Main NCSI Slash page | The new stories | Tony/Gibbs stories | Other pairings stories | Het stories | Gen NCIS stories
Warnings: foursome, femslash, het, language, violence, angst
Summary: With DC under a tyranical government due to repeated epidemics over the last forty years, Gibbs decides to skip town with his people, including those not at NCIS. xover NCIS/Medical Investigation/CSI.
From his vantage point at the top of the stairs, Jethro watched as the two younger men in his life kissed, slow and languid. Miles, far more slender than Tony, lay on top, legs spread to either side of Tony's hips where they stretched out on the living room floor. It looked like they'd already gone a round while Jethro had been downstairs, preoccupied with his boat and his anger at the latest group of 'traitors.' They'd gotten rid of clothing, if not already jerked each other off while waiting for him.
Jethro's gaze swept over Miles' lean body, the gentle curve of his ass, the lightly defined muscles that bunched and relaxed under Tony's hands. His dick stirred with interest as he listened to the wet, sucking kisses, gasps for air, and the soft, needy groans and whimpers shared between them.
Clearing his throat, he observed, "I guess I should be glad you remembered to close the drapes first."
Miles jumped, rolling away from Tony, who glared at him for the interruption.
Jethro smirked to himself as he walked forward and continued, "No soundproofing here, gentlemen. Get your asses to the bedroom before you start making some real noise."
Immediately hopping to his feet, Miles stammered, "I'm sorry, Jethro, I didn't think, I mean, it's no excuse, but I..."
"He's messing with you, Miles," Tony soothed as he stood. "Relax."
Jethro gripped Miles' shoulder, but looked at Tony while saying, "There was another sweep. If you two are going to do anything, it better be behind soundproofed doors and with an alibi for one of you to be somewhere else."
Tony's jaw tightened at the news and Miles paled.
Not really wanting to upset them, but needing to make an impression so they didn't forget themselves at the wrong moment, Jethro continued, "Eight men and three women were picked up while you were on assignment at NIH. They've supposedly been banished, but I didn't find any fuel reqs."
Which meant that if they'd really been banished, it hadn't been with any official vehicles. What had probably happened was that they'd been given to some good and loyal citizen as sex toys or summarily executed on the spot. Those who didn't fit the 'normal' of the Military Alliance didn't last very long; those who were found out, anyhow.
"How much longer are we going to stay here?" Tony demanded, fury etching into his face. The strong emotion puckered the scar along his right cheek, causing it to almost twitch with his holding back. "Our luck isn't going to last, Gibbs, and you know it! It's not like we couldn't make it on our own somewhere else. Go to
or New York . Maybe head west to Boston , even!" Los Angeles
Jethro knew there were actually eighteen of them to think about though; Kate, Abby, Ducky, Gerald, Jimmy, Tony, Miles, Eva, Natalie, Frank, Frank's family, Ziva, and Tim would all follow wherever he and Stephen led. The problem wasn't where could they go, but where wouldn't the
follow? They were all at the top levels of their fields and the Alliance couldn't afford to lose so many of their top people. If they made a break for it, but got recaptured, it was for damn sure that their lives were over. Alliance
"We can't just leave," Jethro repeated for the hundredth time. "And now isn't the time to discuss this."
Tony caught his silent order to not scare Miles and grimaced in response, but dropped it. Instead, he slid an arm around Miles' waist and said, "We were in the middle of something when you so rudely interrupted."
Jethro's lips quirked briefly into a grin. "Like I said; bedroom."
The walk to the bedroom was short, but long enough for Jethro's mind to keep thinking about the problems they faced. Abby, Tim, Gerald, Eva, Miles, and Jimmy were the liabilities. Almost a full half of their group were civilians without any kind of self-defense or survival training whatsoever. At least Ducky could shoot a gun and throw a knife, even if he was getting up there in years. The only thing they really had going was that everyone was strong and in good shape. If they had to make a run for it, the only ones they had to worry about physically were Ducky and Frank's young daughters.
Once the door closed behind him, Tony and Miles both pounced on him, driving away the dark thoughts. Miles pressed up against his chest, long arms sliding around his waist as his face lifted for a kiss. Jethro obliged, taking the submissive mouth with a hunger he'd rarely felt in his life. It was different than Tony's submission...more innocent, needier, somehow. It fed his need to protect and dominate in equal measures and he devoured the younger man, listening to his gasps and whimpers with pleasure.
Tony fitted up behind him, nuzzling at Jethro's throat before placing kisses there. His hands made short work of the shirt, unbuttoning without even needing to see what he was doing. As soon as he tossed the shirt aside, his mouth kissed and sucked along Jethro's spine, going down until he reached the waistband. Nimble fingers soon rid Jethro of his pants and he stepped out of them when Tony nudged him sideways.
Jethro groaned into Miles' mouth when his other lover's tongue licked along the cleft of his ass. Tony's oral fixation generally got put to really good use in the bedroom, though it had taken Jethro a while to get used to the gusto with which the younger agent truly enjoyed giving head or eating him out. Or Miles. Or Stephen. No one else, though. Not ever again. If Jethro caught him with anyone outside their small circle, he would personally beat Tony senseless.
He stepped forward, moving Miles towards the bed, his dick definitely rising to the occasion and ready to get into the young man's incredibly tight ass. He swore that Connor did something every so often that tightened Miles back up, maybe some kind of cream. Pushing Miles onto the bed, Jethro ordered, "On your stomach."
Miles instantly rolled over, spreading his legs wantonly as his feet found purchase on the rug.
Licking his lips, Jethro palmed the firm ass, squeezing it and pulling it apart as he ordered Tony, "Eat him out."
Tony smirked and bent forward, moving partially in front of Jethro to do so. With rationing, they didn't use oil very often, usually only if one of them was injured and they needed to reconnect without any additional hardship. It helped that both Miles and Tony enjoyed a little pain with their pleasure, although Tony a lot more than Miles. Honestly, Jethro thought that Miles didn't really like the pain so much as would do anything to feel like he belonged to them, which included fucking without lube or oil very often.
Jethro gripped Tony's hair and pulled him off, bringing him to his cock, which stood hard and away from his body. Tony went down on him without a single word exchanged. Jethro groaned in pleasure, which seemed to redouble Tony's efforts. Jethro used the time to work his fingers into Miles' hole, stretching him carefully even as he fucked Tony's mouth and throat without the same restraint.
Tugging Tony off his dick, Jethro pushed him back to Miles' ass and watched as Tony ate him out again. By then, the sex flush had overtaken most of Miles' pale body, the slender man writhing in need as Tony's tongue skillfully worked him over. When Miles started begging, Jethro pulled Tony off again and pushed his cock into the small pucker, grunting with the effort it took to breach the outer muscle ring.
Miles hissed, but didn't complain or ask him to stop, so Jethro forced his dick inside slow, but steady. When he was buried balls-deep, he paused to both catch his breath and let Miles adjust. Glancing at Tony, who knelt beside them, Jethro took in the swollen lips and avid stare at where cock disappeared into ass, and grinned. Tony was completely gone, lost in his need to submit. That was evident in the way the younger man's dick strained and leaked, but wasn't once touched; in how he knelt and waited, his expression both hungry and blissful.
Jethro's hand rested on top of Tony's head, fingers lacing into the short, thick hair as he started fucking Miles. It took a real effort, digging into the tight hole only to nearly withdraw and start over with a hard thrust. Miles' hands clenched the bedspread, his body tight in a mix of pain and pleasure and need. This was how it always started, no matter if it was with him or Stephen. Jethro had seen him with the other man enough times to know it wasn't an act. It didn't matter what position they used, Miles didn't generally get into it until after someone came inside him.
It was part of what made this work. Miles needed more than one person to fuck him, but also needed to be able to love and care about those people. Tony needed to serve and loved sex, but needed a variety of it to stay healthy and engaged in the world around him; especially the bleak world in which they lived. Jethro and Stephen both needed to be in control and to trust that their people would obey them.
Miles, Tony, and Stephen had been away too long this last time. Jethro had missed them all in their different ways, not that he could ever make himself say so, which basically amounted to being unable to last long this time around. The feel of his lovers was too much and he'd been too long without. Abby had offered, but Jethro couldn't make himself accept, no matter how much his body had ached for the feel of another. It would've betrayed his lovers' trust.
When his body coiled, balls drawing up scant minutes later, Jethro groaned and gripped Miles' hips tighter. He came not a minute after that, gritting his teeth against making any noise despite the soundproofing, a lifetime of denial burned into him. He had a simple fantasy where he could fuck someone and make them both come screaming without fear of discovery, but it wasn't likely to happen any time soon.
He ground down deep as his hips jerked and his cock spit come into Miles' hole. Panting and dazed from his release, Jethro let himself collapse forward onto Miles' back. He kissed the pale, sweat dampened skin gently to make up for the rough treatment and asked, "Ready to come, Miles?"
"God, yes, please?" Miles replied, breathless.
Chuckling, Jethro forced himself upright and slowly withdrew from the younger man's body. He glanced down at Tony and said, "Your turn. Do us all a favor and come, understand?"
Because Tony didn't always come. Jethro hadn't yet gotten much about his past sexual history, unfortunately, other than to know he was clean. Someone had trained and broken Tony, probably when he was too young to fight back.
Tony met his gaze and grinned as he replied, "Well, if it makes you happy."
Jethro snorted and slapped his lover's ass sharply as Tony took up position behind Miles. He went to the bathroom, also soundproofed, and cleaned himself off before returning with a warm, wet cloth to clean his lovers when they were done.
Which, from the looks of it, won't be long, he thought.
Tony thrust hard and evenly inside Miles, but his face was scrunched up in an almost ridiculous contortion, as if he couldn't keep control much longer. Jethro decided to help matters along and rejoined them. He pushed two fingers into Tony's ass without warning and started finger-fucking him. Tony jerked and cried out at the unexpected contact and the resulting thrust caused Miles to do the same, only longer and louder just before he collapsed onto the bed. Tony grunted, hunching into the smaller man's body for a few seconds before going completely still with an open-mouthed expression of pure love.
Jethro wasn't jealous as he observed that expression, he was pleased. It had taken a long time to get through the walls that Tony kept in place, but they were now part of one another. Smiling, he pulled his fingers free and shifted to kiss Tony's forehead.
"God, that was good," Miles sighed, wriggling beneath Tony.
Tony took the hint and pulled out carefully. He rolled over and climbed further onto the bed before dropping onto his back.
Grinning briefly, Jethro cleaned Miles' ass with the still-warm cloth and said, "You would think Connor doesn't put you through your paces when I'm not around."
Miles offered a tired smile before crawling over to curl up around Tony without a word. Not that he expected one, since Miles would never badmouth Stephen, not even as a joke. Jethro cleaned Tony as well, stroking the cloth over the lax, but sensitized shaft, eliciting a gasp of mingled protest and need. He tossed the washcloth at the hamper with perfect aim and then turned off the light before climbing into bed with his lovers. There was plenty of time for a nap, since they weren't expected anywhere.
Tony wound up in the middle, surrounded on both sides by him and Miles. Despite everything that could go wrong with their arrangement, Jethro wouldn't trade it for a 'safe' life. If there was one thing he knew, it was that nothing in life was certain. At least this way, he knew love and had people in his life to look after. Mumbling sleepily, Tony curled onto his side and pressed up against Jethro's chest. Putting an arm over Tony's waist allowed him contact with Miles as well, which was how they all liked it.
Despite his body's lassitude, Jethro knew he wouldn't fall asleep. It might have been Tony's earlier anger, or even his own at the latest sweep, but it was time to start planning. Tony was right. If they kept on the way they were, sooner or later they would get caught.
And just where can we go, that the
won't follow? he wondered Alliance
* * * *
Tony blinked at Gibbs in surprise and repeated, "
?" Las Vegas
Gibbs nodded as he said, "It's far enough away that we won't be followed. What little intel there is on the city shows that it's a generally lawless place with a lot of guns."
"And that's a good thing, why?" Tony prompted.
A faint grin surfaced on Gibbs' face. "Because there's no central government from which to extradite us. They can't just go, 'Hey, give these guys up and we'll start trading with you.'"
Tony didn't like to question the other man, mostly because he was right about ninety-nine percent of the time, but he had to about this. Looking around to make sure they were still alone in the bullpen, he pointed out, "There's also no one around to help if things go wrong. What if we get on the wrong side of the wrong person? No offense, Boss, but you're not exactly Mr. Diplomacy. Even Stephen has more tact than you do, and that's saying something."
He half expected a head smack, but one didn't come. Instead, Gibbs replied calmly, "I'd rather take our chances with that, than have to look over our shoulders the rest of our lives. In this case, the lack of central government is our best shot."
"You know what's weird?" Tony mused. At Gibbs' quirk of an interested eyebrow, he continued, "It's been thirty or so years since the first outbreak, but the country never recovered. Why is that?"
Gibbs gripped his shoulder and answered, "The vultures who took over don't like to give up power."
"Yeah, but in all these years, why hasn't anyone fought back?" Tony pressed.
Gibbs pointed out, "This isn't really the place to discuss this, but they're just regular people, Tony. The
keeps the city in electricity and food and shelter. Why should they care if they don't get to vote anymore?" Alliance
Tony muttered, "What about worrying about getting taken away in the middle of the night?"
Gibbs' hand shifted from Tony's shoulder to smack him in the back of the head. Tony flinched and opened his mouth to protest, but the other man snapped loudly, "And I told you to get that done yesterday!"
Even without knowing who was coming, Tony whined, "But Boss, she was going to give me her phone number! And if she has a phone, she's gotta have her own place! McGee's snoring is killing me!"
"Just do the damn report, DiNozzo," Gibbs ordered, walking to his desk a short distance away.
Not two seconds later, Director Shepard started down the stairs from the upper level. Tony swallowed against a suddenly dry throat and blessed Gibbs' bizarre talent for knowing when someone was approaching. He'd just reached his own desk when she stopped in front of Gibbs.
"Agent Gibbs, a word?"
Gibbs looked up at her and answered, "Go right ahead."
Tony had to force himself to keep working, the director's frosty tone making him distinctly nervous. She'd never liked him, though Tony couldn't figure out why not. She'd only been director for about six months, but none of them except Gibbs and Ziva knew anything about her and neither of them were talking. Stomach tight, he watched through lowered lashes as Gibbs followed her back upstairs. Just because they hadn't been caught, didn't mean they wouldn't be, and it would be just his luck to start making plans and have something happen.
"Where were you last night? You were supposed to take the trash out this morning and didn't and I didn't think of it until I'd already left. Which means we now have a bag of trash sitting in the kitchen, unable to get rid of it until next week!"
McGee's annoyed demand startled Tony. He looked over at the younger agent and it took a full three seconds to summon a brash smile and taunt, "Wouldn't you like to know?"
Ziva was right behind McGee and ordered, "Do not get him started, McGee."
Smirking, Tony leaned on his desk to tell McGee truthfully, "Dark hair, big, blue eyes, and gorgeous. That's where I was last night. All night long. More than once."
"God, Tony, you're disgusting!" Kate complained, coming around the corner. "Do you have to start every morning like this?"
Lounging back in his chair, Tony quipped, "Only if I'm lucky. Which I was. Repeatedly."
Tony's mind flashed back to the incredible interlude with Miles the night before; Gibbs making dinner while they made out in bed. He loved being with Miles, and not just because the kid was up for anything, but also because he was as sweet as Abby. Not that he'd ever tell Gibbs about the makeout sessions he'd shared with Abby before they'd gotten together. Just because Gibbs cared about him didn't mean he wouldn't kill Tony for touching Abby. Really, Tony's respect for McGee had risen several notches when the younger agent had let it be known he was seeing Abby. That Gibbs hadn't yet murdered McGee was only testament to the fact that Abby was, for some strange reason, happy with McGee.
"Just make certain that you are somewhere secure before curfew," Ziva ordered firmly. "I do not care in whose bed you sleep, so long as it's before eleven."
Tony mock-saluted and winked. "Yes, Mom."
Ziva rolled her eyes at him as she sat at her desk. It was still odd to see her at Pacci's desk. Even almost a year later, it was strange to have her on the team, though he would give his life for her and knew the reverse was true. In some ways, they were closer than he was to Kate or Abby. And it wasn't, as rumor had it, because they'd screwed around together. They hadn't, even though he'd entertained the notion a few times and knew that she'd done the same. It wasn't something he could really explain, but they had the brother/sister relationship down without all the...clutter of the relationship that he had with Kate.
Maybe it's just because Ziva takes me seriously, he thought, bringing up his unfinished report. Kate loves me, sure, but she also thinks I can't take care of myself, never mind be a real grownup in a real relationship.
Gibbs came downstairs just then and Tony's gaze locked onto him, but the man was even more stony-faced than usual. That didn't bode well and his stomach clenched again in anxiety. Gibbs didn't say anything or even look at him as he walked by, though, so Tony couldn't decipher what the meeting might have been about.
Not a minute after Gibbs sat at his desk, the elevator doors opened and four MPs stepped out in full gear. Nausea hit Tony as he realized that someone was getting picked up. Fists clenching down under his desk where they couldn't be seen, Tony was glad of the pain of his nails digging into his palms. It kept him grounded as he watched the MPs stride across the office to D'Amico's area.
They stopped at Joanne Phelps' desk, but before anyone could do anything, her gun was out and she'd shot herself in the head rather than be taken.
It was over in less than twenty seconds and Tony had to fight to maintain control of his own body. Joanne had been one of the nicest women he'd ever known. She's always been there for anyone who needed a shoulder to cry on. God knew that she'd been there for him, a drunken time or two over the years. And now her body lay strewn across her desk, blood and brains splattered everywhere, including across one of the MPs' uniform, Tony saw as they simply turned and walked back out.
Shock kept Tony in his seat as he watched them leave, unable to take his eyes off the big, uniformed men. A steady beeping finally caught his attention just as one of the MPs looked his way. Tony glanced at his computer to find an IM from Gibbs repeated across his screen, which had caused the beeping.
Do your God damned report, DiNozzo! Now!
Do your God damned report, DiNozzo! Now!
Do your God damned report, DiNozzo! Now!
Do your God damned report, DiNozzo! Now!
Do your God damned report, DiNozzo! Now!
Swallowing against the emotions straining to get free, suddenly and excruciatingly aware of the way the MPs had paused at the elevator, Tony escaped the dialog box so it no longer showed and forced himself to start typing.
"Hey, Tony, you have those files I need?" Kate demanded, sounding snippy. "Or did you forget it in your little tramp's bed last night?"
Tony's head jerked up, whipping towards her, appalled that she would take that tone right then. Her eyes warned him to be careful, though, and he realized that she was giving him a way of getting out of the MPs attention. It sickened him further, but Tony answered carelessly, "Those who criticize, are secretly jealous. You trying to tell me something, Kate?"
"In your dreams," she retorted.
Thankfully, the MPs finally got on the elevator and the doors closed behind them. Tony got to his feet and made a beeline for the men's room. He just barely made it to the stall before dropping to his knees and heaving. No one came to see if he was all right, not even Gibbs, and when he could think again, Tony was both glad and hurt. He knew that he was being overly sensitive, that logically the cameras would catch anyone going after him and it could be used against either of them.
None of that mattered, though, not when all he wanted was to have Gibbs hold him and promise that everything would be all right.
* * * *
Stephen startled when his secondary cell phone rang, the annoying ringer instantly bringing him out of the interesting report on the newest efforts to crack the Plague. He'd chosen the most chalkboard scratching ringtone he could find so that it would penetrate no matter what he was doing. Pulling it off his belt holster, he saw the ID of LJG and his jaw tightened in worry.
Jethro never called.
"Connor," he answered brusquely, just in case.
It was Jethro's voice that said, "Had a close one, today. We need to talk. Can you make up something official?"
Because while NIH could call on NCIS resources at will for security consults, there was no reason for NCIS to do the same without a dead body to investigate.
"How much time do we need?"
"Two hours. Somewhere secure."
Stephen's mind raced as he questioned, "Without Miles?"
"Right. But bring Frank."
Jesus. This is bad, Stephen thought in dismay. Aloud, he said, "Expect a call in fifteen. Should Tony..."
Stephen's stomach tightened at the flat, cold denial. "Okay. Give me fifteen."
The line disconnected without another word.
A 'close one' could mean anything from someone in the office being picked up to one of their names being flagged and Jethro just barely managing to shift attention away from the name. Not wanting to speculate, knowing it would only drive him crazy, Stephen picked up the phone and dialed Eva's office number.
* * * *
If Stephen had been prone to pacing, he would have worn a hole in his office floor by the time Jethro arrived, some three hours later. Frank had swept for bugs and come up with one, which currently listened to a three hour long loop of classical music, thanks to a tiny device Abby had created for Gibbs the year before. The bug wouldn't be able to hear or record anything except the music until Frank turned off the device. And since Stephen frequently listened to classical while researching or taking meetings, no one would think anything was out of the ordinary.
As soon as the door closed behind Jethro, Stephen demanded, "What happened?"
"Woman in our office was supposed to be picked up this morning, but blew her brains out, instead," Jethro reported flatly.
Stephen immediately thought of Tony, knowing how much the younger man took everything to heart. "How's Tony?"
"Puked his guts out," Jethro answered, sitting beside Frank in the chair on the other side of Stephen's desk. "The MPs almost stopped for him on the way out."
"Because he can't hide anything," Stephen sighed.
Jethro nodded curtly. "We need to leave, and we need to do it soon. I know they took note of him. It might be a few days coming, but they're going to take him in for questioning. And once that happens, we'll lose him. They'll keep him under constant surveillance and he won't risk us. He'll kill himself first, just like Joanne did."
Stephen didn't question the assessment because he agreed with it.
Frank asked, "What do you have in mind?"
Giving the agent a surprised look, Stephen repeated, "Vegas?"
But Frank was already nodding, a thoughtful expression rising that said he was already thinking of logistics. "That could work. No central government, but big enough to have supplies and working power. It's about twenty-three hundred miles away. I doubt the
would waste the effort for that distance, I don't care how much you two piss people off." Alliance
Jethro snorted. "Thanks."
"Anytime," Frank replied, flashing a brief grin. "How many people we talking? It's nine on our end."
"Eighteen with both groups."
"That's a lot."
Stephen kept out of the following discussion, knowing the other two men were a lot better versed in this kind of thing than he was. If some exotic disease needed to be diagnosed and conquered, he was the go-to guy. Planning a cross country trip? He would forget the food.
It was a good hour later that Jethro and Frank finished up the planning, each man divvying up the gathering of supplies and making sure they knew the route to take. It was set for two days later, which made things really tight, but Jethro didn't think Abby would be able to hold Tony's name off the grid for longer than that. They couldn't risk going any later.
"Frank, can you give us a minute?" Stephen asked, once it looked like they were done.
The black man nodded and stood, shaking Jethro's hand before leaving.
Jethro looked at him from across the desk and waited.
Taking in the lines of worry and tension on the other man's face, Stephen asked slowly, "You want to get together tonight?"
Surprise lighted across the other man's face and, for a moment, Jethro looked desperately tempted. He ultimately shook his head and answered, "Better not. Maybe...on the road? I...I could use..."
Stephen helped him out by not making Jethro finish his sentence. "So could I."
Jethro offered a wry grin as he stood and said, "We'll duke it out later."
Chuckling, Stephen nodded agreement and joined him on the short walk to the door. He lightly rested a hand on Jethro's back, standing close enough that he crowded the other close to the wall, murmuring, "You mean, I'll fuck you later."
Jethro's breath hitched and gaze lingered on his lips for a few seconds before a smirk surfaced and he countered softly, "We'll see, Connor. Take care. And keep an eye on your people. If it looks dicey, take off. We'll meet up on the way."
Wishing he could press the smaller man against the wall and kiss him until they were both breathless and wanting, Stephen settled for a brief slide of his hand over Jethro's ass before stepping back. "I will."
Once the other man was gone, Stephen returned to his desk and tried to concentrate on work.
Not that he succeeded.
* * * *
Miles frowned at the IM chat that popped onto his laptop. He loved chatting with Abby, but she had the worst timing possible, as always. Stephen had been riding his ass, and not in the fun way, about finishing a lab report.
GothLabChick007: yo geekboy!
Snorting, Miles toggled to the dialog box.
StudiousMD: I'm working.
GothLabChick007: you're always working.
StudiousMD: and your point is?
GothLabChick007: that you need a life. but more than that, I need a fave.
StudiousMD: now what?
GothLabChick007: you have any spare parts for a mass spec on hand?
Miles blinked in surprise for a few seconds.
StudiousMD: is it important?
Miles had his doubts about that.
StudiousMD: how important?
GothLabChick007: life or death important.
Sighing, Miles mentally ran through the various mechanical parts he'd collected over the years.
StudiousMD: I have a few.
GothLabChick007: sweet! see you tonight?
StudiousMD: I have work!
GothLabChick007: so I'll meet you there.
A knock at the door startled him and Miles looked over to find Frank there. Offering a weak smile, he said hastily, "I'm almost done, I swear! I just need another twenty minutes and no interruptions."
Frank half-grinned and told him, "Forget about it."
"I said, forget about it," Frank interrupted. "We're going on a research trip tonight. You need to go home now and pack."
Frowning, Miles questioned, "For how long?"
Frank just looked at him until the penny dropped.
Miles gaped when he realized that it was time. Something had happened and they were leaving. "Ah, how much should I bring with me?"
"Just the essentials. It's going to be a rough trip into the burbs," Frank replied.
Letting out a shaky sigh, Miles said, "I, ah, Goth Girl is online with me right now. What do I tell her?"
"To check with her boss before making any plans."
Frank nodded briefly and then just left.
StudiousMD: Check with your boss before you make any plans for tonight. Do it now.
There was a pause, and then...
And then she signed off.
It was happening. They were really and truly leaving DC. No more looking over their shoulders and waiting for someone to figure them out. No more being afraid of MPs dragging one of his lovers away in the dead of night.
Miles was more than ready to go.
* * * *
Abby looked at her coffin with a regretful sigh.
"You can't possibly tell me that you're really going to miss that thing," Tim demanded from behind.
Turning to glare at him, Abby exclaimed, "It's comfy! And has sentimental value."
Tim rolled his eyes. "All I know is your elbow winds up in painful places when we sleep in it."
"Get a move on, Abby!"
