Jethro Gibbs rarely arrives at work earlier than his team, but on that particular day, when Ziva threw her backpack under her desk at seven, he was already there. His head was down as he poured over a multitude of photographs, a Styrofoam coffee cup held loosely in his hand. Ziva raised an eyebrow at the oddness of the situation, taking the three extra steps that would bring her to his desk and looking down at him.
"Have you been here all night?" she asked, knowing that it would not have been a huge surprise if he had stayed late (being Gibbs, after all), but also knowing that they hadn't had a case in three days and all necessary paperwork had already been completed.
"Hm?" Gibbs looked up from the worn photographs, glanced at Ziva's worried expression and shrugged it off. "Oh, no. Of course not. Just came in early to organise some stuff." Ziva nodded, her expression growing softer as she caught sight of the pictures.
"Friends of yours?" she asked, taking one hand out of her pocket to motion toward the pictures.
Gibbs frowned. "I suppose." He quickly gathered up all of the memorabilia spread across his desk, straightening the small stack of Polaroid's and putting them away in a drawer.
Ziva nodded again and gave him a small smile before heading off to her own desk to prepare for the morning. She understood better than most how something just needed to be kept private. A lot of Gibbs' life was made of secrets, but she could appreciate his need for privacy.
Gibbs tossed out his now-empty coffee cup, rubbed a hand across his face and stood. "Two sugars, right?" he asked Ziva as he passed her desk. She looked up and nodded, noting the odd fact that Gibbs had offered to get her coffee. Perhaps he really wasn't having a good day.
The fact of the matter was, Gibbs was expecting an important phone call. He and an old friend had a standing arrangement that they would call each other at least once a year, just to see how the other was doing. Oklahoma was an hour behind Washington, DC and Gibbs' friend probably wasn't even out of bed yet, but he was still on-edge nonetheless.
Gibbs absently poured his own coffee as he stirred two sugars into Ziva's, mentally calculating what time his phone might ring. Caught up in his thoughts, he didn't notice that he hadn't put the pot back onto the machine properly, and as he made to grab for his own cup with his freehand, the pot fell.
Gibbs instinctively made a grab for the falling container, and succeeded in catching it— only to have a splash of steaming hot coffee come up over the side and burn the side of his hand. With a groan, Gibbs put down the now dripping pot on the counter and put the burned skin to his mouth. He put down Ziva's coffee and went over to the sink blasting the cold water and sticking his hand underneath the spray. He sighed.
"What'd you do this time, Gibbs?" Alvarez asked, his voice thick from boozing. One of the Gunnery Sergeants had snuck a few bottles (or, if the rumours were true, more than a few) onboard, and the lowerclassmen he was willing to share with took full advantage of the situation.
Gibbs shook his head, nursing his sore hand in his good one. "Burned it."
"Doin' inventory? How'd you manage that?" Alvarez grabbed Gibb's hand, causing the younger man to wince. "Lemme see."
Gibbs reluctantly let the Petty Officer unwrap the gauze he had just finished wrapping, letting out a sigh as he did so. Alvarez whistled when he saw the forming blisters along the outside of Gibbs' thumb, giving the wound a once-over.
"I was taking inventory of the weapon's locker," Gibbs explained, neatly rewrapping the gauze while Alvarez shook his head. "Someone left something flammable open in there, and a spark from my unloading of a magazine made it go up like—" Gibbs made a whooshing noise his mouth, extending his finger to imitate the gas' sudden explosion. "It could have been much worse, believe me."
"Did you make a report of it?" Alvarez asked, rubbing a hand across his face in an attempt to sober himself up. Gibbs quickly shook his head.
"And get blamed for the whole thing? No. It was just an accident, anyway. Or someone's idea of a prank."
