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Deep Water

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WHITE NOISE

White noise: a constant background noise; especially one that drowns out other sounds.

 

Tony is sitting on the beach staring at the waves, just like he's been doing for days now. He doesn't know why he stays here – it isn't as though he's going to find any answers in the endless expanse of ocean.

 

At first, watching the tide going in and out was peaceful, the pounding surf a white noise that calmed and subdued the non-stop conversations competing in his head. Now the sound of the crashing waves makes him feel small and very much alone. He comes down to the beach every day anyway, with towel and suntan lotion, and watches the waves as they rise and swell, and finally break, rushing up the sand towards him.

 

He thinks he arrived maybe…maybe a week ago, but it feels more like he's been here a lifetime. The sun hangs low in the sky at midday, and although it's hot, Tony's pretty sure it's December. He can't be certain though, what with his sense of time being fucked up, like so many other things lately.

 

He has no recollection of checking into the little motel cottage at the far end of the beach. It's really no more than a one-room shack with barely adequate plumbing, but the view from the little deck that is literally one step from the beach is worth a million bucks.

 

Seeking answers, Tony ambles over to the front desk of the Wanderer Motel & Cottages and asks the lady there to remind him how he's paying for the accommodations. She wears her black hair in a fat braid that hangs over her shoulder and she has a nice, genuine smile. She says, in a lilting Jamaican accent, "You charge the room, dat's the t'ing, on a gold card. For however long, you tell me, Mr. DiNozzo."

 

Tony says, with a smile, "I'm sure I told you to c-call me Tony." He hates that he stutters, although he doesn't do it half as much as he did just a couple of weeks ago.

 

She smiles and bows her head a little. "Ah true, you tell me to call you 'Tony'," she says, and shows him the credit card records.

 

So his brain isn't entirely scrambled; he has been here for a week, like he thought. Tony thanks her and she tells him her name is Beatriz. He has a feeling this isn't the first time she's told it to him. It's hard to say how old she is, maybe late fifties. Her dark skin is smooth and free of wrinkles, except around her eyes, Tony notes. They have this look about them, like she's seen some bad things but doesn't want your pity.

 

For a second, he's reminded of Gibbs and his don't-you-dare-try-to-comfort-me glare that appeared in the wake of the Bakir Kamir explosion. Tony knows enough to keep his distance when Gibbs gets all prickly. If Gibbs ever saw one ounce of sympathy from Tony, he'd bite his head off, but this lady just pats Tony's arm and gives him a nod of understanding before she turns away, as if somehow they're co-conspirators.

 

As soon as he returns to his room Tony squeezes around the double bed to get to his luggage. There are only two bags so either he is traveling light or else he doesn't intend to stay long. He can't remember which.

 

Tony rummages in the smaller bag and finds a lot of medications sealed in a large zip-loc bag and a plain brown wallet. Apart from his driver's license, the only other contents are about $300 in small bills and a credit card linked to an investment account with Tony's name on it. After staring at the gold card for a good long while, Tony pieces together that the thousand shares he inherited from his grandfather all those years ago paid off, big-time. Tony has long-since sold them and diversified, and it looks like his escape fund is now paying for the secluded spot on the beach, for however long he remains there.

 

His clothing is still folded in the bags as if he's planning on moving out in a hurry. It's appropriate for winter on the Gulf coast: mid-weight cottons mostly, with a hoodie for warmth. There's one set of warmer clothes neatly folded in the bag, presumably what he traveled in. T-shirts, shorts, swim trunks, a pale green ball cap, sunglasses, toiletries: the bare minimum. Right now he's dressed in a plain gray T and cargo shorts. Tony wiggles his bare toes. A pair of neon green flip-flops is sitting by the patio door but he can't imagine buying anything that color.

 

He doesn't have a watch or a phone anywhere on him. No $4000 Omega on his wrist, no ID-and-badge wallet and no Sig Sauer securely clipped to his belt. Not even the handy knife that's hidden in his belt at all times because it's Rule #9 to carry a blade at all times and you have to abide by the rules. Only it appears that Tony forgot to bring any belts with him, much less a knife. It feels strange to be without these things, especially since he's been carrying a weapon on the job for what feels like a lifetime.

 

Tony flops down on the bed and watches the slowly rotating ceiling fan while he tries to figure out what's going on, like what the hell he's doing here. Unfortunately the only thing that the intensive brainwork gives him is a pounding headache and he falls into a restless sleep.

