TI: A Winter-Seeming Summer's Night (Epilogue)
DI: Not mine. If it was, continuity would be defended to the death!
SU: The sequel to SO FAR IN BLOOD THAT SIN WILL PLUCK ON SIN. Gibbs' decision to not share information with his team in a misguided effort to protect them has horrific consequences.
The silent dinner was not what he had intended when he had absconded with Ziva earlier in the evening. He had hoped to distract her from what would no doubt be a tense, aggressive stand-off between a faltering king and the heir apparent. The self-contained young woman was even more taciturn than usual, however; he had resorted to wildly meandering monologue to silence the chink of flatware against bone china.
It had taken three days for Tony to awaken from his surgery and another two before he was weaned off the high-grade painkillers. The news of Abby's death had sent Anthony into a tailspin of hysterics requiring sedation. After he had awakened the second time, the secondary blow closing out his career in active law enforcement had left the poor man numb and silent.
Ziva and Tim had traded shifts, ensuring someone was with Tony at all times. Ducky knew it hadn't just been for Tony's sake or for his protection from Bell and his mercenaries. The crushing blow of losing Abby had shaken both of them badly, had driven them to Tony's side to share their grief, their pain and most important of all, for the security of knowing that he was still there with them. Even when broken and grief-stricken himself, Tony was still able to help alleviate Ziva's sense of failure and Tim's broken heart and loss of trust in all authority figures. Ducky knew their presence had also insulated Tony from having to face Abby's absence.
Ducky swallowed hard, choking the pot roast down past the lump in his throat. The incipient rage and hatred that welled up in that room whenever anyone even hinted at Gibbs' presence was overwhelming. Ducky had always known Tony had a sulfuric temper, one that left nothing behind save scorched earth once loosed from the iron-clad control it was held under. He had often wondered who would succeed in a battle of wills between a truly enraged Tony and Jethro; now he knew.
Ziva and Tim, along with Mr. Palmer, had immediately fallen into step behind Tony. With only a token effort, Tony had made clear that the time to choose was upon them and choose they had.
Gibbs had been renounced. Denied. Excommunicated.
He had made a desperate effort to salvage their family, knowing it was what Abigail would have wanted more than anything. But nothing he could say had convinced Ziva or Timothy to speak to Jethro. Tony had banned him from his hospital room for 24 hours when he had attempted to convince the younger man to meet with Jethro. Ducky had been relegated to the hallway and not even Mr. Palmer would speak to him until Tony tacitly gave the okay to allow Ducky back into the reformed team.
Ducky had not interfered again.
He had in fact been astounded when Tony had informed him that he was going to speak to Jethro. The vitriol that flashed from hazel eyes at even hints of the older agent's name had led him to believe that hell had indeed frozen over and that no spring thaw was in the forecast.
Yet he should not have been surprised; Tony was their wild card.
Ducky was startled out of his rambling tale of treachery, adventure and service above and beyond and from his wildly spinning thoughts by Ziva blurting out the demon clawing at her soul. "I am frightened. I am frightened all the time. I cannot let Tony out of my sight without panicking. I do not see how I can ever do my job again."
Ducky gave her a considering look before saying, "I think you're strong enough to know what's best for you, Ziva. I think you'll find a way to get whatever it is you need to feel safe again."
"We are leaving, Ducky," she gasped before dropping her cutlery onto the table. She clutched almost-desperately at the fine mahogany wooden arms of her chair. "We are leaving Washington." She shook her head hard, once. "It is not safe here."
Ducky wasn't surprised but he was still wholly saddened knowing he would have to let more of his family leave him behind. It was difficult, letting one's fledglings leave the nest but it had to be done. "You and Tony, you will find your own way. Maybe it's here. Maybe it's somewhere else." Ducky reached over and delicately pried her hand free of the armrest. A comforting squeeze drew some of the tension from the struggling woman before him. "If it is what you need, then know that I support your decision. And remember - you have each other. As long as you remember that you have each other, you will survive."
