AN: The last chapter... some thanks due!
To the un-logged in reviewers, especially kubotr who pops up to encourage, to Gail for her Creggibility assurance, Laine for a really helpful time-line comment, and Ytteb for many thought-provoking remarks that've given me an idea or two, including a belter (well I think so) for this chapter... and everyone else who's trotted through the trilogy with Tony and Doris the Wonder Horse.
I Thought You Were a Lady
In the extra ninety minutes Molly Parker had stayed in bed, two men had died and the object of her lurid imagination had taken a teenage girl in his arms. If she'd seen the aftermath of the gunfight at Gunnerson's, Molly might have revised her opinion of what was important in life, but she slept on.
Tim stood looking at the scene, and thinking again, just for a moment, of the OK Corral. Prisoners were being rounded up by hard looking men who'd descended by rope from the 'copters; shards of glass spilled out like an avalanche and the hole the glass had left gaped.
Two bodies lay on the asphalt, blood splashed on immaculate coat and dirty jeans, and running onto the tarmac. Tony had placed himself between the girl who was still sobbing into his shirt, and her father, lying, still cuffed, close by. Something caught Tim's eye, as he bent to retrieve Tony's cuffs; it was the wisp of tissue he'd seen before. Cardoza must have been clutching it right up until the moment his restrained hands had gone for Burns' throat. He bent and picked it up, feeling the hard object wrapped in it, and took it to Tony, holding it out silently.
His friend took it with a nod of thanks, and as Tim turned away to do other things, his eyes widened as he looked past Tony, and he smiled briefly. Still silently, he pointed, towards the trail that came down behind the gas-station; Simon Townley was frog-marching a stray gunman, a head taller than himself, back to join his friends. He looked Tim in the eyes, then Tony, who craned his head round to see, and they both knew his triumphant look would have been a broad grin if he hadn't taken in the scene. Tony sketched a tiny salute – honour satisfied all round.
Another figure moved in between them; or rather two figures. Detective Lautner was steering Marguerite Bresson, her hands cuffed behind her, towards one of the many squad cars, but the businesswoman stopped, and took one involuntary step towards Tony. He waited. Marguerite looked for a long time at her boss, then frowned down in an attempt to look at the bruise on her cheek. Her face was unreadable. Only after that long stare, did she transfer her attention to her former lover, then to her daughter.
Angelica seemed to feel the gaze on her, or she felt Tony stiffen, and she lifted her head. The first thing she saw was the pair of Audley of London shoes, and her gaze went slowly, hesitantly upwards past the Dior suit until she met her mother's eyes.
Marguerite didn't speak at first, then she looked at Tony and spoke to him, the stranger comforting her daughter. Her face just as expressionless, she said flatly, "She's better off without me," and allowed the detective to lead her away before Angelica could find her voice.
The teenager didn't start to cry again; she sat for a moment, then turned back to Tony. "Am I?" she asked forlornly.
"I think..." he replied slowly, "I think it's her way of protecting you. Prison's no place for you to be visiting, when you should be studying, or enjoying time off with your friends... she's used to you seeing her in Dior – she's used to being in Dior... Just... give her time. She might change her mind in the end. She might need you one day – that'd be something!"
"Yeah... she might need me..." Angelica echoed sadly.
She tried to look past him at her father's body, and he didn't attempt to stop her. She reached forward to touch Ray's face softly, and then looked back at Tony. Her voice shook as she said, "Can we go somewhere else now? I... I've said goodbye."
Tony helped her to her feet, and started to steer her towards the diner. "Look, kiddo," he said seriously, "this is as bad as it gets. This is the lowest point - "
"You're going to tell me that time'll heal it all." There was a trace of the old belligerence.
"Yeah, sort of. You know these things never completely go away, but yeah, you'll heal, if you want to. And you already made that decision just now."
"Yep... when you decided not to bend my ears with another dose of language."
"Wha – oh, you're right. I'm not going to do that any more."
"You don't have to. Sit a minute."
Min had already swept glass fragments from some of the seats, and stood with his broom, watching them but not speaking.
Tony opened his palm, and showed Angelica the wad of tissue. "This was in your Dad's hand all the time he was behind that wall with us, right until he dashed out to help you." He didn't mention just when they guessed he'd dropped it.
