Gibbs had been struggling since he woke up in the hospital to remember the last fifteen years of his life. It was mind boggling trying to grasp just how much of his life he'd lost. A day or two wouldn't have been a big deal. He'd have expected that. But fifteen years! Jesus Christ. How as he supposed to handle that?
Just seeing himself in the mirror was proof enough that the doctors and staff weren't lying to him. When had he gone gray? Or decided to let his hair grow? It hadn't been that long since before he joined the Marines.
Taking care of his hair had been a piece of cake. Little time with a razor and it was back in order. Fixing the gaps in his memory was proving to be more of a challenge.
Talking with Ziva had helped fill a few holes. Enough that he knew what Pin Pin had been up to and what the hell happened in that laundry room. But it wasn't enough to convince the powers that be to handle the problem differently. Nineteen lives lost. God that hurt. He suddenly better understood why Franks felt the need to retire...leave ...quit. Whatever.
He was almost ready to do the same. He couldn't though. Not until he had more answers.
By all accounts he'd been an agent for fifteen years. Surely there was a reason he'd stayed with it so long. There had to be something that kept him at NCIS. He didn't know everything, but he was positive there had to have been plenty of shit that happened which would have made him want to quit over the years. The miserable pricks letting a ship blow up and permitting nineteen men to die when it should have been prevented could not have been the only time he'd been this close to turning in his badge and gun.
So why had he stayed? Why was he still an agent? Why had he put up with all that bullshit?
Gibbs hated not knowing. He needed answers. He wasn't asking Jenny. No way in hell. He remembered having sex with her...sex, not making love. He'd made love to only one woman in his life and that was Shannon. Sex with anyone else was just a raw physical need, instinctive and satisfying, but never the same thing he had with Shannon. Of that he was sure. Was probably why he'd been married and divorced three times...if what Jenny said was true.
He had the personnel files of his team neatly stacked in front of him. It would have to be one of them. He had to trust them or they wouldn't be part of his team. Gibbs took a deep breath and started with the one on top.
Ziva. He shook his head. She was too new. He remembered that much. She'd known him for a year. She couldn't fill in the missing gaps. At least not where it counted. He could read his own damn file for most of what she'd be able to tell him. It would fill in the 'what' and 'when'...but wouldn't really tell him the why of his own motives.
Ducky. The Englishman had claimed to know him the longest; he should have been the logical, obvious choice. Yet, Gibbs still couldn't remember much about the ME. He really only had flashes; random images and isolated facts, nothing that really flowed or seemed concrete enough to work with.
McGee. He considered the younger agent's file for a moment. Gibbs shook his head. Nothing immediately came to mind when he thought about him, except that McGee was a good agent but still a little green. Gibbs knew he wasn't as new to the team as Ziva. McGee's file told him that much. Unfortunately, the history between them wasn't much more than two or three years. And he couldn't shake the feeling that the younger man had a hell of a lot of faith in him. Gibbs wasn't sure if it was pride or prudence that made him hesitate to confess any weakness which might shake McGee's faith in him.
Abby. He dismissed her for the same reason. He had fond, paternal feelings for her similar to how he felt about Kelly. Not the same, but close. He didn't want to hurt her by admitting he didn't remember much about her. Loud music, lots of caffeine, a fondness for the bizarre and macabre, but he really couldn't remember how they met or when. He was stuck by a familiar flash of pride by what he read in her file. She was damn good at what she did.
He sighed softly reaching for the last file. Anthony DiNozzo. He was the most seasoned agent on the team, Gibbs' second in command. He'd been with Gibbs for nearly 5 years, if the file in front of him was accurate.
Gibbs studied the photo. The picture didn't do him justice. He knew DiNozzo was far too animated and energetic for a still shot to really capture his essence. Shannon had been like that. Only half their wedding photos had turned out because she was constantly in motion, little more than a white blur in most of them.
He really couldn't figure out why he knew he trusted Tony. If they were good friends, shouldn't he at least of come to the hospital? But then he knew how he felt about Abby and she hadn't come either. After not knowing Ducky, and then getting so upset with Jenny, Gibbs wondered if the doctors had restricted his visitors. If the doctor hadn't, the nurse might have. She certainly hadn't thought much of Franks smoking or getting him a steak to eat. Ziva had snuck in during the night. She was used to covert operations; maybe Tony hadn't been able to get in.
Gibbs checked the address listed, growling a bit in frustration as he wrote it down on a bit of scrap paper. He likely had known it by heart at one point; now he was so afraid of losing the information again he had to write it down. He wondered if Ducky's mother felt this same sort of irritation and fear.
