I almost never write speculative stories based on what I think will happen. It's tempting, but I make myself wait until the episode airs, and then I write about what actually did happen. And yet, here I am with my take on post-episode 9x24 "Till Death Do Us Part."
The finale packed quite a punch - all our of heroes in peril, and the Navy Yard blown up! I tried to tie up as many loose ends as I could in this story, but I just couldn't get to them all. So I'm warning you now, after you read this, you might be left asking, "Hey, but she never told us what happened with...?"
Inspired by "The Dust Settles," by Deirdra098 - although that story is infinitely better.
Abby is the first one to show up. Gibbs had expected that.
The knock at his door is frantic and nervous, and as soon as Gibbs opens it, she throws herself at him and hugs him hard. He guides them back inside and closes the door. Abby's shoulders are shaking.
"I wanted to spend the night at the hospital with Tim," she says mournfully, her words muffled against his shoulder. Her voice is shaking, too. "But the nurses told me I should go home and get some rest." Gibbs nods in agreement. Abby looks pale and exhausted, with circles under the eyes and her mascara smeared. "They said he won't wake up until tomorrow morning."
She barely manages to finish the sentence before she bursts into tears again. Gibbs hold her against him until his shirt is damp. She doesn't ask if she can spend the night at his house, and he doesn't offer. It's understood between them.
He can't make Abby crash on his couch, so he lets her have the master bed upstairs, where he had once slept with Shannon. She protests half-heartedly - "Oh, I don't wanna take your bed, Gibbs" - but she's asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow. Gibbs pulls the comforter up around her and kisses her cheek before he goes back downstairs.
He doesn't sleep much. He lies awake wondering how long it's been since they arranged for Cole to meet Dearing at the coffee shop? Was it really just this morning?
He suspects that Ziva is crashing at Tony's place tonight. They were both treated by paramedics at the scene, after the rescue crew pulled them from the elevator. They insisted they were fine, but Gibbs could tell they were both trying to hide how shaken and scared they really were. McGee was the only one of his team who had to go to a hospital. It was right after they all met up outside his room at Bethesda, right after the doctor assured them their Elf-Lord would make a full recovery, that Gibbs got the call from the hospital in Florida with the terrible news about Ducky.
He doesn't sleep much at all.
Abby stays at his place for the first few nights after the explosion. She splits her days between the hospital, where she sits with McGee for hours at a time, and the Navy Yard, where there are both construction and clean-up crews slowly fixing the damage. Her lab was relatively unharmed, but she stays down there and supervises all the crew members as they do repair work, not trusting strangers to handle her machines.
Around the same time McGee is released from the Bethesda, Ducky arrives there, finally stable enough to be transferred from the hospital in Florida. It's a struggle for Gibbs to hide the cold rush of fear he feels when he visits Ducky for the first time. His friend has never looked older or more fragile.
On the same day that McGee leaves the hospital, Abby packs up her things and leaves Gibbs's house. She claims it's time for her to go home, but he knows that she's going to stay with McGee. She gives him a long hug before she leaves and whispers, "Thanks for letting me crash here, Gibbs."
"Abs," he says gently into her hair, his arms around her, "you know you never have to knock."
NCIS establishes temporary headquarters at the Marine Corps Base, until the Navy Yard is repaired. They're doing the same work, but it feels strange doing it in a different building. It reminds Gibbs of the four months he spent working with different agents, after Vance split up his team. The work had stayed the same then too, even when everything else felt different.
Gibbs keeps an eye on McGee on his first day back. He looks at McGee's hands typing on the keyboard and remembers them covered in bandages in the hospital, healing from the lacerations. Several shards of glass struck him when the windows blew in, and the doctor said he was lucky that none of them went deep enough to puncture any organs.