Abby winced at Kate's strident shout from the kitchen area and hurried to finish packing. They could each take three bags and two of hers were filled with equipment. The last would have to be for books and clothes.
"Abby, there's no way you can fit all that," Tim said gently, putting a hand on her shoulder.
Anxious, she replied, "But I can't leave any of it! Books are important, McGee! I have to take them!"
He countered, "You also need to have more than one spare set of clothes."
"But, I can pick up more later!" she insisted.
Shaking his head, Tim stated firmly, "I'll put five of your books in one of my bags. Pack more clothes."
She made a face at him, but took out the five biggest books and shoved them at him, silently gleeful at his 'oof' of effort to hold onto them. It was always good to remind McGee that she was smarter than him.
* * * *
Natalie looked at Eva's neatly stacked three bags and then compared them to her own duffels filled haphazardly to the brim. Arching an eyebrow at the smaller woman, she asked, "You couldn't have packed mine too?"
"I could have, but I know how much you value your independence," Eva replied, smirking a little.
Rolling her eyes, Natalie ordered, "All right, let's go. We need to get to the rendezvous in a half-hour."
She took hold of two of Eva's bags to toss them into the backseat next to the duffels only to discover they were as heavy as if filled with bricks. Grunting, she set one back down and used both hands to pick up one. "What did you pack, rocks?"
Eva grinned and answered, "The textbooks that you and Stephen and Miles will all be moaning for once we get on the road."
Natalie snorted, but didn't contradict her, instead only asking, "And where are your clothes?"
"What do you think is lining the books so they don't get all scratched up and destroyed?"
Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, she hadn't yet won an argument with Eva, Natalie picked up the second small case and brought it over to the car as well.
* * * *
Stephen parked outside his ex-wife's house, watching Jack run out the front door the second his car stopped. He'd called Lisa to let her know that he'd be stopping to say goodbye before a long trip. Frank was bringing his family, but Stephen knew there was no way he could bring Lisa and Jack. Not only wouldn't Lisa leave the comfort of DC, she had family connections enough that they would both be safe from any form of reprisal.
All of which meant that he would likely never see his son again.
Climbing out of the car, Stephen walked around it and caught Jack in a big hug, lifting him into his arms and pressing his face close to his son's soft hair. Breathing him in, he finally said, "I'm gonna miss you so much, Jack."
Jack hugged him back for longer than most kids would before squirming to get down.
Stephen let him go, but kept a hand on the slight shoulders.
Bright, intelligent eyes looked up at him and Jack asked, "You're not coming back, are you?"
Unable to lie, Stephen shook his head, confirming, "Not for a very long time, if ever. I wish I could take you with me, but your mom...she needs you to stay with her."
"And she won't leave," Jack agreed, sighing.
They stood there for a few more minutes until Stephen's watch alarm beeped insistently, telling him that it was time to go.
Stephen crouched down so he had to look up, into his son's eyes as he said, "No one's going to ask about us for about a couple of days and by then, we'll be safe. When the MPs come around, I want you to answer anything they ask honestly."
"If they come before then?"
"I still want you to answer honestly," Stephen ordered. "Nothing you say can hurt me, Jack. I'll be fine."
Jack squinted at him, as if trying to ascertain the truth of his words, but ultimately nodded. "Okay, Dad."
"Take care of your Mom."
"I love you, Jack."
"I love you too, Dad."
Stephen hugged him again, holding him fiercely before standing to kiss the top of his head and stride back to the driver's seat. He climbed into the car without looking back, afraid he wouldn't be able to leave if he did. It wasn't until he was safely inside the car with his seatbelt on and the engine running that he looked over at Jack, standing so forlorn beside the car. He gave his son a smile and thumbs-up gesture, waiting until both were returned, however shakily, to leave.
The hole in his chest where his heart was supposed to be got bigger with every mile.
* * * *
Stephen looked at his watch for the third time, but it was only two minutes later than the last time he'd looked...a totally of fifteen minutes past when they were scheduled to leave, because Jethro and Tony hadn't yet arrived. Curfew was at eleven, which was only three hours away.
"Stephen, we can't wait," Frank said softly. "They could've been picked up already."
Which he knew, but didn't want to admit, even to himself. The parking lot in which they waited was deserted, but wouldn't be for much longer if people driving by saw them loitering for no apparent reason. Two vans and a Range Rover, even old ones, weren't exactly inconspicuous vehicles, especially packed to the gills as they were.
Finally, he nodded. "All right. Let's go."
He walked to the Rover while Frank headed for one of the vans. Ziva drove the second van and the group was interspersed throughout the different vehicles. It was a tight fit all around, no doubt about it, but they would make do. There wasn't anything to safely get rid of from the Rover, since it held spare fuel, food, and emergency supplies, and everyone's belongings were stowed in the two vans.
Climbing in the driver's seat, he started the car and pulled out of the parking lot without a word to Miles or Kate.
The silence lasted all of a minute before Miles asked, "What about Tony and Jethro?"
"They'll have to make it to the next rendezvous place," Stephen answered shortly.
"Miles, we can't wait. Don't argue with me."
He caught a glimpse of the hurt look that flashed over the younger man's face and mentally winced. Miles was perhaps the most sensitive of the group, except maybe for Abby, and he wouldn't understand about saving the group over the individual.
Of course, if he had any idea where to attempt a rescue, or if it was even needed, Stephen would've done so full-throttle, even to the detriment of the group. Leaving people behind wasn't what he did, especially in this kind of situation. Unfortunately, he didn't know where to even begin looking for either Tony or Jethro. They could be together or they could be on their own. There was just no way to know.
The roads were empty this time of night, what with everyone heading home for curfew. It was always better to be safe, than sorry when it came to the curfew. Thankfully, the
felt secure enough in their power that the roadblocks had been taken down years before. Alliance
Not meeting Kate's gaze in the rearview mirror, he answered, "Yes?"
"We should take turns driving in two or three hour shifts to keep fresh," she said. "Especially since it's night."
Relieved, Stephen confirmed, "I was thinking something like that."
It was almost eerie, the darkness that took over once they'd left the outskirts of the city. The
still controlled the area, of course, but didn't expend nearly as much effort once beyond the immediate vicinity of the District. They 'kept the peace' from Alliance to Delaware and to North Carolina , but there was a distinct difference in the quality of life from place to place. West Virginia
Stephen drove north along the highway to start, wanting to keep to the broader roads for as long as possible. They'd mapped out the route and the first place that Jethro and Tony could catch up with them would be when they hit the old
border. Stephen would've preferred to go directly west, but both Frank and Jethro had insisted and they were the planners of the group. Pennsylvania
They were scheduled to be at the rest stop for a half-hour in case of stragglers and Stephen parked under the broken light. Worry for Jethro and Tony had settled in his stomach like a rock and he looked at his watch. They'd arrived right on schedule, despite the fifteen minute late departure. Climbing out of the car, he stretched and twisted his back a bit before walking around the back to where the first van had parked.
Miles joined him there, capturing his hand and pulling it over his shoulder so that he could wrap an arm around Stephen's waist. Stopping beside where Ziva's group stood, Frank's people coming up to join them as well, Stephen pressed his lips against Miles' temple and breathed in the warm scent of his lover. It ever so slightly relaxed the knot in his gut and he leaned on the younger man as much as he was leaned upon.
The couples of the group stood together; Miles and Stephen, Frank and his wife Kim, Ducky and Gerald, Abby and McGee, and Eva with Natalie. Kate, Jimmy, and Ziva stood mixed among the others while Frank's daughters slept in the van. Even though it was a substantial group, Stephen felt the missing duo etched heavily into his heart.
Hoping for the best had never been his strong suit.
Clearing his throat, Stephen announced, "Okay, everyone. We've got twenty-eight minutes before we have to hit the road again. Take care of whatever you need to and be ready to leave on the dot."
"What if Tony and Gibbs don't show up by then?" Abby asked, anxiety plain in her voice.
Stephen sighed. "Then we leave without them. We can't wait, as much as I want to."
Miles' hand slid under Stephen's shirt, rubbing along his lower back in a soothing manner.
Abby protested, "But we can't really leave without them! What if they're hurt or..."
"Abby, quiet," McGee ordered gently. "C'mere."
Stephen watched as the quiet young man brought the normally hyper woman off to the side, presumably to explain the facts of life.
Miles kissed the side of Stephen's neck and then sighed, resting his head on Stephen's shoulder. "So now that there's time, tell me what we're doing?"
Moving to lean against the van, Stephen pitched his voice to carry to the others who hadn't moved as he explained, "North and then west and then southwest. We've got enough to trade for gas along the way, since we'll run out somewhere around
." Des Moines
"Never been to
," Miles said thoughtfully. Des Moines
Gerald questioned, "How could you have?"
Miles hesitated before replying, "I'm from
, originally." California
"You came voluntarily to DC?" Jimmy exclaimed.
Ducky admonished, "Hush, Mr. Palmer."
"I didn't know," Miles began. "No one knows what it's like in DC. My father wanted me to go to medical school here. Said that there were real schools and colleges. I didn't realize that once I got there, I wouldn't be able to leave again. Or what life is truly like."
Jimmy asked, "So how'd you get to DC?"
Miles' arm tightened around Stephen as he answered, barely audible, "Military convoy."
Knowing how much it distressed Miles to talk about that journey, Stephen spoke up before anyone else could. He reminded, "Twenty minutes now and no more rest stops for two hours. I suggest that everyone take care of business."
That effectively broke up the group.
Stephen walked Miles away from the others towards a copse of trees a short distance away where they could relieve themselves. Once that was finished, Stephen asked, "You wouldn't rather keep going all the way to
Shaking his head, Miles told him, "Somewhere without memories would be nice."
"Surely not all the memories you have of DC are bad ones," Stephen teased, pulling the smaller man into his arms.
Miles smiled up at him, teeth bright in the dark and moonlight softening already gentle features. "Of course not. I met you there, didn't I?"
Stephen took that for an invitation and dipped in to steal a kiss, slow and easy. It was a very necessary reconnection, the fear of the last couple of days having eaten away at him. Fear that they would be discovered, that Miles would be taken from him. Fear that he'd be taken himself, taken and tortured to give up the others. Something that could be happening right then and there with Jethro and Tony.
Sighing, he broke off the kiss, knowing that not even that could distract him enough to banish thoughts of their missing lovers.
"They'll be okay," Miles whispered.
Stephen rested his chin on Miles' shoulder, holding him tight for a few minutes and trying to think of nothing at all.
"Stephen? It's almost time to go."
While tempted to ignore Frank's announcement, Stephen knew better. He stole another quick kiss from Miles before taking his hand and walking back to the vehicles. Kate already sat in the driver's seat and he half-grinned on seeing her there.
She smirked and leaned on the window opening to prompt, "What, did you think I was kidding before?"
Stephen chuckled. "I wouldn't dare."
He opened the back door for Miles, glad that she'd taken the initiative. Once they were both inside, he said, "Take the I-70 towards
. Once you get to I-76, assuming it's in working condition, take the west exit." Harrisburg
"For how long?"
"You'll be on 76 for almost two hundred miles, so don't worry about it," Stephen told her.
When his watch hit minute thirty-one, Stephen sighed.
She met his gaze in the rearview mirror. "Time to go?"
Stephen nodded and put his arm around Miles' shoulders, not sure who he was trying to comfort as Kate started driving. For the second time in a day, if felt like his heart were being left behind only this time, he suspected that the ones he loved weren't at all safe.
They didn't hit any real problems until early the next day when the highway simply stopped, the remains of a jet right smack dab in the middle of it. Miles slowed and then parked when he saw just how big the roadblock was. It looked like a 747 and literally blocked the entire stretch of road. Miles glanced at Kate in the passenger's seat and arched an eyebrow at her. She shrugged, so he twisted in his seat and reached back to shake Stephen awake.
Bloodshot eyes opened instantly, signaling that the other man hadn't been deeply asleep, no matter how much he needed the rest. Looking first at his watch and then at Miles, he asked, "What is it?"
"Take a look," Miles answered, facing front and pointing.
Leaning forward, Stephen caught sight of the plane and muttered, "What the hell?"
When Stephen opened his door, Miles hastily did the same, climbing out so as not to be left behind. Though he walked close to the other man, Miles didn't hold onto him like the night before. He wanted to, the entire trip making him more nervous than usual, but he couldn't be leaning on Stephen or Jethro for everything.
As they approached the wreckage, Miles saw great, gaping holes in the plane and in them, skeletons. No flesh. They'd been there probably since the first outbreak, picked clean by animals and the elements.
"Wow. I've never seen a plane up close!" Maia exclaimed.
Miles caught the little girl on her rush by, swinging her into the air to land on his hip. He faced her away from the plane and walked back towards her mother.
She squirmed and protested, "But Uncle Miles! I wanna see!"
Shaking his head, Miles told her, "No you don't. Not up close. Kim? You don't want the girls near that."
With a sober nod, Kim took Maia from him with a quiet, "Thanks, Miles."
Frank fell into step with him on the way back, as did Gerald, Abby, McGee, and Ziva. They all stood with Stephen and Kate about ten feet from the wreckage, gazing silently.
"So..." Abby began at last. "There's something you don't see every day."
"How do we get around it, is the question," Stephen observed, scanning their surroundings.
Even though engineering was not his thing, Miles looked around with the others, trying to come up with a solution.
"Well we can't go through it," McGee commented. "What about around?"
Frank pointed out, "Guard rails. We would have to backtrack what, two miles?"
"We're not behind schedule," Gerald said.
Stephen shook his head. "We don't go back. Not even a little. Other options."
Abby announced, "You know, I've always wanted to drive on the left side of the road."
Miles, along with everyone else, looked at her.
She gave them all a winsome smile and answered, "What? Take a look."
Following the line of her arm, Miles saw that the median had no guard rails, just a dip that the vehicles could likely traverse. And the plane only stretched across to the lane closest the median. They could go around it, after all. It was a pretty obvious solution and Miles felt like kicking himself for not thinking of it. Then again, no one else had, either.
Stephen squeezed her shoulder, praising, "Good work, Abby. All right everyone, let's go. We have another hour before the next scheduled break."
They were in what used to be
and traveling through a lot of farm country. Even though there weren't any crops, Miles saw abandoned farmhouses long ways back from the road now and again. There'd been no other vehicles on the road. Well, no moving vehicles. There were plenty of abandoned ones that acted like an obstacle course on the freeway. They made a lot more time during the day when they could see the cars and trucks littering the road at a distance. Their speed had been fairly slow once darkness fell, since there weren't any working streetlamps to aid in avoiding the obstructions. Illinois
The day passed fairly quickly, even though all he did was sleep and read. There was a brief stop shortly after where everyone got out and walked around, stretching their legs. Jethro and Tony's absence showed keenly in the quiet way the NCIS team talked and interacted. There were few smiles and none of the hyper energy that he normally associated with them. And he was worried about Stephen, too. The other man kept to himself during the brief rest, eating his energy bar without expression. Not even Frank could draw him into conversation, so Miles didn't even try.
They reached the next rest stop at dusk. It was the second rendezvous point and for the entire hour before it, on his second turn at driving, Miles couldn't help hoping and praying that Jethro and Tony would be waiting there. He pulled in with a sigh of relief, his back sore from sitting in one place and his eyes dry from all the focus he put into his driving. That was when he noticed someone standing right in the middle of the strip of pavement and said tensely, "Stephen? Someone's here."
Even before he came to a complete stop, Miles let out a whoop of triumph, recognizing Jethro the closer they came. He hit the brakes, threw the car into park, and jumped out of the Rover to run to the other man. Miles crashed into him, throwing his arms around Jethro's neck and holding as tight as he could, pure relief and joy sparking through him as those strong arms wrapped around him in an equally tight embrace.
"Oh my God, Jethro, you're alive! I can't believe you're here and safe!" Miles exclaimed, pulling back only enough to kiss him.
Jethro returned the kiss for only a second before pushing him back. "Later, Miles. Tony's hurt."
Alarmed, Miles demanded, "Where is he? What happened?"
But Jethro strode forward, calling out, "Natalie! Ducky! Tony's hurt!"
"On the way, Jethro!" the older man called back, returning to his van, probably for medical supplies.
Miles took in the lines of exhaustion on Jethro's face as they hurried to what he'd initially thought was another abandoned car. It was a rusted out junker of a station wagon with the back door open, resting down. Coming closer, he saw Tony stretched out in the back area, his entire torso wrapped in strips of cloth, blood gathered in one main patch on his gut. There had to be tons of smaller cuts though, his shirt soaked through in far too many places. Miles' heart stuttered at the sight and his feet stumbled, causing him to trip and land against Jethro, who caught him automatically, pulling him in close.
Natalie got there the same time as Stephen, but she climbed into the back, blocking the way.
"Stephen," Gerald cautioned, looking as grim as Miles had ever seen the black man. "Let her work."
Natalie didn't wait, instead gently pulling away the cloth that covered Tony's body. Miles moved forward to help as well, but Jethro's grip tightened.
"You'll just get in the way," Jethro murmured, "You're too close."
Stephen joined them, then, surrounding Miles from the other side as Ducky, Gerald, and Jimmy arrived with medical supplies. Ducky also climbed inside and Gerald sat on the door, blocking the rest of the view.
Even though he knew that Jethro was right, Miles wanted to go to Tony and do something, anything, to help.
"What happened?" Stephen questioned.
Jethro sighed deeply, a shaky sound as he leaned on Miles, but kept his eyes on the now very crowded back area of the station wagon. "They grabbed Tony, but he managed to get free long enough for me to pick him up. He got shot on the run to the car. I patched him up as best I could, but we had to get out of the city since it was almost curfew. I knew we wouldn't make the first rendezvous, so I headed right here."
Frank frowned as he asked, "But how'd you get here ahead of us?"
"I never stopped."
Miles believed it. He'd seen how tenacious and driven the other man had been during their first mutual investigation two years before. He'd worked with Tony more a few times since, but Jethro was considered too important to loan out unless it was vital. An assessment that Miles completely agreed with, even though he knew it irritated the other man.
Kate stepped forward with a bottle of water, holding it in front of Gibbs and ordering, "Drink it."
Jethro took the bottle from her wordlessly and drained it in three long gulps. He still didn't look away from the activity in the car, though. His body was clearly exhausted, shaking with fatigue, but subject to the great will keeping it upright. Miles wanted to say something to get him to rest, but knew Jethro wouldn't listen to him.
As if of the same mind, Stephen moved to stand in front of Jethro, blocking his view of Tony.
Miles held his breath when Jethro's jaw tightened, the other man's body stilling as if tensing for action.
"You need to rest. You need to drink more than that and take care of your own injuries," Stephen stated flatly. "You won't do Tony any good, by collapsing."
For a moment, Miles thought that Jethro might actually hit Stephen to get him out of the way. Then the former agent seemed to come to his senses, because he relaxed faintly and gave a short nod. Miles met Stephen's gaze and motioned towards Jethro with a lifted eyebrow.
Stephen nodded and took Miles' place, pulling Jethro's arm over his shoulder to lead him towards the Range Rover. Miles watched them go before moving to stand closer and observe Natalie and Ducky working on Tony. If he couldn't help, he could at least report back once everything was done.
* * * *
Jethro leaned heavily on Stephen as they walked towards to Rover, his body suddenly very uncooperative. He knew it was exhaustion brought on by the drop in adrenaline, well, and the last two days without sleep, give or take. His entire body felt as if it had been pummeled, when he didn't have a scratch on him. He let Stephen swing him gently into the back bench seat and groaned without thinking about it.
"Where are you hurt?" Stephen asked quietly.
Jethro shook his head and replied, "I'm not. It's Tony's blood. I'm just...damn tired."
Stephen's hand cupped Jethro's face. "I bet. Why don't you stretch out and get some sleep? After you drink some more."
Lips twitching, Jethro accepted another bottle of water and an energy bar that miraculously appeared over Stephen's shoulder. Focusing, he spotted an anxious looking Abby bouncing on up and down just behind the other man. He gave her a smile and took the energy bar, but set it aside to open after he drank down the water.
Stephen half-turned and requested, "Abby, can you give us a few minutes?"
She made a face, but nodded and left.
Leaning on the side of the door, Stephen softly questioned, "Jay, how'd you really get away? Do we need to change out route?"
Startled, Jethro answered, "No, no we're fine. We really did get away clean."
"Then where'd the bandages come from?" Stephen pressed.
Rubbing a hand over his head, Jethro explained, "I had to stop somewhere, so I stopped at Jenny's."
Stephen demanded loudly, "You went to Director Sheppard?!"
"She's a good friend."
"She's your boss!"
"She won't turn us in, Stephen."
"You don't know that, Jay!"
"Yes. I do."
Jethro glared right back at Stephen, not giving in an inch.
Finally, Stephen sighed and acquiesced, "Fine. I'll trust your judgment."
"Thanks," Jethro replied, dry. "Good to know you trust me that much."
Stephen grimaced. "Sorry."
Waving him off, Jethro admitted, "I might have...glossed over a few of the more dangerous parts of what happened. I didn't want to upset Miles or Abby."
He would have told Stephen exactly what had happened, every horrifying detail, except the world swayed around him. Next he knew, he was bent forward, head between his knees as Stephen's hand rubbed slowly up and down his back and the other man murmured nonsensical words against his ear.
"Back with me?" Stephen asked at last.
Jethro took a careful, deep breath before answering, "For now. I should eat something, but I really need to take a piss."
Stephen snorted. "If you can stand up, I'll walk you over to a dark area where you can stream at will."
Chuckling, Jethro climbed out of the back seat and got to his feet, prompting, "Satisfied?"
"Not by a long shot, but you'll do for now."
Jethro accepted the arm around his waist, not all that certain of his footing or his body's strength. Thankfully, he hadn't had anything to eat in almost the last two days, so all he had to do was piss out the water he'd gulped down a little while ago.
Miles waited at the Rover when they returned and held out an already unwrapped energy bar as he reported, "Tony's going to be fine. He's not conscious yet, but they removed a bullet and stitched him up. What happened? It looked like he went through a plate glass window."
"When have you ever known Tony to take the easy route?" Jethro evaded as he took the energy bar. Using his fatigue to advantage, he sat heavily on the back seat again as he started eating. It tasted like cardboard, as usual, but he was too hungry to care.
"Frank, Tim, and Gerald moved Tony to one of the vans," Miles continued. "We can leave any time."
Stephen nodded and agreed, "Tell everyone five minutes."
Shifting from foot to foot, Miles asked, "Can I, is it okay if I stay with Tony?"
"Of course," Stephen answered immediately. He tugged Miles in close, whispering something in the younger man's ear that provoked a flush and a grin.
Clearing his throat, Miles said, "Right. I'm ah, yeah. I'm really glad you're okay, Jethro. You had us worried," and then hightailed it away.
Jethro grinned at Stephen. "What did you say to him?"
Stephen shrugged that easy, charming smile of his as he replied, "Just that you're stronger than you look and we can wear you out properly later."
"Boy are you optimistic," Jethro retorted.
Brushing a hand over Jethro's head and down his back, Stephen warned, "Don't tell anyone. Now stretch out and sleep, Jethro. Better yet, have a couple more energy bars and then sleep."
Wishing he could do more than just lean into the contact, knowing they were running short on time, Jethro nodded and picked up the one he hadn't opened from Abby.
"Is it safe now? Can I come back?"
Speak of the devil, he thought, grinning briefly as he met Stephen's gaze.
Stephen leaned in and kissed him, slow and easy, before stepping back and announcing, "He's all yours, Abigail."
Abby rushed forward, making a face at Stephen as she informed him, "Only Ducky gets to call me that."
"Duly noted. Have a seat," Stephen said, turning and leaving.
Jethro moved further inside so that Abby could sit beside him. She immediately swung her legs over his lap and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, cuddling up against him. Sliding an arm along her waist, he sighed deeply once more and rested his chin on the top of her head, breathing in her sweet, comforting scent.
She whispered, "I was so worried."
Kissing her hair, he replied, "So was I, Abs, so was I."
* * * *
Being tired was Stephen's new perpetual state of being, but at least he didn't have to worry about Jethro and Tony anymore. Jethro had fallen sound asleep about two minutes after stretching out in the backseat with Abby's lap as a pillow and hadn't woken up yet. Tony was also out cold, helped along by the additional painkillers that Natalie had given him during their very brief pit-stop.
There were a lot more cars on the road once they left the rest stop so progress wasn't nearly as good as it had been. It made him wonder what might have happened to cause such a desertion of vehicles. Then again, he didn't really want to know.
Frank came up to relieve him at the pit-stop and, even though he really just wanted to climb in the back and twine around Jethro, the other man needed uninterrupted sleep. So he moved over to the passenger's side and lowered the seat, closing his eyes and forcing himself to relax enough to sleep. It wasn't at all restful, not with the stops and starts and potholes, but at least he could let his eyes recoup a little of their moisture.
The next stop wasn't until after dawn and that was when they finally hit
. If they'd had a clear route and smooth roads, it would've only been a sixteen hour trip, but he was just grateful to get there at all. Stephen's eyes opened as soon as Frank shook his shoulder. They'd planned to come in on the north side of the city, traveling along Route 235, only a roadblock of army trucks were parked in front of the exit and across the highway itself. Des Moines
"That doesn't look good," Frank muttered.
Stephen sighed. "No, no it doesn't."
Two men in fatigues, each holding an automatic rifle, walked out from the lead truck as Frank stopped the Range Rover. Rolling down the window, Frank greeted, "Morning."
In his late-20's with blond hair escaping his cap, the man peered inside the Rover from Frank's window while the other man walked on to the vans. "Mornin.' State your business please."
"Just passing through," Frank told him. "Looking to get some more gas, if there's any to be had."
Snorting, the soldier answered, "There is, for the right price."
Stephen asked, "Free market, or martial law?"
Looking surprised, the man countered, "Martial law? Why'd anyone need that these days? Plague's long gone."
"Well, you're wearing a uniform and those're army trucks..." Frank pointed out.
He smiled at them and explained, "Looks imposing, don't it? Truth is, as long as you mind your manners, we like visitors."
Stephen restrained what would likely be a hysterical laugh as he assured, "Oh, don't worry. We're planning on watching our manners."
"Good. You got a map of the city? Know where downtown is?"
"That's where we have the market. If you're going to find gas, that's where you'll make the deal."
"Thanks. We appreciate the heads-up," Frank said.
