Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace.
Jethro hung up the phone then looked across the office. Ziva and Romero were standing around McGee’s desk, shoulder to shoulder in a huddle that spelt mischief. He stood up and stalked silently up behind them, peering over Ziva’s shoulder in time to see McGee shove two twenty dollar bills into his shirt pocket, a look of triumph on his face.
“What’s going on?” he asked quietly. Romero jumped guiltily and Jethro meted out a double-handed smack to the back of his and Ziva’s heads. “Care to explain, McGee?”
McGee blushed crimson. “It was Ziva’s idea,” he said quickly.
“It was a bet,” she replied, backing away from the desk while eyeing his hands warily. “McGee believed you would not be able to last more than an hour without calling Tony to check on him. I told him that was ridiculous. You are far too focused when you are at work to allow yourself to be distracted.”
“How about you, Romero?” Jethro looked at his newest team member. “You played too?”
“Well, yeah, I never pass up a bet,” Romero replied, grinning disarmingly. “Besides if my wife was at home with a sick baby I know I’d want to call her.”
“DiNozzo’s not my wife,” Jethro snapped, walking back to his desk where he opened his top drawer and pulled out his wallet.
“No, no, of course not. I just meant…” Romero stammered, blushing hotly.
“I know what you meant,” Jethro said, dropping a twenty dollar bill on McGee’s desk then turning and walking away up the stairs to the Director’s office. “You win, McGee. I bet myself I’d make it to at least lunchtime.”
He walked through Cynthia’s office and gave her a nod. “He’s expecting me,” he said before she could get up.
She rolled her eyes. “Just go on in.”
He opened the door without knocking and walked across to stand in front of Vance’s desk, finally sighing heavily as the Director continued writing and didn’t look up immediately.
Vance placed the pen neatly at the side of the report folder then pushed back his chair and looked up at him. “Special Agent Gibbs.”
“You wanted to see me, Director.” Gibbs took the chair indicated then leaned forward, hands clasped.
“How’s DiNozzo?” Vance asked.
“He’s better,” Gibbs replied.
“And the child?”
“Okay. Not well but she’s holding her own. Can I ask why you want to know?”
“It’s come to my attention that DiNozzo wants to come back to work for us.”
“Who told you that?” Gibbs asked.
“Let’s just say it was a little bird and leave it at that,” Vance said easily.
“More like a duck,” Jethro muttered.
“Well, yes, Dr. Mallard did say he was happy to give DiNozzo his medical and psychological blessing to return to work on desk duty for now but I thought I should see how you felt about it. He’d still be pretty much on your team, albeit as an adjunct. So?” Vance stood and poured two cups of coffee from the carafe on the corner table, handing one to Jethro as he took his seat again.
Jethro made the shrug he gave look casual as if having Tony back on his team wasn’t one of the most important things in his life right now. “He needs a job and if we’re going to have an extra agent doing paperwork and following up leads while we’re out in the field, I’d rather it be DiNozzo than some wet behind the ears rookie.”
“You’re not thinking of trying to jockey Romero out to bring DiNozzo back in?” Vance asked shrewdly and Jethro tried to look as if the idea had never crossed his mind, shaking his head no as he sipped at the coffee.
“DiNozzo’s nowhere near field fitness yet and his mind’s too focused on his child. I don’t see that changing in the foreseeable future. If it does, I’ll talk it over with you first.” He put the half-empty cup on the table and stood to leave. “So, does he get the job?”
Vance pulled a sheaf of papers out of his inbox and handed them to him. “Get him to fill these out. He can pick up his badge on his first day. Oh, make sure he gets his weapons certification done before then too.”
Jethro nodded and turned towards the door.
“Jethro. This… relationship between you and DiNozzo… Is it going to cause any problems for the department?”
Jethro opened the door then turned back to look at Vance. “No. None,” he said firmly, meaning it if it meant Tony could come back to work. Besides, he told himself as he headed back downstairs, did they even have a relationship now? Two or three barely there kisses weren’t anyone’s idea of a relationship and that thought made him feel unaccountably cold inside. He glowered at Ziva when she smiled at him on his way past her desk. “Are any of us actually working on anything today?” he snapped out, throwing Tony’s paperwork onto his desk.
“Of course,” she replied. “As a matter of fact, McGee and I went to interview the airman who believed he was the last person to see Petty Officer Jason alive.”
“And?” Gibbs fixed her with an interrogative glare.
“His information was vague,” she replied. “In fact he was neutered.”
Jethro felt his jaw drop even as he looked to McGee for clarification.
“Neutral, Boss,” McGee translated with a grin. “Now he’s saying he’s not sure it was her. Could have been but he thinks the woman he saw had longer hair.”
“However,” Romero jumped in, bringing a picture up on the plasma, “we do have a photo taken at an ATM half a block from where Airman Josephs originally claimed he’d last seen the Petty Officer.”
Jethro peered at the grainy picture, sighed and reached into his drawer for his glasses, slipping them on as unobtrusively as possible. “Looks like her,” he said.
“I believe she has simply gone AWOL,” Ziva said crisply. “People do not tend to withdraw the contents of their bank accounts before being murdered or kidnapped.”
Jethro took his glasses off, rubbed at his eyes, put the glasses back on and took a closer look. “They do if someone’s holding a gun on them,” he said. He tapped the screen. “There. You can just see the edge of the barrel pressing into the side of her neck.”
“She does look a little nervous,” McGee observed.
