Tony sat in his car, a bright-red classic Corvette Stingray he bought to replace his bombed-out Mustang, and he was remembering his absolute happiness when he had stepped out of a taxi and saw it sitting there, shining brightly in an old man's driveway.
That man had come out of the house then and exchanged the keys for Tony's check, surprising Tony by giving him a half-hug and saying, "I shined her up one last time for ya and put in a full tank of gas. I know you'll take good care of her." Tony had found himself touched by the stranger's kindness, especially since he knew the man was selling it to pay his dying wife's medical bills.
He broke several traffic laws taking the long way home that bright summer day, relishing the car and imagining the look on that old man's face when he actually looked at the certified check Tony had handed over, its amount a few thousand dollars more than they had agreed upon. NCIS had paid him more than he had expected for his Mustang and he couldn't think of a better use for what he considered blood money. No, he hadn't been in that car when it had exploded—but that day had marked the death of his relationship with Jeanne. It wasn't like he needed the money for a down payment on that house she had been so excited about.
Tony took a deep breath of the warm air blowing from the vents and he hauled his thoughts out of the past. Or tried to anyway. He loved the car, sure, but the reason he was driving it instead of his Mustang would crop up every now and then, and he would see Jeanne sitting in the passenger seat, her eyes full of hate as she told him she wished she'd never met him.
Tony took another breath and tried harder to pull himself out of the past. Today was going to hurt enough without dredging up those past pains.
Arlington National Cemetery was relatively quiet on this bitterly cold morning, but Tony knew it wasn't the chill outside that was keeping him frozen in his car. He wasn't even sure why he was still here, considering the funeral had ended an hour ago and the last of the black-clad mourners had long since made it to their cars—and on with their lives, no matter how impossible it might have seemed. Tony knew it was pure weakness that he hadn't been able to force himself from the car to pay his respects to the family, but he wasn't sure he could have made it through the service without being overcome by his guilt and apologizing to each and every single member of that family for his failing.
Finally, with a glance at his slowly falling gas gauge, he reached forward, his left hand sliding awkwardly under the steering column to twist up and turn off the engine.
The car was long cold when he finally managed to get out, feeling the frigid air hit him like a kick in the chest. The bruise there, from the kick of Jonathan Harris' bullet, was fading, turning all kinds of sickly yellows and greens, but the pain felt fresh as Tony made his way among the headstones.
The agent stopped as his eye caught a funeral procession in the distance, the horse-drawn caisson moving slowly, carrying the flag-draped coffin toward the fallen soldier's final resting place.
So much death, Tony thought, willing his feet forward. But he made it only as far as one of the large, reaching shade trees that stood sentry in the cemetery before he froze up again, about fifty yards from his destination. I can't. I just can't…
With a sharp sound of disgust, he turned to head back to the car.
And found his boss standing solemnly behind him, blue eyes awash in the same agony tearing at his own soul.
"Yeah, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, taking Tony's arm and turning him, "you can."
Tony just stood there, feeling Gibbs taking a place beside him, standing shoulder to shoulder with him. And in that moment, Tony knew Gibbs would stand there all night if he had to, if that was how long it took.
"Made it this far," Gibbs said after a long moment.
Tony took a few steps forward, feeling suddenly exposed as he stepped out from under the bare limbs of the tree. But then Gibbs was at his side again.
"I…" Tony trailed off, looking at the ground and then up again, sliding his sunglasses back up his nose so they covered the stitches at his temple. "I couldn't handle the funeral."
Gibbs glanced sideways at Tony's fidgeting and noted his dark attire, the black pants and sweater standing in for his usual suit to accommodate for the cast on his wrist. Tony hadn't bothered to try to force the plaster through the sleeve of his long coat, and Gibbs reached up and pulled the black material back over his shoulder from where it had started slipping. "You tried."
Tony's eyes slipped closed and it was suddenly an effort to just breathe. He focused on simply pulling air in and forcing it out for several long moments.
"Feels like I failed him again," Tony said, the brutal wind nearly muting the soft, anguished words. "That night, I—"
"You're here now," Gibbs said before he could start down that road again. This was about moving forward, not looking back. The other mourners had the small comfort of remembering a happy little boy—but Tony had known him only as a terrified child. Moving forward sounded simple, Gibbs knew, but that didn't mean it would be easy.
Tony nodded. He didn't move for a long time, and when he did, he turned to his boss, hesitation written in every line of his body. "Ah, Gibbs?"
"Go on," Gibbs said, nodding and not moving. "I'll be right here."