Stephen couldn't quite believe it was that easy, but it was. They drove off the highway into downtown, finding a place to park on the mostly clear streets. The buildings were in good condition, which also surprised him for some reason.
Frank snorted, as if hearing his thoughts, and punched him lightly in the shoulder saying, "We got snobby in DC."
"Looks like," Stephen agreed, wry.
Climbing out of the Rover, Stephen walked around to the other side, arriving just as Jethro pulled himself out of the back, rubbing his eyes. It was such an endearing gesture, vulnerable in a way the other man so seldom was, that he had to draw Jethro into his arms. Being the same height made it easy to rest his forehead on Jethro's shoulder to breathe him in.
Jethro relaxed against him with a deep sigh, his arms wrapping around Stephen's waist. "God, you feel good."
Pressing his lips briefly to the bare patch of skin above the collar, Stephen pulled back and told him, "So do you. And don't think I've forgotten about what I promised you on this road trip."
Jethro smirked a little, looking tired still, but more himself. "Assuming you've got the stamina, old man."
"Old? Who are you calling old?" Stephen demanded, grinning.
Chuckling, Jethro replied, "You."
Stephen shook his head, about to argue the matter of fifteen years difference between them on Jethro's side when the others joined them. Turning, he kept an arm around Jethro's waist as the group formed in a semi-circle.
"What's first?" Eva asked, leaning against Natalie.
Stephen smiled and told her, "Gas. Split up, but not into less than two together. Everyone investigate and see what's what around here. After gas, our priority is preserved foodstuffs. And medical supplies, of course. We have some, but more is always better. Everyone back here in an hour."
As the others broke away, Jethro asked, "Tony?"
"Tony," Stephen confirmed.
They walked to the middle van where Tony still rested. Miles stood outside it, leaning on the side door as they approached. He smiled and greeted, "Tony's awake and asking after both of you."
Relief slid through Stephen at the announcement. Even though he knew the younger man had to rest to recuperate, being under for so long had worried him. Miles pulled the door open, giving them their first glimpse of the patched-up Tony lying pale and wan on the middle bench seat, flat on his back.
He smiled at them, waving cheerfully and greeting, "Hey, Stephen! Hey, Boss! What I miss?"
Snorting, Stephen climbed inside and crouched beside Tony with Jethro right behind him. It was crowded, even when Jethro moved to sit on the edge of the seat by Tony's legs. And then Miles climbed in too, hanging over the back of the seat. For the first time ever, all four of them were together in a non-work situation.
It wasn't nearly as awkward as it should've been, all things considered. But then, it was hard to be awkward when Tony smiled at him and complained brightly, "It's about time you got here!"
"Had some driving to do," Stephen told him, taking his hand. "How are you feeling?"
Tony rolled his eyes and informed him, "Like you don't need to be taking my pulse."
Stephen moved his thumb out of the position where he'd been doing just that and gave his lover a sheepish grin before apologizing, "Habit. And how are you really feeling?"
Sighing briefly, Tony said, "Sore as hell. Weak. Feeling like an idiot."
"You're not an idiot," Jethro said gruffly.
Stephen needed to get the full story of just what had gone down, and soon, before he could weigh in on that particular situation. In the meantime, he trusted Jethro's assessment and agreed, "Definitely not. Miles and I are going to check out the market area now with the others, but Jethro's going to stick around. And Frank's still here with the girls and Kim if you need anything."
Tony squeezed his hand before bringing it up to his face and holding it there a moment. Stephen leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the mouth before telling him and Jethro both, "We'll be back in an hour."
Jethro nodded and rubbed Stephen's back as he left the van.
Miles fell into step with him as they walked away from the vehicles towards downtown. Spring was turning towards summer, the heat rising to a good seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit, even though it was still morning.
"How long are we going to be here?" Miles asked.
Stephen shrugged and answered, "Depends on how fast we find gas."
Miles looked worried as he questioned, "What if we don't?"
Touching the younger man's back, Stephen promised, "We'll find what we need here. It's a big enough city and pretty organized."
Stephen glanced over at him when the words stopped. The worry had deepened, tension marring the slender body with stiff shoulders and his brow drawn together. He prompted, "What?"
"They know we're gone now," Miles said. "They'll be looking for us."
He couldn't deny either statement. It was likely that the
had already assembled a strike team to retrieve them all. Well, some of them. Stephen knew that some of the group were expendable from the government's point of view. Eva, Kim, Ducky, Gerald, and Jimmy for sure wouldn't make a return trip, if they were captured. The girls would be taken from Frank and raised by the state. Alliance
It was a strong possibility that Tony, Kate, Natalie, and Frank would also not make the trip home. Ziva was safe because of her family connections. Stephen and Jethro were safe because of their long years of experience, though they would be continuously monitored, likely housed in some kind of military facility. Miles, Abby, and Tim were also safe because of their brilliance and potential though they, too, would be monitored closely for the rest of their lives.
Stephen put an arm around Miles' shoulder and told him, "They won't find us. The country is just too big and they have no idea where we would go. We left nothing behind to indicate where we were heading."
Miles didn't look all that convinced, but he nodded.
Downtown was very busy and filled with people; shockingly so, for someone used to order and cleanliness in all public areas. It reminded Stephen of before the first plague ha hit, when he'd been in college. The sheer color and noise and the smells of all different kinds of food cooking overwhelmed Stephen and he took an actual step back before catching himself.
"Wow," Miles said at last.
Stephen hid a grin and agreed, "And then some. Let's see what we can see."
There were small booth vendors mixed in with bigger ones and actual storefronts. The high-rises looked fully intact to Stephen's eyes, although what they might house these days was anyone's guess. They appeared to have indoor plumbing in working condition, since that was one odor he didn't smell. Thankfully.
"Stephen, look at that."
Following Miles' line of sight showed a caduceus symbol painted on a wooden board above one of the bigger booths. Stephen nodded and took his arm from Miles' shoulder as they headed that way. There was a line out the door, not a surprise, but Stephen ignored it and walked inside. People took one look at him and meekly stepped aside. He never knew if it was his football player build, or his don't-fuck-with-me bearing, maybe both, but people seldom stood in his way for long.
Inside was a small, one room area with a bench along one wall and boxes along the other. There was an older man with gray hair in a tattered, but clean white coat examined a young girl with a clearly swollen ankle. Stephen observed for a moment and then decided the man wasn't a charlatan taking advantage of people. He had real, if old-fashioned, technique.
As if sensing the scrutiny, the doctor looked over at him and asked, "Somethin' I can help you boys with?"
Stephen shook his head, answering, "We can probably help you, though."
"You boys know some healing?" the man questioned, surprised and suspicious.
"We do," Stephen confirmed. "We're just passing through, but could work for supplies, if you have any to spare."
Of course, they would work even if he didn't have any to spare, especially with so many people in need, but there was no reason to say so up front.
Efficiently wrapping the ankle, the doctor said, "Pull up some space and let me see what you can do."
Stephen almost grinned at the challenge, but didn't. Instead, he held out a hand and said, "I'm Stephen Connor and this is Miles McCabe."
The fact that they were doctors would stand out more than their names, after all.
Standing from the stood where he'd been working, the older man took the hand and replied, "Nate Wells. Good to meet you."
Miles had already started talking to the people in the line to make assessments while Stephen set up another workspace. There wasn't much, just an extra chair and table, but the table seemed sturdy, so he unfolded it and sat on it, bouncing a couple of times to make sure it would hold weight. He found a box of supplies that held a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, though they both looked to be about twenty years old.
That done, he motioned for the next person in line to come in. It was a mother with a young boy of about eight years and Stephen smiled automatically, the moment bittersweet as he was reminded of Jack. "Hi. I'm Stephen. You are?"
"I'm Rina and this is my son, Will," the woman said, looking wary. "Are you really a doctor?"
Stephen nodded. "I really am. Hey there, Will. How are you feeling?"
The boy leaned against his mother, holding to her sweater and staring at Stephen with big, blue eyes.
Looking at the mother, Stephen asked, "What's the problem?"
She bit her lower lip, undecided.
"Let me guess," Stephen offered, taking another, longer look at the boy. He found the problem right away and hid a grin as he said, "I see someone's been experimenting with what goes where. What is that in your nose, a marble or a rock?"
"A marble," Rina finally said, exasperation coloring her voice. "I tried tweezers, but couldn't get a good grip."
"Stephen, I could use some help here!" Miles shouted from outside.
Gently petting Will on the head, Stephen said, "I'll be right back," and hurried out to see what was going on. He found Miles half-carrying, half-leading a very pregnant girl towards him. She couldn't have been more than sixteen, seventeen, tops. Stephen jogged the rest of the way and lifted her into his arms without too much trouble. He strode into the tiny doctor's office asking, "What's your name?"
"Jill," the girl answered, groaning. "Please, just get it out!"
Nate had already moved his sprained-ankle patient off the exam bed, so Stephen put Jill there and told her, "We just need to see how you're doing first, okay Jill? Can you tell me how far apart the contractions are?"
She screeched, hand clamping down on Stephen's hard enough to make him wince.
"I'm timing," Miles announced from behind.
One less thing for Stephen to worry about; as was Nate swiftly cutting away the girl's underwear.
"Out! Everyone skedaddle!" Rina ordered loudly. "This ain't no peepshow, it's a woman givin' birth!"
Make that three things, he thought in amusement. As soon as Jill let go, gasping in huge breaths, Stephen moved to check her stomach, feeling for the baby's position. A lot could go wrong with a young mother giving birth under the best of conditions, never mind like this. Out loud, he asked, "Have you had any exams since you knew you were pregnant, Jill?"
"Not from me she hasn't," Nate told him, putting a towel over Jill's raised legs.
Jill told them, "My nana, she looked me over. She delivered me when I was born."
Stephen gave her a reassuring smile, but wasn't at all pleased with the news. At Nate's openly disapproving look, Stephen figured the girl's grandmother didn't have anything else to recommend her as a health professional. Stephen took a look under her dress and shook his head at how far along she was. He restrained the impulse to tell her just how close she'd come to having the baby in the street and instead asked, "Miles?"
"Right here," the other man said, holding out gloves. "No surgical gowns, though."
He hadn't even expected the gloves and nodded. "She's ready to go now. The baby's lined up. We just need something to hold him."
"I have clean linens packed away here, hold on," Nate said, moving aside.
Looking at Jill over the towel, he found Rina standing behind her, holding the girl in a semi-sitting position. He nodded in approval and ordered, "On the next contraction, I need you to push, okay, Jill?"
She nodded, still breathing hard. And then she screeched again, but grit her teeth and pushed.
All in all, it was over in less than three minutes with no complications, which was a hell of a lot better than Stephen could have hoped for as he cut the cord to the baby girl crying in his hands. Miles carefully wrapped the baby in the clean towel, taking her from Stephen to clean her up and then hand her to Jill.
Nate clapped an arm around Stephen's shoulders and told him, "Son, you can set up shop here anytime you want."
Stephen met Miles' happy gaze and shared a grin with his lover. It was a good day to be a doctor.
* * * *
Jethro stayed with Tony until the younger man fell back asleep. Sitting next to Tony and resting a hand on his hip, seeing that he really was all right buoyed Jethro. The madness of their drive was something he never wanted to repeat. There were new scars added to Tony's already marred face, a couple which looked like they would be almost as bad as the first, thanks to his flight face-first through a window. Not that he cared what Tony looked like, but he knew that Tony did. His lover's self-esteem was a fragile thing constantly needing attention, something he enjoyed doing, as did Stephen.
Jethro also worried about what might happen to Jenny, once it was discovered that her entire team had disappeared. It didn't matter that she'd refused to come with them, his stomach knotted with guilt that her position and power wouldn't be enough to protect her. She could, right that second, be cuffed to a chair in some featureless interrogation room, waiting to be tortured into giving information that she didn't have.
He shook off the dark thoughts before they could truly get hold again and found Frank in the second van with his family. It did him good, looking at the happy girls and hearing them laugh and argue like all children should. He didn't know the other man very well, but Stephen trusted him with his life, and with Miles,' which was enough for Jethro.
Frank spotted him a few minutes later and smiled a greeting before climbing out of the van to join him with, "How's Tony?"
"Better," Jethro answered. "How was the trip here?"
"I'm guessing better than yours," Frank replied dryly.
Jethro snorted in amusement. "I bet. So you didn't meet up with anyone? No sign of pursuit?"
Shaking his head, Frank told him, "No one had any trouble. We met up at the junk yard, stowed our gear, drove to the first meeting spot, waited for you and Tony, but then left when you didn't show."
"How long did you wait?"
"That's about thirteen minutes too long."
Frank grimaced. "I know, but try telling Stephen that. We made it to the first rendezvous spot without any trouble and no sign that we were followed. How did you guys get away, anyhow?"
Jethro's jaw tightened and he replied shortly, "With a lot of trouble. But no one's after us."
Frank nodded acceptance of his words and said, "The others should be back soon. Hopefully we won't need to be here long."
"And then only thirty hours to get to Vegas, give or take," Jethro murmured.
He wouldn't feel safe until they'd gotten there, no doubt about that.
Jethro spotted Eva, Natalie, Gerald and Ducky walking back together, packages in the women's arms. Curious, he looked at Frank who shrugged and they started walking towards the group.
"Stephen and Miles are playing country doctor," Natalie announced before Jethro could ask. "They've already delivered a baby and removed a marble from a little boy's nose."
Jethro grinned to himself, not having any trouble believing that.
Frank asked, "So what's in the bags and what did it cost us?"
Eva winked at him and answered, "We have fresh baked bread, some cookies for the girls, and just cooked hamburgers for everyone. Complete with condiments! Apparently there's a very tasty, local equivalent to ketchup."
Jethro's stomach rumbled at the thought of a real hamburger, but he asked, "What did it cost us?"
"Lancing two very ugly boils in a very awkward location," Natalie answered, grinning.
Frank laughed. "I hope you washed your hands before handling the food, then!"
Ducky spoke up with, "Indeed she did. And I supervised the cooking of the food, so we know that it's been properly prepared."
Gerald shook his head and said pointedly, "Nearly threw him out into the street for it."
"Some people can't take constructive criticism!" Ducky countered defensively.
Jimmy, Abby, and McGee arrived just then. They didn't have any packages, but looked triumphant nonetheless.
Jethro ordered, "Report, McGee!"
Tim straightened automatically and stammered, "We, we found a possible source for gas, Boss! There's an old gas station that still somehow has a supplier from
"It's his cousin," Abby broke in. "They grew up together, but then Jackie, the cousin, decided she wanted an adventure and headed to Texas. See, she was the only girl out of like, a gazillion boys, so..."
"Family history later, Abs," Jethro interrupted.
Abby made a face at him, but continued, "Jackie just finished a run here and they've got plenty of gas, but it ain't cheap, Bossman. Carl didn't say what he wanted, but seemed pretty agreeable to talking."
Tim shook his head. "Agreeable isn't the word that I'd use. More like, willing not to shoot us on sight because Abby was there."
"She reminds him of Jackie," Jimmy confirmed.
Jethro hid a grin as he demanded sternly, "And what were you doing, going somewhere that might have ended with someone getting shot?"
Jimmy and Tim gaped at him after exchanging dismayed looks, but Ziva and Kate strolled up, forestalling any stammered excuses they might have come up with.
"Gibbs! You would not believe the amount of people in this city!" Kate exclaimed. "Did you know that they've got voting and everything around here? And police! Real police, not MPs who, well, you know. They arrest actual criminals here."
Jethro replied wryly, "Sounds like paradise."
"You know what I mean," she retorted.
And he did. It sounded like a normal, well-organized city; one reminiscent of the old
. And that, unfortunately, was a problem. The USA could easily do business with a place like this that was organized and needed a hell of a lot when it came to medicine and things like mechanized goods. He saw the same, faintly worried expression on Frank's face and knew the black man had thought the same. Alliance
Suddenly, he wondered if Stephen and Miles were safe out there on their own. Doctors would be in short supply if they'd so readily been accepted.
"I think I'm going to go check on Stephen and Miles," Frank announced. "Gibbs, you want to come with?"
Jethro nodded, glad there was another suspicious paranoid in the group. Of course, with his pretty wife and very bright, also very pretty three daughters, he was sure that Frank had had to be over the years.
They stopped at the Rover to arm themselves. Jethro took a double shoulder holster and buckled a spare to his ankle. Meeting Frank's gaze, he proposed, "Obvious or subtle?"
Frank thought a few seconds before answering, "You be obvious. You're good at that."
"I work hard to be subtle," Jethro informed him.
Snorting, Frank muttered, "As a sledgehammer," before pulling on a windbreaker to cover his own shoulder holster.
"Do you really expect trouble here?" Kate asked from behind.
Facing her, Jethro replied, "Absolutely."
"I could come."
But Frank shook his head at her suggestion and pointed out, "With Tony down, that leaves only Ziva and McGee here for the rest of the group."
Kate grimaced, but didn't argue as they walked towards the downtown area.
Downtown was a lot like Jethro remembered from before the plague. He'd already been in the Marines when the first wave had struck
, decimating the west coast in a matter of days. The rest of the country hadn't been far behind, thanks to some kind of communications fuckup that hadn't quarantined transportation leaving California . The Los Angeles , some two hundred years in the making at that point, had been wiped out in less than two months leaving chaos and warlordism behind. United States of America
"Over there," Frank murmured.
Bringing himself out of old thoughts, Jethro spotted the caduceus sign and angled for it. The line out the door was unbelievable, as if word had spread in the short hour that Miles and Stephen had been there. Plenty of people gave them big-eyed stares, but no one made a peep as they ignored the line and walked inside.
Stephen was stitched up a deep gash on a man's shoulder while Miles wrapped a bandage around a little girl's wrist. An old man in a white coat also worked nearby, splinting a young man's arm. Miles looked up and smiled broadly at Jethro until he took in the weapons. His smile vanished and he glanced at Stephen, who was totally immersed in his work.
And that, Jethro thought, is why we're here.
Because Stephen was a doctor before he was a soldier and Miles wasn't a soldier at all.
"Stephen," Frank rumbled.
Stephen's head jerked up, hands automatically stilling as he looked away from his work. "Frank? Jethro? What's going on? Is everything okay? Tony?"
"Tony's fine," Jethro told him. "We're just checking on you."
The blond man took in their appearance and he nodded slowly. "Right. Well, we're going to stick around for the afternoon to make a dent here, at least temporarily."
Jethro gave him a thin smile. "Then I guess we'll make ourselves comfortable."
Stephen looked like he was going to argue, but then changed his mind. "Pull up some floor, if you want."
"I'll stand," Jethro replied, picking the far corner where he could see anyone entering the small office.
At least there weren't any back doors or windows to worry about.
* * * *
Tony woke alone in the van and sighed deeply before he remembered that would hurt. Groaning under his breath, he wondered if maybe he could etch it on the inside of his eyeballs so he'd remember when it counted; before he did something that caused pain.
Of course, jumping out of a third story window's not exactly the best course of action to stay pain-free, he thought wryly.
"Tony? You awake?"
Lifting his head, Tony found Abby peering anxiously into the van and offered her a smile. "Sure am, Abs. Where's the room service in this joint?"
She gave a little squeal of happiness and climbed into the van exclaiming, "You had me so worried! Bossman, too! All of us! I'm so glad you're okay! Oh, here, let me help prop you up a little."
Tony suppressed a gasp of pain as Abby lifted him onto pillows, not wanting to ruin her happiness at 'helping' him. He smiled when she finally sat back, satisfied at her handiwork. "Thanks, Abs. So where is everyone?"
"Chowing down!" she answered. "Let me get you a hamburger. You want relish and ketchup?"
Blinking at her, he pointed out, "We don't have any meat."
"Local," she explained.
Tony winked and ordered, "Then feed me, woman!"
She giggled and left the van only for Jimmy, McGee, and Ducky to poke their heads in. Unfortunately, Natalie immediately overruled Tony getting a hamburger due to his bullet wound, and he wound up with the military's version of cup-o-soup, instead. The next couple of hours were spent talking with pretty much everyone, even Frank's girls, to assure them that he was going to be fine. It felt so damn good, knowing how much everyone cared about him. It would've been perfect if Stephen and Miles weren't off playing doctor, in the non-fun sense, with Gibbs keeping an eye on them.
Finally, just before sunset, the errant doctors and their keepers returned. He really wanted to go out to meet them, but knew that it would be a good week or more before he was truly up and about, maybe longer. It chafed, but a bullet in the gut was nothing to sneeze at even with a hospital stay, let alone out and about in a van traveling across country.
There was a group chat until well after dark and then, at last, Miles climbed into the van. He was pulling double duty, apparently, because he immediately kissed Tony warmly on the mouth and then looked at his wounds.
"How do you feel?" Miles asked, untaping the main bandage.
Tony snorted. "Like I've been shot in the stomach."
Miles rolled his eyes at him and questioned, "How's the pain? Do you need more painkillers?"
Knowing they might need them for something more critical in the future, Tony shook his head and said, "I'll be fine."
"I didn't ask how you would be," Miles countered pointedly. "I asked how you are now. Don't worry about our supply, Tony. Just be honest. One to ten, where are you on the pain scale?"
"About a five," Tony admitted.
Miles muttered something under his breath, probably something very unflattering, and moved to the back of the van. He came back with a bottle of water and two horse pills, holding both out expectantly.
Tony hedged, "How about I just take one?"
"How about you take both, or I go get Gibbs and have him administer them?"
"Just take the pills, Tony."
Grumbling, Tony took them and washed each down, finishing off the water while he was at it. And then he grimaced for real as he complained, "I need that stupid bucket."
Miles didn't comment as he picked up the bedpan. He even shut the van door and then helped Tony into a good position to relieve himself. It killed to sit up enough to piss, even with Miles' assistance, and he saw stars before he lay back down. It was several minutes later that he was able to see straight again. Miles knelt next to the bench seat, stroking his fingers through Tony's hair. He wondered inanely what it was about his hair that made people want to pet him. All three of his lover's liked to do that.
"You know, it would be a lot better for you if we could just give you a catheter," Miles told him quietly.
But Tony shook his head and said flatly, "No chance."
Miles sighed as he continued to soothe Tony with the gentle caresses. "All right. But if you develop an infection or pop a staple because of all this moving around, Stephen's going to override you."
So would Gibbs and Miles both, Tony knew. He offered a rueful smile at his lover and said, "Thanks, Miles. Sorry I'm such a pain."
"You are not a pain!" Miles exclaimed, quiet but fierce. "Don't you ever think that! You are brave and strong and wonderful and I don't know what I would do if I ever lost you!"
Startled by the shine of tears in the other's eyes, Tony reached out to capture Miles' hand, bringing it to his lips. He kissed the palm and then said, "You didn't lose me, Miles, I'm right here."
Miles swallowed visibly and whispered, "But we could have, Tony. God, it was so close! I overheard Natalie and Ducky talking and you'd lost so much blood they thought you weren't going to make it! I need you, Tony, just as much as I need Jethro and Stephen. Please, don't risk yourself over something like pride. We're all here to help you and being injured is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is the healing process, as messy as it can get. Please, please let us help you."
And, of course, the only thing Tony could do was nod, moved by his lover's plea.
* * * *
"Miles give him a good talking to?" Jethro asked.
Stephen half-grinned at him as he nodded and sat beside the other man in the back seat of the Rover. "I caught the end of their conversation and Tony's not going to be getting out of bed any time soon. Not after that. He might even let us give him a catheter if Miles gives him the right look."
Jethro snorted and agreed, "It's the eyes. They get you every damn time."
"Both of them, but especially Miles," Stephen concurred. He hadn't been able to hear Miles, but it had visibly struck a chord in their more reckless lover. Tony had clearly been shocked and moved by whatever Miles had said.
They were silent for a few minutes and Stephen just enjoyed the company, putting an arm over Jethro's shoulder. Of them all, the older soldier was the most reticent when it came to physical displays, but a well-timed gesture was never rebuffed and he'd learned to read the signs pretty well over the last couple of years.
"So, tomorrow," Jethro began. "What do we have that we can give up?"
Stephen sighed and admitted, "Not much. Kate privately offered me her mother's diamond ring and Ducky approached me earlier about his mother's pearl collection."
Jethro shook his head. "I don't think jewelry's going to cut it."
"Neither do I," Stephen agreed.
"What if he wants one of the vehicles?"
"We can't give one up, especially not with Tony laid up."
"I'm guessing he's got more than we do."
"So it comes down to services."
Something Stephen didn't want to think about, but had to nod. They could offer plenty of medical and mechanical assistance, both of which were valuable, but the most common demand was sex. If this Carl took a liking to someone in their group and would only take sex in exchange for the fuel, Stephen had no idea how he would react. He didn't think that he would even be able to pass on the news, let alone ask whoever it was to go through with it. And God forbid it turned out to be Tony or Miles...
Jethro's hand rubbed along Stephen's back as he observed, "No sense in borrowing trouble. We'll find out tomorrow what this man wants."
For the first time in a long time, Stephen let himself lean on someone else. He curled up on his side and laid his head on Jethro's thigh, one of the benefits to having another Dom in their group. It never felt wrong to let himself rest with Jethro, knowing the other man supported him as much as the reverse was true.
He fell asleep to the feel of Jethro's hand solid and comforting on his hip.
Carl's Gas Stop turned out to be gaudy in a way that Jethro anticipated Hell being, with a brightly painted exterior of orange and red. It seemed like an advertisement for fire, which made no sense given the fuel located just below the concrete. Deciding that obvious might not be the best choice this time, none of them were armed. Besides which, news traveled fast, so he was sure that Carl would know they had access to weapons.
Stephen took the lead, as he invariably did, and Frank walked on his other side. The three of them had decided to leave Abby behind mostly because of Carl's apparent fondness for his cousin, the one that Abby seemed to remind him of. And even though she'd protested that not everyone was as devious as they were, all three had remained firm and she'd flounced off to complain to Tony.
Jethro had told Kate to keep an eye on her, just in case she decided to follow.
And now they faced a big, burly man in his late-fifties in overalls, with a shock of orange hair and a beard half-gone to silver. The inside of the shop was just as God-awful as the outside, a testament to the lack of female influence in Carl's life.
"Mornin,' boys. I thought I'd be seein' you today," Carl greeted.
Stephen held out a hand and replied, "Stephen Connor. It's good to meet you, Carl."
