[personal profile] lit_gal
My Post-Hiatus story

Illusions Lost
Our experience is composed rather of illusions lost than of wisdom acquired.
Joseph Roux

NCIS/Criminal Minds

Earlier chapters HERE

Epilogue 4: Jethro

Jethro knocked on Fornell’s door. His attempts to help Ziva had been badly curtailed by his lack of any credentials. He wasn’t an agent, and clouds floated through his mind, hiding and revealing information at random periods. But when Ziva had called, telling him that Tony and Jenny were both gone and she was wanted for a crime she didn’t commit, he couldn’t turn his back.

Tobias opened the door and leaned against the doorframe. “Look who the cat dragged home.”

For some reason, his memories were clearer around Tobias, although when he tried to remember Tobias’s wife, he got a terrible headache. He rubbed his temple. “Long day. You got a beer?”

That surprised Tobias, but he stepped back. “Sure. Is there a particular reason you smell of smoke, maybe you were standing too near an explosion recently?”

Jethro didn’t bother with a lot of background. As he headed into Tobias’s house, he said, “The explosion was a set up. Namir Eschel wanted to make it look like Ziva tried to blow herself up.”

“Namir Eschel?” Tobias sounded doubtful, but he already had out one of those little phones that was more like a computer. Sometimes reality slapped Jethro in the face hard enough to remind him of all the years he had lost—years that had only returned to him in pieces. Seeing Tobias typing into his little phone was one of those moments. So Jethro headed for the kitchen to grab his own beer. Tobias followed, his gaze still locked on his phone.

“Hate to tell you, but Eschel is dead,” Tobias said.

“Being dead makes for a good cover.” Jethro had said the exact same thing to Ziva when she’d shown up in his basement asking for help. Going with her to the Mossad safehouse had turned out to be a mistake. “He was at the safehouse Ziva knew about. He wanted to kill her and make it look like she’d committed suicide when she got trapped. That’s why someone gave the FBI an anonymous tip.” Jethro was guessing about the tip being anonymous, but it made sense.

Tobias took the beer Jethro held out. “Are you telling me you’re abetting a suspected murderer?” Then he took a deep swig, so he clearly didn’t see himself as on the clock.

“She left information for me to find,” Jethro said. “She didn’t have a lot of options since NCIS has apparently fallen apart since I left.” Part of Jethro felt a twisted sense of pride in that. The damn agency deserved to fall apart after letting the men on that ship die. The more logical part of his brain couldn’t figure out how so much could change so fast. “What the hell happened with Jenny?”

“Ex Director Shepard?” Tobias asked with a laugh. Jethro didn’t find any of this humorous and his glare made that clear. Unfortunately, Tobias was immune. He took his beer and headed for the couch. “The rumors run the gamut. Some people think she was in bed with Eli David. Literally. They say that’s why she brought Ziva into the unit. Another rumor is that she was using vigilante justice—going after anyone she couldn’t make a legal case against. A few people in that camp think she got caught when her primary hit man was blown up and lost a few decades of memory, leaving her short one head enforcer.” Tobias looked at Jethro.

“Nope, not true,” Jethro said as he settled in on the far end of the sofa. If she’d had a specific case and a specific reason they couldn’t make a legal case, he might have considered it. Might. However, Jethro also knew that going that far outside the legal lines caused a lot of trouble and generally didn’t bring the relief a person might hope for.

Tobias shrugged. “Had to ask. That seemed the most reasonable one to me. Anyway, other rumors include her running black ops in some personal vendetta, her being in bed with organized crime and selling protection, and one very determined and very small group that thinks she was removed when she refused to go along with the plot to sell the planet out to the aliens.” Tobias rolled his eyes at that last one. “But in the end, who knows?”

“And DiNozzo?” Jethro asked. Thinking of Tony made him intensely uncomfortable. He could remember the many jokes, the inappropriate comments and descriptions of movies. Each memory seemed to suggest that Tony took everything too far. He was a clown. But Jethro never would have put up with that sort of behavior, much less had a clown as his second—the man he trusted with his team. The dissonance of it made Jethro want to grab a bourbon and not stop drinking until he’d finished the bottle.

A malicious grin spread across Tobias’ face. “DiNutzo is a real FBI agent now.”

Jethro felt the fury roll through his guts. Tobias shoved him in the arm. “I wouldn’t have helped steal him if I knew you were coming back. I know he’s your boy.”

The words sent a jolt of shock and confusion and fear through Jethro’s spine. “I’m not gay.”

Tobias gave him an odd look. “Yeah, I figured that by how many times you kept getting married. Whoa. Did you think I was saying that you and DiNutzo?! Hell no. I’m pretty sure even he’s not that masochistic.”

“What?” Jethro hated this feeling like the words and the world in general was sliding past too fast for him to catch it all. “If you have something to say, then say it.”

“Fine.” Tobias put his beer on the coffee table. “DiNozzo followed you around, always playing second and never demanding the sort of respect that another agent would have. He followed your orders to help steal a corpse from federal custody, if you remember. He was your boy and everyone in DC knew it.”

