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Chapter 1: Lost Boy Found
Leroy Jethro Gibbs took the change out of his cash drawer and handed it over the counter to 89 year old Jean Paul Levesque. “There ya go Mister Levesque. Eight dollars and seventy two cents is your change. You need help fixing those hinges, you just let me know.” Moving around the counter, Jethro followed the elderly man to the door, smiling amused as the elder man chatted up his granddaughter Aurora Rose. Ever the matchmaker, Jean Paul would probably never quit trying to set him up. If it was anyone else, Jethro would be annoyed, but the man reminded him of his own father, Jackson whom he saw only rarely.
Nodding to Jean Paul’s other married granddaughter Murphy Claire Levesque, Gibbs waited until the elder man had made it across the street and the pair were safely inside their bookstore. Looking around, Gibbs paused a moment to check out the Christmas decorations adoring the street lamps and the balconies of the residences above the stores. Christmas would be there soon, being only a few days away. Gibbs had considered going to see his father, but Jackson informed him that he wouldn’t be home. His latest lady friend was taking him somewhere for the holiday weekend.
Snorting and shaking his head, realizing his father’s love life was much more active than his own, Jethro turned and made his way back to the back of the store to grab the push broom. He figured he might as well get the isles swept while he had a break between customers. Then maybe later he could get some carving done. He had just finished a customer order, and wanted to start on some new things to display at the front of the store.
While technically he ran a hardware store, Jethro also sold wooden toys and picture frames. He also occasionally made furniture, and took custom orders for pieces. It kept him busy, and truth be told kept the store afloat. Starting at the back corner furthest from the door, Jethro slowly made his way up and down the aisles. It took him awhile to reach the front corner again. He’d paused occasionally to straighten shelves, and make notes of things that needed reordered in the little notebook he carried in his shirt pocket.
Rounding the end of the isle to finish the last row, Jethro paused seeing a small blond headed boy sitting quietly on his knees in front of the toys on the bottom shelf. Frowning Gibbs looked around the store, thinking he must have missed the parent. His concern grew when he realized it was only himself and the boy inside the store. Leaning the broom against a shelf, Gibbs moved quietly to kneel down next to the child, wincing as his knees popped as he went down. The boy couldn’t be more than two or three. Much too young to be in the store all by himself. Gibbs guessed soon there would be a frantic parent looking for him.
“Hey there, buddy,” Gibbs said softly to the child who had turned to study him. The child’s hazel eyes were wide with fright, and one hand was frozen mid-air. It looked like he’d been reaching for the wooden truck that Gibbs had put out just that morning.
Smiling softly, Gibbs took the toy off the shelf, and handed it to the small child. “I think this belongs to you. I’m Gibbs. What’s your name kiddo?” He asked softly. He was having a hard time resisting the urge to pull the child into his arms. There seemed to be much more hidden behind those eyes, than you should see in anyone so young. The child took his time looking from the truck to Gibbs and back seemingly trying to determine if there was some trick. While he was young, there seemed to be an intelligence there that should be beyond the boy’s years. Slowly the child took the truck, but immediately scooted back so that he was as far away from Gibbs as possible.
“Not s’pose to say,” the boy replied equally as soft clutching the toy to his chest. Every now and then his eyes would wander from Gibbs to the truck then to a boat then back to Gibbs in a never ending cycle. “Papa say. Is rule.”
Gibbs nodded half smiling, having a few rules of his own. “Sounds like a good rule. Were you with him?” It took the child a second to work his way through the question, but Gibbs could see the second the child realized he didn’t know where he was. Those big hazel eyes filled with tears, and his head swiveled toward the window, clutching the truck tighter.
The child’s lip began to quiver, and Gibbs knew crying was imminent. He could practically see the boy wishing for his father to magically appear in his head. Hoping to hold off the inevitable as long as possible, Gibbs tried again to get some information about where the father was. “Did he come in here with you? Or was he in another store?” He knew the answer already though, but hoped the distraction would work long enough for Papa to realize the child was missing. Gibbs was already standing to move to look down the street when the child pointed out the window.
