AN: This story is for wwanda, who made a ridiculously generous donation through help_japan for it. I really, sincerely hope that I did her request justice. I'm using it on the "orphans" square of my hc_bingo card as well.
Gibb’s phone rang near eleven, and it was only by happenstance that he’d remembered to bring it down to the basement. Since he had, and since Tony didn’t usually call him about anything other than a case at that time of night, he picked up. “Yeah?”
“Hey, Boss. I, ah, I’m sorry to have called so late.”
The apology would have put Gibbs on edge, but the breathless edge of Tony’s voice had already done so. “Everything all right, Tony?”
“It’s-- Could you meet me at GW?”
Gibbs was glad he’d had a drink. Also that he’d had no more than one. “You’re at the hospital?”
“It’s not me. I’m fine.” Then Tony repeated himself. “I’m fine.”
“Yeah, I can hear that,” Gibbs said, in what was half a call of Tony’s bullshit, and half agreement in an attempt to calm Tony down.
“Boss, I’d really-- I know it’s late, but if you could just, I’ll explain when you get—“
Gibbs made his way up the stairs. “I’m on my way, Tony. Sit tight.”
“—so, it was never supposed to come to this. I was godfather only in name, there were four people ahead of me, for fuck’s sake.”
Tony ran shaky hands through his hair and didn’t stop pacing. Gibbs considered physically pushing him into a chair, but he doubted it would help the situation. Instead he said, “I’m sorry for your loss, Tony.”
It took a second, but that got Tony to still. He swallowed and said, “Yoni-- Yonas was my big brother. Um, when I was a pledge, he—“
Gibbs nodded. He hadn’t done the frat thing, but he knew how it worked.
Tony said tightly, “I stood up for him at his wedding.”
Tony stood in the center of the waiting room, looking lost and small. Finally he said, “I’m not a parent, Boss. I-- I don’t want to fuck my best friend’s daughter up. What am I supposed to do here?”
Gibbs, despite the gruff tone he adopted, wished he had better advice than what he was about to give. “What any parent does, Tony.” He paused. “You figure it out as you go along.”
Yvian Graham—Evie to her friends and family—age eight, was an unusually tall 50 inches, and a scant sixty pounds. She had inherited her father’s Eritrean skin tone, athletic build and tight curls, and her mother’s sharply defined facial features and liquid brown eyes. Currently, one of those eyes was bandaged—although the doctors had assured Tony the damage was temporary—and her left leg was in a cast that had to weigh more than she did.
When they finally let Tony go sit with her, Gibbs went to get them both some coffee. According to the surgeon who’d worked on her leg, she hadn’t woken up since the accident, nine hours earlier, and probably wouldn’t for another eight or so. He said that was healthy—she needed the rest to heal. He said, all things considered, she was lucky.
Considering she’d just survived her only remaining familial guardian—the other four having managed to predecease her in her meager eight years, Gibbs figured the jury was still out on the extent of her luck.
The cafeteria smelled of overly processed potatoes and anemic coffee, but Gibbs went and got two cups, all the same. He dumped four packets of sugar and three creamers into Tony’s, then went back up to the children’s wing. When he arrived, Tony was sitting by the bed, holding Evie’s hand. Hers disappeared inside his.
Gibbs crossed the room and handed Tony the cup. Tony took it with a barely audible, “Thanks, boss.” He looked up then. “You should go home. I didn’t—“
Gibbs sat down in a chair on the other side of the bed and said, “Vance said to take at least a week of your sick time. I called Ziva, she said her and McGee have got the cold cases under control and she’ll call if anything comes up they can’t handle.”
It was Ziva, though. If something came up she couldn’t handle, Gibbs was pretty sure the world would end. Tony opened his mouth, looking like he was going to protest again. Instead what came out was, “I have a one bedroom apartment.”
Gibbs nodded. “I have that extra room for when Mike’s daughter-in-law and granddaughter visit. It’ll do until we can find you some place that’ll work for the both of you. Somewhere in her school district is probably best, just to minimize the amount of change.” He hesitated. “Do you know who inherited their house?”
Tony blinked. “Um, no. I got a call from the hospital because I was listed as next-of-kin but I haven’t spoken to a lawyer. I don’t even know who the family lawyer was or who’s the executor on the estate. I hadn’t thought of that.” Tony shook his head slightly, as though to clear it. “But we shouldn’t, I mean, I know I’ve crashed with you when my water wasn’t working or something, but I didn’t bring an eight year old with me.”
“I like eight year olds better than you, Tony,” Gibbs said calmly. “Drink your coffee. Things’ll seem easier with caffeine involved.”
“Yes sir,” Tony murmured, but didn’t bring the cup to his lips.
“Drink,” Gibbs repeated, more softly. Tony drank.
