The pick-up had died again. Hadn’t even made it out to the road this time. Mike Franks stood up straight, reaching for his beer bottle with a greasy hand. The alcohol was a familiar burn down his throat. If he couldn’t get the damn truck running today he’d have to have some of the men from the cantina come down to take a look at it. A figure walking down the road caught his attention as he went to set the bottle down.
A baseball cap and a jean button up shirt. The skin was much too light to be a local, must be some tourist that’d gotten lost. He raised a hand to block out the sun as he took a closer look. Not too many tourists managed to make it this far.
As he drew closer the man’s face came into focus and Mike grinned as he leaned back over the engine of his truck. Didn’t look like he’d be needing those boys from the cantina after all.
-Beach in Baja-
The hammock creaked loudly as it swung back and forth. Mike laid back, feet up and a beer in hand, letting the rocking motion of the hammock lull him to sleep. A shout from the beach made him open his eyes, squinting in the bright light to see what the commotion was about.
Jethro was standing, barefoot, ankle deep in the waves. The fishing pole in his hand was bent from the weight of the fish caught on the end of his line. Walking backwards up onto the sand Jethro quickly reeled the fish in. He laughed as it flopped out of the water and onto the sand, it’s scales sparkling in the bright sunlight. Picking it up he pulled the hook from it’s mouth. Holding it high in the air he called;
“Hey Mike! I caught us dinner!”
Mike grumbled from his hammock, glaring at the tiny fish. Waving a dismissive hand in the air he called back to the laughing man.
“Catch a few more that size Probie and we might have enough for a mid-day snack!”
-Beach in Baja-
“So what does he do? He picks up the damn cigarette butt!”
Mike paused, taking a long draw from his cigarette as the men sitting around their table laughed. Jethro was smirking, no doubt recalling a different set of events from his own perspective. Grinding the cigarette into the ashtray Mike grinned as he continued.
“So I smacked the damn fool upside the head and explained rule número dos to him! Boy never touched evidence with his bare hands again.”
Jethro chuckled around the lip of his Corona.
“Well, if you’d taken the time to tell me to put on gloves instead of, ‘Probie bag up all this shit’ I wouldn’t have contaminated anything.”
Franks grinned wryly as he swigged his own drink.
“Shoot Probie, everyone messes up sometime. I figured best let you get your screw ups out of the way on a case where you couldn’t do too much damage.” The comment drew another round of hysterical laughter from the men. Mike almost wished that they found him this funny when they were sober. “Even with your fingerprints all over his cigarettes Peterson was goin’ to jail there was no way around that.”
Jethro’s smile faded slightly as he stared down at his bottle.
“First time I met Kate I told her that rule. She said it didn’t matter because the plane was already covered with her prints. I made her wear the gloves anyway.”
Mike’s brow furrowed. Hadn’t the women on his Probie’s team had some foreign name?
“Tony was a cop so he knew the basics for working a crime scene. I think McGee had the damn manual memorized before he started FLETC.” He laughed suddenly, the grin stretching wide across his face. “Ziva knew to keep her fingerprints off the evidence for an entirely different set of rules. She had to learn.”
Jethro’s face became distant. Mike finished his beer quickly and slammed the glass bottle down onto the table, startling the other man out of his reverie.
“Another round, on me!”
-Beach in Baja-
He had no idea how many times he saw Jethro die because he wasn’t there to watch the younger man’s back.
“Somethin’ on your mind Probie?”
His eyes were still distant as he answered.
“Wonderin’ how Jenny’s dealing with Tony. His method’s tend to be a little…unorthodox.” Jethro blinked and the moment passed. He stood with a snap, patting at his pockets. Finding them empty he jogged up the steps, past Mike and into the house. With a frown the older man followed him.
“What are you doin’?”
“Have you seen my wallet? The only thing you’ve got left in the fridge is beer.”
“Señorita from the cantina up the coast brings me my groceries every other Monday. She didn’t figure on there being two mouths here the last time she dropped em off. Guess we ran out a little early. Besides, we still haven’t gotten that old truck running. You couldn’t walk all that way carrying groceries back.”
“So we’re just supposed to live on beer and sweat for the next three days?”
Mike pointed towards the beach with his beer bottle.
“If it matters so much to you why don’t you go catch us some dinner! Something a little bigger that my palm this time too!” Jethro stomped past him towards the beach, grabbing the fishing pole as he went. Mike called out as he jumped off the deck. “Take the boat out why don’t you? Might find something bigger out deeper! Just watch for the reefs.”
He saw Jethro nodding as he jogged towards the small boat Mike had pulled up out of the reach of the waves. Flopping down into his hammock Mike watched as the boat was pushed into the water. Taking another sip of his beer he grinned. It was best to give the man something to do. To keep his mind off of D.C.
-Beach in Baja-
Mike gritted his teeth and burrowed deeper into the pillow. His head was pounding, the sound of the hammer sending a sharp pain through his skull with each stroke. He didn’t know how Jethro could stand it. He’d been positive that he’d poured more alcohol down the other man’s throat than he had his own.
Jethro had sprinted around the house like a whirlwind late last night. He had a bag half full of clothing and was again searching for his wallet. Mike had stumbled out of bed half dressed before grabbing the other man by the collar as he tried to race out the door.
“Woah, woah Probie! Where’s the fire?”
Jethro turned, his eyes were wild and his face looked haggard.
