“Simply do not ask me what this is all about, parce que je ne sais pas, mes chers.”
January 28, 2008. Washington DC
McGee rolled his chair up to Tony’s desk and huffed.
“Alright, what is this about?”
He’d been watching Tony too. The senior agent had no idea how obvious his moping was. Of course Tim should have been paying more attention earlier that morning when Tony agreed to pick up his coffee for him. What could he say? Pre-caffeinated McGee was a slow and dim-witted McGee, sometimes. But post-punked was a different matter altogether.
He’d watched with growing exasperation (and sadness) as Tony went around pissing off pretty much everyone on their floor with his juvenile antics. He even went above and beyond this floor up to the Director’s office and whatever he did there made Cynthia scream so loudly even the interns heard her down in the evidence locker.
Of course, all that hyperactivity came to a grounding halt when Gibbs returned. He’d sported a death glare that Tony pretended he never saw. Usually, Gibbs wouldn’t stand to being ignored and a head-slap would be his response until a few months ago. But seeing how things were between the two (cold and distant) the team lead didn’t bother anymore. Tim almost hated him for it.
After that, Tony seemed to throw himself back into the Alvarez case with everything he’d got. He didn’t look up from his notes and his computer until well after lunchtime.
Tim had been reviewing the case notes too. It didn’t bode well with him either that a South Korean assassin had sauntered into the country, killed a Navy veteran in cold blood, and escaped just hours, possibly minutes, before they cracked the case wide open. None of the airport customs authorities had spotted the man leaving the country – which meant he might still be here, which meant there was still a possibility they could apprehend him, which meant the case wasn’t closed yet.
So far though, he’d turned up jack-shit. But it looked like Tony was having a bit more luck. When Tim couldn’t stand the suspense anymore, he slid up beside the senior agent.
“Come on, DiNozzo. Use my brains. Leverage my strengths…” Tim started to grin, only for it to be cut short by Tony’s not-amused glowering.
He pushed a print-out lying on the table towards McGee. “That is Wan’s alleged flight itinerary over the last few weeks, sent over by our friends at Interpol.”
Tim skimmed through it. “He took a trip to Australia before coming to the States?”
Tony urged him to read on. It’s what DiNozzo always did – instead of just feeding him the info, he’d prompt Tim to discover the facts for himself.
“December 19, took a chartered flight to Sydney, just like he did to DC. The trip lasted five days, approximately the same time he spent in DC. You’re thinking he went there for the same reason he came to the States?”
“That was my hunch. I cross-referenced his stay in Sydney against any untoward incidences in and around the area. Took me awhile but as it turns out, I didn’t have to look too far.”
Tony picked up the clicker to pull something onto the big screen. It was the profile of another navy officer, blond, blue-eyed. “This is Petty Officer Drake Simmons, 38, single, no known living relatives. He retired eight years ago, and moved to Sydney four years ago. On December 21, Simmons took his boat ‘Sheila’ out to the Tasman Sea. He never returned.”
“How come NCIS wasn’t called in on this?”
“We were. It was picked up by a team in Rota, Spain. The only thing they managed to find was the wrecked Sheila a hundred klicks away off a coast in Port Kembla. They also found a bullet hole in the stern but no brass or bullets to identify its origins. I’ll bet you a hundred Aussie dollars it comes from the same gun Wan used to kill Alvarez.”
“Let me guess, Simmons and Alvarez knew each other?”
Tony smirked, and the wheels in Tim’s brain kept spinning.
“Simmons and Alvarez served together at Chinhae?”
“Go on, McSherlock.”
Tim frowned, “I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say Alvarez was not alone in the bar brawl that night. Was he?”
“Portman told us Alvarez and a couple others from his unit went to Kojedo Island that night. What if Simmons was one of those men? It fits, right? Maybe he was part of the fight, maybe he tried to defend Alvarez, maybe he was involved in the shooting, maybe not. Obviously James Heung Park believes he was, and wanted him dead. And from the looks of it, he succeeded.”
“But how does Park know these things? Portman said there was only one sketch – that of Alvarez?”
Tony punched in the number for Abby’s lab on the speaker phone. It was engaged. They frowned at each other before trying again. He was able to get through on the third attempt.