"I'd want there to be an investigation, but that's just me," Alvarez confided in him, stretching out his back muscles and extending his arms above his head with a yawn. "So they could discipline the SOB. Just sayin'. Who leaves flammable material open like that?" Gibbs shrugged and tapped his gauze in place, just as he had been about to before Alvarez interrupted him. Alvarez began undoing the laces of his boot, shaking his head at the younger man. "Someone's gonna notice that you burned your hand, you know."
"I'll say I did it on volunteer kitchen duty. No one ever checks the rosters."
"If you say so, kid." Alvarez kicked off his boot and started on the other while Gibbs straightened his uniform, ready to start a shift just as Alvarez had finished his. "Just don't come cryin' to me when they don't believe ya."
"I won't," Gibbs promised, giving his (technical) superior a mock salute. Alvarez rolled his eyes and slipped into his bunk as Gibbs exited their cabin, ready to start his new shift.
"Are you okay, Boss?" McGee questioned when Gibbs returned with two coffees, giving one to Ziva before slamming his own down on his desk with a scowl.
"Burned my hand on the damn coffee," Gibbs remarked, opening one of the drawers in his desk and violently yanking out the first-aid kit. "Stupid machine." He slammed the kit down on his desk and opened it, sitting down and pulling out a roll of gauze and some Neosporin.
Ziva and McGee looked at each other, both bewildered by Gibbs' behaviour. Normally, he was an emotionless workaholic. (Or at least pretended to be.) Today, he was a moody an irrational person who got angry at the coffee machine. Something was definitely up.
The phone rang just as Gibbs had finished tending to the small injury, and he grabbed at it angrily, half-expecting it to be the one he was waiting for, despite the hours of the morning. "Gibbs," he barked, into the receiver, while Ziva and McGee exchanged similar looks of inquiry. "Got it." He slammed the phone back into place and stood from his desk.
"Grab your gear," he said, picking up his own bag with one hand and his coffee with the other. "Dead marine at the Navy Yard. Where the hell is DiNozzo?"
"Right here, Boss," Tony said just as he rounded the corner, right on time (barely) as always. He turned and followed his boss after Gibbs pushed past him.
"What's with him?" Tony asked the other two members of the team quietly on the short walk to the elevator. McGee shrugged, and Ziva rolled her eyes.
"It's not any of our business," Ziva whispered back, boarding the elevator beside Gibbs. Tony and McGee looked at each other, shrugged again and got onto the lift before the doors shut.
The blue ME van was already at the scene when they arrived, and Jimmy Palmer was knelt over the descendant, his hands delving into the marine's pockets for ID. When he found a wallet, he instantly handed it to Tony, who was already snapping on a pair of latex gloves.
"The ID on the body identifies him as Petty Officer Scott Hill," Tony said, eying the ID Palmer had handed him, comparing the photo to the body lying face-up on the concrete floor. "Yeah, that's him."
McGee began taking photos of the body and surrounding area, frowning slightly. "There's not a lot of blood," he commented. Not that he was sick from blood, after all the horrific things they had been witness to, but sometimes he was glad to make that observation. It made their job a lot easier, when not everything was soaked in blood.
"Looks like a suicide," Jimmy concluded after a moment, turning the corpse's face to the side to get a better look at the entrance wound. "Single GSW to the temple, no exit wound. Small calibre weapon, probably a .22," he said, his gloved fingers prodding the wound.
Gibbs stood silently, observing the scene consciously, while unconsciously watching another.
Gibbs let out a startled noise when he saw the Gunnery Sergeant in front of him raise the small pistol to the side of his head. The Gunnery Sergeant opened his closed eyes and glared in the direction of Private Gibbs, letting out the breath he'd been holding.
"Private, I suggest that you vacate the premises—"
"No, sir," Gibbs quickly cut him off, looking at the older man of perhaps six or seven years, and seeming quite frightened.
Gunnery Sergeant Randle quirked an eyebrow at him and lowered his gun, obviously rather stunned by the younger man's belligerence. He was a superior officer. The kid should be scurrying off to tell one of his superior officers about the situation, in which time, he could kill himself peacefully. But, no; the Private was playing hero.
