1220 days, 6 hours, 7 minutes
He’d listened to the tape, of course, despite Ducky and Kate’s pleas otherwise. How could he not? Everyone in the operation, saving him, had been wired, which included his lover. He wasn’t going to pass up that kind of opportunity, especially now.
On the recording, Gibbs had heard Tony ask Kate if he was still wearing his vest; heard Kate admit to DiNozzo that he wasn’t. Under other circumstances, the growl in Tony’s response about killing Gibbs if the sniper didn’t would have pleased Jethro. He’d been concerned about how the younger man tended to defer to him in their relationship and put him on a pedestal. Under other circumstances, Jethro would have liked hearing that Tony cared enough to be worried about him and, especially, that he was confident enough to plan on chewing Gibbs out.
Under other circumstances, that is.
Unlike Gibbs, Tony had been wearing his bullet-proof vest. It hadn’t done much good, “bullet-proof” being something, of a misnomer. The vest offered protection but a sniper rifle was designed to deliver a bullet at killing velocity over a distance of hundreds of yards. Fired point blank, it had ripped through Tony’s vest like the garment was made of tissue paper.
1220 days, 6 hours, 6 minutes
It haunted Gibbs that he’d taken time to put on his hat before joining in the chase for the sniper. How many precious seconds had he wasted? By the time he’d run into that filthy alley, Tony was all but gone. Gibbs had turned the corner and his vision tunneled to the sight of Tony sprawled boneless on the ground, an ominous red strain on his chest growing at an alarming rate.
A sense of hopelessness had overcome Gibbs as he dropped to his knees next to Tony - he’d seen mortal wounds before and knew what they looked like, even if his heart didn’t want to believe. The sucking sound the ruin of the younger man’s chest made as he tried to breathe was distinctly audible, the sound of it raising the hairs on the back of Gibbs’ neck.
If Hell were a noise, it would be that sound.
Tony’s eyes, those glorious windows to his soul, were already starting to dim by that point. Still, the younger man had tried to reach out to Gibbs, weakness interfering and causing him to only be able to lift it halfway. Gibbs had made a desperate grab and caught the flailing hand, bringing it to his face. His kissed the palm and cradled it to his face, heedless of the blood that covered it.
“You’re okay,” Tony had whispered with a ghost of a smile. Happy, truly happy, that Jethro was all right.
And then he died.
Between one breath and the next, before Jethro even had a chance to say Tony’s name, the vibrant man who’d come to mean everything to Gibbs was gone. In a way, both men died at that moment, because even right in the middle of the shock of it all, Jethro knew he’d never be the same.
1220 days, 6 hours, 5 minutes
All of the details from that horrific afternoon were crystal clear in Gibbs’ memory. He remembered the dead weight of Tony’s body in his arms and the pinch of the gravel under his knees as he’d rocked back and forth. He remembered how the wail of the sirens couldn’t quite muffle the sound of Kate Todd throwing up or how the metallic tang of blood – Tony’s blood – had overridden the other scents of the garbage-strewn alley. The alley itself was a dingy, dirty place to die, the only color being the blots of blood and bits of Tony that adorned the wall behind where he’d been shot. In the midst of his grief, Gibbs’d also seen that the sniper, a man later identified as Kyle Hendricks, was dead from two shots to the chest. From the angle, those shots had to have come from Tony’s gun. The fact that Tony had killed his own murderer brought no comfort, no comfort at all.
He remembered Ducky’s voice, thick first with sorrow and then with desperation. He didn’t forget, wouldn’t forget, the pinprick to his neck. Then and only then did he cry out, in anger at his old friend for sedating him. Gibbs knew why Ducky did it but still resented the action. Would, in fact, resent it for the rest of his life. He had wanted to stay with Tony, hold him as he made the transition from body to corpse. Intellectually, he knew that Anthony DiNozzo was gone but intellect had nothing to do with the need to hold his lover.
1220 days, 6 hours, 4 minutes
The funeral had been well attended. The only one who would have been surprised at that would have been Tony himself. He didn’t know if Tom Morrow had pulled some strings or if the Marine commander whose recruiters had been the sniper victims had done it, but Tony had received a military funeral, complete with 21 gun salute and the presentation of the flag. Gibbs liked to think it had been a Marine’s decision; the Corp took care of their own. Tony DiNozzo had never been military but he’d died protecting Marines. An honor guard was the least of what he deserved.
Tony had actually been cremated. It was a promise he’d made Gibbs make shortly after they’d become lovers. Jethro had readily agreed and immediately made Tony reciprocate. They’d both seen too much of what happened as corpses decomposed. Neither had wanted it to happen to them. Neither did Gibbs ever think he’d have to keep that promise.
