McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.
Chapter 305 : The New Path
A/N: Quick reminder Anonymous Was A Woman happened after STAW went off the cannon. More at the end.
Gibbs thought about it the whole ride home, what had Franks been up to?
Whatever it was, he wasn't doing it when Gibbs stayed with him that one summer. Or, if he was doing it, whatever it was didn't involve doing anything for four months at a time.
But Gibbs didn't think he was doing, whatever it was, back then.
But the last few years… especially after the Doc said it was cancer… he was doing something. Wouldn't say what. And, thinking about it, Gibbs doesn't know why he thought Franks was up to something. There were no obvious tells. Mike wasn't asking him for favors or anything. But… there was something.
He knew it in his gut.
Or maybe he just knew Mike so well that he knew there had to be more to it than laying on the beach drunk all day long. Even Mike couldn't do that for a decade at a time.
So, what was he doing?
The box. (technically, boxes) Gibbs had had it for years. All of Franks' "insurance policies." Everything he ever knew about anyone that he could use for leverage.
Gibbs built the false wall behind his bookshelf, stuck the collection of stuff Franks had given him in it, and left it there. And though he added to it as Mike gave him more and more stuff, he never opened any of it.
Because, unlike Franks, he was never so much of a loose cannon that he needed to blackmail people into letting him keep doing the job. Never bent the rules so far that he'd have to keep a loaded gun to make sure that no one would smack him for it.
Well, that's not true.
Unlike Mike, he never felt like he deserved to wiggle out of getting smacked for the rules he'd bent or broken.
So, there was a sense of… trepidation as he opened the box. A sense of peeking behind curtains he never meant to touch.
On the upside, if it can be called an upside, by now most of the things he was looking at were moot. The cases were over, the people involved dead. The entire first box was filled with dead men on dead cases. Things that happened not just before his time, but in several cases, ended before his time as well.
The second box caught up to when he began at NIS. Not exactly current events, but at people he knew, cases he heard of, some he'd been on as a Probie. He refused to look into the file marked "Leon Vance," though he found the quote marks around Leon's name ominous.
And, it was true that he felt dirty by reading through them. These weren't just the skeletons in the closets; these files told the tales of the monsters that put those skeletons there. All 'greater good' arguments aside, there was some awfully shoddy work in these files and a boat load of men who deserved to sleep poorly because of it.
Worse than that, there were signs that the people he knew, respected, men who helped him to anchor himself when he was lost after Shannon and Kelly, were full of shit when it came to doing the job and doing it right.
That was probably part of not opening Leon's file. He doesn't want to know if Leon's full of shit, too. Doesn't want to know how many bodies Leon had to bury to get to where he is.
But for most of these files, and the men represented by them, they've passed to eternal sleep. And for almost all of the others, retirement has come and taken them off every case, forever.
Gibbs burnt the dead files without thinking twice. Nothing left to do with them. The ones where any of the agents were still alive, he kept, one day those cases may open again.
He looked at Leon's one last time, and tossed it on the fire, as well. Whatever was in there, he didn't need to know. Whoever Leon was, the man he is now will own up and act right if it ever comes back at him. Gibbs trusted that. Gibbs needed to trust that.
In the last box, the one Franks gave him right before he died, there are clues to something different. There are files on Coast Guard employees, on Federales and Mounties, on members of the TSA and the FAA, ICE, there are a bunch from the Border patrol, both on the Mexican and Canadian sides, there are files on high ranking officials at the Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia airports, and there are dossiers on people in different US Embassies.
These were all, as much as they can be, Frank's has been dead since '11, up to date. These were recent files on men still doing the job. These were also, unlike the others, which were mostly case files highlighting shoddy or flat out illegal work, straight up blackmail, lists of mistresses, gambling debts, embarrassing past activities, that sort of thing.
They're clues, but beyond the fact that everyone Franks had a file on was involved in some sort of travel or border thing… Gibbs wasn't seeing it.
"God, Mike, what the hell were you doing?"