Gibbs went home and showered around ten in the morning. He checked in at the office, where Abby was sitting upstairs with Ziva and McGee, clearly waiting to be told what the hell was going on. Gibbs caught them all up quickly. There was a moment of utter silence. After a while, McGee said, “Tony can’t take care of himself.”
Gibbs would admit, privately, that he probably shouldn’t have smacked McGee as hard as he did. All McGee said was, “Right. Thanks, boss.”
Abby said, “We should get her a stuffed tiger.”
Ziva frowned. “Does she like tigers?”
Abby shrugged. “Dunno. It was something my mom always did for people when they were sick. She said it was a symbol of strength.”
Gibbs put a hand on Abby’s shoulder. She was nearly vibrating next to him. He said, “Tony needs someone to plan the funeral so he can stay with Evie.”
Ziva’s jaw tightened, but she said, “I have experience with -- I can take care of that.”
Gibbs nodded. “Make it three or four days from now. The hospital probably won’t release her before then, and if she wants to attend, she should be able. Tony’s looking into the number of the lawyer who drew up the will, he can probably give you any information you need. I’ll get that when I go back.”
Ziva nodded. “I can go talk to Tony, Gibbs. About his friend’s faith, other factors that might be significant.”
“Come by after work. Bring food. He’s not really paying attention to that sort of thing right now.”
“Boss—“ McGee started.
Gibbs cut him off. “You’re in charge here.”
McGee pressed his lips together. “All right.”
Gibbs started walking toward the elevator only to find Abby at his side. “Coming with, Abs?”
She just tucked her hand inside his and stayed silent. He squeezed her hand.
Abby got Tony to eat, mostly by way of using the fact that Tony was crap at saying no to her. Gibbs stayed with Evie, who resolutely slept. He was in no hurry for her to wake, for Tony to have to answer questions with no good responses. Abby dropped Tony off at the room when he had eaten, and said her good nights.
Tony was dozing fitfully when Evie woke. She looked around, clearly disoriented and afraid and Gibbs was about to wake Tony up, get him to help calm her down when she started to try to say something. Gibbs moved nearer and said softly, “Hey, I know you don’t know me, but I’m a friend of your parents.”
Close enough for government work, and he wanted to get her to take some water. He held the straw to her lips, and she drank, slowly. He said, “That’s right,” and took it from her before she could drink too much.
She looked at him uncertainly before asking, “Why’s Uncle Tony here? Where’s my dad?”
Gibb’s movement had clearly woken Tony who was rubbing his eyes. He said, “Hey, Evie Stevie.”
She didn’t respond to the nickname, instead repeating, “Where’s my dad?”
Tony swallowed and took one of her hands in his. He brushed a curl back from her forehead. “Evie, do you remember being in the car with your dad?”
She nodded. “We were coming home from soccer practice.”
“Someone ran a red light, baby girl, and your daddy, he was -- there was a crash, and he—“ Tony’s jaw tightened and Gibbs could see the beginning of tears in his eyes.
Tony tried, “Do you believe in heaven?”
Evie frowned. “I guess. That’s where everyone says my mom went. And grandpop and grandmamma and Auntie Biri.”
Tony took a breath. “Your dad had to go there, too. He had to be with all of them.”
She thought about that for a second. Her lower lip wobbled. “But he -- You can’t see people in heaven anymore. They go away and they don’t come back.”
“I know,” Tony said carefully. “And if your dad could have stayed with you, believe me, Evie, he would have done anything, but we don’t get to choose when we have to go, not like that.”
She was crying now, not loudly, but with the force of a child who just didn’t understand, and Gibbs wasn’t entirely sure whether he ached more for her or for Tony. She asked, “Can I go? Why can’t I go?”
Tony looked at a loss for a moment, but he managed, “Because you’re needed here. You’re very needed.”
“I don’t want to be,” she wailed.
Tony gathered her up as best he could and rocked her. “I know. I know, sweetheart.”
Gibbs walked around to put a hand on Tony’s shoulder, and waited out the first storm of Evie’s grief.
Evie fell back asleep when she’d cried herself out. It took Tony a while to loosen his hold on her. Tony stepped away from the bed, over to the window and Gibbs watched Tony’s shoulders move up and down. Tony didn’t make a sound.
There was a tap at the frame of the door and Gibbs turned around. Ziva was standing there with a carry-out bag in her hand. “Dinner,” she said quietly. “I promise it contains no traces of vegetables.”
Behind Gibbs, Tony let out a strangled laugh. He walked past Gibbs to Ziva and took the bag. “Thanks.”
She squeezed Tony’s wrist. “Sit. Eat.”
Tony sat and Ziva parceled out the orders between Gibbs and him. Gibbs took his and said, “I’m gonna get some air.” He suspected Tony might need to cry during the conversation about to follow, and it would be easier for him to do it in front of one person, rather than two.
