A/N: It doesn't look like G/D to start, but it is in the end. I like how they provided a glimpse into the heart of each character in this eppie, and I wanted to explore a bit. I'll get to Tibbs at the end, so please bear with me. (Or if you're impatient, just skip straight to the end *roll eyes*)
Soundtrack: Coldplay – The Scientist
Rachel walked slowly across the lawn. It was late afternoon; the low setting sun was warm on her shoulders and she tilted her head back to feel the warmth on her face. The headstone directly in front of her was foreign to her. This would be the first time she'd seen it. Underneath the white marble laid her baby sister.
Sitting down on the bench close to the headstone, she was suddenly unsure why she'd came home to Indiana on the spur of the moment. Why, after all this time?
"Oh Kate, I'm so sorry about not visiting," she paused to blink away the moisture that threaten to escape her eyes, gathering her thoughts. "It's just been so hard, losing you. I thought that if I didn't see it, I wouldn't need to acknowledge it."
"I know, I know, it's silly right?" Rachel smiled. "Being a psychiatrist and all that, should've known better. I know what you're going to say: Rachel, it happened, and whining won't make it go away."
"I met your team yesterday. Interesting bunch – totally dysfunctional but in a good way. Knowing you, you probably both loved and hated them at the same time. Met Gibbs – like you said, the man's a bastard, but you were right. He is a good man, once you get to know him," she sniffed. "I still don't know if I can ever forgive them completely for not protecting you better, but I'm not angry with them anymore. It's not their fault. It's the job, whether you're at NCIS or with the Secret Service, and I… I guess I was really just looking for someone to blame. I'm glad to finally see what you saw in them all those years ago. I would never admit this in public, but you were always better than me at reading people, even if I'm the one with the shrink degree."
"I missed you, Kate. God I missed you so much!" she sniffed again as a single tear fell along her face, onto her hand, like the gentle caress of a finger.
Vance sat down at the kitchen table. Jackie was out back with the kids. Coffee, juice and waffles littered the table and among them the morning's newspaper. He knows that somewhere buried in the middle of the 'National' section would be the article on the dead XO on the USS Colonial. The suicide would've been covered up as accidental shooting. What the public didn't know wouldn't hurt them.
Jackie looked back into the house through the large kitchen windows, saw him and gave him a wave and a big smile. He smiled back, and blew a kiss at her. She seemed genuinely surprised at his playfulness. Guess I need to up the ante a bit, he thought to himself with a chuckle.
He thought back to the conversation with Rachel Cranston the night before. She asked him what he was worried about losing. He shook his head. If the woman had read up on him at all, she would've known the answer to that question already.
He had always known that the past will come back to bite him in the ass; he just didn't know when. He had gotten complacent, careless, because after so many years of looking back behind his shoulders, he's tired of being scared. Forcing his way to the top, collecting favours, forging friendships… it had all been to delay the inevitable. And that, had culminated in one big cluster fuck that he would prefer to leave behind, forever.
He looked at his family – he's just grateful that they're happy, healthy and safe. Jackie was heading back into the house. He should really get going so he wouldn't be late for work. He met Jackie with a sweet kiss at the door and then went out to hug his kids.
Cranston should've known the answer already – it's right there in his backyard.
Ziva was sitting on the windowsill, legs drawn up against her body. She rested her chin on her knees and stared at the Israeli flag in her hand that her father left for her.
Ziva loved her father. And she also despised him. Thinking about it made her sick.
The psychiatrist left her completely off balance after their chat in the morning. She was barely keeping her emotions in check at the office afterwards so she could focus on work. Those words shouldn't have been able to get to her like that, just like Liat shouldn't have been able to make her angry enough to start a fistfight in the middle of a synagogue.
She disliked and distrusted psychiatrists for that reason. She was like a clear piece of glass that they saw right through, and she didn't want to feel exposed and vulnerable like that. With other people she could hide behind the hard exterior and cold stares, never letting them glimpse the scared little girl trying so hard to reach out.
She's tired of the façade. The constant need to put up a mask, and pretend that nothing got to her. Tired of saying that she didn't need. She just wanted to be accepted. The Cranston woman was right. She just wanted to belong. Needed, to belong.