“Clearly not because he let Lara Macy take over my team.” She had been the only person to come close to nailing him on the Hernandez murder. That day was burned into his memory so brightly that no cloud every obscured it. He remembered the dust in his mouth, the sun glinting off the truck, the absolute anguish when he realized that killing the man did nothing to ease the pain of losing his family.

“Shepard put Macy in charge. DiNutzo didn’t.”

Jethro brought his hand down on the coffee table so hard that Tobias’ bottle fell over and he grabbed for it before the beer all spilled. “I left DiNozzo in charge!” Jethro yelled. It wasn’t logical, but he wanted the pieces in the same places they had been when he left. Too much had changed and he had too little to hold onto. If he was honest with himself, he shouldn’t have come back from Mexico, but he had to. Ziva needed him, and no one else had the loyalty to help her. Gibbs had another moment of vertigo. He remembered someone laughing and telling Gibbs he was lucky to have such a faithful St. Bernard in Tony. Who had said that?

“That team of yours was destroying him! They nearly convicted an innocent man.”

“Then DiNozzo should have brought them to heel.”

“How?” Tobias threw his hands up. “You ruled them through intimidation so that the minute you were gone, they were the peasants leading a revolt.”

“A leader knows how to step into the role. Maybe DiNozzo wasn’t up to it.”

“Maybe you left him a team that couldn’t do their jobs.”

Jethro jumped to his feet. “Excuse me?”

Tobias got to his own feet. “You had two probies. Shepard added a third probie to the damn team. Tell me, would you have gone into the field if it was you and three half-trained privates?”

Jethro reared back. He wouldn’t have, but he knew his team was good at what they did. He knew it. “The team was fine if DiNozzo just knew how to handle them.”

“Really? He had a SFA with two years in the field and marginal shooting scores, an investigator who hasn’t attended FLETC and who had a couple of months of experience with investigations and more experience with international espionage, and Shepard added a law-school dropout who didn’t know how to wipe her own nose.”

“I didn’t tell Jenny to give him another probie. He should have stood up and demanded a more experienced SFA.” After all, Macy had that one agent, the one who had been Jethro’s second years ago. The name escaped him.

Tobias snorted. “Yeah, and Shepard was really on top of shit. That’s why they brought in that Vance guy, because Shepard was handling the agency so very well,” he said sarcastically.

Normally Jethro would have fought until the world ended, but his certainty that this was DiNozzo’s fault was wavering, and he didn’t have the memories to make a good argument. Instead he changed the topic back to Ziva. “Maybe if Shepard was still there, someone would listen to reason. Ziva is not going to leave her car at the scene of an assassination if she’s the guilty party.”

“I figured.” Tobias took his beer and sat back down.

For a second, Jethro stood there, but then standing over Tobias felt rude in the man’s home. He sat. “I figure someone hired Eschel to frame her.”

“You’re not the only one who’s brought up the possibility,” Tobias said. “The FBI does have one or two people capable of thinking their way out of a paper bag. For example, we have DiNutzo.”

“He’s on this?” Jethro demanded. If he was, Jethro was going to slap that boy into the middle of next week for not covering his partner’s back.

“No. He with the BAU,” Tobias said slowly as if not sure how Jethro might react. The BAU. They were some of the FBI’s top agents, but DiNozzo was a clown. He joked all the time. Jethro could remember trying to avoid laughing from some of the antics, and he resented that DiNozzo could have gotten even him off track. The office was not a place for jokes. And yet Jethro could remember a few he pulled.

Jethro sank down into the armchair and rubbed the side of his head.

“Look,” Tobias said, “I’ll make sure someone looks into Eschel, and we do know that there’s a good possibility that someone is either framing David or she did it and someone is planting evidence that she would be too smart to leave behind. We’re on it.”

Jethro took a phone out of his pocket. He’d been planning on talking to McGee, but he wasn’t confident he knew how the computer expert would react without DiNozzo around, and he didn’t want to pull Abby into this with a new director in the office. He tossed the phone at Tobias. “The last incoming all on that was from Eschel.”

Tobias’s eyes got comically large.

“Put out a BOLO for Eschel. You’ll get a hit,” Jethro said. He wasn’t an agent and he couldn’t do anything more for Ziva. But he did know another agent. Maybe he should plant a few more seeds. He stood up to go.

“Jethro. You look like hell. Why don’t you stay here for the night?”

“Got stuff to do.” Before Jethro could get to the door, Tobias was there in front of him.

“Jethro.” Tobias didn’t say anything else, and Jethro didn’t know what to say to him. So he didn’t say anything. He detoured around Tobias and headed for the exit. He needed to find DiNozzo. Most of his conflicting memories were centered around the man, and he needed to know if DiNozzo had his partner’s back. He knew she hadn’t called DiNozzo because she believed he would turn her in, but Jethro’s gut told him that DiNozzo was less pedantic about the law than that.

Now Macy? That woman would never bend the law long enough to let an old woman jaywalk. What the hell had happened to his agency since he left for Mexico? Jethro stopped onto the front porch and took a deep breath. DC was home, but Jethro wasn’t sure he still had a place here.

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