AN: I probably need to explain my thinking here… when Tony told Kody they'd found his mother, I felt that wasn't the truth, simply because she clearly wouldn't be escorted onto the base, and because when Tony asked where Gibbs was at the end of the episode, and he was up in the Director's office, observing the reunion, it seemed to be implied that that was the first time anyone on the team knew that Angela really was alive. It's all about perception, as a reviewer told me not long ago – so if you disagree, fine. But go with the flow, please…
OK… so, not at home. Gibbs retraced his steps from the silent apartment to his car, and an hour later he knew he wasn't at any of the bars where he might have expected to find him, nor had he been, so unless he'd found somewhere else to hook up with a pretty girl… Get real here, Jethro, after the week we just had? After today?
He called Abby. No, he'd not been down to see her, and no, she was at home now, and he wasn't with her. But now her TNAH radar was going off, and what was he going to do about it? Well, he told her, he sure as hell wasn't going to hug him for her. He went home himself, and knew as soon as he walked in the door that his basement was empty. He worked on the boat for a while, expecting all the while to hear the floorboards above creaking, but they never did.
Back to the car. He was half-way to Arlington, on the chance that he'd gone to talk to Kate at the memorial plaque they'd put there for her, far away as she was in Indiana, when he swore, called himself an idiot, screeched through a U-turn, and headed back to where he should have thought of going in the first place. Riding up in the elevator, he took several deep breaths; going in there all guns blazing just because he'd spent a fruitless evening worrying, was pointless. He could have called and located DiNozzo hours ago – he'd chosen not to, simply because he wasn't going to settle for being blown away with a cheerful 'I'm fine, Boss' pinged in from a cell tower.
The fact that he was nettled that his Senior Field Agent hadn't come to him was his problem, not DiNozzo's. But for his gut, he wouldn't even have been sure that Tony had a problem of his own.
Ziva and Tim looked up, to watch in astonishment as a group of people came down the stairs. Gibbs and the Director… Kody Meyers, his father, Major Ken Meyers… and a dark eyed, tearful and smiling woman being clung to by both of them even as they made their way down the steps from the mezzanine. Angela Meyers. Kody's dead mother, living and breathing.
There were a few minutes of explanations, and breathless, sincere and sometimes tearful thanks, and then Ken Meyers looked round.
"Where's Special Agent DiNozzo?" The two agents looked at Tony's desk as if noticing his absence for the first time. "I really needed to thank him… he did what he said he would, and I really didn't think it was possible. Kody…" he choked for a moment and squeezed his son's shoulders, then got himself together and went on, "Kody would be dead now but for him."
"It was a joint effort," the Director began with a note of reproof in her voice, but the Major cut her off.
"No, ma'am… you don't understand. I saw the SRU people. I knew what they were there for. I begged Agent DiNozzo not to let them kill my boy, and he said, 'We're going to do our best to get everyone out alive, including your son.' I knew he meant it, although Officer David –" he spoke without rancour, "believed Kody was unstable, and I think she was about to tell me the likely outcome, but Agent DiNozzo wanted to be positive."
He hugged his son again; the boy was looking sick. He'd never considered throughout his ordeal that Gibbs might have been right. They would shoot a kid.
"I spoke to Captain Wise. He described how they'd got a sight on Kody. The snipers wanted to shoot. He wanted them to shoot. So did you, Director, he'd heard you questioning whether Agent DiNozzo had the courage to give that order."
Gibbs shot a very sharp sideways look at Jenny. She'd not told him that. She affected not to have noticed.
"I surely believed he did… that's why I pleaded with him not to… His partner wanted him to shoot. She'd asked if he had the cojones, except Captain Wise said that wasn't quite the word. Everybody… everybody wanted him to say take the shot. Agent DiNozzo told them to stand down. If the other kids' parents had been in that room, they'd have lynched him." He repressed a sob. "But he wouldn't shoot my son. Not couldn't, Director, wouldn't. I owe him."
Gibbs nodded thoughtfully. He looked at his other two team members. "So, where is DiNozzo?"
"I do not know," Ziva said, and had no more to offer.
