AN: First of all, thank you again to the guests who weren't signed in. Your support is appreciated very much.

Second – I made a real blooper with that knife, as two kind friends reminded me. Of course Eddie wouldn't have been able to have got off a plane with a knife on him; he'd never have got on with one in the first place. And turning around now and saying ceramic would just be trying to weasel out of it – so, sorry... my bad.

I've tried researching a medical emergency room at RR airport, kept getting directed to UCLA – gave up, invented one. My bad again...

Got to get this chapter out today, going to Veeps' tomorrow for a couple of days.

Sideways and Forwards

Chapter 16

The bull pen was deserted; looking over towards DiNozzo's position Gibbs saw that those two desks were also unoccupied, and it was 08.30 hours. At first he was tempted to snort derisively; then he reminded himself that they'd solved two cases yesterday and cleared him of possible involvement in one of them, and realised that he ought to be grateful, and that maybe they were entitled to a late start.

McGee hadn't updated him on the arrests; he only just realised this, and thought again of how he seemed to be going backwards; but then, he'd been somewhat preoccupied last night and this morning. He'd worked a little on his boat, made an important phone-call, had a night-cap, and slept well, in his bed.

He was curious to know what had gone down; he wondered why DiNozzo had been so interested in his old CO for instance, but he was a man Gibbs had never cared to remember, and didn't want to think about now, as he walked slowly up the stairs to Jenny's sanctum.

The Director's door was wide open; it had been since she'd arrived, since she'd had the feeling that Jethro would appear at some point, probably sooner rather than later, and she didn't want to put Cynthia through the usual bother of trying to stop him – or herself through the 'why don't you knock' routine. She looked up, and was surprised to see him moving more slowly than usual; he actually paused a little on the threshold before meeting her eyes and entering the room. Oh my...

"Sit down, Jethro." She shot a look at Cynthia, who nodded her understanding, rose from her desk and closed the door on them. They sat down in the armchairs and Jenny waited, radiating composure, for all that she felt a mixture of sadness and anxiety.

Enough of the diffidence. "Need some time, Jen. Had some already... I know. Wasn't enough – don't think I used it right."

"I'd agree. You didn't come back rested or even half-way healed."

Gibbs shrugged. "Maybe half-way's about as much as I can hope for. Came back, took it out on everyone." He told her about the rigorous health check he'd put himself through the previous day, and then began to tell her about his encounter with Abe Levine, and she smiled.

"I've met Doctor Levine. He's a one-off; I'm glad you've spoken to him. Nice choice, Ducky. Go on."

By the time he got to the end of his narrative, Jenny felt a little less anxious, but the sadness persisted. Whatever happened, this was the end of an era.

"I couldn't figure out why I couldn't remember – he says I'm stopping myself. Making myself angry."

"And he feels that as long as you're around everything that makes you angry, that's just going to go on happening."

He met her eyes again and nodded. "Took me three hours of sitting doing nothing to accept that he's right, Jen."

There was a pause as Cynthia brought in industrial strength coffee, then Jenny went on, "So, how long do you need? And Jethro, how are you going to make sure that this time you benefit from it?"

She could actually see him going on the defensive, and if he'd said 'none of your business' she'd have at least threatened to fire him, but he relaxed again. "How long? I don't know. Know it doesn't help you. What am I going to do?" He shifted in his chair, and leaned back. Once he'd told someone, it wasn't his secret any more and he didn't feel he could go back on it. "Last boat I built... the 'Stephanie' apparently... she's down at a boatyard on Oconquon Bay. Being fitted out with the engine, the galley, all that. The guy was going to sell her for me, take his cut... what I usually do."

"Except for the 'Diane'... you burned that."

He smiled wryly. "So I'm told. Think I actually remember something about that. I talked to him last night, she's almost ready to go. He's just fitting the GPS, and by Sunday he'll have the sails rigged. Gonna take her for sea trials, Jen. I'll coast-hop down to Florida, then across to the West Indies. Maybe mooch around there for a week or two... When I feel like my head's on straight, I'll come back." He paused. "It's either that or go on hating the world until it gets me killed. Or worse, somebody else."

