Picking Up the Pieces - Chapter 5

It was Friday, the last day of work for this particular week. Unless something happened, that is. He only needed to finish the report and he’d be able to go home. Into darkness and silence. He needed darkness and silence after the last few days. After the week they’ve all been through. But he didn’t want to dwell on the details of their last case. It was over and done. Just a few finishing touches on the report and it would be over and done for good.

Tony could literally feel the restlessness that’s been plaguing him, plaguing them all, leave his body. Even Tim looked ready to relax. He guessed the younger agent has had enough as well, despite the fact the last case was just right up his alley of almost sci-fi gadgets and gizmos.

Everybody was slowly relaxing, even the new addition to their team. Though he suspected that new addition would soon turn out to be a former addition. It’s not that they didn’t appreciate the help and effort, it was just...Well, each new probie they were assigned soon realized they weren’t entirely welcome. And not just into their little three-man team. They could feel the frost emanating from the lead forensic expert and the two MEs as well.

It took a special person to sit behind the desk in front of McGee’s—Tony has asked Tim to switch desks as soon as he’s come back to work, he couldn’t look at it empty or filled by someone not worthy of sitting there—and each new occupant quickly saw that. And just as quickly they realized they weren’t that ‘special’.

Tony hit the save button and sent the finished report to the printer, frowning at the notion that everybody bar one was actually relaxing. Gibbs, the staid, zen, unflappable Leroy Jetro Gibbs, has been dashing up and down the stairs like a headless-chicken for the better part of the day. And saying Gibbs and headless-chicken in the same sentence was sure to be a blasphemy.

It’s started with a terse order from Director Vance in the morning that made him rush up the stairs, two steps at a time, and into MTAC. He’s been distracted in the field, constantly checking his phone, and replying to sporadic phone calls more cryptically that usual. He’s even forego the interrogation of the killer, leaving the job to Tony and Tim.

If Tony didn’t know better he’d think the man was retiring and grooming the two of them to be his replacements.

He inserted the printed report into a folder, when Gibbs returned to the bullpen, and stopped in front of his desk.

“Going home, DiNozzo?”

Tony looked up, somewhat surprised. Gibbs never asked questions that had such obvious answers.

“Yeah.”

“I might have something for you to do before you head home.”

Running errands? “Okay.”

Gibbs glanced up to the upper floor. “I’ll get back to you, Tony.”

The boss only used his name for special occasions. What was going on? “Okay. I’ll just go file this.” He lifted the report folder.

He returned a few minutes later to find Vance standing in the bullpen, waiting for Gibbs to finish his phone call. He was taken aback by the slight smile playing on Vance’s lips.

Vance smiling, Gibbs all aflutter, it looked like an epidemic. He was glad he wasn’t the only one noticing it, judging by McGee’s expression.

Tony glanced at his watch and pulled on his jacket. “Boss?”

Gibbs finally seemed to relax as he looked at him. “There’s a C-130 landing at Andrews in an hour. I need you to pick up something for me.”

One hour less to enjoy his solitude. “Sure, no problem. What is it?”

“You’ll know when you see it, Agent DiNozzo,” Vance replied instead of Gibbs.

“Where do you want it delivered?”

Gibbs smirked. “You decide after you see what it is.”

Vance glanced at his watch. “It’s pretty late, so the traffic shouldn’t be bad. I’d get on my way if I were you.”

Tony glanced at McGee that simply shrugged. They both knew a dismissal when they heard one.

~~~

The plane was late. He stood there on an airstrip in Andrews, fighting the urge to turn and giving the sniper that he was sure was keeping an eye on him through the scope the bird.

Tony huffed and stuck his hands deeper into his pockets. So much for spending the night in the peace and quiet of his empty apartment. No, his boss and his director had to arrange for this strange pick up at the end of the work-week, in the middle of the freaking night.

If it wasn’t for his respect for Gibbs he’d have left this damned airstrip half an hour ago, when he’d realized the C-130 wouldn’t be landing on time. Not that anyone has advised him of the delay. And it was his respect for Gibbs, and the threat of multiple Gibbs-slaps, that prevented him from seeking refuge in this car. If he sat behind the wheel, he’d probably be halfway to his apartment before he knew it.

What was so important it could not have waited until Monday to be delivered and picked up? And why did Gibbs and Vance have to send him? Tim was free. Wasn’t he? He didn’t really know. He sighed softly. He’s been keeping everybody at a distance, which meant he had no idea. He probably should’ve felt a little guilty over the fact he’s been neglecting Tim for the past months, ignoring Abby, snapping at Palmer...But he didn’t. He just couldn’t muster the effort...To care.

He knew he was being a bastard. He knew that, damn it. But it was easier this way. Keeping everybody at arm’s length kept them from asking questions, making soothing noises...Wanting to help. They couldn’t help. No one could.

Gibbs was the only one who understood. He’d experienced it himself. And he’s served as his buffer for the past months. Quelling any too annoying questions or soothing noises. For that alone he owed it to the man to stay here and wait for his damn package.

Which would be arriving very shortly, because the C-130 finally landed.

“About time,” he muttered and stepped back instinctively as the plane taxied past him.

He waited for the cargo door to lower and tried peering into the gloomy interior for a peek to what might be carried or transported out.

For a few moments the plane appeared to be empty, and he was about to call Gibbs, when something finally moved. A figure slowly emerged and walked slowly down the lowered cargo door. It paused slightly when it hit the runway as if looking for someone. The passenger, dressed in a large, dark hoodie, the hood pulled up over the head, carried only a backpack. Tony suspected it was that backpack or its contents that he’s been sent to pick up.

Before he could call out, the hooded figure spotted him. It looked like they’ve drawn a breath as if bracing before starting walking slowly toward him.

The greeting died on Tony’s lips when the figure approached. The gait looked familiar, the smooth, flowing stride of a trained dancer. Or fighter. The plane’s sole passenger was on the smaller side, the body, despite the bulky sweatshirt, looked slim and lithe.

His heart in his throat and his breath shallow he watched as the figure stopped in front of him, the top of the head reaching his chin. A few heartbeats passed without either of them moving a muscle. Then the hood was off, revealing a mop of short, unruly, brown curls.

And the breath he’s been holding exploded out of his chest.

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