To all my readers, and especially to those inquiring about how I was doing, I apologize for the long silence. I hadn't planned taking so long to post this story, but things happened to postpone it. To make it short, I began to feel odd, mood wise, with recurring, almost obsessing bad thoughts, almost certainly caused by two close deaths in my family and other sad events happened to close friends. I suffered from major depression back in 2007 and I recognized the obsessing thoughts and lack of interest for things I always loved as the first steps toward the abyss. So I took action before it was too late, and pulled back from the abyss in a pretty fast time, all considered. Now I feel much better, the bad thoughts have gone and I'm here posting this story. My desire to write, unfortunately, is still missing, but I'm confident it will return in due time.
This experience (and what happened in 2007) has taught me an important lesson: if you realize you aren't behaving in a "normal" way (whatever is normal for each of us), don't hesitate to ask for help. It can make a HUGE difference. Back in 2007, I had no idea of what was happening to me until it was too late, and I arrived to the point I no longer recognized myself. Then I asked for help, and even if I was lucky compared to other people who live with depression for years, they were still the worst months of my life, a private hell I wouldn't wish to my worst enemy.
This time I knew very soon what was happening. I acted before things could get worse, and resolved the matter in a few weeks, even if, of course, I'm still under therapy and will be for several months more.
And now stop with the serious stuff and on with the story! I hope you'll enjoy it!
By Gunnery Sergeant
Sequel to "The Perfect Match" and "Always Perfect, Always You"
A/N: as in the previous stories, I've twisted the episodes and their timeline to fit this AU. The most important change here is that the events of 'Collateral Damages', 'Cloak' and 'Dagger' happened closer to the events of 'Last Man Standing' than they happened in the canon. Also, 'Heartland' didn't happen in this AU.
Thanks to Finlaure, my wonderful friend and betareader!
Leroy Jethro Gibbs pushed open the door of his house, emotionally and physically exhausted. He stepped in, threw the keys on the table by the wall and hung his coat while he kicked the door shut.
The lights in the living room were on, and when he walked in, he spotted Tony sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace. He was staring at the flames in rapt contemplation as he sipped bourbon from a half-empty bottle. He didn't turn his head to greet Gibbs, so the older man walked closer and wearily sat down by his side.
"Hey," Gibbs said lowly, stroking Tony's hair.
"Hey," Tony replied, facing him. The younger man was pale and his eyes were dull, but not because of the alcohol.
"You okay?" Gibbs asked.
Tony shook his head. "No." The he returned to look at the flames. "Do you remember the first time we sat here, like this?"
"'Course," Gibbs answered without hesitation. How could he ever forget it? It had been the evening they had made love for the first time, after he had finally admitted how deeply he loved the other man.
"You offered me a place in your team, and I accepted it—but with a clause. Do you remember it?"
Gibbs sighed, finally understanding where this was leading. "I would have your six and you would have mine."
"Exactly-yet this is the second time in a few months you ran away to do something dangerous without telling me. Why Jethro?" Tony asked his eyes now filled with hurt.
"You know why…" Gibbs answered. "You know you're the most important person in my life. The reason my life is worth living. I need to protect you. Keep you away from harm. I can't bear the idea of losing you as I lost Shannon and Kelly."
"I could be killed every day we hit the streets, Jethro. Do you plan to confine me to desk duty from now on?"
"Of course not. But this wasn't a normal situation. This was about a woman set on revenge. She wanted me dead and I would be damned if I let her come close to you," Gibbs said fiercely.
Tony sighed, "I know. That's the way you are—and I guess you aren't gonna change."
"No. As I said, you're too important to me."
"As you are to me!" Tony exclaimed, eyes blazing with anger, "Try and remember it next time you embark on one of your solo crusades! Don't think just about yourself! Think about me too!"
Gibbs opened his mouth to speak, but closed it without uttering a word, taken aback by Tony's vehemence.
This was the very first time his lover asked something of him. Asked him to change his behavior. This issue had to really be very important for the younger man if it pushed Tony to speak his mind in such a way.
So Gibbs nodded and murmured, "I promise I will try." He knew himself all too well, and he was aware he couldn't offer more than this promise.
"Okay," Tony replied, staring at Gibbs for several, tense seconds. Then he relaxed a bit and asked with a calmer voice, "So Boss, what was this about?"
"The fall out of an op in Europe, back in 1999. Jenny, Decker and I were sent to Paris to kill some Russians who were selling weapons. I killed my target, but Jenny didn't kill hers, although I discovered it only today."
"Svetlana Chernitskaya; she was the target and the woman set out on revenge. Who did you kill?"
"Anatoly Zukov, her partner and lover."
