Title: Rider on the Storm
Fandom: NCIS, SEAL Team
Genre: Drama, Episode Related, Slash
Relationship(s): Tony Paddington/Jason Hayes, Various Background Pairings
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Major Character Death, Canon Level Violence, Canon Divergence, Character Bashing, Major and Minor Character Death both canon and not canon, Discussion – Attempted Murder, Discussion of Mental Health Issues, Discussion Child Abuse and Neglect, Discussion: Alcoholic Parents
Author Notes: Tony goes by Antony Sheppard Paddington in this. Credit to Keira and Jilly via Keira’s World for bits of inspiration here and there. Also credit to Jilly for Tony being a Sheppard. Credit to Keira for the idea of there being more Sheppard brothers.
Beta: Angel N Darkness
Word Count: 71,950
Summary: In the aftermath of Dead Air, Tony DiNozzo decides to reach out to the father he’d been mostly ignoring for the last year for help and support. What he doesn’t know is letting Patrick Sheppard in will change the course of his career and eventually lead him to family, love, and acceptance.
Chapter Nine: Making Decisions
Tony was sitting on the back deck watching the ocean waves crash into the beach then roll back out when he heard someone come out onto the deck. Seeing a beer bottle appear in front of his face, Tony looked up and nodded a thanks to Jason as the Master Chief then settled down on the wooden deck chair next to him.
“How’d today go?” Tony asked softly taking a long sip of the beer as he studied the man he was still getting to know.
“It went,” Jason cursed running a hand through his hair obviously agitated. “Ray won’t shut up about Spencer.”
“The rookie from Green team?” Tony asked and when he got a nod, he just gave a quiet hum in return as he turned his gaze back to the water.
“Sounds like you have thoughts too,” Jason bitched, and Tony chewed on the inside of his cheek for a few moments trying to decide if he wanted to interfere. Being on base, it was nearly impossible not to get dragged into the gossip that went around. So, Tony was fully informed on Clay Spencer and the footsteps of his father that the younger man was trying to fill.
Word around the base was that Ash Spencer was the tip-top of what a SEAL could be, or he was before he decided to become a media darling. Most people couldn’t seem to decide if they hated Clay because he was daring to try to, what they perceived as, follow in his father’s footsteps. Or, if they hated him because Ash let them down and he wasn’t around for them to focus their hatred towards. Tony and Seeley though had spent quite a long-time discussing Clay with Matt Simmons one evening, and the thing they all agreed on was there was more to the kid than his cocky attitude.
“I know a mask when I see it, Jason,” Tony finally offered quietly after taking a deep cleansing breath. “I’ve worn one since I was 8 years old, and my mother died. I use immature jokes and a chameleon personality. Clay uses arrogance and aloofness. He acts like he doesn’t need anyone because he doesn’t think he has anyone else. The thing is that he’s probably told himself that he’s the only person he needs, so long that there’s probably a part of Clay that believes it.
“What that kid needs, Jason Hayes, is you. He needs you to get in his face because you give a shit about him. He needs Bravo team to show him why having family is so important. He needs people that he can learn to let his guard down around and just be him, whomever he decides Clay Spencer is. That kid is smart. Jason. Really damned smart, and you and I both know, even though you’re being a stubborn ass about it, that he can go far as a SEAL. That’s not gonna happen though unless he has the right person leading him.
“Even if he did manage to not get Bravo and still succeed as a SEAL, the second he gets out he’ll be done. He’ll be a statistic somewhere or a case on my fucking desk. You look at him and see his father just like everyone else. From what I see in his file though, Ash Spencer wasn’t around enough to mold that kid into anyone. He needs someone he can look up to. Someone that will mentor him and make him understand that relationship isn’t temporary, but forever.”
“Jesus, Paddington, am I recruiting a SEAL or a kid?”
“Both,” Tony said quietly and seriously making Jason pause. The smart comment he was about to let fly never making it out of his mouth. “You’re getting both because that’s what that kid needs, and once he’s Bravo you aren’t gonna let up until he knows you’re more than just his Team Leader.”
“You seem pretty confident of a lot of things I haven’t agreed to Special Agent in Charge,” Jason griped, and Tony just grinned before bumping their shoulders together.
“How is everything else going? We haven’t had much time to talk since Nate died. How are you doing with that?”
Tony watched as Jason stood up and paced away before moving to a nearby point where he could lean on the railing and look out at the ocean. “I keep thinking about Nate and this kid that everyone wants me to take, and envisioning this punk kid taking Nate’s spot on the team.”
“He’s not taking Nate’s spot,” Tony countered with a frown as he fought to stay seated. He was wishing that Seeley was there and not off somewhere chasing Fletcher Pearce, their latest scumbag. The whole best-laid plans and shit definitely described the Office of the Director case.
Pearce had been on Tony and Seeley’s top 5 most wanted list for three years now, and Tony knew that there was no way his brother and friend was gonna stay home when the news of the sighting came from Interpol. Fortunately, there were a lot more people now to look after Parker, and the pre-teen didn’t need as much attention as he had at 5 years old when Seeley started his new job.
“And stop changing the subject. I asked about you, not the team. If you wanna talk about the team instead of yourself that’s fine but say so. Stop dodging.”
“Maybe it’s none of your goddamned business,” Jason snapped back, running a hand over the top of his head before beginning to rub his thigh, a nervous tick that Tony noticed he had when he was agitated or uncertain.
“There’s that Second B coming out, Hayes,” Tony threw back before taking a deep breath, then standing, moved to lean close to where the SEAL was leaning, only facing him.
“I know I’m not Seeley, and I know that we haven’t actually decided to do this thing that’s between us. We’re in this weird are we gonna or aren’t we gonna early stage. I do know this though. You can bullshit your team. You can bullshit the Navy shrinks, but you can’t bullshit me. I spent nearly a decade with a man consumed by grief so old it woulda been in high school.
“I also know a thing or two about masks as I said earlier. Everyone has them. Everyone uses them. I made a living using them and needing to recognize them. So, how are you doing? I’ve lost teammates. I’ve even had them die right next to me. Had bits of the brains and blood and skull of one sprayed over me once when she was shot in the head, and I can tell you I wasn’t ok for a long time. I’m worried about you, and I want you to know I’m here if you need me.”
Tony wasn’t sure he’d reached him when Jason’s laser stare remained fully focused on the vast span of ocean stretched out in front of them. It wasn’t until the quiet forced words began that he knew he’d made the right decision on calling Jason on his diversion attempt.
“It’s my responsibility to bring them home alive. Mine. Everyone keeps telling me that it’s not my fault and that I couldn’t have done anything. That doesn’t do much for the wife or the son that he left behind. I’m supposed to find a way. I’m supposed to make sure they all make it back to their families, and I failed.”
“You’re not Superman, Jason. Even without being allowed to read all the mission details, I still know that you did everything you could to get him back. When you couldn’t do that alive though, you made sure that his widow and his child had a body to bury. Not all of them do. That being said, I get it, but you have to find a way to forgive yourself for this, Jason, or it will eat you alive. You certainly can’t use this as an excuse why Clay Spencer doesn’t belong on the team.
“You can’t use Nate as a reason not to take Clay if he’s the best candidate for Bravo Team. You certainly can’t take all your grief and your anger about Nate out on Clay. It was bad enough that you were blaming him for shit his father did.”
Tony watched Jason’s elbows spread and his head dip until it was nearly touching the wood of the railing. “You’ve had two big blows close together, Jason. Even if you and Alana had been separated for a while, you were still married and have been friends since you were kids. Now one of your men dies under your charge, and it’s gotta feel like the world is caving in on you. I just want you to know that if you need a hand to help pull you out of the hole or a light in the dark, I’m here.
“Whether it’s for you to yell at or cry on or just sit in silence and stare at the wall. I’m here.”
Eventually, Jason nodded, and Tony took a chance at reaching out to rest a hand on the man’s back, relieved when the SEAL shuffled closer to lean their bodies together. Jason wasn’t going to be ok today or even tomorrow, but Tony was determined that it would happen, and he’d do everything he could to ensure it.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Tony was sitting in his office reviewing yet more reports, feeling like all he did anymore was review reports when he became aware of someone coming into his desk and throwing themselves into one of the chairs in front of him.
Lifting his gaze off his screen without moving his head, Tony noticed Jason sitting in front of him, arms crossed over his chest, an obvious sign of a Jason snit. Not one to indulge temper tantrums though, Tony forced himself to focus on the reports he was finishing, and the Director needed. It was only when he was done that, he lifted his gaze and arched an eyebrow at Hayes.
“Having a snit are we, Master Chief?” Tony asked leaning back in his chair and picking up his water bottle to take a drink as Jason did his best to glare Tony into submitting to something known only to him.
“The fucking strap killed our HVT,” Jason snapped angrily. “If he can’t follow simple mission parameters then he has no place on our team.”
“Fine, don’t take him,” Tony said not in the mood to continuously indulge a man in his early 40s in his temper tantrum. “I am sure Alpha will be thrilled to have him. Aiden has gushed quite a few times about the possibility of having Clay on their team since you seem to be hellbent on being a dumbass. Although, I am curious, did you even talk to Clay about what happened? Why he shot the guy that you were to bring in alive? Or did you just immediately throw a Master Chief-sized temper tantrum to put the strap in his place? My guess is that you were just an asshole and didn’t listen to a thing Clay tried to tell you.”
Jason stood and turned to leave, but just before he left the room, Tony steepled his fingers together, resting his elbows on his desk and tapping his forefingers to his chin. “I’m curious though why you keep coming to me to whine about this shit when you know what the fuck, I am gonna say.”
When Jason stopped and turned to glare at him again, Tony just arched an eyebrow before letting his hands fall to rest loosely curled together on his desktop.
“I mean, Seeley is in his office. He’s in quite the mood himself, and I am sure he would have been thrilled to share in a bitching session with you, as you know. His mood hasn’t improved since you saw him this morning. I am quite sure that he would have sat and listened and nodded along with your ranting, maybe even thrown a few insults Clay’s way as long as you let him pout about missing Pearce again even though he knew going there it would be a shot the length of the Grand Canyon that the creep was still in Paris.”
Jason just remained where he was merely shifting his body weight from one foot to the other. So, Tony decided to unleash some of his own frustrations and make his point clear. “And yet, here you are leaning in my doorway, knowing I wasn’t going to baby you and give you some bullshit, of course, your right, Master Chief All-Knowing, All-Seeing, All-Temper Tantrum throwing. So, either sit your ass down in my chair and act like an adult or go pout in Seeley’s office. He has a child the same age as you’re acting. He’s much better suited to humor you. All I have to offer are truths and facts.”
“You are seriously a pain in my ass,” Jason sniped moving back to sit down in the chair, but Tony just arched an eyebrow again unimpressed.
“And yet… you came back into my office instead of going to see Seeley.”
“Maybe I like the punishment,” Jason snarked, and Tony’s lips twitched as he rooted around for a file he’d been compiling and carefully not making digital.
“I don’t think our developing relationship is ready for your sexual kinks, Master Chief,” Tony shot back making sure to emphasize the word Master and let his voice grow slightly husky, earning himself a half glare half grin as Jason was forced to shift uncomfortably in his chair. Finally finding the folder he wanted, Tony held it out but didn’t immediately let go when Jason took hold of the other end.
“This stays here. The information in it stays between us. Some of it is public knowledge and some isn’t. I checked into him because you had concerns and I wanted to make sure that we weren’t just ignoring them. then later find out that you were right. Spoiler alert though, you aren’t.”