Tim frowned, trying to be accurate. "He was here a moment ago. We were sitting here, eating Pizza... we were joking, like you do when you're coming down from something intense. I got head-slapped for not calling him 'boss'… we were trying to remember which film gave Tony the idea…" Gibbs jerked his head and raised his eyebrows in a silent 'get on with it', and Tim hurried on. "Tony asked where you were, and nobody knew. We went on talking, although I don't remember Tony joining in again. I recall him giving his pizza a disgusted look and putting it down, but I… I can't recall exactly when he left." He looked astonished. "He can't have gone far, Boss, he rode in with me this morning; his Mustang's in the shop."
Gibbs felt unsurprised, and irritated. Zero marks for observation, both of them; although if DiNozzo didn't want people to see him leave, they wouldn't. He bit back a sharp remark; he wouldn't call them out in front of visitors, or the Director; they hadn't been on the team long, there was still a bit to learn.
The Probie, despite the staggering IT skills, the utterly likeable straight as a die character and the potential both he and DiNozzo could see in him, was nowhere near the finished article yet. It had probably never occurred to him that observation was still important even when you were on your own turf. Well, he had noticed the disgusted look at the pizza…he'd get there, and Gibbs would fight like a tiger to keep him.
The Mossad operative, well, she'd been schooled hard from an early age – he wondered sadly if she'd ever been allowed a childhood – in all kinds of skills for the good of the State of Israel; people skills, however, were nowhere to be seen on the list. Rather, they seemed to have been ruthlessly drilled out of her. He sighed. What mattered for Mossad… not what mattered for her. He wondered what her father was like.
He sighed; he still wasn't happy with what Jenny had done in putting her on the team, even though now she was here it was right for them, and he wanted to keep the prickly, shell-enclosed Israeli. But the only likely outcome that he could see was that sooner or later, the Deputy Director would decide he didn't like the Americanisation of his daughter. There would be far less chance of even Gibbs winning that fight; the poor girl would be pulled back into the shadowy former life that his gut told him was far from happy, and simply disappear.
Well, now wasn't the time or place to take it up with them, although asking your under pressure partner if he's got the balls to do his job was something he didn't like to hear about. Maybe they did things differently at Mossad. But he didn't know how DiNozzo had dealt with that, so he wasn't going to move prematurely. After promising the Major that he'd pass the message on, he sent his weary team home. He checked the SFA's top drawer; Tony's badge and gun were gone, so he'd clearly left the building. He thought of calling the front desk to see if DiNozzo had called a taxi, but decided to wait. When Tony hadn't returned in half an hour, he'd set off on the wild goose chase which brought him back here, at ten minutes past midnight.
The Italian's head was bent over his work, surrounded by the halo of light from his desk lamp in the darkened room. He looked up as Gibbs approached and smiled easily, outwardly neither surprised, nor alarmed, nor guilty. "Hi, Boss. My report's on your desk. Thought I'd finish off a few other things."
Gibbs said, deceptively mildly, "DiNozzo, there's a reason why I like the team to check with me before they go off disappearing somewhere."
"Disappearing, Boss? The case was sewn up. I needed fresh air. You weren't there. I had my phone. I wasn't gone even forty minutes. When I got back McGee and Ziva had gone. I guessed you were around somewhere. I got on and did stuff."
There was that curiously short, staccato way of speaking that Tony seemed to use when he was holding himself in. Gibbs trod gently, feeling he ought to, but with no idea why. "Until midnight's a helluva lot of stuff."
The Boss raised an eyebrow but didn't comment. "You missed the reunion. The Director found Kody's mother."
"But she – " Tony shook his head impatiently at his own stock reaction. "Kody was right then."A small smile appeared, but soon faded, as he followed a train of thought. "And Caldas's boss. Felipe Velasquez. Makes you wonder how good witness protection is. All that time, the family split… grieving… and she wasn't even safe. I left a note on your desk – Fornell took Caldas and chum, who apparently couldn't talk fast enough; they've got Velasquez. Credit to the Feebies again…" He laughed, and a small frown gathered itself between his eyebrows. "My mother died when I was eight," he said absently, almost to himself. "They wouldn't let me see her. So I wouldn't believe it was true. Even during the funeral, and for a long time afterwards, I told myself that she'd gone back to England, and one day she'd come back for me."