It was cold outside, but Gibbs didn’t mind. It helped him numb out the sound of a child’s sobs with no mother to answer them. Evie didn’t look a damn thing like Kelly, but she had the same high-pitched, curious tone, even under the fear and grief.
He took a breath, then another. He wished, not for the first time, that Mike were still alive, because Mike had always known how to get Gibbs to focus at times like these. Another thought came to him and he called Ziva’s number, leaving the message, “Stay with him until I get back.”
He got in his car and drove the twenty-five minutes it took to get to Tobias’s place. He rang the doorbell and waited. When Tobias answered the door, whatever he saw in Gibb’s face made him say, “I’ve got fresh coffee.”
Gibbs stepped inside. “It’s eight at night.”
Tobias shrugged. “Took home some work.”
Gibbs knew the feeling all too well. He followed Tobias into the kitchen and accepted the proffered mug. After a sip he said, “DiNozzo’s been appointed the legal guardian of his oldest friend’s kid.”
Tobias didn’t say anything for a long moment. “The friend dead?”
Gibbs nodded. Tobias asked, “How’s he holding up?”
“Tony’s stronger’n he looks.” Gibbs stepped further into the room and sat in one of the kitchen chairs.
Tobias took a slow sip of his coffee then asked, “How’re you holding up?”
“I’m sitting at your table drinking coffee, Tobias. How d’you think?”
Tobias tilted his head in acknowledgment. “How old’s the kid?”
“Eight. It’s – it’s a girl. She’s a girl.”
Tobias’s expression let on that he had suspected, but he didn’t say as much. Instead he asked, “What can I do?”
Gibbs shook his head. “This is good coffee.”
Tobias nodded slowly. “You’re welcome to another cup.”
By the time Gibbs got back to the hospital, Tony was sleeping sitting up and Ziva was working on her Blackberry. She looked up. “We thought you had possibly gone home for the evening.”
“I left you a message.”
“To stay until you got back. Morning would have been coming back.”
Gibbs shook his head. “Go home, Ziva.”
Ziva did not get up. Instead she said, “I have booked a funeral home. Tony remembered where the girl’s mother’s service was held.”
Evie’s mother had died delivering a stillborn child two years after Evie’s birth. Gibbs remembered Tony taking sick leave for the funeral and to help his friend through the ensuing days. He remembered Tony showing up at his place at nine in the evening the three days following the funeral and accepting bourbon and silence and Gibb’s couch. Tony’d left in the morning before Gibbs had ever woken up. It hadn’t been the only time Tony had come over that they hadn’t spoken about it, but it was one of the few that stood out with painful clarity for Gibbs. Gibbs said, “Good.”
“And the lawyer reached Tony. Evidently he had an outdated number.”
Gibbs frowned but then remembered that Tony had been forced to change his number recently due to a security breach at the office; they all had. Tony probably just hadn’t gotten around to telling everyone, and even if he had, Gibbs was aware a person’s will wasn’t the first thing someone changed upon getting his best friend’s new number. “What’d he have to say?”
“The lawyer’s the executor. The house is either to be lived in or sold and the money put toward Evie’s college fund. She’s the sole inheritor and everything liquid is to be placed in a trust.”
Gibbs wondered if Tony could live in that house without every day being a battle against memories. He didn’t think so. Selling it might take time, but was probably the best option. They’d talk after the funeral, when Tony could concentrate on things like that.
Ziva continued, “I’ll go to the parlor in the morning. The man I spoke with seemed fairly certain most of the arrangements were already on file.”
Gibbs would give the man credit: he’d made it so that the worst jobs wouldn’t fall on those who survived him. On Tony.
“That’s good work, David.”
Ziva smiled tightly and stood. “I’ll call tomorrow when I know more.”
Gibbs reached out and squeezed her shoulder. She shut the door to the room behind her.
The hospital released Evie after two days, since she was alert and Tony clearly knew how to follow a medication schedule. Gibbs and Tony had decided that until a further decision was made, they would pick up stuff from her house but have the two of them stay at Gibbs’s. Tony had wondered if it might be better for her to be in familiar surroundings, but the bedrooms in Evie’s house were on the second floor, and that settled the issue.
Gibbs drove them and helped get Evie settled before admonishing Tony to get a nap and going back to the office. He went up to Vance’s office and let himself in, privately relieved when he noticed he hadn’t actually interrupted anything. Vance lifted an eyebrow but all he said was, “How’s DiNozzo holding up?”
“Kid’s built tough,” Gibbs told him and didn’t think about the puffiness under Tony’s eyes, or the three day-old stubble that Tony never, ever let go that long.
Vance nodded. “This mean you’re back?”
“Funeral’s tomorrow. Team’s going to attend. But other than that, yeah.”
“Tell DiNozzo he can talk with Jackie about after school childcare. She can give him some good names.”
“Thanks. I miss anything?”
“Nothing the people you left me couldn’t handle.”
“Okay.” Gibbs made to leave.
