Apple Pie and After Lives

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: This series is set in the same universe as the Horses of Different Colors series by James Walkswithwind and Wolfling, which you can find at -- I have, however, written it with the intention that it will still make complete sense to people who haven't read that series.

The title is not misspelled. The space between "after" and "lives" is there to hint at a double meaning.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thanks to James and Wolfling, who let me play in their world. Thanks also to Moonbeam for betaing for me. You were most right about the ending. And thanks to all the folks who've e-mailed me to tell me that they enjoyed Myths and Revelations. I'm sure some of you thought the series was dead when five months went by with no new stories, but rest assured, despite some difficulties, there are still new M&R stories on the drawing board. At least four of them, at this point in time.

Tony lay still in Gibbs's bed, watching the centaur sleep. The light from the street lamps outside leaked in around the drapes, providing just enough illumination for Tony to make out the planes of Gibbs's face. The quality of the light--diffuse and yellowish--erased the lines around his mouth and eyes, burnished his skin warmly, and gave his hair an almost blond tint. It didn't matter that Gibbs had been a brunet; he looked twenty years younger anyway.

Twenty years younger. Almost the same age as Tony.

Insomnia never used to be a problem for Tony. He led an active life both at work and at home and his body was always ready for a rest. He could catch sleep anywhere. But these days he kept waking up in the middle of the night and staring at Gibbs for hours on end. Once he caught sight of the centaur, he couldn't bring himself to go back to sleep.

It didn't take a shrink to figure out why. Sleep, even sleep with Gibbs right next to him, felt too much like wasted time. Most people slept for a third of their life. That worked out to 122 days every year. Okay, so they slept less than most people. Call it 100 days. That still meant that in the 13 or so years Tony had left with Gibbs, he'd lose 1,300 days. More than three and a half years.

You can't keep thinking this way, Tony told himself even as his eyes traced Gibbs's features over again. If you spend all your time counting, you'll spoil the years you do have. But he couldn't bring himself to stop. After a lifetime spent living in the moment, enjoying today and not worrying too much about tomorrow, suddenly tomorrow was all Tony could think about.

Tomorrow and the inevitability of losing Gibbs, like Gena Debowski had lost Pam Fitzpatrick. Even a month after the team had investigated Pam's murder, it was hard not to think of them when he thought of losing Gibbs. There were just too many similarities in their relationships, for all that Gena had lost Pam to an idiot with a short temper instead of a shortened lifespan.

Tony mentally wavered between staying and watching Gibbs and getting up. Normally there would have been no question that he'd stay, but he'd met with the assistant district attorney the day before and the man had mentioned that Gena Debowski had switched back to the ten p.m. to six a.m. shift at the diner where she worked. It was playing hell with the ADA's schedule, but it meant that she'd be awake and working even now, at three a.m.

Moving carefully, Tony eased out of bed. He stood looking down at Gibbs for a moment. You're getting obsessed, he told himself firmly. Maybe if you get some of this shit out of your own head and into the open, it won't seem so huge.

Tony pulled on a pair of jeans and a turtleneck sweater in the dark, doing his best not to wake Gibbs with his movements, and eased the bedroom door closed behind himself. He scribbled a quick note for Gibbs, just in case, and left it on the kitchen counter before grabbing his jacket and gloves and easing out into the cold January night.

Rosie's diner wasn't exactly close to Gibbs's place, but at three in the morning there wasn't much traffic; the drive went quickly. Tony pulled into the tiny, almost deserted parking lot, and just sat there for a long moment. The last time he'd spoken to Gena Debowski, he'd been investigating her lover's murder. Not exactly a meeting designed to elicit warm and fuzzy feelings if she saw him again. She might not want to talk to him again.

On the other hand, Tony thought, Gibbs and I are virtually the only people in the world she could talk to about Pam without lying, or at least hedging her comments. It might be a painful topic, but couldn't imagine she'd rather forget Pam altogether. He opened the door and got out of the car.

A tiny bell rang when Tony pushed the door to Rosie's open and he stepped into warm air scented with coffee and pastries. He stood just inside the door and glanced around, looking for Gena. There was only one other customer in the place, a man hunched over a coffee mug and reading a newspaper.

