Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.
“You okay with all of this?” Jethro asked quietly as he and Tony watched as Linda Acres fussed over Emmy.
The child care center at the Navy Yard hadn’t been happy with the idea of taking Emmy on, citing the need she’d have for one on one care and the fact that they were already at capacity in the baby room with the maximum allowable number of fifteen infants and only five staff. Tony had despaired of finding someone else, citing the problems he’d had keeping babysitters while he’d been in California. Then Abby had mentioned a friend of her mother’s, an ex-nurse who’d worked in a pediatric AIDS wing for several years before leaving in order to work from home so she could spend more time with her teenage children. Her resume was impressive and Tony had liked the sweetly smiling, plump, fortyish woman on sight when she’d swooped Emmy from his arms and kissed the baby’s soft, downy hair. Emmy had responded positively to her when they’d left her with Linda a couple of times while Tony had undertaken his weapons certification and so Tony had agreed they’d drop Emmy off at Linda’s house in the suburbs on their way into work. Emmy still wasn’t completely up to par but he told Jethro he felt confident that Linda would take good care of her. Now he turned to Jethro and nodded as he waved a seemingly casual goodbye to his daughter and walked through Linda’s front door. “Yeah, Linda’s nice, Emmy’s happy. I’m good.”
Jethro patted him on the shoulder as they walked to the car and decided not to mention the way Tony turned in his seat and watched over his shoulder as they drove away from Linda’s house.
Jethro looked Tony over and gave him a nod of approval as they stepped into the elevator together. He reached and pressed the button for the office floor then turned to look at Tony again. “Nervous?” he asked.
Tony shook his head. “Nothing to be nervous about,” he said. “I’m not going to be the one heading out into the field and risking getting my head shot off.”
“Well, I’m guessing that’s one part of the job you won’t miss,” Jethro observed as the car stopped and the doors slid open.
Tony shrugged as he preceded Jethro through the doors. “It had its moments. I’m kinda missing the adrenaline rush.”
“We’ll get you back to it,” Jethro said easily as he made his way to his own desk and pointed Tony to his new one.
Ziva looked up as he passed and gave him a small smile. “It’s good to have you back, Tony.”
“Thanks. That’s it? No insults about what I’m wearing, about whatever you think I got up to last night?”
“You look quite respectable and considering you have a small child to look after, your activities last night were no doubt respectable as well.” She blushed at that and turned to Gibbs. “We may have a lead on Petty Officer Jason’s most recent whereabouts,” she said quickly.
“Hey, Tony,” McGee called from his own desk. “I’ve got you set up with the top of the line computer system. You need any help just give me a yell, okay?”
“Thanks, McGee.” Tony sat at the desk and turned on the computer, running his hands over the slim plasma screen. “Wow, nice,” he said.
“I see you playing games on there, DiNozzo, and you’ll be back to typing up reports on a typewriter,” Jethro said gruffly. “You’re here to work, remember.”
“Sure, Boss.” Tony flashed a grin across at McGee as he noticed the icon for Hollywood Trivia in the tray at the bottom of his screen. “Thanks, McGee. Nice PC.”
“We haven’t met.”
Tony looked up. “No, guess not. You must be Romero. Heard a lot of good things about you.”
“Yeah?” Romero grinned, his eyes crinkling attractively. “Find that hard to believe.”
Tony stood up and shook his hand, noticing that while he had a couple of inches height on Romero, the other man was strongly muscled and fit-looking. He had short black hair and startlingly blue eyes framed by long, dark eyelashes.
“Well, Abby likes you,” Tony said with a grin.
“Ah, that explains it then,” Romero replied. “Abby only says good things about everyone.”
“Stop fishing for compliments,” Jethro barked. He smiled to himself as Romero quickly walked back to his own desk and sat down. “Well, now we’re all friends, someone gonna fill me in on what this latest info is on our missing PO? David?”
“We got a call to the tips hotline to say she’d been seen yesterday near where she disappeared from,” Ziva said quickly.
“Only thing wrong with that intel,” Romero interjected, “is that the lady was known to be a teetotaller.”