He looked at the files in front of him again. FAA, Coast Guard, TSA, Border Patrol, ICE, airport officials…
He looks around for a moment, willing Mike's ghost to pop up and tell him, but he doesn't. The Embassies are all in the middle east… Opium? If it meant making sure that Leyla and Amira never wanted for anything… If the payout was big, and he was dying already… Yeah, he'd do it in a heartbeat.
Not drugs. Keep thinkin', Probie, you'll figure it out.
He doesn't see Mike, but the voice is clear.
"Thinking about what?"
Left you all the clues you need. Practically spelled it out. Just keep thinkin', you'll get there.
Thinking about it through church didn't help. The only answer he can think of, drugs, doesn't make any sense.
Actually, no, it makes perfect sense.
He can see what Mike's got set up is some sort of smuggling ring. With Mike's background in law enforcement and the military he'd have had good connections for drugs or guns.
But… he wouldn't leave that lying around for Gibbs. Mike knew there was no way he'd touch anything like that, and Mike wouldn't have given him all of this if he didn't expect him to eventually pick it up and use it.
So, it can't be drugs. Just. No. Never. Wouldn't matter how bad off their family was, how much they were hurting for cash. He'd hire out for wet work before running drugs.
Guns… Not like he couldn't think of people he wouldn't mind getting their hands on some good weapons. He was sure Franks felt the same way… (Though, given what he can see, this looked like Mike was moving something into the USA, and Gibbs really hoped he wasn't arming groups inside the US.) But… TSA? Airport officials? Immigration? Passport officials at different consulates? Guns are big, heavy, take up a lot of space. That's not who you call in for running guns.
It's who you call in to get a cover ID for someone who was running drugs…
Sort of… But… No, there isn't a document guy in the list of files Mike had. There's a list of people who you ask to turn a blind eye. Some you might ask for help. But you don't go to the US Consulate and bribe the Ambassador in an effort to get fake papers. You do that to get real ones, in a hurry.
He was distracted at Sunday dinner, still thinking through the problem, wondering. That got some minor ribbing from various Slaters, but in that he wasn't paying attention, it didn't much matter.
He's tempted to skip Bootcamp. Tim's not fighting, not risking getting a hit to the face today, and he can't, either, not really, and with just Ziva and Jimmy there, they might decide he needs to do some of that god-awful stretching stuff they're so fond of in an effort to get his knee back to functional.
The PT guy already has him doing a shit ton of it, and he hates it because it hurts like a son of a bitch and doesn't seem to be helping much. And with only Jimmy and Ziva able to fight, they'll probably do a few rounds and then make him stretch with them while Jimmy explains, at length, about how all of him needs to be loose and supple if he's going to really get back to fighting prime. (Sometimes having a doctor for one of your kids is highly overrated.) Then Ziva will explain how this sort of conditioning was part of her training and how it helps with fine muscle control or some other thing… (Mossad-trained former assassin isn't necessarily much better.) And… next thing he knows, they're trying to see if they can turn him into a pretzel while his hamstrings and low back scream in pain because there are some positions that guys in their fifties just shouldn't try to get into.
Ed Slater sidling over, looking at Tim, and saying, "The tech guy gets into fist fights?"
He stared at Ed, perplexed that they're still having a version of this conversation. "Tim's a field agent. Won't be after he takes over Cybercrime, but right now, he doesn't spend his days glued to a desk. His job is just as dangerous as mine."
Ed shook his head.
"Just, hard to believe."
"Other men have thought that, too. They're dead."
That got a quick, shocked laugh out of Ed. "How about the guy who did that to him? He dead?"
"Nope. In jail. He'll be spending a long time there."
"Thought you and DiNozzo did that stuff."
"All five of us do."
Ed nodded and glanced at the clock. "You and Jimmy heading off?"
Gibbs responded with a nod as well. Time to go.
"You're being awfully quiet," Jimmy said to him as they headed toward the Navy Yard.
Gibbs shrugged, putting his key into the ignition.
"Even for you, you're being quiet, what's up?"
Gibbs turned off the radio and told Jimmy about Tim's suggestion, and what he'd found, what he was puzzling over. He didn't tell him about the other part that was also keeping him quiet. Namely, that Ed's 'Thought you and DiNozzo did that' bit got him thinking about Tony.