Jethro and Frank repeated the action with their own names before stepping back to let Stephen negotiate. He turned to look around the shop. A flood of memories hitting as he took in the rack of now-empty candy containers. As he took a closer look around the entire place, Jethro realized something about their possible business partner; he had a serious sweet tooth. Not only was there the empty candy rack, but pictures on the wall with various other wrappers and even box cutouts of advertisements tacked to the walls.
Hiding a grin, Jethro moved to lean against the wall and listen to the actual negotiations.
"Well, I can't say that some doctorin' wouldn't go amiss," Carl allowed. "I got a back that likes to go out on me, but that's not near enough to count for the gas you need."
Stephen nodded, looking sympathetic. "I understand completely. We could upgrade some of your equipment. A couple of our group knows their way around mechanics of all kinds."
Carl's hands spread in a helpless gesture as he replied, "I'm a mechanic, Stephen, what do I need other mechanics for?"
"How about a lifetime's supply of fudge?" Jethro suggested mildly.
That got Carl's attention. The big man instantly turned to Jethro and demanded, "What kind of fudge?"
Jethro shrugged. "What kind do you like?"
Carl literally licked his lips. "Honest? You're not foolin?'"
"I'll get you a sample and let you decide," Jethro replied, pushing off the wall. "Why don't you start working on the transportation details, though, because this fudge is so good, you're going to give us more fuel than we asked for."
Kate might not be able to cook worth a damn, but she made great fudge and had brought enough with her for the kids, including Tony and Abby.
Jethro grinned to himself at the gleam in Carl's eye and the confusion on Stephen's face, even as quickly as it smoothed away. It always felt good to keep the doctor on his toes.
* * * *
They did actually wind up with more fuel than asked for, which both amused and annoyed Stephen. He'd been all braced for the worst and in swept Jethro with fudge, of all things, to save the day. Still, it would get them on the road the following morning, which was all he truly cared about. They gassed up the vehicles and made a small camp just outside of the city, leaving behind all the fudge that Kate had made for the trip. He still found it hard to believe that Carl couldn't find anyone to make him the confection instead of relying on a convoluted delivery system of Kate's fudge, but then, he hadn't tried it, either.
Maybe it really was that good.
Stephen had been ready to leave then and there, but Natalie had pulled him aside to suggest that Tony have a full night's rest without being jostled around. One look at Tony's face, pinched with pain even asleep, and he'd agreed.
Looking over at Miles' soft call of his name, Stephen smiled and held up a hand. They'd found a park off the main road back to the highway and stopped there until the next day. It also gave the girls time to stretch their legs and it looked like most of the adults were doing the same. An impromptu game of tag had sprouted, though it didn't look like there were many rules involved.
As Miles curled up over him, legs across Stephen's thighs, cheek to chest, the only thing Stephen didn't like was the way Jethro kept to himself. Something had been building all day, despite the other man's victory at Carl's. He knew Jethro was a bigger loner than most and that the forced company had to be grating on him, but had also figured on a longer fuse. It shouldn't have taken so little time for the other's mood to sour, not this badly at least.
Then again, he thought, it's been coming for a lot longer than three days. It's been building probably since the last time we fucked. The man takes the world on his shoulders when he doesn't have to.
"Is Jethro okay?" Miles asked, lacing their fingers together.
Stephen kissed the top of his head and answered, "I was just wondering that myself."
And then they got a pretty spectacular answer.
Abby apparently took it on herself to get Jethro to join in the game and wouldn't take no for an answer. They were too far away to hear what he said to her, but the stricken expression that hit Abby's face was impossible to miss. Ziva put an arm around Abby in an apparently protective gesture, making a retort to Jethro who jumped to his feet and snapped something back.
"Shit," Stephen muttered, slapping him lightly on the ass. "Move, my boy."
Miles immediately climbed off him.
Looking down at Miles, he ordered, "Stay put or go see how Tony's doing. I don't want you getting caught in the middle of Jethro's bad mood."
"Me either," Miles replied fervently.
Stephen strode over to the rest of the group, but was too late. Jethro had already stormed off into the thicker part of the mini-forest. He took a quick look around the shocked and hurt faces and promised, "I'll take care of it."
"You want a gun?" Frank offered, seeming halfway serious.
Grimacing, Stephen shook his head and went after Jethro, but stopped first at the Rover for what he privately designated, 'Gibbs Defusing Kit.' It had lube, a facecloth to clean them up after, instant but extremely strong coffee, and a small whittling package. Anticipating more of a need for the lube and facecloth, he grabbed a bottle of water and doused the cloth before setting it back in the plastic bag.
Taking a breath, he headed into the woods.
* * * *
After what had just happened, Jethro wasn't surprised that Stephen followed him into the woods off the road. He needed space and time to think before his head exploded. Always before, he'd been able to retreat to his basement and work on his boat, but that wasn't an option anymore. And as much as he cared for everyone in their odd caravan, Jethro was about ready to strangle everyone except the kids and Tony.
He stopped in a clearing a short distance from the camp. After that outburst, he knew that no one save Stephen would dare follow him. At least they wouldn't be interrupted for what was sure to be a decent shouting match. Leaning against a thick tree, Jethro watched, wary, as the other man appeared through the brush. Stephen was military trained, just like him, and they were about equal, physically, though the other man had the breadth of him and a slightly longer reach.
Even though he didn't think it would come to a fight, Jethro wouldn't be all that disappointed if it did.
"Get that out of your system?" Stephen questioned, dry. He tossed a plastic bag to the ground at Jethro's feet and continued, "Anyone that you neglected to yell at? I'm pretty sure you didn't quite drive Abby to tears."
The anger that had been hounding him for the last week drained abruptly, leaving him tired and guilty. He sighed and said, "I'll make it up to them."
Stephen closed the distance between them and stared at him for a long moment before telling him, "You're an ass sometimes, you know that?"
"The second B is for Bastard, didn't you know?" Jethro countered, a grin briefly surfacing.
Leaning on the tree, a hand to either side of Jethro's head, Stephen said softly, "We're all stressed, but I think I can take care of at least one of your problems."
Jethro rested his hands on Stephen's forearms and challenged, "Oh, yeah? And what's that?"
Stephen bit lightly on the curve of Jethro's throat and then licked up to the ear to murmur, "To get good and fucked. I even have lube."
Jethro groaned when the other man's hand shifted to grip him between the legs and squeezed, just shy of painful. As a doctor, of course Stephen knew all about limits, even if they hadn't had a lot of time to explore them together in a more intimate fashion. "We don't have a lot of time."
"I think we can manage to be quick about it," Stephen replied, humor lacing his voice.
And then he pulled back just enough to change trajectory and kiss Jethro, lips insistent and tongue demanding entrance right away. Opening his mouth to it, Jethro kissed back just as hungrily, eager for more of this compelling man. Jethro bowed to no one, but Stephen came damn close.
They made short work of pants and Stephen turned him to face the tree, dropping to his knees to bury his face in Jethro's ass. The slick invasion caused his fingers to dig into the tree bark, shivers running all through his body. He groaned softly, thinking that maybe Tony wasn't the only one with an oral fixation. Stephen didn't stay there long, unfortunately, substituting slicker fingers for the tongue and fucking him with them, preparing him efficiently and adding a third in short order.
Spreading his legs as far as the pants around his ankles allowed, Jethro rested his forehead on the rough wood. He felt strangely eager and reluctant at the same time. He knew all he had to say was 'stop' and Stephen would. Trust wasn't the problem. Truthfully, he couldn't figure out if there was a problem. His body certainly had no trouble with the proceedings; his dick ached and throbbed while the rest of him coiled tighter and tighter in anticipation.
Stephen pressed up full-length against him and nuzzled against the back of his throat as he quietly said, "I think I love you, Jay."
Jethro's fingers spasmed on the tree, his throat closed against answering in any way, shape, or fashion. Thankfully, Stephen didn't seem to expect an answer. He instead slowly pushed his cock inside Jethro's hole, moving carefully until he could go no further. The heavy weight of his balls pressed against Jethro's, one more sensation determined to drive him crazy or push him over the edge. A shot of amusement hit him and he gasped, "No, not going to take long at all."
Chuckling, Stephen pulled back just as slow as he'd gone in, but on the in-thrust, drove home hard. He set up a strong, steady pace, fucking Jethro in a way only one other had, but with more caring, more...love...He didn't know what it might mean, but Jethro wasn't so full-up on the love thing that he could, or would, throw Stephen's words back in his face. He admired and liked the man too much to do so anyhow.
And then Stephen nailed his prostate and Jethro groaned, long and loud. If Stephen hadn't held his hips tight, damage might have been done to very sensitive skin hitting the tree.
"God, you're so fucking tight, Jethro! Tighter than Miles, and I didn't think that was possible. That's it, that's it Jethro, feel me in you," Stephen whispered against his ear, cock never even pausing. "Gonna fuck you for real when we get somewhere with a bed. Gonna make you come so hard you don't feel the mattress under you. Maybe Miles and Tony will be all tied up, helpless to do anything except watch as I fuck you unconscious. You'd like that, wouldn't you? Having our boys all safe and sound from the world, but not from us? Those firm bodies, soft skin, God, Miles' ass is something else, isn't it? I could fuck him for hours, if I had the time."
The images in Jethro's head were too much, coupled as they were with Stephen's low, rough voice on top of the thick cock plunging in and out of him. One of Stephen's hands took his dick and stroke it, making him come hard enough that he jerked violently and cried out in absolute pleasure. Stephen fucked him fast and hard then, coming moments later deep inside Jethro's body.
They leaned on the tree, both panting, and Jethro relished the unique sensation of being completely surrounded by another man kissing his back and throat and anywhere within reach. Stan had been more of a wham, bam type and they'd only done it a couple of times with him on the bottom. It had technically satisfied Jethro, but not nearly as much as this too-short encounter with Stephen. He smirked as he flexed his ass muscles, provoking a groan from his...lover.
"We really need to try that with a bed," Stephen sighed.
Jethro chuckled and nodded. "Sounds like a plan."
Nipping at Jethro's ear, Stephen told him, "I'm pulling out now," suiting actions to words right away. He gently pulled the cheeks apart and Jethro looked over his shoulder to see the other man peering inside him for some reason.
Jethro shook his head and observed, "You docs are a strange breed."
"Just making sure you're okay," Stephen replied. "Although, if you can make jokes, you're fine."
They put themselves to rights with the help of a damp cloth Stephen had also had the foresight to bring in the plastic bag with the lube. Jethro was physically sore by the time they started the walk back, but lighter inside where it mattered.
All he had to do was figure out how to apologize to Abby without any caffeinated beverages.
Thankfully, the group had dispersed by the time they returned. Stephen rubbed his back before splitting off to Tony's van. He spotted Abby and McGee a short distance from the camp, sitting on a blanket together and turned towards them. They both looked up at his approach but Abby held up a hand before he could say anything.
"You're lucky that I'm such a forgiving Goddess or I might make you grovel a bit for forgiveness," she informed him.
Jethro's lips quirked as he replied, "Thank you, Abby. And, I am sorry."
Saying so in front of McGee took a lot more from him than anticipated. Jethro never apologized unless he'd truly done something wrong. Hurting Abby's feelings just because he had cabin fever numbered among the few transgressions that qualified.
She smiled up at him and replied, "Apology accepted, oh mortal one."
A glance at McGee showed that others might not be so forgiving, but that was as it should be. Jethro nodded to the younger man before heading back to the others to make the rounds with Ziva at the top of the list.
* * * *
Kate woke with Ziva's foot in her face and grimaced, shoving the offending limb away. The other woman just grunted and rolled over without waking. Kate snorted, thinking, So much for that vaunted Israeli training.
Yawning and rubbing her eyes, Kate stood and stepped over Ziva, Ducky and Gerald in their sleeping bag, Jimmy, and finally Abby and McGee in their sleeping bag. The good thing about staying put was being able to stretch out for real sleep instead of being squashed in the vans. Now that they were less than a full day's travel, she couldn't wait to get there. Having been part of the Brigadier General's security detail and flying around the territory for three years, staying in one place for too long just felt wrong to her.
She found a secluded spot to take care of business all the while wishing for her wonderful bathroom with its heated towel racks and sinfully deep tub. Living like this was for the birds, but who knew if Vegas would be any better?
, now, that wasn't a bad idea at all. From all reports, there was plenty of civilization there and she could probably make a name for herself in private security without worrying about getting hauled back to DC. Los Angeles
But first she would make sure her people were safe and sound in Vegas.
When she got back to the camp, everyone was still sound asleep except for Gibbs who sat on the hood of the Rover. It looked like he was...whittling something? As she got closer, Kate saw that was, indeed, the case. She blessed Connor's foresight and greeted, "Morning, Gibbs."
Gibbs nodded, not taking his eyes from the plank of wood. "Kate."
"Should I start waking everyone?" she asked.
"Wait until dawn."
"I'll start coffee, then."
"Not yours, ours. No one can drink yours."
That got her a brief grin, though Gibbs didn't actually look at her.
More than okay with that, a decaffeinated Gibbs was almost as bad as a decaffeinated Abby, Kate moved to stir up the fire so they could have some hot coffee for a change, even if it was instant. By the time others stirred to join her, the fire was going strong and she had a pot of coffee ready to be consumed.
Ziva and Ducky were the first to join her, followed by Frank and Stephen, the two men talking quietly as they sat and poured cups for themselves. It sounded very medical and she shared a grin with Ziva when Ducky offered his opinion on something Kate doubted that she'd be able to pronounce.
The rest of the group woke shortly after dawn, piling around the campfire in twos and singles as everyone chatted and ate dried fruit and energy bars. Kate could only be glad that they had another two or three days at most of such a limited and bland menu.
Kate was glad to see Gibbs move to Tony's van. His outburst the day before had, and hadn't, been extremely out of character. With the way he repressed everything, it had only been a matter of time before he exploded, though his timing could have been better. It went against both her better judgment and religion to condone a, well, foursome as a valid life choice, but she couldn't argue with the results. Both Tony and Gibbs had become more stable upon entering into their relationship with Miles and Stephen, though in different ways. She respected all of them too much to make a deal about it and besides, who was she to judge when she couldn't even find one man to be her partner?
It amused her sense of irony to think that the
was creating more tolerant, open-minded citizens due to all the restrictions imposed upon the population at large. Alliance
They were on the road by and she took the Rover's wheel, glad to be out of the crowded van for a few hours. Miles sat in the passenger's seat while Stephen and Jimmy sat in the back. The arrangement surprised her, but only until Miles leaned the seat back and went to sleep. She hid a grin as she realized that she really had heard someone moaning late the night before.
It was a short fifteen minutes before they were back on the highway heading west. They were about twenty minutes outside the city when Kate spotted a roadblock of abandoned cars. The hairs on the back of her neck rose in warning and she called out, "Stephen? Take a look," even as she brought the Rover to a stop.
He leaned forward and looked through the seats, out the windshield. "Radio?"
Kate reached to the glove compartment and pulled out the handheld, offering it over her shoulder.
Stephen took it and signaled, "Frank or Jethro, come back."
Frank answered, "Here, Stephen. What's up?"
"Might be trouble. Get armed," Stephen told him.
"Got it," Frank agreed.
Gibbs came on with, "We have no weapons in this van."
Stephen cursed creatively for that oversight and then ordered, "Frank, take the rear. Jethro, batten down the hatches."
"Roger that," Gibbs replied.
Frank confirmed, "Roger."
Stephen shook Miles awake and then turned to find something in the back. He came back with binoculars, peering out the front again. "Sonuvabitch! It's a blockade, Kate. We'd have to ram them to get through it. I see semi-automatics and at least seven guys at various points."
Looking at the big trucks and vans in the way, Kate answered, "Yeah, I don't think so. What about going around?"
Stephen turned to look at the median and said, "That's about the only way. Take it fast and stay low. Jethro, Frank? We're going to pull an Abby. Go full throttle and don't stop until we leave them behind."
"Roger that," Gibbs replied. "Anything else?"
Stephen answered grimly, "Just pray. They've all got semi-automatic weapons."
The silence from the others was telling. Frank finally said, "Ready to go, Stephen."
"Same here, Connor. Lead the way," from Gibbs.
"Miles, get back here," Stephen ordered.
Not needing to be asked twice, Miles climbed in back only to be told to keep going. Jimmy was also herded to the back area, which was far more sheltered with all the supplies.
Of course, if any of the spare gas tanks get shot, we're all fucked, she thought darkly.
She heard him load one of the pistols climbing into the passenger's seat beside her and took a breath. She put the gear in second and revved the engine a bit, balancing expertly with the clutch. The Rover had a lot of power and, while it wasn't a racecar by any stretch, it could haul ass when needed, especially with the modifications Ducky had made over the last few months. Kate made a mental note never to tease Ducky about his hobbies ever again.
Kate hit the gas and the Rover lurched forward, hitting twenty in about two seconds and they took the median at thirty-five as she smoothly shifted into third while pulling on more speed. She heard gunfire and the back, passenger's side window shattered. She ignored all of it to concentrate on the bumpy terrain and the slam into and over the curb that jumped them onto the wrong side of the highway.
Fire slammed into her shoulder and she snarled wordlessly in pain, jerking into the steering wheel to momentarily loose control of the Rover. She forced herself upright and spun into the skid, bringing them around in a complete circle before straightening out again to fly down the highway.
Strong hands put pressure on the burning sensation and she cursed, "Fucker! Get off me!"
Miles snapped, "I have to stop the bleeding! Just drive, Kate!"
Ignoring him, she shifted into fifth gear and focused only on the obstacle course that the highway remained with its abandoned cars and trucks. It was a good twenty minutes later that Stephen's hands gripped hers on the wheel and he ordered, "Slow down, Kate! We're good now. It's okay to stop now."
Kate shook herself out of the zone and downshifted smoothly from fifth to fourth and so on until they stopped completely and she turned off the engine. Looking at Stephen, she announced, "Next time, you drive."
And then the world went black.
* * * *
Stephen rushed around the Rover to the driver's side where Miles and Jimmy were already pulling Kate from the front seat. He took Jimmy's spot, putting an arm under Kate's left side as he ordered, "Get a medkit in the back!"
Jimmy nodded silently and hurried back into the Rover.
Stephen and Miles lowered Kate to the pavement and he pulled aside the bandage that Miles had held in place while Kate had been driving and opened the shirt to expose the bullet wound. Fortunately, it was a through-and-though so they didn't have to go looking for the bullet. It was probably lodged in the door, since the angle appeared to be down in a diagonal line.
"Good thing her arms were raised to the steering wheel," Miles observed. "Might've gone through her forearm, too."
Nodding agreement, Stephen accepted the bottle of disinfectant from Jimmy and poured it over the wound. Miles lifted her so Stephen could do the same with the exit wound. Stephen took Kate's weight so Miles could take the needle that Jimmy had already threaded and stitch up the hole of jagged flesh. The bullet seemed to have been a fairly small caliber, all things considered, so maybe the rifles had been for show, without any ammo.
Once Miles knotted and then cut off the excess thread. By then, Jimmy had threaded another needle and Stephen switched off again. Miles and Jimmy supported Kate while Stephen closed the front of the shoulder wound. That done, he took the bandage roll from a worried-looking McGee who had suddenly appeared. He wrapped the wound up tight and pinned it in place, saving the tape for smaller injuries. The safety pins would be more than adequate.
Miles and Jimmy carefully lay Kate back on the pavement whereupon McGee covered her with a blanket.
Standing, Stephen ordered, "Give her antibiotics the moment she wakes up. I want to check everyone else."
Miles, Jimmy, and McGee all nodded, looking a bit like a bobblehead doll Stephen had had as a kid. The thought didn't quite make him smile as he went to see how the rest of their group had fared. Ducky was busy re-bandaging Tony, who seemed to have opened his wound somehow. Jethro sat by Tony's head, holding one of their stricken lover's hands and murmuring something into his ear. Abby hung over the back of the seat, looking as sober as Stephen had ever seen her.
Even though he knew Ducky to be more than capable, Stephen couldn't stop himself from climbing inside the van to take a look. Ducky lifted the bandage so he could see what had happened; the staples had held, but the skin had pulled, which is what had caused the bleeding. Since it was relatively minor, though painful for Tony, Stephen nodded at the older man and left the van.
Moving on to the next van caused his teeth and jaw protest upon seeing Frank holding Maia, the little girl crying silent tears while Natalie stitched up a substantial gash on her collarbone. If it had been a couple of inches higher, her throat would have been cut.
Frank noticed him and said shortly, "The window shattered from a bullet."
Glancing around the semi-circle, he saw other cuts on the adults but Teesha and Rachelle were unscathed. Kim stood right next to Frank at the opening to the van, each girl leaning on her.
"Kate was shot, but she'll be okay," Stephen reported. "And Tony reopened his wound slightly, but Ducky's taking care of it."
"We were lucky," Natalie commented.
Stephen had to concur, even though it didn't seem like it. Those bandits could have done serious damage, but hadn't wasted what ammo they had, thank God. "I want to put a lot more space between us and them as soon as possible. I'm going to move Kate to this van. Eva? You can ride with us."
The petite woman nodded, unusually silent. There was no time to make sure that she was all right, so Stephen made a mental note to check on her later. Walking back to the Rover, he found Kate already conscious and sitting in the backseat. Miles or Jimmy had created a makeshift sling for her. Haggard lines of pain etched into her otherwise pretty face and he ordered, "Take the damn pain pills!"
Shaking her head, Kate replied evenly, "I'll be fine and we might need them for something worse down the line."
When Stephen looked at Miles, the younger man said hastily, "She took the antibiotics, Stephen. If she doesn't want the pain meds, I'm not going to force her."
Stephen's jaw cracked when he opened his mouth to snap, "Fine, but we're not stopping for another couple of hours and we're leaving in five minutes. Get to the back van."
Frank would guilt her into lying down; he was good at the Jewish Mother thing. All Stephen managed to do was sound like a drill sergeant.
McGee practically jumped forward to help Kate down from the Rover, but Stephen waved him off and told Jimmy, "You help her back there. McGee, you're with us. Make sure all the vans have weapons and then get your ass back here."
"Yes, Boss!" McGee exclaimed, rushing off.
Stephen snorted and gave Miles a sidelong glance. "Think I should tell Jethro about that?"
"He might get jealous," Miles replied, grinning briefly.
Walking over to Miles, Stephen pointed out, "It'd be fun to hold over McGee, though."
Miles shook his head, seemingly amused as he wrapped his arms around Stephen and pressed close, asking, "Tony?"
"He's fine," Stephen promised. "Just tore his staples a little. Ducky patched him up and Jethro is right there."
Pulling back, Miles suggested suddenly, "Why don't we just pick some random place in the middle of nowhere and set up there? Some tiny little town far from civilization."
Stephen could see the desperation in his lover's dark eyes and cupped his face gently. "We'll be fine, Miles. We'll get to Vegas and everything will be fine. We'll find somewhere to live that no one will care what we do with whom."
"And live happily ever after?" Miles sighed.
Stephen kissed him briefly and confirmed, "Definitely. But right now we need to get moving."
Miles stepped back just as McGee returned with Eva and reported, "Every van is armed, Stephen. Gibbs personally took two pistols and we gave another to Gerald."
Eyebrows lifting in surprise, Stephen repeated, "Gerald?"
"Expert marksman," McGee relayed, looking bemused. "Who knew?"
Miles half-grinned. "It's always the quiet ones."
Stephen winked at him, saying, "You would know, my boy."
Clearing his throat, a delightful blush coloring his face, Miles muttered something under his breath and turned to climb into the Rover.
Eva moved to follow, but Stephen caught her arm and asked softly, "You okay?"
Lifting a tired hazel gaze to him, Eva answered, "Honestly? No. But I'll be better when we get some distance from those maniacs."
"I'm sorry to pull you from Natalie's side, but..."
"No, it's fine. I'm fine, Stephen, really."
He stared after her helplessly, unable to call her on it without causing a scene that neither of them truly wanted. He would have to trust that she knew her own limits. Stephen took the driver's seat, ignoring the blood on the door and seat as he put on his seatbelt.
It was going to be a long damn trip to Vegas.
* * * *
The drive after the unprovoked attack was silent. No one knew why they'd been targeted, but that didn't truly matter; it had happened and all they could do was move on. Ducky was worried more about everyone's mental state, including his own, than the physical. Jethro and Tony took up the front seat of the van while Natalie drove and Gerald sat on the passenger's side. Ducky wanted his lover at his side but understood how it was best to keep someone ready and able to shoot in an offensive position. Jethro was certainly in no condition to do so, despite his two new guns.
Ducky had far too much to think about the entire situation as the countryside rolled by. Tony had re-injured himself with all the jostling around they'd gone through during the high-speed getaway, which worried him greatly; the chance for infection grew with every setback. Even with Jethro sitting on the floor right beside him, there was only pain in the young man's tightly drawn features.
And then there was poor Caitlyn, sitting beside him and doing her best not to look as if each bump and pothole didn't run though her with excruciating pain. She was a remarkable woman that he would have felt quite fortunate to have as his own, had Gerald not claimed his heart before she'd even entered the picture. Their occasional flirtation did his old ego good, though, and he enjoyed their friendship immensely. He hated the helplessness that came with being unable to care properly for his unusual family.
His memories of before the Plague only made matters worse. He'd lived most of his life with the freedom to do as he'd pleased, so the stringent confines of the Alliance had chafed him raw, though he'd taken great pains not to show it. The young people in their group didn't know better, but Jethro, Frank, and Stephen all did, though perhaps not as intimately as Ducky as all three had been in the military.
Sighing, Ducky looked out the window at the wild fields of tall grass beside the highway and thought longingly of the gentle rain of a Scottish summer night. He would never see his homeland again and that filled him with a sadness that took away his breath.
"Ducky? Are you all right?" Kate asked quietly.
He offered a brief smile as he glanced her way and replied, "Fine, my dear, thank you. What about yourself?"
Kate grimaced as she said, "In pain, but it's tolerable."
Eyebrow rising, he questioned, "Would you tell me if it weren't?"
She quirked a smile his way and acquiesced, "Probably not, but it's true in this case. I've actually been shot before, you know."
Intrigued, he prompted, "Oh?"
Kate nodded and told him, "On protection detail for the Brigadier. Some lunatic decided he wanted to put an end to fascism with a Colt .45 and I got to take that bullet. Of course, my recovery was in a nice, soft hospital bed instead of a van, but that's okay. I'll live."