Jethro shrugged. “Doesn’t mean much. You can buy ginger ale in a bar. She might have been there for some other reason.”
“The bar’s called The Sundowner. It’s on Western,” McGee put in. “They do have a security camera at the entrance so I thought maybe if we could get the tapes for the time she was supposedly seen…”
“Go,” Jethro ordered. “David and Romero. McGee, check into her bank account again. Go as far as you can. I want to know any time any sums of money larger than what she’d need to pay her bills has been withdrawn.”
“On it, Boss.” McGee turned back to his computer and Ziva and Romero headed for the elevator.
Tony visibly jumped and Jethro hid a grin. He guessed it had been a while since Tony had been on the receiving end of his bark.
“Yeah, Boss?” Tony said quickly.
“Don’t just sit there. Get onto that fancy computer McGee got you and do another background check on PO Jason. Look a little deeper this time. Family, friends, hell, go all the way back to who she played kiss chasey with in kindergarten if you have to.”
Tony swivelled his chair to face his computer and started typing.
A half-hour later Jethro plonked a cup of coffee down on Tony’s desk. “How’s it going?” he asked.
“I’m not sure. There’s something weird here but I’m not sure if it means anything or not.”
“Well?” Jethro perched on the edge of Tony’s desk, sipping at his own cup.
“She’s a twin.”
“And? Nothing weird about being a twin. My grandma Gibbs was a twin.”
“Yeah, well, the Jason twins weren’t raised together. PO Jason was raised by their natural parents, her twin sister was fostered out at the age of eight,” Tony replied, canting a look up at Jethro before turning back to the screen. “Their parents were both killed in a house fire a few weeks before PO Jason went missing so we have no way of finding out why they kept one twin and fostered the other out.”
“Um, I might have something that plays into that,” McGee said, hurrying across from his desk. “About two years ago, PO Jason started paying out $400 of her salary into another bank account. That bank account is also in the name of Jason but it’s not our Petty Officer. This account’s in the name of Jennifer Jason. The money was paid in every two weeks and withdrawn pretty much as soon as it went in. Then, four weeks ago, the direct debits from Amanda Jason’s account stopped.”
“She got tired of giving her sister an easy ride,” Tony said. “Could be a motive.”
“Yeah, could be. Track down the sister,” Gibbs said, giving Tony’s back a pat. “Good work, both of you.” He went back to his desk and picked up his phone just as it started ringing. “Gibbs.” He listened for a moment then swung a glance over at McGee. “I’m on my way.” He slammed the phone down . “David’s been hit. Grab your gear, McGee.”
Tony was on his feet too, Gibbs noticed, even as he grabbed his weapon out of the desk drawer and holstered it. “Sorry, Tony, you’ll have to stay here,” he said as he took off for the elevator at a run, McGee hot on his heels.
Tony’s face was white as he slumped back into his chair. “How bad?” he called after them.
“I’ll let you know,” Gibbs said over his shoulder, hating leaving Tony like this, as if he really was just a peripheral member of the team but knowing he had no choice.
Tony looked away, down at the keyboard and nodded.
The Sundowner Bar was a scene of controlled chaos, people milling about the room looking shell-shocked, some still holding drinks in their hands, others off in corners holding each other up.
Gibbs walked directly over to Romero who was leaning against the bar. “What the hell happened? Where’s Ziva?”
“They already took her to the hospital. They said she’ll be okay. Bullet went right through her arm.”
“What happened?” Jethro asked again, more forcefully this time.
“Honestly, I’m not sure.” Romero shook his head. He was pale and sweating heavily. “We got here, asked to see the tapes and then Ziva looked toward the door and saw PO Jason just walking in. She went to talk to her and then there were a couple of gunshots and Ziva went down.” He shook his head again. “I didn’t even get time to pull my gun. By the time I got over there the woman was gone. I would have gone after her but Ziva was bleeding pretty heavily and I thought I should stay with her.”
“You did the right thing,” Jethro said. “You’re sure it was Jason?”
Romero shrugged. “Ziva was. I didn’t really get a good look at her before all hell broke loose.”