Gibbs frowned. And then smiled. He'd remembered something. Ducky's mother was still alive. She was a little on the senile side but otherwise in good health. She'd made a pass at him not too long ago.
Gibbs laughed softly. He grabbed the slip of paper he'd written DiNozzo's address on and his jacket. It was late but he was sure the younger man wasn't in bed yet. He didn't know why he was so sure, but he was going with his gut.
As he drove to DiNozzo's place, Gibbs had a feeling of dÃƒ©jÃƒ vu. It was oddly reassuring and disconcerting at the same time. He'd obviously been to the younger agent's home although he couldn't clearly remember when or why. He even knew a short cut.
Gibbs scanned the building parking lot. None of the spaces were labeled, but he had no trouble picking out the older Mustang that had to belong to DiNozzo. Something about the car triggered another flash of memory; a high speed chase on the plasma screen at the office, a beautiful classic car rolling over...totaled. For some reason the memory brought with it a feeling of loss and regret. It wasn't his car. Of that Gibbs was certain.
He shrugged off the strange memory as he touched the hood of the Mustang. Gibbs could feel the residual heat from the engine, heard the faint pings as it cooled. Tony hadn't been home for long. He frowned. It was nearly midnight. The other man should have been home hours ago.
Gibbs climbed the stairs, wincing as his bruised body reminded him that just a few days ago it had been forcibly introduced to a steel bulkhead. Getting caught in an explosion hurt like hell, no doubt about it. It had the first time too.
He hesitated on the landing, suddenly unsure if he should knock. Gibbs glared at the door, hating the uncertainty in himself and his welcome. He was startled when the door opened but he managed to cover it.
"Hi." Tony blinked, looking at him in surprise. He obviously wasn't expected to see Gibbs standing on his doorstep.
"DiNozzo." Gibbs noticed the younger man had a duffle bag slung over one shoulder. "You going somewhere?"
"I was. But it can wait." Tony shrugged, lightly tossing the bag to the side. "You need something?"
The curt answer didn't seem to faze Tony at all. Green eyes studied blue for a moment. He just stepped back and opened the door wider. "Come in."
Gibbs glanced around as he entered. The place felt familiar. He vaguely recalled being here before. He had a key. He remembered searching the place for clues to Tony's whereabouts. The memory came with feelings of anger and confusion.
"You want something to drink?" Tony asked, heading for the kitchen, either politely overlooking or oblivious to Gibbs hesitation in the hallway.
"Coffee." The hospital had restricted his intake to one cup a day. Bastards.
"Figures." Tony chuckled. "I'll have to make some."
A fresh cup would be worth waiting for. Gibbs sat at the table, watching Tony start the pot. The younger man's moves were graceful and sure.
Tony pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge. He offered it to Gibbs along with a small bottle of pain killers. Tony's lips curled into a slight smile when Gibbs gave him a questioning look.
"Never really seen you in pain, but I'm guessing you got a headache from hell."
"Yeah." He hadn't noticed until Tony mentioned it. He pried the top off and shook three out into his hand. 'Grunt candy' Marines called over the counter painkillers. Aches and pains were just a natural part of the job.
"Concussions are like that." Tony shrugged. "Had enough of those to know."
Gibbs nodded slowly as more flashes of memory came to him. A bunker, a woman in a wedding dress left to die, Tony's cry of pain as she attacked him with a lamp. Another woman who wasn't really a woman, a bar, Tony on the floor.
Tony pulled down a mug off the small wooden tree that sat on the counter. He filled it, offering it to Gibbs before taking a seat.
"Aren't you going to have a cup?"
"Had enough coffee the last two days to last me awhile."
"You don't really like it all that much," Gibbs stated with conviction.
"Not at much as you do, no." Tony smiled. "Usually only have a cup in the morning."
Gibbs took a sip. The coffee was dark, strong and bitter. It was just the way he liked it.
"So, what can I do for you, Boss?" Tony cocked his head to one side, gaze steady. "Besides making coffee for you."
Gibbs sighed. He wanted to rub his face but knew that would be more painful than it was worth. The still healing burns kept reminding him of their presence.
He took a deep breath and forced himself to maintain eye contact. "I still have some gaps in my memory."
Tony nodded. "Kind of figured that."
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. He thought he'd done a good job of covering when he'd been at the office.