“Abby! Who were you chatting up for so long?”
“Um, Ziva. What’s up?” She sounded guilty to Tim’s ears, but hell, what did he know.
Tony got to the point. “That KNPA report from ten years ago… mind emailing me your exact translation script?”
“Alright, alright, I’m sending it, don’t be such a pootsie.”
The boys heard a female voice in the background asking, “What’s a pootsie?”
Tim frowned. “Isn’t that Ziva?”
Tony shook his head. “Abby, are you talking to Ziva on the phone with her right there in the room again?”
“What can I say, I had a lonely childhood.” And she hung up.
After a couple seconds of not-sure-what-just-happened-ness, Tony refreshed his mailbox and showed Tim the English version of the police report. It contained an eyewitness’ account describing three white men running away from the scene of the crime, talking in Americanese and heading towards the pier from where the ferries to Chinhae used to leave.
“The eyewitness was later deemed ‘not credible’ but doesn’t say why.”
“Someone put all this together for Park, right after he came into power,” Tony groused.
Tim squinted. “So does that mean he’s two down, and one to go? What if there were actually more than three? Portman said ‘a couple’. I hate it when people say ‘couple’ when actually they mean more than a couple because a couple by definition means two and –”
Tony leaned forward and whacked the back of his head, making him stop mid-rant. “Ow! Okay, I needed that.”
At least it made Tony grin, Tim thought happily. “So what do we do now? How do we find out who the other men were, whose lives might be in danger, if they aren’t dead already?”
“We go back to the source.” A loud voice boomed behind them. It was Gibbs. How long had he been standing there exactly? Damn, no wonder he’d made such a good spook in his time.
Gibbs headed towards MTAC, and Tony and Tim followed. Within minutes, they were online with Commander Portman, who once again looked miffed at being pulled out of a cadet training session. But considering he had falsified a report and if it weren’t for NCIS keeping it quiet (for now), he’d be court-martialed for it, Portman had no choice but to cooperate.
“Did you find Stefan’s killer, Agent DiNozzo?” The man shot skeptically.
Tony looked at Gibbs standing beside him, waiting for permission to react or see if Gibbs wanted to take it himself. When nothing was forthcoming, he stepped up and took the lead. Tim sat in the shadows, watching the interaction from a safe distance.
“Actually, I have more bad news, Commander. Another man from your unit, Petty Officer Drake Simmons is missing. We believe he was murdered at sea sometime last month. His body has not been recovered yet.”
The color faded from Portman’s face so fast it was almost comical.
Gibbs didn’t give the man any respite. “Who was the third man?”
Portman struggled to find the words, and Tony pressed him again, although he was infinitely gentler. “We just want to save as many as we can, Commander.”
Portman sighed heavily and looked down at his hands folded into his lap. Gibbs tilted his head to one side, then his shoulders heaved and Tim realized what his boss had just deduced.
“It was you, wasn’t it?”
Verbally, Portman neither confirmed nor denied.
“You were involved in both the brawl and the shooting, with Alvarez and Simmons.”
“It was an accident, Agent Gibbs,” Portman confessed miserably. “You must believe me.”
“The son you accidentally orphaned does not think so, Commander.”
Gibbs informed the Commander that NCIS would be sending a protection detail to Annapolis within the hour, and that he was to stay put until they got there, no matter what. Tim noted how Park had his assassin target his victims in ascending order of their naval ranks – Petty Officer, Chief Petty Officer, and finally Commander.
Once the line disconnected, Gibbs looked at the man standing beside him, and nodded subtly. “Good job, DiNozzo.”
Without waiting for an answer, the boss strode out of MTAC. Tim stood up and watched Tony’s features harden instead of melt into the happiness Tim was used to seeing (and hating) until a couple months ago. And by a couple he meant six.
“Cheer up, Tony,” he tried. “You love it when he says that.”
Tony spun to glare at Tim so darkly it forced the younger agent back a step. Without a word, he stalked off, not looking back at Tim who stood in his spot and sighed. “Not anymore, obviously.”
29th January, 2008. Washington DC
Damon rubbed the back of his neck tiredly as he loosened his tie and collapsed onto the couch in Gibbs’ living room. He hated wearing monkey suits with a vengeance, but they were a must for certain kinds of establishments, one of which he’d interviewed with today.
