AN: So, scouse… did you have a good time meeting up with the gang? Better believe it! Cheeky's a fantastic cook, and a wonderful hostess, and we had a really special NCIS weekend! Thanks, Cheeks! Since then, been rather busy playing Queen Victoria, (yes, seriously,) at last I've time to write again. This story follows on from my last two, 'Expecting Trouble' and 'Emotional Investment'. I love re-using OCs… it's good to recycle.
I neither own nor profit from anything to do with 'NCIS'.
The Rainbow Lake
Monday morning seemed flat, at least to McGee and Ziva, after the previous day's celebrations. Gibbs didn't seem any different from his usual self; Tony was quiet.
Lucy had been baptized during a regular Sunday morning service at her parents' local church; the congregation had been relaxed and welcoming to everyone.
Back at the Hastings' home it was another story. Polly had done the catering herself, with the enthusiastic help of the genial Spence and Sylvia from next door.
This hadn't suited either grandmother, who seemed to spend the entire afternoon competing with each other; on recipes (which hadn't been used), on baby rearing advice (which was smiled at and ignored), on presents (which were very nice, but embarrassingly extravagant), and tales of rearing their own offspring (just embarrassing).
Patch firmly removed his tired, fractious daughter from his mother, and took her to lay her in her crib. When he returned to the sitting room his wife was nowhere to be seen.
"Did you see where Pol went?"
He asked Tony because he was well aware of how much the NCIS agent had already done that afternoon, observing, and stepping in to smooth over prickly situations.
"Heading for the back door, muttering about matricide," Tony said with feeling.
"Ah. I'll go – " Lucy's disgruntled wail floated in, and Patch found himself pulled in both directions.
"I'll go check on Pol," Tony said. "You come when you can."
Patch grinned, and went to settle his little girl.
Tony sidled out of the front door. If anyone saw him go, they'd think he was going to his car; he didn't want half the house following him out to hassle Polly. He walked round into the back garden, and found her sitting on a stone bench under the kitchen window, head back against the wall, eyes closed, expression exasperated.
"Hey…"He kept his tone quiet and non-confrontational, but she still opened her eyes and glared until she realised who was speaking. "Are you feeling better yet?"
"Aah…" she snorted disgustedly. "It's always the same when they get together. I don't suppose it'll ever be any different." She stood up. "Has anyone missed me?"
"Patch. He sent me to look for you… he was settling Lucy down for a sleep, and I don't think he wanted anyone else to do it; she was getting a bit crotchety."
"We'd better go back in; I don't want anyone thinking I'm sulking, even if I am."
Tony grinned his agreement; he opened the kitchen door and steered her in, his hand under her elbow in friendly concern, saying "Shall I make you a cup of tea?" At the same moment, Patch's father, Arthur stomped into the kitchen from the living room. He glared at them both, and looked pointedly at the hand under Polly's arm, which Tony didn't remove, then poured himself two fingers of scotch and stomped out again, his bulky frame making the door-jamb shudder as he collided with it.
The big agent rolled his eyes as he reached for the kettle. "How often d'you have to put up with him?"
Polly chuckled. "Not too often. Mom H comes by herself mostly; she's a different woman when he's not around. They live in Arkansas anyway, so they're not on the doorstep."
Tony was setting up the coffee machine and the teapot as they talked. If you made a drink for one, you might as well make for thirty. Patch came in, saw what they were doing and joined Polly setting cups out.
"Hey, hon… are you OK now?"
"Oh, yeah…Is she down, love?"
"Sure… all she needed was peace and a cuddle. What's my father pulling faces about this time?"
Polly shook her head and giggled again. "Oh… I think he thinks Tony and I are having an affair."
Her husband staggered back, clutching his brow theatrically. "Shocking…"
The feeling of flatness persisted; they all busied themselves with the things that tended to get left while they were working a case, and if they noticed that Tony was even more Monday morning-ish than the rest of them, they didn't say anything. Until the ink ran out in the printer, that was. There was a fairly rude expletive from the SFA as he changed the cartridge over, and they looked up to see him grimacing at a smear of black ink on his shirt cuff.
He got his annoyance under control at once. "That'll teach me to be so careless. I like this shirt…."
"Have you got a spare one?" Tim asked. "You could change and take that one down to Abby."
"That is true, Tony," Ziva agreed. "She says she is better than any professional cleaner, and I believe her."
"She'll be fed up of me," Tony said, stripping off the inky shirt. "It's only a few months since – what?"
Gibbs was looking pointedly at his SFA's upper left arm; the angry bruising there was visible across the room.