The teenager took it, her eyes widening; she knew what it was before she unwrapped it. A moment later, the little purple crystal, with its tiny silver loop, lay in the palm of her hand.
"He saw it on the floor of that coffee shop," Tony told her. "You dropped it – somehow it came off your fob after you took your car key off it. He picked it up so it wouldn't get lost, and he wanted to give it back to you."
She looked out into the parking lot, but the coroner's men had already quietly taken Ray's body, and parked their van between the diner and Jack Burns. Tony wondered who'd given them that idea. When she looked back, a mug of hot chocolate had appeared in front of her; Min nodded wisely as he walked away. Angelica wrapped her hands round the mug, and dented the froth on top of the drink as one huge tear landed in it.
Since they did fix it, and nothing went pear-shaped, as Simon had feared, he and Mary did get married on the date they'd planned. It was about as good a day as the gunfight at the diner had been a bad one; with the service at the local Episcopalian church, and a picnic on the green lawn outside the dam offices, since the staff of the News and Informer remained on excellent terms with the Four Dams Administration.
The food was provided by Scott Milner's company, which was thriving since he'd elected to stay an honest man, and a hero, after the dam drama; Liz had offered, but Mary had insisted that she and Min took a day off to be guests instead. Doris was dressed for the occasion with a garland of braided hay and fall flowers, which she ate as soon as she got the opportunity.
Tony was happy to see Adam's grandparents, Jessica's mother and father there; Simon had been worried what they'd think, but their presence, happy if slightly wistful, reassured the groom's friend that the future for the family looked just what he'd have wished for them.
The food was delicious, and Tim, who was a connoisseur of such things, took a bite of a very tempting cup-cake with purple frosting. His eyes closed in total pleasure. Ziva saw his ecstatic expression, and tried one herself; she too sank into instant bliss. Gibbs and Tony exchanged a puzzled look. "D'you think they've got hash in them, Boss? Like in 'I Love You Alice B Toklas'?"
Gibbs' bewilderment intensified, and he reached for a cup-cake himself. He fell as utterly silent as his junior agents as he munched. Scott grinned and came over. "Added to my lines a week ago," he told Tony. "Already proving a best seller." He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and handed it to the agent. "This might explain a bit."
Scott said he'd give this to you for me... I wanted to be there but I've got exams tomorrow. It seems easier, although I spend a lot of my spare time at the diner, or the dam, or the stables, or the newspaper – they all want to keep their eye on me, Tony, you wouldn't believe how kind they are. Well, you would.
What was I saying? Oh yes, it seems easier for us to meet up in DC cuz we never seem to be in Duet at the same time. One day maybe we'll go riding together... I'll bring Jayce.
Jayce? He gave me the amethyst, remember? Now we're an item. He made the cakes. Well, I helped, but I'm going to be the business side of the business. We started off in his mom's kitchen, but we couldn't keep up with the demand – Angelica's Heavenly Cup-cakes, his secret recipe – so when Liz introduced us to Scott, he tried them, said he'd help us market them, and found us a corner in his factory.
Like I said, I'll do the business side, and Scott says there's a job for me in his admin as well if I want it when I finish my studies. Who can tell the future – but it's better than I expected... and I think Jayce and me will stay together. As in always.
How am I? I have moods when I feel really down and sad, but he's there for me, and I remember what you said last time we met about living up to what my dad did for me, so I do, and how lucky have I been to have such good people to help me? I'm so glad I met them. I'm so glad I met you!
My mom wrote me; she's on remand, says she'll write again when she knows how she feels about what the future holds, and asks me to be patient. So I will be. She set up a trust fund for me, so she's looking after me, maybe the only way she knows how.
Btw... why do the Heavenly Cup-cakes – and they are, aren't they – have purple icing? You know the secret...
See you again soon. And I know I'm always saying thanks, but thanks.
They walked up on the dam, full again now, and peaceful under the October sky, and the team, noticing Tony's thoughtful – and unusual – silence, gravitated to his side. He passed the letter around, and they understood. The ever telepathic Doris looked up at them from the base of the dam, and huffed in her usual manner, then went on eating for two, her garland, the grass, the one remaining cup-cake, and everything else she could see.