Jason huffed but finally pulled the folder out of Tony’s hand, but the SAC was happy to see that he did get up and close the office door before coming back and digging into the information in the folder.
“Remember when I said that Clay Spencer was smart? I wasn’t kidding. Just for reference, Einstein had an IQ of 160. The smartest man I have spent a decent amount of time around is a profiler at the BAU and a friend of mine. His IQ is 187. He also reads 20,000 words a minute and has an eidetic memory. Clay’s IQ is 172. John’s partner Rodney McKay likes to tell people he’s the smartest man on the planet. His IQ is 190. Clay Spencer’s is higher than Einstein, lower than Reid and McKay, but I would say he’s in some pretty fucking exclusive company.
“While my knowledge of genius’ is limited, I can tell you that the common theme amongst them is that they have a lower EQ or emotional intelligence than most people. That being said, from everything I have heard Clay is like a unicorn amongst smart people. He actually has the ability to be charming and witty when he feels comfortable.”
Tony paused long enough for Jason to look up from his folder and waited for Bravo One to nod his understanding before he continued. “Clay speaks at least 6 languages. I say at least because from what I have uncovered, those are just the ones he would count himself fluent in. He has a passing knowledge of several others, but either doesn’t read or write them or can read and write but not speak or some other combination. As someone who is multi-lingual, let me tell you that shit is hard, even if the languages are similar. I can speak four, but all of them I learned as a child.
“The second thing I learned is that Ash Spencer needs to be put in the Father of the Year… Not Club along with Senior, your father, and Seeley’s father. When Clay was six years old, Ash apparently got tired of having to deal with “his brat” when he was home and forced his wife to ship Clay off to her parents who lived in Liberia. Six, Jason. They shipped a first grader out of the country because Ash thought he was too loud.
“By the time Clay was 10 his mother was dead, and Ash had yet to come to see him. I was shipped off to Boarding School at 8. It wasn’t fun, but at least it was in the US. It wasn’t a foreign country where I didn’t understand the culture or speak the language. From what I have been able to gather, Clay’s grandparents, who were missionaries, were strict but loved him until they were murdered by local rebels when he was 16.
“When he came back to the US, Ash wasn’t any more interested in being a father, and Clay ended up in foster care until he could get himself emancipated. He joined the Navy the very day he turned 18, and word is that his dream right from the jump was to be a Tier One SEAL. I understand the drive. Aiden has had the same one, from what I understand, literally his entire life.
“Word on base is that most of his team doesn’t get along with him, other than Brian Armstrong, his best friend. Apparently, the two met in basic training way back when Clay was a pimple-faced 18-year-old and have managed to find their way back to each other in the 7-ish years that they’ve been serving. Coincidentally, Brian’s background isn’t much better than Clay’s. My guess is Brian understands Clay and Clay understands Brian. Although it’s unclear if Clay is even aware of Brian’s background.”
Pausing Tony waited for Jason’s reaction and was relieved to see the Master Chief both appeared to have calmed down and looked to be actually listening this time. Frankly, Tony could only hope that he was, because the more he learned about Clay, the more he wanted the kid on Bravo. Although, Aiden swore that if Jason didn’t take him, Scott would. Still, Tony’s gut said that kid needed Jason Hayes.
“Now, I’m not usually one to play the dick measuring game only with crappy fathers. In my opinion, there is no such thing as my childhood was worse than yours. They’re all hard in their own way, and who am I to say mine was worse or better than anyone else’s. However, I would like to tell you what it’s like being alone in the world.”
Again, he paused and waited for Jason to nod that he was listening before continuing. To buy himself some time, Tony nearly drained his water bottle before he began. “Maybe the reason I keep getting at you about Clay is that I see a lot of myself and my life in Clay’s Jason, and I know what it meant to me to find a Gunnery Sergeant who saw something in me.
“See, before I met Gibbs, had spent most of my life alone while surrounded by all these people. I was incredibly isolated until my mother died, and then Senior shipped a grieving child off to Boarding School. Then all of a sudden, I was surrounded by kids my age with lives and interests and all these things I didn’t understand. I was quiet and shy. I liked old black and white moves and reading books. I spoke four languages at 8 thanks to the rotating cooking staff at the family mansion.
“Everything I learned about friendship before I met Gibbs I learned from spoiled or abandoned rich kids, or in the locker rooms or my frat house at OSU. I’ve always had a ton of acquaintances but never a lot of friends, Jason. My old team hated me because they said I was juvenile, but that was the only way I understood how to act in some situations. The one serious relationship I had ended up leaving me at the altar because she got cold feet. Literally, at the altar, Jason.
“Senior disowned me at 12 because I embarrassed him by getting caught by the police in a hotel room in Maui that he abandoned me in when he forgot that he brought me. He stole my trust fund to run one of his scams. He refused to pay for my college education because I wouldn’t go into his so-called business. When he met anyone I knew, he would introduce himself as The Real Anthony DiNozzo. He’s a conman. He’s had enough wives to start his own WNBA team.
“I was an angry, isolated, and terribly lonely child who grew into a chameleon as an adult. I did undercover because I was more comfortable playing a role than being forced to be what others decided the real me was all the time. I was obnoxious. I was arrogant. I was incredibly good at my job. So good that I was the youngest Detective in Philadelphia PD history, and took down the Malcuso family. Any of this sound familiar?”
“I don’t know if I’m more mind blown that you worked in my hometown, or you’re the one who took down The Don. My mother talked about it for months. She’ll be demanding to meet you.”
“Well, as long as it isn’t in Philly, then I am willing. I’d rather not die, and because the Don loves me, he refuses to kill me unless I go back to Philly.”
“Wait, he likes you? You put him in prison.” Jason gaped and Tony almost giggled.
“We exchange Christmas cards. He still says I’m his favorite son and is sure someday I’ll come back home to run The Family.”
“Oh my God, you make my brain hurt,” Jason moaned rubbing his temples, and Tony just smirked.
“I hope that isn’t all that you got out of that, Master Chief because, in my opinion, Clay Spencer needs you,” Tony said his voice husky from emotion. Annoyed, he shifted his gaze out the window next to his door that he used to watch the bullpen. It wasn’t until Tony was sure that he had himself under control that he continued.
“People question my relationship with Gibbs all the time. For years at NCIS, they called me his Loyal Saint Bernard. They assumed that I was nothing more than his yes man. I got nothing but crap because I did my fucking job and I stayed loyal even when it was hard and really not fun. The thing is though that despite how Team Gibbs ended, Leroy Jethro Gibbs gave me a lot in my life.
“He taught me things that most kids learn from their fathers or parents. He cared about me, even if it was in his own way. I fucking hated head slaps, but I understood what they meant. I hated that he didn’t respect my place in the chain of command, but I also understood that for him sometimes he needed the team to be his family more than his team. Sometimes for himself and sometimes for me.
“Then, when I found my real family, and everything at NCIS imploded, he didn’t kick me to the curb, saying his job was over. He followed me, Jason. He picked me over his substitute daughters twice in Ziva’s case. To this day he’s a part of my life. Fuck he lives in our fucking beach mansion and has some, are they or aren’t they, thing going on with my Papà.
“Clay needs that badly, and I doubt that he understands it. Because I sure as fuck didn’t before Gibbs rescued me. I was serious when I said that you were getting a SEAL and a kid, Jason. Because if you don’t save Clay, then he’s not gonna make it. As much as I respect Full Metal, I don’t see him being able to fill a hole in Clay’s life that is perfectly Jason Hayes shaped.”
“I don’t know how to forget Nate,” Jason said quietly rubbing his thigh anxiously. “I keep looking at his name in the list I keep on my phone of all the men I’ve lost over the years. I’m afraid to get attached to this kid, and then have the world yank him away from me, Tony. I don’t think I can survive another one.”
Tony took a deep breath and slowly let it out, hearing what Jason was saying. “But what if that never happens? What if Clay has a long, successful career? What if years from now, people look back at your career, and they see him at the forefront of your legacy.
“What if they stand around and bitch about him being a Mini-Jason. Another pain in the ass who thinks he knows everything and never follows the rules, but for some reason, his men would run through walls of fire for him. What if you are that thing that changes his whole life, and at the same time, maybe Clay will bring something to yours that you don’t even realize you need yet.”
“What’s that?” Jason asked softly, and Tony had to take a deep breath weighing his words in his mind before speaking.
“A responsibility bigger than Bravo Team that no one else can fulfill.”
At Jason’s sharp intake of breath, Tony knew he’d struck a blow. When the Master Chief eventually nodded, then stood and left, giving the door jamb a tap on his way out, Tony could only hope that he didn’t push things too far.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Several weeks later, Tony was in the music room housed in a room in his wing, listening to the party going on in the Entertainment Room. Bravo Team and Alpha Team were in there celebrating their new rookies Clay Spencer and Brian Armstrong respectively. There had been a close call with Brian that could have ended up in death.
During a training mission, Armstrong’s primary parachute hadn’t opened. When he’d pulled the cord for the secondary chute, it hadn’t opened immediately either, but fortunately, had opened just in time to save the young trainee from certain death. Instead, he’d ended up with only minor injuries thankfully.
It was the investigation into that accident that had Tony hiding in his music room instead of out with the teams. He wasn’t sure he could look at Clay and Brian, knowing what he did. Worse yet, he wasn’t sure he could look at them suspecting what he did but couldn’t prove.
“I thought for sure that you’d be partying with us gloating that I took all of your advice and wisdom.”
Tony turned around on the piano bench to see Jason leaning against the wall, the door shut. He was surprised that he hadn’t heard the man coming in. While the music room and the entertainment area weren’t close, the party going on was loud enough that he thought he would have heard the volume increase. Although he had been in a zone trying to forget the things he knew and suspected.
“I was hoping that there would be enough celebrating going on that you wouldn’t notice I wasn’t there. I’m pretty sure my mood would just bring everyone down.”
“Does this have something to do with why Seeley keeps looking at Clay and Brian like he’s seeing ghosts?”
“He could be if things had gone differently,” Tony reminded smashing the keys angrily and then stroking them gently with his fingers as if asking for forgiveness.
“The chute thing was an accident, right? Are you saying that it wasn’t?” Jason asked and Tony leaned forward letting his elbows rest on the small lip in front of the keys. His head in his hands.
“Jason, let’s talk about this Monday, ok? We’ll explain. Just enjoy this.”
“Something is going on,” Jason pushed, and Tony could hear him moving as he watched the SEAL’s reflection in the glass until he was standing between Tony and the window. “Something is going on with one of my men, and I want to know what it is.”
“Two weeks ago, you hated the kid, now you’re demanding answers? Just let it rest, for now, Jason.”
“I want to know what’s going on!”
“Jesus Christ you’re a stubborn ass!” Tony shouted and stood shoving the bench back with the backs of his knees before pacing away then back closer to the piano. Stopping to look at Hayes wearily.
“You knew this about me already when you convinced me to take the kid,” Jason reminded frankly, and Tony rolled his eyes heavenward.
“I’m gonna regret that for the rest of my life because you’re never going to let me forget it.”
“Does that mean that you plan on me being in your life for the rest of it? Don’t think that I’m letting you distract me, by the way. I want to know what the deal is with Clay and Brian.”
Tony let out a loud growl tossing his hands in the air before closing his eyes and counting to 10 in the four languages he knew. “I think I want you in my life for the rest of it, although it’s moments like this that make me question the wisdom of it. This is your last chance Master Chief. It’s my recommendation that you wait till Monday, but if you want to know I will tell you.”