"You took a bullet for the Brigadier?" Ducky repeated, startled.
With a somewhat rueful expression, she said, "What can I say? I was young and stupid. Just think, if I hadn't, we could all have had a martial law-free life."
Ducky pointed out, "Or someone worse could have taken his place."
She made another face. "Don't see how."
Ducky patted her knee and looked forward to find his lover giving him an odd look. He frowned at Gerald, but the black man merely shrugged and turned to look out the windshield again. Sighing once more, Ducky could only hope that they would find a better life in
than they'd had in DC. Las Vegas
It certainly couldn't be any worse.
* * * *
When they next stopped, Ducky walked over to where Gerald stood at the side of the road, apparently staring at nothing. "Gerald? Is something wrong?"
Dark eyes met his as Gerald answered, "You like her."
"Who, Kate?" Ducky asked, surprised. "Of course I do."
Shaking his head, Gerald clarified, "As more than just a friend. I can see it, Doc, in how you look at her sometimes."
Astounded that his lover would even entertain questions of how Ducky felt about him, he took the strong hands in his and stated, "I like Caitlyn, yes, but I love you. Gerald my boy, you're everything to me and don't ever forget that. It took a madman with a gun to make me admit that, but I have never once thought of anyone else since even before we became lovers."
For a long moment, it seemed as though Gerald wouldn't believe him. There was real doubt in the other man's eyes and expression, as well as a heartbreaking need to believe. Ducky knew that he took his lover's steadfast nature for granted, he was always so calm and self-possessed. He was forcibly reminded then and there that Gerald was young yet and their relationship the first real one he'd had. It had been part of the reason Ducky had been so hesitant to express himself at the start, when Gerald had admitted his orientation. In the DC climate, there was no such thing as a one-night stand for gays and lesbians. If you didn't trust the person to whom you were attracted, acting on that attraction could land you in prison or worse.
Ducky released one of Gerald's hands to cup his face and state, "I love you."
Abject relief flashed across Gerald's face at that and then his lips quirked in a rueful grin as he said, "Sorry, Ducky. I know that, I do, it's just...hard, knowing you could have anyone you wanted. Hard to believe it's me you want."
It still startled him when Gerald said things like that. Grinning at him, Ducky pointed out, "I haven't had that sort of effect on anyone in quite a number of years, Gerald, but thank you."
Sliding his hand around to the back of Gerald's neck, Ducky pulled him in for a soft, sweet kiss, pleased when Gerald responded. When the kiss broke off naturally, Gerald smiled that shy smile of his and said, "We should probably take care of some business while we have the chance."
Ducky chuckled and commented, "I hope you're talking about relieving ourselves, as I generally take longer than five minutes to do much of anything these days."
Gerald gave him a wicked grin before saying, "Not with what I have in mind."
Feeling a distinct stir of interest from below, Ducky allowed his younger lover to lead him off the side of the road towards a copse of trees.
* * * *
Jethro chuckled to himself as he saw Gerald lead Ducky off into the trees. It was good to see that happy expression on his friend's face. Ducky too often took the weight of responsibility so much to heart that he neglected his own needs. At first glance, the two men seemed like an odd pair, but he'd been more than pleased when Ducky had told him about them. Gerald was good for Ducky, giving the older man someone to dote on and fuss over. And Gerald, naturally, was the perfect soul of patience for Ducky's rambling, incessant storytelling even if earplugs helped on occasion.
"Where are they going?" Natalie asked curiously, coming to stand beside him.
Snorting, Jethro told her, "Somewhere private."
She frowned at him a moment before the penny dropped and then she grinned. "I see. Do we need to worry about Ducky's heart?"
"He's going to outlive us all," Jethro said dryly. "Something I can do for you?"
Sobering, Natalie told him, "Tony's developed an infection."
Jethro went completely still, shock rendering him motionless. He finally managed to snap, "In the five minutes I've been gone from his side?"
Shaking her head, Natalie explained, "It's been simmering for a while, you just didn't see the signs. I increased his antibiotics just now, which means you need to be prepared for him getting nauseas when we hit the road again. He needs to drink as much as possible to counteract the dehydrating effects, which means increased urination and that means moving around before he doesn't have a catheter in place."
Jethro could guess where this was going. "You want to put one in him."
"I do," she confirmed. "It will put much less stress on his injury if he's not using a bedpan as he's been doing. I also want to make a kind of bed for him in the back of the van. He's probably hanging onto the seat when it gets bumpy, which uses muscles he shouldn't be using."
That much was true. Jethro had seen the grip Tony kept on the edge of the bench seat. Rubbing a hand over his head, Jethro spotted Stephen walking from the Rover to the middle van where Tony lay and called out, "Connor!"
Stephen immediately turned towards him, a frown growing as he took in their serious expressions. "What's wrong?"
"We need to catheterize Tony," Natalie informed him.
Jethro added, "And take out some of the supplies and the back bench to make a bed on the floor for him."
Stephen sighed. "He's got an infection?"
Jethro did his best to keep his face neutral when Stephen looked at him. This was a medical decision, something he had to rely on them to do.
Finally, Stephen gave a reluctant nod and agreed, "Let's start rearranging things."
The next fifteen minutes were spent tying the back bench to the top of the van with Frank and McGee's help. While they secured it, Natalie oversaw the redistribution of supplies between the Rover and second van. When Jethro entered the van, Tony was out cold from the antibiotics and painkillers.
Just as well, he thought. Tony would make a serious fuss about the damn catheter. And who the hell thinks to pack those things, anyhow?
Really damn good doctors, his inner critic threw back.
Which meant, of course, that Stephen had been anticipating a break for a long time. Whatever Stephen might think about his ability to plan, Jethro knew his lover for the thorough man he truly was, even for non-medical things.
He and Stephen carefully moved Tony from the seat to the newly made bed in back, comprised of three sets of sleeping bags and all their pillows. It was soft and comfortable and not going anywhere, so Tony wouldn't feel the need to keep himself in place. There was also enough room for someone else to sit with him. Holding Tony's hand as Stephen efficiently implanted the catheter, Jethro wished there was some way to preserve their lover's dignity while still allowing his body to remain at rest.
Since there wasn't, he simply stayed where he was, knowing that he needed to be there when Tony woke. Someone had to take the younger man's ire and it sure as hell wasn't going to be anyone but him.
Stephen massaged Jethro's shoulder as he said softly, "He'll heal faster like this, Jay."
"I know," Jethro agreed. "Won't make it any easier when he realizes what we've done without his permission."
"I could stay and..."
"No. No, we need to get going. I'll take care of this."
Stephen's pale gaze regarded him intently for a long moment before he simply nodded and kissed the top of Jethro's head on his way out.
Only twenty minutes after they'd started up again, the bag filled of its own volition, validating the need for it, since Tony didn't even wake up. Worried that maybe there was more internal damage that Natalie hadn't told them about, Jethro kept watch as an invisible battle began inside Tony, the beads of sweat indicating his rise in temperature.
Gripping Tony's hand, Jethro brought it up to kiss the palm and murmur, "Come on, Tony. Fight this thing for me. You can do it."
* * * *
Tony woke slowly, lethargy and heat suffocating him and an uncomfortable sensation in his dick that didn't bode well. For a moment, he didn't know where he was or why he'd even woken. He didn't feel the van seat beneath him, which made no sense at all. The last thing he remembered was Natalie giving him horse pill sized antibiotics and painkillers and making him drink two bottles of water before letting him rest.
Someone shook his shoulder gentle and Gibbs said, "Tony, wake up. You need to drink something."
That explained why he'd woken in the first place, but not where he was. Forcing his eyes open, he found Gibbs sitting next to him and managed a brief smile as he croaked, "You look like crap, Boss."
Gibbs retorted, "Good to see you too, DiNozzo."
The acidic tone was at complete odds with how he carefully lifted Tony's head so he could drink down a bottle of juice. The tartness nearly overwhelmed his taste buds and he grimaced around the bottle, but finished it. When Gibbs took it away, he asked, "How long was I out?"
"Drink this first," Gibbs ordered, picking up a water bottle. When Tony had finished that, Gibbs reported, "Six hours."
It clicked, suddenly, what the problem with his dick was and he glared at Gibbs, accusing, "You didn't even ask!"
Giving him that calm, imperturbable look, Gibbs answered, "You needed the sleep, Tony. Your body needs to rest and that's what's going to happen from here on out."
"I get a say in it, Gibbs, it's my body!" Tony snapped, starting to sit up only to be silenced by excruciating pain in his gut. Sinking back down, he panted and then groaned, "Fuck!"
"And that's why we did it."
There was no hint of satisfaction or triumph in the other man's voice, which did nothing to mollify Tony. He glared at Gibbs and said, "You still should've asked."
"You were out cold."
"You should have waited!"
"Until when? After you pissed in your pants and wet the bed?"
The blunt statement made Tony flinch and look away.
Gibbs sighed and rested a hand on Tony's chest as he promised, "If we could have avoided this, we would have, Tony. But just being in a moving vehicle is more stress than your body should go through. Not to mention any other high-speed getaways we might need to make. Plus the lack of being somewhere sterile. This is just one thing your body doesn't need to worry about, okay?"
And even though all of that was logical, it didn't stop the sense that he'd been manipulated yet again. So much in his life had been out of his control.
"I am sorry, Tony, but there was no choice."
Finally looking back at Gibbs, Tony was startled at how tired the other man looked. Not just physically, but bone-deep weary, showing in his normally piercing blue eyes. Tony couldn't stay mad at him and gave his own sigh. "I know. Hey, why don't you join me down here for a few z's?"
Gibbs look surprised, which meant he was really tired to let so much emotion show. "I don't think that's a good idea."
Tony gave his best 'puppy-dog' look and needled shamelessly, "It'll make me feel better, if you do."
Snorting, Gibbs muttered something under his breath that sounded like, "Every damn time," but moved to lie down with him. Not strictly on the makeshift bed with him, Gibbs more rested along the edge, his head pillowed on Tony's shoulder and an arm across Tony's chest.
And even though he was still hot and achy and his stomach throbbed in time to his pulse, it no longer felt like he would fall off anything. That, combined with the comfort of his lover's body against his own, did more than any pain pill could and Tony drifted back into sleep.
* * * *
Miles didn't mind the crowded back seat so much once they switched off drivers and Stephen joined him. McGee took over the driving while Eva sat in the passenger's seat and Jimmy snored softly against the other door. The back area was packed to the brim to make room for Tony in the van and sometimes it felt like something would come down on their heads if McGee stopped too short.
Stephen took his hand, lacing their fingers together as he asked, "How are you doing?"
Miles gave him a faint smile and answered, "Better now."
Smiling, Stephen put his other arm around Miles' shoulder, tucking him in close. When Miles rested his head on Stephen's shoulder, the other man said, "We should reach
sometime after dark, but I don't want to go in at night. I want to be able to see what we're getting into. We can stretch out overnight outside if it's warm enough." Denver
"Even if it's not?" Miles asked hopefully.
Stephen chuckled, but shook his head. "Sorry kiddo. Most of the sleeping bags are with Tony right now, so we wouldn't have enough to keep us warm."
Miles grinned and he suggested, "Not even if we got inventive?"
"Not even," Stephen confirmed, looking amused.
They lapsed into silence, but it was a comfortable one. For the first several months he'd been on the team, Miles had been terrified of making a mistake, petrified that he wouldn't be worthy of the infamous Dr. Connor's brilliance. It had taken too many grueling cases to realize that if Stephen hadn't respected his abilities in the first place, he wouldn't even have made the team, no matter what Natalie had said.
Now, he knew the other man better, but far from completely. There were parts of Stephen that remained hidden away, buried beneath trauma from service to a now defunct country and emotional scars from a dead sister and youthful arrogance. Despite that gap of knowledge, they had a solid basis of friendship and respect on top of the physical attraction. Miles didn't know if that was enough for the long-term, on Stephen's part anyhow, but he had every intention of doing whatever it took to keep his lover and make him as happy as possible whatever their circumstances.
"Deep thoughts?" Stephen prompted some time later.
Shrugging, Miles replied, "Just wondering about the future."
"Anything in particular?"
Miles shook his head, denying, "Not really."
"Hey. Talk to me," Stephen ordered softly. "What's going on?"
Not really wanting to get into a big relationship discussion with everyone else present, Miles demurred, "Later. When we're in private."
Stephen murmured, "Oh. That kind of future. Listen, Miles, nothing is going to change except we won't have to hide anymore."
Sometimes Stephen's insight could be really annoying.
Grimacing, Miles insisted quietly, "Later, Stephen. Please."
Stephen unexpectedly reached forward and pulled Miles onto his lap. Squawking in surprise, Miles gripped the seat for balance, even though he was firmly planted on Stephen's thighs, and exclaimed, "Stephen!"
Wrapping his arms around Miles' waist, Stephen informed him, "You, Tony, Jethro and I are going to find somewhere to live together. We're going to probably snipe and argue a good deal of the time, as we already do, but we're also going to love one another no matter what happens. I know you don't have a lot of experience with positive relationship role models, but trust me when I say that we're going to make it."
Miles groaned in embarrassment, knowing everyone heard that since Stephen hadn't even tried to keep his voice down. Burying his face against Stephen's throat, he muttered, "You suck, Stephen."
Chuckling, Stephen asked, "Hey, McGee. Do you care if I talk about this?"
"Talk about what? Tryin' to drive here, Connor," McGee answered.
Stephen prompted, "Eva? What about you?"
Looking back at them, Eva gave Stephen an annoyed look as she replied, "Why stop now?" and turned front again.
"And Jimmy's asleep," Stephen finished. "No one cares, Miles, except you and me. So tell me. What were you thinking about?"
"I hate it when you do this," Miles said, sitting upright again.
Stephen flashed that slightly crooked, way too charming grin of his. "I know. Now speak before I toss you upside-down and spank it out of you."
Flushing, Miles complained, "You're a bully."
"I know. Tell me."
Seeing the other man's implacable expression, Miles sighed and admitted, barely audible for Stephen's ear's only, "I just don't see how I'm enough for you. For the rest of our lives, I mean. There'll be plenty of people and freedom in Vegas, unlike in DC, so why should you stick with any of us, let alone me?"
Which actually hadn't been what he was thinking, not consciously at least, and Miles knew he looked as surprised as Stephen by the admission.
Stephen didn't respond at first, clearly choosing his words with care. He finally said, "Ducky told me that Gerald had a similar insecurity earlier today. I think it's sinking in to a lot of us that once we get there, the only thing that will keep us together is if we want to. That yes, there will be a lot of freedom to do whatever we want. He's concerned about everyone's state of mind and really, so am I, but the only ones I can truly affect are you, Tony, and Jethro because you're the ones I love. You're the ones I don't want to be without, ever. I know you've had it rough, Miles. I know it's hard for you to trust. All I can say is where we are doesn't change how I feel about any of you."
Moved by the firm words, Miles leaned against Stephen again, sliding an arm around his waist and pressing his lips to the other man's throat before whispering, "Thanks, Stephen. I really needed to hear that."
Stephen kissed the top of his head and said, "Not as much as I needed to say it."
***The mountains were beautiful, but
was not; not anymore, at least. The buildings were mostly intact, but windows were smashed, appearing as gaping wounds in the high-rises. The roads were deserted with no sign of life like there'd been in Des Moines. Either the population had been completely decimated, or it had succumbed to the resulting violence directly after the Plague made its rounds. Denver
Miles shivered as he looked out the window at what had become a ghost town. They were doing okay for supplies, but Stephen had wanted to pass through the city itself to see if there was some kind of bartering system or market in place to continue stocking up. Miles wished that they'd bypassed it altogether, just like all the empty suburbs they'd seen from the freeway.
Glancing back at Stephen in the driver's seat, Miles said, "I really don't like this."
Stephen nodded and agreed, "We'll get back on the highway as soon as we can."
The first bullet shattered Miles' window. Glass slices across the back of his neck and he cried out in pain at the fire now lodged into his left thigh.
"Get down!" Stephen shouted.
The Rover jumped forward in a burst of speed as Miles slid to the floor while stripping off his shirt. He tied it tight around his thigh to stop the bleeding and nearly passed out from the pain. Gunfire echoed strangely in his ears, coming fast and continuous. He heard McGee shout from the back seat and the resulting gun shots directly behind him sounded like explosions, they were so loud.
And then the world spun as the Rover slammed into something and rolled twice before coming to a standstill. Miles' vision grayed out, but he didn't lose consciousness even when he fell from beneath the dash to the roof, which was now on the ground. Pain radiated throughout his body, but all he could think about was Stephen, who hung unconscious from his seatbelt.
Forcing himself to move, Miles crawled to his lover, pulling out the pocketknife that Jethro had made him carry since they'd become involved. Not bothering with the buckle, he simply cut through the belt. He cushioned Stephen's fall with his own body and then laid him out straight, feeling swiftly for possible injuries and, thankfully, finding none other than the head wound.
Looking into the back, he found Tim coming around, gun still gripped firmly in hand, but Eva and Jimmy were out cold. There was shouting outside and more gunfire, which made him flinch. Keeping the panic at bay by concentrating on the immediate, Miles climbed into the back to assess Eva. He cut her down as well and then found that she'd either badly sprained or broken her wrist while trying to cushion herself from the rolling vehicle.
Jimmy had also not had his seatbelt on, although why Miles didn't know. He lay sprawled on the roof, groaning as he came to. "Miles?"
"Stay put, Jimmy," Miles ordered quietly. "I don't know what might be going on out there."
"You're hurt, let me help you," Jimmy countered, pushing upright.
Miles sat heavily at the offer and nodded, watching as Jimmy checked Tim over. The concussion was easy to spot in the dazed expression. The ex-agent struggled upright, not hampered by a seatbelt, which he must have taken off to get better aim. Jimmy helped him sit and held up a finger, asking, "How many fingers?"
Tim blinked a couple of times, clearly trying to focus, and then answered, "One. Stephen and Eva?"
"Out cold," Miles reported.
Tim checked his weapon and announced, "I'm out. Stay here."
Not that Miles was going anywhere with his leg still bleeding sluggishly, but he nodded anyhow, as did Jimmy. Tim crawled into the back and started searching for ammunition. Miles' heart jumped when he spotted unfamiliar boots coming towards them. "Tim! Someone's coming!"
"You in there! Come out now!"
Miles swallowed against a dry throat and called back, "We have people injured in here. I was shot, I can't come out."
"Come out, or I'll assume you have weapons and shoot you from here."
Looking over at Tim, Miles whispered, "Protect the others. Maybe I can see what's going on."
"Miles, don't!" Tim exclaimed in a harsh whisper.
Jimmy nodded in frantic agreement, his broken glasses adding to his air of desperation.
But Miles ignored them and pulled himself through the window, dragging his leg. He almost passed out again as the movement sent fire dancing through his leg and ribs. Panting shallowly, Miles stopped and sat up, leaning on the wreckage of the Rover. He looked up to find two soldiers striding towards him in Military Alliance uniform. His heart sank so fast and so hard that he thought he might vomit.
They'd almost made it...they'd been so damn close to escaping...
Looking around, though, he saw that the vans weren't there. The others had gotten free, which sent a rush of hope through him. Offering a wry grin, Miles greeted, "So. You come here often?"
"Are you badly hurt, Dr. McCabe?" the first soldier questioned.
Miles recognized his insignia and answered, "Still bleeding from my thigh wound, Lieutenant, but I'll live. Well, assuming you aren't here to execute me."
The Lieutenant, a big, broad man with dark hair and eyes shook his head. "I'm not. My mission is to retrieve you and Dr. Connor, along with an Abby Sciuto and former agent McGee."
And kill everyone else, Miles realized, feeling nauseas again. Out loud, he said, "Dr. Connor was driving. He suffered a blow to the head and is unconscious. I'm not sure, but he might have internal injuries. Are there more of you? Is there a doctor, maybe?"
"Who else is in there?" the second demanded, ignoring Miles' questions. His voice was the one who'd threatened to shoot them.
"No one," Miles answered. "We were the supply vehicle. It was just Stephen and I."
The two soldiers exchanged a look and Miles knew that they somehow knew he was lying. Their rifles came up as they moved closer and all he could do was close his eyes and pray. Two gunshots echoed viciously and Miles flinched, hugging himself and unable to look.
He flinched again when hands gripped his shoulders, but then Tim said, "Miles, Miles, it's okay, we're okay now."
Shocked, Miles' eyes opened and he looked over to find both soldiers dead, single bullet holes in their heads, blood rapidly staining the pavement.
"Come on, we can't stay in the open like this," Tim urged. "We have to get them out of the Rover to shelter."
Jimmy squirmed out of the Rover and joined them. He saw the dead soldiers and promptly turned aside to throw up.
Though he sympathized, Miles held onto his tenuous control and asked Tim, "What if there are more?"
Tim shook his head and pointed out, "I'd be dead if there were. There was a truck that went after the vans, but there's no one else here. Can you walk?"
Miles thought about it and then nodded. "But I can't carry anyone."
"Miles? Where are you? Miles!" Stephen called from inside.
Relief hit Miles hard and he couldn't stop his voice from shaking as he answered, "Out here with Tim and Jimmy!"
Stephen pulled himself out of the front window and immediately crawled to Miles, pulling him in for a hard, tight embrace. Miles shook violently in his embrace, letting the panic wash over him, mixing with the joy that Stephen was all right. He'd never been so grateful to hold the other man in his life.
A good half-minute later, Stephen sat back and said, "Let me look at you. What are your injuries, can you tell?"
"I think I broke some ribs and you can see the gunshot. The bleeding's mostly stopped, though," Miles reported.
Tim interrupted with, "We have to get out of the open, Stephen. You can examine him later."
Nodding, Stephen squeezed Miles' shoulder and then asked, "Where's Eva?"
"Unconscious still, I think," Miles answered. "She's inside."
"Okay. McGee, I'll get her out while you and Jimmy help Miles to his feet," Stephen ordered.
Bracing himself when the other guys crouched down and put an arm around his waist from each side didn't really help. Pure agony lanced through him as they hauled him upright. When he could see through the haze, he gasped, "I might have been a little optimistic earlier when I said I could walk."
Tim chuckled and said, "I figured."
Stephen came out with Eva then, the petite woman now awake and aware, thankfully, if shaky on her feet and cradling her right arm. He helped her stand and then scanned the area before pointing to the nearest building. "We'll get Eva and Miles settled in there and then come back for more weapons."
Tim nodded and they started walking. Miles leaned heavily on both men, barely able to make himself drag his leg the short distance necessary. Stephen pushed in the partially broken wooden door and kept an eye out as they went inside. It must have been an office building, because there was a lobby complete with plastic, semi-fashionable chairs. Or, what had probably been fashionable thirty years ago.
Miles groaned when they sat him in the nearest one, panting and shaking in reaction and, he vaguely suspected, shock.
"Jimmy, come with me. McGee, keep watch."
"On it, Boss."
If Jimmy answered, Miles didn't hear him. The roaring in his ears drowned out just about everything.
"Miles? Come on honey, stay with me," Eva urged, taking his hand.
Snapping back to awareness, Miles focused on her bruised and worried face, managing a brief smile as he said, "Natalie's never going to let Stephen hear the end of crashing the Rover."
Eva smiled in return and agreed, "Definitely not. And now we know who the better driver is."
"How's your wrist?" Miles asked.
She admitted, "It hurts, but we're just going to concentrate on you for a while, okay? Forget about us."
Stephen echoed, "We're going to get you all stitched up and then you can go back to worrying about the rest of us."
Miles shook his head and told him, "It didn't go through. You're going to have to dig for it."
Cursing under his breath, Stephen said, "Then we're going to knock you out."
"You can't. What if we have to move again?" Miles countered.
Stephen looked torn for a few seconds before that all-too-familiar poker mask fell into place. "You're right. McGee, find him something to bite down on. We don't want to give away our position if anyone's listening. Jimmy, get him on the floor. I'm not operating on a plastic chair."
Miles sighed and muttered, "I knew they should've just put me there in the first place."
He held onto Jimmy's shoulders as the other man swung him carefully from the chair to the floor. Gritting his teeth against the surge of pain throbbing in his leg, Miles didn't protest when Jimmy lowered him the rest of the way to the floor. He stared up at the cracked ceiling and caught his breath until Tim arrived with a damp piece of wood. Not that he would've noticed dirt in his condition, but it was a thoughtful gesture.
Eva sat beside him again and offered her hand, but Miles shook his head. "You're going to need it. I don't want to hurt you accidentally."
"Miles, shut up and take my hand," Eva ordered acerbically.
A grin surfaced briefly and he took her hand.
Stephen leaned over him and asked, "Ready?"
Miles shook his head. "No."
"Good," Stephen replied, winking.
Shaking his head, Miles used his free hand to put the wood between his teeth and then met the other man's eyes, nodding once.
He felt his shirt pulled free and then scissors cut through his pant leg and thought, Okay. So far, so good. Not too bad.
That lasted only as long as it took Stephen to use a scalpel to start digging for the bullet. He screamed around the wood in his mouth and then blessedly passed out.
* * * *
Stephen ruthlessly ignored Miles' scream of pain and then mentally breathed a sigh of relief that his lover had passed out. He moved swiftly, cutting through muscle and tissue to get to the bullet lodged deep, right next to the bone. That it hadn't struck and shattered the femur was a miracle. He pulled out the bullet and threw it aside, ordering, "Swab it."
Jimmy reached in with clamps holding a sponge while Stephen traded the scalpel for pre-threaded needles, glad that Jimmy had thought to do so. He really was becoming quite adept at emergency surgery, which was turning out to be a serious asset. After repairing the muscle and tissue as best he could, Stephen closed the wound. He doused it liberally with antiseptic and peeled off the bloody gloves as Jimmy wrapped a bandage tightly in place.
Stephen wiped his forehead and realized that he was shaking now that the surgery was over. Taking a deep breath and slowly releasing it, he looked at Miles' face, which was slack and showed no signs that he was coming around. Relieved, hoping he stayed unconscious for at least a half hour or more, Stephen started cleaning the multitude of cuts on Miles' face only to discover there was still glass in some of them.
He picked up tweezers and a magnifying glass from the medkit and started to carefully find and remove all the glass. It seemed to take forever, but finally he was done and could start stitching up the worst of the gashes. There were only two big ones, thankfully, and one was partially hidden by Miles' hair. He wouldn't be scarred nearly as badly as Tony, likely having only faint lines in the end.