“Okay. Make sure this area’s completely blocked off. I don’t want her making it out of here.” Gibbs turned to McGee who already had his camera out. “I want photos of every inch of this place, McGee. I’m going to get those surveillance tapes.”
He turned back to where the barman stood, pale and shaking, a glass still dangling from his fingers. “The tapes from the security camera. I need them now!”
“Um, I’ll have to call the manager,” the barman stammered. He jumped as the glass slipped from his hand and smashed on the floor.
“Fine. McGee! Grab a chair and get that tape out of there,” he shouted, pointing up at the camera.
“You got it, Boss.” McGee put his camera back in his bag, dragged over a chair and climbed up to the camera, prising the tape out and handing it down to Gibbs. “Okay, get it back to Abby. Romero,” he called, seeing his newest agent re-entering the bar, “take over for McGee.”
“Sure thing, Boss.” Romero took Tim’s camera and started shooting.
“Any sign of her?” Gibbs asked, frustration making his voice curt.
“Not yet. A guy down the street said he saw a woman run past but he didn’t see if she had a gun, said the woman just looked scared. He thinks someone in a green sedan picked her up on the corner. Didn’t make the plate or the make.”
“Damn!” Gibbs shook his head. “We’re missing something here.” His phone rang and he dragged it out then connected the call. “DiNozzo? You got something?”
“How’s Ziva?” Tony asked quickly.
Gibbs sighed. “I told you I’d call you. She’ll be okay, it’s a through and through.”
“Good.” Gibbs heard the palpable relief in Tony’s voice. “Listen, Boss, I think I found something else.”
“Well, spit it out,” Gibbs barked. Tony’d never been hesitant about crowing about something that he thought might break a case before. He sighed. He had to keep reminding himself this wasn’t the same Tony he’d known before.
“PO Jason had an insurance policy, a big one.”
“That’s not that unusual. Could provide motive for someone though.”
“That’s not the weird thing though.”
“Yeah,” Gibbs tried to be patient. Getting information out of this Tony was like pulling teeth.
“She took out the policy herself for a moderate amount. Beneficiaries were her parents. Two weeks later she came back, upped the payout amount and changed the beneficiary to her sister,” Tony said.
“And…” Gibbs waited, tapping his fingers against his thigh.
“She signed the new policy the day after she was photographed at that ATM with a gun in her neck.”
“And several weeks after her parents died in that fire,” Gibbs added, making the connection at last. “Dig up everything on the sister. McGee’s bringing the tape from the security camera back to Abby. Get him to hack into the child services records if you have to. I want to know why she was given up.”
“You called Linda yet?” Gibbs asked more softly.
“Nah. She would have called me if there was a problem,” Tony replied, a little too quickly Gibbs thought.
“Okay. I’m going to the hospital before I head back there. Bye.” Gibbs shut the phone and walked over to Romero. “Find me something we can use,” he said. “I don’t care if you have to keep these people here all day. Someone’s got to know something about this. Anyone you think isn’t telling you everything they know, send them into headquarters. DiNozzo and I’ll interview them there.”
“I could head back and cover the interviews with you,” Romero suggested, apparently oblivious to the glare Jethro was sending him.
“You’ve got a job to do here. DiNozzo can handle the interviews with me.”
“Sure. No problem, Boss.”
Jethro walked quickly to his car, climbed behind the wheel then pulled out his phone again. “Hi, Linda,” he said, “Jethro Gibbs. Just wondering how Emmy’s doing? She giving you any problems?” He listened for a few moments then said quickly, “No, Tony’s fine. We’re just a little busy right now so I thought I’d check in for him.” He smiled when Linda held the phone to Emmy’s ear and he heard her laugh at the sound of his voice. “Okay, thanks. I’ll let Tony know she’s fine. Bye, Linda.” Grinning to himself at letting his soft belly show he clicked the phone shut and pulled out into the traffic.
Three hours later, they finally had the lead they needed. Jethro had watched with wry amusement as Tony slouched on the corner of the interview table and convinced one of the witnesses, who turned out to be Jennifer’s current boyfriend, to give up all he knew about the Jason twins and Jennifer Jason’s probable whereabouts.
He gave Tony a congratulatory smile as they walked back to the office. “Good job,” he said.