He’d barely just closed his eyes when the main door swung open and Gibbs walked in. Damon stood up immediately.
Gibbs huffed. “Stop doing that.”
Standing on attention every time the Gunny walked in on him? Yeah, a rather pointless gesture, considering Damon was no longer enlisted. Damon sat back down but did not slouch this time.
“How’d the interview go?”
Damon simply shrugged. So Gibbs tried again. “How’d the doctor’s appointment go?”
Damon frowned at that. “Fine, why do you ask?”
“You’ve been distracted, kinda long-faced, and cranky…”
Damon pursed his lips with indignation. “It’s not a withdrawal thing if that’s what you’re thinking. In fact, Doctor De la Casa is very happy with my progress. Don’t even have to take the low dosage anymore. I’m successfully weaned.”
“Good, keep it that way.” Gibbs nodded but he wasn’t appeased yet. “So what is it, then?”
Damon blinked, thinking fast. “I guess… uh, I’m starting to miss the gym? Used to spend every free hour working out, but now…”
“You can use the NCIS gym until you figure things out.”
“Are you sure? Won’t that be a problem?”
“Open to employees and their families. Come in tomorrow, I’ll take care of it.”
Damon’s eyes widened, mostly with surprise and gratitude. It had nothing to do with how petrified he was by the prospect of being under the same roof as Tony, or even ‘accidentally’ running into Tony. Nope, nothing at all.
Without waiting for a response, Gibbs turned toward the kitchen. “Prime rib okay?”
“Always!” Damon rushed after the older man to help start dinner.
They worked together in easy silence, preparing the steaks and a side of salad. It was mostly Damon’s idea – the salad – which Gibbs had warmed up to after the first couple of dinners, so long as he didn’t have to do any cutting or peeling or tossing.
When they sat down to eat Damon realized Gunny was like a German Shepherd with a bone caught in his jaw. “So how’d the interview go?”
Damon swallowed a particularly large piece of meat down quickly. “I think it was okay. It was long. These people, they… it’s a private military security firm based out of Langley, and they didn’t seem all that concerned about my… history.”
“They usually don’t,” Gibbs added, without looking away from his plate.
“And I know it’s probably a good thing for me, but I didn’t like the way one of the guys said – ‘the more dishonorable, the better’. I don’t know, maybe he was joking, maybe I’m reading too much into it.”
“Maybe you’re a marine.”
Damon smiled. How did the man do it? How could he say so much in so few words?
He felt fortunate and deeply indebted for Gunny’s unconditional support. But words and emotions were taboo in this house, and to be honest he preferred it that way himself.
“So, anyway, the offer is very lucrative. Other than the creepy smart-ass, the other folks I met seemed professional and cool. Might involve long-term international deployments, that part I’m not too thrilled about. I was kind of hoping to stick around closer to DC for awhile, you know… put some roots down for a change. Find a house, a car, a gym membership…”
Gunny smirked like he knew something Damon didn’t. “Who’s the girl?”
Damon’s heart jumped up into his throat. “Wh-what?”
“You wanna stick around here, you ain’t doing it for me.” He prodded, but after Damon spent the next few seconds on flustered and forced laughter, he seemed to let it go.
Damon went on to admit he didn’t think he would get it anyway, so it might be pointless by next week. He was acutely conscious of his self-doubts starting to surface again. And he was also acutely aware why that was.
He hadn’t gone a single minute all week without thinking of Tony, not even in his sleep.
“Gunny?” Damon ventured hesitantly, half hour later when they were down in the basement, working on the boat together. “Hypothetically speaking, if you had a daughter, w-would you let her date someone like me?”
“Someone like you?”
Damon licked his lips nervously. “Well, me. Would you be okay if she was seeing me?”
Gibbs narrowed his eyes dangerously, but Damon was braced. Hell, he’d come to expect that sort of intimidation tactic from the old man. “I’d have given you a very hard time. But knowing what I know of you now… who knows, maybe. Maybe not.”
“That’s neither here nor there.”
Gibbs scoffed, his proud shoulders drooping a bit. “I know you’ve figured it out. I had a daughter, once. She had her mother’s temper and my stubbornness. I knew I’d be a nightmare of a dad once she got old enough to date.”
