AN: Once again thank you to the people who reviewed but who weren't logged in.
This chapter was shaping up to be shorter than my usual... then I remembered Angel's idea about writing the 'Dam Rescue Party'. Thanks, Angel!
Cowboy Tony Rides Again
For long moments the loft was silent. Only the night sounds drifting in, the soft movements of the horses in their boxes, the sighing of the trees and the faint drone of an aircraft somewhere very high, hung in the air. Gibbs waited. Finally, Tony pushed his shoulders back against the wall and looked at his Boss. In the dim light there was the gleam of white teeth in a slight smile; the first positive thing there'd been from him all night.
"That's black and white, Boss," he said steadily. "You know it's not that simple."
"How so?" Gibbs raised an eyebrow and still waited calmly – inside he was almost ready to cheer.
"Oh yeah, Jeanne was pushy. I could see that. Don't think she even realised... but you have to remember I've been working with this pushy Boss, goin' on seven years now – pushes the envelope or my buttons... and yeah, I know why he does it. Anyway, I can tell pushy when I see it. Like you said, she knew what she wanted, and went for it. Nothing wrong with that..." He laughed. "Flattering!"
The older man looked down at his hands, braced himself, looked his SFA in the eye and said quietly, "Yes, she did. Know what she wanted. She didn't give the other guy the shove until she was sure of you."
That hit home, and Tony grimaced. "That's cold, Boss..." He thought for a while, but couldn't come up with anything to warm the thought. In the end he admitted, "I was jealous... didn't that tell her something? Like, that I cared? Anyhoos... if I'd really had the time I'd have resisted more, slowed things down; I can do that and still be charming... I couldn't, Jenny wanted results," he added darkly. "I let her push – but I still think it meant she cared... " He paused as a new thought struck him. "You know, I told her I loved her when we were going back to Papa's limo. I told him I loved her. In front of her. Think he believed me! But he'd always known who I was..." his voice was low pitched and wrung out with bewildered regret. "Why did he do that to her, Boss? No wonder she went crazy! Sitting in that limo with two guys who'd lied to her... Only one she blamed though."
Gibbs winced. Things were sliding again. Tony went on bitterly, "Next time I meet Kort I'm going to black both his eyes... I couldn't blame her not believing me, Boss... if everything else was a lie. I told you, it's not simple."
"So why, when she'd thought about it, did she run away from you, not to you?"
"She thought I'd only slept with her to find out about her father... so you bet she didn't want anything more to do with me. "
Gibbs pointed out, "Then why the ultimatum?" Tony's eyes widened in confusion. The Marine went on as quietly as before, "If it'd been Shannon... if I'd been an undercover MP when we met,and she'd found out the truth like Jeanne did... she'd have blacked both my eyes and then asked me what I was going to do about it. She loved me, so she'd have given me a chance."
"But Shannon loved you, not some alter ego. Boss, I... you... you care about me..." his voice faltered a little with embarrassment, "so you're on my side, and – and that's good – but it's shades of grey, you can't just blame Jeanne. She may have been pushy, and yeah, she kind of hedged her bets, but she was innocent."
Gibbs reached across and put two fingers alongside Tony's jaw. Blue eyes met green in the dim light. "I'd say... right answer."
Tony suddenly had the air of someone who'd been whacked over the head by a giant marshmallow. "What?" Gibbs said nothing. He transferred his grip to his SFA's shoulder, raised his eyebrows in question, and again, simply waited. "Ah," Tony said after a while. "Gotcha, Boss, I see what you're doing."
"Well, yeah, should hope so, DiNozzo, or I might as well have picked my SFA off the benches in Patterson Park. And Tony... the next word out of your mouth better not be 'but'."
Tony heaved a sigh from somewhere down in his battered soul. "OK, Boss. OK... I get it. If there are shades of grey for Jeanne... and they're pretty pale really... why can't I see them for me?"
"Wrong answer. You can see them. Start looking." Gibbs frowned, reading Tony's look. "That too much like those pity parties you despise so much?"