He took several pulls at his coffee waiting for Jenny to speak, then finally said, "You're going to tell me I can't have open ended leave, and ask for my resignation. It's all right... don't want to go, Jen, but I don't see what else you can do."

The way he'd been roaring around the place since his return, she was staggered to find him peacefully seeing her point of view; she'd have to thank Abe Levine as soon as possible. She knew the wise Jewish psychologist wouldn't give away any doctor-patient private information, but he might be able to tell her something to help her to help Jethro...

"You're too valuable to NCIS for me to consider losing you altogether," she said calmly. "On a personal level, I want to see you well. Recovered. Something approaching happy. I want you to be able to lose your demons somewhere on the high seas. I want you to know that the agency you were doing your duty for when you suffered the injuries that did this to you, isn't going to abandon you. There'll be something waiting for you when you return – don't ask me what, I don't know. We can thrash that out when I welcome you back, the next time you sit here. But... it won't be MCRT."

That was a blow to the guts, even though he'd been expecting it, and he tried to conceal it. "I understand that."

"Do you? I can't let our top team be destabilised again – Tony barely got them through it last time, and I don't think any of them understood that he did. I can't do it to them again, have them wondering if you're coming back again – and I certainly won't do it to him. DiNozzo gets MCRT, and he won't be required to step down when you return. And any misguided attempt to do so won't be accepted."

"Why would he do that?"

"He did this time."

"Yeah, but why?"

"Jethro, there are a lot of things I hope you'll remember, and believe me, that's somewhere up the top of the list. You haven't asked about him, by the way."

His heart seemed to twitch in alarm. "Asked what about him?"

Jenny paused; either Tim McGee had been remiss in not keeping Gibbs in the picture or... of course... he'd been ordered not to. She sighed. "I believe you need to talk to your Senior Field Agent. I'll look into what sort of pay deal is still available to you during your leave of absence, and let you have it in writing. When do you want to start your leave?"

Gibbs frowned. That felt cold. Now it came down to it starting was going to be hard... "Couple'a days? Need to leave everything in order."

"Today and tomorrow, then, or to the end of the week if you need it." She stepped close and hugged him briefly. "Good luck, Jethro." After he'd gone she sat back down in the easy chair, staring into space and trembling slightly.

Gibbs paused on the mezzanine, looking down. McGee sat at his desk, tapping keys, watching his screen. The Marine frowned again; was that a subtle hint from Jenny? He'd not actually made the young man his SFA... why not? Not good enough? He seemed competent, the little attention he'd paid. He still thought of DiNozzo in that position? Couldn't let go? Bang on cue, that damn headache... he pushed the thought away and set off down the stairs. He felt rather guilty, when McGee looked up and saw him, at the way the younger agent firmly composed his features into a determined smile.

"Morning, Boss. Ziva's fetching breakfast; I asked her to bring some extra when I saw your car was here."

Gibbs nodded; he tried to shape his mouth around a 'thank you', but it just wouldn't come out. He managed a grunt that wasn't actually rude, as he sat down. His gut was churning for some reason. "So, tell me about the cases, then."

NCISNCISNCIS

Carmody was fortunate, as Alex knelt on his kidneys, that Airport Security arrived quickly. Looking to the side, where Tony was by now sitting on the ground, still clutching his shoulder, head down on his drawn-up knees, she'd decided if the Marine tried anything else she'd shoot him.

Tony was fortunate that the airport had a competent medical emergency team, courtesy of their Fire and Rescue Service; they cleaned and stitched the two inch gash, splinted a broken left index finger, gave him antibiotics, painkillers and a sling, set up a plasma IV and left him in peace until it had run. After that, they said, it would be up to him and his partner where they took him, although they'd be happy to arrange transport. That suited Tony just fine; as the waves of pain, light-headedness and nausea subsided he was already making plans, which didn't include being forcibly shoved into an ambulance and hauled off to the nearest hospital, with all the ensuing hassle of signing himself out AMA.