Vance asked, “How are you holding up?”
Gibbs didn’t turn back around, but he did admit, “It was easier when none of my team had little girls at home.”
“Not that you’ve ever missed this fact, but my door’s open.”
Gibbs took a breath. “Thanks, Leon.”
“Go solve a case or something, would you?”
“Yeah,” Gibbs said, and went back to the bullpen.
Tony called mid-day and said, “Boss, give me something I can do from here before I lose my mind.”
His voice was tense, without any of the casual humor it generally held. Gibbs said, “I’ll be there in a few.”
McGee helped him carry two of the larger boxes of cold cases out to his car. Gibbs nodded his thanks. McGee asked, “Should I bring dinner, or something?”
The thought of cooking seemed very tiring to Gibbs. “That’d help.”
“Five thirty? Don’t kids eat early?”
“Depends on the kid. Five-thirty’s fine.”
“I’ll make sure it has vegetables.”
Gibbs dredged up a smile and got in his car. It wasn’t rush hour, so the drive home was quicker than usual. When he walked in the door, Tony and Evie were on the couch. Tony had arranged things so Evie’s leg was propped up. Tony had a laptop on his knees and they were both watching something on it. If they were going to stay for any length of time, Gibbs could acknowledge he probably needed to update his entertainment options, or, at the very least, let Tony bring his equipment over.
Tony looked up as Gibbs entered and when he saw the box, some of the strain around his eyes softened. He put the laptop on the coffee table and made sure Evie could see it. Then he came over to the kitchen table, where Gibbs had put the box. Gibbs told him, “There’s another in the car.”
“How’s she holding up?”
“She keeps asking questions I don’t have good answers to.”
Gibbs reached out and squeezed Tony’s shoulder. “Get a little work done, DiNozzo.”
Tony sat down and Gibbs went over to where Evie was clearly falling asleep. He sat where Tony had been. The movie was something animated. Gibbs didn’t recognize it. Within minutes, Evie was asleep and he turned it off, then worked to get her more comfortably situated. She seemed imminently breakable underneath his hands, and for a second his breath caught, but then he fell into a pattern of muscle memory he’d never entirely forgotten.
When she was lying down and bundled up, Gibbs sat with her for a bit, just listening to her breathe. Then he went over to where Tony was hunched over a file. Gibbs didn’t think the file was really getting read, but he didn’t care.
“Why don’t you go get some clothes and stuff from your place? Maybe take a little ride. I’ll be here.”
Tony looked up. He hesitated for a second, then nodded and stood. “Thanks. Again.”
Gibbs just waved him off.
Evie had chosen a bright green dress for the funeral, sniffling at Tony that it had been her father’s favorite. Tony told her, “I know, baby girl. He sent me a million pictures of you in it.”
Gibbs had helped her with her hair, something Shannon had always done for Kelly, but he’d watched, and even if Evie’s hair was a different texture and type, the theory seemed to hold. Together, they managed to wrangle it into a few clips. He held her up in front of the mirror and said, “You’ll be the prettiest girl there.”
Evie’s lower lip wobbled, so Gibbs took her to the kitchen, where Tony had made breakfast. None of them were really hungry, but he and Tony ate anyway, to set a good example.
Gibbs drove them to the funeral home and got Tony and Evie situated in the first row. Tony looked at him when he started to leave. “Boss?”
Gibbs squeezed Tony’s shoulder. “Gonna sit with the others. I’ll come with you in the procession, if you’d like.”
Tony blinked, but then looked behind Gibbs, back to where Ziva, McGee, Abby, Ducky and Palmer were all standing. He nodded. “See you in the limo.”
Ziva had done a nice job making the arrangements. There was a good turnout, with coworkers and parents of Evie’s friends and several of the men who had been in the fraternity, all of whom stood as close to Tony as they could without crowding him. The eulogy was given by one of Yonas’ longtime coworkers and close friends, and the service was short and to the point. The funeral procession went easily, and although the act of being a pallbearer and the graveside gathering allowed the worst of Tony’s grief seemed to catch up with him, it did not take long, and Gibbs was able to get Evie and him from the graveyard fairly quickly.
In the limo on the way back to the funeral home, Tony held himself tightly, the way Gibbs had seen him do when injured or terrified. Evie fell asleep against Tony’s side, cried out and exhausted from all the movement, especially with her injuries still bothering her.
When they got back into Gibbs’s car—Tony buckling Evie carefully into the backseat, her waking just long enough to reassure herself Tony was still there—Tony sat passenger-side, and somewhere between the first light and the second, Gibbs noticed Tony’s shoulders starting to shake.
Tony brought a hand up over his face. Gibbs stayed quiet, except for when Tony managed a, “Sorry, boss.”
Gibbs said, “Don’t, Tony. Just, get it out. Get this part of it out.”