The determined gossip and her sidekick down in the evidence garage had fallen out big-time with Molly the Mole, and were now having to supply their own scuttlebutt. After they'd scoffed at her claims that the girl's name was Liz, then Doris, then Dora, then Angelica – where on earth had she got that one from – they then went on to work out when the baby she'd insisted was imminent really was due. The latest possible would have been February, and it was now the end of March, and when they'd accused her of making the whole thing up, she'd taken umbrage and wouldn't spy any more. Well, not for them, anyway.
She didn't admit that she'd almost been caught by Officer David, when she'd tried to open another of those envelopes, and it had scared her so witless that she'd hardly thought of the saga of Tony's girl for a week; and although now she was, and the frustration was gnawing away at her, she was getting no-where.
Christmas came and went, and there'd been an odd atmosphere around the time when she thought the baby must be due, when Agent DiNozzo seemed to be under some pressure. She'd lurked by the staircase and heard Gibbs telling him he'd made him proud, but she couldn't fit that anywhere into her calculations... except maybe that Tony was going on supporting the girl even though she'd betrayed him... it was all getting silly, even by her standards, and she'd actually fallen out with her pals because of it. It was time to stop. She didn't care about it anyway. She really meant it. There... fixed. She gave her trolley a shove, set off on her evening collection round, and trundled into the bull-pen with a weight lifted off her shoulders.
Gibbs phone rang, and the man himself came hurrying round the corner to answer it.
"Boss... it's happening!
"You sure? There was a false alarm three days ago."
"No, Boss, Sally says this time it's for real. I was on my way home and she called, so I'm already half-way there and going like the stuff off the shovel."
"Sally says so, Amos is quite happy, only one who's having discumbobulations is me! I might need tomorrow off, Boss!"
"You might need tomorrow off? Ya think? Ya need me to come?"
"Need? No. Si and Adam are going over... Want, yes. If you want to come, be glad to see you. Up to you, Boss."
"On my way. I'll let the others know." Molly stood transfixed as Gibbs strode to the elevator.
Tony ran up the yard; the single light burned as all the other horses had been settled for the night, but there was an air of restlessness over the place. Bugs and Elmer, who lived out all year round, stood at the fence, and there was restless huffing and stamping from one or two of the boxes.
"Tony, come on son, you're needed here. Talk to the lady!"
The agent needed no second bidding, Doris was standing with her neck screwed right round, legs splayed, staring at her swollen flank in indignation. She still huffed happily when she saw him, but her attention went back to her strange internal sensations. She'd felt the foal move so many times over the months, and welcomed the feeling, her instincts telling her what was happening, and now she knew she had a job to do; but she was the most uncomfortable she'd ever been in her life, and she was trying to figure the best way to cope with it.
She lowered her head and pushed her broad forehead against Tony's chest, and he rubbed her ears and talked nonsense to her, until a spasm made her jerk her neck up again, and he had to lean back or be hit under the chin.
"Easy, gal..." She looked at him apologetically, and he rubbed her neck, nose and ears; any way he could to make her feel better. After about half an hour of her standing like that or walking small circles round her box, (during which time Sally went to make hot chocolate which she wondered if they'd ever drink – 'Don't worry,' Tony had told her, 'cold chocolate's fine!') Doris had lowered herself rather carefully down to the thick straw, knees first, then letting her back end follow very gently.
Amos picked her tail up and moved it out behind her, peered at her business end, and said quietly, "Yes, things look fine." He tucked a piece of clean sacking under her behind. "So the straw's still clean for her when we're done," he said quietly. Tony had watched birthing films, and knew what to expect if things were going well, but even so, his breath hitched at the sight of one tiny hoof beginning to appear. He scrambled back round to his mare's head, and started talking to her again. She nuzzled him occasionally, but most of her attention was on what she was doing; sometimes she'd raise her head from the straw to inspect the proceedings, but then she'd lie down again and huff distractedly.
"Is she OK?" Tony asked anxiously.
"She's doing fine, Tony. Textbook. Did I tell you I heard back from the stallion owners? They've both said that if the standard DNA test concurs, they'll acknowledge, and the foal can be registered in the stud book of both breeds."