“What’s going on with Clay?” Jason repeated like a broken record, and Tony just sighed, hanging his head before answering.
“The parachute accident wasn’t an accident,” Tony replied softly as he moved back to sit down heavily on the piano bench.
“A member of Charlie Team’s Support Team was arrested tonight on the charges of attempted murder of one Clay Spencer. It was just dumb luck that Brian got the chute, not Clay. Apparently, Clay was supposed to have that one, but they were messing around, and it seems they didn’t realize that they’d each grabbed the wrong ones.
“Krzysztof Bauer said that it was a disgrace that Clay was allowed to become a SEAL, and at first tried to play it off like he was disgruntled by the book that Ash wrote. However, Nick and Dean felt like something was off, and kept pushing him. Eventually, he said that Clay was an ungrateful son who didn’t deserve to wear the trident with how he treats his father. He said that Ash Spencer was a legend and Clay wasn’t fit to lick his boots.”
“So, Ash has a rabid fan that went after Clay?” Jason questioned, a frown marring his handsome face with age lines. “I mean, that’s horrible, but I feel like there’s more.”
“You never give up do you,” Tony growled frustrated, and Jason just shrugged a shoulder.
“Again, you already knew this about me. Just spit the rest of it out, will you?”
“We had to question Ash Spencer after we found out the reason Krzysztof did it to see if he had any interaction with the man.”
“I’m not liking where this is going.”
“Let’s just say that our interview ended up with Senior Chief Spencer saying that we couldn’t prove he’d tried to kill his son and that Clay would never believe it.”
“Sonofabitch,” Hayes breathed, turning to look out the window instead of at Tony.
“I told you that you should wait till Monday.”
“What’s being done?” Jason asked, and Tony guessed he was watching him through the glass.
“Senior Chief Spencer would be right,” Tony said quietly and knew Jason would hear how unhappy and frustrated he was by his tone. “We can’t prove it. We tried goddamned hard, but Spencer, as distasteful as he is, was damned good at being a SEAL, which taught him just enough about avoiding detection that nothing we came up with was definitive.”
“So, he’s getting away with it?” Jason asked quietly as he turned to put his back to the wall before sliding down to sit on the floor.
“I’ve been trying to figure out what the fuck to do with my suspicions the entire flight back from Los Angeles. Seeley says we have to tell the kid what I suspect, but I just… Sometimes I hate my fucking job, Jason. I hate the ability to put myself in people’s shoes. Right now, I hate that I know Clay Spencer so fucking intimately without having met him beyond incident interviews because Senior was a horrible father, but at least he never tried to have me killed.”
“I’ll do it,” Jason said quietly, and Tony frowned down him.
“Jason,” Tony started but didn’t get far, because he was quickly cut off by a hand, held up in the air.
“It’s my job, Tony. He’s one of my men. Not only does he need to know, but Bravo and Alpha need to know the truth. Since they’re all staying here in the bunk room downstairs, I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll fill in Clay and Carter, then Metal and I will fill in the rest of the two teams. Clay is ours. This is a Team thing now, and Ash Spencer is no longer part of the brotherhood. I’ll do it.”
Not knowing what to do, Tony had sought out the one person he always looked to when he got stuck on a case. After explaining the whole incident to Gibbs, his mentor and former Boss had just shaken his head and told Tony that he wouldn’t have to do a thing.
“It isn’t somethin’ that you’re gonna understand, Paddington. Not saying that to insult you, just… somethings can’t be fully understood unless you’ve been in the mud and the dirt, bleeding and sweating and sure you’re about to die with someone. Spencer may not have all that with his new team yet, but I guarantee you there’s no way Hayes is letting you be the one to tell his rookie what his father tried to do. Ash Spencer was a SEAL. The brotherhood will close around that kid and protect him. Ain’t your job this time.”
“OK,” Tony conceded echoing his understanding of what Gibbs had been trying to tell him. “Let me know if I can do anything.”
Jason nodded but stayed where he was. Eventually, Tony turned his attention back to the piano, and let the music flow in an attempt to soothe them both.
Chapter Ten: The Hunt Is On
Bravo Team shuffled into the conference room that they used for their briefings, led by Bravo One. Taking his normal place at the front of the table with Ray right next to him, Jason tilted his head at his cousin, curious as to why he along with two of the members of his and Tony’s team Dean Winchester and Emily Prentiss were present. Seeley and Eric were talking quietly at the front of the room in front of the screen they sometimes used to show videos or pictures of targets. Dean and Emily were off to the side on the opposite side of the table from Jason and behind Clay.
Once everyone was settled, Eric cleared his throat bringing everyone’s attention to him. “I am sure that you have noticed that Bravo Team hasn’t been included in the normal rotation. Today you find out why. With us is NCIS Assistant Senior Agent in Charge Seeley Booth along with Special Agents Dean Winchester and Emily Prentiss. They will be heading up our next operation, which will have several targets and span over several individual missions.
“That being said, you all know ASAC Booth, but I expect you to give him the professional respect he deserves. He is not here as Jason’s cousin. He’s here to help us take out one of this country’s biggest targets. So, without further ado, I will pass things over to ASAC Booth.”
Seeley nodded to Eric before turning toward the team. His face reflecting nothing but a serious intensity that only heightened Jason’s focus. “Bravo Team’s next operation is to bring down Eli David.”
“Now that is what the hell I am talkin’ about,” Sonny whooped, and Jason couldn’t help but smirk before giving Bravo Three a small headshake. It was interesting how the team had come together in the last few weeks.
Since the news of what NCIS thought Ash Spencer had done but couldn’t prove had been shared with the teams, everyone’s attitudes on both Alpha and Bravo had shifted when it came to their rookies. While there were still the normal rookie hazing rituals of cases of beer for team firsts, the attitudes, especially when it came to Clay had changed dramatically. Jason likened it to the, I can pick on my brother, but heaven help the outsider who does it, attitude.
Jason had been worried about how Sonny and Clay were going to cohabitate. Despite how tumultuous his relationship with Nate had been. In the aftermath of his death, Sonny hadn’t taken well to the notion of Clay, or really anyone, joining the team who was a rookie. Tony pointed out more than once to Jason it was most likely Sonny’s guilt speaking, and while Jason agreed there wasn’t much, he could do about it.
However, the second that Bravo Three heard that there was a threat to his team’s rookie, his attitude did a complete 180. It was to the point where when Jason asked Sonny to take Clay under his wing, his friend had agreed with only a courtesy grumbling. It was the oddest and fastest formed BFF type friendship he’d seen since his daughter had a fight with Mariyam Huff and immediately announced that Phoebe Currie was her new Best Friend Forever.
Not only that, but the two teams, who had already been tight thanks to Jason’s friendship with Alpha One Scott Carter also known as Full Metal or just Metal, became even closer. With Jason living with Aiden in the beach mansion, and Clay and Brian Armstrong being best friends, the two teams were almost like one.
Hearing a quip thrown Clay’s direction from Brock of all people, Jason couldn’t hide his amusement as he marveled at the difference the announcement had made in even the previously bottom two members of the team. One thing Jason had noted in the short time that Clay had been with the team, was that while the little shit was quick to question Jason and Ray, and trade barbs with Sonny, he had almost immediately become thick as thieves with Trent and Brock.
It helped that Cerb took to Clay the first time he’d laid eyes on the rookie, and Clay was happy to fawn over their hair missile. Jason noticed that quite often in lulls in activity during training, that Clay could be found as much with Brock talking dogs, Trent talking medical stuff even filling the unofficial medic in his own medical allergies and issues, as he was with Sonny making up tall tales or giving back whatever, the older SEAL dished out his way. In all his years of being a SEAL, Jason had never seen so many members of the team bond so quickly.
“Not that I object, but why Bravo?” Ray asked bringing everyone’s attention back to the briefing, including Jason’s.
“I assume that it goes without saying that what is said in this room doesn’t leave it. I’ve been in your positions and heard similar briefings. So, I know that you know the drill. However, you need to understand the this is not just any operation for us and especially me. This is just about as personal for me as it gets. You have been given permission to be given details that wouldn’t normally be shared in briefings because Tony loathes the “it’s above your clearance” bullshit that is used to hide shit just because.
“You will be told things that are of a personal nature to the SAC located on this base. The entire rotation on this base has been shifted by the Upper Brass of both NCIS and the Navy SEAL command because Eli David is that big of a target. Bravo Team’s upcoming deployment to take Echo team’s place will not happen. Instead, Charlie Team will be going in your place. Alpha Team was considered, but it was decided at times Bravo may need a backup team and it was suggested that be Alpha.
“Later today, I will be giving a similar briefing to Alpha so that your two teams can best work out just who and how many are needed where and when. There will be a handful of details personal to the SAC that won’t be shared. I can tell you right now Aiden Sheppard is going to want in on this mission, and the Upper Brass is turning a blind eye to the fact he shouldn’t be involved. Master Chief Hayes, I can already tell you that once Alpha Three hears the details of this mission, he’s gonna put up one hell of a fight to fill the seventh spot temporarily on your team.”
Seeley paused, and Jason nodded, as his mind tried to work out just what was going on. Jason had been involved in a lot of big operations in his career, but nothing of this magnitude. He certainly had never been part of a mission where Brass was blatantly saying do what you need just catch the bastard, or where NCIS was leading things. While they did obviously work with Naval Intelligence and had on occasion gotten NCIS involvement, he’d never worked an operation under their direction.
“To make sure you understand the importance of this whole operation, I am going back further than you’re used to, but everyone involved agreed it was necessary. This started basically around an NCIS agent named Kate Todd being murdered by Ari Hasswari, the son of Eli David and half-brother to Ziva David who later joined NCIS and filled the spot that Kate’s death had left vacant.”
“Say what?” Clay uttered with a frown shifting position to lean forward on the table resting his weight on his forearms. “What kind of heartless bastard decided that was a good idea?”
“That would be former and now deceased NCIS Director Jenny Shepard,” Seeley filled in and Jason could tell his cousin’s thoughts on the woman just by his tone.
“I won’t go into all the details of Ziva’s position with NCIS, but let’s just say not everyone was happy with her placement, but unfortunately the whole friends in high places were true twice over, and Shepard kept her spot right up technically until her death. Although at the time she was being investigated for dereliction of duty and on suspension.”
“What did she do?” Brock asked, and Jason was so surprised to hear the normally quietest member of the team who rarely spoke during briefings he had to look to make sure it was really Brock.
“She convinced one of her teammates to turn off the sound on the coms they were to be listening to while now SAC Tony Sheppard Paddington was in the field trying to get voice prints to hunt down a domestic terrorist.”
“Oh hell no,” Sonny swore, throwing in a few more colorful curses that had the entire team, including Blackburn and Davis who had snuck in late, nodding in agreement.
“You said her death?” Trent asked and Jason again was left a little shocked that another normally quiet team member spoke up.
“Yes, Ziva David was killed by me when she breached the Sheppard Family mansion, we assume in an attempt to kill Antony Sheppard Paddington.”
“That’s Jason’s new housemates, right?” Sonny drawled scowling. “The ones that let us party in their personal bar space? The ones that took Jason in and helped Nate’s family after he died? The guy Jason’s been all moony-eyed over, and we all hope he gets around to fuckin’ at the very least at some point in the very near future?”
“Jesus Christ, Sonny,” Clay uttered briefly burying his face in his hands as his shoulders shook with what Jason hoped was amusement.