"Had all that in the water, Boss. Don't want to do it again. I don't do 'poor me'. I shouldn't do 'poor me'... been doing too much of it lately."
"I've not seen it. Kay... start by looking for Jeanne."
Tony nodded doubtfully. "Ri-i-ight... Father who dealt in mega-death. Who spoiled her. Director's father who took a bribe – or didn't. Frog said yes, Jenny said no. Director's father who committed suicide. Director who became obsessional. Agent foolish enough to believe her when she said he was serving his country."
"Put that one in the grey area. Nothing wrong with serving your country. It's what the job's about."
"I thought we were talking about Jeanne?"
"Sure we are, but what's different for you? So... Boss who made the same mistake twice – thought because you didn't talk about it that you were fine handling everything else and working for me. Said 'I know' – when I didn't. I left you out on a limb – no back-up, no-one to go to for advice. Not saying I'd have been completely impartial, but don't tell me Jenny was. Result – you saw it through to the end and broke both your hearts – only later than it would have happened if I'd known what was going on. Because Tony, you were right – I would have put an end to it. And you wouldn't have ended up exhausted, having guilt trips at the bottom of a river."
Tony went to wipe his right hand across his face, remembered he couldn't, and used his left. "And I'd have been mad, but hey... yeah, in the end I'd have seen you were right. And maybe I'd have found some way of ending it that didn't feel like betrayal."
"Thought we'd established that she wasn't the only one betrayed." Gibbs reminded him. There'd been a subtle change in the younger man's body language over the last few minutes, and his Boss was beginning to feel, at last, as if he were getting somewhere.
Tony smiled a little, but his desire to avoid any hint of a pity party stopped him from agreeing. Gibbs nodded; fair enough. "Tonight," he said slowly, "when Townley and I went back to the waiting room while Ducky and Dr. Pitt checked you over, there were..." he checked off the names of all the people he'd found there. "That's ten people, including Milner, a guy who arrived at the dam after we'd gone – still wanted to know how you were. You could say that he, and Mary and young Adam were there for Townley, but they'd still have stayed for you. Add Ducky and Brad, that's a lot of people all there on your account."
Tony chuckled a little. "Tobias stayed?"
"Oh yeah. Tried to pretend he was just takin' statements. Think ya might weigh all those people's opinions against Jeanne's?"
"Tony... stil not completely convinced... I still think she loved the packaging and didn't see the man underneath. They did."
"They... well, some of them, they've known me longer. Closer..."
He realised just how foolish that remark was when Gibbs' eyebrows went up. The Boss said sardonically, "Oh, slept with all of them, have you?"
"Ah... stupid remark."
"Just a bit. But I'll grant you that she was innocent of all this. Don't say you weren't, you're an agent. It's your job and sometimes it sucks. And I'm still mad as hell at the Director, who hadn't called to see how you were last time I checked... maybe she called Ducky..." Yeah, sure...
Tony's voice was rough with tiredness."Don't care about that. You're here."
"Gonna tell ya a couple'a things, then you're gonna sleep. You're gonna take a week off, do some fairly gentle one-handed riding, Doris'll look after you – let Sally fuss a bit, do some sittin' by the range, and talk things over with her – for her sake, if not yours. Can't let a nice lady like that go on worrying. I'll come out and ride with you sometimes – gonna have to, cuz I can't get back to DC without takin' your car, and in the end you'll want it back –"
Tony thought of his lovely new Mustang in Gibbs' hands. "Boss!... Hey, fair enough."
"You're gonna get a bit of peace, and stay out of the way while I chew Madam Director out, and not come back to desk duty until Ducky says you can. Don't moan – you've not had a rest in a year, and she needs it made clear what she's done."
Tony gave a huff worthy of Doris, but nodded. "I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that!"
"Not a good idea. She's going to end up hating me... not going to take you there too."