"You came off the elevator with Ziva. Guessing she introduced herself to you." Tony smiled ruefully. "Hoped that when I sent her to talk to you it would jar some memories."
"You sent her?"
"Yeah." Tony sighed, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table, chin resting on his hands. "Needed you to figure out what the hell was going on with the case. There were just too many missing pieces and time was running out. Thought one of us might have better luck than Ducky or the Director had in jogging your memory. Would have come myself...but I was team leader in your absence."
The weight of the decision to send Ziva rather than go himself was readily apparent in troubled green eyes. Gibbs found himself better understanding how Tony had come to be his second in command. The kid was good; dedicated and determined. The image of a St. Bernard unexpectedly came to mind.
"When you showed up, I figured it worked. More or less. Just not completely."
"You called McGee by the wrong name. Betting you didn't know that until he corrected you."
Gibbs stifled a wince. The thought he'd covered that slip reasonably well. He couldn't help feeling a sense of satisfaction that his senior agent had been observant enough to catch the slip. No one else appeared to have.
"Once you knew who he was, by process of elimination, you knew who I was." Tony looked away. Gibbs could tell having been forgotten hurt the younger man. He couldn't shake the feeling he had hurt Tony more than once over the last few years. What he didn't understand is why he felt guilty about it. He usually didn't care if he trampled on the feelings of his male subordinates. At least he never had while in the Marines.
Tony cleared his throat, gaze once more on Gibbs. "Abby was the only one left on the team you hadn't seen or spoken to yet. So when the girl in pigtails hugged you there was only one person she could be."
He grinned, eyes losing their shadows and lighting up with amusement. "Don't really understand how you could forget someone like Abby, but then anything is possible, I guess."
Gibbs grimed. "She's definitely one of a kind."
"So's Ducky." Tony's countenance shifted as his own grin faded. "You didn't really remember him either did you?"
"Not then." Gibbs shook his head. He sipped his coffee. "He'd told me that story about being left on the bus when I woke up in the hospital."
"He'd mentioned that." Tony nodded, sitting back. "I did the math after you'd left."
"I've gotten some back," Gibbs admitted quietly, "just not all of it."
"If you need to fill in holes, you'd do better to ask Ducky." Tony's tone was reasonable, encouraging. "He's known you longer."
It was an argument Gibbs already had with himself. Tony was the one he wanted to provide the details. He had a good reason for it. "I think you understand me better than he does."
Tony's forehead wrinkled in confusion as he stared at Gibbs. "You must have me confused with someone else."
"I remember you." It wasn't a lie. He did remember Tony....sort of. He remembered trusting the younger man, feeling comfortable around him. He just didn't know why. 'Got your six, Boss' echoed in Gibbs' head for a moment. It inspired a level of reassurance and comfort nothing else had since he woke up in the hospital.
Tony folded his arms over his chest. "You should go talk to the Director. She's known you--."
"No!" Gibbs declared decisively. He was not talking to her. Not just no, hell no.
"O...kay." Tony stretched out the word, eyeing him warily. It was clear he was surprised by Gibbs vehemence. It was also clear he wasn't going to ask why Gibbs was so adamant.
"Abby?" Tony suggested hesitantly.
Gibbs turned the mug around in his hands, staring at the dark liquid. "I don't want to hurt her feelings by telling her how little I remember about her right now."
Belatedly he realized he was causing the same hurt to Tony. That might be why the younger man was attempting to refuse, why he was offering other people in his stead. Gibbs glanced up trying to read Tony's __expression.
Tony's jaw tightened, eyes darkened with something Gibbs couldn't quite read. The look was gone a second later when Tony smiled. "Abby is definitely a little sensitive about stuff like that. She was seriously pissed and very disappointed when she thought you forgot her birthday."
"I didn't forget." Gibbs protested, certain of that fact. He snuck into the lab to leave her gift on the desk.
"No you didn't." Tony agreed, chuckling softly. "She just thought you did."
Gibbs cleared his throat, uncharacteristically nervous. "So...you'll help me out?"
"What do you need me to do?" Tony asked without hesitation.
"I don't know." Gibbs shook his head, hating feeling lost and uncertain. He had no idea what brought memories to mind and what didn't. So far there hadn't been any clear pattern to triggering them. He said as much, frustration and anger leaking into his voice.
"Maybe spending some time around familiarÃ¢â‚¬""
"I'm missing fifteen fucking years, DiNozzo," Gibbs growled. "Nothing is familiar at this point. I barely recognize my own home."
