"You know, people yell at me when I leave the front door unlocked."
Gibbs couldn't quite stop the frown from coming to his face, as he turned to look at the visitor coming down into the basement. He'd heard the footsteps upstairs, but didn't recognize them. Even if he had taken a guess, it wouldn't have been the man in front of him with the flannel shirt and comfortable jeans. His gray hair and the extra padding around the middle was just a reminder that Gibbs hadn't seen him almost 30 years.
1980 - location undisclosed
The heat and humidity of the day had given way to a milder tropical night. A breeze would have been a nice addition if only to keep the bugs down. There were plenty of openings in the shack walls where Jethro's team had made their base, but despite that, no breeze.
"Capt. Green?" Jethro looked up from the book of Russian fairy tales that he'd been using to learn the language. The team was in civvies for this mission, but looking at the captain, Jethro didn't know how they managed to fool anyone. The captain had a casual way of moving that the rest of the team seemed to lack, but just like the rest of them, he had a severe, military-style haircut. It was unlikely that anyone would confuse them with the blow-dried and hair sprayed American college boys on vacation.
"Sergeant, even though the Major is somewhat..." Capt. Green frowned and waved his hand.
"Pissed at you, sir?" Jethro supplied.
Green pointed at him and smiled. "That's it. Even though he is pissed at me, he left us some watered down beer to pass the night away. That is, assuming that you can still shoot straight when you've had a few."
"Sir, you know I'm a sniper."
"Soooo?" Green held a beer in each hand as he spread his arms wide.
"I don't think the rest of you shoot straight when you're sober."
"Sergeant," Green's tone was a little severe, and for a moment Jethro wondered if he'd talked himself out of a beer. Green continued, "Break out the cards, you and I are going to get along just fine. Call me Jack."
Pulling open his knapsack, Jethro reached for the cards. "Sir, by telling me that, you're not violating any rules about divulging personal information that might compromise the mission should one of us be captured, are you?"
Green blinked and then stood straighter. "Of course, not."
With a smile, he tossed the cards on the table and added a flask of bourbon that he had hidden away. "Didn't think so. Call me Jethro."
"Capt. Chartreuse?" Gibbs asked, a slow smile coming to his face.
With a shake of his head, the visitor came down the rest of the stairs. "Well, Sgt. Dog Shit, I should have kicked your ass the first time you called me that." He pulled a bottle of bourbon out of rumpled brown sack and put it on the worktable with a knock. "It's O'Neill by the way - two L's." He extended his hand, and Gibbs took it.
"Jack O'Neill?" Gibbs asked as he pulled a coffee mug off the shelf. He wiped the rim with the hem of his shirt before sliding it to his visitor.
"How'd you ever guess?" There was just enough sarcasm to let Gibbs know that it wasn't a question. Jack picked up the cup and squinted at it. "But you are in fact, Leroy-
"Jethro or Gibbs will do just fine, " Gibbs interrupted and punctuated it by dumping a jar of screws in a paint tray.
"Well, either one of them sounds like an improvement over Sergeant Dog Shit. Say you wouldn't happen to have a clean-"
With an appreciative nod at the age-stamp on the bottle, Gibbs opened the amber liquid and poured some for himself into the newly emptied screw jar.
Jack nodded and pushed the mug forward to be filled. "Nice to see you give your guests the best." Lifting his arm in a toast, Jack said, "To Capt. Green and Sgt. Brown who survived a bunch of crap that no one has clearance to hear about, on a mission that never happened."
There was the clink of ceramic against glass and both men took a sip. Gibbs smiled around the familiar burn and watched Jack's eyes water.
"I still want to know how you drink this lighter fluid."
"Practice," said Gibbs. "Now are you going to tell me why you're here?"
"Right to the point, I like that." After putting down his mug, Jack gave a little nod. "We apparently have some business to take care of - this time with our real names. Major General to NCIS Special Agent."
"Wait. They made you-" Gibbs had raise his hand in a stopping motion, but Jack was already waiving him off.