"I can't in good conscience fulfill your request, sir." Gibbs stressed the last word, his look of fear gone and replaced by one of pity. "May I speak freely?"
Randle agreed, figuring if he could convince the kid that he felt better and wasn't going to blow his brains out, that the kid would leave and he could finish what he started.
"Killing yourself isn't going to solve anything," Gibbs said frankly, taking a step closer to his suicidal superior slowly, so as not to spook him. "I don't know you, or whatever your problems are, but honestly, all you're doing with that thing is wasting opportunities." He motioned toward the gun held loosely in Randle's hands, dangling nose-down between his knees.
"Wasting— what? Opportunities? What the hell do you know about opportunities?" Randle sneered, raising one side of his lip. "If I had any opportunities left, you think I'd be doin' this?"
Gibbs took another step forward. "You're a Gunny. You've got plenty of opportunities for advancement in the Navy, if that's your ambition. You're still young— do you have a family, sir?"
"Well, then, you have the opportunity to get married, have kids— if that's what you want." He paused and took another step closer. "Are your folks still alive? Any siblings?"
"A sister; what's it to ya?"
"How'd she react if she knew you were going to blow your brains out?"
Randle frowned. "Not sure. I haven't spoken to her in years."
"Well, then, maybe you should. You still have to opportunity to see her, get together and make up—"
"What's your name, Private?"
"Nah, I meant, what's your first name?"
"I go by Jethro."
Randle raised an eyebrow at the strange name, but didn't mention it. He'd heard a lot stranger. "You're alright, Jethro."
He took another step towards the Gunnery Sergeant. "Thank you, sir. You seem quite alright yourself... minus the suicidal part."
Randle laughed. "My name's Steve." He held out his free hand and offered it to Gibbs, who took his last step closer and shook it. "I guess I have a lot to think about, huh?" he asked facetiously with a fake-looking grin.
Gibbs smiled and held out his hand. Randle looked at it confusedly, then back at Gibbs' face. He had a determined set in his eyes. "Come on, hand it over." When Randle gave him a dumbfounded stare, Gibbs rolled his eyes. "What, you thought I was just going to leave you alone with that thing? I'm not a total idiot."
Randle scowled, tightening his grip on the pistol. Gibbs sighed and rolled his eyes, sitting down next to the Gunny on the bench. "I'm not leaving until I've convinced you that there's a lot to live for, so you might as well tell me what's wrong."
"What's wrong? Who are you, the psych evaluator?"
"No. Just a Private who happens to think that there are alternatives to—"
"Shut up, will you? Seriously. I don't need to tell my life's story to a freakin' stranger."
"We're not strangers. Your name is Steve, and my name is Jethro. That makes us acquaintances. What happened?"
"I found out today that the brother of my best friend died." Randle had no idea why he was talking to this guy. But damn, he was convincing."That same best friend that I watched die my first year in the service." Hands shaking, he tightened his grip on the gun a little, for it threatened to fall to the concrete if he didn't. "They did everything for me. They were like my brothers. And they're both dead. I almost killed myself after Soda died, but I was a coward."
Gibbs frowned thoughtfully. "Would they have wanted you to do... this?" He pointed to the weapon, still cocked and loaded and hanging pointed barrel-down. "Would they have wanted you to give up everything just because they weren't around to share it with you?"
Randle bit his lip. "Darry would have killed me himself, if he knew what I was thinking."
"I bet they're looking at you right now, looking over you and praying that you don't go through with this," Gibbs told him softly, reaching for the gun. "Come on. This isn't the answer. Give it to me."
Numbly, Steve Randle handed over his pistol. Gibbs pushed the hammer back into place and locked the safety before tucking it into his belt and laying a hand on his superior's shoulder. That was the first time one of them saved each other.
