A/N: To our readers in the Philippines, my thoughts and prayers go out to you, your families and friends.
Chapter Thirty Six
On the Big Fish: Five Months, Three Weeks and Six Days…
Thirty minutes later, Ziva's new phone chirped at her. Surprised, she answered it and then held it out to Gibbs. He answered cautiously, thinking it was Ziva's father. "This is Gibbs."
"That's more polite than I've ever heard you in my entire life and I've been to two of your weddings, Jethro."
"Tobias! What's going on, how are you on Ziva's burn phone?"
"Because Abby is one smart cookie and might have seen some security footage from the Coast Guard ship last night, footage of Ziva talking on a phone with Ducky standing by looking as forlorn as I've ever seen the man. Anyway, Abby figured out who Ziva would have called from the Sailfish. When your ship didn't stop when hailed, I had to find another way to reach you, so I called Director David and surprise, he knew who I was - we can discuss that some other time - and I found out he'd made a formal complaint to the State Dept. and the United Nations, neither of which SecNav had seen fit to share with us. By the time I spoke with Morrow, he'd heard but not before that travesty of a video conference, Jethro, I swear."
"Ok, so that's a nice long story, Tobias, tells me nothing new. I already know SecNav is gunning for us. Did the Director of Mossad tell you that we're on our way to becoming Israeli citizens? "
Fornell gulped, "Geez, Gibbs! That's a great backup plan, if pretty drastic. So you don't trust anyone."
"You and maybe Morrow."
"Ok, good I'm thankful I'm still on your good side, Jethro because I gotta tell you, seeing you on that screen, I wanted to jump through and do something really unmanly."
"Can't hug a screen, Tobias."
"My point exactly."
"We've got it worked out. The Secretary of State overruled the SecNav, who by the way is curiously friendly with the spooks at Langley. You will all be welcomed home, including our favorite Israeli, with open arms and I gotta warn you, they're talking White House visits. Tom opted not to wait so your families are being notified now. As soon as you agree to turn about and come home, Madam Secretary will hold a press conference joyfully announcing your return from the dead. I don't know what cockamamie story she'll come up with but I hope it's better crafted than the crap your former Director put out at your supposed death. No one who knew any of you for longer than 5 minutes believed that one!"
Gibbs felt his gut unclench but after their experience with the Coast Guard, had a question for Tobias. It was an old code they'd used for years to determine if the other one was acting under outside influence, under duress. He posed the question and Fornell gave him back the answer meaning "no duress, this is the real deal."
"Good, Tobias. Does Director David know all this?"
"Yes, I started to update him but he'd already been contacted by State and the UN. He's happy, well, I doubt that man is ever happy, but he's pleased his daughter is alive and assured me she is welcome to continue her work with you. And Jethro, the Sailfish has been ordered out of the vicinity and your special package, now theirs, will be helo'd into DC. And don't worry about their Captain, Morrow spoke with him privately and got a copy of SecNav's orders so we know he was following orders."
"Don't give a rat's about him, Tobias, except to hope he never crosses paths with any of us. All right, I need to talk to my crew and see what we want to do. Call me back in 10 minutes?"
"Is your ship still underway? Abby said we'll lose contact if you get beyond some coordinates she gave me."
"Not going to happen."
"Ok, 10 minutes my friend. I hope it is good news, if not I'll come visit you in Israel."
"Or on our island, Tobias, we might just end up going back there."
"Wow, ok, I'm disconnecting. .Soon!"
Gibbs took a deep breath as he disconnected and turned to his crew who of course were no further than 3 inches away from him. He chuckled, "One of you should have reached over and hit the speaker button. Ok, how much did you hear?"
They clamored at him; he laughed this time and told them the gist of the conversation. The United States Government, in the person of the Secretary of State, had overruled the Secretary of the Navy, and was preparing to welcome them home, all of them including Ziva, with open arms. Further, Tom Morrow had taken it upon himself to notify their families that they were in fact very much alive.
There were sighs of relief and Mitas looked around realizing this had not been a ploy, nobody was laughing or congratulating Gibbs on his play. They really had been going to Israel. He thought about that, he'd voted for Israel because he really liked Ziva, he'd always wanted to visit the country and he figured they would stay there until the U.S. got its proverbial head out of its ass. And he didn't want to leave these people. He missed his brothers, yes, and he was glad they were being told he was alive, but he'd learned so much with these people, experienced so much, he wasn't ready to let them go.
Gibbs asked them for another vote on whether to risk going home or continuing to their rendezvous. Before they voted, Tim asked a question, "Boss, given all the crap that's been thrown at us, is there any possibility that Fornell was acting under duress?"