They’d lost people together before: Kate, Pachi, Jenny. With a shared loss, it was easier to break down in front of another person, because there was mutual understanding and an unspoken agreement it would go no further. This was different; but only, Gibbs thought, because Tony hadn’t been around for Shannon and Kelly.
Tony nodded, and for the rest of the ride, there was nothing but the sound of the engine, and the soft, hitching noises of Tony’s grief. Gibbs took an extra loop around the city to give Tony time. Tony had to have noticed, but he didn’t say anything. There was more than one type of shared silence in the experience of mourning.
Tony put Evie back in school on the Monday after the funeral, but he drove her there himself and left early to pick her up and spend the evening with her every day that week. They caught a case on Wednesday, and Gibbs could tell Tony was miserable at only being partially useful, but at the moment, Gibbs was willing to acknowledge privately that partially was better than nothing. They would have to work something out going forward—something that didn’t cause Evie to feel neglected by Tony—but for the moment, Gibbs would work with what he had. The rest of the team seemed to be in silent agreement, because they just doubled their efforts, and asked Tony about Evie when he came into the office in the mornings.
By the second week, Tony had arranged for afterschool care and a caretaker to pick her up and get her home for the nights when the team had to stay late or even overnight. He made a conscientious effort to pick her up most days.
The cast was making Evie restless, and Tony and she had had to have at least four serious talks in the past two weeks about school and home and other things in which Tony wanted her to have a say, but in which he had to make the ultimate decision. Gibbs was not shocked when she had a complete temper tantrum meltdown Thursday evening of her third week living with Gibbs. He was mildly impressed. He’d forgotten just how much noise one little girl could make.
Tony looked like he was about to cry after about ten minutes, or, alternately, offer her anything she wanted. While Gibbs sympathized, that wasn’t going to do either of them any good, so he tapped the back of Tony’s head and said softly, “Ground her.”
“For at least three days.”
“Lost her dad. All the more reason. She needs to know that things are still stable, that you have boundaries and can keep her safe.”
Tony swallowed and took on the expression of a kid told he has to kill his own dog. All the same he went, picked Evie up from where she had literally sprawled on the ground in order to flail as best she could with one leg in a cast, and took her to her bedroom. Gibbs had no idea what actually happened once they were there, but Tony walked out with Evie still screaming, his face chalk white.
Gibbs went and poured him a drink. Tony took it with a hand that wasn’t quite steady and threw back the first gulp. He coughed a bit, but then asked, “Who in their right mind would want to be a parent?”
Gibbs couldn’t help the laugh that escaped, didn’t really try too hard. Instead, he said, “You get used to taking the bad with the good.”
Tony took another sip. Gibbs’ smile widened a little, despite the situation. “There’s generally more good than bad.”
“Well over a decade of being in law enforcement, and this is going to be what kills me,” Tony said ruefully, setting down the glass.
“She’s adjusting. Things will probably get worse before they get better, but they’ll swing around.”
“Ziva thinks a grief counselor might help.”
Gibbs raised his eyebrows. “Ziva said that?”
“Only reason I’ve actually been thinking about it. Evidently it helped some of the kids around her, when she was younger. I don’t think her dad was ever willing to let her go, but there was a high incidence of loss for her schoolmates so she saw it in action, if not from a personal point of view.”
Gibbs was, at best, wary of shrinks. But he was also willing to acknowledge he wasn’t a paragon of mental health in regard to loss. “Couldn’t hurt, I suppose. Maybe Kate’s sister would know a specialist?”
It was Tony’s turn to laugh, short and knowing. “I’ll look into it.”
Gibbs nodded. “Get some sleep.”
“I’ll try that. See how it goes.”
Things got a hell of a lot more volatile once Tony found the shrink. One night, after a full-out screaming match in which Tony had been accused of not caring at all for Evie’s father and had finally had to ground her for a full week, video games included, Tony admitted, “The shrink said it would get worse before it got better.”
Gibbs swallowed down a retort about overcharging professionals stating the obvious. Kelly’d had her fits, but Kelly’d had a mother and a father who loved her instead of having lost them, one at a time. Still, it was exhausting, and he wasn’t even the parental figure in this mess.
Tony got nervous in the silence. “I’ve started looking for places, Boss. Be outta your hair as soon as I find something workable.”
Gibbs blinked at that. He knew the deal when he’d first brought Tony to stay had been that it would be temporary, but it had been months and Gibbs—who’d thought silence was all he really wanted from a house anymore—was having a hard time imagining the house without them in it. “Here’s not workable? I realize the drive to school’s a little further than ideal, but you haven’t seemed to mind.”
It was Tony’s turn to blink. “You don’t have basic cable, boss. Or even a fenced in yard.”
“Both of those things are fixable.”
“Also, not to put too fine a point on it, or anything, but that would mean we were around all the time.”
Gibbs only response was to reach out and smack Tony upside the head. Tony smiled, real and unrestrained, for the first time since he’d sat in that hospital room with Evie. “Yes, boss. Thank you, boss.”