"You driving, Gibbs?" McGee asked, looking at the older man sceptically. "Or do you want me to? You seem kind of out of it." Gibbs shook his head absently, handing the keys over to McGee.
"Yeah, sure, whatever."
McGee frowned. Gibbs didn't seem like Gibbs at all today. "Are you okay, Boss?" he asked for the second time that day as they climbed into the car, watching him out of the corners of his eyes as he pulled out of their spot and began following the blue ME van ahead of them. "You've been really distracted today."
Gibbs ran a hand over his face. "Not enough coffee this morning," was his answer, though McGee didn't buy it for a second. Gibbs tended to bottle things up. When Abby or Ducky convinced him to talk about it, he'd be fine. Until then, the others would just have to keep an eye out for him.
"If you say so, Boss."
When Gibbs made his daily rounds to autopsy, he was not surprised to find Ducky there, ready to give him a speech about letting out his feelings. He gave an irritated sigh and asked whether they'd been able to confirm suicide, but Ducky was persistent.
"In order to heal, you need to acknowledge your problems and deal with them, Jethro! These things don't just go away on their own."
"There's nothing to deal with. I'm fine. Was it suicide?"
Ducky sighed. "Yes. Gunshot residue on the hands and under the fingernails, no sign of struggle, tattooing around the entry wound. The bullet was indeed a .22, and striations match the pistol he has registered." He reached out a hand and put it on Gibbs' shoulder comfortingly. "You should really talk to somebody, Jethro. If not me, then Abby or Ziva or a therapist— it's starting to affect your work. We're worried about you."
"Don't be. I'm fine. Nothing to talk about." He paused, mentally going over the scene in his head. "If it was a suicide, why didn't we recover a gun? No gun in his hand means—"
"Somebody took it. Tony's already put out a BOLO for it and entered it into the missing fire arms data base. Gibbs, why don't you go home early and—"
"Thanks, Duck!" Gibbs was already out the door before the word, "—relax." Was out of Ducky's mouth. The older man sighed and shook his head. Jethro Gibbs had an old and tortured soul, long beyond his years, the poor fellow. Ducky knew that better than anyone else.
Gibbs reached out a hand and rubbed the back of his neck. It was hot from the sun, and the little grays hairs that had grown long and curled in the nape of his neck were slick with sweat. He hadn't taken Ducky's advice; not really. But he had left work. The park was filled with young families and small children, running and playing. His daughter had done the same things on Saturday afternoons.
Kelly used to laugh like that little girl over there, and wear pink and spin in circles for no reason. She used to love the monkey bars, and loved feeding the stray ducks that would wander over from the waterfront into the park. She used to be happy and fully of live.
Gibbs face darkened, and he stuck his hands in his pockets as if they had gone cold. He tilted his head back and stared into the Sun, letting the UV rays heat his face. He didn't stop to care that he hadn't worn sunscreen and would burn. There was already a burning in the back of his throat, like the bile of some long-forgotten (but not) memory.
The barrel of the gun seemed to be laughing at him. The Sun was hot on his neck, but he didn't feel it. He didn't feel anything anymore. Not the rain on his skin or the vibration of the plane when he had been flown back. Not the chill of the air as it slapped his collar against his neck when he walked, for hours, with nowhere to go and nothing to love anymore. And definitely not the Sun, because Kelly loved the Sun, and Shannon loved the Sun, and the warmth, and summer.
Unconsciously, he ran a hand over his dark hair, neatly shaven at the sides. His hands shook, and he took a deep breath. He tried. He couldn't. He just couldn't live without them.
He almost pulled the trigger.
There was a moment when he remembered Steve Randle, desperate like he was now, begging for escape from this world through the use of a gun. Randle had just lost someone very close to him, someone who had been more like family than his real family ever had. They still wrote letters to each other, once and a while, but Gibbs had almost forgotten the words he said to Randle in an attempt to change his mind.