McGee is the second one to show up. Gibbs hadn't expected that, especially so soon after he got out of the hospital. Late in the evening of his first day back, there's a soft, hesitant knock on his door - as if McGee's knuckles are still sore - that Gibbs barely hears from where he's working in the basement. He's just gotten home from visiting Ducky at Bethesda, and he needs the work to distract his mind.
McGee looks like he could use a distraction too, so Gibbs has him follow him back downstairs. In the basement, McGee looks puzzled over the workbench, where Gibbs has cut several strips of wood down into tall, thick rods.
"What are these, Boss?" he asks, touching the one closest to him. "Bars for something?"
"They're canes," Gibbs answers. McGee still seems puzzled, so he adds, "For Ducky."
McGee quickly pulls his hand away. He didn't know. He'd still been in the hospital himself when Gibbs broke the news to the rest of his kids that Ducky wouldn't be able to walk unassisted for some time - possibly never again.
Gibbs walks around to the other side of the work bench and picks up the one cane that's already finished. It's straight and tall, strong enough that Ducky will be able to lean on it as hard as he needs to. McGee smiles when he sees that the handle is a duck head - and Gibbs is certain that it's the first time he's smiled since the explosion.
"Hey, look at that," he says, touching the wooden beak. "Ducky will love it."
Gibbs slides one of the unfinished canes toward him. For the handle on this one, he carved a small globe of the world. "Why don't you get to work on sanding and staining it?" he suggests, and McGee nods obediently and grabs a sheet of sandpaper.
They work side-by-side on the canes for almost an hour. McGee soon settles into a steady, even rhythm with the sandpaper, and the sound of it makes Gibbs think of waves and Mike's old place on the beach in Mexico. McGee sands the cane perfectly smooth, then stains it a warm, rich color. He holds it out to Gibbs, who looks it over and nods in approval.
"That's good work, McGee," he tells him.
McGee turns the cane over his hands. "I've been thinking I had it so bad," he says slowly. "But the doctor said I'll make a full recovery. Ducky..." He trails off and looks at the work bench, at the carpentry tools spread out in front of him. "I can see why you like doing this." He doesn't elaborate, but he doesn't need to. Gibbs knows. Working with your hands like this can clear your head, drive everything else right out of it.
"Come back whenever you need to," Gibbs tells him.
They never do catch Dearing. The bastard doesn't give them the opportunity. He turns himself in, not long after he blows up the Navy Yard. He doesn't say much besides, "I did what I had to do. I did it for Evan." It's a hard day for all of them. Gibbs had secretly hoped that his team would have to chase down Dearing and forcibly subdue him; it would feel like taking revenge on him for what he did to their agency. But Dearing turning himself in doesn't give them the least sense of satisfaction, and all day, Gibbs feels like breaking something.
It's a long day, but after they finally go home, late in the evening, there's another knock on his door. But the rhythm of this knock is different, and Gibbs can tell before he even gets up to open the door that it's Tony. He's the third one to show up.
His Senior Field Agent stands outside the door with three small packages, neatly wrapped in paper and smelling of raw meat. Gibbs sniffs, and Tony holds them up.
"I brought you some steaks, Boss," he tells Gibbs. "Best cuts of rib-eye they had. But in exchange, I want you to teach me your steak recipe."
Gibbs eyes the packaged meats in Tony's hands. "Where'd you get 'em?"
"That butcher place over on Seventh. Union Meats."
Gibbs opens his door wider to let Tony in.
They cook the steaks together in his kitchen, working side-by-side. Gibbs can't remember when Tony has ever been so attentive. For once, he doesn't make any smart remarks or movie references, just watches as Gibbs breaks down each step of the process. Now you chop the cloves and measure the olive oil for the marinade. Now you melt the butter in the skillet. Now you salt and pepper the steak, evenly on both sides. It feels good to grab the cold, raw meat in his hands.