Patting the boy’s head, Gibbs moved to stand in the doorway. His knees crackling as he went, making him curse under his breath. He snorted amused as he saw the child reaching for the boat, while still trying to hold on to the truck. Poking his head out the doorway, Gibbs looked up and down the street for a frightened parent. His store was on a quiet street not far from the French Quarter. There were all sorts of local businesses around, selling all kinds of wares and goods. He was just glancing up the street again, before he saw a man come running out of what looked to the sisters Benoit’s clothing store, with a boy who appeared to be the same age as the one in his store clutched to his side. Gibbs had a feeling he’d just found “Papa”.
He was proven correct just seconds later when he heard the man yelling for the child. “Michael!” The man yelled frantically, and Gibbs turned his attention back to the boy in his store, just in time to see the waterworks finally begin. They were followed closely by a frightened, “Papa!”
“Sir!” Gibbs hollered in his best Gunny voice. The man turned toward him, and Gibbs jerked his head toward his store. The frantic father ran toward him, and Gibbs stepped back out of the way just in time to prevent being run over. He was surprised though to hear his name being called by a familiar voice. Poking his head outside again, after moving to the doorway, Gibbs was surprised to see Christopher LaSalle running toward him. “He’s there?” Gibbs nodded keeping his smart remark to himself. Normally he would let the younger man have it, but he could sense panic similar to the father’s in his young friend’s voice.
“Oh thank, God,” Christopher swore stopping in front of the store window, bending over with his hands on his knees. “Pride’s gonna kill me. But, man, them little things are sneeky! They’re faster than a coon dog at supper time! One second they’re right there next to ya, and the next BAM… they’ve vanished into thin air! I dunno how Cap’n does it, Jesus.”
Gibbs couldn’t help but chuckle and reaching out slapped the younger man upside the back of his head. He was further amused when LaSalle just nodded. “Thanks, Gunny. I needed that. Ya think you can watch ‘em for a secon’? I’ll go back to Benoit’s and finish paying for the stuff.” Looking down the street Gibbs saw the younger sister Mabel watching them, and Gibbs waved then nodded to Christopher. “They’ll be alright here for a moment.” As Christopher jogged off back down the street, Gibbs moved back into the store to study the small family.
The man, whom Gibbs guessed to be Papa, if the first boy’s sniffled cries were to be taken as truth, was clutching both boys to him. Gibbs couldn’t see his face, but guessed that the blond boy wasn’t the only one who had lost his battle with tears. Moving away to give the father and his sons some time, Gibbs went into the back and got a few bottles of water and a couple juice boxes that he kept for neighboring store owner’s kids. When he got back to the front the man, whom had shifted so Gibbs could see his face, was finally swinging from frantic into lecturing parent.
“Michael Anthony DiNozzo, what is the rule about wandering off by yourself? You scared Papa and Freddy!” Gibbs could still hear the fear in his voice, and paused to study the man and other boy for a moment. The second child appeared to be around the same age as the first. Close enough in size and appearance that Gibbs wondered if they might be fraternal twins. He was a little bigger than his brother, and had dark hair and dark brown eyes. They both resembled their man though, and Gibbs knew without a doubt this must be Papa.
The man though looked warn down to the bone. Gibbs couldn’t help but wonder what the man had gotten himself into that required NCIS to be involved. Putting a bottle of water and the two juice boxes next to them, on the ground, he stepped back to go back to watching. Gibbs hoped that Papa was a victim rather than perpetrator for the sake of the two little boys he was still holding. Gibbs guessed that the man was in his mid to upper thirties. His eyes, hazel like Michael’s looked haggard and had dark circles under them. The clothes he was wearing looked to be too big on him, and Gibbs couldn’t help but wonder if the man hadn’t lost weight recently from the stress of whatever was going on. Gibbs hoped that it was just stress that could be fixed with a few days of Pride’s home cooking and a week of sleep, and not something more serious. For some reason Gibbs felt himself drawn to the younger man, and mentally slapped himself.
Gibbs guessed that there was probably a wife somewhere. For all Gibbs knew she was with Pride. Even if there wasn’t the last thing the guy needed was some old worn down Gunnery Sargent perving on him while he was dealing with… whatever it was he was going through. Gibbs could Pride drawlin’ in his head, “A man can always look, brother.”