Gibbs had half expected to have to fight Tony’s family over control over his funeral, but it hadn’t been an issue. He’d gone that very night to break the news to Tony’s father. Kate had gone with him, eyes red and nose dripping. He remembered her fragile compassion as she’d stopped him before he knocked on the door, using her mouth to wet the sleeve of her silk blouse in order to wipe the dried blood from his cheek. Mr. DiNozzo had taken the news politely, as though he’d been told he’d just received a parking ticket and not that his only child had been cut down in the line of duty. At least the man had come to the funeral, even if he remained dry-eyed, which was more than Gibbs could say for the rest of Tony’s family. His blood family, anyway. Tony’s true family had been there. McGee had grown a spine and stoically kept a consoling arm around a sobbing Abby, unashamed of the tears that ran down his own face. Jethro was glad to see Ducky similarly comforting Kate; Gibbs himself simply didn’t have the energy for it. He wore his dress uniform and didn’t give a damn if he was supposed to be allowed to, given his retirement from the Marines years ago, or not. He only wished he’d thought to model it for Tony before it had been too late.
1220 days, 6 hours, 3 minutes
Director Morrow wouldn’t let him back on the job, which was why Jethro was spending so much time in his basement, working on his boat. He had to keep busy. He imagined that there soon would be an order, thinly veiled as a compassionate suggestion, to see a therapist. He’d go, not only because he was used to obeying orders, but also because he’d jump through hoops if that meant he could return to NCIS. While his hands automatically shaped the wood, he rehearsed what he’d say in his mind. Gibbs was no stranger to grief or even having someone he cared about die in his arms. He knew what to say so they’d belief he was healing, even if it wasn’t true. He knew, deep down, that he couldn’t heal. Time could ease some types of pain but not this one.
Tony wasn’t the only one who died in that alley.
The others were good about stopping by and checking on him. Ducky, Kate, Abby and even Director Morrow had spent time on his basement steps, luring him into conversation while he worked. He let them, knowing he wasn’t the only one hurting, even if he wouldn’t allow them into the basement itself. That was hallowed ground, something each of them seemed to understand. The urn containing Tony’s ashes sat on his workbench, right next to an unopened bottle of bourbon. Those who didn’t know Gibbs would have found the placement of his lover’s remains irreverent but it was anything but. Sometimes when the loneliness got to be an ache he couldn’t ignore anymore, Gibbs picked up the urn and held it to his cheek, just like he’d held Tony’s hand there as he died. He hated it that the container was metallic and cold, when the man himself had been warm. A warm personality with a big heart, Tony had been Gibbs’ own personal sun. With Tony gone, Gibbs felt like he was living in a permanent total eclipse.
1220 days, 6 hours, 2 minutes
He knew those who cared about him were worried that he would do something drastic, like put a gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. They were wrong and Gibbs was patient enough to wait until they figured that out for themselves. He was a soldier before anything else and knew he had a duty yet to do. With NCIS, he was a civil servant and the earliest he could retire was at the age of 55. Tony had teased him about it, even buying him one of those clocks that counted down the days, hours and minutes until he was eligible. DiNozzo had laughed, saying that once Gibbs retired, he’d quit too and be Jethro’s kept man, living with him on his boat and sailing the world.
At the time, Gibbs had just shaken his head. He wouldn’t be ready to retire, not as young as 55. Now, though, the clock sat next to Tony’s urn, marking the time. Jethro would retire the moment he could. By then, Kate, Ducky, Abby and the rest should be past their grief and he could safely leave them. He would have served his country and the Marines, in one form or the other, for most of his life. His duty would be over.
1220 days, 6 hours, 1 minute
Thinking about it, Gibbs dropped his tool and walked over to the bench. Picking up the urn, he looked at it solemnly.
“By the time that clock of yours gets down to zero, the boat ought to be done,” he said quietly.
Gibbs had decided what he’d do then. He and Tony would sail together, their first and last voyage. He’d point the boat into the sunset and never look back. It wasn’t a fairytale “happily ever after” ending but it didn’t need to be. Gibbs was a Marine. Marines didn’t need fairytales. If all he got was “ever after,” without the happily, he’d make do.
The ocean was vast and so was his pain. Let the water swallow him and it both.
1220 days, 6 hours, 0 minutes
The clock counted another hour and Gibbs smiled. Stroking the urn one last time, he put it down and picked up his tool again. Time to get to work.
~ the end ~
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