“McGee is dead. I’ve gotta get back to D.C. or McGee’s gonna get killed.”
Again he tried to leave but Mike kept a firm grip on his collar.
“Hold up Probie! If one of them boys of yours is in trouble I’m not gonna stop you from goin’, but could you explain the situation first? How’d you know he’s in trouble?”
Mike hadn’t heard anyone arrive to give him a phone call and he knew that there were no phones in the house.
“DiNozzo’s reckless. I’ve gotta get back before he gets McGee killed!”
Mike sighed, shaking his head as he pushed Jethro into a seat. The frantic air was slowly dissipating, the wild look, most likely left behind by a nightmare, disappearing with it.
“This DiNozzo kid, how long has he been a cop?”
Jethro didn’t pause for a moment before he answered.
“At least six years-on three different forces.”
“And how long has he been on your team at NCIS?”
“When you retired did you have any doubt about his ability to lead? To keep his,” and here he emphasized the word, “team safe?”
The tension in the younger man’s shoulders melted away. With a heavy sigh he pinched at the bridge of his nose.
“So why are ya worryin’ about him now? Surely if he’d went and gotten someone killed they’d have found a way to contact you. Doesn’t your lab rat have the cantina’s number?”
Jethro nodded, rubbing his face with his hands. Mike went back inside the house. He returned with a bottle of bourbon and two mason jars.
-Beach in Baja-
“Hey!” Jethro’s unshaven face appeared over the eve of the roof. “You say something?”
Mike glared, exasperated.
“Four months and you still don’t understand the meaning of the word siesta Probie?!”
Jethro disappeared, back to his hammering, as his voice filtered down.
“Roof’s not gonna fix itself Mike.” He peered at the wet spot across his chest. Damn, this had been his last decent smelling shirt too. “Tropical storm seasons only a few weeks away.”
He snorted as he sat up, more like a couple of months.
“Ya ever stop to think that I might like rain?”
“Yeah!” Jethro appeared again, this time climbing the ladder down to the deck. “Just maybe not inside your house.”
He caught the beer bottle Mike threw him as the older man snipped, “Don’t you have a boat to build or something?”
Jethro brandished his bottle towards said boat and the pile of driftwood beside it.
“Well, the problem with that Mike is that I’m using all my good lumber to fix your dog rot house.”
Dropping the towel he had been using to dry his shirt Mike stepped up next to his friend, gesturing down the beach as he talked.
“I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you use it to build your own somewhere down there!”
Still smiling Jethro replied.
“Hey, you just say the word and I’ll be gone.”
Mike stared him down, managing to keep him face serious.
“Don’t you tempt me Jethro! I ain’t nearly drunk enough.” He ruined the façade with his next words. “But until then, I was thinkin’ your next project should be a nice little hot tub. Say about yay big,” He estimated a size with his hands. “Right about over there.” He gestured in the same general direction he had told Jethro to build his house.
“You want teak or redwood?”
Camila rounded the edge of the house with a smile. Mike laughed as he placed an unlit cigarette between his lips.
“Gentlemen? She can’t be talking to you and me Gunny!”
Camila laughed. “You? No, Senior Gibbs? Si.” She took the beer bottle Jethro offered her. “I hope you are not letting him work you so hard.” She sipped as he shook his head. Mike stepped up behind them, cigarette dropped, brow slightly furrowed.
“He’s living here for free! What does he expect?”
Her eye’s never left Jethro. Her voice was playful as she replied.
“Perhaps one day he will tell us.”
“Hey!” Frowning Mike stepped between the two. Ten year’s he’d been living here, flirting with her. And all it had taken his Probie was four months to steal her interest completely. “How much do I owe you?”
She laughed at his obvious jealousy.
“Twenty-five American.” She dug into he bag. “And you have a phone call.”
He was getting lots of those these days.
“Not you!” She pulled the phone away from his grasp and dialed. “Leroy Jethro.”
Jethro stared at the phone, not yet taking it, eyeing it as if it might explode in his hand.
“Who is it?”
“A woman.” Mike snorted. Now who sounded jealous? “And she sounded muy upset.”
He laughed. “Probably that lady director of yours. About to have a nervous breakdown.”
Jethro answered the phone, not sounding pleased. After the woman spoke though his eyes and voice brightened.
“Ziva! How’d you get this number.”
He stepped away, clearly not wanting to be overheard. Mike watched as Camila took the groceries inside. His Probie began to pace. For a moment he looked exasperated. Then with a sigh he lowered the phone and held his face in his hands.
Jethro took the red eye flight back to D.C. that night. Mike didn’t expect him to come back.
-Beach in Baja-
“What are you doin’ back here?”
“I’m retired Mike. I don’t belong there anymore. They can’t keep counting on me being there to save them.”
Mike frowned. Then he stood, leaving his beer lying on the table he walked across the room and smacked Jethro hard on the back of his head. Then he grabbed his beer and headed for his room.
“Ow! Mike what the hell was that for?”
At his door Mike turned to look at his Probie. Still needed a lesson every now and then.
“How many times did you call me that first year to come back and help you?”
Jethro frowned. No matter how many times he had called, had ranted to his boss about quitting about giving up, Mike had never come back.
“That was for you believing the pile of shit you’re selling.”
-Beach in Baja-
“I’m not gonna be back this time Mike.”
Again Mike laughed at him.
“Probie, if you had come back again I wouldn’t have let you in the front door. Now I might be able to get some peace and quiet again!”