When Seeley coughed, Jason quickly switched his glare from Sonny to his cousin, not pleased at the badly hidden glee on Seeley’s face. “Uhh, yes, Sonny that’s Tony and his family. Tony and Ziva never really got along, although Tony made an effort and at points thought they’d reached an understanding at least. Unfortunately, her actions led to consequences that she hadn’t foreseen including her own death and her father’s removal from Mossad.
“Since Eli’s ousting though, he’s been quite a headache stirring up the people he used to be responsible for catching and has become a big enough threat that everyone involved has said he needs to be removed no matter what it takes.”
“Removed,” Jason echoed tapping a finger against the table as his mind worked. “You aren’t talking capture here. And if Tony is involved in all of this, why isn’t he here? It seems like there’s a valuable source of intelligence that we aren’t getting access to.”
“No, we aren’t talking capture,” Eric said speaking up briefly as he stepped up to stand next to Booth again. “Bravo Team has been given approval for a sanctioned assassination of Eli David.”
Sonny whistled and the room broke out into quiet chaos as the team debated the rarity, which Jason allowed for a little while, but eventually felt the need to remind Blackburn and his cousin that he’d asked two questions.
From the expression on Seeley’s face, Jason could tell that whatever was about to come out, his cousin didn’t agree with, but was going along with anyway.
“Tony is the one bit that the Upper Brass hasn’t changed their minds about, but he is why you and even we all are here. Tony is not allowed to be part of his operation because of his personal ties to two of David’s closest associates. Their names are Anthony DiNozzo and Abigail Sciuto.”
“What do they have to do with Paddington?” Ray asked and Jason was grateful to his SIC for speaking up. He felt like he was forgetting something important about those names, and by the look of anger on Seeley’s face, Jason knew he wasn’t going to like what he heard.
“Anthony DiNozzo was the man who raised Tony. Up until about a year before Ziva’s death, Tony’s name was actually Anthony Dominic DiNozzo, Junior.”
“The Real Anthony DiNozzo,” Jason muttered angrily getting a nod from his cousin, and Jason was mentally smacking the shit out of himself for not having connected the dots quicker.
“Abigail Sciuto was the former Forensics Analyst for NCIS and before Ziva’s death apparently had some kind of a romantic relationship going on with her. At one time, Abby and Tony were pretty close, almost like brother and sister. So, given the connections, those that make the call have decided that Tony needs to remain uninvolved.
“Personally, I can tell you I still consider Eli David a threat, and while my opinions weren’t heard, I do feel better with Tony here safe on a US-based military base than traveling around with the team. Tony and I spent enough years tempting fate as it is. That being said though when an argument was made that if Tony couldn’t be involved then a SEAL team who would understand the personal aspect of this should be, they gave in.”
Jason sat tapping his finger on the tabletop as his mind whirled angrily at the implications and scenarios of this operation. Eventually, he came to the same place Seeley had, that while maybe Tony deserved to be involved, he’d probably be safer on base.
“Tell Aiden that as long as Metal is good with it, he has a spot with Bravo for this operation.”
“Amen, brother,” Ray chimed, and the rest of the team voiced their agreement making Jason smile in pride despite his anger. Jason and Tony had been slowly and quietly getting to know each other since Jason had moved into the beach mansion. While there was an instant sexual attraction, both seemed to want something longer lasting, and eventually decided to hold off on the sex until they felt they had an appropriate, lasting foundation built.
“So, to recap, Bravo and Alpha will be hunting down Eli David and dismantling his entire organization of assholes. Eli himself will end up with a bullet to the head. What are we doing with Voldemort and Cruella De Vil?”
This time it was Blackburn who coughed before speaking up. “DiNozzo and Sciuto are to be brought back to the US to face charges. Sciuto skipped out on bail after being arrested for assaulting a federal agent when she punched him during a temper tantrum. In addition, Brass would like Sciuto’s computer or computers to be recovered if possible. So, you’re going to have to be careful not to give her the time to destroy it or them. That actually was another factor in Aiden’s inclusion. He’s actually highly computer savvy and it was decided that his technological expertise could be handy.
“Now, NCIS has a list of targets. After they brief Alpha Team in an hour or so, we will get the two teams together and start planning. Because of the importance of this mission, I am going to echo ASAC Booth’s earlier words. Shut your traps! No sharing details with anyone. No hints to wives. No clues to parents. Keep your mouths shut. Bravo Team is being given a damned big honor here, and it’s my expectation that we show them why we are the best of the best.”
“That son’bitch’s days are numbered, I can promise you that,” Sonny drawled, earning himself a fist bump from Clay and echoed agreements from around the room.
Personally, Jason swore to himself that either he or Sheppard would be putting a bullet in that bastard’s brain. Tony deserved that, at the very least.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
When Jason got home, he immediately went off in search of Tony finding him eventually sitting in a lounge chair on the deck outside his bedroom. Jason loved the bedrooms in the suites in this house. The outside walls in the corner suites were the kind that you could push back to open the whole wall up to the outside. Jason loved sleeping at night with the walls pushed back letting in the fresh ocean breeze and the sound of the surf.
Looking down at himself, Jason debated going to change, but his need to check on Tony was stronger than his need to be comfortable. Pausing, he couldn’t help but think back to the conversation that he’d had with Alana the last time he’d stopped in to bring the kids over for a weekend. She’d been asking questions about how things were going, and just quite frankly asked when he was going to shit or get off the pot where Tony was concerned.
It had forced a deeper conversation that he hadn’t been in the mood for, but in the end, she had made her point. Jason had really only one serious relationship in his life and that had been with her. While sure it was understandable that it might be hard to move on from, it wasn’t like the two of them hadn’t been separated for years before they got divorced. The fact that thus far everyone the kids had met in the Sheppard family had brought them into the fold, treating them as if they were their own while trying not to overstep Jason and Alana’s parental boundaries, meant a lot to not just Jason but Alana also.
After she’d gotten him thinking, Jason had spent the weekend considering his options and even stepped out for a couple hours to talk to Ray and get his opinion on the situation when his mind wouldn’t settle. When Ray had essentially echoed Alana’s statements, but going further to point out that Jason coped better when he had someone in his life to share not just his bed but his burdens with, he did better as a man and a leader.
He then went on to point out that there wouldn’t be the same limitations on what Jason could share with Tony as there had been with Alana. While it was true Tony wasn’t immediately read in on Jason’s missions being on the same base and sharing an equal if not possibly higher security clearance than Jason had would allow Jason to speak much more freely with Tony thus unburdening himself from some of the weight he carried on his shoulders.
Jason had been trying since then to figure out just what it was that drew Tony Paddington to him so quickly. Maybe it was the way he’d right from the start not only defended Seeley but made clear that he wouldn’t allow other’s opinions of Jason or Bravo team to stand in the way of him forming his own opinions. Then he’d gone out and done it. In fact, not only had he not let others determine what he thought of Jason and Bravo, he hadn’t let Jason determine what Tony thought of other teams. Beau Fuller and Charlie team were a perfect example.
While Jason and Beau hated each other like arch-enemies, Tony and Beau actually got along fairly well. Jason had even come across the two of them joking around once, and he’d almost fallen over his own feet when he’d not only seen Beau smile but laugh as well. Hell, Jason didn’t even know the stick shoved up Beau’s ass would allow him to smile or laugh. When he’d snarked that comment to Tony later, he’d only gotten an epic eye-roll and an offhand “it takes all kinds, Master Chief”, comment for his efforts.
Then there was the part where physically, Tony just made him lose his breath. Despite his run-in with the plague, and holy fuck the plague, Jason could tell that Tony made an effort to keep in physical shape. He and Seeley had even taken to occasionally showing up in the gym when Bravo was in there and their caseload allowed. Jason found out that the early Saturday morning disappearances that he’d been trying to figure out where Tony went, were Tony and Blackburn meeting up for an early morning run or hike through the hills.
All around him it seemed like the people in his life that meant the most to Jason were incorporating Tony into their lives whether Jason liked it or not. Frankly, that said more to him about if he should go forward and take a chance on a relationship than any of the lectures. The biggest two factors in Jason’s life at the moment were Bravo and his kids.
True to his word, Tony and Patrick had the two rooms reserved for the kids to be decorated however the kids wanted. Emma’s was teal blue, with not a single drop of pink because his daughter loathed pink and had a computer with software that helped her to write her own songs.
Mikey’s room was hockey-themed just like his son wanted, and Jason learned that not only Patrick but even Gibbs had started to learn about the sport. The two had even shown up at Mikey’s last home game cheering as loud as anyone when Mikey scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
Then there was the Patrick conversation. Early one morning, Jason had been coming in from base where he’d been helping another team plan a mission and ran into Patrick and Gibbs who were up early because they needed to go to DC for a few days. Patrick had just quietly but frankly told Jason that Emma and Mikey were wonderful children. He’d then told him that he had a shit ton of money that couldn’t be spent in 7 generations and that he’d like to set up educational funds for Jason’s two children.
It wasn’t him trying to interfere in Jason and Alana’s parental responsibilities. It was Patrick recognizing that military families generally didn’t have a lot of money. Let alone the funds to cover the dreams Emma and Mikey both had. He on the other hand had more money than he knew what to do with and wanted to help. Doing so would free up Jason and Alana’s limited funds for other things their family needed.
Jason had said they would think about it, and after another long conversation with Alana decided to take him up on the offer. As Alana pointed out, he wasn’t throwing wild money at the kids and trying to spoil them rotten. If something came up while the kids were at the mansion, he’d thus far either tried to let Jason handle it or had tried to do what they thought was appropriate and discussed it with Jason later.
Jason had to admit that at this point the only thing holding him back from the relationship with Tony that he wanted was Jason himself. And really, Jason wanted. He was willing to admit at that point that yeah, he wanted a lot. He wanted Tony in a way that he’d only ever wanted Alana, and maybe that was what was freaking him out.
It wasn’t like he’d only ever been sexually attracted to women or even just Alana. But he’d mostly only done quickies or a one-night stand. Meaningless relationships he knew weren’t going anywhere but could scratch an itch. Then his cousin Seeley came back into his life and brought this NCIS agent with him that had nearly brought Jason to his knees.
The first time he’d seen Tony in person standing in Harrington’s office, Jason was glad Seeley was standing in front of him. Because the way he immediately jumped to Seeley’s defense and had no cares about Harrington’s rank almost made Jason hard. The fact that he would go to bat with the Base CO that he was just meeting for someone so vital to Jason’s life and mental wellbeing was everything.
“I can feel you lurking,” Tony said just loud enough that Jason could just barely hear his voice over the sound of the waves. Smiling faintly, the Master Chief crossed the length of the room that separated them and found himself leaning against the railing in front of Tony.
“Has anyone ever told you that you make olive green look incredibly sexy?” Tony asked tilting his head to one side and Jason couldn’t help but offer a wide grin.
“Seriously, I look forward to the day you’re running around as this silver fox, beard intact by the way. ‘Cause if I had my way you’d always be in a beard.”
“You like the beard, huh?” Jason parroted and Tony just nodded lifting a beer bottle and taking a sip.
“There’s a mini bar in there with your favorite brand in the fridge by the way. I uhh I kinda stocked up for you just in case.”
“Yeah?” Jason asked moving out to where he’d seen the wet bar in the outer part of the suite grabbing his beer and then headed back to Tony.
“Thanks, for this I need it. How are you doing with this? I mean I kinda get why you can’t be involved, but at the same time it feels like they’re shooting themselves in the foot at least not letting you be part of the initial stuff when we’re here on base.”