He got up and started pacing Tony's kitchen. "I pass people and I catch myself wondering if I should know them. Do I work with them? Should I know their names? Are they friends or enemies?"
Gibbs wasn't sure why he felt so comfortable spilling his guts to Tony but he couldn't stop himself. He'd been struggling with this internally with no one to really talk to. No one willing to listen who wasn't trying to force him to recall details of vital importance. This was his life, not a case.
"If I hadn't looked it up, I wouldn't even know my own address for God's sake. I got a boat...a boat in the basement! Did that ever make sense? I don't have any idea who my neighbors are. I don't have any idea where the hell the grocery store is and there's no food in my house."
"You're not much of a cook so the grocery thing might not be a big deal," Tony offered quietly.
Gibbs rounded on him with a glare, eyes spitting fire. "I'm serious, DiNozzo."
"So am I, Boss." Tony stood and faced him, not intimidated by his fierce look. "It's a lot to remember...so how about we focus on the important stuff, and let the minutia wait."
Gibbs sighed. He wished he'd asked for something stronger than coffee to drink. "I just wish I could get the hell away from here. Go somewhere that I wasn't supposed to remember. That no one even knew who the hell I was so I wouldn't have to worry if I should know them."
Tony bit his lower lip. He seemed to be mentally weighing his decision before nodding to himself. "If that's what you really want...I can do that."
Gibbs blinked. He hadn't expected Tony to take him seriously, but the idea was very appealing. Get away and just try to figure out who Leroy Jethro Gibbs was now without worrying about how he'd gotten that way. Maybe find a reason to stay with a job he wasn't sure he even wanted any more. He raised an eyebrow. "You got a place in mind?"
"I was headed there when you caught me at the door."
"I've never been there?"
"Never." Tony smiled. "Can guarantee no one there will know you and you won't know them."
"Some fancy resort hotel somewhere?"
Tony laughed. The sound was deep and rich. Gibbs had no idea if he'd ever heard it before but he wouldn't mind hearing it again.
"No...not fancy. Not a resort. Bit more on the rustic side." Tony grinned. "Actually, it's more you than me when I think about it."
Gibbs nodded, instinctively trusting Tony. "I've got a bag in the car....I think."
"You usually do." Tony stepped over to the counter. He dumped the remaining coffee into a travel mug, offering it to Gibbs. "Might as well finish that."
Gibbs followed him to the door. "You must pack in double time," he said when Tony stopped to pick up the bag he'd dropped by the door. The younger man hadn't been home very long when Gibbs pulled in.
"This one is always packed."
Gibbs smiled. "You learn that from me?"
"No." Tony shook his head. "Started that when I was twelve." Tony made a shooing motion, ushering him out the door before he flipped off the lights and locked the door.
"Twelve?" Gibbs took a sip from his cup, walking in step with Tony toward the Mustang and his sedan. "You planned to run away from home or something?" Kelly had threatened to do that once in awhile when she was mad.
There was a tightness in Tony's voice, something hard and brittle. It hadn't been there before. Gibbs wondered if this was yet one more thing he'd forgotten. "Did I know why before...before my accident?"
"No." Tony gave him a tight smile. "Wouldn't worry about it right now. You got enough on your plate."
It was a polite brush off, but a brush off nonetheless. Gibbs nodded, respecting the obvious boundary line being drawn. He had lines of his own.
Gibbs grabbed his bag from the trunk of his car. He tossed it lightly to Tony who placed it in the trunk of the Mustang. He set is own bag in next to it.
Tony handed Gibbs his cellphone before he started the car. "You might want to call some people. Give them a heads up so no one sends out a search party."
Gibbs squinted at the phone. His fingers tightened around it, knuckles whitening. He couldn't remember anyone's phone number.
"Ducky is number five on the speed dial." Tony's matter-of-fact tone lessened his embarrassment and anger. "Abby is number four. McGee is three. Ziva is two." There was a moments hesitation before Tony said softly, "Two used to be Kate's."
"I remember her."
"Good." Tony nodded once as he started the car. "She deserves to be remembered."
"Should I tell them where we are going?" Not that he really knew where they were headed, but he figured Tony would mention it as some point.
"Wouldn't tell them...unless you want them to track you down."
"Not for a few days." He needed some time to get things sorted out first before he dealt with his entire team's expectations.
"Okay." Tony neatly backed out of his parking spot. "Just tell them you are going to take some time to get your head screwed on straight. Tell them you'll call every day so they won't worry."
Gibbs nodded. That should work. He needed this. Hopefully they would understand as well as Tony seemed to.