Alex thought she was fortunate, when Tim and Ziva arrived – surely they'd be able to talk Tony out of this crackpot idea?

He lay back and closed his eyes, breathing deeply. Alex was safe; Carmody was in safe custody, checked over for concussion by the same helpful medics, until they could get him to NCIS, and that was where Tony was going. A quiet, masculine voice said his name, and he opened his eyes. "Hey, McSuperior, Ziva," he said with a lazy smile. "Did it work?"

"Oh yeah," Tim said with a grin. "I left him in Interrogation 1, yelling at the mirror. It's all being filmed. I read out big extracts from Shirlee's statement; the bit that really got him going was when I mentioned him trying to keep her piano when she left – 'to stop her turning any other marine's kid into a fag'. Sam and three of his high school friends waited until he was deployed again, put it on a pick-up truck, and took it to her new place, where her employer had happily made room for it."

"That word happily sent him off at the steep end," Ziva said. "He yelled about her making his son into a... pansy, yes? Not a daisy... He screamed that nobody could be happy with someone who turned a... oh, the language just got worse; you would not want me to repeat it, but someone who did not have the courage to admit he had committed a crime, and forced his so called fatherto cover for him. We both witnessed that, and it is on film. He still does not believe that Sam is really his son,or that he did not kill Dane, in spite of anything we could say – he does not want to. But I believe we have him."

"I believe we have," Tim agreed. "Now, what about you? I know you got Carmody, Alex filled us in. She's gone to get you a new shirt from somewhere; she wants us to persuade you to go to the nearest hospital. I gather you've already said no; but shouldn't you?"

Tim had waited for a string of arguments, but Tony had simply said 'no way', and asked them to transport the prisoner back to NCIS. "Get Ducky to check him over, if he's fit to be interrogated he's all yours. Get a confession and send him off to remand. I'll join you when this has run... and I get a shirt."

"Join us?" Tim had protested.

"Oh yes. I want to talk to Colonel Daddy."

NCISNCISNCIS

By now Ziva had arrived, and she wordlessly handed Gibbs a warm paper bag. He took it just as quietly, not wanting to interrupt Tim's story. "So," he said finally, "DiNozzo came back here last night? Even though you'd got Neville to incriminate himself?"

Tim nodded. "Yes," he said matter-of-factly. "Tony hadn't finished with him. He spoke to Sam Neville in MTAC yesterday, and came down with something on his mind. He got Alex to bring him back here, even though he'd – reluctantly – agreed to make the journey from the medical room to the car in a wheelchair... he walked from the car to the observation room, then told Alex she should go home to her daughter as it was getting late. He said if she really wanted she could watch the film later. She didn't much like it, but she did as he said. She's a good probie – knows when to follow instructions. He marched in there like he'd just got up after a good ten hours sleep, and sat down. The Colonel had run out of steam earlier, but he started up again. Tony said one word."

"Shush."

"What?"

Tony's voice had been quiet, flat... and scary. "You heard me, Colonel. I'm in no mood to listen." The Colonel's mouth had dropped open. "So... you've admitted that you corrupted an innocent woman to go and do your dirty work... forced her away from a job she loved..."

"I never said that!"

"No, she did. So did her new employer. As I was saying... you forced her to take the evidence from NCIS, and you disposed of your son's car."

"He's not -"

"Shush. Pity you sold it... but no doubt you found the money useful, the Corps doesn't pay too well. If you'd had any sense you'd have pushed it into a lake. Means I can only charge you with tampering with evidence, not destroying it. Your son's still got that car – he loves it, see? And we're not remotely interested in it, because it's not evidence."

"What d'you mean, not evidence?"

"Shush. D'you think your son would still be driving around in it if it was? Letting his wife drive it? 'Oh honey, I know you love the Impala, don't worry that it killed a man'..."

"It did! That car killed a real Marine..."

"You're not listening..."

"Tony practically sang the words, Boss. I've never seen him so fired up in interrogation."