Jason watched Tony’s eyes shift away from him back out to the ocean. “I want to be involved, but at the same time, I don’t, to be honest. Senior…. I could care what happens to him. Honestly. I don’t give a fuck. I made my peace with him the day I change my name to Antony Sheppard Paddington. Abby though…”
Jason could see the expression on Tony’s face change from pensive to sad. “Abby was literally like my sister at one point in our careers. We were as close as co-workers could be who aren’t married. We hung out together during our off time. We shared secrets. I thought of her as family and let her convince me that her idea of family was what it should be.
“Then at some point, I think that she went off the rails and somehow I just didn’t notice. I dunno. Gibbs tells me I can’t take what happened to Abby on myself, but at the same time, I guess it’s like what you were saying about Nate, right? I mean I wasn’t her boss, but I was supposed to be her friend, and I just didn’t notice that things weren’t right. Or if I did, sometimes I just let things slide because it felt easier or less confrontational. Like, I was too worried about losing her friendship than making sure she was ok. What kind of person does that?”
“The question is why, if she was your friend, did she put you in that position? Like, you weren’t the only person around her that knew her like that. It sounds like your team was tight. No one else said anything either. So, how is it on you? Maybe you should have said something, and I get that because you didn’t that’s why you feel sad. At the same time, does she deserve to have this much power over you still? After how long?”
“I know. I’ve tried coming to terms with it. But the thing is that it’s this constant thing that’s always there. Patrick has had to hire someone to constantly monitor my digital life. Like one of Raven’s former co-workers now works full time for Sheppard Industries and his primary job is to make sure that she doesn’t mess up my life or Seeley’s life electronically anymore.”
“So, basically, you can’t move on because she won’t let you move on. You do realize that that is a different situation than you not moving on because you just won’t, right? Wounds don’t heal if someone is constantly running a knife over the same damned cut all the time.”
Jason watched Tony nod his understanding before his soulful hazel eyes were turned back in Jason’s direction. “That’s why I need Bravo to finish this, Jason. As much as I want to be involved, like I said equally I don’t. Just, catch them. Kill Eli. Put Senior and Abby in prison. Try not to… they’re gonna say things, Jason. They’re gonna tell you guys all sorts of shit if they find out you know me. Just…”
“Tony,” Jason said cutting him off before he moved to kneel down at Tony’s side. “Tony, this isn’t our first rodeo. They’re the bad guys. You’re the good guy. It’s pretty black and white for us. You’re not just some guy on base. You’re family. You’re Bravo. Bottom line. Nothing they say can change that. My team has decided that they’re tired of waiting on me to make a decision and made it for me. Hell, Sonny told me he was tired of my moony eyes today in the briefing.”
Tony’s lips twitched at that and Jason cheered in his head a little at the sight. “I’ll be honest, I like Sonny. His antics amuse me more than maybe they should. I think I like the sound of being part of Bravo Team’s family. That means I am yours. I think I like the sound of that a lot.”
“Yeah?” Jason questioned taking Tony’s hand in his own. “I think I like the sound of it too. I was thinking maybe we should take the next step. My team seems to think I need to get laid, and I have been told I center my whole life around what they want so….”
Tony grinned big finishing the beer in his bottle before swinging his feet over the edge and standing. “I am all about the team life, man. I say we give Bravo what it wants.”
Grinning, Jason leaned in to capture Tony’s lips for their first kiss before dragging Tony back inside to the bed. The next morning, as he was laying, naked under the sheets watching Tony sleep, he thought he liked the view from Tony’s room as the sun was coming up, even better than in his own.
Chapter Eleven: The End and the Beginning
Eight months after being assigned the Eli David operation, Bravo Team was finally ready to make their final strike. When Echo Team was killed two weeks into their new operation, Jason almost lost his mind. He’d already lost Nate. His marriage had ended, and despite his new relationship it still felt like a failure. Now Echo Team and more importantly, Echo Team Leader Steve Porter who was a good friend to not just Jason but his family, were gone.
Steve’s daughter Hannah and Jason’s daughter Emma had been friends nearly from birth. The need for revenge was strong, but Command wasn’t about to change their plans for Bravo, and instead deployed Charlie Team early to take over Echo Team’s deployment. The fact that the team Jason liked the least was doing what he needed to do was like pouring fuel on the fire.
Jason raged at Tony in his office on base, despite the fact that Tony had nothing to do with the whole thing. He raged at Blackburn in the cage room, again even though the decision was made from well above Blackburn. He then went home and raged at everyone before being sent out to the beach for a breather. Fifteen minutes after getting out there, Rey, Scott, and Sonny showed up and collectively let out their emotions.
When they were done, Rey went home to hug his wife and baby. The other three went up and hung out in the Alpha & Bravo bar area trying to drown out their sorrow. The next morning before going to Steve’s house to help his wife, Jason went into Tony’s suite to talk only to see him laying asleep on his stomach in bed. The two hadn’t combined rooms yet. It probably needed to happen, but Jason hadn’t been ready yet. So, they still had separate suites.
Upon entering and seeing Tony was still sleeping, Jason took the time he probably didn’t have to sit in one of the chairs his boyfriend had on the edges of the room to sit and watch him. The longer he sat there, the longer he felt two things strongly. One was a longing to be laying there next to him, naked and satisfied, taking comfort from knowing he was with someone who had his back outside of the battlefield.
The thing was Jason had a lot of people to watch his back when he was in the field. He had five men dedicated to watching his back just like he was dedicated to them. He had Blackburn and Davis who had all of their backs in the instance that they needed help from afar. He even trusted Harrington to some extent. He was about as good a Captain as Jason had had in the Navy.
The one thing was though that when he came home, he’d always lacked the same level of security. That wasn’t a rewriting of his relationship with Alana. He loved her and his kids. It was just that… If he was being honest with himself, his marriage had always left him with some level of a feeling of failure. It was always this feeling of no matter where he was, he wasn’t doing enough. He wasn’t committing enough to make whoever it was completely happy.
The most fulfilled he felt was when he was deployed or with his team. He knew how to be Master Chief Jason Hayes, DEVGRU SEAL Team Leader of the legendary Bravo Team as Bravo One. He knew how to lead his men. He knew what they needed to be successful, and he knew how to weigh their individual needs against the needs of the team or the mission. He knew how to hunt terrorists, human traffickers, drug dealers, and all sorts of other kinds of targets the Navy deemed a threat to the citizens of the United States.
What he was less successful at and knew less about was how to be a good father and husband. People, including his family, assumed that when he was at home his job was done. Maybe it was for some teams. Maybe on say Charlie Team when they were at home, Beau’s commitment and need to be involved with his men’s lives was over until they all stepped on base again. That wasn’t how Bravo Team or Jason worked.
Jason always felt like Bravo Team was successful because he was involved in their lives 24/7, and that wasn’t just a Jason thing. People acted like he’d just pulled this shit out of his ass. Jason ran Bravo Team this way because when he was a rookie Bravo Team was run this way. His former Team Leader ran Bravo Team that way because when he was a rookie Bravo Team had been run that way.
It was part of why he hated Ash Spencer because the asshole had bucked how Bravo Team was run. Despite the fact that rule number one was what Bravo One says goes, Jason never made the team’s successes about himself. On the reverse though, Bravo Team’s failures were his. Bravo Team is family. Period. End of sentence. End of story. End of discussion.
Jason loved Nate. He was Nate’s son’s Godfather. Nate’s death would probably haunt him on some level for the rest of his life. Nate had bucked Bravo Team tradition. Jason understood the man’s commitment to his family. Not once had Jason objected to Ray or Nate’s commitment to their families. The difference between Nate and Ray was that Ray’s commitment to the team didn’t end when the team’s plane touched down at Little Creek. Nate’s did.
When Nate left base, he wasn’t interested in Bravo Team unless he was called back to base, or when he was required to be at Base for training and the rest of their daily duties. Ray’s commitment to the Team didn’t stop. One of the first things Ray had explained to Naima when they started to get serious was that there was no off-the-clock when it came to Bravo Team. The difference between Naima and Alana was that Naima had been able to find a way to find peace with Ray’s commitment to Bravo Team versus his commitment to his family, and never made him feel like he should choose between those commitments.
Alana on the other hand had understood but never been able to find peace with it. On some level, she’d always begrudged Jason his commitment to the Team when they weren’t deployed. In her mind, Jason should stop being Bravo One when he stepped off base. Her argument was that his team was made up of adults, and their family was made up of children. In her mind, Jason’s commitment when home, should be to their children first.
It had always made Jason feel like he wasn’t enough. He loved his children. Part of why he kept doing what he did was because of his children. The notion that he didn’t want to be there for them more was as painful as a bullet wound. He hated the fact that he’d missed birthdays, Christmas’, school plays and recitals, hockey games and so many more important events in his children’s lives that he’d never be able to level the scales.
The failure was compounded by the fact that neither Jason nor Alana had family who was willing to or could be part of their children’s lives when he couldn’t. Jason loved his father on some level, but he’d been scared both physically and mentally by his service time. Those wounds left him incapable of being the kind of father that Jason needed even once he was out of the service. The man had turned to alcohol instead of his family, losing house, days, and sometimes even weeks to the bottle.
Saying Jason’s mother had been displeased that her eldest child had chosen to follow in her husband’s footsteps even if he was in a different branch of the service was an understatement. Therefore, she’d instead devoted her time and attention to Jason’s brother and his family, following them to the west coast, to make a life with them. While that was well within their right, and Jason understood the less painful path, it left Jason’s children without any kind of extended family to fall back on when he wasn’t there.
Despite all the modern methods of communication and ways to stay in touch, his mother still didn’t have much interest even things like Facetime or Skype that would allow her to be more a part of their lives, even from the West Coast. Now all of a sudden there were all these other people in not only his life but the kid’s lives.
Tony Paddington had come into Jason’s life, appearing to fill a hole Jason hadn’t even known was there. Not only had he brought himself, but he brought Jason’s cousin Seeley, and frankly the only member of Jason’s family who had ever really given a damn about him back to him. Seeley and Jason were more than cousins, and even brothers didn’t quite explain it. Jason had always done better when he had Seeley in his everyday life, from the time they were toddlers.
Seeley’s mother and Jason’s mother were siblings. Seeley’s father and Jason’s father had been cut from almost identical pieces of cloth. Fortunately, Seeley had his Grandfather Booth to pick up the slack that Seeley’s father had left. Jason hadn’t had any such person in his life. Being unconnected to Jason, while Hank had taken in Seeley and Jared, he’d had no right or ability to take in Jason.
Thus, Jason had been left in a situation that Seeley had eventually been rescued from. Fortunately, the thing Hank could do was try and keep as much contact between Jason and Seely as he was able, giving the child he couldn’t rescue with a safe haven when needed. This made the two close, but he’d been old enough and lived far enough away that he’d only been a minor presence in Emma and Mikey’s lives. Once more though, Tony Paddington had come in and changed things for his children, too.
Not only had Patrick and Gibbs started learning hockey and attending Mikey’s games, but they’d also taken an equal enthusiasm to Emma’s musical ambitions. They’d attended recitals and other important functions for her just as they did Mikey.
For Patrick, he’d admitted to Jason one early morning, that it was a little surreal for him. His deceased wife, also named Emma, had been an amazingly talented pianist with a beautiful singing voice. To listen to a young woman, sharing her name, determined to follow a path that Patrick’s Emma had given up in lieu of being a wife and mother, was part painful and part wonderous.