Who, of everyone he knew, could look through Franks' papers and help him figure it out.
But he didn't much want to talk to Tony right now.
He was sulking. He knew he was sulking. It was not Tony's fault that he was getting old. Not Tony's fault that he'll take over when Gibbs leaves. And it was not Tony's fault that he was not doing a good job of gracefully slipping into whatever comes next and handing the reins over.
None of that was Tony's fault.
But that didn't mean he wanted to spend an afternoon or two sitting in his living room, next to Tony, drinking a few beers, looking over a bunch of files.
That wasn't right. He wanted to get back to being the guy who enjoyed that. He needed his second-in-command's eyes on this. He wanted to bounce ideas off of Tony.
But right now, bouncing ideas off Tony meant looking the fact that he has to leave right in the face, and he didn't want to do that.
He'd just sort of stopped talking, thinking about Tony and keeping his eyes on the road.
"Mouth open, words coming out," Jimmy said, while making a little talking gesture with his fingers. "I'm not psychic. I'm the one who spends nine hours a day with a guy who talks constantly. So, I need words, out loud, coming from you."
"Not much more to tell."
"Okay, let me remind you of this, in addition to not being psychic, I'm also not stupid."
Gibbs looked irked by that, turning his gaze from traffic to Jimmy. "You were a lot easier when I had you scared into submission."
Jimmy smiled grimly. "Would you like me to shut up and let you stew?"
"If I say yes, will you?"
He shook his head, no. "It's extremely unlikely."
Gibbs rolled his eyes and added in what he'd been thinking about Tony. Jimmy nodded at that, thinking quietly, a few miles down the road he said, "This time last week, you'd have worked out with us, gone home, given Tony and Ziva a call, tossed some steaks on the fireplace, and the three of you would have gone over it?"
"So, this week, work out with us, get your shower, pick up some steaks on the way home, and then give Tony and Ziva a call."
Gibbs flashed Jimmy something that could only be called 'the stink eye.'
"Fake it until it's real again. You know you're sulking. You know it's stupid. Hiding in the basement isn't going to make it any better, and it won't solve your problem with Mike. On top of that, you know you owe Tony an olive branch and showing him that you still trust and value him does that."
That made an uncomfortable amount of sense. Fortunately he was parking the car when Jimmy said that, so he didn't have to respond immediately to it.
Unfortunately, unlike Tim and Tony who knew well enough to leave the hell alone, as soon as he was done parking, Jimmy was looking at him expectantly, waiting to hear something along the lines of… Jethro rolled his eyes and said, "Fine."
Jimmy smiled brightly at that. "Good. So, besides drugs and guns, what do people smuggle? Art? Antiques? I'm sure Ducky has a good fifteen hours on different stories of how people have been smuggling artifacts out of Iran and the like."
Gibbs nodded at that. Ever since everything went haywire in the Middle East, everyone who could, had been smuggling stuff out. He doubted Mike would have any objections to something like that, especially if it did provide a pile of cash for his girls to live on comfortably.
Jimmy added, "You might use people in the consulate to provide a diplomatic pouch for something like that. Don't want your ancient statue of whatever to get checked, go bribe someone into giving you diplomatic protections."
Gibbs nodded at that, too. It felt plausible, but not right. He was about to say something along those lines when Jimmy saw Ziva and called out to her, "You and Tony have dinner plans?"
"Good. Jethro's cooking. You two are going to his place and helping him solve a mystery."
Ziva looked very pleased by that. "What sort of mystery?"
"The sort we'll tell you about when we get changed. See you in five," Jimmy said, heading them toward the locker room.
"No chance of backing out, huh?" Gibbs said quietly.
"Nope. It'll be good for you."
"Uh huh." Gibbs didn't sound convinced as he dropped his gym bag on the floor and sat down to take his shoes off.
"Speaking of good for you, how's the knee?" Jimmy asked while opening his locker.