She had always been the outsider, never the core, the team, the whatever you want to call it. Never once in her life. She was the daughter of the great Eli David, the expert assassin/spy that everyone feared, the oh-so-independent woman that never needed anyone because it would be a sign of weakness. But no one truly trusted her. Not her father, not her lovers, not her colleagues, not her subordinates. Her upbringing and status had isolated and alienated her. She was forever looking from the outside in. She never belonged anywhere, with anyone.
She smiled to herself, and tossed the flag aside. She had a new 'family' now, one she was for the first time in her life happy with. People who cared about her, who trusted her not only with their lives, but also with their heart. Even if they got on her nerves with their immature antics.
Her phone rang, and she picked up with a smile when she saw the caller ID.
McGee ripped out the sheet of paper from his typewriter and threw the crumpled ball into the wastebasket. The basket was half full and he had emptied it only yesterday. He sighed to himself and got up from the chair. He wouldn't be doing any more writing tonight, not that he'd actually written anything of use.
He should really go out and do something.
Except you have no one to do that 'something' with. A little voice in his head (that sounded suspiciously like Tony) reminded him.
Right. That. He sighed again.
It's not like he didn't want to. Just hadn't found the right person yet, he kept telling himself.
He didn't actually minded Dr. Cranston like the rest of his co-workers seemed to. She was nice to talk to. She acknowledged him, his skills, his importance, things that his team rarely commented upon. She helped him re-center himself, although he wasn't sure if that was her intention.
Not that his team didn't know about his background, or didn't appreciate him and his skills, but when push came to shove, not much of it mattered in the field, when saving lives required good instincts and a set of balls. He'd learn that from watching Tony all these years.
Despite Tony's name-calling and pranks, McGee had come to see the older agent as a friend and a mentor. Even if he was intolerable sometimes, Tony was always there when he needed someone. He'd learned a lot from the man over the years, and not all of it work related.
McGee smiled to himself. Maybe he should go out after all. Take Tony's advice, and just let go. Maybe he'd get lucky. Just maybe.
Ducky was sitting quietly in his living room of the big ol' house his mother left behind. The scotch he'd poured for himself could really use a top-off, but he was too warm and comfy sitting in front of the fire in the old armchair that Gibbs had help him restore.
What a day.
He'd actually enjoyed Dr. Cranston's visit. He had his suspicion about whom she was, but didn't get a confirmation until he dug out dear Caitlin's file. He smiled to himself. He thought he handled that rather well. Interesting woman indeed.
He was well aware of the things the good doctor said to him. Caitlin's death and, more recently, his mother's passing were rude awakenings of mortality. That, and seeing Magnus again after all these years, already had him thinking about his own life and whether it was worthwhile at the end. Knowing the problem was half the battle, people always said. But to win the war, one would need to be at peace with the circumstances, he supposed.
"Donald? What are you still doing up? Come to bed already," a raspy, sleepy voice behind him jolted him out of his reveries. Gerald stood behind the chair, hands descended on top of Ducky's shoulders, kneading them gently.
Ducky tilted his head backwards to look at his lover, who leaned down to peck a tender kiss onto his forehead. "In a minute, Ger."
"Alright," sensing Ducky's need to sort out his thoughts, Gerald reluctantly pulled back. "Don't stay up too late." You're not 50 anymore, he silently added.
"I know," Ducky acknowledged his young lover's unsaid words with a small smile, and reached up to pat on the gentle hands still resting on his shoulders. "Go on, I'll be right up."
Watching Gerald trot up the stairs, Ducky wondered how many people actually knew about or guessed at his relationship with the former assistant ME. He and Gerald had come to realize their mutual affection after the unfortunate incident with Ari that left Gerald wounded and Caitlin dead. The wonderful thing about accepting and embracing one's geriatric status, aside from all the senior discounts, was that you stopped wasting time on the meaningless doubts and self-imposed boundaries. You started to see things differently; you stopped letting chances slip by. You stopped making stupid decisions that you knew you'd regret. And what wonderful things came out of taking chances. With a young and handsome lover, life was wonderful indeed.
Going out in style was what he would've preferred, any day.
Unfortunately there were people in his life who could learn a thing or two from this. He just hoped that they realize it sooner rather than later.