It was more than hockey games and recitals though. Patrick and even Gibbs had made themselves available to Jason’s children on a normal everyday basis, even when the kids weren’t at their home. Patrick helped out with science questions. Gibbs helped with history lessons. David had even stepped in and helped Mikey with his first heartbreak when Jason and Aiden had been off hunting one of Eli’s underlings, and David and his family had been in Virginia Beach visiting.
It was humbling and a little heartwarming to see both of his kids blossom under the attention of people, who really didn’t need to do anything for his kids or Parker, who was receiving the same attention. As if that wasn’t enough though, it wasn’t just the kids. Again, during another mission, because major events seemed to always happen when Jason was on a mission, Alana had almost died in a car accident. If it weren’t for Patrick’s ability and willingness to call in some of the most skilled doctors in the world, she would most likely be dead.
While she was recovering, not only had the kids been moved into the beach mansion, but so had Alana with Patrick hiring a private nurse to help her recovery, once she’d been released from the hospital. It was a little odd having his ex-wife and his current boyfriend in the same house, but once again Tony’s flexibility and easy-going nature made the situation a lot less awkward than it should have been.
“Jason, I know how much you loved Alana. I know that she was the love of your life. The important word in that sentence being was. I also know that besides the word was, that she is still important to you. She was your best friend well before she was your wife. You make war for a living. I have no interest in bringing war to your personal life.”
Thus, Jason’s personal life was as harmonious as it had ever been. Alana didn’t feel so alone anymore, with only other military wives for support when things went wrong, and Jason wasn’t in country. Something that he was sure wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Tony Paddington coming into his life and bringing so many people into Jason’s.
“Now I know why Gibbs used to gripe about me lingering in doorways,” Tony had quipped sleepily, and Jason smiled remembering the early morning goodbye and combination I’m sorry for being an emotional asshole that he’d shared with his boyfriend before going to Steve’s house. True to form, the Sheppards had stepped up and offered any help they could to Steve’s family and the rest of the Echo Team families as they had offered Nate’s wife and son.
That had been months ago though, and slowly things had gotten back to normal. Bravo Team had continued their hunt for Eli David. Once he’d calmed down and got past his own emotions and kneejerk reaction to needing to find revenge for his family, Jason admitted that in the bigger picture Bravo Team was best suited for the bigger threat, which was David and his underground terrorist network.
Slowly but surely, Bravo team had worked the leads, Seeley, Emily, and Dean uncovered for them until they ultimately found the location of Eli’s current hideout. An old family olive tree farm that had been in the family for generations originally and whose current ownership was murky enough that it wasn’t listed as a known David family property.
The intel that Emily and Dean had gotten out of their informant was that the family farm had suddenly picked up activity with a couple teams of roaming military types guarding the farmhouse. It had made sneaking in tricky, but eventually, Jason, Eric, Clay, Aiden, and Metal had decided that their best bet would be to go in in the middle of the night and strike in the early morning hours.
The one weakness that they’d uncovered was that Eli liked to take an early morning stroll through the olive trees as the sun was coming up. The informant stated that Eli claimed it was a kind of purification ritual where Eli connected himself to nature cleansing his soul and freeing his mind of impure influences, thus allowing him to keep his mind free of evil influence.
In Jason’s opinion, the man had lost that battle far enough back that he didn’t even know what path he was on anymore. But then, it wasn’t the first time he’d heard similar nonsense from one of the Team’s targets. With his site on two members of the patrolling the olive tree fields, Jason pressed the button on his coms and talked as quietly as he could. “Bravo One to Bravo Team. Two targets moving back toward the farmhouse. I count that as ten targets to take out before infiltrating the residence.”
“Copy, Bravo One,” Ray responded quietly in his ear before Metal pipped in.
“Alpha One to Bravo One. Alpha Three, Bravo Five and I counted the same number. HAVOC, we still sticking with quiet infiltration?”
“HAVOC to Alpha One, that is affirmative,” Jason heard and wasn’t surprised by the confirmation. During their planning sessions, it was made clear that the recovery of whatever intel Sciuto had on her laptop or laptops was a top priority. While they knew that she had continued to target Tony and Seeley’s digital lives during her time in hiding, it was what else Abby was doing that they were all interested in.
Thus, they had been ordered as silent of an entry as possible. That meant knives and hand-to-hand combat instead of guns whenever possible. While it wasn’t their typical method of attack for a force this dangerous, it wasn’t unheard of either.
While they hadn’t thought that two SEAL teams were necessarily needed, Jason and Metal both felt in this case, and with the importance of this mission, they’d rather have more hands in the field than needed than less. Especially since they were attempting to recover Sciuto’s laptop intact. Both Tony and Gibbs had stressed that while Abby had at some point lost her path, she was still incredibly skilled and her first thought, if she thought the farm was under attack, would be to disable her electronics.
Thus, it was imperative that the killing of Eli David and his protection detail as well as the entry into the farmhouse be done as quietly as possible. “Bravo Two to Team, the target has been spotted leaving the farmhouse.”
“Copy Bravo Two,” Jason acknowledged. “Bravo One, Bravo Six, and Alpha Four are in position.”
“Copy Bravo Two,” Derek, aka Alpha Two who was also Clay’s neighbor across the hall in his apartment building, then quickly replied after Jason. “Alpha Two, Bravo Three, and Alpha Six are in position.”
As much as Aiden had wanted to be part of the teams taking out Eli David, it was agreed by everyone involved in the planning, including Aiden, that he was the person most qualified on the two teams to deal with the retrieval of Abby Sciuto’s electronics. While there were plenty of people capable of killing Eli, even in a close combat situation, there was really only one person who had the training to deal with the high level of technology they expected to find.
While Aiden had always wanted to be a SEAL since hearing stories about his Uncle AJ Chegwidden’s exploits at his uncle’s knee, he’d also been equally as fascinated by technology. Being the son of the country’s leading technological tycoon, he’d been dealing with and taking apart computers and other electronics to learn how they work.
Thus, when the time to make a hard decision came, he gave up his need for revenge upon Eli David, to make sure that the woman who had been tormenting his brother for almost 8 years by that time paid for her ill deeds. That meant that they needed the evidence that those who knew her believed would be on her laptop or laptops. Not to mention all of the intelligence that they would get off them about Eli’s allies and rivals.
*Bravo Six to Team, I have eyes on the target. Jason, you need to move two rows to your left. I estimate that he’s five mikes out from that location.”
When it was determined that Aiden was best suited on the farmhouse breach teams, the unofficial agreement on the two teams was that Jason is the one to take down David. While any of them were capable, and there were two, three men teams in the olive tree fields to make sure that David didn’t slip through their fingers, this wasn’t a normal case. All of the men involved had a hum of needing to get revenge for the NCIS SAC who had become a friend to all of them, and thus they agreed that Jason deserved the honor if possible.
Calling upon his 20 some years of military experience, Jason quietly but quickly moved from his current location to one where he could intercept their target. Laying motionless in the grass between the trees, Jason watched Eli move his direction, and waited, watching the target pass him before smoothly and quickly standing to come up behind the former Mossad Director.
He’d never know if it was because the target was lost in his early morning thoughts if it was his years of training, the fact that David was in a place where he thought himself perfectly safe, or a combination of things that allowed him to sneak up behind his target. However, it was only just before he attacked the man that his presence was realized. By then though it was too late.
Before David could do more than utter a sound of surprise, Jason had one hand clamped over his mouth as the other struck with speed and precision with his Ontario MK 3 Navy Knife slicing the man’s throat. Falling backward he wrapped his legs around the older man’s body, feeling his struggles weaken as his blood poured out from the gaping wound spanning one side of his neck to the other.
A part of his mind wanted to wander and consider the justice of the moment. Think about all the lives that the man had ruined, including all of his three known children. Let his thoughts wander over what this man’s death will mean to Tony and the relief it will give his boyfriend. Think about how this death weights in comparison to the other High-Value Targets that Jason had personally taken out in his career. Fortunately, Jason’s training had drilled such lapses in judgment out of him leaving him connected only to the man dying in his arms.
Laying on his side in the grass amongst the olive trees, Jason became aware of people coming up upon him. He realized that while time had almost slowed down making it seem like he’d been laying there a lot longer than he had, it had only been mere minutes. He knew that Clay and the others would have moved to his position immediately to back him up.
“Boss, you’re good,” Clay said quietly coming up and tapping on Jason’s elbow. “He’s gone.”
For a moment, Jason couldn’t get himself to let go. It wasn’t until Clay moved into his line of sight, kneeling down so that he could better look into Jason’s eyes that the Team Leader was able to begin to let his hold loosen. “Come on, Jase, let him go,” Clay said quietly tapping his elbow again. “He’s gone. He can’t hurt T anymore. We need to get into the farmhouse to help the teams.”
This time when Clay tapped his elbow, Jason nodded and let the body fall forward, then took Brian’s extended hand pulling him into a standing position. It wasn’t until Sonny handed him his knife, now cleaned of Eli’s blood that Jason realized he’d let it drop with the body. “Don’ wanna leave that behind, Boss.”
Nodding, Jason shoved the knife back into its sheath and ordered the five men with him to head to the farmhouse to help with the wrap-up there. As they sprinted through the trees toward the house, Jason clicked on his comms to call TOC. “Bravo One to HAVOC. Passing Sauron. Moving to join the other teams at Voldemort and Cruella De Vil.”
When it came time to pick names for their mission levels, the Bravo had almost unanimously insisted on going with movie and cartoon villains continuing the theme Jason had started in the briefing. Thus, killing Eli David was Sauron, and capturing Senior would be Voldemort. Capturing Sciuto would be Cruella De Vil, and successfully getting her electronics to take back to the US was Hans Gruber. Jason secretly thought Tony would be highly amused by their choices and hoped his boyfriend would approve.
As they walked through the lawn separating their olive tree fields from the house, Jason noted the bodies laying around, and while he didn’t count ten, assumed that there were some that he couldn’t see. He knew that there were at least two injuries. On their way to the farmhouse, Trent had called and requested that Alpha Two, the Alpha Team official medic, double-time it because he could use a hand.
Entering the farmhouse, Jason saw Derek working on Metal already, who was sitting shirtless while his Second in Command sewed up a gaping wound in his side. At the same time, Jason noted that Trent, aka Bravo Four the team’s unofficial medic, was working on Alpha Five’s ankle. The farmhouse wasn’t all that big. So, Jason was clearly able to hear both Scuito and Senior’s objections.
“Bravo Six and Bravo Three, go help Bravo Two with Voldemort. Alpha Four and Alpha Six go help Alpha Three with Cruella De Vil and Hans Gruber.”
Heading over to check on Metal, who seemed to be the most serious injury Jason knelt down next to him. “What happened?”
“One of the damned Tangos came up on me while I was trying to get rid of his buddy. Caught me in the side with his knife before Alpha Three could get off a shot. No one else was close enough for a silent takedown.”
“Do we know if she got to anything before, he could get in there?”
“Negative,” Metal responded before turning to swear at his SIC who was just finishing up the stitches. Chucking knowing that if his friend was cursing Derek out that he must not be in danger of dying, he looked toward Trent who as always seemed to sense his Team Leader’s eyes on him, and waved a hand in the air.
“Just a sprained ankle,” Trent explained as he finished wrapping up Alpha Five’s ankle. “Tripped over something when that bitch hit him over the head with something.”
“Roger that,” Jason acknowledged and was about to go check on the teams when he looked up hearing Alpha Four, aka Thomas Davis taunting Senior as they dragged the half-naked and obnoxious man into the room.
“Christ, I didn’t need to look at that,” Metal bitched, and Jason couldn’t help but agree.
“You couldn’t have gotten him dressed?”