While the steaks are cooking, they put two bottles of beer in the refrigerator to chill and make potato wedges to eat on the side. The sizzling sound and meaty smell fill the kitchen, and they're both keenly hungry by the time the steaks are done. The kitchen table feels too formal, so they sit on the couch and eat off the coffee table. Tony cuts a large bite of steak and closes his eyes as he slowly chews it, savoring the taste. Then he swallows, opens his eyes, and leans back against the cushions.
"Thanks, Boss. Now I can cross number seventeen off my list." Gibbs glances at him, his brow furrows, and Tony explains. "I made this... bucket list. You know, a list of things to do before I die? Seventeen was learn your steak recipe."
Gibbs takes another sip of beer to hide his smile. He can tell that Tony has been wanting to drop by his place with steaks for some time now, but didn't want to allow himself a relaxing, leisurely evening like this until after they'd caught Dearing.
"I've been trying to do more stuff on that list," Tony goes on, his voice thick. He pauses, and his shoulders tense up toward his ears. Gibbs frowns, uncomfortable. He rarely sees Tony emotional like this, and he doesn't like it. "After that explosion... I feel like I've been wasting time, and... I might not have that much time left to waste."
The smack to the back of his head catches him off-guard, and he drops his fork, which clatters loudly on the plate.
"You gonna spend your life worryin' about stuff that might never happen, or you gonna shut up and enjoy that steak, DiNozzo?"
"Shutting up, Boss," Tony replies immediately, and he grins as he cuts another bite of steak.
Tony stays late to help him wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. Then he starts to leave, but stops short of the front door, sways slightly on his feet, and turns back towards Gibbs.
"Hey, I'm kinda buzzed from the beer, Boss. Is it cool if I crash on your couch?"
Gibbs smiles and shakes his head in the kitchen, where he's putting the sack of potatoes back up on the pantry shelf. He's been half-expecting Tony to ask this question since he knocked at the front door.
"Yeah," he calls back to Tony, who immediately kicks off his shoes. "Anytime, DiNozzo."
Ziva is the last one to show up - and the only one who doesn't knock.
The very next night after steaks with Tony, Gibbs finishes another cane in his basement and starts upstairs to take a shower. There's a spring in his step - Ducky's release from Bethesda is tomorrow, and his spirits are high - but he stops short in his living room, when he hears the soft sound of someone breathing.
Gibbs walks around to the front of his couch, and sighs when he sees Ziva stretched out there, fast asleep. He didn't even hear her open the door. She's still wearing the same clothes that she had on at work today, but she's taken off her jacket and her shoes, which are lined up neatly on the floor, in the same spot where Tony threw his the night before. Gibbs pulls the blanket off the back of the couch and unfolds it.
As he's tucking it around Ziva, she wakes up partially. Her dark eyes open to thin slits, and she blinks up at him.
"Gibbs?" she asks, her voice a bit slurred because she's still half-asleep. "Why does your couch... smell like Tony?"
He wants to laugh, but he just smiles and brushes her hair back. "You're not the only one who crashes here," he says softly. Then, before she can close her eyes again, he leans in close and adds, whispering in her ear, "You know my door's always unlocked, Ziver." She doesn't answer, but a tiny smile plays across her lips, and Gibbs knows that she heard him.
He lingers there, bent over Ziva, for a moment longer, until she drifts back off to sleep. She's pulled out her ponytail, and he's struck by how young she looks with her hair loose. It's easy to forget she's the youngest of his kids. There's a faint, still-fresh scar on her forehead, near her hairline, leftover from the gash she got when the elevator ceiling fell in on her and DiNozzo. His Senior Field Agent had suffered a concussion too, but even with a concussion, he'd gritted his teeth, glared at Gibbs, and insisted that it came from years of head-smacks, not the explosion.
Finally, when he's sure that she's asleep again, Gibbs kisses her cheek and heads back upstairs to sleep in bed. The pillowcases still smell faintly like Abby's rose-scented shampoo - Gibbs gets a whiff of it every time he kisses her temple - and for the first night since the explosion, he sleeps soundly.