The other cuts got butterfly band-aids and then he turned to Eva and said, "Your turn."
"Oh, I'm good," Eva protested. "I can wait."
Squeezing her shoulder, Stephen said, "You really can't. You don't want it to heal wrong and need to be re-broken down the line."
She paled further at that and replied faintly, "No, I guess not."
"I grabbed a splint while we were out there," Jimmy announced.
Stephen held out a hand and, looking determined yet still scared, Eva gave him her injured arm. He carefully felt the bones and their placement, ignoring her gasps of pain as he ascertained that it wasn't actually broken, just badly sprained. The swelling would go down with ice, so he ordered Jimmy, "Get one of the gelpacks from the..."
"They're back!" McGee exclaimed suddenly. "Both the vans are back!"
Stephen immediately ordered, "Stay put, McGee! It could be a trap!"
From the young man's embarrassed expression, he hadn't thought of that and did as he was told. Moving from Eva's side to McGee's, Stephen peered out the front door, which was only open a crack, and waited until the vans parked and he saw Jethro get out of one of them, armed with a rifle. Relieved, he clapped McGee on the back and called out, "We're in here, Gibbs!"
Jethro unerringly locked onto his voice even before Stephen and McGee pushed the heavy door open to step outside. Jethro jogged over to them and gripped Stephen's shoulder, steel gray eyes searching his face as he demanded, "Miles, Eva, and Jimmy?"
"All fine. Well, Miles was shot in the leg and Eva has a badly sprained wrist, but otherwise fine," Stephen amended. "Tony?"
Snorting in amusement, Jethro answered, "Slept through the whole damn thing, thank God. He'd just had a couple of pain pills and a sedative when we left camp this morning."
"Timmy!" Abby shouted.
Stephen looked over to see McGee catch the tall woman in his arms and hold tight. He smiled at their reunion and then asked Jethro, "Casualties?"
"Sounds like you got the worst of it. Everyone else is okay," Jethro answered.
Stephen wanted to check on Tony and it looked like Jethro wanted to check on Miles from the way his eyes kept straying to the building. He laughed briefly and said, "You go see Miles, I'll go see Tony, and we'll meet back here after."
Jethro quirked a grin at him before nodding and heading inside.
Stephen strode across the street to where the vans had parked, making time to say hello to everyone else first, even though he wanted nothing more than to see for his own eyes that Tony was okay. Finally, he was able to climb into the slightly dented, but otherwise unscathed vehicle and climb into the back where Tony lay snoring and oblivious to the world.
Sitting on the floor beside him, Stephen took Tony's hand and let himself rest for a few minutes, closing his eyes against the throbbing headache demanding that he pay attention. He likely had a minor concussion, but didn't really care. All his people were alive, if not completely in one piece and that was all that mattered.
"Stephen? Are you okay?"
He looked over at Natalie's soft question and answered, "Minor concussion, but otherwise all right."
"Let me be the judge of that," she replied, moving closer and kneeling beside him. She checked his pulse and then his eyes. "Headache? Dizziness?"
"Yes and no."
"No, thank God."
She smiled and said, "Yep. Looks like a bump on the head, all right."
Stephen snorted. "Couldn't tell."
"Too bad we can't blame your bad mood on it," she teased.
"Gee, thanks, Nat," Stephen replied.
Frank stuck his head in the van and asked, "Everything okay in here?"
Stephen met his friend's worried gaze and offered a reassuring, "I'm fine, Frank. Just taking a couple of minutes. What happened to the truck following you guys?"
Frank explained, "When Gerald said he was a good shot, the boy was being modest. I'd say he's at least as good as Gibbs. And with both of them in the rear van, they took out the soldiers on our tail."
It was hard to reconcile easy-going Gerald with that, but it seemed the man had hidden depths.
"No one's going to report back on our position," Frank continued.
Stephen sighed and said, "They won't have to. Once they don't report in, the
will know our last location." Alliance
Frank grimace as he demanded, "How they hell did they get here so fast?"
Suddenly wondering the same thing, Stephen said slowly, "I bet they flew. And if they're all dead..."
"The plane should still be here!" Frank finished, excited.
Natalie protested, "Don't tell me you know how to fly a plane!"
Frank grinned and answered, "Okay. I won't tell you that I know how to fly a plane."
Chuckling, Stephen moved passed Natalie and told her, "We're going scavenging. We'll be back in a half-hour, tops. Oh, and Eva has a sprained wrist that should be wrapped."
She slapped him on the shoulder before he was out of reach and exclaimed, "You couldn't have said that in the first place?"
He and Frank stopped on meeting up with Jethro, but Natalie continued into the building with a dirty look sent Stephen's way.
Jethro grinned and asked, "How'd you manage to piss her off in the last seven minutes?"
"Not important," Stephen replied. "What is important is there's a plane sitting somewhere around here."
Immediately going on the alert, Jethro commented, "And one of you can fly it?"
Frank nodded confirmation. "If it's got wings, I can figure it out."
"The real question is, will it have enough fuel to get us all to Vegas," Stephen cautioned.
That sobered their excitement a little, but Jethro observed, "Only one way to find out. McGee! Gerald! Ziva! Kate!"
They answered the bellowed summons in short order, everyone scrambling to get there as fast as possible.
"Ziva and McGee. You head east. You're looking for an airplane," Jethro barked. "Kate and Gerald go west. Make sure you're armed and be back in thirty minutes. Move!"
They left immediately in their assigned pairings and in the direction ordered.
Stephen grinned in appreciation. "Now if only my people were that well behaved."
Frank snorted. "Yeah, right."
Jethro grinned back at him and said, "You and Frank should go south and I'll head north."
"Alone?" Stephen asked.
Nodding, Jethro answered, "I can move faster on my own. You're injured and should stay behind, but I'll let you go out."
Stephen glared at him. "Let me? You'll let me go out?"
Jethro smirked before heading north.
"You know..." Frank started.
Stephen interrupted, "Finish that, and you're a dead man."
Frank chortled to himself as he started south.
Glaring at his best friend's back, Stephen followed.
* * * *
Miles groaned as Ducky and Natalie helped him from the building to the van he'd be sharing with Tony. At least he could stretch out somewhere comfortable and it even had the benefit of him being able to keep an eye on his lover. Trouble always seemed to find Tony.
Natalie climbed in the van and Miles sat on the doorway, leaning backwards and scooting backwards with her help as Ducky supported his leg. Gritting his teeth, Miles managed to slide all the way into the back, pausing often to catch his breath. He had to let Natalie swivel his leg around so he was facing the right direction.
"What the hell happened to you?" Tony mumbled, rubbing his eyes.
Looking over at him, Miles retorted, "I got shot, what's it look like?"
Alarm immediately rose on Tony's face and he started to move towards Miles only to gasp and fall back. Holding his stomach, Tony stayed very still.
Even before Natalie swatted him on the back of the head, Miles winced and mentally kicked himself for making such a careless remark. He couldn't really turn towards Tony, not with the massive bruise on his chest, but he did take the other's hand and assure him, "I'll be fine, Tony. It's just a flesh wound."
Tony met his gaze at last and asked, "So that's why you can't even move to look at me?"
"Well, I could, but my ribs are a little sore, so I'd rather not," Miles admitted.
Natalie chimed in with, "It's a little more than 'just' a flesh wound, but he will be fine. He's certainly better off than you will be, if you don't stop moving around!"
Tony gave her a meek look and promised, "Not moving. Staying right here."
She made a disbelieving noise, but left them alone.
"So, what happened?" Tony asked instantly.
Miles grimaced and explained, "The Alliance was waiting for us when we hit
. The vans got away, although I'm not sure what happened yet, but Stephen flipped the Rover." Denver
"Is everyone okay?"
"Eva's got a sprained wrist and the others have varying degrees of concussions, but yeah," Miles answered. "There were two soldiers. I thought they were going to kill Jimmy, Eva, and Tim but...Tim killed them first."
Executed them. Shot them in the back of the head when they didn't even know he was coming, an insidious voice whispered inside. They couldn't even defend themselves.
Shaking off the renewed panic that suddenly made his heart thud heavy in his chest, Miles cleared his throat and continued, "Stephen dug the bullet out of my leg, I passed out and next I knew, you guys had shown up."
Tony squeezed his hand as he questioned softly, "Are you okay? And I'm not talking about your leg or ribs."
Miles swallowed against a tight throat and silently shook his head. Ignoring the pain, he rolled onto the bed so he could press up tight against Tony, burying his face against the other man's throat. All he could see was the blood pooling on the pavement, sinking into the cracks, and the holes in the back of those soldiers' heads.
The soldier's voice echoed through his head...My mission is to retrieve you and Dr. Connor, along with an Abby Sciuto and former agent McGee.
"It's okay now," Tony whispered, stroking a hand over Miles' head. "You're safe. We're all safe."
And even though he couldn't seem to find any tears to shed, Miles shook violently in his lover's arms and prayed that one day he would believe that.
* * * *
Jethro remembered a big park right in the middle of the city from back when and headed directly there at a jog. He wanted to find the plane and make sure a pilot didn't fly off when the rest of his team didn't return or check in. Thanks to resting in the back of the van with Tony, he felt back to full strength physically. Knowing that someone might be out there, ready and willing to destroy his family spurred him on. If anyone was going to kill more soldiers just doing their job, it would be him, not Gerald or McGee. They were too young for such horrors, even though he saw the hardness of spirit approaching in both. He would protect them as much as he could, for as long as he could.
It was a big park, all right, almost wild after so long without anyone tending it. It was because of that, that he found the plane easily, the swath cut in the tall grass simple to pick out. Not only that, but it looked like the plane had taken out some saplings on its landing.
Bringing the rifle up, he peered through the scope to search for signs that someone else was nearby. He stayed behind a large oak for five minutes while slowly scanning the area for life bigger than the rabbits hopping around, oblivious to the danger nearby. Finally determining that no one was there, that the pilots had been part of the attack, Jethro walked from the tree to the C-17 Globemaster III that waited some fifty meters away. It was a new plane, probably just off the line, replacing the C-141 Starlifter that had been in production since before the plague.
The cargo bay door was open in the back and he shouldered the rifle to take the pistol from his shoulder holster. There was absolute silence as he leaned just a little forward to look inside. The cargo held a Hummer of all things, and extra supplies, but no soldiers. Stepping inside, kept to cover as he made his way to the cockpit where he found the door open and it, too, empty.
Relaxing a hair, Jethro started looking around at what was left of the supplies and to see if he could find a mission brief. Not that he expected to be that lucky. These kind of soldiers knew their orders by heart and didn't hesitate to execute them; literally in this case. He had no illusions that most of them wouldn't make any kind of return trip to the Alliance.
Jethro paused when he found a backpack that did actually contain papers. Profiles on Stephen, Miles, Abby, and McGee. No one else. Not even Natalie, by all accounts a dedicated doctor in her own right, or Frank's girls who were nothing but innocent. Sickened, he forced the nausea back and continued reading.
* * * *
Ziva nearly had a heart attack when the Hummer came barreling down the main street and no one save herself and McGee around to defend the others. But then she spotted the familiar gray head of Gibbs and breathed a shaky sigh of relief. Holstering her gun, she walked over to meet him, flashing him a grin as she asked, "Did you get a good deal?"
"The best," he answered. "It was free. Everyone back?"
Shaking her head, Ziva answered, "Just McGee and me. We were not nearly as successful as you appear to be."
He hopped lightly out of the Hummer and they walked towards the others as he said, "Found the plane, all right. It'll take one of the eggheads to figure out if it's useable, but it's intact."
"Could you not simply read the fuel gage?" Ziva pointed out.
Gibbs gave her an irritated look, but Stephen, Frank, Kate, and Gerald arrived from their different directions just then.
"You found it!" Kate exclaimed.
Gibbs nodded and said, "There's extra fuel and supplies back at the plane, too. We should get them and get out of here before dark."
Stephen agreed, "Definitely. Frank and I will go back with you. The rest of you make sure we're ready to go the moment we're back."
Ziva watched the three men stride towards the massive, military vehicle and shook her head, annoyed. She knew that it wasn't that Gibbs did not think her capable, it was more that he wanted her to stay at camp and make sure the others were safe. And even though it was somewhat of a compliment, that he trusted her to take care of Tony and Miles, it still chafed. She wanted to be in the front, making decisions and discoveries. The only man she willingly allowed to lead was Gibbs, and that only through her respect of him.
Turning to the others, she ordered, "Well? Get a groove on!"
Kate snorted. "It's 'get a move on.'"
Ziva waved at her and said dismissively, "That too."
Rolling her eyes, Kate nonetheless fell into step with Abby and Gerald as they headed back towards the vans.
A grin surfaced as she thought, Then again, being the boss of Kate Todd is nothing to shake a stake at, either.
* * * *
"How bad is it?" Stephen asked, once they were in the Hummer and driving away from the temporary camp.
As if the tightness of Jethro's jaw couldn't tell him that.
"They only wanted you, Miles, Abby, and McGee," Jethro reported. "Everyone else was expendable."
"Fuckers," Frank growled.
Stephen silently echoed the sentiment. Aloud, he prompted, "What else did you find out?"
"We've got another three hours before final check-in gets missed. An automatic order goes out in that case and another team gets sent here to see what happened. We have to change our route. We have to make as direct a path for Vegas as we can."
Frank leaned forward and countered, "It's better to keep to the main roads and make as much time as we can. We'll drive all night and not stop unless we absolutely have to."
Nodding, Stephen agreed, "We'll make better time on the highways and avoid the towns and cities between here and there."
Jethro stared straight ahead as he thought over their words. He said slowly, "We can leave a present for the secondary team that will cause enough damage that they might think twice about coming after us again."
"How much damage are we talkin?'" Frank questioned.
Lips twisting, Jethro answered, "Not quite Hiroshima, but enough to make them wonder what the hell else we have in our arsenal."
Startled, Stephen asked, "Do we have anything that will cause that much damage?"
"We have Abby and McGee. That should give us something to cause that much damage."
A grim statement that Stephen didn't want to put to the test, especially not after what McGee had just done, but they didn't have a choice.
Frank suggested, "Let me take a look at what we have before we go involving them. I know a thing or two about explosives and what makes things go boom."
They arrived at the giant cargo plane and Jethro parked right next to it. Stephen climbed out and walked over to it, following Jethro inside. Frank went directly to the cockpit, but was only there a few minutes before he joined them in the main area and shook his head. Disappointed, but not surprised, Stephen said, "Plan B it is. Do your thing, Frank."
The black man half-grinned and replied, "I knew those summers making fireworks with my cousin would come in handy one day."
Stephen and Jethro spent the time loading the food and medical supplies into the Hummer, letting Frank take care of the destruction to come. They finished before he was ready and sat on the hood of the vehicle, only thighs touching as they waited.
"You're not telling me something," Stephen said, apropos of nothing.
Jethro leaned back on his palms as he stared up at the sky for a long moment. "They were going to use Miles to assure your cooperation. I don't know how they figured it out, at least in part, but they know that the two of you are lovers. The orders were to hurt Miles in any way necessary to make you return."
Stephen felt ill. He'd known, of course, just how ruthless the Alliance was, but it hadn't truly occurred to him that they would use Miles against him, not like that.
"Everyone else was to be executed," Jethro continued, still staring at the sky. "Even the girls. It was right there in black and white. You never told me you were working on a cure to the Plague, Stephen. Why not?"
The change in subject threw him for a second. Stephen said, "I don't know. It isn't something that you just throw into conversation, I guess."
Finally, those piercing eyes met his and Jethro leaned close, his gaze burning intensely as he snarled, "It damn well has to be when people are escaping with you! God damn it, Stephen! What were you thinking not to tell at least me?! They're going to keep coming after you and Miles for as long as it takes to get you! You're too fucking valuable for them not to!"
"Would you have done things differently?" Stephen demanded.
Jethro snapped, "Yes! Of course I would have done it different! Tony and I would've disappeared on our own first because he was in the most danger! Then, six months down the line, the rest of my team would have followed. Then you and yours could have gone off the grid and no one would have been the wiser to us being connected and we wouldn't be weighted down with four injured adults and three terrified children!"
Glaring, Stephen retorted, "So it's yours and mine now, is it? I thought we were in this together, Gibbs!"
"We are!" Jethro shouted, shoving him off the Hummer altogether.
Stephen landed hard, the breath driven from him, and lay there gasping for air. When Jethro's feet appeared in his line-of sight, Stephen looked up, bracing himself on his elbows, but staying down. As enraged as the other man seemed, it was better to stay down.
With a colder expression than Stephen had ever seen, eyes like flint, Jethro stated flatly, "If you ever keep something that big from me again..."
The words stopped, but Stephen understood his meaning. They would be over, if he withheld something like that in the future. Jethro would leave and, in all likelihood, take Tony with him. It had been the two of them before the four of them, after all. Nodding, Stephen said, "I won't."
It seemed as though the next minute stretched into eternity, but Jethro's hand ultimately reached down to him. Stephen sat up and took it, letting the other pull him to his feet. When Jethro let him go almost right away and stalked to the plane, Stephen let him go. Not only did they both need to cool down, but Stephen didn't feel all that steady on his feet all of a sudden.
He made it the few steps to the Hummer, but then the throbbing in his head mixed with dizziness and Stephen found himself back on the ground. Unable to make out which direction was what, he called out weakly, "Jay! Jay, I need you!"
* * * *
Jethro went inside the plane to see what Frank had done, but also to get some space from Stephen before he really did something he would regret. Pushing Stephen from the Hummer had been a gut reaction, frustrated that the other man would keep something so vital from him. He half-heard the other man call out after him, but ignored it, knowing he needed to calm down before they talked again.
They shared so much about so many things, and it was already so hard for him to trust as much as he had with Stephen. None of his ex-wives had qualified for the kind of depth he'd gone to here; it was even difficult for him to be that open with Tony, and he certainly wasn't with Miles, not yet at least.
To find out after the fact that Stephen hadn't trusted him enough to tell him about working on a cure...it felt like betrayal.
You still shouldn't have pushed him off the Hummer, his internal critic pointed out.
Grimacing at himself, he found Frank doing some kind of wiring under the control panel in the cockpit. "What are you doing, hotwiring it?"
Frank pulled himself out from underneath and explained, "I don't want to accidentally blow up someone who's just looking to loot the place. I want the ones who sit down and power up and try to access the computer system."
"Good plan," Jethro concurred.
Looking beyond him, Frank frowned and asked, "Where's Stephen?"
That inner voice said, Because I'm an idiot. But Jethro only said, "We need some space."
Frank sighed. "What did he do now?"
"Nothing I'm going to talk to you about. No offense."
"None taken. Just keep in mind that Stephen's been king of the hill for a long time and doesn't always think in terms of compromise or group dynamics."
Something that he already knew, of course. Stephen's take-charge nature was one of the things that he liked about the other man. Realizing that he could've been a little more on board with the compromise thing himself, Jethro said, "Excuse me," and left Frank to keep going with whatever he was doing.
Jethro was still on the ramp when he spotted Stephen on the ground and shouted, "Frank! Get out here!"
He ran to his fallen lover, dropping to his knees to check first for a pulse and then injuries. Nothing stood out and he lightly tapped Stephen on the cheeks, but got no response.
"What happened?" Frank demanded.
Jethro shook his head. "No idea. He was fine when I left him."
Or maybe he hadn't been, Jethro realized, remembering Stephen's call earlier. "Let's get him to the Hummer and back to camp."
Frank took Stephen's feet while Jethro supported his upper body and they maneuvered the unconscious man into the back seat of the vehicle. Once there, though, Stephen groaned, a hand going to his head and blinking up at him. "What happened?"
"That's what we want to know," Jethro answered. "Are you hurt? Did you hit your head?"
Frowning, hand still holding his head, Stephen said, "I don't...I can't remember. I don't even know where we are. Where's the Rover?"
Shock rendered Jethro mute for a few seconds and he glanced to Frank.
"Must have been a more serious concussion than Natalie thought," the black man replied to the unspoken question. "Short-term memory loss isn't uncommon, although I don't think there's usually a gap between waking up the first time and having it kick in later. Not without additional injury anyhow."
Jethro sighed. "I pushed him earlier and he fell off the Hummer."
Scowling, Frank said, "That would probably do it."
Resting his hand on Stephen's chest, Jethro asked softly, "Why didn't you tell me you were injured?"
"I don't remember," Stephen told him. "I should have, if it's bad enough to cause memory loss."
Jethro looked back at Frank and said, "How long do you think it will take you to finish?"
"Another half hour or so, why?"
"We'll wait for you. Stephen can rest here until you're done and then we can just pick up the others and keep going."
Stephen spoke up, "I get a say in this."
Jethro was surprised when Frank answered the same time he did with, "No, you don't." and wound up sharing a brief grin with the other man.
Glaring at them, Stephen closed his eyes and put an arm over his face, effectively ignoring them.
Frank snorted and said, "I'll think I'll just get back to work."
Sitting on the floor, Jethro put a hand on Stephen's thigh and stared at him for a long time before saying, "We were attacked by the Alliance. They found us because they sent teams out hunting for you, Miles, Abby, and McGee. These teams went to what was left of the major cities who didn't have any kind of government. We didn't get a chance to talk about this before I got pissed at you for not telling me you were working on a cure for the plague, but we should now, don't you think?"
Stephen immediately understood what he was saying and looked over at him, guessing, "Someone will be waiting for us in Vegas."
"I think so, yeah," Jethro confirmed.
Stephen looked up at the ceiling. "We can't cut a break."
Jethro rubbed Stephen's leg and said, "Looks that way."
They sat there, but not even the tenuous physical connection as enough to keep Jethro's thoughts from descending down a thousand dark paths. What waited at Vegas could be worse than what they'd just been through.
And Jethro had the feeling that their luck was about to go from bad, to worse.
Miles woke to the sensation of movement and couldn't figure out what was going on at first. Then he realized that they must've started on their way out of the city and gave a deep sigh of relief. The sooner they got away from that place and the more distance there was between them and the last point of Alliance contact, the better he would feel. Pushing upright, he found Tony still out like a light and smiled at the sight of his lover. He looked better. Sweat no longer dotted his face or soaked his shirt. The restless, pinched expression of pain had faded, even if it lingered.
And then he noticed Stephen sleeping on the other side of Tony and gaped in shock. The blond man lay flat on his back with only a pillow beneath his head, which was why Miles hadn't seen him at first. Worry rose instantly and he looked around for someone to ask questions of. Not seeing anyone, but not wanting to call out and possibly wake Stephen or Tony, Miles tentatively flexed his leg and gasped in pain.
"Don't even think about it," Jethro ordered softly.
Looking back at the seat, Miles found Jethro sitting there, looking over the top of it. He gestured at Stephen and asked, "What happened? Is he okay?"
Jethro told him, "He's got short-term amnesia from his concussion and a fall from the Hummer."
There was something missing from that explanation, Miles could tell from how Jethro didn't quite meet his gaze, but he didn't press. "He's okay otherwise?"
Nodding, Jethro said, "Natalie wanted him to rest."
"Good plan," Miles confirmed. "I'm surprised he did, though."
Jethro shrugged and said, "I might have pointed out that he'd be no good to anyone dead on his feet."
"How long have we been on the road?"
Startled, Miles repeated, "Three hours?"
"We're not stopping until we hit Vegas, other than pit-stops," Jethro stated.
Miles sighed in relief at the news, glad to hear it. The sooner they got where they were going, the better everything would be.
Jethro half-smiled at his sigh and warned, "It's not all good news. We found out from the paperwork that there's a team waiting for us there. We took a vote and decided to keep going."
"A vote Tony and I weren't part of!" Miles exclaimed. Miles held his breath when Tony mumbled and stirred in his sleep, but their other lover didn't wake. Lowering his voice, he continued, "We should have been involved."
Jethro pointed out, "There wasn't time."
Stubborn, Miles retorted, "You should have made time."
"We could have. We also could have said hello to the next team the
sent out to wipe everyone out." Alliance
Miles flinched at Jethro's matter-of-fact tone.
"Miles, we couldn't wait," Jethro finished in a softer voice.
Sighing, Miles met his gaze and said, "No, I guess not. So, how much longer until we get to Vegas?"
"Another fifteen hours, give or take. It's slower going at night."
Which Miles knew from personal experience driving in the dark. Looking back at the other man, Miles asked, "Do we know exactly what's waiting for us?"
"Not specifically, but probably another five man team. They'll have gotten to the city and settled in already, learning who's who and what's what. Might even have made an alliance with a local heavyweight by the time we get there."
Stomach twisting with worry and nerves, Miles muttered, "Don't sugarcoat it or anything."
"We're going to be fine, Miles," Jethro promised.
He sounded so sure that Miles could almost, but not quite, believe him. He also knew from firsthand experience that if something seemed dangerous, it probably was and happy endings didn't generally happen. Life was short and violent and anyone who said different, lied.
"It's going to be fine, Miles, I promise."
Jethro's voice was a lot closer than it had been and Miles jumped, startled at finding his lover right there. Craning around again, he found the other man settling down behind him, legs stretching out to both sides of Miles. Arms wound firmly about his waist and Jethro tugged him back so that he rested on the other man. Held like that, feeling the warm strength in his lover's body, he relaxed a little.
Nuzzling at his throat, Jethro promised softly, "We're going to get that life that Stephen promised you, Miles. It'll be you, me, Tony, and Stephen together and we'll be able to be open and not care about what anyone else thinks. No more hiding and no more fear."
Miles half-turned in the embrace so he could press his face to his lover's chest, needing the other man's certainty. Everything seemed so nebulous right then that the simple contact of body to body reassured him as words couldn't. The power in his lover's body, all of them really, served as a reminder that he was loved and protected in a way he'd never before been in his life.
Jethro kissed the top of his head and urged, "Get some more sleep, Stringbean. It's going to be a long trip."
The familiar annoyance at the hated nick-name didn't rise, probably because he was too grateful that all his lovers were safe, if not completely sound, but Miles kept up appearances and poked Jethro in the side. "Don't call me that."
Chuckling, Jethro replied, "Sure thing, Stringbean."
Miles huffed, but merely wrapped his own arms around Jethro and sighed deeply, content for the moment that he was where he was meant to be. Sleep was a long time coming, but aided by the gentle rise and fall of his lover's chest and the steady heartbeat beneath his ear.