“You want him dressed or alive?” Ray drawled from his position behind Alpha Four and Six where he’d been using what looked to be a cane to prod the irritating man along by poking him in the back now and then. “The only reason I left him alive is because I had to.”
Given that Ray was generally the calm rational one of the two of them, told Jason a lot about how irritated his friend was. While he knew the Alpha Team guys might assume Ray was joking, Jason could clearly see the honesty in his friend’s words. Before he could comment though the jackass opened his mouth again and began bitching to Jason, who he must have decided was in charge, about his treatment.
“Do you know who I am? I am an upstanding United States citizen. You have no right to treat me in this manner. Our host is a powerful man in the international intelligence community. You just need to call him, and I know he’ll vouch for me. I am innocent. He’s out in the fields on his morning walk. He’ll be upset when he sees how you’re treating me!”
Jason arched an eyebrow crossing his arms across his chest. “David is dead. I slit his throat in the middle of his precious trees. I assure you that he won’t be vouching for you for anything unless it’s with Satan.”
Jason was surprised when the man’s demeanor immediately shifted from boisterous to appearing fragile and terrified. If Tony hadn’t already thoroughly warned them about what to expect, he might have bought his act. “Oh, thank God! You must be here to rescue me. There has to be a misunderstanding. I am Anthony DiNozzo, Senior. My son works for NCIS. He must have heard of my capture and ordered my rescue.”
“Pretty sure chump that you have to have a son to be a Senior or for him to vouch for you,” Ray pointed out poking Senior with the cane again making the man snarl at him over his shoulder.
“I do have a son! His name is Anthony DiNozzo, Junior. Just a mere copy of his old man though. I am the original and best DiNozzo version you know.”
“Yeah, no, Skippy,” Brian Armstrong, aka Alpha Six, drawled throwing the man into a chair as Thomas threw a blanket over him.
Jason just watched as Ray moved to loom over DiNozzo his hands resting on his hips. “Pretty sure he’s not your son. He’s also not any kind of a copy of you and I think you’re confusing evil with best, you douchebag.”
Again, DiNozzo’s facial expression shifted, this time into a snarl and Jason thought maybe they were finally seeing the irritating man’s true feelings. “That unappreciative little bastard! He owes me for everything I gave him, but like the ungrateful little shit he’s always been, he abandoned me the second that fucking Sheppard came sniffing around.”
Jason opened his mouth to argue, but then closed it and just shook his head. “Someone find something to stuff in his mouth, please? I am not listening to him all the way back to the plane. Mr. DiNozzo, you are being taken back to the United States for interrogation then what I guess will be a long list of charges thanks to your time playing BFFs with a terrorist.”
Turning, he headed back to where he could still hear Sciuto screaming as fortunately, Senior went quiet. He guessed that someone had found something to shut him up with. Reaching up for his coms, Jason pressed the button. “Bravo One to HAVOC. We have passed Voldemort. Heading to check on Cruella De Vil and Hans Gruber.”
“Copy Bravo One,” Blackburn replied from TOC and Jason paused outside the door to the room and searched for some patience before he headed inside. He wasn’t surprised when immediately the woman turned her eyes on him and opened her mouth to start screaming when Clay shoved what appeared to be part of a headscarf into her mouth.
“Thank you, God,” Aiden swore from where he sat hunched over a laptop. “Tell me we can leave that in? If I have to listen to her insulting us and Tony again, I’m gonna do something that I wouldn’t feel bad about later, no matter how much I know my mother would hate me for it.”
“We’ll take care of her for you, man,” Sonny promised, patting Aiden’s shoulder before he moved to where Clay was taunting Sciuto mocking her inability to be understood. Jason noted at some point they’d zip-tied her hands behind her back.
“Jesus, kid,” Jason snickered turning to watch Clay who was taking an obviously great amount of pleasure in getting under the woman’s skin. The fact that it was also distracting her from what Aiden was doing and therefore letting him finish whatever it was he and the technical people who had been consulted, aka Rodney McKay, decided needed to happen was only a plus.
Clay just turned his attention flashing Jason an amused grin before going back to mock Sciuto’s inability to insult them anymore. Shaking his head, Jason just shared a headshake with Sonny and turned to Aiden.
“Seriously, can we get Clay some kind of medal for that shit?” Aiden murmured when Jason stepped up behind him.
“Yeah, I’ll nominate him for the Medal of Assholery. It’s shit brown colored and has a dangling smiling shit emoji hanging off the end.”
When Aiden let out a temporary bark of laughter, flashing a smile over his shoulder, Jason just gave his back another pat as he looked at the screen. “You close to being done?”
“Yeah, the program I was using is almost done. It’ll enable everything to get back intact. So far it hasn’t found signs of any kind of safety precaution that would prevent me from moving it. The other two were already powered all the way down. I also looked for explosives around the table before I sat down. The two other laptops I found are already packed and ready to go. This was the last one I had to move. There’s a whole box of hard drives, thumb drives, and other stuff by the door.
“So, Clay seems to be enjoying himself,” Jason observed as Clay’s taunts became more and more absurd.
“Yeah, he really likes Tony,” Aiden observed as it seemed to Jason, he began to power down the device. “I think he’s as pissed at Senior and Abby as I am. You might wanna keep him away from Senior, fair warning. Abby is pretty safe because he’d never harm her unless he had to, to defend himself or us, but Senior is something else. I think there’s some blurring of lines between Ash and Senior going on there.”
Nodding, Jason turned around to eye Clay before looking in Sonny’s direction to find Bravo Three watching him. “Bravo Three and Bravo Six, you two are on Cruella De Vil assignment until we get back to the plane. Bravo Two and Alpha Six and Four have Voldemort. Once we get her back to the plane, she’s not our problem anymore.”
Pressing his coms button one last time Jason turned back to Aiden to see him picking up computer bags. Moving to the doorway, Jason picked up the box sitting there that Aiden said had all of the hard drives and other things they needed to take with them. “Bravo One to HAVOC. Passing Cruella De Vil and Hans Gruber. Heading back to HAVOC with the HVTs. We have three laptops, and a box of other stuff Alpha Three has us bringing home.”
“Copy, Bravo One,” Blackburn replied from TOC, and Jason could hear the smile in his voice. Clay wasn’t the only one who had formed a friendship with Tony independent of Jason after all. Following Clay and Sonny out of the room leaving Aiden to bring up the rear, Jason contemplated the successful wrap-up of the David operation.
Even though they still had to get DiNozzo and Sciuto back to the plane, he couldn’t help but feel like they’d accomplished what they set out to do, and for the first time in a long time felt like he’d made a change in the world that wouldn’t be almost immediately undone by someone else stepping into the vacated position. During their operation, they’d done their best to bring down as much of the lower levels of the terrorist organization as possible.
Maybe for once, they’d made a difference in the world that would actually last.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
When Tony got home from work later that same day, instead of heading right to the house, he headed to the small building that Patrick had built for Gibbs to build boats in. All-day since finding out that Bravo Team and Alpha Team had successfully completed their mission, Tony had been more absent mentally than present. He would have gone home, but with Seeley having accompanied the two SEAL Teams he felt like one of them needed to be in the office.
Fortunately, Matt was more than capable of handling what little activity they had going on at the moment, and therefore left Tony alone with his thoughts. Before leaving the base, Tony sent a text to Gibbs needing to talk to his boss. While normally his father or Jason would be his go-to these days when it came to needing to talk something out, it felt like Gibbs was really the only person in the world who would understand what was going on in Tony’s brain.
Pulling his car up to the building, Tony shut off the engine on the classic Plymouth Barracuda. One thing that settling in one place had allowed him was that he could try getting another classic muscle car in the hopes that this one wouldn’t get ruined. It also helped that there were two classic car enthusiasts in both Clay and Aiden. While Tony had gone the route of choosing a car to restore in the past, that wasn’t what he wanted to do this time.
So, there had been several weekends where he’d dragged either Clay or Aiden or both to car auctions until he found the right one. He hadn’t been sure if Jason would fawn over his choice or mock it. When he finally did see the blue Barracuda, he just gave a smile and said it wasn’t bad.
Getting out of the car, Tony headed into the shop and made his way to one of the stools that his former boss kept on hand for visitors. The first time Patrick had walked into the shop they’d had built for Gibbs’ woodworking, he’d taken a look at Gibbs’ normal seating offering and given a very firm no. The next day padded bar stools with backs appeared in the shop and Gibbs had apparently known better than to argue.
“It done?” Gibbs asked without looking up from the long board he was carefully sanding for the boat he was making. Tony knew that it was actually going to be kept, unlike most of the others that had been burned or smashed to bits in the basement.
“Yeah,” Tony confirmed. His foot bouncing his leg from where it was resting on one of the stool’s lower rungs. “they’re on their way back. Should be here by the time we get up in the morning. Although, the debrief will take forever. My guess is though that they’ll let them come home and sleep for a day or two before they get into all of that. I am sure Jase and Metal will have them doing AARs on the plane so that can be done.”
“How are you doing with the whole thing?” Gibbs asked abandoning his task and turning to sit in front of his workbench to look at Tony while they talked.
“I dunno,” Tony admitted chewing on his lower lip. “I thought I would be more… Well, more of something. More relieved, more upset, more whatever. I guess those sessions with Marcus have been helping after all.”
Not long into the operation, Tony had happened upon one of the base psychologists Marcus Stephenson, who had casually mentioned to Tony that he was there not just for the Navy personnel but Tony and his team as well. At the time, Tony had just nodded his understanding and thanked the man letting him know he would keep it in mind.
However, a couple days later, just before Bravo was to leave for their first mission for the operation, Abby unleashed another attack on Tony’s digital life that left Krumitz scrambling to keep up and an angry and defeated feeling Tony sought the Doctor out. He’d made sure to confirm with Granger that the good Doctor actually had the clearance to hear about the whole issue in the days between their meetings. After all, it wouldn’t do much good if Tony couldn’t be honest with the man.
Granger had been quite blunt in his confirmation that not only was Dr. Stephenson safe to be open with but that the NCIS Director thought Tony should take him up on his offer. That had therefore started Tony’s healing from anything he had leftover from the whole fiasco that ended his time on the MCRT and particularly the betrayal of his one-time friend now turned enemy.
Unlike Gibbs, Tony wasn’t opposed to therapy. He’d had enough of it over the years to know that when he was open to it that it could be helpful. He had also learned though that if he wasn’t open to it or ready to commit to the process that it wouldn’t do him any good. That day though, for whatever reason, Abby’s latest antics were the piece of straw that broke the camel’s back. Fortunately, Marcus had immediately made took for him, and by the time Tony got back to his office, he had a plan going forward and was calmed down enough he could focus on the rest of his day.
“Maybe you’ll feel different in the morning,” Gibbs pointed out taking a drink from his water bottle. “Or, maybe you really are just settled enough with it all that you just needed the lid to be put on the whole thing before everything is stored in your mental evidence locker.”
“Maybe,” Tony offered, his head slightly tilted to one side as his mind tried to process all the thoughts and information swirling around inside.
“Did you ever think when we met in Baltimore that we could be here someday, Boss?”
“In a workshop at a Beach Mansion owned by one of the wealthiest men in the world? No.”
Tony snorted and couldn’t help but grin. “In some are they or aren’t they relationship with my Papà. Are you two going to ever come clean? I mean I don’t really care either way. I want you two to be happy, and you seem to be. I just can’t imagine not wanting to shout from the rooftops how happy I am. Some days I wanna take a billboard out to let people know I’m in love with Jason.”