Mitas was puzzled, he knew what duress meant but in this case he was fuzzy on the context. Tim explained that he was asking if it was possible that Fornell was being forced to lie to Gibbs, was this really a trap of some sort. When Mitas nodded his understanding, Gibbs replied, telling them he'd used a code and Fornell had answered with the "no duress" answer.
There was another collective sigh of relief and then the vote was taken. It was again unanimous, this time for going home.
As they stood, still absorbing everything, Ziva's burn phone chirped again and she handed it to Gibbs to answer. This time he found the speaker button so they could all hear Fornell ask if there had been a decision made.
He gave an affirmative, "Yes, we're coming home."
Tobias actually cheered and that made them laugh, then their favorite FBI agent said, "There are a couple of people here with me who want to hear your voices."
Knowing that was Jimmy and Abby, the group nearly smothered Gibbs as they pressed close.
Ducky reached for the phone, his hands shaking with emotion. "Jimmy, can you hear me?"
They heard the tears in their friend's voice, "Yes, Dr. Mallard, it's so good to hear your voice. And the others - please can you each say something? Abby's crying too hard to talk right now, but just hearing you…"
Ducky managed to get out a "Hello Abby" past the lump in his throat. He handed the phone to Tim who was next to him. "Hi Jimmy, hi Abs, can't wait to see you two!"
Ziva grabbed the phone from him, "Shalom, my friends."
Tony smiled at her as he took it next, "Hi guys, we have a lot to tell you."
Mitas shook his head but the phone was forced into his hands, so he finally spoke, "Uh, hi Jimmy and Abby. You don't know me, I'm Cory Mitas, been with your family all this time."
Gibbs patted him on the shoulder and took the phone back, "Abs, Jimmy, we love you guys and can't wait to see you. Tony's right, we have a lot to share with you."
There was a pause and some indistinct talking in the background and finally they heard Abby's very teary voice, "I love you all so much, we knew you were alive, but nobody but Tobias believed us. Get home safely and fast please!"
Tobias came back on the line and told them that the Israeli government insisted that the U.S. Navy had proved itself untrustworthy in this situation, in other words they didn't trust the Secretary of the Navy to adhere to State's orders. To ease their concerns, a ship with UN Peacekeepers aboard had been dispatched and would escort them to DC and no U.S. Navy or Coast Guard vessels would be involved. Plans were made for their arrival and finally the call was disconnected.
That was when the cheering broke out and Mitas, who had had the camera in his possession since Gibbs had been taken off the ship, making sure to capture as much as possible, took advantage of his crewmates, taking copious photos of each of them as they bounced around the deck in sheer relief and joy that they were being welcomed home. They were suddenly full of energy and before they headed back to American waters, Tim thumbed through his music selection and then set the laptop up to play his selections full blast. His first one was "Born in the USA" courtesy of that other Boss, Bruce Springsteen, his second selection was "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood. They replayed both selections several times while Gibbs took the wheel and reversed course again, this time truly heading for home.
The UN ship rendezvoused with them that evening, that crew laughing when they heard "Born in the USA" still blasting off the Big Fish and saw the happiest crew any of them had ever laid eyes on. The two ships headed towards the mainland. It took them another day before they could see land and changed course to head south for their ultimate destination.
And so it was that five months, three weeks and six days after the NCIS group took off from the Anacostia-Bolling airfield, they passed it on their way to the Navy Yard. The UN ship accompanied them as far as the opening to the estuary and then blasted their proud farewell to them.
The crew of the Big Fish lined the rails near the prow as they motored through the estuary, the ship's batteries having never failed them on their voyage. Standing in the prow Tim and Tony, remembering their joke all those months ago, briefly held GG and Phyllis in their arms as they approached the Navy Yard waving at anyone they saw. Each member of the crew took the helm for a brief moment or two on their final approach, but it was Gibbs at the helm as they saw the Barry in front of them. There was an empty slip next to it and Gibbs carefully maneuvered the 'Fish into place, calling out orders to his crew. As he shut the engine off, his crew stood facing him with the biggest grins he'd ever seen. He walked out of the pilot's tower and stood grinning back at them as they snapped to attention, gave him a sharp salute and then swarmed him, cheering madly. They'd made it, they were home!
Well, except for the sequel
To my readers around the world, on every continent except Antarctica (darn those penguins!), thank you, it's been a pleasure sharing this with you and an immeasurable thrill for me to know that people in countries I've only dreamed of visiting are reading my words.