"Would they have wanted you to give up everything just because they weren't around to share it with you?" he remembered his younger self asking the then-Gunnery Sergeant, his voice unwavering in its conviction.
"Daddy, please don't go. Daddy, I love you." A tear slid down his cheek, but he dare not brush it away. Eyes closed, he pictured her face; sweet, innocent, angelic; his baby girl, in all her perfection, smiling at him and spinning around in circles. "I love you, Daddy."
"I thought I'd find you here."
The familiar voice snapped Gibbs from his fantasy, looking up into the very brown eyes of Lieutenant Steven Randle. The Lieutenant reached out and took the gun from Gibbs' loosened grasp. His mouth was open in a moment of shock, but he snapped it shut once the gun had been removed.
"How?" he asked, dumbfounded. Randle shrugged at sat down next to him, looking out over the water just as Gibbs had been doing earlier.
"It's where I went, wasn't it?"
There was a moment of contemplative silence, in which Gibbs reached up and brushed away his tears, not in the least embarrassed to be seen crying by his superior. Their odd little friendship had been sprung from misery, pain and attempted suicide in the first place. It wasn't as though he hadn't found the Lieutenant in the same position, years before.
"Why is it that all Gunnies are despairing these days?" asked Randle, shaking his head a little at the irony. "Remind me to suggest we get rid of the position all together next time I see an Admiral, if it causes this much pain."
Gibbs let out a bitten, mirthless laugh that echoed over the desolate dock. "Because it's being a Gunny that caused all our problems, huh?" She shook his head, his voice choking up. "I can't do this. I can't still be here, knowing that they're not."
Randle had a knowing, sympathetic expression, but it did nothing to ease Gibbs' suffering. His heart felt like it would beat out of his chest and shatter; his throat burned with every breath; his eyes watered over the slightest thing, the mere breath of a happy memory; his whole world had been turned upside down, ripped open and stomped on.
"Telling you how sorry I am for ya isn't going to make ya feel any better," Steve said honestly, looking him in the eyes and giving him a sad smile, "And I know you aren't gonna believe me when I say it gets better, but... I am so sorry, Jethro. And it does get better." He paused and put a hand on Gibbs' arm. Gibbs was surprised that he felt it at all.
"How could anything get better?" Gibbs demanded, his voice broken with unheard sobs. "My daughter is dead. My wife is dead. Everything I love, everything I've worked for, is gone, ruined, torn away." A silent sobs wracked his body, shaking him from the inside out. "I've got nothing left." He laughed again, cold and distance. "Not even opportunities."
"There was a time when I thought the same thing," Randle told him calmly, his hand unmoving against Gibbs' arm even as he quaked with melancholy. "But this guy I'd never met before came and told me that I did. That I had a chance still, and time to make things better. Not perfect, but better." He sighed. "I still miss them. It still hurts, some days as bad as the day after it happened. But sometimes, it goes numb. It's like a bullet wound. You feel it, and it hurts like hell, but then it goes numb."
"I don't know how I'll ever forget this," Gibbs mumbled, one hand pressing against his chest as if to hold his head inside. The beating was steady against his palm, and it made him feel sick to his stomach. "I can't... breathe, I can't think, I can't sleep without wanting them back so much..." He choked back a sob. "It's not fair."
"No, Jethro, it isn't fair. But that's life, and life is filled with opportunities. You'll get back, someday. You just gotta live." He rubbed his friend's back comfortingly, letting Jethro cry for his insurmountable loss. "You just gotta live."
He opened his eyes and looked toward the sound of Abby's voice, watching her black pigtails bounce with her excitement as she bounded over to him and flopped onto the bench beside him. She grinned cheekily at him, her teeth white and perfect.
"Whatcha got for me, Abs?" he asked, attempting to smile back at her.
"Firstly, if you ever need to talk about anything—"
"You'll be my first call," he quickly cut her off, putting up a hand. "That can't be why you traced my cell phone and stalked me here." Abby rolled her eyes.