Gibbs was drawn back to the present when he saw the other boy pull out of Papa’s arms and move to stand next to Michael. Putting his hands on his hips, Gibbs was just waiting for his finger to start wiggling. The child looked like every irate Grandmother in New Orleans. “Scared, Michael!” Gibbs coughed to cover up a laugh and met Papa’s twinkling eyes seeing that daddy was fighting not to laugh himself.
The moment quickly shifted though, because it seemed the lecture from both his beloved Papa and brother was too much. Michael’s lip quivered and soon a fresh set of tears were set lose. Quickly he was wrapped up in Papa and brother’s arms again, as the man rocked both boys murmuring softly. “I sorry,” Gibbs heard, although muffled, and felt his heart clench. Quickly it turned back to humor though at the next closely followed statement.
“Was bored! Hate shoppin’!” Gibbs couldn’t help but snort in sympathy as shopping wasn’t his favorite activity either. He heard Papa’s exasperated sigh as LaSalle came back in dropping the bags in front of the window inside the shop. “You an’ me both kiddo. Next time you an Uncle LaSalle can go kick back on the boat while Freddy an’ Papa do the shoppin’ bit. Maybe it’ll keep us both outta touble.” Gibbs somehow doubted it, but kept his thoughts to himself.
He was fond of the younger man, but trouble seemed to follow LaSalle like bees to honey. When he felt the younger man’s eyes on him, Gibbs turned his attention away from the father and sons. “Can’t thank ya enough, Gunny. Darn near scared the sh… uhh stuffin’ outta me. I thought that b… uhh… w… woman got ‘im.”
Gibbs arched an eyebrow at Chris who just shrugged apologetically. “Sorry, Gunny. It’s ‘fficial business. Unless… Hey! I don’t s’pose you got time to help us wrangle these two scallywags do ya? Ya know Pride’ll pay ya for your time. I dunno how Cap’n does it! They each need a full time keeper!”
When Gibbs just cocked his head to one side, LaSalle just huffed. “C’mon, Gunny. Do I look like the guy you want around impressionable children? Left solely in charge of their rearing and upbringing? I mean just imagine what’s gonna happen to ‘em next if they’re left in the clutches of my care.”
Gibbs snorted and shook his head glancing to the kids and back to LaSalle who nodded at him. “Exactly! You’re one of them fatherly types! There ain’t no way even a two year old dares to defy Gunnery Sargent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. It ain’t like ya never helped us before neither! That’s why Pride keeps ya on the official unofficial payroll.”
Gibbs nodded and shrugged amused by the younger man’s antics. Truth be told Gibbs really wasn’t ready to let the boys out of his sight just yet. There had just been something in Michael’s eyes that shouldn’t be seen in a two year old. Gibbs knew if he helped, his old friend Dwayne Cassius Pride would give him the low down on what was going on. LaSalle looked around the store before looking back to Gibbs. “Sides it looks like you’ve got the time, Gibbs.”
Gibbs glared and gave the man a head slap again, but ended up snorting and rolling his eyes. The man had a point. Gibbs knew he’d get little to no more traffic for the day, and it had been slow lately despite it being Chrismas. All of his custom Christmas jobs were finished, and he could have Marie Claire or Aurora Rose watch the store for him. LaSalle was also correct in that this wouldn’t be the first time he’d helped Pride. It was things like this that he was kept on the official unofficial payroll for. LaSalle accepted the head slap, but didn’t offer an apology this time, as he knew he was right. Gibbs had to give it to Pride. He’d sure found an SFA who didn’t intimidate easily.
Sighing Gibbs looked to the family, studying the father once more. He really wanted to get to know the man. It was odd, because Gibbs as a general rule could take or leave most people, usually preferring to leave them far, far away from wherever he was. This man though, Gibbs didn’t even know his name, and felt the tug of something unexplained that was demanding to be explored. He wanted to know more about him, and why he looked like he hadn’t had a good day in decades.