"So Svetlana somehow discovered that you, Jenny and Decker were behind Zukov's assassination and looked for you," Tony elaborated. "Jenny...Jenny knew who was on her tracks and why, and decided to handle it alone, without asking for help... of me or Ziva either..." the younger man's voice trailed off, as he looked again at the flames.
Gibbs squeezed his shoulder with a hand. "Jenny was sick, Tony. Ducky told me she was dying. I guess she wanted to rectify her mistake before it caused more deaths and without endangering you and Ziva."
"Assistant Director Vance doesn't think the same. He thinks I screwed up by leaving her alone and without protection," Tony commented, and Gibbs knew Vance wasn't the only one thinking that. Tony did too, and maybe he thought his boss did too. So the older man put his arm around his partner's shoulder and pulled him closer until Tony leant against his side.
"Vance can think whatever the hell he wants, but I know it's not true. Jenny gave you a direct order, you obeyed. End of the story," Gibbs replied.
"When Vance heard we have been in Santa Monica, he made it clear he thought I had driven there because I wanted to look to the women on the beach. I think Ziva believes the same."
Gibbs almost bristled. He didn't like how his lover was feeling responsible for something that wasn't his fault. He was aware guilt, even if unfounded, was difficult to shed. He still carried his own share of guilt for not having been near Shannon and Kelly to protect them—and that had been 17 years ago. How could he expect Tony to put things in perspective when they still had to bury Jenny? However, he still made another attempt to make it clear he wasn't angry or held Tony responsible in any way for what had happened in California.
"Listen to me," he said softly but firmly, "we both know you weren't skirt-chasing. We both know you can't disobey a direct order given by a person you care about—your very own nature won't allow it – unless I step in and counteract that order. You cared for Jenny, you obeyed her orders. Vance and Ziva can think what they want, but you and I know the truth." Gibbs then fell silent, counting on Tony sensing how strong and sincere his belief was about this. Emotions could be faked outwardly, with gestures and expressions and the use of the voice, but they couldn't be faked in the heart.
The older man watched intently as Tony relaxed and then smiled. Just a small grin, but it reached his eyes, and Gibbs considered it a victory. He smiled back and leant forward, capturing his partner's lips in a brief kiss.
"Ready to go to bed?" he asked when they separated. It was quite late, and the next day would be hard. Jenny's funeral followed by a meeting with newly appointed NCIS Director Leon Vance, who not only wasn't happy with Tony, but also didn't appreciate how Gibbs and Mike Franks had dealt with Svetlana and Decker's "insurance policy".
"Yes, I'm ready now," his lover answered with a nod. They stood up and as Tony put away the bourbon, Gibbs quelled the flames in the fireplace.
They moved upstairs and got ready to sleep in a few minutes, before slipping beneath the covers and stretching out with relieved sigh.
Tony fell quickly asleep, curled against Gibbs' side in his usual resting position, but despite his tiredness, sleep was slow to come for the older man. He still needed to decompress from events of the past few days, and from the blow of losing yet another woman he had cared for.
His relationship with Jenny had changed and become less friendly and more guarded after his return from his medical leave in Mexico. Especially after it had become clear Tony's concerns about Jenny being obsessed with La Grenouille had proved to be well founded—tragically so.
They had risked losing Agent Balboa – the guy Jenny had sent to do the undercover job Tony had refused – and the agency had been put under investigation when La Grenouille had been killed. Balboa had even been accused to be the murderer by Rene Benoit's scorned daughter Jeanne. Then there had been Jenny's disappearances, her conviction Benoit had caused her father's death, and her refusal to help the arms dealer when he had come asking for protection after his daughter had been targeted.
Gibbs knew Jenny, and not the CIA, had killed La Grenouille. He had known for a while, but he hadn't taken action against her because he couldn't really disapprove her wish to avenge her father, not after what he had done to Pedro Hernandez.
However, his actions in Mexico hadn't put other people in danger, nor he had used a federal agency's means and agents to pursue his personal vendetta as Jenny had done. That had caused a big strain in their relationship, because Gibbs had told her he wouldn't let her do it again.
Now, it no longer mattered. She had died and, hopefully, all her faults had died with her, and no one else would have to pay for her mistakes.
Yet, Gibbs couldn't help but wish it had gone differently. Yes, Jenny had been ill, and she would have died soon, but at least it could have happen in her bed, surrounded by people that cared for her...not alone in that forsaken diner.
Useless to cry over spilt milk, he admonished himself. She died doing her job, and Ducky said it was for the best. Let's just hope she found peace.
With a deep sigh, Gibbs closed his eyes and finally, lulled by Tony's soft, regular breathing, he fell asleep.