"Oh… I didn't realise it was that bad." Tony's expression said he was mentally kicking himself. The incident had been on his mind all morning, but he'd forgotten it would leave marks, and he'd certainly not have let the team see them if he'd remembered. Damn.
"Those are fresh," Gibbs remarked neutrally.
"That is a hand print, Tony. A large hand." Ziva waited for an explanation, as Tony tried to get his spare shirt on quickly and pretend the last few minutes had never happened. He picked up the damaged garment and began to head out of the bull pen.
"I'll just take this down to Abby – be right back, Boss."
Gibbs reached out to stop him, and his hand froze six inches from Tony's arm, when he realised he'd have gripped it just about where the bruise was. His arm fell to his side again, but his eyes held the younger man anyway.
"Go, then…" he finally said quietly, acknowledging Tony's right not to talk about whatever it was if he didn't want to, and that was what actually broke the SFA's resolve. He tossed the shirt down on his desk in a gesture of frustration and pain, and took a deep breath.
"Apparently, I'm not only an immoral cad wanting to seduce Polly and break up her marriage – and it apparently wouldn't be too difficult, he warned his stupid son not to marry an airy-fairy intellectual anyway – but I'm a potential paedophile, because I'm not married, and I'm volunteering to be a godparent, and that makes me a damn pervert."
"Arthur Hastings," Tim murmured. "I thought it must have been him when I saw the size of that bruise. He's a big lout, and he had too much scotch yesterday."
Tony nodded, and his mouth twisted a little. "I went to use the bathroom. When I came out he cornered me outside Lucy's room. He grabbed my arm and told me to stay away from his daughter in law. I told him she could take care of herself… then all that crap came spewing out. I told him there was a baby sleeping close by, he knew nothing about his son or daughter in law, let alone me, and to take his hand off my arm if he wanted to keep it, and he backed off. End of story." He picked the shirt up again. "Be right back, Boss," he said, and dashed off before anyone could say anything.
Tim finally broke a long silence. "He had a bad time yesterday," he said thoughtfully. Gibbs and Ziva looked at him and waited. "He was anxious about the responsibility – I still don't think he thinks he's good enough – but he was proud to have been asked. He should have been able to enjoy the day, but he spent his time looking out for Polly and Patch, and very subtly defusing potential explosions. And every time he actually got the chance to hold Lucy, some old hen'd come along and take her off him. One actually twittered that only ladies knew how to hold babies. And he still managed to keep this incident from us."
"I guess he did right," Gibbs sighed. "It wouldn't have done for me to deck Arthur Hastings on his grand-daughter's christening day."
"It would have been most unfair of you to do it without allowing us to join in, Gibbs," Ziva said severely, and the Boss allowed himself a smile.
Tim didn't, remaining deep in thought. They could joke about it if they liked, but it seemed to always be Tony's misfortune, that when he was trying to act for the best, people believed the worst of him. He tried to imagine how he'd feel if he were accused of being immoral and a pervert all in one breath; and Thom E Gemcity had a very good imagination. No wonder Tony had been quiet all morning.
When the SFA returned, it was with a bright grin. "Good news! Abby says she can save my shirt! It'll be so full of chemicals I'll never be able to wear it again without turning green, but hey… its life is saved, and that's the important thing." Three pairs of eyes challenged him. "OK… I was getting worked up about it. I worried that other people might really think that. But actually… I feel better for telling you."
"Nobody else would think such a thing, Tony!" Ziva spoke hotly and leaned on his desk, striking it with the palm of her hand. "Just because that evil old redhead –"
"Redneck," Tony corrected automatically, beginning to smile.
"Whatever. I may have met a worse man, but I do not remember when. His opinion is of no importance." She tossed her head, and her dark hair flew emphatically around her.
The three men were all smiling by now, entranced by the sight of their Israeli in full cry, and Tony finally shook his head in wonder. "Thanks, Ziva," he said.
"Well, I can understand you not telling us yesterday, but –" Gibbs' desk phone rang and interrupted her.
"Gear up," he said sadly, after listening for a moment. "Dead marine. Kid aged 20."
Jamie Hope, Lieutenant Junior Grade sat behind the wheel of his modest car, an eight year old Nissan, in a roadside parking slot on Ohio Drive, towered over by the Arlington Memorial Bridge. The bloody hole in his uniform, above his heart, suggested a knife, although there was no sign of one. His face was boyish, pleasant and open; his dark brown hair just about as long as a marine could get away with. The slight curl to it, and his coffee coloured skin suggested mixed race origin. His brown eyes were half open, the expression on his face calm, as if he hadn't been expecting the blow that had ended his life.