The room was dark, except for the small lamp on the side table. The lamp was a simple cylinder with a metal stand – the kind that you can find a dime a dozen at IKEA. It was nothing unique, except that great care had been taken to decorate the near translucent paper shade with bats and skulls and hearts. The hand made paper cut outs had started to lose luster after years of use, but if you look closely, you can still see the love and attention that was put into the handcrafted piece.
Abby was curled up on the sofa, a gigantic quilt bunched up around her like a cocoon, staring at the empty space just past the lamp. She was supposed to go bowling with Sister Rosita and the nuns, but she'd called to cancel last minute; she'd have to make it up to them later. She just didn't feel like going out. Not after a day like today.
Next to her on the sofa was a photo scrapbook, and from the frayed but well cared for look of the fabric cover, it was constantly looked at by someone who kept loving memories within those pages. It was opened to a page with a bunch of candid shots of the team on the job. Most of them came courtesy of Tony, when he managed to goof off for 5 seconds at a crime scene – one reason why everyone had funny faces in the pictures, even Gibbs. Tony would make sure Abby get a copy so that she didn't feel left out. He knew how much she would've loved to go to those crime scenes with them some time, if it wasn't for her busy job in the lab.
Right in the middle was a shot of Kate, decked out in her NCIS ball cap and jacket, looking straight into the camera with a shocked look and a hand stretched out, failing to block the shot. She looked so alive.
Abby missed Kate.
All the time.
She remembered making that lamp with Kate. It was one of the last things they'd done together. They were supposed to go spend the weekend at a spa, but the team had gotten a case. She was pretty upset, until Kate decided to take her shopping after the case was solved. It wasn't until they walked into an arts and crafts store that Kate told Abby about her plan. They spent the rest of the day decorating those shades – Abby's covered with bats and skulls, and Kate's with cutouts of flowers and animals.
She had really talented hands, Kate did. Abby really liked spending time with her. Kate was like the big sister she never had and always wanted. They had fun together. Not that she didn't have a good time with her other friends, but being with Kate was different. She felt safe. Loved even. It… felt like home.
If it wasn't so late already, Abby would've called Rachel. She wanted to thank her for bringing back the memories of Kate, however sad it made her. It didn't dawn on her until she got home, and a phone call from Tony later, who Rachel was – she was too distracted with the case and with the potential of being fired for failing a psych eval. Kate talked endlessly about her big sister. Kate's eyes would literally light up when she told Abby about her hour-long 'phone therapy' sessions with Rachel.
She wondered if Rachel would mind if she called her up once in a while to just talk.
Maybe she'd pay her a visit some time to get to know the big sister of her beautiful big sister.
Maybe. That sounded nice.
You don't forget. You just move on.
That was his answer to her about letting go.
Gibbs knew who she was as soon as he laid eyes on her. The resemblance was unmistakable. That, and fact that it was listed in Kate's file. It was the only reason he didn't raise a fuss about her butting in to their lives. He felt that he owed her that much. And it was as much for her as it was for the team. He'd worked law enforcement enough to know how important closure was, and he wanted to give that to them. All of them.
He would never forget, and he'd moved on. He found closure where he could – in killing the bastard who took her away from them and convincing himself that it was enough. Not everyone got that chance and he was glad that Rachel reached out.
Now all that's left were memories. And that's really all he had. Memories. Of the cases, of his team, of Kate, of his ex-wives, of Shannon and Kelly…
He sat there, on the ground in his basement, a jar of bourbon in his hand. A memory surfaced and it was a pleasant one. He was remembering that time, years ago, when Tony had stayed with him because of a busted boiler in his building. Tony was sitting right there at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the laundry room. The younger man had surprising little to say, just sat and watched him sand the boat all night.
That moment felt so right. Having someone that he trusted completely, body and soul, sitting there just watching him. Deep in his heart was something that he hadn't felt in… well, too long. It was what he had felt with Shannon. And that was the exact moment he realized that he was head over heels in love with his senior field agent.
The revelation came surprisingly easily, but it was a shock nonetheless. He had gradually learned to accept it over the years, and to push it to the back of his mind. They had each other's six, and that was enough for him. He didn't want to ruin what he had come to consider as friendship between Tony and him. Even if he somehow decided to act on his feelings, what was he supposed to say to his very straight, very male second-in-command? That his boss wasn't as hetero as he thought and had the hots for him? Forget it, Gibbs scoffed at that idea at the time.