He chucked a finger under a teary chin, smiling through his own heartbreak. "And as for Bell, Ziva? My dear girl, living well is the best revenge. Live. You must live your lives fully without regard for past wounds. The joy you find will be that withered soul's downfall."
Ziva brokenly laughed before pulling her hand free to wipe at her face. Ducky poured out an expensive brandy, knowing the burning warmth would do more good than anything else this old doctor could order. He was surprised by her next question.
"Is it strange that I feel guilty for not wanting to remain here?"
He rejoined her at the table, taking a sip while he considered her question. Another sip helped him find the words to answer her. "No. This place has been a respite for you. But what Jethro did and did not do destroyed that for you. You will not lose me, my dear, by leaving. Nor will you lose Timothy or Mr. Palmer." Ducky laughed lightly. "And I think we both know nothing will ever keep our Anthony from your side."
Ziva blushed. Ducky felt his heart soar at the sight as he thought of how happy this sight must be making their dear Abigail. A slight bit of his grief eased as he saw that at the very least, Bell had been unable to destroy the deep connection between the two least-likely-to's he had ever known.
He put down his glass. "You and Tony will have to make many choices, Ziva. And I would venture a guess that you will make them together. No one else can make them for you. Sadly, the two of you have in some ways been making these choices all of your lives. I suspect finding your place in the world will always be a cooperative venture for you and Tony." He smiled mischieviously at Ziva. "Like many other ventures I presume are on the agenda."
Ziva smiled suddenly. "You are prying, Doctor Mallard."
"My dear, I'm an old man. Let me have my fun."
Laughter spilled out of the dark-haired agent and warmed the room. Ziva sobered suddenly.
"Tim is coming with us, Ducky."
Ducky sighed, feeling every one of his years. "I know, my dear." He would deeply miss all three of these young people and he suspected that Mr. Palmer would follow shortly once he had completed his final examinations. The loss of Abigail had been the final straw for all of them. He himself had completed his retirement paperwork and was simply waiting for Mr. Palmer's resignation before turning them into Director Vance for processing. "I expect all of you to keep in touch," he admonished. "I will miss you all terribly."
Ziva smiled softly. "There is no distance too far between friends, Ducky."
Gibbs watched McGee help DiNozzo through the door and into a chair before silently excusing himself. He hadn't said a word to Gibbs since the hearing into what had happened in the hospital. The complete failure of the security protocols that had taken Abby from them had shattered the younger man's faith in everyone but Tony DiNozzo.
Gibbs sat down. Normally, a six-pack got them through these conversations but with the medications Tony was on, it was no longer an option. He took a deep breath. "Tony, I -."
"No," Tony barked curtly. "You don't get to apologize. You don't get to say you're sorry. I'm only here because Tim and Ziva asked me to. If it were up to me, I'd never have set eyes on your face again."
Gibbs nodded. The tick-tick-tock of the clock he'd made Shannon for their last wedding anniversary was like a bomb waiting to go off. Finally, he tried again. "You know I would never -."
Tony snarled, "I don't want to hear it, Gibbs! I don't want to hear your excuses, your justifications for screwing over your partner. That's not why I'm here."
Gibbs straightened, readying himself for what he knew would be a near-fatal body blow. "Why are you here then, Tony?"
"Because I'm a better man than you. I don't bail with just a 'you'll do'. I'm not that much of a self-absorbed jackass."
His stomach fluttered heavily at the sneer twisting the face closest thing he had to a living child. "I know." He did know that. He'd spent ten years making sure he wouldn't be.
The silence made the tension in the room unbearable. Tony finally stopped staring at him and began to speak again. "University of Washington in Seattle has a criminology department. They had an open position. I submitted my resume. We did a telephone interview since I couldn't fly there. Then they flew out here to do a second interview."
"Oh." Gibbs swallowed, knowing Tony was doing this as a courtesy.
"I accepted the position, along with a consultant's role with Seattle PD."
"Ziva is coming with me." There was a minute pause. "Tim too."