"A Toyota Land Cruiser, driven by a 'real Marine' killed Dane Lishman, and I just arrested the 'real marine' concerned. You, on the other hand... you tampered with evidence rather than taking your son's word for it that he was innocent." Airquotes - "'For the honour of the Corps' you made a young woman so scared she fled the country, and unless I can cut her some sort of deal she can't ever come back... 'For the honour of the Corps' you made her destroy what little evidence we had, that might have helped us to find the real killer way sooner, and blamed your son for -"

"That bastard isn't my son!"

"He had the evidence folder there, and I don't know how he opened it so smoothly, at the right place, one handed – but he slapped the DNA printouts under the guy's nose so hard he flinched."

"Now, I don't expect you to understand any of this... but this one here is Sam... and this one here, well this is you. I don't understand it either... but I know a guy who does. Your DNA print from the registry, and Sam's. Samuel is your son, more's the pity, I had to tell him so."

"Pity?"

"That's right. He'd been hoping you were right."

"What?"

"Neville almost fell off his chair, Boss."

"What I said... He's a Bronze Star Marine, he's going to be a Dad... and he was really hoping that you weren't his kid's grandpa."

"He got everything together, swept it up and marched out of the room... I still don't know what got to him so much... he never talks about his father... I don't know. Anyway, we wondered why he didn't come into observation. I ran out and found him slowly sliding down the wall. I got my shoulder under his and propped him up, and decided to do what I'd been told. Alex isn't the only one who knows when to follow instructions."

"Which instructions were they, Tim?" Ziva asked curiously.

"Alex's of course. 'If you don't get him to my place when you're done, you're a dead man, McGee. Don't take any shit from him.'" So I didn't. I left him sitting on the stairs until we'd finished dealing with the lovely Colonel, then said goodnight to you and went back for him."

NCISNCISNCIS

"There... he'll be fine till morning... I'll be in the room next door anyway."

Tim had had the forethought to persuade Tony to take a couple of painkillers as they'd begun the drive over, and now they'd gotten a sleepy, half compliant rag doll stripped down to his boxers and into Alex's bed. "Can't take... your bed... mi Prueba..."

"Sshh... I'll share with Jaz, she thinks it's fun. Go to sleep." And in a matter of moments, he had.

"So, he's OK?"

"Well, no, Boss, he should be in a hospital, but he won't go. He's in the next best place though, Alex'll take care of him. I guarantee he'll be back here before the week's out. Alex said she'd be in later to take care of paperwork, but her aunt and her little girl would keep him in order while she's gone."

The three of them settled at their desks, and thought their own thoughts.

Ziva wondered if she would still be here at the end of the week. Tony seemed to be well established with his probie and his two person team; Gibbs and Tim could certainly carry on without her; things were changing...

Gibbs knew he wouldn't be here at the end of the week, and wondered how and when he'd be back. He didn't like the thought of an injured DiNozzo beyond his reach, and he couldn't figure why... He took out the necessary form for making McGee up to SFA; he could at least do that one thing for both of them; he could ensure that McGee got the promotion he'd earned, and DiNozzo could have the second he needed when he took over. For good measure, he picked up the phone and quietly asked Ducky to go make a house call.

Tim thought of sitting drinking coffee with Alex last night, side by side on her settee.

"He saved my life yesterday – or at least saved me from becoming a hostage... he didn't wait to find out which, he just did it."

Tim nodded. "A bit over a year ago, he saved me, and Kate. Took over holding a key to stop a bomb from detonating... just told us to get out of there, then when we were clear, he out-ran it. He drives me crazy sometimes, but in a crunch, he's always there for you, you know?"

"Yes... I think I do." She sighed, thinking of everything she'd learned, that had drawn her in, in such a very short time. "What's going to happen, Tim?"

"I don't know... it's been bad. Things have to change... but," he paused, and then went on, "I think your arrival's been a good thing – maybe it's an indication – the changes might be good... for the best, even."

They clinked coffee mugs in a toast to hope.

TBC

AN: Shades of Tony, Gibbs and beer bottles... next chapter won't be up until Sat. at the earliest... visit to VP, and other less fun more work RL do do first.