The dull ache in his knees told him that he needed to get up and move around a bit before he stiffened up. Yet another reminder of the inevitable. He couldn't help but think about Commander Reynolds.
In that sense, Kate had been lucky, Gibbs thought to himself. She went down in a blaze of glory, like the Sheriff of old western classics, riding into the sunset, forever young.
He knew that in a few years, when his knees finally gave out and he was no longer reliable physically in the field, he'd be forced to retire. There is just no way he'd sit behind a desk pushing paper. But the idea of retirement was unfathomable for him. The job was all he had after Shannon and Kelly, after his marriages fell apart. The job was what kept him close to Tony. The job was what kept him from flying apart at the seams all these years. Without the job, he'd be just like the Commander, old and alone, and he didn't want that. He couldn't let that happen.
He closed his eyes and sighed, head leaning back against the wall. Then, jar of bourbon on the floor and he was up, running up the stairs as if he was on fire.
Tony opened the door to his apartment, left his keys on a hook by the door, and then hung up his coat in the closet, his bag beneath it. He felt drained, all of a sudden, like the past two days just caught up with him.
The case was closed, open and shut, the ensign and the petty officer reprimanded for their conduct, but no killer needed to be caught. It would've been a good day over all. Should've been. Except that his mind kept wondering back to Kate, Commander Reynolds and the night before, as he sat there working on his report. Gibbs was gone a good part of the morning. When he came back to the office, he gave Tony the mother of all head slaps when he found him sitting and staring past his monitor, out the window.
Guess he never did put Kate's death behind him – it's likely that none of them really did. Well, maybe except for Gibbs, Tony thought to himself, but then he is Gibbs, and Gibbs moves on like he always does. Talking with Rachel gave him the closure he needed; the simple acknowledgement by another that Kate was important to him. To them.
He dished out the take out he'd picked up on his way home, grabbed a beer from the fridge, and then he just sat there in his couch. He dislikes doctors, especially psychiatrists, and he always took extra care to avoid the psychiatrists. They'd have a field day with his past, that's for sure. He'd thought that Rachel was one of them, until he saw it. He smiled to himself when he remembered the night before at the morgue. They were so alike, Rachel and Kate. Not just in physical appearance, but also in their strength and the way they think, act.
On the wall next to the kitchen was a bunch of picture frames – pictures of people who were the most important to him, of good times spent with good people. He stopped to look at them after he hauled himself out of the couch to grab a second beer.
There was one of Abby jumping in the air at a bowling alley, after scoring big time, Sister Rosita and the nuns sitting in the background, smiling fondly at her hyperness. Next to that was one of his mother at a party, decked out in a long, seafoam green dress, laughing away, completely drunk but so vibrant and beautiful. One with Abby, Gerald, Ducky and him, all dressed up in Star Wars costumes, posing for the camera at the first NCIS Halloween party he went to. A faded and yellowing one of him with the OSU football team, posing in rows just before a big game. One of the whole team at Ducky's Thanksgiving Dinner last year – he was still amazed that Gibbs had came that night.
Right in the center was one of Kate, with her NCIS ball cap and jacket, shocked look on her face after failing to block the shot with her hand. He remembered giving the picture to Abby not long before the whole fiasco with Ari transpired. He loved that picture, even if it didn't catch Kate at her best light.
The years with Kate around, those were the happier days. He didn't have too many of those kind of days. After that, it was one big disaster after another – Gibbs almost dying from being blown up, that gigantic cluster fuck with Le Grenouille and Jeanne, Jenny's death in California, Vance sending him away as agent afloat…
Where did the time go? Here he was, ten years later as an NCIS agent, and what did he accomplish? And he wasn't thinking about solving cases and helping people. That was his job – a job that he loved.
And the job was all he had. That knowledge scared him shitless.
He didn't want to end up like Commander Reynolds.
Rachel asked him about Rota. She wanted to know why he turned it down. He said he made a decision, and left it at that. The truth was that there was never really a choice for him. He knew exactly why he gave it up. It was the same reason why he'd stayed after Kate died, instead of running away like he had done in Peoria, in Philly, in Baltimore. The same reason why he lay awake at 4 A.M., staring at his ceiling. The same reason why he was able to pull through his fight with Y. pestis.