Turning back to LaSalle Gibbs just looked at him, and the younger man gave a whoop that made the two little ones jump. Giving a fist pump, Chris grinned big. “I’ll just call Pride an’ let him know. You’re the best, Gibbs!” Amused Gibbs just shook his head then moved toward where the family was still crouched on the floor when Michael beckoned him. He’d been monitoring the negotiation between Papa and Michael as Papa tried to pry the toys out of the little boy’s arms.
“No, Papa! Man gibed to mes!”Michael insisted trying to keep the truck out of his Papa’s reached while shoving the boat into Freddy’s arms at the same time. Seeing that speed and sneakiness LaSalle had been whining about, Michael somehow made it past Papa and brother, while still in possession of the truck. The boat now safely in Freddy’s arms. “Gibbs! Tell!” Michael demanded the pointed to the boat, now in Freddy’s hands much to Papa’s dismay. “Freddy have?”
Gibbs smiled at the boy then looked to Papa nodding. “He’s right. I told him he could have the truck. Didn’t know he had a clone though. S’only fair that Freddy gets one, too. Sounds like they’ve had a rough day. Shoppin’ takes a lot out of a man.”
Michael nodded seriously, and looked back at his Papa, hearing the wisdom in the words. “Take lot out ob man.”
Gibbs watched the man snort and saw his shoulders shake as he hid his face. At first Gibbs was worried he’d upset the man, but then heard the laugh. He realized he’d given into his amusement. “This is some kind of horrible payback. Two Mini-Mes. Ok, if Mister uhh was it Gibbs insists. At least let me pay you.”
Gibbs shook his head and smirked. “Nope. On the house.” Papa sighed and stood as the boys, sensing victory moved to see what else was on the shelf. Gibbs noted their mutual interest in the full train set he had on a shelf just out of their reach, as Papa moved to stand next to him. Gibbs made a mental note to make sure Santa delivered it to them on Christmas.
“I um… thank you. I don’t know what I would have done…” LaSalle took that moment to come back in grinning. “We’re set, Cap’n! Gibbs here’s signed on to be a toddler wrangler! Careful Gunny. You can’t take your eyes off a them for a second! They have like super human speed, I’m tellin ya! They move faster’n a bolt of lightnin’!”
Gibbs arched an eyebrow, but Papa just snorted and shook his head. “Christopher LaSalle you my friend, are a grade A Moron.”
Christopher thought about the comment then nodded. Gibbs was almost afraid of what was going to come out of the young man’s mouth. “That may be so. In fact I’d lay best you’re right, but the thing is I’m damned adorable. An’ that’s all that counts.”
Papa covered his face again groaning, as LaSalle beamed proudly. Gibbs just shook his head wondering what he’d gotten himself into. Papa shook his head and glared at LaSalle. “Jesus. I can’t believe I’m putting my fate in your hands.” Gibbs would have been insulted in his young friend’s behalf, but he saw the twinkle in Papa’s eyes when he’d said the words. He also noted a sense of amusement and relieve in LaSalle when Papa seemed to relax. Gibbs was beginning to wonder if there was some past connection between these two.
“Anywho….. As I was saying before the brainless wonder interrupted us… Thanks are not enough. If something had happened to Michael…” Shaking his head and clearing his throat, the man flashed a weak smile. “My boys are my whole life. I’m Anthony Dimitri DiNozzo, but call me Tony. Those are my boys Michael Anthony and Frederick Sean or Freddy for short. Michael being the one who wandered in alone. I appreciate your generosity. We had to basically sneak out of town in the middle of the night, and toys were a low priority at the time.”
Nodding Gibbs smiled and shook the man’s hand. “Leroy Jethro Gibbs, but most around here call me Gibbs or Gunny. Pride an’ I served together in the Marines. It’s a pleasure to meet you and your boys. Don’t worry. Whatever’s goin’ on, I won’t let anything happen to your boys.”
“All kiddin’ aside, Mikey an’ Freddy couldn’t be in better hands. Gibbs here’s a Marine sniper. Pride was his spotter. They couldn’ be safer anywhere, brother.” LaSalle assured, and Tony nodded swallowing the lump in his throat. For the first time in weeks, he felt safe.