Damon hadn’t intended to stir up old wounds for the man, and bit his lip guiltily. “No offence, Gunny, but any guy willing to take you on for your daughter, would be A-OK in my book.”
That did make Gibbs smile. A minute later he’d picked up a medium hammer and was ready to go back to the boat (not split Damon’s head open with it, thankfully).
“To answer your hypothetical question, I used to think the steroids made you dangerous ‘cause they took away your self-control. Now I see that even without them, you’re still dangerous. But then so was I. Shannon, Kelly’s mom, she taught me how to contain and channel my intensity into the right places. I guess what I’m trying to say is… it’s not just a question of you being right for my daughter, or anyone’s daughter for that matter. It’s also about whether the girl is right for you.”
Damon nodded, his thoughts promptly flying back to Tony and his uncanny ability to make Damon feel like all was right with his world, until Tony chose to walk out of it himself.
“Kelly would have been twenty-three years old today.” Gibbs continued morosely. “That’s five years younger to you, and I think that might have been the only reason why I’d object.”
Damon smiled at his mentor, almost embarrassed by the man’s continued faith in him. Tony was thirty-three, five years older to Damon. So Gibbs should have no reason to disapprove his ‘hypothetical’ relationship with Tony, right?
Wait, could Gibbs be the reason why Tony had backed off so abruptly? In the few weeks that Damon had known the two men, it was obvious they had some sort of unspoken father-son vibe going on. Was Tony afraid to lose Gibbs’ favor if it came out that he was gay? Gunny obviously didn’t know that Damon was gay. Would he kick Damon out if he did? Would all the faith and unconditional support turn to disgust and disappointment? He could understand Tony’s need for Gunny’s approval after having tasted it firsthand; it was addictive, and the fear of losing it very palpable.
Damon cursed internally for not being able to keep Tony out of his thoughts for longer than a few minutes. He’d called Abby two days ago to return her messages, all twenty-six of them, but the last thing he wanted to do was talk about Tony to Abby and Ziva. Sure they were his… uh… friends, but he’d only known them for like a month. As it turned out, they didn’t have much to offer by way of explanation either.
“You’re not giving up, are you, Marine?”
Damon rolled his eyes. “Abby, I just told you everything that happened. We had a great time but come morning, he was done. Tony is not interested in anything more and we have to respect that. And by ‘we’ I mean you!”
“What if I told you that I know why Tony freaked, but I’m not at liberty to say because it’s sort of personal and really Tony should be the one telling you about it himself?”
“I’d say that you’re a good friend to keep Tony’s secret, Abby. As you should.”
“Ugh, damn it! How about you try guessing what it is and I could give you like signs if you’re heading in the right direction?”
Damon lost it. “Abby please, just stop! Haven’t I been humiliated enough? I can’t go through this again, okay?”
There was dead silence on the phone, like Abby was realizing for the very first time that Damon had a heart too, that he’d been hurt too.
“I’m so sorry, Damon. I really am. And God knows I’ve meddled enough. I just want you to know that… it takes awhile to get through to the real Tony beneath all his masks but, if you have the time and patience, you will see that… he is totally worth it.”
Damon had hung up, not sure how to respond. He still wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. If Tony had identity issues of his own then, was Damon really equipped to help him with them? It’d be sort of like the blind leading the blind, wouldn’t it?
Damon was distracted from his thoughts and bemused when he spied Gibbs caressing with a gentle, almost loving hand, a series of crooked nails at the base of the hull. A hammering job this bad, it could only be the handiwork of a very special agent they both knew.
“Do you want me to fix those, Gunny?”
Damon smiled. Instincts told him Gunny was no homophobe, that he would accept Tony (and Damon) just the way they were. Question was, did Tony have reason to believe otherwise, and was that why he was so afraid to give Damon a chance?
“What if… what if your daughter brought a girl home?”
“Same rules apply, even if you were a girl, Werth.”
Gibbs didn’t even look up when he spoke, didn’t miss a beat.
Later that night, Damon crawled into bed tired but content with a long, hard day’s work. He pulled the blankets that still smelled faintly of Tony all the way up to his forehead, surrendering happily to dreams that came in hues of green and gold.
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