"Yes, they were insane enough not only to give me one star, but two. It's my own fault for not getting killed on one of their volunteers-only missions. After a while it was apparent that I was too old to run for my life on rickety knees, but I knew too much to retire. It was either promote me or arrange for an unpleasant accident."
"Outside the budget?"
"That's what I always figured," Jack answered as he winced around another sip.
"Speaking of fake names, you gonna tell me what an SG-1 is?"
"You always were a pain in the ass." Jack had a smile on his face when he put his mug down and turned away from Gibbs. "What are you making down here?"
Jack frowned. "How are you gonna-"
"I thought I might call it, Stargate."
"Okay!" Jack planted a one hand on his hip and raised the other hand like he was pointing out the floor joists. "I admit it. We intervened in your investigation."
"You mean walked into my office and stole the body of a dead marine!"
Pulling his shoulders up, Jack entreated with both hands, "We had paperwork, signed by Secretary of the Navy! You still answer to him, right?"
With only a dirty look, Gibbs grabbed his tools and went to work on the boat.
For a second, Jack looked around and finally pointed a finger at Gibbs. "Paperwork, which I might add, said that you were supposed to drop it. Forget the case. Stop investigating!"
"I wasn't done."
"Yeah, that's become obvious. You know what? I'm gonna hurt you."
Gibbs looked up, but didn't stop his work. "You think you can take me on? I'd just like to point out that you've had your middle-aged ass planted in - Where? The Pentagon?"
"I'm not going to hit you." Jack frowned. I'm going to offer that computer geek of yours a god-damn job. Trust me when I tell you that I can offer him a hell of a lot more money than you're paying him." Jack slapped his hand against a rib of the boat.
Gibbs stared at his hand. Jack didn't move it.
"Not sure that my geek wants to move to Colorado and work buried in Cheyenne Mountain."
Jack looked up. "You have always stuck your nose into places where it did not belong."
Tossing his cards in, Jethro took a swig of beer. Jack wasn't what he was expecting - easy going, a pretty regular guy. Too many men in Special Forces were high-strung, quirky, gung ho, reclusive - pick an adjective and take it to the extreme.
"So, Jethro," Jack said, as he shuffled the cards. "Did you piss off the Major, too? Is that why you're stuck here on watch?"
"Nope, I volunteered."
Jack dealt the cards. "Volunteered? Haven't you been in the service of your country long enough to know what a mistake that is."
With a shrug, Jethro arranged his cards. "I got a girl at home, so I didn't need a night imbibing in the pleasures of the local village."
"Married?" Jack asked.
"Nah." Jethro shrugged. "Well, not yet." There was that flutter he got when he thought of Shannon. He'd talked around the idea of getting married last time he was home. She said she'd give it some thought when she had the time. It just made him crazier for her. "I've been thinking about it, saved up for a ring." Jethro tossed in two cards. "You?"
Tossing in three cards, Jack picked up the deck and dealt the replacements. "Haven't found her yet."
Filling out his hand, Jethro tossed some peanuts into the pot, trying not to look at Jack. "So why are you here? I mean, I know the Major was pissed, but I got the impression that Lt. Gray had a lot more to do with the revisions to the mission plan."
"Perceptive," Jack said, matching the bet and tossing in a few more. "It's still my fault for not stopping him. Beside he needed to get out of here more than me"
"Needed it?" Jethro matched the bet and showed his cards. Jack tossed his down.
"Don't get me wrong, Gray is a good guy, but he gets wound a bit tight."
"Kind of like a Jack-in-the-box?" Jethro said, as he took a snack from his winnings. Gray was one of those guys who was always talking; making plans for liberty, like a social director. It reminded Jethro a little too much of the popular kids at school who tried to push the whole class into something and then made sure you felt like an outsider if you didn't go along with them.
"You noticed." Jack smiled.
Picking up the cards, Jethro said, "You're a good guy, Jack. You know what you're doing in the field and aren't bad to hang out with." He had more to say, but really didn't want to.