"Kay... That's one thing. You said a couple." He began to feel uneasy. The Boss wasn't about to apologise, was he? He didn't have to do that... "Less you feel you've talked enough, of course, Boss... I mean, you'll have run out of words for the whole year –"
"So make the most of it." Gibbs held the younger man's gaze. "I didn't listen to my gut. Made the same mistake twice. Won't make it again, Tony. You need fighting for – any situation – anything – I'll fight for you. Believe that."
Tony believed. "I... I gotcha, Boss."
"Good. Now, ya should sleep. What's easiest? Where's the worst bruising?"
He thought Tony muttered "Mother hen..." as he helped him to lie down on his side, and put a spare pillow under his injured arm. By the time he pulled his shoes off and draped the blanket over him, the younger agent was smiling slightly as his breathing evened out. Gibbs sat silently for a while, feeling drained. He thought over the conversation and allowed himself to feel hopeful, then shook his head, and lay down on his own mattress.
Some time later, as the dim golden wash of the yard light began to merge with the first white light of dawn, Tony drifted up out of the depths of sleep, to a state of.. kind of neutral buoyancy, he thought vaguely. His right arm felt heavy, and he couldn't figure why. When he did, a wave of unwelcome memories began at the back of his mind and tried to surge forward; but one stronger thought kept it at bay. There was something else, a different weight on his arm, warmer than the cast, and he knew what it was before he cracked his eyes open. Gibbs slept soundly on the other cot, but his arm was stretched across, the hand curled lightly round Tony's biceps.
He regarded it for a few moments: he was safe. If he so much as stirred, his guardian would wake, so he didn't. He was smiling broadly as sleep pulled him back under.
Although the warm Summer weather had faded, it was still pleasant enough to eat out of doors as long as they wrapped up well. "Perfect for the Dam Rescue Party," Abby had insisted, and they were all there, the rescuers... all except Fornell. "No, Jethro. I didn't do that much at the time, and I think he needs a break from my face just now." Gibbs had nodded thoughtfully and not argued.
They sat on blankets on a rocky outcrop that would have been below the level of the Old Dam if it had been full, and on the sandy beach around it, long dried out as the lake was almost empty. Only the old course of the river remained, meandering along at the deepest point, towards the outflow arch.
Scott Milner, and Deidre, the wife whose sense had prevented him from being caught up unwillingly in criminal activity, were unpacking food. (Scott's part in the rescue was known locally, he was something of a hero, and his business was thriving.) Doris and a couple of other horses, Amos and Sally's transport, had their own picnic, mowing the grass nearby.
General conversation and compliments on the food gave way to the filling in of gaps in people's knowledge, which had been Abby's intent; the trials were still pending, but Simon was amassing a wealth of information and inside knowledge for the moment when he could print his sell-out edition. "Or maybe I'll write a book," he said happily.
The story had barely caused a ripple in the national media – businessmen had planned the collapse of a dam – and failed. "There'd be a helluva lot more interest if they'd succeeded and killed us all. Good news is no news. But the story will be told in the end."
Ty was describing the engineering processes involved in the rebuilding to a fascinated Ziva, who was curious about what she was seeing. She pointed over at where the base of the dam was exposed at the north end. A stone road had been constructed for heavy plant; softened rubble had been dug out and concrete piles were being driven in. "They are not going to knock the whole dam down and begin again?"
"No. Most of it's fine. They're just repairing the damage and making sure no more happens. That's how we wanted it, and what we recommended. It'll take another six months, they say, but we'll have a good dam when it's done."
Mary laughed. "That's the royal 'we'. They're actually listening to what Ty says these days, and they're going to re-site that outflow from New Dam according to his models."
"They'll have to," Joel added. "He's the Boss. Or will be in two weeks time."
Tim looked puzzled, remembering what Mary had said about the veteran engineer's lack of paper qualifications. Mary saw the look and laughed. "You know he's better at the job than I am. I told them to promote him on merit, and I'd help him through a postal degree. They agreed."
Ziva smiled. "That is wonderful Ty. Congratulations. What are you going to do, Mary?"