Gibbs was stunned, not so much by what Tony had said, but by the fact that he'd said it at all. He truly couldn't work out whether he was being trusted with a rare confidence, or if his presence had simply been forgotten for a moment; until his SFA met his glance with a wry smile and an embarrassed shrug of the shoulders. For a moment Gibbs found himself searching around for something to say. Now he wondered what Tony's father was like. The words reported by Captain Wise made even more sense. "He's a fifteen year old boy who misses his Mom."
"You understood a bit about Kody then." So far, so good. "Was that in your mind when you told the snipers to stand down?" Bad. Tony's chin reared up; wrong approach…
"Oh… you've been talking to the ladies, Boss." He spoke with a weary smile, and without accusation.
"Nope. Been hearing things, though."
"Oh… so which was it then… that I hadn't the guts to order a kid shot, or that making up the existence of a phone number –" he held up quote signs – " 'wasn't a mistake Gibbs would have made', like I didn't know that. That I told the Director where to go?"
Gibbs frowned, but it was more or less a smile. "Hadn't heard that one."
"Boss…" Tony kicked back to push his chair into the corner to make room for Gibbs to sit on the end of his desk. "I was thinking a lot of things when the sniper got the sight… not least about the 'simple head shot' Ziva had said would do it." His voice grew flat and hard momentarily. "That made me think about Kate. How could it not? Yeah, I remembered my mother… and the Major pleading with me not to kill Kody." His tone was still without heat; "I made the decision by what was right at that moment. Not on memories or sentiment. Or lack of guts."
"I knew that." Gibbs perched on the corner of the desk since he'd been invited. "OK, so the phone number… maybe trying to flesh things out a bit wasn't such a good idea. One small slip, which you got back from right away, in an otherwise damn good performance. The Major thought so, he wanted to say thanks." He paused, then said carefully, "So neither Ziva nor the Director thought you had the balls for it?"
DiNozzo leaned back in his chair, and looked his Boss in the eyes, and Gibbs was puzzled to see something almost like challenge there, but the young man still spoke calmly. He seemed to be thinking aloud. "She's not been here long. Ziva, I mean. But I thought we understood each other. Professionally. We went undercover together… she must know I tried to protect her then… I respect her guts…"
His face twisted, and he stopped meeting Gibbs' eyes. There was silence for a while.
"And?" the Boss finally prompted. When he got no reply, he ducked his head down to the level of Tony's, and put an insistent finger under his chin.
"OK, O-kay…" he twisted his head away from the offending digit. "I stopped understanding her when she left me out of her dinner party. Why? Never did get to the bottom of that. Everyone went along with it. Even you."
Gibbs didn't know what to say. Yes, he'd seen the chagrin on Tony's face that day but never given it another thought. He'd thought it was just the usual ragging, and now, for the first time, he put himself in DiNozzo's place. It didn't feel too pleasant.
The SFA shrugged again. "'S all right, I'm not asking. Maybe I haven't got the cojones to hear that answer…But truthfully? If she thinks I'm a coward, or not worthy of respect, she'll either understand she's wrong, or she won't. It's up to her… I won't try to influence her."
Gibbs raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"I'm serious, dammit! Boss, it didn't bother me – I already know what she thinks of me when it comes down to it. I trust her to watch my back, and I won't stop watching hers. If I wanted to get mad at someone – and I did – it'd be the Director, because what she did could have affected what I did. And the outcome."
"If Ziva thinking you didn't have the cojones didn't bother you, how come the Director thinking the same thing did?"
Now Tony's eyes did blaze for a moment. "It didn't. She's not been in that chair long either – same thing. She'll learn different one day. I don't care. You knew I could do it… you know I can do it, that's all that matters." He stopped, blinking in amazement that he'd said that much.