He smiled as he passed by the framed photographs to get another beer. His favourite picture was not on this wall. He kept that in his wallet.
That picture was small, printed out by a laser printer and a bit blurry, but you can still make out the man in the photograph. Blue eyes and grey hair; a bright smile that was so rarely seen. He'd taken it on his phone before they left Stillwater, just as Gibbs swung the Challenger around and floored it. It had replaced an older picture, also of Gibbs, also taken with his phone, also smiling.
It hurt so much sometimes to think about it.
He didn't know how it got to this point. Somehow it just happened one day. He was looking up at Gibbs, and all he could think about was the desire to taste those thin lips that was telling him to pull the phone records. He tried to push it aside, but it just got stronger the more he ignored it. It pained him to stand so close, with his secret burning a hole in his heart. He couldn't help but trail after the man, yearning for the smallest crumb of praise and affection. He felt pathetic.
He'd do anything for him. He'd die for him.
And for the first time in his life, he wanted the older man to know that.
Gibbs literally bolted up the stairs of the apartment building, before coming to a dead stop in front of the door.
Behind that door, could be his future.
What the hell are you doing here? Are you insane? You shouldn't be here. His rational brain was shouting at him to leave. You need to get your ass down stair and out of here, ASAP!
He leaned back on the wall beside the door and slowly slid down to the floor.
What are you afraid of? This is what you want, isn't it? It'll be ok. His gut was telling him to stay. He is worth the risk, you idiot.
What if he got it wrong? What if…
What if Tony leaves?
Tony shrugged on his coat, grabbed his keys and opened the door. He'd expected to get to Gibbs' place, and either have Gibbs rip him a new one or firing on the spot.
What he didn't expect was to see Gibbs sitting on the floor next to his door, slumped against the wall.
"Uhm… Boss, what're you doing here?" Tony asked as Gibbs scrambled to get up from the floor.
"You, uh, goin' somewhere?" Gibbs sounded uncertain, which was way beyond bizarre.
"I… I, uh…" Tony wasn't sure how to answer that question but recovered quickly. "You wanna come in?"
Gibbs nodded slowly, following Tony in the door.
"Come on, I've got beer in the fridge, make yourself at home on the couch," Tony said casually. It wasn't unusual for Gibbs to show up after a bad case and the two of them just sat and talk. They'd done that at Gibbs' place as well, but this felt… different.
Gibbs gazed at Tony's retreating back with a kind of longing that would've scared the crap out of himself if he was looking into a mirror. He wasn't thinking anymore. It's now or never.
He reached his arms out and wrapped them around Tony's waist, drawing the younger man into a tight embrace before he could get far. He could hear the slight gasp that escaped those luscious, kissable lips.
"Shh…" Gibbs was almost whispering. "Just…"
He could feel the younger man's body suddenly relaxed against his own. He touched his forehead on Tony's shoulder and closed his eyes as he felt a hand touching his hand, coming to a rest on his forearm.
"I… I don't know how to say this, I was never good with words," Gibbs took in a deep breath. It had Tony's scent, and it was strangely calming. "I've had feelings for you for… a long time now. I didn't want to say anything because I thought you'd run and I'd lose you. I can't lose you."
Tony's hand tightened on his arm.
"Just… just let me have this moment, and I'll never mention this again, I swear to God," voice straining, begging. "Please."
Gibbs could feel the hand move up to touch his face as Tony turned around in his arms. He opened his eyes as Tony's palm tilted his face up to face his own. And then he saw it.
The smallest up turn at the corner of those lips that slowly blossomed into an incandescent smile that reached all the way to his eyes, making the green dance in sparkles. It was the most breath-taking sight he'd ever seen.
"I love you, Tony," Gibbs heard himself said.
"Do you know how long I've dreamed about hearing those words come out of your lips?" Tony said in a raspy, low voice, almost choking on his words.
"Too damn long," Gibbs whispered as he reached a hand up to cup the back of Tony's neck, drawing him closer.
"I love you too… Jethro," Tony whispered back as their lips touched.