Again, Mary laughed. "I'm going to work for the 'News and Informer'." She and Simon exchanged a secret look that wasn't all that secret. "Maintenance man. Cub reporter. General dogsbody. Whatever."
Sally shaded her eyes to look over at where the machinery stood, closed down for the weekend. "We live the other side of the ridge," she said wonderingly, "so we only get to hear things by rumour, you know? It was only in the Summer that people were saying there was no money for all this."
Tony had been sitting, hunched up and somewhat withdrawn, and Gibbs had been looking for a way to snap him out of it, but Sally had go in ahead of him, this time without even realising it. The SFA straightened up and grinned. "Ah well... remember that day, beginning of September; I was still up here taking my week off..."
"Tony, whereabouts are you?"
"Hey, Amos – crossing Belinda's Creek, 'bout half a mile above the mill. Is there a problem?"
"No, no problem, you want to make your way along the south west trail, and I'll meet you?"
"Sure. Any reason?"
"Not particularly... I'll tell you when I see you."
And he did. He came up the trail to meet him, riding Elmer, the short-sighted, good-natured mule. Alongside him was an even-tempered bay gelding called Jim... and – McGee. Tim looked quite comfortable aboard the tall horse, and Tony urged Doris into a slow canter down to meet them.
"Hey! McMountie! What's this? You taking up the trail-riding life?"
"Got some news, Tony. Thought I'd drive over and surprise you – Gibbs said to check you were behaving yourself -"
"But I wanted to tell you. Amos said this was the way to do it. Did some digging..."
Tony smiled. The young agent was practically wagging his tail. "Digging?"
"Yeah. Found an engineering report – well buried – that warned about the placing of the outflow from that pipe... the State went ahead with that design rather than an alternative because it was cheaper."
Tony remembered the delight on Tim's face, and smiled. "It was dynamite. We passed the report on to Simon, who mentioned it to his Congressman, along with the fact that he was a journalist, and he got listened to." Tim looked modest.
"I sure did," Simon said gleefully. "He agreed that it had been the State's fault that Old Dam had been undermined. He came up here, looked at the system and agreed it was a very good one... Joel mentioned the environment, we spoke about balance... the next thing we know is, the funding's there." He took another bite of quiche, and sighed contentedly. "And long may your business thrive, Scotty." There were murmurs of happy agreement all round.
Gibbs wandered over to Tony, and dropped down beside him. "Ya OK?"
"Yeah, Boss... I'm getting there. Not often you get accused of murder twice by the same feds, huh? And by your ex girlfriend..."
"Fornell was invited tonight... stayed away because he thought you'd have had enough of him."
"Nah, Toby didn't have to do that. I'm fine."
"Just in case you were wonderin'..."
"Don't have to say it, Boss. You were there. If there'd been any fighting to do, you'd have done it. I know that."
If Gibbs had been going to say anything else, he never got the chance.
"Tony... Amos says I can ride Jim. Now. Will you come with me?"
"Sure, Adam." He stood up. "It's kinda funny... you're the smallest rider, you get the biggest horse... Boss, the other horse is Jez... d'you fancy a ride down the lake? That OK, Amos?"
Amos waved a cheery hand in permission, and that was all Adam needed. He ran to the tall bay horse, and Tony lifted him into the saddle by the seat of his pants. The boy set off down onto the lake-bed beach, followed a few moments later by the two agents.
The other picnic makers watched them go at a sedate walk then a steady trot down to the far end of the lake, in the distance. The Frames grinned at each other; they knew what would happen when the horses turned. They also knew which horse they'd bet on. A wild rebel yell floated down from almost a mile away, as the three animals raced back, the thunder of their hooves growing louder. Tony was out in the lead – nope, there was no beating Doris if she didn't want to be beaten.
Amos put his arm round his wife's shoulders. "There now, Sass... Those two are just fine."
Sally didn't know whether he meant Tony and Doris or Tony and Gibbs. It didn't matter, she decided. "Oh yes," she said softly. "Cowboy Tony rides again."