* * * *
The next time Miles woke, it was to the throbbing of his leg and muted agony. The pain pills had definitely worn off and he groaned, his fingers clenching in Jethro's shirt.
"Miles? What's wrong?" Jethro asked instantly, sounding sleeping.
Miles' eyes opened and he gasped, "My leg is killing me."
"Okay, hang on and let me get you something."
Miles bit his lip to keep from crying out when Jethro shifted out from under him, unable to completely repress a pained noise from escaping. He watched as Jethro reached into one of the open boxes to come out with a pill bottle and then another to come back with a bottle of water. He couldn't help smiling when the other man held the pill bottle out as far as his arm would go, trying to read the instructions.
"Just give me one," Miles told him.
Jethro snorted. "I'm trying to make sure you don't wind up with laxatives instead of painkillers."
Chuckling in spite of the pain, Miles held out a hand, amused by the other man's grumpy expression as he turned over the bottle. He checked the label and took one of the large pills out.
"Shouldn't you have two? Tony and Stephen both had two," Jethro informed him.
"He's too damn skinny," Stephen said in a sleep-rough voice. "He'd be comatose with that kind of dosage."
Thrilled that he'd finally woken, Miles looked over to find Stephen sitting upright, even if holding his head. "Stephen!"
Giving him a wan smile, Stephen greeted, "Morning, Miles. How's the leg?"
"Should be fine in about ten minutes," Miles answered, as Jethro handed over the water bottle, too. He washed down the pill and grimaced at the nasty taste. "How's your head?"
Stephen looked at Jethro as he said, "Sore, but in one piece again."
Miles looked from one to the other and knew something passed between the older men, but not what.
"Glad to hear it," Jethro replied mildly.
Uh oh, Miles thought. That's never good, from what Tony says.
Something about a Rule whose number he couldn't remember. That Gibbs, as Tony and his team called Jethro, was at his most dangerous when he was quiet. Hoping to put an end to whatever hostilities might break out, Miles asked, "Should we wake Tony, or just empty his bag?"
Diverted, Stephen immediately glanced down at Tony and palmed his forehead. "Fever's down, but still there. When was the last time he was awake?"
"Natalie gave him his last sedative two hours ago," Jethro answered.
Surprised that he'd slept through something like that, even healing as he was, Miles wondered what else he might have missed.
Stephen finally said, "We'll just empty the bag for now. He needs the rest."
"I'll do it," Jethro offered. "You both need to rest, too, and I'm used to it now."
Miles watched him do it with efficient movements and then turned his gaze on Stephen, also watching Jethro at his task. There was something strained between them, something that kept Jethro's actions efficient but lacking in the grace Miles had come to expect. Something that made sure Jethro didn't look anywhere near Stephen.
Wishing that he was Tony, that he could just say something witty and make everything all right, Miles finally just asked, "How much longer 'til Vegas?"
"About ten hours, maybe less now that it's light," Jethro answered.
As if in response to his words, the van put on more speed, the engine humming a little harder, the vibrations rising beneath Miles. Stephen got to his feet and gave Miles a reassuring smile before climbing over the back seat to talk to whoever drove. When he looked back at Jethro, it was to find him staring forward, likely at Stephen. A brief, pained expression flit across his face, but before Miles could do or say anything, Jethro had turned to dispose of the filled bag.
Sighing, Miles lay back down. It wasn't like he'd be able to get anything out of either man. All he could do was let the drugs work and go back to sleep. Maybe his leg would heal faster and then he'd be able to do something.
* * * *
When Stephen caught Jethro's arm at the second rest stop, Jethro knew he had nowhere to run. He wasn't even sure if he wanted to, but he sure as hell didn't want to have a conversation about the feelings and insecurities that had caused him to push Stephen from the Hummer. Not then, or at any time in the future. The only thing that happened in those kinds of discussions was he wound up battered and bruised on the inside.
"We need to talk."
Jethro grimaced, but nodded and motioned away from the van. They walked a good distance away and no one commented, even though he felt plenty of eyes on them. It had apparently spread fast at their last stop that they were having some kind of fight.
God, he hated scuttlebutt.
Startled, Jethro finally looked at Stephen and found those pale, pale eyes held nothing but sincerity.
Stephen continued, "I knew it was an important piece of information and I should have gone to you with it when we first got together, but...it sounds stupid now, but I didn't want to scare you off. Miles and Tony had just clicked so well and I'd never seen him so relaxed around anyone near his own age. And I didn't want to spoil that so I didn't say anything. Then, when we really got involved, it seemed easier to just keep it to myself. I knew it wouldn't scare you off or anything, I do know you better than that, but it was like...it was too late at that point, you know?"
Jethro did know. He'd lost more than one relationship over the years, hell, all three of his marriages had gone to the dogs because of secrets revealed on top of his sparkling personality.
"But I swear, I never thought it would have bearing on this. It never occurred to me that they would spend more energy on bringing me back just because of that. There are so many scientists working on a cure. I'm just a cog in the machine," Stephen finished.
Knowing that he wasn't entirely blameless in the whole thing, Jethro put a hand on Stephen's shoulder and squeezed. "You're not just a cog, Stephen, that's the problem. You're brilliant and you know it. It's what you've been your whole life and that's fine. It's great, even. Just...let me in a little, okay? I can't protect against things I don't know are coming."
Arms folding over his chest, Stephen nodded, looking haunted as he replied, "I still can't believe...women and children? How can they?"
Jethro used his hold to draw Stephen close for a brief, tight hug. They didn't have time for more, unfortunately, so he didn't even try for a kiss. "Come on. Let's take care of business and then head back. Another couple of hours and we should be there."
Stephen flashed him a brief grin and pointed out, "We don't have enough time to take care of business, but I definitely have to piss."
Jethro restrained himself from smacking the other man in the back of the head, not wanting to aggravate the concussion.
It was a close thing, though.
* * * *
Tony struggled up through a sluggish sensation that wasn't quite sleep. His mouth tasted like something had died in it and he made a face as he blinked away the crud in his eyes.
"Hey, let me get that," Miles said softly.
Gentle fingers brushed away the sleep from Tony's eyes, followed by a damp cloth. When he opened them, he found the other man looking down at him with a smile. He offered a brief smile and rasped, "Water?"
Miles nodded and picked up a bottle within easy reach, holding it for Tony to drink from in small sips.
"I really need to brush my teeth," Tony informed him.
Miles grinned and replied, "We've been polite in not mentioning your breath until now."
Making a face at him, Tony retorted, "Well if you'd let me get off my back...wait, that didn't come out right."
Miles laughed at that and planted a big kiss on Tony's mouth, bad breath and all. When he pulled back, he said, "It's good to see you back to normal."
"Or what passes for normal with DiNozzo," Kate observed smartly.
Tony craned his head back to see Kate smirking at him over the back of the seat. "What happened to you?"
Rolling her eyes, Kate answered, "I got shot."
Lotof that going around," Tony commented, looking at Miles. "What did I miss?"
Miles recounted, "We got shot at by some people with a blockade and then Stephen flipped the Rover when an
team tried to take us out in Alliance ." Denver
Eyebrows rising, Tony guessed, "So, I missed a lot then?"
"Enough," Miles replied. "I'm just as happy that you were out of it."
Kate snorted. "Are you kidding? He's the second best shot we have. We could've used him."
Miles gaped at him and demanded, "You are?"
Tony flushed a little, glaring at Kate before he amended, "Well, I'm not bad. I've got good eyes."
Kate made a rude noise before turning away and sitting down properly.
Miles snickered and said, "I think you annoyed her."
"Oh no. Trust me, if Kate's really annoyed, you'll know it," Tony promised wryly. "How're Stephen and Gibbs?"
"Better," Miles replied, brushing his fingers through Tony's hair.
Frowning, Tony repeated, "Better? What happened?"
Miles sighed. "I don't know exactly, they won't say. I just know they had a fight of some kind. They seem to have made up, though, so I guess it's okay."
"Where are they?" Tony questioned.
"Stephen's in the Hummer and Jethro's in the other van," Miles answered.
Eyebrows lifting again in surprise, Tony echoed, "Hummer? When did we get a hummer?"
Miles chuckled and reminded, "You missed a lot."
"I guess so," Tony agreed, nonplused.
Natalie popped her head over the seat and greeted, "Ready for me to poke around and see how you're doing?"
Tony muttered, "Oh absolutely."
"If you're good, you'll get a lollipop," she teased, climbing over the seat.
The next several minutes were painful, but not agony, which Tony would take as improvement.
She cleaned the wound and rebandaged it before saying, "Very good. It's healing nicely now. I think we can dispense with the sedatives."
"And the catheter?" Tony asked hopefully.
Natalie shook her head. "Sorry, but I want one more day of you not moving around at all. We'll take it out tomorrow, I promise."
He heaved a sigh, but wasn't really surprised. All things considered, he knew that he was damn lucky to be alive. He would sure as hell take it over the alternative. He flashed her a grin and asked impudently, "Where's my lollipop?"
Ruffling his hair, Natalie told him, "As soon as I don't have to worry about what you eat, you can have one."
"Well that's not fair. You're a tease," Tony mock-complained.
She laughed softly before turning to Miles with, "Your turn, mister."
Tony watched as she cut away the bandage and then wished he hadn't upon seeing the ugly red scab in the middle of Miles' thigh. His gaze flickered to Miles' face, taut with pain, and he reached out to hold his hand, lacing their fingers together. Brown eyes met his with surprise, but a grateful expression surfaced almost immediately and Miles squeezed his hand, holding on until after Natalie had put on a new bandage.
Distracting him, Tony said, "You know, we should paint the van white and put a big ole red cross on it. Or maybe christen it the invalid's ambulance. Although, that could be redundant, right? Because if you're an invalid, you're probably going to need an ambulance and, unless you're driving it, chances are if you're in an ambulance, you're an invalid. Right?"
Miles blinked at him. "What was the original question?"
"Never mind," Tony replied. "All done, Nat?"
She grinned at him and nodded. "Thank you, Nurse DiNozzo."
Kate chortled from the front part of the van and Tony groaned, thinking, Damnit! That nick-name is totally going to stick, I can just tell.
* * * *
They were about an hour outside of Vegas when the rear van came to a sudden stop. Jethro nearly hit the windshield, it happened so fast. As it was, his seatbelt slammed him back in his seat and he took a few seconds to catch his breath. Once he did, he called out, "Everyone okay?"
"We're good, Gibbs," Frank called from behind.
Abby echoed, "All present and accounted for!"
Snorting, Jethro looked over at Gerald and ordered, "Radio the others to come back."
Gerald nodded and pulled the walkie-talkie out of the glove compartment, climbing out of the van. Jethro did the same and cracked his neck and back as he felt the strain of driving the last five hours. He walked to the front of the van just as Gerald opened the hood. A split second before the black man's hand reached for the clasp, Jethro shouted, "Gerald, wait!"
It was too late, though. Steam hissed through the opening to burn Gerald's hand. He stumbled back, clutching his hand and shouting in pain. Jethro grabbed him around the waist and clamped a hand around the non-burnt portion of Gerald's arm, making sure he didn't do anything to it. Frank appeared on the other side of Gerald, holding onto the younger man's unburned hand and supporting him as they lowered him to the pavement.
Naturally, all the medical types are in the other vehicles, he thought angrily. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
Out loud, he comforted, "It's going to be okay, Gerald, just hang in there. Ducky'll be here in no time."
Gerald's face was a rictus of pain, but he didn't make any noise, biting his lip bloody as he panted harshly through his nose.
It seemed to take forever before the other van and the Hummer returned, even though Jethro heard Abby calling for help and he heard the screech of tires as they skidded to a stop. By that time, horrible blisters had formed over the dark hand, the skin burned in a way Jethro had only seen a couple of times in his life.
"What do we have?" Stephen demanded, pushing Jethro aside.
Jethro answered shortly, "The radiator blew."
Stephen gave Gerald a smile as he said, "I'm going to have to stitch that lip of yours, too, huh? Try to relax for me, okay, Gerald? We're going to give you something for the pain. Natalie?"
Jethro watched them work, efficient and in synch, as they always were. It was comforting and, on a personal level, made him envious that they never seemed to have that same kind of tacit communication. Dismissing the thoughts as unworthy of the situation, Jethro spotted Ducky rushing to them and moved to intercept him. Taking his friend's arm, he ordered, "Let them work, Ducky. They've got it under control."
"I can see that, Jethro," Ducky bit out. "Release me this instant!"
Jethro instantly took his hands away, never quite having heard that level of venom in the other man's voice before. He walked away from the group to look out over the desert. It was something he'd seen a few times in his life, all before the first plague outbreak, but still took his breath away. The sheer endlessness of it, like the ocean, showed him a kind of eternity that few things could.
And then he spotted someone out in the desert walking towards them. Frowning, he pulled one of his pistols free and watched as the person came closer.
"Gibbs? What is it?" Ziva questioned, coming up to him.
Jethro nodded towards the visitor and answered, "Don't know yet."
It was only about ten minutes before he made out a lone man coming at them. During that time, Jethro glanced between the newcomer and the work Ducky and Frank did on the broken van. Ziva kept silent watch beside him as they waited, which he appreciated. Most people found it difficult just to watch and wait, but Ziva knew the value of silence.
Once the man was in true visual range, Jethro saw that he carried a small bag over his shoulder and wore a straw hat, but had no apparent weapons. He and Ziva exchanged a glance and he jerked his head at the van that held the injured. She nodded and went to keep watch there. By the time the man arrived, Jethro could almost guarantee that he was no threat. His face was careworn, partially hidden by a grayed beard, his body soft and yet not, possibly from living in the desert for who knew how long.
Blue-gray eyes met his and the man greeted, "You folks need help?"
"We're good," Jethro answered.
Looking around the groups of people, and those still in the van, the man finally replied, "You look like you could use a place to rest. Somewhere safe. We have children, too. You'll all be welcome there."
Frank and Stephen walked up just then, stopping so that Jethro and Frank surrounded Stephen, who held out a hand and introduced, "Dr. Stephen Connor. This is my partner Jethro Gibbs and my friend Frank Powell. We're on our way to Vegas."
"That's where I live," the man said, taking Stephen's hand. "My partner Nick and I, among other friends. I'm Gil Grissom. I was just telling your partner that you can stay with us. We have plenty of room."
Stephen's hand landed on Jethro's shoulder and squeezed when he opened his mouth to refuse. Restraining a glare at his lover, he waited to see what Stephen had to say.
"That sounds perfect. We've been traveling for quite a while."
Not exactly how Jethro would have done it, but Frank looked in accord, so he was clearly outvoted. Keeping his face neutral, Jethro motioned to the Hummer and offered, "Want a lift, Grissom?"
Smiling, Grissom agreed, "That sounds great. My feet aren't as young as they used to be, as Nick keeps trying to point out."
As Stephen and Frank walked Grissom to the Hummer, Jethro holstered his gun and took a last look at the desert. Sighing to himself, he walked back to the others and climbed in the Hummer, sandwiching Grissom so that he was in control. If they were going to take in a perfect stranger, Jethro was damn sure going to keep a close eye on him.
The Week Before...
Things were, and weren't, different even a couple of weeks after they got back to the hotel compound. People treated him with the same friendliness, but there was an overall air of annoyance and disapproval from some, not that he blamed them. He had, after all, put everyone in danger simply because he'd panicked over Nick's advances.
Advances that hadn't been repeated and Gil wasn't entirely sure how he felt about that. Nick stayed close and yet out of reach. He hovered, protective and solicitous, but a bit aloof. Gil suspected that he'd driven Nick to the sidelines where he would watch until sure that Gil wouldn't pull another runner. The kiss they'd shared upon first reaching the compound had been their only.
Nick's teasing greeting brought Gil's head up from the book he wasn't reading. He offered a smile and replied, "Hello, good morning."
Walking over to lean against the table where Gil sat, Nick smiled down at him. "Sleep well?"
"I did, thank you," Gil answered. "You?"
Nick sidled closer, rubbing their legs together as he commented, "Great. You know, I bet you would sleep better in my bed."
Eyebrows rising, Gil said slowly, "I didn't think that an option any longer."
"It's always an option, Grissom. I told you I would give you space. That doesn't mean I'm going to leave you alone," Nick countered, leaning closer.
His hand reached out to rest on Gil's shoulder, the thumb brushing back and forth over the skin at the base of his neck. A shiver of arousal ran through him at the contact and he stared up into Nick's eyes, drifting close enough to feel the other man's body heat.
"Looks like a private lesson. Maybe we should come back."
Gil jumped at Greg's stage-whispered comment, flushing as he looked over to find Greg, Warrick, and Sara standing over by the door. Nick actually growled a little at the interruption and Gil rubbed the younger man's thigh soothingly. Clearing his throat, Gil said, "I'm ready when you are, Greg, if you've gone over the material?"
Greg's eyebrows wriggled as he purred, "Oh, I was all over it plenty last night."
Warrick slapped him upside the back of the head. "Down, boy. Sit."
The class started with a minimum of fuss after that, the group settling in around the main table in the room. It was a round-table kind of session where Gil guided them through learning and debates about everything under the sun from Socrates to subatomic particles. They went right until lunch, voices and conversation going up and down in volume and intensity.
When they broke for lunch, Gil waved the others on and told Nick, "I'm just going to head to my room and rest my eyes for a few minutes."
Nick frowned and asked, "Not feeling well?"
Gil hesitated, and then admitted, "I actually didn't sleep much last night. I can't seem to turn my mind off when the lights go out."
"Every night?" Nick questioned, looking concerned. "What's wrong?"
Shrugging, Gil replied, "Just a lot of things to assimilate. I'll adjust, don't worry. It's only been a couple of weeks."
Nick cupped his face and told him, "You don't have to alone, Gil. That's what I've been trying to tell you for a while now."
Warmed by the concern and support, Gil lightly gripped Nick's hand on his face. "Thank you."
"Come on, I'll walk you over," Nick offered.
When Nick's arm slid around Gil's waist, he didn't protest or try to pull away. It was a short walk and outside Gil's door, Nick gave him a smile and a small kiss just below the ear before saying, "Have a good nap. I'll come get you when we're ready to start up again."
Gil flushed in pleasure and repeated, "Thank you, Nick."
He closed the door on Nick's smiling face and couldn't help a smile of his own as he crossed over to the bed for a quick nap.
* * * *
On his way to the common area, someone whistled low and suggestive from behind. Knowing it was Greg, Nick snorted and turned to find the younger man coming out of one of the rooms. "Hey, Greg-o. Hungry?"
"Starving," Greg answered, flirty. "I bet you could fill me right up."
Nick shook his head and ordered, "Behave, Greg."
Walking right up to him, wrapping his arms around Nick's waist to slide his hands into Nick's back pockets, Greg answered, "What if I don't want to?"
A small laugh escaped Nick and he allowed Greg to maneuver him against the wall as he said, "Then you're going to get in trouble. You're playin' with fire, boy."
Greg rubbed against him and murmured, "I wanna get burned, Nicky, want it bad. Got myself all slicked up and waiting for ya. We can go into my room and you can fuck me hard, like you used to."
Nick shuddered as Greg's thigh rubbed against his cock, getting him hard. He gripped the other's shoulders and tried to gently push him back, but Greg wouldn't let go. Loathe to do something that could hurt the fragile young man's ego, Nick said, "You know I can't, buddy, not anymore. You even told me you want me to get with Grissom."
"Doesn't mean you can't have us both," Greg pointed out.
Licking at his dry lips, Nick told him, "Yeah, it does. I'm sorry, Greg, but I'm with Grissom now and that means exclusive."
Big blue eyes met his as Greg asked softly, "But what about me? Don't you love me anymore?"
"You know I do," Nick promised. "We just can't have sex."
"I won't tell. Please, Nick? I really need you. The way you hold me down, the way you fill me, I need it," Greg begged, rubbing against him again.
Firm now, knowing there was no other way, Nick reached behind and took Greg's hands out of his pockets. "No, Greg, now stop it."
"Boy, have you done lost your damn mind?" Warrick demanded, striding up to them. He took Greg by the back of the neck and ordered, "Get your ass down to lunch before I decide to beat you."
Greg stuck his tongue out at both of them and stalked away.
Letting out a shaky breath, Nick said, "Thanks, 'Rick, that was good timing."
Warrick smirked. "Actually, we were taking bets to see if you'd give in."
Nick gave him a sour look and retorted, "You suck, man."
Laughing outright, Warrick tossed an arm around Nick's shoulder and told him, "Don't worry. Cath and I'll take Greg in hand tonight and make sure he gets what he needs."
"Thanks, man, I appreciate that," Nick said on the way to the common area.
Surprised by Gil's call of his name, Nick turned around to find the other man standing a good distance away. He was, however, certainly close enough to have seen not only Greg's little scene, but that Nick hadn't immediately turned him down.
Ah hell, he thought. Now what do I do?
"Good luck, Nick," Warrick muttered, continuing on his way.
Taking a breath, Nick headed back towards Grissom, mentally composing what he would say about the whole thing. When he got there, though, the other man just held up a hand and headed back towards his room.
Great. He wants privacy to dump me before we even start, Nick though morosely.
Following Gil into the room, Nick closed the door and said, "Before you say anything, that was nothing, Gil, I swear."
A strange little half-smile hovered over Gil's face as he answered, "I know. I'm not upset, Nick, I'm...well, I'm not sure, but I think this pointed out to me that unless I make a move, others will consider you still available. So...consider this me making a move."
Nick waited, but nothing happened.
"By 'this,' I meant bringing you into my room in the middle of the day and telling you that I'm making a move," Gil finally stated, awkward. "I'm afraid the rest is up to you."
Not making the other man ask twice, Nick immediately closed the distance between them and took Gil's face between his hands, bringing him in for a slow, deep kiss. He loved the way Gil's mouth opened belatedly, very much not an instinctive movement, and how hesitant the other man's tongue was as it made way for Nick's.
Nick moved them so Gil's back was to the wall and pressed against him, settling between Gil's legs with hands on the other man's hips as they made out, wet and hungry. Finally getting into the rhythm, Gil returned the kiss wholeheartedly. It was so much better than anything else Nick had experienced that he couldn't even make comparisons. His hands slid up and down Gil's sides and he alternately pressed his thigh against Gil's crotch, provoking a whole-bodied shudder in response.
Breaking off the kiss, breathing hard, Nick murmured into Gil's ear, "Feel good, baby? You like all that?"
Also breathless, Gil opened his mouth to answer, but Nick took possession of it again. He was already hard and aching, but this first time was about getting Gil off. God knew when the last time had been for the other man, but Nick was betting not for a long time. His hands made short work of the buckle and then button and zipper before he reached inside to grasp Gil's dick in a loose, careful hold.
Gil went absolutely still at the contact, but Nick didn't pause. He gentled the kiss as he began stroking lightly, breathing in Gil's moan of pure pleasure. It was a strained position, his hand down Gil's boxers, so he broke off long enough to shove pants and underwear down for a better grip.
Seeming to take the moment to regroup, Gil planted his feet better and gasped, "So this is foreplay."
Nick gave him a shark's smile and answered, "Oh no, baby. You ain't even seen foreplay, yet. This is just...warmin' up."
Nick's grin got bigger at the weak response and he settled back on the other man, leaning partially on Gil to the side. Nuzzling at his throat, Nick murmured, "You just wait until I get to foreplay, Gil, then you're goin' to see what all the fuss is about. This, right here? This is just to get you off, down-n-dirty. I know you need it, you gotta need it real bad by now, don't you? C'mon now, answer me or I stop."
"Yes!" Gil gasped. "Yes, I need it, please!"
"You beg so nice," Nick purred against his ear, biting the lobe sharply. "Just for that, you get a reward. How about I blow you after this first round is over? I'll go down on you real nice and slow, take this big cock right down my throat 'til I can't even breathe. You want that? You wanna choke me with your cock?"
"Oh God," Gil moaned, thrusting up into Nick's hand.
"And then, after you fuck my throat, I'll take you on the bed, open you up sweet and easy. I'm going to fill you up with my dick and make you forget everything and everyone else. You're gonna to scream my name and not even remember doin' it," Nick promised.
He licked a broad swath along Gil's throat and then sucked on the tender skin below the ear until a hickey blossomed. Returning to the lush mouth, enjoying the tickle of the beard, Nick attacked his new lover's mouth and sped up his strokes. It took longer than he'd've expected, but finally, Gil came with a cry that Nick swallowed into their kiss.
Nick easily supported the other man's weight until Gil regained his senses.
Hazy, gray-blue eyes stared back at him for a long moment before Gil smiled and murmured, "Where have you been all my life?"
Grinning, Nick answered, "Right here, Gil, right here. Oh, and don't think we're done. We got a few more things to take care of."
That said, he slowly and deliberately slid down Gil's body to land on his knees. Leaning in, he breathed in the strong, musky scent of sex and licked his palm, still wet with Gil's come. A strangled noise echoed above and he winked up at Gil before licking up the semen left on the semi-hard dick near his face. From there, he took the hardening shaft in his mouth and sucked lightly on it.
The rally must have been excruciating for Grissom from the way he moaned and clutched uselessly at the wall. Nick took those hands and placed them on his head, relishing how they curved and held on, fingers digging in. He loved sucking cock, but especially for someone he cared about, like Greg and Warrick, before he and Cath had got serious. Being on his knees for Gil, though, was a whole 'nother level of incredible.
It took even longer the second time, long enough for Nick's jaw to ache in a not entirely pleasant way. Gil came at last, groaning chest-deep as his hips finally thrust for the first and last time, pushing his dick that last bit so it went all the way down Nick's throat as he spilled. He semi-collapsed on Nick, holding onto his shoulders as he panted, dick pulling from Nick's mouth.
Looking up, Nick smiled at the blissed out exhaustion on his lover's face and suggested, "Why don't you finish stripping off and get into bed?"
"Just as soon...as I can move," Gil agreed, smiling tiredly.
Chuckling, Nick stood upright and Gil just fell into his arms, holding tight for a long moment. Gil kissed him, a slow, achingly sweet kiss that set his blood on fire even more, and then the other man stumbled off to the bed, stripping as he went. Nick grinned at his somnolent state and even though it just about killed him to wait, he proceeded to strip as well, knowing there would be no real relief for him. Not right away, at least.