"Thanks!" Jack crunched down some nuts from his own pile. "A couple of days ago - when you took out that look-out - that was one hell of a shot."
"Thanks," Jethro stared at the cards and then cleared his throat. " I kinda have to tell you something."
With a lift of his shoulder, Jack leaned his chair back on two legs.
"You and Gray need to be more discreet."
Jack froze for a fraction a second and then brought his chair back to earth. "You mean be less obvious when we decide to modify the game plan of a mission?"
"I mean that when you two ended up 10 clicks from the original meeting point and the Major sent me to pick you up, I got there early." Jethro watched the cards as he dealt. "Saw you both having issues with your clothes."
Slowly Jack finished half a beer in one long swallow. "I could try and make something up, but that would be insulting to both of us."
"I don't have an ax to grind - I'm not going to tell anyone."
Jethro saw the doubt in Jack's eyes.
"You're not the first two guys I've run into who were ... blowing off steam. You'd be amazed at what goes on in the dark corners of a Navy destroyer. I figure it's not my business; it's not like it stops either of you from doing your job."
Jack nodded to this. "I don't know if you'll believe this, but it was a one-shot kind of thing."
"That's probably good," Jethro agreed and then blurted out, "But, you know, what the hell were you thinking?" It came out louder and more judgmental than it had been in his head.
"Are you asking why we were dumb enough to do it while we were on a mission, or why Gray?"
"Take your pick," Jethro said.
Resting his forearms on the table, Jack leaned on them. "Like a lot of things yesterday, it wasn't my idea." Jack's head shot up. "And by the way, that isn't me trying to shove off blame. I should have made him stick with the plan, and I had a say in what happened afterward. With a sigh, Jack bowed his head and then sat up again, continuing.
"You know how Gray talks. He makes you think you can take on a battalion barehanded, so every once in a while you buy into his crazy plan. Just when you're breathing a sigh of relief because the plan didn't actually kill you, the last thing you're expect is for you partner to start humping you against the tree!" Jack shoved his chair back suddenly and moved to the hole in the wall that they used to watch the path.
Knowing that he should drop something and actually doing it was something Jethro hadn't gotten used to. There was something here he didn't like the sound of. He had run into too many bullies along the way and wouldn't back down to any of them. "Did he attack you?"
Jack shot him a look of pure horror that shifted into complete confusion, "Charlie Kawalski?" Jack's eyes opened wide. "Shit! I did not just say that."
"All I heard was Lt. Gray," Jethro said.
"No. Lt. Gray did not attack me; he just surprised me. You know that way that he talks non-stop? Well, he was doing a play-by-play, slapping me on the shoulder, just like any other successful mission. Then he was close, followed immediately by physical contact. You know what?"
There was a pause and Jack obviously wanted a response. Jethro didn't necessarily want to know, but he sure as heck hadn't expected this conversation. He'd have to check in with Shannon; there had to be a rule about what a mistake good intentions were. "What?"
Turning away from the window, Jack moved towards his chair again. "He never stopped talking - the whole time. He just kept talking about the mission, like what was going on was completely normal, like cleaning your weapon or stowing gear." Jack took a shot of bourbon and sat down. "I was wondering what part of the twilight zone I had landed in, but the whole time I was-" Jack looked away, but then turned back and looked Jethro straight in the eye. "I was enjoying myself."
"Jack, I didn't mean to stick my nose in; it wasn't my business. Like I said, you're good at this, and I don't want to see you booted out because of some reg.
"A dead marine is my business. You want me to stop this and forget about stargates and everything else we dug up? Tell me what the hell is going on!" Gibbs shouted.
"I know that I don't have to explain need to know to you."
Gibbs stood up and took a step closer into Jack's personal space. "You want me to stop, then tell me what happened to my marine."
"For the record, he was my marine. He spent three years in my chain of command, risking himself on the kinds of missions that neither you nor I dreamed of when we were his age. All I can tell you is that he died of mission related causes."