"The car's registered to him," the LEO handing over the case said. "The keys are still in it. We found him fifteen minutes ago; he's still warm. Opened the door, felt for a pulse, called you."
Tony saw something in the foot well, by the young man's leg, and knelt to take photos, then he retrieved it carefully, and got a nasty and unexpected jolt to the heart. It was a sketch book such as Kate had often used. The pencil sketch that had been begun was of the river, and the bridge looming over it; the shadows and water-play reflections on the undersides of the arches receiving more attention than the structure itself. Kate had been very good… this, Tony thought, even barely begun, was riveting.
He held it out wordlessly to Gibbs, wanting to get the Boss's opinion without influencing it with his own, and wasn't surprised when the older man frowned thoughtfully.
"You gonna tell me this is good, right?"
"I think so, Boss. I think it's really good. I'm no judge, but…"
"Yeah, I got it. Good enough for anyone to recognise it…" He thought for a moment. "He sat here, drawing what he was looking at. Either someone took him by surprise, or he was filling in the time waiting for someone."
"More likely the second, Boss. If he'd been surprised, there'd be more mess. I'd think that he put the pad down, rather than dropped it – I mean, there's no blood on it… there are a couple of pencils down here too."
McGee had come over to look at the pad with them, and didn't look surprised. "You should look in the trunk," he told them, and they walked round to the rear of the car. The luggage compartment contained everything that a dedicated artist might need on his travels, including oil and acrylic based paints, a variety of brushes, more sketch books, pencils, chalks, charcoal, pastels… There were a couple of canvases on their stretchers, but so far unused.
It would all have stretched a Lieutenant JG's pay quite severely, and the ageing car began to make sense. This was clearly an unusual Marine.
"Very unusual," Lieutenant Hope's Commanding Officer said, with deep distress. "I don't know where to start. Jamie takes – took – sketchbooks with him wherever he went. He drew everything he saw… his brother marines going about their duties; the places they went to… things they saw. In the end, we started buying some of his materials for him, and asking him to draw particular subjects. His talent was unique and original, and that's not me talking, it's the experts. There were plans afoot to publish a book of his work, a marine's life through one man's eyes."
He shook his head sorrowfully. "He didn't neglect his duties, but every spare moment he had, he was doing what he loved doing… Special Agent Gibbs, he was not only a rare talent, but a fine young soldier, and one of the nicest men you could wish to meet. I don't know of any reason why anyone would wish to do him harm. We're all deeply shocked and grieved."
Gibbs knew the truth when he saw it, and spoke with gruff sympathy. "Colonel Moss, what can you tell us about his personal life?"
"His mother died in a vehicle accident three years ago; his father had a heart attack and died five months later. No siblings, although I believe he has a girlfriend. Captain Holton could tell you about her if you wish; I believe he's already spoken to the poor girl… Jamie had intended to go to University, but decided to try for the Corps instead. I've been – I was – his CO from the time he completed his training. He never said outright, at least not to me, but I think he found a different sort of family."
He pinched the bridge of his nose briefly. "I'll tell you this much; a great talent's been lost with him, and more than that, he'll be missed as a brother by all of us."
Gibbs thanked the Colonel, and he and Ziva left. A sort while later they compared notes with Tony and Tim, who'd been talking to as many of the murdered young man's friends as they could track down. They had all said the same sort of thing.
"He was quiet," Tony reported, "But friendly, and well liked, Boss. They all knew he was good; he'd sketch them to send to their wives and girlfriends; better than a photo, they said. And yes, he had a girlfriend, Sue, they called her. He has – had – a small apartment off the Columbia Pike; McGee pulled the address."
"Go there; take Ziva." As the two agents left, he gave Tim the information that the Captain had given him. "McGee, start pulling up everything else, starting with the girlfriend. I'm going to see Ducky – call me when you get something."
The apartment was on the top floor of its block, and the supervisor was willing to open up for them. "He didn't mind the four flights of stairs," he puffed, "He said the light was good." More than that, he hadn't the breath to explain. He unlocked the door, and left them to it.
As they opened the door, they were surprised to hear a crash and noises of hasty movement from inside. They frowned at each other, drew their guns and entered cautiously. The room they found was lit by a large window along one side, and a skylight on the other side of the room, where the roof sloped. There was a tiny living space at one end, the rest of the under-the roof- space was entirely taken up as an artist's studio.
Between them and the Lieutenant's work, a slight figure stood, huge brown eyes fearful and angry, brandishing a lamp base as a weapon… until it was lowered shakily.
AN: This took me some time to get into… it rambles and witters a bit… be kind and put it down to exhaustion, please?