"I didn't have to trace your phone. I know all your secret hide-outs, Gibbs. Anyway, no. I didn't. The gun that Petty Officer Hill used to kill himself was used in a robbery about an hour ago, and they've turned it over to us now. The gun using it still won't say where he got it from, but Tony says he's sure he lifted it from the dead guy, so we're all squared away." She clapped her hands excitedly. "All that's left is reports, and we're finished this case. Easy-peasy for once, huh?"
"Yeah, Abs. Good job." He stood from the bench and offered her his hand, which she took. He hoisted her to her feet, and she gave him a cheeky smile.
"I barely even did anything. Truth be told, I think my babies are sad at the lack of evidence to process. Not that I mind the break, but they don't seem to happy that all we've had in the last few days is open-and-shut cases. Is it bad that I'm praying for a murder, or an explosion, or a kidnapping?" Gibbs chuckled.
"Hell yeah! I've cleaned the lab twice this week. Do you know how rare that is, Gibbs? Usually I'm too swamped to do anything but turn my babies off at night, if that. Now I'm busy cleaning behind them!" She sighed and shook her head. "Though, it was pretty dirty back there. I must've spilled Caf-Pow a while ago, because one of them kinda looked like a murder scene, and I was so bored I started collecting evidence."
Abby looped her arm through her Boss's, pulling him alongside her as they started the short walk back to the NCIS building. They walked in comfortable silence, the jingle of the chain hooked to Abby's waist the only noise they made. It was nice, though, being so comfortable with each other. They had a fatherly/daughterly bond that was unbreakable, and quite unexplainable.
"I shall leave you to your paperwork," Abby said as they arrived at his desk, doing a royal sweep of her arm across the desktop, which was littered with the team's reports, to emphasise her point. "I bid you adieu."
She fluttered off in the direction of Forensics, her high pigtails swinging as she skipped down the hall. Gibbs shook his head and settled himself down at his desk, taking out a pen and paper to write his final report. (He was no good with computers. He'd get McGee to type it up later.)
The shrill ringing of his phone made him pause, about halfway down his report. He glanced at the clock and blinked. Was it really that late, already? Gibbs put down his pen and hesitantly picked up the receiver. "Gibbs."
"Ah, Jethro. Still the same old greeting, I see."
"Steve. It's great to hear from you again. It's... been a long time." Gibbs smiled fondly, leaning back in his chair a little. He didn't see the look McGee shot Ziva while he was distracted.
"It has. I was thinking about visiting DC next time I have a free week. I expect you'll probably still be there, fighting navy crime as always?" Gibbs chuckled, nodded.
"Ya think?" he asked sarcastically. "How's it going over there? How's your wife?"
"Millie's wonderful. She told me to tell you hello, by the way. You remember my son John, right? Well, he's just finishing medical school now."
Gibbs whistled. "Medical school? The last time we spoke in person, he was just going into kindergarten. Little guy's grown up, huh?" He shook his head in remembrance. "Does he still look just like you?"
"Nah, he takes after his mother, mostly. He got her brains and her eyes, but he's got my curls. Not that he likes them. He's always cutting his hair short, now." Randle laughed a smoker's laugh, ending with a gentle cough. "It seems like every time I call you, I have more to thank ya for. None of this would've ever happened, if you hadn't decided to talk me out of killing myself. I'm gonna be indebted to you for that forever, Jethro."
Gibbs made a noise of annoyance. "Like I've told you before; you did the same thing for me when I was in that position. We're even. We've been even for years. You don't owe me anything."
"I owe you my life, and the life of my kids and my granddaughter. You taught me never to waste opportunities. I'm never going to forget that."
Gibbs grinned. "So, granddaughter, huh? Makes you feel old, doesn't it?"
"Sure does, Jethro. It sure does." He paused. "And it's a great feeling."