They were the same words as always, but Gibbs heard the emphasis on the “thank you.” He rolled his eyes and went to go spend some time in the basement.
Tony left work midday on a Tuesday to take Evie to get the cast off. The plan was for him to come back, but he called at around two and said, “I’m gonna take Evie to the park, Boss.”
It was the time of year when cherry blossoms were first starting to bloom and DC was particularly lovely. It was still cold out enough for Gibbs to say, “Make sure she wears a coat.”
Gibbs could hear Tony rolling his eyes. “I’m even wearing one by way of good example.”
Gibbs bit back the snort of laughter that was his only response. “See you later.”
Ziva walked over and reported on the background of their latest victim’s ex-husband. Gibbs was pretty sure that was a dead-end: the ex lived in Tuscaloosa and they’d settled out of court over six years earlier, but it was a routine check. Ziva finished her report, agreeing they had better avenues of pursuit, then hesitated before asking, “How’d the doctor’s appointment go?”
Gibbs appreciated the way Ziva had bent over backwards to help Tony adjust to his new role as parent, so instead of shooing her back to work he said, “Not sure. Evidently Tony didn’t feel good about taking her back to school or calling her sitter.”
Ziva looked back at her desk for a moment. She faced Gibbs again and said, “I compound fractured my radius and ulna, both, when I was nine.”
Gibbs didn’t ask how. He absolutely did not want to know. She didn’t offer the information, just said, “It’s weird, getting the cast off. Like a part of you you’ve always counted on has changed without the permission of the rest of you. You have to...find your balance again.”
Gibbs was pretty sure Ziva wasn’t really talking about Evie and her leg, or at least, not just that. “Hopefully a walk in the park will help.”
“I’m sure,” she said. “He’s going to buy her hot chocolate, and probably anything else she wants, you realize?”
Gibbs realized. “I was very clear about who deals with sugar highs.”
“Mm,” Ziva commented, before wandering back to her desk.
Gibbs said, “Look at the petty officer’s XO again, would you?”
Ziva raised an eyebrow. “Your gut?”
That, and we’ve got nothing else. “The XO.”
Ziva smiled, but did as told.
Gibbs didn’t get home until nearly eleven; they’d had to arrest the XO, which meant paperwork. Evie was sleeping on the couch, Tony in the kitchen, one of the cold cases they’d yet to return sitting on the table. Gibbs sat down. “Any reason she’s not sleeping in her bed?”
“Said she couldn’t fall asleep until she saw you get home.”
“I gather you told her she would hear me from the window.”
“I’m a clever, clever man, Boss. You catch the bad guy?”
“Always do. You talked with her shrink about her abandonment issues?”
“He says he’d be more worried if she didn’t have them, and I think he might have a point.”
Gibbs nodded slowly. “What’d the leg doctor say?”
“Three months of physical therapy, but I can get her sitter to take her.”
“What upset her?”
“I think that I was there to hold her hand instead of her dad. She didn’t want to talk about it.” Helplessly, Tony admitted, “She didn’t even want ice cream.”
“There are going to be bad days, Tony.”
Tony looked over to where Evie was sleeping. “She used to smile every time she saw me, you know?”
“Being the goofy uncle’s easier than being the dad even under good situations. Which this is not.”
“Logically, I understand that.”
Gibbs tapped Tony’s elbow and stood up. He walked over and carefully gathered Evie in his arms. Her eyes fluttered open for a second and she murmured something indistinct before letting them shut. Gibbs put her in her bed, tucking the covers over her, and shut her bedroom door behind him. When he emerged, Tony was still standing at the table.
“Come help me with the boat.”
Tony hesitated. “There isn’t a boat, boss.”
Gibbs shrugged, opening the basement door. “A girl needs a boat, right?”
Tony didn’t respond that Gibbs heard, but he did follow him down the stairs and listen carefully as Gibbs explained how to start building.
Tony, unsurprisingly, had all sorts of ridiculous notions about what a finished boat should be able to do and how it should appear, but for all the ideas that spilled off his lips, he was the same way with the boat as he was in the office: when it mattered, he did exactly as told. And Gibbs, though he would never have admitted it, found Tony’s prattle reassuring.
In the evenings, once Evie had brushed her teeth and been read to and tucked in bed became their time to sneak down to the basement and sand down the roughened boards, prepare the wood for the act of coming together to make something. Gibbs had learned this skill from his mother’s brother, starting one early spring in Pennsylvania when he had been seven. They had worked in his uncle’s garage, since the man had eschewed cars for his bike and his own two legs.
When Gibbs had married Shannon he’d imagined he’d do the same someday, for his own kid, or at least
someone in the neighborhood’s kid. He would have thought Tony would have been a poor substitute, but the opposite turned out to be true: it was different, having someone he knew that well down in the basement with him, but in some ways, richer.