Now Tony was distracted. "That... that's brilliant, Amos... gotta thank you for all the trouble... you sure she's OK?"
"Look here, then, we've got a nose!"
Tony looked, in wonder. The foal's head was beginning to come, still covered in the white amniotic membrane. Doris grunted and pushed, and Amos wrapped brown hands carefully round the small knees. "Give us another good push, me lady," he said softly, and when she did, he pulled. She swung her head round once more, then laid it down on Tony's knees and got on with things. Another push, a pull from Amos, a couple more, "She doesn't need me now," he said gruffly, and a few moments later the mare gave an enormous huff as the foal slipped out in a rush.
Amos cleared the sac away from its nose, and it took its first independent breath. Doris sat up as if the last forty minutes had never happened, and craned round to meet her offspring. A voice in the doorway breathed "Oh wow..." Tony hadn't even noticed Adam there with his Dad, the boy's eyes were as wide as his own. Amos cleared the membrane away; the foal was very dark, almost black from the amniotic fluid, but its mane and fluffy stub of a tail were lighter.
"Colt foal," Amos said cheerfully, "Big guy by the size of his feet. One white sock, -" Tony had already noticed the light forefoot, "and a star."
"We know who your Daddy is, little guy," Tony said. "Doris, you've been cavorting with a Quarter Horse."
"Blacktown Boxer," Simon said. He knew the story. "That's one fine sire, I applaud your taste, Doris."
The proud mom surged to her feet, carefully placing them away from her son. She bent her head down to him, as he raised his to look at her, and began to lick him round his head and neck, and after a while she nudged him. Come on, on your feet, laddie...
For the first time, Tony noticed Gibbs standing quietly looking over the door, and Sally with a video camera. The next ten minutes worth of Doris persuading her new foal to stand up would be a clip he'd treasure for the rest of his life. When he had all four legs braced, and was busy looking for a meal - ("They never need teaching that,") Amos said happily, Doris huffed proudly – at least Tony thought so, at him. Look at my lovely baby!
He patted her and told her what a wonderful girl she was, and then looked at Adam.
"He needs a name, Adam. He's half Quarter Horse and half Morgan, and he's very special. What will you call him?"
"Me? You want me to give him a name?"
"A boy should have a horse, living out here in the mountains," Tony told him. "Doris trusts you, I trust you, Amos trusts you... you and your horse should grow up together, learn to look after each other... he's yours if you want him."
Adam stood with his mouth open. "If I want him..." he finally said slowly, then he stepped into the box and flung his arms round Tony. Doris head-butted them both.
"You see, she agrees."
Adam tentatively reached out to touch the colt's neck, and Doris didn't try to stop him, although she watched closely. The foal didn't object either. "DiNo," the boy said finally. "With a big N like in your name. DiNo, son of Doris."
They decided to put poor Molly out of her misery. Her eavesdropping had got a bit obvious, and the morning that she left one of those envelopes on Tony's desk and looked at it hungrily, they decided to take pity on her. When she passed the bull-pen on her way back, there was nobody around, but the glossy photo of a dark chestnut mare and her star-faced foal was lying on Tony's desk. 'Doris and son', and yesterday's date was on the corner, and up on the mezzanine, the SFA saw the light-bulb snap on above Molly Parker's head.
As she raced out of the squad-room so fast her cart rattled, Vance said quietly at his elbow, "I think she's been in the mail room long enough... she's going to actually snoop before too long. I've asked HR to find her another position where she can't get into trouble."
Tony nodded, impressed. "That's very kind, Director. And very wise, if I may say so."
Vance humphed and went back to his office.
Down in the evidence garage, Molly danced out of the elevator. "I found out! I know what it's all about, " she squealed delightedly.
"What what's all about?"
"Agent DiNozzo... and the pregnant girlfriend! It's not a girl... it really is a horse! And she's had her baby! Tony's 'girl' is a horse!"
The determined gossip looked at her for a moment as if she'd just proved she was a few twigs short of a broomstick.
"Molly... that's really going too far. It's not just ridiculous... it's sick!"
"No... wait..." the voices disappeared into the depths of the evidence cavern.
Hope you enjoyed... nobody's picked up on nosey Molly's surname, btw!