Mouthing the words, carefully, one by one, Gibbs sat down and picked up his tools again. "All right, have it your way, we can keep looking."
Jack turned around and leaned on the boat, sighing. "He was murdered by a teammate. Said teammate had an accident with a mind-altering substance."
"What kind of drug?"
"I didn't say it was a drug, and I'm not going to tell you what it was. Let's just say the effects involved paranoia, delusions of grandeur, and a bunch of other fancy words. Basically he thought he was god and that he should be worshipped." Jack planted his hands on his hips and leaned forward.
"And when his buddy didn't play along, that got him killed."
"In a nutshell," Jack said. "Here's the thing - the thing you're really not going to like. It wasn't the guy's fault. He didn't even know he was impaired when he came home from the mission. It was more like someone snuck up behind him and stuck a needle in his neck."
"So who's responsible for the needle?" Gibbs asked.
Jack gave him a look that was filled with resolve and pragmatism. "The enemy."
Gibbs walked over to the bench and took a long sip of his bourbon.
Jack joined him, poking at his cup but not picking it up. "Will you drop it now?"
"We should drop this. I'm sorry." Jack stood up and began straightening up the team gear. "You're doing me a favor, and I appreciate that. I shouldn't be dumping my problems on you."
Jethro didn't know what to say, so he walked over to where Jack was working and started coiling a rope. He was really regretting opening his mouth because the easy camaraderie they had had ten minutes ago was probably never coming back.
"You're really not going to tell anyone?"
Jethro looked up, meeting Jack's eyes. "I won't. If you were doing something that risked the team, I'd hang your ass out to dry - count on it. Although messing around with a teammate is just asking for trouble. Unless you start groping each other in the shower, I don't have a problem"
The long look Jack was giving him was no doubt assessing his sincerity. It didn't bother Jethro; he'd do the same. Finally, Jack said, "Thanks."
For a couple of minutes they reorganized the gear, and then Jehtro's curiosity got the better of him.
"Can I ask you something?" At Jack's shrug, he went on. "Knowing what the military was like, why did you join if you're a f- " He caught himself. "If you like guys."
Jack blinked and pursed his lips. "The only thing I ever wanted to do was fly. I'm a pilot and nothing will ever hold a candle to rocketing through the air and gunning down the bad guy. Even if you had the money and killed yourself to get the flight hours in, you could never hope to do that kind of flying as a civilian. And-" Jethro could see Jack's frustration as he moved his hands over the straps he was adjusting. "And I want to do this. Be in the Air Force, serve my country."
"You belong here, and I was an ass for even asking."
Jack put on one of those cocky grins. "Yeah, based on your color assignment, we'll just call you Sgt. Dog Shit for now on, because you stepped in it."
"Anything you say, Capt. Chartreuse," Gibbs shot back.
"What the hell is chartreuse, anyway?" Jack said, screwing up his face.
"I am told-"
"You are told?"
"By my girlfriend -"
Gibbs could feel himself turning red. "that it's green with a lot of yellow in it."
"And she told you this because?"
"She made me go dress shopping with her last time I was home." Jethro winced at his on confession.
"Sounds queer to me. Are you sure you're not the one spending his time looking at other guys?"
"Nah, I'm apparently just good at stepping in it." Some guys might have tried to hit Jack for that comment, but Jethro took it for what it was, letting the humor roll off him. But while he was doing that, Jethro was remembering a buddy of his that was killed on a mission. There had been times when they had been together... He stopped himself, because no matter how close he'd felt to his buddy, it had never been anything like what he felt for Shannon.
"I'll stop investigating," Gibbs said.
Jack nodded and picked up the screw jar of bourbon, offing it to Gibbs. He took it and downed another sip; it didn't burn as much this time. Jack didn't wince as much as he took a sip out of the mug.
"So, I read through your file before coming over - sorry about your wife and daughter. I remember the look on your face when you used to talk about her. And, and I know what it's like to bury a kid."