"Fine, like how you're doing with Tony, fine?" Jimmy knelt in front of him, looking at the knee in question, gently poking at it once Gibbs had the brace off. "Or," he extended Gibbs' leg and tested to see how much play was in the joint when he wiggled it, "fine, fine?"
Gibbs slapped his hands away and began to get changed. "Fine."
"Run a mile, fine?" Jimmy's expression was serious as he asked.
"Walk a mile?"
"How's it feel?"
"Aches after that. Have to ice it down."
He nodded along with that. "Any weight on the leg curls?"
"How long can you go without the brace and not have it ache?"
"Stand on one leg, steady?"
"About half a minute."
Jimmy thought about that, and this time, hands hovering over Jethro's knee, waited for permission (and got it) before feeling how everything moved through a full extension of his knee. "You're healing."
"Not fast enough."
"Ducky felt that way after his heart attack."
"How about after Ziva and I fight, we work on some targeted calf, hamstring, glutes, and quadriceps exercises?"
"Am I going to have to stretch?"
"Yep." Jimmy looked like he enjoyed this idea quite a bit more than was warranted.
"Great." Jethro did not look like he was enjoying that idea.
"More flexibility means lower chance of reinjuring yourself. More flexibility means better blood flow which means faster healing. The looser you are the more of each muscle works-"
"I know. I got it the first three times you started singing that song. We'll do it. Just don't love it."
Jimmy turned back to his locker, hanging up his jacket and quickly stripping out of his church clothing. "You don't have to love it. You've just got to do it."
Gibbs stared at Jimmy not sure he wanted to say it, but… "Why?"
"You want to be able to walk without a brace?" Jimmy wasn't sure what exactly he was asking there, and the puzzled expression on his face said that loud and clear.
"Yeah, but… big picture, what's the point? Say I set the record for fastest recovery ever, how soon will I be back on full duty?"
"Middle of December?" By which Jimmy meant first week of January, and Gibbs knew it.
"So, I'll have, at most, a month. And really, a week. What's the point?"
"Oh…" Jimmy sat down on the bench next to Gibbs, understanding that this is about more than just his knee. Unfortunately he doesn't have any good answers for Gibbs, not at first. "Getting the most out of that month that you can?"
"Yippiee." Dry, withering sarcasm, more the style of Tim than anything Jimmy expected out of Gibbs went with that.
"Being able to play on the floor with little girls easily?"
"Better." That got a ghost of a smile, but it's a genuine ghost.
"Finding out whatever the hell Indiana Jones stuff Franks was up to, getting your own whip and fedora, and heading off into the sunset for incredible adventures that Tim'll steal and stick in his book?"
Gibbs laughed dryly at that, but that was real, too.
Jimmy poked him gently and gave him a dirty smile. "Because six months from now, when, on said adventure, you meet Ms. Right, you want all of your different bits working so you can rock her world."
That got a genuine, unreserved laugh.
"Can't get through a proper tango, let alone pick her up and carry her off Rhett Butler style if your knee's gimping out on you."
Jethro nodded wryly, and grabbed for his shorts, tugging them on.
Fire crackling gently, savory scent of steak and potatoes cooking away, one beer in his system, Operation: Fake It Till You Feel It was about to begin.
Tony also looked a bit wary as he headed in, but in he went, took a beer from Gibbs, and waited. He and Ziva were staring at him, seeing the pile of files on his kitchen table, looking expectantly at him, waiting to get filled in. He offered pointed out what was on the table and explained what he wanted them looking at.
For the first hour, it was pretty quiet. Sounds of eating, papers rustling, Ziva and Tony looking through the files.
"You got a map of the world?" Tony asked.
"Yeah." He headed upstairs, went searching through the books on the shelves, and found their atlas.
Tony stared at it when he came down, shaking his head. "Need McGee and the plasma."
"Or MTAC," Ziva added.
"Yeah. Spread it all out so we can see it easy." Tony squinted at the little map in front of him, shaking his head. "This isn't going to do it. Look, East Germany. It's" he opened the book's cover, "thirty years out of date."
"What were you thinking of putting on a map?" Gibbs asked.