Gibbs smirked and just shrugged one shoulder before answering. “I dunno. Guess we’re old enough we don’t think it’s anyone’s business but our own. What makes you think that is an are they situation instead of aren’t they?”
“Please,” Tony scoffed making a face. “I’ve seen you in enough relationships that I know when you’re in one. Although Papà may not be a redhead or a woman for that fact, you two are definitely in a relationship.”
“Is this where you give me the talk?” Gibbs quipped looking unconcerned about the prospect either way.
“Nah,” Tony said waving a hand in the air. “I meant what I said. I just want you and he to be happy. If you two are in a romantic relationship then ok. If it’s just an epic bromance, then that’s ok, too. I guess I just want you to know I support you both either way. Feels like we’re finally leaving one path behind and have fully joined the new one, ya know? Abby and Senior will pay for all the things they’ve done. McGee is doing his gamer thing and leaving me alone, which is all I care about.
“You and I both have this whole new family of some related people and a whole bunch of unrelated people. Somehow, we’re both in relationships that suit us with people that love us despite the fact that we’re both difficult. I just, I never thought back when we were working that case that we’d end up here. Never in a million years. Life is just weird is all. I’ve had that old Doors song Riders on the Storm stuck in my head all day.
“That bit about ya gotta love your man. Girl, ya gotta love your man. Take him by the hand. Make him understand. The world on you depends. Our life will never end. Gotta love your man, yeah. It feels like… Like them for my path going forward, ya know? I mean, NCIS and catching assholes are still important to me but something about Abby and Senior being caught has let me move on from NCIS being my focus in life to Jason being my focus and NCIS being the thing that fills my time when Jason doesn’t need me. I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.”
“Don’t know as it is either,” Gibbs said with a shrug and an understanding smile on his face. “Seems like I’m in the same boat though. For you though, I think it’s especially true. Hayes, I think he needs you, Tony. I think you make a difference in his life in a way maybe, even as good of an agent you are, that you can’t at NCIS.
“Seems to me that maybe life is about not just paths but clues, right? You being an investigator you use the clues you find along the way to determine the next path. Maybe all the clues along the way have been there to lead you to Hayes. To give him something to ground him when he can’t be doing his job. So many of our service people come home and get lost because there’s no one to ground them or who understands the gaping void in their lives when they have to switch from always being on to not knowing when they need to be on.
“The higher up in command you go the harder that is sometimes, especially when you’re actually there fighting war instead of sitting behind a desk directing people like a game of Risk. Guys like Hayes struggle when they aren’t supposed to be Master Chief, Bravo One anymore. Maybe that is your mission now. Making sure he knows he has a purpose beyond Bravo Team, not to make him shift his focus, but to prepare him for when his focus will shift itself.
“I think that lines – Make him understand. The world on you depends. – is spot on. I always thought Jim was a genius, even if he was a troubled one. You might be the thing that Master Chief Hayes needs when it’s time for him to just be Jason Hayes.”
“That’s a big responsibility,” Tony murmured as his mind shifted to consider what Gibbs was telling him. “Not one that I’m not willing to take on though. I mean, if anyone deserves a couple lighthouses along his shores to keep him from crashing into the rocks, it’s him. Thanks, Gibbs. I was kind of thinking I was overstepping ‘cause it kind of felt like that’s where my life’s focus was shifting, but I couldn’t decide if I was overstepping or not.”
“Seems to me you’re only overstepping if Hayes thinks you are,” Gibbs pointed out as he stood to move back to his board. “And from what I can see Hayes has you right where he wants you. Seems like the kind of man you don’t have to worry so much about how he feels if you can handle a few thunderstorms to rock the boat now and then.”
“I tell him his second B is coming out when that happens,” Tony quipped and earned himself a genuine bark of laughter from Gibbs.
“Second B indeed,” Gibbs agreed, settling into his sanding. “You done good, DiNozzo. You done good.”
Taking a deep, suddenly shaky breath, Tony nodded and let out a husky, “thanks, Boss,” before settling in to watch his friend and mentor sand. It had always relaxed him and maybe he could use a little more soothing after all.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
It was two days later before Tony and Jason’s paths crossed. Tony came in with an extra coffee and some of the chocolate-filled croissants Jason liked hoping to hunt the man down, only to find the Master Chief sitting in Tony’s darkened office.
“There you are,” Tony greeted, carefully not commenting on the whole sitting in the dark bit. Pausing in front of the couch in his office that Jason was seated on, he handed off the coffee cup and the pastry bag before moving to his desk with his own bag containing a cinnamon roll and his venti white chocolate mocha.
“Yeah,” Jason commented sipping his coffee before digging into the bag. “They decided they wanted to do some debriefing before letting us go home after all. We’ve been napping in the cage rooms. They told us we could go home, but…”
When Jason trailed off, Tony leaned back in his chair debating if he should shift positions but eventually decided that if he touched Jason right then the man might scatter like a flock of birds. “But you were feeling overwhelmed and despite how huge the house is there’s still a shit ton of people in it, or at least it feels that way sometimes? You know that’s why we have suites. I mean, I understand. People assume I’m always on, but I’m not, or don’t like it anyway. If you ever need to just lock yourself in your suite and shut everyone out you can.”
“What if I wanna shut everyone out but you?” Jason asked carefully and Tony noted he was staring at the tiled floor instead of Tony.
“That’s ok, too,” Tony assured carefully and quietly. “You’re the only person that I never wanna shut out lately, as well.”
“Can’t lock the suite door though if I want you to be able to come in,” Jason pointed out munching on his breakfast.
“Maybe it’s time then for your suite to be my suite,” Tony offered gently. “If you are ready, I mean. Mine has a keypad on it that activates when the door is closed. Is that what you need today?”
“S’stupid,” Jason grouched running a hand over his face before crumbling up the bag and throwing it towards the trash can.
“It’s not,” Tony argued shaking his head even though Jason wasn’t looking at him. “It isn’t stupid at all. Jason, you and your team, the other teams like yours, you’re lives are different than the rest of the world’s. Sometimes things just creep up on you. You’ve had to be on and alert and everything else that comes with leading a mission like the one you just finished for eight months. That’s two months longer than anyone imagined, and it was no fault of yours or Alpha Team’s.
“There were delays and shit along the way that slowed you down, but in the end you got him. But it left you all in the state where you always had to be ready to go for far longer than needed. It’s understandable that now you’re crashing, and if you need everyone but me to be gone while you’re doing that, then that’s what you get.”
When Jason finally looked up, Tony had to force himself to not only not wince but not immediately rush to Jason’s side at the fear and uncertainty he saw in the rare unguarded moment of weakness. “You aren’t mad? Alana was always mad that I didn’t wanna suddenly just jump in and do the ten million things that I’d missed or handle been able to do. I just, I’m waiting for you to be mad, and you keep not being mad at me.”
“Jason,” Tony started then stopped to gather his thoughts before trying again. “I think it would do us a disservice if we kept trying to compare my reactions to Alana’s. Not to be harsh, but there is a reason you two are divorced and I’m here. Not only that though, I get it. Maybe not on the level you know or in the way you know, but I get the crash. I spent over a year undercover with the Malcuso family. Always on. Always someone else. Always having to be hyper-aware of my surroundings and careful about every damned word that came out of my mouth, every action I took.
“So, I get it, babe. I get the crash. I’ve been there. The difference is that I didn’t have someone to come home to who understood or even didn’t understand. I just came home to an empty apartment, and I know how bad and dark that was. I won’t ever let you go through that if I have a say in the matter.
“This thing between us isn’t just for now, or for a while. Jason, this thing between us, for me at least, is forever. I want you to be it. I told you that I wanna see you as this silver fox with this beard and still able to make me hard and weak in the knees. I want us to watch the kids accomplish their dreams. I want us to be proud of Clay as he turns the navy or congress or whatever he sets his sights on, on its head. You and me. You need to crash and just see me for a couple days, then you get to crash and just see me for a couple days.
“If you need to sneak over to Seeley’s office, then he has a similar couch there for a similar reason. Although if I miss my guess then Blackburn is already sleeping on his.”
“Eric and Seeley?” Jason asked finally looking up in obvious surprise and Tony nodded with a grin.
“Yeah, I think so. They’re stubborn those two, but finally, they saw the light.”
“That mean you won’t be upset if I slept on your couch all day?” Jason asked already taking his boots off, and in response, Tony got up and pulled a light blanket and a pillow out of one of the nooks in his bookcase.
“That means I won’t be upset if you sleep on my couch all day,” Tony confirmed handing Jason the pillow then spreading the blanket over him once he had laid down. “Does this mean you’ll finally move into my suite?”
“Yeah,” Jason agreed. His eyes already closing and the words coming out slurred and quieter than normal. “We’re off for a couple weeks. I’ll get it moved. Love you, Pads. You know, right?”
“Yeah, babe. I know.” Tony said leaning over and pressing a kiss to Jason’s forehead. Kneeling down, he let his fingers run through Jason’s spiky hair until he was sure the man was completely asleep. Then standing, Tony shut his door and moved back to his desk to send out a message he wasn’t to be disturbed unless it was an emergency.
His new path had been laid out before him. He was a rider on the storm. His new mission was to take care of Master Chief Hayes while he took care of everyone else. It wasn’t what Tony had envisioned for himself all those years ago when he followed Gibbs to NCIS from Baltimore.
Yet, somehow it was exactly what his life had needed. He couldn’t help but think back to when Tim and Ziva turned off those coms all those years ago and how devastated he was. It had literally felt like he was losing everything all over again. For someone who had already done that multiple times in his life, it had felt like an obstacle he’d never recover from.
There he was eight years later. He was a Senior Agent in Charge of a specialized unit at a traditionally residential unit listing, not just leading people but helping them achieve their own dreams. He had not just a family he’d made for himself, but he had a real actual blood-related family on top of it. He had a father who was so vital to his life that Tony didn’t dare to think what would happen when Patrick was someday gone forever.
He had made a new brother in Seeley Booth who brought into Tony’s life a man who changed everything. The one area that Tony had always felt deficient in was love. The romantic kind of love that led to marriages and forever type of relationships. Yet, here he was. Sitting in his office watching the person that he could honest to Gods say was the love of his life sleeping as he recovered from a post-operation crash.
Senior had always acted like it was money and power that were the vital things in the world, and couldn’t figure out why he was always unhappy. Yet, his real father, Patrick Sheppard, one of the richest people in the world, told him that the real riches came in his ability to accept love and give that same love back to others. Gibbs told him that maybe his new path wasn’t in leading this team of NCIS agents, but in making sure that his Master Chief knew that there was one person who he didn’t have to lead.
Instead, they could just be together. Walking side by side down their joined paths as they helped each other over roadblocks and around pitfalls. They could watch Jason’s children grow, and his children’s children grow. They could be the family that Clay Spencer needed and never had before Master Chief Jason Hayes decided to take a chance on him.
Maybe someday Jason would move on from Bravo Team and they’d have to make a decision between their jobs. Tony believed the Navy needed an officer with Jason’s experience, and knew that if he had to choose between Jason’s career and his own that it was a no-brainer. He had a feeling though that it was a choice they would never be forced to make. Tony finally had a director he could trust, and that left him with the ability to put all his time and devotion right where it belonged.
The storm was finally clearing. There was some debris left behind that they’d have to deal with, but that was just clean up. Eventually, there would be another storm come their way, but Tony knew it would be different. He knew that from that point forward, he would forever be united with the love of his life. His path never again leaving him alone to wander by himself, and that…
That made all the difference in the world.