“And this is all we’ve got?” Jethro asked, throwing the glasses back into the drawer.
“So far,” Romero said. “Apart from this, Petty Officer Jason seems to have vanished off the face of the earth.”
“Find me more,” Jethro ordered, standing up and walking around his desk. “I’ll be in the morgue.”
“Ah, Jethro, I was just about to call you,” Ducky said, looking up from the cadaver he was about to cut into. He patted the corpse gently on the shoulder. “Don’t go anywhere, will you? I’ll just be a moment.”
“What about?” Jethro asked, perching a hip on the corner of Ducky’s desk and folding his arms across his chest.
“Well, I wanted to tell you that I’d given Tony a clean bill of health to come back to work, albeit in a sedentary position for now,” Ducky replied.
“Why’d you tell Vance about it?” Jethro asked flatly.
“I felt he’d take my opinion under review when he made his decision,” Ducky said. “Would you have preferred it if he’d said no outright?”
“Did you also tell him about Tony and me?” Jethro asked bluntly.
“No! Of course not! Jethro, for goodness sake, I’ve kept your secret for many months. Why on earth would I go and blab about it to Vance. I’ve never much liked the man. He reminds me of a professor I had at University, well, apart from the fact that Director Vance is African American and my Professor was a Scot but nevertheless-“
“Ducky, shut up, will you?” Jethro shouted, more harshly than he’d planned.
“Sorry,” Ducky said contritely and Jethro shook his head.
“No, I’m sorry. Look, it’s just Vance knows and I want to know how he knows.”
“Is it going to cause him to stop Tony from coming back?” Ducky asked.
“No, he’s already given him the go ahead. I didn’t really think it was you, Duck. I just-“
“Forget about it, dear boy. No offence taken. If I hear anything around the water cooler though, I’ll let you know. How’s the child?”
Jethro shrugged. “Better than yesterday. I don’t know. Tony says it’s always like that. You take the good days when you can. Your pediatrician friend’s been great, calling out to the house to see her.”
“I’m glad he’s been helpful.”
“Okay, I’ll let you get back to your friend there.” Jethro stopped just inside the door. “Sorry for going off at you like that, Ducky.”
“Already forgotten.” Ducky walked back to the table and patted the corpse’s bloodied head. “So sorry about all the shouting. With a bang like that on your head, I imagine you have quite a headache. Now, where were we?” he asked, picking up a scalpel. “Oh right, my friend, Chillers…”
Jethro slumped back against the wall of the elevator when it came. He was exhausted already, his eyes burned, and he had that weird déjà vu feeling of standing outside himself looking on that he always got when he was this tired. Truth be told, he didn’t think Emmy was as well as Tony thought she was. She’d cried on and off most of the night and Jethro had finally insisted he and Tony take turns getting up to her rather than have Tony running himself into the ground again. He didn’t remember it being this hard with Kelly but then Kelly wasn’t born with a disease that was draining her life from the moment she was born. He shoved down the pain those thoughts brought as the elevator bumped to a halt, and straightened his shoulders as he walked out. “Anything more?” he barked as he settled at his desk.
Ziva shrugged and shook her head.
“It’s a dead end, Boss,” Romero ventured.
Jethro scrubbed a hand over his weary eyes. “Okay, let’s start at the beginning again. McGee?”
“Hey, you’re early,” Tony said, looking up from where he was seated on the living room floor next to Emmy.
Jethro grimaced. “Case is going nowhere. Starting to think the good Petty Officer’s done a Stonehouse even if we did get a photo of her at an ATM with what looked like a gun in her neck.”
“Disappeared herself?” Tony frowned. “What’s her background?”
“Later, hey? I just want to switch off for a while. Hiya, kiddo!” Jethro sat down on the floor on the other side of Emmy and reached out to tickle her tummy.
Emmy grinned up at him and reached down to wrap tiny fingers around his big ones.
“She seems better,” Jethro said.
“Yeah, she’s bouncing back,” Tony replied. “ Oh hey, watch this. She rolled over today.” He patted the floor beside him. “Come on, sweetie. Roll over.”
“She’s not a puppy, Tony,” Jethro said with a smile.
“She did it three times just before you got home.” Tony held a small teddy just of the baby’s reach then moved it away as she held her hands out for it, setting it on the floor next to him.
“Guess she doesn’t feel like performing,” Jethro said then laughed as Emmy abruptly rolled onto her tummy. She looked endearingly surprised and then chuckled as she managed to pick up the bear.
“Told ya,” Tony said smugly.
“Oh, before I forget, I have some paperwork for you.” Jethro levered himself off the floor and went across to where he’d dropped his briefcase just inside the door. He pulled out the papers then walked back and dropped them in Tony’s lap. “How about you get the kid settled while I make dinner then you can get started on that?” he suggested.
“Vance is letting me go back?”
“As a supernumerary only on desk work at this stage,” Jethro replied as he headed into the kitchen. “You gonna be okay with that.”
“Yeah. Hear that, baby,” he heard Tony croon. “Daddy’s got a job.”
“You need to get your weapons certification up to par before you go back,” Jethro warned him.
“No problem. I’m probably a little rusty but I’ll make it through,” Tony said, coming out to rummage through the fridge for Emmy’s food and meds.
“How about we get Abby to babysit Emmy tomorrow afternoon and I’ll take you out to the range for some practice?” Jethro suggested.
Tony settled Emmy in the high chair while he heated up her food. “It’s a date.”