Every once in awhile, if the case they were working on involved a kid, or if it was a date that held
memories for either of them, they would pour a little bourbon and let it settle before they got to work. Mostly, though, it was just the two of them, Gibb’s instructions and Tony’s stories, the smell of sawdust and the effort of working the wood tiring them both out unto a place where each could get some sleep.
When the first struts had been laid and the empty hull of the boat stood proud, ready to bear the body that would make it safe to carry persons across the water, Tony ran a hand over the smooth beams and said, “Thanks.”
Gibbs nodded, not concerned with what the gratitude was for, not really needing it. Tony continued all the same. “For sharing. All of it.”
“Always wanted someone to share it with, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said gruffly, and went upstairs before he revealed anything else.
Tobias’ daughter’s birthday had fallen on a weekday, when she was with Diane. Diane had been in charge of her big birthday party, but Tobias had insisted that ten was a big year for a girl and he was going to have his own little shindig as well. The difference between eight and ten years old, Gibbs was given to understand, was a nearly unbridgeable divide, but whatever else Gibbs could say about Diane, she had raised little Rosanna with impeccable manners. Rosanna had inherited a well of cannily hidden kindness from her father.
Tobias’ party was a quiet affair: Rosanna’s family on Tobias’ side came, as well as Gibbs, Tony and Evie, and a few kids who lived in Tobias’ neighborhood. They had tacos, because they were Rosanna’s favorites, and the kids played video games while the adults drank coffee and wondered when the last time they’d had that much energy had been.
Tony’d looked uncomfortable showing up, and Evie had been shy, clinging to him until Rosanna offered her the first piece of cake, at which point she said, “The birthday girl has to have that.”
Rosanna had shrugged. “My mom says rules are made to be broken.”
Gibbs and Tobias had shared a glance over the heads of the kids. Evie still looked uncertain. “Do you like corner pieces?”
“Of course,” Rosanna seemed to feel the suggestion she might not was an affront to her ten-year-old dignity.
“We could each have one and start at the same time,” Evie suggested.
“Cake twins,” Rosanna said thoughtfully, then nodded her approval. “That’s what we’ll do.”
Tobias cut the pieces—then those for everyone else—and Rosanna and Evie were inseparable from that point forward, clearly having had a meeting of the minds over baked goods and whatever else it was prepubescent girls swore blood oaths over. With one kid taken care of, Gibbs let his gaze wander until he found Tony.
He was in the kitchen, cleaning the dishes. Gibbs was about to go to him, but from the other side of the kitchen, Tobias made his way in and toward Tony. Gibbs was not, by nature, someone who eavesdropped, but he was a trained investigator, and there were times when that overrode his basic instinct to leave others well enough alone.
Tobias took up a towel and started drying the dishes in the rack. After a moment, Tony said, “Sorry to crash. I told Gibbs he could take Evie, but—“
“It was nice of you to come,” Tobias said. “Thanks for the gift.”
“Hope she likes it. Evie says everyone she knows wants one.”
“Next time, I’m using her as my inside source. Diane always has to return my gifts and get Rosa something she’ll actually use.”
Tony smiled a little and handed over a dish. After a moment, Tobias said, “Look, DiNozzo, it’s none of my business, really, but just, you’re doing well. With her. She’s…I wouldn’t have expected a kid her age to be recovering so well, but she is. And that’s down to you.”
Tobias shook his head once. “No. No, Jethro gave you a place to do what you needed to do. But you’re the one who took the responsibility seriously.”
Tony stopped for a moment, his entire body stilling the way it did when he was sorting through facts, trying to find the truth. Finally, he said, “Thank you, sir.”
“It’s the weekend, DiNozzo. At least Fornell, preferably Tobias.”
“Tony it is.”
It was eight sixteen on a Wednesday night when Gibbs barked at Tony to take Ziva and interview a witness and Tony said, “McGee’s gonna have to, Boss.”
Gibbs glanced at his watch then, because it was the first time he hadn’t paid attention and Tony had. More than that, it was the first time Tony hadn’t just called the sitter. There was a moment of silence, which Tony must have interpreted as tense, because he said, “Sorry, but you know she’s been having nightmares—“
Gibbs cut him off with a hand wave. “Go home. McGee’s got it.”
Tony hesitated, so Gibbs got up and lead the way to the elevator. Tony followed. Once they were inside, Tony said, “If I were her, I’d freak if my guardian wasn’t there to tuck me in, too.”
“I’m not mad.”
“You’re something. And I’d get if you wanted someone without responsibilities on your team. The director mentioned something about a position—“
“I’m not giving up my senior agent.”
“I know change isn’t really your thing, but—“
Gibbs rolled his eyes, something he only did when really pushed to it. Tony stopped, rocking backing on his heels. Gibbs smiled, fleeting but the kind Tony would recognize as real. “You’re growing up, DiNozzo. I’m proud of you.”