The rush of pain came, like it always did. It was probably good that it didn't stop him from breathing or send him into a white-hot rage anymore, but it still hurt. It would always hurt. "You had a kid?"
"Yeah, I suppose you have a right to be surprised. I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea that I'd have to keep changing assignments to stop falling for the guy watching my six. Along the way I'd keep up appearances by dating women - I was good, only ever a few dates, no raising false hopes. One of those was Sara and she was supposed to be like the others and then a few dates became a few more and I was the one falling for her." Jack took another sip of the amber liquid. "When we lost, Charlie, that was my son, we couldn't hold it together."
"Yeah." They both stared at their cups for a moment and then Jack slapped his hand on the workbench. "We're a happy pair to be around."
Gibbs gave a half-smile. "Surprising we haven't hung out more with all the pleasant turns in conversation."
"So was it two ex-wives?"
"Three and if we're going to be honest, there could have been a fourth in there. Some friends have pointed out that I have issues with red-heads. Currently, I'm on a break from them," Gibbs said.
"That's may still might have been healthier than me, after my divorce. I came out of retirement for one of those missions where you expect them to execute your will," Jack said.
Gibbs gave a short laugh. "Marriage to the second ex was a lot like that. But it looks like you survived."
"Yeah, yeah I did. I got lucky and hooked up with the best team you could hope for. They made me rethink everything. I think you met Col. Carter and Dr. Jackson?"
"Oh yeah, they were very instrumental with the body theft along with Murray Teal'c?"
Jack pointed at him with his cup. "You'd love working with Murray." The wide grin on Jack's face was replaced with a more thoughtful one. "You still keeping my secrets, Jethro?"
"Yeah, and one day soon I hope the US military gets it's head out of it's ass, and there aren't anymore secrets."
"Amen to that. Daniel, Dr. Jackson, and I are hoping that day comes real soon."
"Huh," Gibbs said with a smile.
"Huh. Huh, what?" Jack asked.
"I just noticed that he talked a lot."
"Yeah, that's Daniel."
"Talked a lot, just like Lt. Gray."
Jack sputtered his bourbon. "That is *so* not - " Jack hesitated, screwing up his eyebrows. "What the hell does it say about me considering the things that the two of them talked me into? And, why am I smelling pepperoni?"
Gibbs laughed. "That's one mystery I can solve. DiNozzo! Are you going to bring that pizza down here, or what?"
"Boss!" Tony's head poked into view followed by his body, slowly making its way down the stairs. "I, I just got here and didn't want to interrupt." He cleared his throat. "I brought those case files you asked for, but uhm, I left them in the car."
"He's on your team? Is he always this crappy at lying?" Jack asked Gibbs.
"Yeah, he's my senior field agent. He's actually pretty good at lying, but not to me. That's why I keep him around." Gibbs tossed Tony a glance over the top of his mug, and Tony shot back a half-grin.
Jack looked between them and then stepped up to Tony, so he could open the pizza box and take out the slice. "So, should I be expecting a blackmail letter from you, DiNozzo?"
"General, you don't seem like the kind of guy who'd pay," Tony said.
Jack pointed at him with his pizza. "Smart call."
"Another reason I keep him around." Gibbs took a slice out of the box and then slid his hand onto Tony's shoulder.
The look on Tony's face was bordering on shock. Gibbs didn't react to it, and after a second, Tony put the pizza box on the worktable and slid his arm around Gibbs' waist.
"Weren't you the one that told me that getting too close to team members was a bad idea?" Jack was smiling at them as he ate his pizza.
"Apparently you gave me a few things to think about," Gibbs said.
"Damn marines, took you 30 years."
"And three ex-wives," Tony interjected.
Gibbs reflexively gave him a head slap but it was more like a love tap. Tony just plastered a big-ass grin on his face. Gibbs looked back at Jack. "Give me a break. It took me 30 years to get over the trauma of seeing you with your pants around your ankles."
"Oh nice," Jack said, the layers of sarcasm dripping off.
"Thought you'd like that."