The unspoken gratitude was obvious as the agent turned away to walk to the open grave. He swallowed hard before looking down, nearly giving in to the tears when he saw a teddy bear lying on top of the coffin, along with ceremonial scoops of dirt and scattered white roses.
Gibbs watched his agent's back, not needing to hear the words to be able to guess what Tony was saying. He knew Tony still felt guilty for what had happened, knew he might always carry that guilt. But Gibbs was immensely glad that Tony had reached down deep and found the strength to come here today. Whether or not he had made it to the actual service wasn't important, but being able to get out the apologies and anything else he needed to say was key to his recovery.
Gibbs knew that, and so he waited patiently, turning up his collar against the biting wind as he turned his thoughts heavenward to say a few words to his own lost child. He added a few for his lovely wife, allowing himself a rare daydream about what their lives would be like had tragedy not derailed the family's future.
By the time Tony returned, both men were shivering.
"C'mon," Gibbs said. "I could use a cup of coffee."
Tony nodded as they walked side by side among the graves. "Meet you…?"
"I know a place," Gibbs said as they reached the access road. "Come with me. You don't need to be driving with that wrist."
Tony glanced at his classic, and the NCIS sedan several car-lengths behind it.
"We'll take yours," Gibbs said, seeing the look and giving Tony a smile. "Been curious to see if it's faster than mine."
Tony smiled back, imagining a possible drag race in their future. He felt a stab of pain, remembering all over again that Kevin's future had been stolen away from him. But Tony also realized moving on wasn't a choice—the only real choice was whether he moved on fully and lived each day as a gift or let the tragedy pull him under until he was walking, talking and breathing, but not really living.
He pulled out his keys, his sharp eyes catching a wisp of orange wool in the crowd at the soldier's funeral where the procession had ended.
Gibbs followed his eyes, realizing whose funeral was taking place across the way.
"Rain check on the coffee?" Tony asked.
Gibbs nodded, watching Tony drop the keys back into his pocket. "You'll get home all right?"
"It'll be a lot easier than getting here," Tony said, hoping his boss would understand the silent "thank you" in that.
Gibbs gave his agent a pat on the back, the look in his eyes saying he had gotten the message, loud and clear.
Tony crossed the cemetery, moving silently to stand beside the woman in the threadbare orange coat. He slipped his hand into hers and gave it a squeeze as the priest spoke of honor and sacrifice. Samantha Jordan looked up at him quizzically—until he pulled off the sunglasses and gave her a small smile. She squeezed his hand back and reached up with her other, cupping his cheek gently as she studied the stitches at his temple.
Tony didn't know how she knew who had hurt him, but she definitely knew, considering the guilt in her eyes as she frowned at his cast.
She turned her eyes back to the service, though, and held fast to Tony's hand as a woman was introduced by the priest as the deceased's mother.
"Samantha Jordan came to my door yesterday morning and told me her son was the man who killed mine," she said, her eyes finding Samantha in the crowd. She gave a small, sad smile. "I slammed the door in her face."
A small murmur rose from the crowd, but the grieving mother spoke over it. "I stood there for a moment, raging inside and marveling at her nerve. I turned away, but I was stopped by the most beautiful voice I had ever heard, singing 'Amazing Grace' to me through the closed door. And I'm not an extremely religious woman," she admitted, sneaking a sheepish look at the priest and managing to draw smiles from the mourners, "but I do know that it is a hymn with a message that forgiveness and redemption are possible no matter the sin. And I realized she really did have some nerve—and the courage to come to me that day, to offer me comfort in the midst of her own tragedy."
She beckoned, and Samantha gave Tony's hand a final squeeze before going to hug the other woman, who went on, "We talked for hours, sharing the joys and heartaches of raising our boys as single mothers. Sam told me about the trials of raising twins, including a son with paranoid schizophrenia, and I told her about how I was terrified of losing my only son to the war. We cried a lot. But we laughed, too. Nothing will bring our boys back or change the circumstances of their deaths. But we've decided to move on, adding not the hate in this world but to the love. Samantha, will you sing for us?"
Samantha gave a small nod and stepped forward, a big voice emanating from her tiny frame as her clear, crystalline words rang out across the cemetery on that cold, bright morning.
Tony knew—had known for a long time—that not everyone could be saved. The world was an often dark place, full of terror and pain and senseless violence, and it would be easy to give up—to give in and join the grim forces. But just knowing there were still good people in the world, like these two brave women who united in tragedy instead of being torn apart by it, Tony figured there just might be reason for hope.