Author's notes and general babble comes at the end. (And I think this just about still counts as Friday - right?...!)
Disclaimer: Out of this story, all I own is the plot. The rest is borrowed from Bellisario et al with no offence intended and no (well, very little!) harm done.
No beta readers were harmed in the production of this story - but thanks to V for the help and advice.
Five times that Anthony DiNozzo met his guardian angel...and one time he didn't.
A Very Special Guardian Angel
6 - Gibbs
As Tony made his way through the rows of gravestones, he felt a little like he was prying into Gibbs' last and darkest secrets and yet, after the week he'd had - that they'd both had, technically speaking - he felt entitled, just this once, to visit the graves of Gibbs' wife and daughter.
He'd never asked Gibbs about them; even once he officially 'knew' (and truth told, the revelations about how they'd lived and died had been shocking enough that he hadn't needed to try hard to feign surprise) he'd left that sore spot alone, judging that the memories of their lives (and deaths) were still too painful for Gibbs to touch, even now. That was definitely something Tony could understand.
Maddie Tylor's arrival at the Navy Yard had changed all that.
On one level, the case had been about theft and extortion of money from Iraq - and in large part, that had been how Tony had written his case report up, earlier that morning - but there was a second level. Saving Maddie was Gibbs' shot at redemption in his own eyes. He hadn't been able to save Kelly, but perhaps he could save her best friend. That had been why Gibbs had gone Captain Ahab again and that had been why his loyal Ishmael had been close enough behind to pull off a rescue that, even three days later, Tony wasn't sure he could believe he'd actually completed.
The past three days had been strange. Maddie had thanked him tearfully. There was a citation for bravery above and beyond the call of duty from the Director; there was a similar one from SECNAV, too. Gibbs had said very little, though all of it had been complementary. Ducky had been effusive and just as complementary. Palmer and McGee had been awed. Ziva had said little, but the smirk she'd given him this morning (his first day released to desk work after a brief stay in Bethesda and yet more time spent in the company of Brad and Nurse Emma) did suggest she was impressed. Abby had fluctuated wildly between thanking him profusely, hugging the life out of him (not good for someone whose lungs were still inclined to quit working) and demanding to know how the hell he'd done it.
That, though, was the original unanswerable question. It shouldn't have been physically possible; it especially shouldn't have been physically possible for him, given the damage to his lungs caused by plague-induced severe pneumonia. Speaking a mile a minute, Abby had explained all the reasons it should have been impossible, at great length. Tony had simply shrugged when she'd finally wound down. He'd never had much use for being told he couldn't do things.
That had earned him another bone-crushing hug and a kiss on the cheek and then Abby had finally been content to let him get back up to the bullpen.
It had been as the morning had gone on and he'd written up what had happened that the idea of coming here had occurred to him. It was the work of a moment to look up the exact location and, when lunchtime had arrived, he'd turned down lunch invites from everyone else by simply saying he had somewhere he needed to go.
So here he was, a handful of pink daisies and white roses clutched gingerly in his left hand, searching for the graves of Shannon and Kelly Gibbs.
About a third of the way along the row, he found them. He wasn't terribly surprised to see fresh flowers on both - pink-and-white roses in both cases. What did surprise him was the small pile of stones, carefully built up on each headstone. That suggested Ziva had been here before, and probably more than once. When and why eluded him and, for a moment, he was tempted to ask her. Then he shook his head. It was none of his business - and he certainly didn't want to have to explain his own visit.
Having found them, though, he now hesitated. As much as he'd accepted Kelly's infrequent visits and accepted her help or advice, there was a part of him that fought shy of the reality that said she was the ghost (spirit? shade?) of Gibbs' daughter. His mind tended to skitter away from that topic as fast as it could - no matter how irrational it was, it always inspired at least a small flash of guilt: why did he deserve to see Kelly when she'd been so irrevocably lost to Gibbs? - and by being here and doing what he intended, he'd finally have to not only face that but accept it.
You're not a coward. It had been one of the very first things Kelly had said about him and it made him smile faintly. As awkward and uncomfortable as it felt, he did owe her this visit.
Crouching down, Tony brushed his fingers over the stone words that memorialised Shannon Gibbs. Loving wife. He laid the roses on Shannon's grave, then turned his attention to Kelly's marker. Beloved Daughter. He traced the words with a finger as he added the pink daisies to her grave.
"Couldn't stop him from chasing the great white whale this time, Kelly," he murmured softly. "I tried, but there's some stuff even I can't talk him out of. At least I could save him and Maddie from ending up in Ducky's care."
He half expected to hear her answer, but the only sound in response was the rustling of wind through the trees.
Tony sighed. "I can't promise to keep him safe, Kelly, but I've got his six. I will always have his six. Figure, after the last week, that was something you needed to hear and, I guess, it was something I needed to say." He smiled. "I didn't believe you, but you were right - about him, about me, about this place being home." He slowly levered back to his feet. "Guess I'll be seeing you, little sister."
Feeling lighter than he had all week, Tony headed away from the graves and back towards his car. He didn't notice the small girl with the red-blonde hair who was standing in the shade of one of the cemetery's impressive oak trees. She watched him go, a broad and infectious grin on her face. "He's finally home," she whispered. "It's finally right."
Well, this is the end. It's been an incredible ride for me - what started out as one of THOSE ideas you get at 3am when you just can't sleep has become literally the most popular thing I've ever written. Some parts have come out kicking and screaming, some parts have seriously challenged me and some parts have had me tearing my hair out until sudden (and very random!) inspiration's solved my problem, but it's also been a lot of fun and the end result's something that I'm extremely pleased with.
I've tried to reply to all the reviews I've had (and will continue to do so), but in the case of the couple of Anony-mice, I haven't been able to do that because they've left me no contact email, so thanks to you guys for reading and reviewing, and to Anne (who did raise a very good point about the timing): I've got a really long justification of the timing, to do with averages and training and the likelihood that he probably had to take some extra classes and maybe re-did his senior year after the knee thing so's to graduate with a full degree, which basically boils down to "I had to fudge the timeline a little". Hopefully, you can forgive me for that!
Thanks also to everyone who's marked this story as a favourite, asked for story alerts or even just read without comment: I hope I've been able to entertain you and that you've enjoyed what you've read.