When the following morning, just after they returned from the funeral, Vance summoned his whole team and not just him in the Director's office, Gibbs' gut churned in alarm. But not even that warning could have prepared him for what happened next, when Vance faced them from behind his desk and said, "Officer David, the liaison position with NCIS is being terminated. McGee... I'm moving you across to the cyber crimes unit. DiNozzo... you've been reassigned. Agent afloat, USS Ronald Reagan. Pack your bags-you fly out tomorrow. Agent Gibbs," and Vance paused to pick up three personnel files from his desk, "Meet your new team."
An unnatural silence fell on the room as those words sank in. Gibbs had to force himself from not turning to face Tony. Instead he kept his eyes locked with Vance's.
"Dismissed," the director ordered, never breaking his eye contact with Gibbs, but the former Marine was determined not to be the first one who would break it.
"Go," he said as he sensed his team—his people – hesitate. Still looking at Vance, he waited until the door closed, leaving them alone, and then uttered just a word, "Why?"
"Various reasons. David's appointment was Shepard's idea. The SecNav and I feel no reason to continue this arrangement with Mossad. McGee's skills will be put at a better use in the cyber crimes unit. DiNozzo was up for a stint as agent afloat and I had an unexpected opening on the Ronald Reagan. If I'm not wrong you too served on ship about ten years ago," Vance added, and Gibbs had the meager satisfaction to see him break their eye contact first.
"And these?" he asked raising the folders in his hand, "My new team?"
"Young agents with great potential but little investigative experience. I want you to teach them."
Gibbs' fingers tightened around the files, but he didn't reply. Really, what else could he do? He knew too little about Vance to question his motives to his face. Inwardly, though, he had a damned good idea of what was going on. Not only was Vance pissed with him for how he had dealt with Svetlana Chernitskaya. He also hadn't liked how Gibbs had saved Agent Balboa from an almost certain conviction for La Grenouille's murder by bringing in Trent Kort after being explicitly told not to interfere in the Internal Affairs investigation.
As for Tony, they already knew he wasn't one of Leon's favorite people.
This was punishment, pure and simple, and a way for Vance to impose his authority over Gibbs, and bring him more under his control. There was no doubt that without a loyal team having his six and trusting him with no questions asked, he would no longer have the same freedom of action he used to have.
Gibbs thought of all that as he stared at Vance, but said nothing. It wasn't the moment.
He was a Marine, and Marines knew when it was the moment to fight, and when it was best to retreat and regroup before launching another attack.
So he simply nodded and walked to the door, knowing he had lost this battle, but determined to win the war.
As he walked along the balcony toward the stairs, he looked down at the squad room and saw Tony, Ziva and McGee had already cleared their desks and were now standing near them, looking lost and dazed, as if they hadn't truly grasped what had happened yet.
Around them, other agents moved slowly and silently and Gibbs recognized the expression on most of their faces: worry. Because if the new director had no qualms in disbanding the most successful team in the whole agency, then it meant no one's job or position was secure and that everyone could be sent away or see their assignment changed without a warning.
Gibbs jogged down the stairs, stepped into the squad room, walked to his desk and dropped the folders Vance had given him. His people gathered around him and he found himself thinking it looked like the night he had walked away after the Cape Fear had exploded, only that this time, he was the one left behind.
Those three young faces were all looking to him for guidance, for comfort, and even if he wasn't good with words, he did his best to give them what they needed.
"Ziva," he began, pulling her in a brief embrace. "Take care of yourself. Enjoy your time in Israel, because I'll want you back here soon."
Ziva smiled and answered, "I will, Gibbs- and take care of yourself too."
"I will." He turned to McGee, who looked like he was on verge of tears, the confidence gained along the past few years all but gone. "Chin up, Tim…and don't go all Elf Lord in the cyber crime unit. I expect you to still be able to talk in English when you are back behind that desk."
"Yes, Boss," the younger agent answered as he shook Gibbs' hand.
Then Gibbs turned to face Tony. This would be only their public goodbye, the one between two colleagues, but still it was so damn hard to find the words to acknowledge the younger man was leaving. But he had to; the whole squad room was listening. So Gibbs walked closer to his Senior Agent, hand outstretched and said, "Being agent afloat is like being the ship cop, DiNozzo—and you have been a hell of a cop for a long time. You'll do well on the ship, and when the assignment is up, I expect you to get back here, to watch my six again. Right?"
"Right, Boss," Tony answered taking his hand. Gibbs nodded in approval, before he raised his head to look at Vance, who was observing them from the balcony.
These are my people Leon, he thought as his eyes searched and found the director's, and I will get them back. I don't know when, I don't know how—but I will. I swear it.
Let me know what you think! As usual, reviews make me update faster. :)