Gibbs hurt. He'd lost them all. He'd known it was coming but he'd hoped the ten years he'd spent with DiNozzo would have made the man reluctant to raze what was left of their world to the ground. Desperation made him say it. "You don't have to leave NCIS. The Director's already working to get you and Ziva redefined roles on a..." he faltered for a second before soldiering on gamely, "on a different team! McGee can - ."
"No." There was nothing in his tone to indicate there had been a decade of partnership and friendship between the two men. "We'd rather not pay for any more of your fuck-ups, Gibbs."
A pang of irritation jolted through him. "That's not fair."
"Neither was burying Abby."
Silence froze the room and made skin prickle and burn.
There had been a time when Tony would never have been capable of enduring a silent room without being dragged under by the need to repel the quiet. But that Tony would never have used Abby to deliberately wound someone.
"It doesn't have to be this way," Gibbs whispered harshly as he wiped a shaky hand down his rapidly aging face. "You're going to let Bell win by destroying the team?"
Tony surged forward and snarled, hands flailing as visual punctuation, "I can't fucking walk, Gibbs! I can't get out of bed without Ziva's help! I can't take a piss without Probie helping me stand up! I have to take pain pills three times a day just to be able to stand up on crutches! Ziva's scared to go to sleep in case they come for me again! Tim and I take turns sitting up at night with our guns in hand just so she can feel safe! And even then, she wakes up screaming because of what they did to us! That's what's not fair, Gibbs! That's my life, our life, for the foreseeable future!"
He could barely see past the trembling tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry, Tony."
"Fuck your pain, Gibbs!" Tony roared, "You fucking knew they were after me! All you had to do was trust me, Gibbs! Instead, thanks to you they were able to blindside us! Even we'd even had an inkling, we could've prepared something, done something! But no! Nearly getting us shot in a mole hunt wasn't enough for you, for the great Jethro Gibbs! No, he used us as bait in his own version of Axis and Allies!"
The condemnation and disgust etched into Tony's face was impossible to bear but Gibbs knew he owed it to them to take it. "Do you know what they did to Ziva? What she offered to do to keep me alive?"
"She wasn't supposed to be there, Tony!"
"Oh, so it was just me you were fucking over? That makes me feel so. much. better!" Tony staggered to his feet, using a crutch to keep himself upright through the pain. "Imagine you were in that clearing, Gibbs! Imagine you had broken bones, were pinned to the ground by some fucker in a mask and had to lie there watching some other psychopath start to rape Shannon! She's screaming and dying a little bit at a time and you have to lie there and watch it happen because there is nothing you can do!"
Gibbs closed his eyes, swallowing hard. He opened his eyes. There was no sign in Tony DiNozzo's hazel eyes that forgiveness, absolution would ever be possible. "That's what you did to us, Gibbs! Every time I close my eyes, I see them at her. Every time she closes her eyes, she sees him on top of me, filleting my leg!" Tony's voice broke as he howled, "They took Abby because of you!"
McGee burst back in and was able to catch Tony before his leg collapsed beneath him. He half-carried Tony to the car, Gibbs at his heels with the crutches. Tim let him lean against the car as he struggled to get the door open. Another part of Gibbs fractured as McGee again refused to meet his eyes or even acknowledge him.
Gibbs had to try once more. He couldn't -. Not again, he couldn't go through this again! "Tony -."
Tony's face was stony and cold. His voice was hard and uncompromising yet filled with promise as he looked up at his old boss with contempt and hatred and disgust. "You stay away from us. You just stay the fuck away from us. Or I swear I will save Bell the time. I'll kill you myself."
Gibbs didn't know how long he'd stood there on the sidewalk in front of his house, staring blankly into the distance after the charger. Didn't really care either.
Didn't care about anything now.
It was over.
It's way shorter than intended. But my bout of pneumonia plus the season finale killed my mood for the storyline I had planned.
I have something else I think will make up for the truncated story you've been very patient with. Thanks again!