Gibbs caught the flush of pleasure at Tony’s neck. He kept his gaze steady. After a second, when Tony’d recovered himself, he opened his mouth. Gibbs could see the temptation to make a joke, but after a moment Tony just said, “Thanks.”
“Tell her goodnight for me.”
“I’ll be back once she falls asleep.”
“Nah, I’ll call if we need you. There’ll be plenty of paperwork nobody wants in the morning.”
“Thanks for the motivation.”
Gibbs smirked and pushed Tony out of the elevator.
Evie’s soccer team made regionals, which were to take place in Baltimore on a Saturday. The plans had been set for the team along with Fornell and Rosa to make the trip out there to see Evie play. The team caught a case that Thursday, which invariably rolled into Friday and looked like it was going to make its way into Saturday.
Tony didn’t say a word, except, “I’m going,” which Gibbs had already known.
Gibbs walked up the stairs and into Vance’s office and said, “Robinow’s team can take this case. It’s not complicated, it just needs some files and witnesses tracked down, and Robinow’s team can handle it fine.”
Vance looked up at him and asked, “This about the soccer game?”
“Regionals,” Gibbs said. He didn’t really have much of a clue of what that meant, but he knew Evie was coming out of her skin in excitement about it, especially since, with her leg injury, it hadn’t been clear she’d be able to play at all this year. She’d be absolutely broken up if the people she expected to come watch her couldn’t do so.
“Have any idea how many of my kids’ games I’ve missed?”
“Your kids have a mother and a father,” Gibbs said. He wasn’t precisely unsympathetic, he’d missed a few dance recitals back when there had been things to miss, but Vance was comparing apples and oranges.
Vance was evidently aware, because he sighed. “Robinow?”
Gibbs said, “Thanks,” and meant it.
Gibbs had always suspected that deep down in Duck, there was a football hooligan just waiting to get out. Evie’s game evidently provided the impetus to rouse the sleeping beast, and by halfway through the game, Gibbs was starting to think he was going to have to have McGee take Duck on a walk. Ziva, though, separated Duck and Abby—who’d been egging him on—just in time. Rosanna went with Duck, clearly having found a new hero. Tobias stayed with Abby, knowing full well who really ran things.
Tony took somewhere between one and two million pictures when he wasn’t busy cheering. Evie’s team lost, but she didn’t have time to be too upset, since Tony was on the field a second after they were done, talking about ice cream and cake.
The team ended up eating dinner at a loud, awful pizzeria that the girls absolutely loved. Tony made sure to deliver on the ice cream, and one of the parents had brought up cake. By the time they left, all the girls were flagging from the drop in adrenaline, but kept awake by all the sugar they had just consumed.
Gibbs agreed to a sleepover, so Tobias left Rosanna with them after making arrangements to pick her up in the morning. He mouthed, “I owe you.”
Gibbs would collect, he imagined, but probably not in any way Tobias would truly mind. Abby and Duck had driven together, and Ziva and McGee, so they said their goodbyes in the parking lot, Tony hugging and thanking each of them in turn after they’d had their shot at wishing Evie goodnight. Ziva squeezed him a bit and whispered something that made him laugh, soft and real.
When they were gone, Tony corralled the girls into the backseat and rode shotgun. The girls were all giggles for the first twenty minutes of the drive, but by the time they pulled into the driveway, both were three-fourths of the way to sleep. Gibbs took Rosanna in, and Tony got Evie. Without speaking, the two got the girls into pajamas and managed to get them to brush their teeth before putting them in bed.
By mutual, if unspoken, agreement, they made their way down to the basement afterward. Tony poured bourbon into the Mason jars and they sipped as they sanded down part of the boat’s hull. After nearly an hour of work, Tony said, “Thanks. For the Robinow thing. You didn’t have to. I would’ve understood.”
“You would’ve,” Gibbs agreed.
“I would’ve explained to her.”
“That ever help? I mean, when you were a kid? Your dad explaining that he’d had a meeting to be at, or whatever?”
“At first,” Tony admitted. “Before it became clear that there was always going to be a meeting.”
“You lost your mom,” Gibbs said. “Feels like the world’s biggest excuse, right?”
Tony shrugged. “Still, I know how you feel about the job.”
Gibbs ran a hand over the wood. Not quite smooth enough. “The job’s important. It’s saved me more than once. It’s got nothing on that kid, and you know it.”
Tony smiled a bit. “Guess I do.”
Gibbs considered Tony’s half smile, the way he was ducking his head and added, “Got nothing on you.”
Tony’s head came up, his eyes widened, then narrowed. After a moment, though, his features relaxed and he said, “Thanks.”
Gibbs flashed a quick smile, a crinkling of his eyes, small upturn of his lips. “Drink up and get back to sanding. This beauty’s not going to build herself.”