whispered.
"Hey!" McGee shouted. "Stop! Federal Agent….I said stop!" There was a loud crash and thud. A dark-hooded figure rushed down the hall, straight for Abby and Tony. Seeing them, the man stopped. Abby noticed a glint of silver shine in the moonlight from the window.
"Oh my God, Tony, he has a gun!" she cried.
The agent gazed up through his intoxicated haze and saw the man lift his weapon. Standing in the middle of the hall, they had nowhere to go. Abby and Tony were as good as dead.