Sure enough, by the time he joined Gil on the bed, the other man lay sound asleep on the covers. Shaking his head fondly, Nick tugged the covers down and then climbed under, pulling his lover close. Gil mumbled in his sleep and burrowed up against Nick's chest, tugging at all kinds of heartstrings that he hadn't felt in a damn long time.
Nick pressed his lips to Gil's temple and closed his eyes, ignoring his body in favor of serious quality time with his new lover.
* * * *
Gil woke to the distinctly odd sensation of another person draped over his back. There'd never been such an occurrence in his life unless under life and death situations, but he didn't remember anything bad happening. It actually took a few seconds to remember just what had happened and the heat of both arousal and embarrassment flushed through him.
What he'd done with Nick seemed...improbable at the very least. That Nick had seemed to enjoy it, well, Gil had to have exaggerated that particular memory, expanding it in his mind, in the heat of the moment.
Nick sighed and his arm tightened around Gil's waist, nuzzling at the back of Gil's neck and he murmured, "Evenin,' Gil. Sleep good?"
"I did," Gil answered honestly.
Nick's hand slowly rubbed over Gil's stomach as he asked, "So what's wrong? Buyer's remorse?"
Startled, Gil tried to turn over to face his new lover, but Nick kept him pinned to the bed. He finally shook his head and said, "No, nothing like that."
How to explain that it just didn't seem right? That Nick deserved so much better than what he would get if he stayed with Gil? They were so different, and the age thing was the least of it.
Soft lips pressed to Gil's back and Nick told him, "Don't try to think us out of this, Gris, okay? Turn off that brain of yours and just let it happen."
"I want to," Gil replied, uncertain.
Nick pulled back, letting Gil turn onto his back, and smiled down at him with such tenderness that it stole Gil's breath. Brushing his knuckles over Gil's cheek, along the edge of his beard, Nick said, "Then do it. Don't listen to any doubts you might be having, okay? Give us a chance."
Gil stared back into the hazel eyes for a long moment, wondering what the other saw in him to make Nick so persistent. He at last nodded and offered a hesitant smile of his own. "Okay."
Leaning down, Nick kissed him slow and easy. Gil's mouth opened to it and he couldn't help but smile as a bubble of joy slid through him. Nick chuckled into the kiss and teeth knocked into teeth before it broke off and the other man smiled down at him. "We should probably rejoin the land of the living for dinner."
Gil was about to protest when his stomach rumbled in agreement. Huffing in amusement, he said, "I suppose we should, at that."
It didn't take long for them to get dressed even with taking time for a quick wash in the bathroom. Bad enough that everyone had to know what they'd been doing; Gil had no intention of flaunting it anymore than he had to. Nick caught him at the door for a long, lingering kiss that promptly scattered his thoughts.
"There. That's a good look for you," Nick observed, grinning.
Gil grimaced at him and said primly, "Keep that up and all you'll be doing is looking."
Nick laughed outright. "Was that a joke, Gris? Getting laid must agree with you!"
Flushing, Gil turned to leave, but Nick caught his hand and wouldn't let go, tugging Gil back against him to kiss the side of his neck in what seemed an apology. Gil snorted upon catching sight of his hopeful look and rolled his eyes as he pointed out, "They won't hold dinner for us."
A relieved smile surfaced on Nick's face and they left the room. It was full dark outside, which explained part of the reason he'd slept so hard. Other than being worn out by Nick, of course. He really hadn't been sleeping well lately and the darkness must have reinforced his need for it. They headed for the main dining area and discovered that most of the food had already been consumed with only Warrick, Catherine, Kel and Sofia remaining.
Gil offered a self-conscious smile to them all and wished that Nick didn't hold onto his hand quite so firmly. He would've loved to just put his hands in his pockets. Better still, retreating altogether had a much bigger appeal, but he knew Nick wouldn't go for it.
"Well there you are," Catherine greeted with a grin. "And how are the lovebirds tonight?"
Heat rushed over Gil's face, but he managed to answer, fairly nonchalantly, "Hungry."
"Worked up an appetite, huh?" Warrick teased, smirking.
Gil wondered if it was too much to ask for the floor to open up and swallow him.
Nick intervened with, "All right, you jackals, enough," tugging Gil towards the table where the others sat.
Fortunately, conversation resumed from wherever they'd been interrupted. No one paid them any attention as they filled plates with somewhat limp, definitely overcooked vegetables and lumpy mashed potatoes along with cold meatloaf. He wondered vaguely what kind of meat it was before deciding he didn't really want to know.
"I still think it's a good idea," Catherine said in an insistent tone.
shook her head and stated, "Only one way in and out. Too much chance of a clusterfuck." Sofia
Nick asked, "What are we talking about?"
Warrick rolled his eyes and answered, "She wants to talk to Bosun again about an alliance."
Nick's mouth snapped shut with an audible click and he went back to eating, which surprised Gil. One thing Nick wasn't, was shy about offering an opinion. Knowing he should probably just mind his own business, Gil asked, "Who's Bosun and why would you want an alliance?"
snorted and explained, "He's an old navy guy, or so he claims, and he's got a power grid of his very own that could supposedly supplement ours." Sofia
Interested, Gil commented, "That sounds promising. What's the problem?"
"Bosun's a liar who can't be trusted," Warrick said flatly.
added, "He's got an underground base of operations, much too big a risk for Catherine to go herself, but he won't deal with anyone else." Sofia
Gil looked at Nick, but the other man simply continued to eat. Lips pursed, bemused by his lover's continued silence, he questioned, "How bad off are we for power?"
"Not bad at all," Catherine admitted. "That's why it's not strictly necessary to do this. I just...I like to have a back-up plan."
Shrugging, Gil pointed out, "Then send someone as an intermediary. Get the lay of the land. If it looks good, you can go."
Catherine grinned. "That's what I've been trying to do, but I have a distinct lack of volunteers."
Gil opened his mouth to do just that when Nick shook his head sharply, gripping Gil's arm and squeezing it briefly, but tight. Taking the warning to heart, though he fully intended to ask the reasoning behind it in private, he fell silent with another shrug at Catherine.
Catherine's lips quirked and she said, "That's okay. I know when my people conspire against me."
She sounded more amused than annoyed, so Gil let the subject drop and finished his food. The others talked about supplies and resources during the rest of the night. Nick joined in, once the conversation turned from Bosun, and seemed his normal self, deepening Gil's curiosity in the whole matter.
It was late when he couldn't control his yawns anymore. Greg wandered in around then and promptly settled on Warrick's lap, curling around the bigger man without anyone batting an eyelash. Gil envied the young man's capacity to just take what he needed from others. Nick's arm went around his waist, tugging him close so the other could murmur against his ear, "Ready for bed, lover?"
Suddenly wide awake, Gil nodded and met Nick's heated gaze only to discover he'd lost the ability to speak.
"Think they'll make it to the bedroom?" Warrick asked.
Jolted from the spell of Nick's eyes, Gil blushed yet again and cursed himself for being unable to control his reactions to friendly teasing.
Nick chuckled and stood, taking Gil's hand as he said to Warrick, "We're sure as hell not giving you a free show."
Warrick grinned broadly. "Selling tickets, then? 'Cause I'd totally pay, man."
Catherine flicked his ear hard enough to provoke a wince from the black man and scolded, "Leave poor Gil alone before he dies of embarrassment."
Which actually embarrassed Gil more, but he forced a weak smile of thanks in her direction.
Thankfully, Nick was ready to leave and headed for the door with a jaunty wave and, "Don't expect us for breakfast."
"We won't hold lunch either!" Warrick called after them.
Shaking his head, Nick put his arm around Gil's waist and apologized, "They're like that whenever anyone gets together, don't take it personally. A few days from now and no one will think twice about us making out in the kitchen and makin' noise after ."
Gil hadn't honestly thought about what others might think, not at the time, but now he couldn't seem to stop. Hesitant, he said, "I know everyone seems supportive here, but Nick, outside the compound...things are really different."
Nick sobered and agreed, "We'll have to be careful about being out in public, but it's not like we're heading out anywhere on our own anyhow. There's not many who'll go up against our crew."
Biting his lip, Gil asked, "What about when I go into the desert on my own? I have studies and experiments in situ, Nick, I can't abandon them. I won't. We've already lost so much knowledge with the plagues, I need to do as much as possible."
"I won't risk your safety, Gil," Nick stated quietly, "but we'll figure something out. Just promise me you won't take off on your own again."
Gil gave him a rueful smile as they approached his room. "I deserved that, I guess. I won't, I promise."
Nick squeezed his hand and then they were at the door. Gil flushed, thinking of what happened last time they'd gone in there, but instead of embarrassment, it was arousal that chased through his body. The door closing behind him sounded loud and final and Gil simply stood in the middle of the room, staring at the bed that was still mussed from when they'd last occupied it.
Pressing right up against his back, Nick's arms slid around Gil's waist and he murmured, "Want you so much, Gil. What do you want to do? I'll do anything for you."
Gil shuddered, his hands gripping Nick's arm tight before he turned in the embrace and put his arms around his lover's neck, drawing him in for a hungry kiss. It had been so long since he'd had the opportunity simply to have this kind of contact with anyone else that he felt starved for it. Nick groaned into the kiss and returned it, tongue thrusting into his mouth to twine and dance with Gil's.
The bed struck the back of his knees without warning and Gil laughed breathlessly as he fell back on it, Nick falling with him. He grunted at the full weight of his lover, but held Nick when he tried to move off. Then they were kissing again, deep, wet, sucking kisses that banished all amusement and sent blood rushing south. Somehow, they managed to squirm up on the bed and get rid of clothes, but it took far more time than if they'd simply stopped and gotten undressed. Gil was so desperate for Nick, though, that he could barely stand to let go of him and, from the groans and rough caresses, Nick seemed to feel the same.
Finally, finally they were blessedly naked and rolling on the bed for purchase and dominance. Breathless and hard as a rock, Gil finally let Nick hold him down, admitting to himself, at least, just how exciting it felt. Gil licked at his lips, both swollen and tingling from the extended making out, and stared up at his lover, just a large shape in the darkness. They'd been in such a rush, neither had turned on the lights.
"What do you want, baby? What can I do for you?" Nick asked, sounding just as breathless. "Anything you want, I'll do it."
Gil's breath caught at the declaration and he couldn't seem to form words. His mind shorted out from all the possibilities, freezing him with a buffet of choices where he'd only known lack.
"How about I surprise you?" Nick suggested, voice low and wicked.
Before Gil could respond, the other man hopped nimbly off the bed and strode to the bathroom. Gil took the opportunity to breathe deeply, suspecting that it would be a short reprieve.
Nick left the light on when he returned to the bed holding a small bottle of something. He flashed Gil a grin and climbed on the bed as he said, "Hope springs eternal, man. I put this here last week sometime, just in case we wound up here instead of my place."
Realizing it was oil of some kind and understanding what Nick had planned, Gil swallowed against sudden fear. He'd never done anything like that and honestly wasn't sure he wanted to, even with Nick. It was...so vulnerable...a position of submission and humiliation, the few times he'd almost not been able to get out of being some stronger man's toy. The last time had been a good ten years ago, but that burning sense of degradation before he'd been able to escape had seared into his psyche.
"Gil? Hey, easy there, baby, what's wrong? Gil? C'mon now, you're scaring me here," Nick exclaimed, rubbing a hand over Gil's chest.
Gil drew in a shuddering breath and said, "Sorry, I just, you caught me by surprise. I um, I don't think...Nick, I, I can't..."
Understanding dawned over Nick's expressive features, followed fast by anger as he demanded, "Who hurt you? Fuckers, I'll kill 'em!"
Astonished by the venom in the normally genial man's voice, Gil was nonetheless reassured by the instant and total fury in his lover. It soothed just a little of the pain from those long ago encounters. Rubbing his hand along the strong arm nearest him, Gil said, "I don't even know who he was, but it's okay. He didn't, I mean, I got away before he could do anything, uh, serious. I just meant, I don't think I can do that with you, not yet. I just, I'm not ready."
Nick took a deep breath and closed his eyes, as if getting himself under control. When he opened them again, only tenderness and love looked back at Gil as Nick said, "This wasn't for you, baby, it was for me. I want that cock inside me, nailing me as hard as you can."
Gaping outright at the declaration, lust chased fast through him even as Gil tempered it with caution and replied, "I'm afraid I won't be very good at that. I haven't...it's been a long time."
"That's okay. You let me do all the work. We'll practice technique later," Nick teased gently. "We got all the time in the world."
Gil started to believe him.
And then he started to wonder if Nick was trying to kill him by heart attack. The younger man straddled him and poured the oil onto his fingers, reaching back to finger fuck himself, putting on a show that had Gil hard and shivering with want in a matter of seconds. The light from the bathroom lit Nick from behind, giving him a glow that took away what was left of Gil's breath. When Nick added a slick hand to stroking Gil's cock, he had to grit his teeth and mentally recite Latin terms for local flora and fauna to keep from coming.
The sensation of Nick pressing down on him opened Gil's eyes in a heartbeat, though he didn't remember closing them. Encased in tight, hot flesh seconds later, Gil bit his lip and strained not to move, letting his lover go at his own pace. His hands twisted in the bedspread and his legs came up instinctively to cradle Nick from behind. Watching avidly as Nick slowly worked himself further down onto Gil's dick was just so much more than he ever could have anticipated.
Once Nick sat fully on him, his ass clenching and unclenching around Gil's cock, Nick leaned forward to kiss him. Gil was barely able to respond, he was so engrossed in not coming, so focused on the incredible feelings washing over and through him. Nick started rocking, just a slow, barely-there undulation, and pure love overwhelmed Gil, that the other man would do something so incredible for him.
Gil reached out and took both of Nick's hands in his, lacing their hands together. He managed to gasp, "It's so good, Nicky, oh God, you don't know! You can't know how good you feel!"
Nick lifted up and dropped back down hard, moaning and then replying, "You've got it backwards, babe. Fuck, your cock is so big and hard in me! Never letting you out of this bed ever again!"
Words became useless as Nick fucked himself on Gil's dick in earnest. It was all Gil could do to hold on and let the other man find his pleasure, the sight of him replacing anything bad associated with this act. Nick's mouth stayed open, his chest heaving as he sucked in air and sweat dripped slowly down his broad torso. Their hands remained locked together, another point of connection through the infinite and too short love making.
Nick hit an angle inside himself that caused him to cry out in obvious pleasure and need. He slammed down again and again on that same spot, moving hard and fast. Gil thrust up, simultaneously trying to help and get as deep in his lover's body as he possibly could. It seemed an eternity later that Nick arched and shouted loudly, come bursting from his cock to splatter over Gil's chest and abs. The clenching around his shaft was like a vice and Gil lost it, shoving without thought up into the tight heat of Nick's hole until he came, spilling into his lover's body until the world grayed out.
When he regained his senses, Gil discovered Nick slumped on his chest, out like a light and snoring lightly. His dick still lodged within his lover's body, which somehow Gil thought Nick would regret in the morning, but he didn't have the heart to wake him when he looked so peaceful.
Gil slowly stroked a hand up and down Nick's back, sighing deeply as he kissed Nick's temple and cheek. He knew that he'd been given something precious and vowed never to take it for granted. Smiling at the thought, knowing how blessed he was to have this man to himself at all, Gil murmured, "I love you, Nicky," before letting himself fall asleep.
* * * *
Gil woke to the sound of rain and a surprisingly sore back. Nick no longer lay atop him, but the damage had been done. Rubbing at his eyes, he turned his head and found Nick still snoring, but on his side, facing away from Gil. Trying not to read anything into that, Gil hesitantly slid up behind him and put his arm around Nick's waist as gently as he could.
Nick woke anyhow, the snores replaced by yawns as the other man hummed in contentment and pushed back against Gil with a sleepy, "Mornin,' big boy."
Chuckling, Gil kissed the back of Nick's neck and replied, "Morning. How do you feel?"
"Sore as hell, but then, I knew you had a horse cock going into it," Nick teased, turning to face him. The grin in place reassured Gil and he continued, "We are so doing that again as soon as I can move."
Pleased, maybe even a little proud though he'd done little enough of the work, Gil asked, "So you enjoyed it?"
Nick's eyebrows shot up and he asked, disbelief evident, "Are you shittin' me? Gil, babe, I was in orbit last night, or couldn't you tell from how I pretty much zonked out on you? I'm normally not wham bam like that. Call me a sap, but I like some cuddlin' to go with my sexin.'"
Gil grinned and obliged, "You're a sap."
Rolling his eyes, Nick leaned in and kissed him slow and easy before telling him, "I'll tell you if something doesn't work for me, trust me."
"I do," Gil said simply. "It's raining out."
Nick blinked at him a few times, clearly not getting the change in subject.
"My experiments," Gil prompted expectantly.
An 'O' of understanding surfaced and Nick sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face. "Okay. I need a shower and coffee fit to burn through the tin, not necessarily in that order. Then we talk about getting you out to your experiments."
Gil nodded and asked hopefully, "Want some help to the shower?"
Nick snickered and pulled him close for another kiss before answering, "And in it, thanks."
They did actually make breakfast, much to Gil's surprise and chagrin. Nick got several teasings by multiple people the moment they entered the dining hall and then, on top of that, catcalls and laughter when he sat very gingerly at a table. Nick took it with his usual aplomb, answering each teasing with easy, self-deprecating comments as well as a number of left-handed compliments to Gil's prowess in bed. The latter, of course, set Gil's face on fire.
In the end, it was a very simple thing to get outfitted for his expedition. Warrick and Nick put together an old-fashioned hiking backpack with everything he could possibly want or need and Nick drove him to the edge of the desert at Gil's directions. The rain stopped just before they got there and, once at the right spot, Gil found himself at a loss for words. He at last asked, "Are you sure you don't want to come?"
Nick smiled at him and shook his head. "If I go, I'll not only just be in your way, but I won't be able to let you go alone when you really need to. I will, however, be right here in five days. If you miss that meeting, I'll track you down and beat your ass black and blue, got it?"
Hearing the worry underneath the words, Gil smiled and leaned in for a lingering kiss. Pulling back, Gil promised, "I'll be here. And thank you, Nick, for understanding."
Nick's knuckles brushed over his cheek and then he said, "All right, get on with it before I turn around and tie you to the bed."
Gil nodded and climbed out of the jeep. He leaned in and told Nick, "I'll see you in five days," before resolutely turning to walk from the road into the desert that he knew better than the back of his hand. Already nature would be at work to transform the golden wasteland into a
of flora, soaking in the water to produce blossoms and then fruit to propagate the species. Mecca
His camp was intact, which was a relief, and Gil spent the first couple of hours putting everything in working order. From there, it was a long walk to write down everything that had changed since the last time he'd been in the area. He didn't finish with that until just after sundown and returned to camp as the moon began her nightly rise across the sky. It seemed strange that, after only a little over a month, he missed having people around.
Mostly, he just missed having Nick around. Several times he turned to share something with his lover only to remember that he was alone. That night was the loneliest that he'd spent in a long time, now that he knew how good and right it felt to have Nick sleeping beside him.
The next few days proved beneficial to the various books he had in progress and Gil found himself unable to become completely engrossed in his work. The itch to leave his work and get back to the compound and Nick grew daily. He not only wanted the other man fiercely, but missed his very presence even more.
Deciding that his attention was distinctly lacking and making plans to return, with Nick, Gil packed up two full days early. He'd be able to get back to the compound an entire day early and surprise Nick. The other man would probably be angry that he'd gone through the city and walked so far on his own, but it wasn't the first time and probably wouldn't be the last. Knowing that he would travel easier and faster without the large pack, Gil tossed food and water in a bag and made sure everything he left was well protected until he could come back with Nick.
It wasn't quite when he started walking at a good clip. It would take a good four hours to reach the road, so he would get there in plenty of time for nightfall. And as much as he wanted to just keep going through the night, Gil knew Nick would be ticked if he did, so he would make camp just off the road and start fresh in the morning.
Or, so he planned until finding the group off the side of the road, one of their people clearly down from some kind of accident and children kept off to the side so they couldn't see what was going on. A hard-faced man with mostly silver hair and piercing blue eyes stood on the road, watching and waiting his approach, a dark-haired woman standing beside him, though she left before he actually got there.
Gil met those pale eyes and offered, "You folks need help?"
"We're good," the man replied shortly.
Looking around the groups of people, and those still in the van, Gil finally said, "You look like you could use a place to rest. Somewhere safe. We have children, too. You'll all be welcome there."
Two other men walked up just then. One was a large black man and the other pale and blond with even more astonishingly blue eyes. The two newcomers stopped so that the blond was surrounded by the black man and Gil's original greeter. The blond man held out a hand and introduced, "Dr. Stephen Connor. This is my partner Jethro Gibbs and my friend Frank Powell. We're on our way to Vegas."
"That's where I live," Gil replied, taking Stephen's hand. "My partner Nick and I, among other friends. I'm Gil Grissom. I was just telling your partner that you can stay with us. We have plenty of room."
Stephen's hand landed on Jethro's shoulder and squeezed, clearly forestalling the more cautious man's refusal. "That sounds perfect. We've been traveling for quite a while."
Clearly, Stephen was the one in charge. Gil smiled and nodded in commiseration.
Jethro motioned to the Hummer and offered, "Want a lift, Grissom?"
Even though he was sure it was more to keep an eye on him than a genuine offer, Gil agreed, "That sounds great. My feet aren't as young as they used to be, as Nick keeps trying to point out."
He followed Stephen into a Hummer, of all things, and didn't miss the way Jethro stayed close. Even so, Gil was able to direct the driver to Vegas and then towards the compound. No one talked much, though whether that was worry for their fallen man or anticipation of their possible new home, Gil couldn't tell. It wasn't until they were almost there that Gil happened to wonder about Nick's reaction to him just climbing into a car with strangers. Armed strangers, no less.
Suddenly realizing just how bad an idea this might be, Gil shifted uncomfortably and scratched at his beard. He tried to think of a way to present this so Nick didn't fly off the handle and couldn't.
Gil looked over at Stephen and gave him a rueful twist of the lips. "Well, I just happened to think that Nick's not all that likely to be jumping up and down with joy at me doing this. Not that they won't to take you in, but, well, I tend to leap before I look."
"And we're not exactly peaceful looking," Stephen surmised, flashing a grin at Jethro.
Offering a somewhat hapless shrug, Gil agreed, "Not really."
Jethro grunted and muttered something under his breath that Gil didn't catch.
They turned down the street that led to the motel and then Gil ordered, "Stop here, if you please? I should go out and make sure they don't shoot first and ask questions later."
Jethro climbed out so that Gil could and then got back inside the hummer. To Gil's surprise, Stephen also got out of the Hummer but an easy smile from the other man assured him.
"Can't have you facing the firing squad alone, now, can we?" Stephen told him, winking.
Somewhat bolstered by the support, Gil walked towards the compound gate. Catherine, Warrick, Sofia, Kel, and Nick were all there, naturally, as well as the normal guards. Nick look fit to be tied, if the utter lack of expression was anything to go by.
Gil offered a weak smile and greeted, "This is Stephen Connor. His group ran into some trouble on the road and, well, I thought they could regroup here. They have children and injured to care for."
Nick's expression didn't change, but Catherine immediately nodded, agreeing, "Of course.
, go get Sara so she can look them over." Sofia
But Stephen held up a hand and contradicted, "We actually have a number of doctors in our group. All we really need is somewhere the injured can rest that's clean, safe, and dry."
"I'm sure we can accommodate," Catherine said, opening the gate and motioning the others to swing it wide. "That's quite a convoy you have there."
Stephen smiled at her. "It is, isn't it? And you are?"
Catherine held out her hand as she said, "Catherine Willows. That's Warrick Brown, Nick Stokes, Sofia Curtis and Kel Martins."
Stephen shook hands with everyone as the vehicles pulled into the main parking area of the motel. There were a lot of arrangements to make as they discovered just how many people were injured. That no one had died already spoke of serious medical training, given the number of bullet wounds among the wounded. Gil was grateful for the busywork, not looking forward to the private discussion Nick was sure to want as soon as there was a moment.
All the injured were settled in their rooms, their various partners with them. Gil was a little astonished to realize just how many same-sex couples there were, even given the size of the group. He couldn't wait to find out exactly where they'd come from and what had formed them into a single group. His mind positively boggled upon discovering that it wasn't just Stephen and Jethro as partners, but Stephen, Jethro, and two young men who formed a single, romantic unit.
Finally, though, there was no putting it off. With everyone down for the night and guard duty assigned, Nick joined him near the pool and asked in a deceptively calm voice, "So you thought you would help them out, huh? Perfect strangers armed to the friggin' teeth. You thought it was a good idea to just mosey on up to them and go, "Here! Take me as a potential hostage!"
Gil winced at the anger and delayed panic underlying his lover's voice. He took Nick's hands and brought him to a nearby chaise, tugging him down on the rickety thing. "I saw one of them badly injured and couldn't just turn my back on them."
Nick looked at him for a long moment, the moonlight finding every wrinkle and crease in the careworn face. He finally sighed and admitted, "No, I guess you couldn't. But I'll tell you, Gris, you're not makin' it easy for me to let you go off on your own, especially not after this."
Feeling awkward, Gil said, "Well, I was actually going to talk to you about that."
"Yes, well...I was thinking...why do you have to let me go on my own?" Gil asked in a rush. He continued before he lost his nerve, "Why do we need to be alone at all? I've been alone a long time, Nick, and...I think I'm ready to not be alone anymore. If you want, I mean. This is the both of us and if you need space to..."
Nick's hand covered Gil's mouth, stopping the words as he bestowed an obviously fond, if somewhat exasperated, smile on Gil and said, "I'd love to be glued to your side the rest of your life, Gil. I just didn't want to freak you out again."
Pulling Nick's hand off his mouth, Gil half-smiled and suggested, "How about we try the joined-at-the-hips thing for a while and see how it goes?"
A broad grin spread over Nick's face and he kissed Gil sweetly before confirming, "Sounds like a plan to me. Now c'mon. I have a bed you need tyin' to."
Gil laughed and let Nick pull him to his feet. They walked hand-in-hand to his room and spent the rest of the night getting reacquainted. After, draped over his lover's body and listening to Nick's heartbeat, Gil understood just how lucky he was and fell asleep with a half-formed, but wholly sincere prayer never to be alone again.
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