"Well, yeah. Kinda hoped you'd know when I walked into that room –"
"Without warning me first –"
"Sure without warning you first. Would you have smiled and said 'go ahead'? Thought not. If that didn't tell you I trusted you –"
"It did –"
"Well, then. So… what did bother you?"
"I told her to go away and let me get on with my job. The next thing I know is, I need to speak to the Major – good suggestion of Ziva's – and I find Madam Director's hauled him off here, thirty miles away, without telling me. If Kody had asked to speak to him? I'd have had to say 'sure, Kody,' and then told him he wasn't there. So maybe Kody freaks, thinks he's been abandoned by both parents and blows the bomb. Or, once I knew he wasn't controlling it anyway, it still didn't reassure me. He hears Dad's not there for him, refuses to co-operate any more, and they've no choice but to trigger it themselves so the kid can't be questioned about them."
Tony sighed, stretched his arms and linked his hands behind his head, grimacing at the tension in his neck. "Unlikely? Sure. But I could think up half a dozen other scary scenarios… Either way everyone's dead." He looked up at Gibbs again, eyes full of pain at what his imagination was seeing. "You're dead. She should have told me what she was doing… if she'd no respect for me she should have done it out of respect for you."
"You think it might have been deliberate? Because you stood up to her?" Gibbs shook his head. "Inconsiderate, sure…"
"Whatever." Tony sighed. "But I could have got you killed just by what I didn't know. She should have told me, and she never did. Just like she never told me that she really had found the kid's mother, and when we got them out Muggins was the one who had to confess to Kody that he'd just told him that to get him to co-operate. I felt two inches tall, Boss. She… she could have spared him that… hell, she could have spared me that… even if she wanted to be the one to surprise Kody –" he ran out of words, gave a disgusted snort and fell silent.
"You… want me to say anything?"
"To Ziva? Absolutely not. To the Director? I've already taken care of it." He snorted again. "Surprised I've still got a job. But hey, I felt better afterwards."
Gibbs looked at him hard, then a smile slowly pushed the corners of his mouth up. "Good. Nice work." He paused, feeling the return of exasperation in spite of himself. "OK… so if you're not worried about what Ziva said, and you've already had it out with the Director, why are you still sitting here, and you 'hadn't noticed' it's gone midnight?"
He leaned down closer again, to glare at the younger man. "Can I, just once, in deference to the fact that I spent half the night driving round looking for you –" that got a wide eyed, startled look from Tony – "get an absolutely straight answer out of you? What. Is. Wrong?"
For the first time that night, a slow, genuine smile spread over Tony's face. OK, he may not have let the whole truth out at once, but he was pretty sure the Boss knew he'd had nothing but straight answers all night. He gave in.
"When it turned out that I'd made the right decision," he said ruefully, "I was told that I still wasn't you. Yeah… I know that." The smile faded. "Boss, I'm supposed to have your six. If I'd messed up today you'd be dead. We were sitting here, joking… like we'd done something smart, and funny… and I hadn't even really registered that you weren't there. Then when I did… I thought that we could have been sitting there in a different mood… with you not there… like ever again… and if anyone had told me then that I wasn't Gibbs I'd have slugged them. I imagined it and I didn't feel like joking any more… don't know how I ever did – and the pizza tasted like ashes. So, I snuck out and went for a walk. That's it."
The Boss nodded thoughtfully. "So… did you mess up?"
"Am I dead?"
"You do realise it took more cojones to say stand down than it would've to say shoot, don't you?"
"Oh… er –"
"Right. Glad that's settled. Now, are you planning on spending the night here? Cuz the only taxi left is me, and I'm sure not hanging around much longer."
The answering smile was peaceful. "No, Boss."
With his SFA on his six Gibbs headed towards the elevator, trying to recall if he had any beer in the fridge. He didn't doubt that when he simply headed for his own place, Tony wouldn't pass comment, let alone object, or that when, after an hour or two's work in the basement, thinking over the day, he came back up the stairs, there'd be a pair of feet hanging over the end of the couch in front of the living room fire, and the sound of easy snoring.
AN: Finally got 'Bait' out of my system, and hopefully the tendency to angst with it.