“I just let him identify with me,” Tony said with a grin. “I remember doing sleaze with the best of them.”
“You were never a sleaze, Tony,” Jethro said quietly. He looked over to where Romero was sitting. “Romero, we’ve got a lead. Where’s McGee?”
“Down in the lab, helping Abby with those tapes. He said something about 3 D identification processing.” Romero gave a disarming grin. “Want me to call him?”
“Nope, no time. I want to get out to pick up Jennifer Jason before it’s too late for her sister, if it’s not already.” Jethro glanced around at Tony. “Get your weapon, DiNozzo, you and Romero are with me.”
Romero flashed a quick look at Tony then shrugged and led the way to the elevator.
It had gone down easier than he’d expected, Gibbs thought later as he and Tony headed to Linda’s to pick up Emmy. PO Jason was suffering shock and a few cuts and bruises from her twin’s rough treatment but she was alive and going to be fine though Jethro had no doubt there was a lot of counselling in her future. It wasn’t every day you found out, after all, that your sister was a sociopath who’d murdered your parents because she resented being fostered out.
Jethro glanced across at Tony, who looked deep in thought. “Penny for ‘em,” he said.
Tony shrugged then turned in his seat. “Just thinking about Jennifer Jason. Must have been pretty rough on an eight year old, being sent away from home with virtually no explanation for why.”
“Her parents were scared of her,” Gibbs replied. “She killed their pets, set fire to things, even tried to kill her sister a couple of times. They tried everything they could to help her and then, I guess, it all just got too hard for them to cope with.”
“If I hadn’t taken Emmy, she would have ended up in a foster home too. Maybe those people would have decided her problems were just too hard to deal with too. She could have ended up being passed from home to home…”
“But she didn’t. She got you and now she has a home.”
Tony reached for Jethro’s hand on the steering wheel and gave it a quick squeeze. “I love you,” he said quietly.
“Backatchya,” Jethro said with a grin.
They’d fallen into a pretty normal routine after that. They’d eat breakfast then drop Emmy off and if Jethro had to stay behind working on a case, Tony would take the car and go pick Emmy up then come back for him. Things in the office were relatively slow though, for a change, and Jethro was perversely happy about that. It gave him time to see how well Tony was adjusting. He looked fitter, thanks to daily runs and gym workouts two or three times a week, he ate well and seemed to have more energy. In fact, he was looking so much better than Jethro was beginning to have serious doubts about continuing to let Tony and Emmy stay with him. He’d woken more than once in the past weeks with Tony plastered against him, in the usual position he’d slept in before he’d left to be with Jeanne – one arm around Jethro’s waist, his head on his shoulder, and the familiarity of the affection in the position without the accompanying afterglow of lovemaking had almost brought Jethro undone. He’d had to stumble out of bed and into the shower to take the edge off his hard on with a quick hand job more mornings than he wanted to think about.
Emmy seemed stable enough at the moment though they’d had a few bad nights when she’d been cutting her first tooth recently. Jethro was beginning to hope that Tony’s prognosis for her may have been unnecessarily gloomy. She was, in general, a happy baby and she seemed to have grown to love Jethro as much as he had come to care for her.
“How’d you like to be back in the field?” he asked now as they drove into the parking garage at the Navy yard.
“Already?” Tony asked, sounding surprised.
“Sure. You’re fit again and I’m shorthanded with Ziva on sick leave for another couple of weeks.”
Tony rubbed a finger along his eyebrow. “I want to,” he said after a minute. “I hate being behind that desk all the time but-“
“I’m worried about getting pulled into cases and not being able to spend enough time with Em,” Tony said worriedly.
“We’ll work around it. No undercover jobs or anything like that,” Jethro assured him. He stopped the car in his usual spot then turned to face Tony. “I was thinking maybe you might want to get your own place now you’re drawing a salary.”
“Um, sure, if that’s what you want,” Tony said so softly Jethro almost missed the words.
Jethro switched off the ignition and climbed out of the car. “Yeah. I think it’d be for the best.”
“Okay.” Tony stood beside the car and looked across at him. “I’ll see what I can find.”