"The Embassies… All but three are in the Middle East. Then he's got one in Jamaica, one in Mexico City, and one in The Dominican Republic. They're all US Embassies…" Tony tapped his fingers on the files in front of him. "Why? That's got to go with the border thing, somehow. You don't bribe US Borders and Customs to get things out of the US, but to get them in. They don't care about stuff going out."
"Look at what is not on this list," Ziva said. "He has no one at DEA, FBI, or ATF. That means your first two guesses, drugs or guns cannot be right."
"So, Jimmy's antiquities?" Gibbs asked.
"Maybe. But why no high ranking officials in the middle east? Everyone he's got there works for one of our Embassies. Afghanistan's a mess, but if you want to take the local Mona Lisa out, you still need some of their people to look the other way, not just ours." Tony was staring at Gibbs' mantle, looking at the pictures. There was a shot of Leyla and Amira. "Why was he doing this?"
"Money? Make sure the girls are set. Leyla never married Liam, so she doesn't get spousal benefits."
"Isn't her family rich?" Tony asked.
That was true. "Yes."
"And she and her mom are on good terms again, right?"
"And she is working for Homeland as a translator, correct?" Ziva added.
"Yes. Married last year, too."
"Mike would not have known that. But she has been working here since before he died. And she and her mother reconciled long before Mike died," Ziva said.
"So, not financial security for his girls," Tony says. "And he told you you were better off not knowing?"
"Not guns, not drugs, probably not antiques…" Tony was shaking his head. "No one on his list seems to know squat about that… Not, it can't be antiques, there's no fence on this list. Someone's got to buy and sell the damn things after he got them here. What's that leave?"
It hit Gibbs like a hammer, and he could see Mike smiling at him from behind Tony. "People. It leaves people." He turned to look at the picture of Leyla and Amira, and he knew, he felt it in his gut. "It leaves girls in a bad situation looking to get somewhere better."
All three of them stared at the folders in front of them. Then Gibbs started to close them and pack them up, quick. Illegal, very, very, very illegal, but not immoral. Never immoral. Because Mike didn't care about legal, he never did. But he cared a whole lot about what was right, which was why he couldn't keep working for a government he felt had betrayed it's people.
He looked at Tony and Ziva and both of them shook their heads, a silent, 'We didn't see this, you didn't see it either, we're all blind, stupid, and deaf, and we weren't here to boot.'
He nodded at that, finishing tucking the files back into their box.
A minute later, as Tony and Ziva were getting ready to leave, Tony glanced at him, almost as if he was going to ask what Gibbs was going to do with this, but, just like Mike wouldn't tell him, because he was a cop, Gibbs won't tell Tony. But he nodded at Tony, and Tony nodded back.
They got each other.
And as they left, Gibbs knew something else, this box was going back into the hidden wall, and it was going to stay there, for about three and a half months, and then, when he was no longer a cop, he was going to pull it out and really look it over.
A/N: So, I love the idea of Mike running the Afghani-girl underground railroad. That's such a wonderfully Mike sort of thing to do. I enjoyed Anonymous Was a Woman, too. Give me tons of McGee and Gibbs together and I'm happy.
But, I did not, for a second, buy the idea that Mike told Gibbs what he was up to and Gibbs didn't help.
The idea that Gibbs placed "legal" and his job over helping little girls/teens escape repeated rape and slavery did not compute. My suspension of disbelief snapped with an audible twang.
Okay, actually it snapped with an audible "No fucking way!" and while it's true that my husband doesn't curse, he agreed with my assessment of that situation.
One of the reasons we root for Gibbs is that Gibbs stands for what's right. He doesn't care about the niceties or legalities. He does the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. Add in his history with girls, let alone his go to the wall for family, and there's just absolutely no way he didn't sign those papers for Mike and get those girls on that plane.
So, we've done a bit of a rewrite here. Mike never told him. He was sensitive to who Gibbs was, and his position, and that Gibbs could get into a shit ton of trouble for this, so he didn't tell. He just, set it up so that Gibbs could, should he go through Mike's stuff, start putting some pieces together and maybe, if he found himself with some free time, a boat, and a desire to be useful, take over for him.