 

※÷※÷※÷※÷※

 

The late afternoon wind has changed direction and the air is humid and salty. Tony stands at the open patio door and inhales deeply. He can detect the aroma of a wood fire and fried seafood, but it's faint. It's really quiet here. The nearby cottages, about four of them, are overgrown with bushes and are in disrepair so it's no surprise they're unoccupied. That's just fine by him. It's apparent that he has come here to be alone, to think, to make decisions…maybe even to escape.

 

Still, he misses his home with its expensive Italian leather couch and large-screen TV, his extensive choice of hair products and the showerhead that comes with 12 settings (from gentle tropical mist to drenching rainstorm) in his recently renovated bathroom, and his king-size bed with luxurious sheets and a mountain of pillows. He misses his work and his friends, too, and oddly enough he finds he misses the constant thrum of the heavy DC traffic.

 

But most of all he misses Jethro with his grouchy ways and his deep, slow kisses, and the way he wraps his arms snugly around Tony and gives a little sigh right before he falls asleep.

 

※÷※÷※÷※÷※

 

When Ziva forced Gibbs' hand and he reluctantly returned to DC, they were all naive enough to believe that simply because he was back in town, things would return to the way they used to be. Hey, Gibbs is here, everything will be all right! Except…things would never be the same as before. Gibbs had suffered a breakdown and had lost his last fifteen years. He'd walked out on them as if his team meant nothing to him, making it as clear that his focus was on his past.

 

Tony knew about Jethro's first wife and little girl, that they'd been killed, and how Jethro would always hate himself for letting them down. He hadn't been there for them, hadn't protected them, and the guilt would stay with him forever.

 

Not long ago, when they were having a quiet moment together, the usually reticent Jethro shared a little bit about Shannon and Kelly with Tony. Jethro revealed the bare-bones facts of their death, but with Tony's gentle encouragement he followed up by relating how he'd met Shannon, the love of his life.

 

Tony understood the depth of the torment Jethro had gone through at the time, returning wounded from Desert Storm to find his family had been murdered. Imagine reliving it all again, fifteen years later, after he awoke from a coma with a time-warp version of amnesia. It was like having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time, a single-loop version of Groundhog Day. "Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today."

 

There was nothing that anyone could do or say to ease that pain, not even Tony, no matter how much he wanted to help. Jethro had to find a way to get through it on his own, all over again.

 

Perhaps Tony should not have been so surprised that Jethro's way of coping with his own personal torment was to run off to Mexico. Like a lot of men, the ex-Marine bottled up his emotions and let off steam in short, violent bursts. But mostly he kept his worst fears, his deepest pain to himself; look at the way he had never told anyone, not even his closest friends, about how he'd lost his family all those years ago.

 

Jethro needed to find a way to cope with his anguish, but he didn't have to do it alone. It looked like Jethro hadn't figured out that being part of a couple meant they should lean on each other when things got rough. Or maybe he didn't remember that. Tony tried to believe that, had the amnesia not come into play, Jethro would have turned to him for comfort. Being cast back into his past, confused and in mourning, once again, over the loss of his wife and daughter was too much for even the tough Leroy Jethro Gibbs to handle. And so he left to deal with it on his own.

 

On one hand, Tony understood how anger and frustration had led to his boss quitting after witnessing, from MTAC, an explosion set by a terrorist aboard the Cape Fear. That it also took out a Navy frigate, killing countless sailors, which could have been averted, added to the senseless loss. For all this to happen at the height of Jethro's struggle to comprehend that his family had been killed, not a week but years ago, was the proverbial last straw.

 

Tony got that, but what he didn't comprehend, and what hit him hard, was when Gibbs took off without a word. Being left behind, with no chance to provide any comfort to the man he loved, left Tony with a sense of deep loss and helplessness that, although it surely didn't rival Jethro's pain, was a difficult thing to endure. He'd never felt so alone.

 

Tony was a realist and he knew, and accepted, that he was a placeholder until Gibbs returned. He never treated his position as a temporary one though, no matter what the others' opinions of him might have been. Tony had been appointed Special Agent in Charge of Gibbs' team by Director Shepard and he took the responsibility very seriously. Tony did his damnedest to excel at the job, asking himself, "What would Gibbs do?"

 

Only, the way Tony was treated by his closest colleagues, as if both he and all of his hard work were negligible and somehow inadequate, as if he did not deserve the job and could never possibly be half as good as Gibbs…did not sit well with him. He understood their need to have a strong leader at the helm and, indeed, Tony would be the first in line to wish that Gibbs were here, in charge of both the team and his own life. But that wasn't the way the dice had fallen, and he expected everyone to stop whining, and to act as if Gibbs was there watching over them, no matter who was presently calling the shots.

 

But that's not the way thing happened. While Gibbs was away, Ziva and McGee, and Abby and Ducky to a lesser degree, did little to hide their lack of confidence in Tony, and despite the fact that Tony did everything in his power to get them to believe in him and his leadership skills, he could never get through to them. They say that familiarity breeds contempt and never was it so true. Without their support, and their respect, Tony's job became increasingly difficult to do and, if truth be told, joyless. And to top it all off, Jenny had him running around trying to get the lowdown on some French arms dealer by getting close to his daughter, which was taking up all his free time (which was very little in the first place) and wearing on him both physically and emotionally.

 

Finally, after what was probably the longest four months of Tony's life, Gibbs returned. He showed up in a scraggly beard, with the aroma of sweat, rum and Mexican tobacco clinging to his roomy guayabera shirt, and Tony hated all of it. Their former team leader was impatient and distant, and it soon became apparent that his sole focus was to get Ziva out of a jam so that he could return to the hot beaches and cold beer of his Mexican retreat.

 

※÷※÷※÷※÷※

 

Even though this motel is obviously at the end of the line, it does come with a basic version of room service in the form of a skinny teenager called Emile, who is Beatriz' grandson. He insists he's eighteen years old but Tony doesn't buy it for a second. Still, Emile will pick up take-out food and a bottle of vodka for Tony whenever he shoves some cash in his hand, so they both benefit from the arrangement.

 

Tony has never gone anywhere except to the beach since he arrived, and that's only a step from his doorway, so Emile's services prove to be indispensable. When he's hungry, Tony looks over a shabby flyer from an eatery down the road and asks Emile to pick him up an order of brown stew chicken and coco bread. But when Emile brings back a covered paper plate of curried goat and fried plantains, Tony stares at it, confused. He eventually realizes he must have read one thing yet spoken another when he placed his order. It's incredibly frustrating, because Tony can read the menu and visualize what he wants, but somewhere between his eyes –> brain –> mouth, his words get scrambled.

 

Ground Control to Major Tom. Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong. . .

 

Next time he comes by, Emile solves the problem by handing Tony a large, laminated menu from a place in town called Mango's. It has photos of all their offerings, so now Tony points to what he wants and hands over some bills. Emile is a good kid and when he returns with the food he makes an effort to carefully count out Tony's change. Tony can't quite decide whether the teen is simply being conscientious, or if he thinks that Tony's missing a few marbles.

 

They told Tony it would take a while for things to right themselves, and he accepts that these things take time. He's been injured enough times to know that you can't take shortcuts. Case in point: the plague. He returned a week too soon and barely made it through that first day back at work. If Gibbs hadn't been watching him like a hawk, as if he expected Tony to do a face-plant any minute, Tony might have given in and curled up in some quiet, dark corner. Nearly being blown up by a car booby-trapped by Ari didn't help his recovery any.

 

Now, part of his rehabilitation involves conversing with people, but he hates it when the wrong words tumble out, so he cuts back on speaking as if he is weaning himself off an addiction.

 

※÷※÷※÷※÷※

 

"Your brain is trying to make new connections, Anthony. You must keep up the therapy and get plenty of rest, and it should all come back. Shall we practice some speech exercises?"

 

Tony carefully shook his head. "D-don't w-want t-t-t…" He groaned when he couldn't get the words out but managed to blurt, "Shit!" Swearing comes easy.

 

"Hell, Duck, leave him alone if he doesn't want to talk."

 

"We cannot all successfully get through life under the guise of being a functional mute, Jethro."

 

"Yeah, well I can understand him, Ducky, and that's all that matters."

 

※÷※÷※÷※÷※

 

Groundhog Day (1993)
Bill Murray

"Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today."

 

A Space Oddity by David Bowie

Ground Control to Major Tom.
Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong. . .