"Can I help you?"

Tony looked around to find an older woman he didn't recognize watching him expectantly from behind the counter. "Is Gena working tonight?" he asked, pulling his gloves off and shoving them into his jacket pocket.

The woman nodded. "She'll be out in a minute."

Tony nodded back and waited, hands pushed into his pockets. Maybe a minute later Gena appeared from a hallway leading into the back of the diner. She caught sight of him and stopped short before approaching him hesitantly. "Special Agent DiNozzo," she said. "You must be here about Pam." Before Tony could contradict her she turned to the older woman and said, "Jen, I mentioned that people might need to speak to me at odd times, remember? It must be important if he's here this late. You mind if I take a few minutes to talk?"

Jen's face developed sympathetic lines. "Go ahead, sweetie. It's not like we've got a rush going."

"Thanks." Gena turned back to Tony and tilted her head towards a table in the corner, the furthest seat from the sole other customer. "Over here. You want a coffee?"

It was only polite to have something if he was going to tie her up when she was supposed to be working. "Sure," Tony said. "And a slice of apple pie, if you've got any."

While Gena went to retrieve coffee and pie, Tony slid into the seat she'd indicated and folded his hands on the laminate table top. There was music playing softly and the occasional clank drifted out from the kitchen, but despite that, Rosie's felt quiet. Maybe it was the time of night, or maybe it was just the mental space Tony's head was in, but that quietness seemed oppressive. It made him want to shout, and only an effort of will stopped him from at least tapping on the table to make a little noise.

A white ceramic plate with a slice of pie on it clicked onto the table in front of Tony and was followed a moment later by a cup of coffee, complete with saucer. Tony wrapped his hands around the cup as Gena slid into the seat opposite him and set down a second cup and saucer in front of herself. They each sipped for a moment before Tony spoke, keeping his voice low so that it wouldn't carry. "I'm not here officially."

"I know," Gena said, equally quietly, "but this way my supervisor won't mind that I'm taking time to talk to you."

"You don't mind--"

Gena shook her head. "I understand," she said. "I never had anyone to talk to about Pam. If I'd found someone who knew, who was safe to talk to..." She trailed off for a moment, eyes distant with might-have-beens. "Well," she said, focusing on Tony again and smiling sadly, "I wouldn't have waited a month before getting in touch again."

"Gibbs and I aren't quite that isolated," Tony said. "There are four other people who know about him. And us." He sipped at the coffee again, as much to give his hand something to do as because he wanted it, and contemplated the pie. He'd ordered it to be polite. Eventually he'd have to eat it.

"Knowing doesn't mean understanding." Gena watched him for a moment and then gestured at the slice of pie. "You mind if I have a bite of that? It's been a long time since I ate last." Tony gestured for her to go ahead and watched while she used the fork to pinch off the tip of the slice. "Even after three years with Pam, I don't think I entirely understood the way she thought. No matter how close to us they seem to be, they're something else on the inside."

"Did that ever bother you?" Tony asked, watching her eat the pie he'd ordered.

The easy answer would have been If it did, would I have stayed with her? But Gena shrugged and put the fork back down on the pie plate. "Sometimes. I wanted to know her inside and out and backwards and forwards. I wanted to be one of those couples who understand each other so well they seem telepathic. I hated it whenever something reminded me that we still had a long way to go before we got there. But I'd tell myself that that's--" Her voice broke and she cleared her throat before finishing. "That's what a lifetime together was for. Learning each other."

A lifetime. Tony dropped his eyes to his coffee. "Did Pam ever talk to you about that? A, uh, their lifetime, I mean."

"Yeah," Gena said softly. "I guess it hasn't been that long since you and Gibbs had that talk."

"Two months," Tony said. He reached out and picked up the fork. The pie was tasteless, but swallowing it forced his throat open again. "And it was more like an argument than a discussion."

"How much older is he?" Gena asked, her voice infinitely gentle.

Tony looked up at her and managed a strained smile. "Eighteen years."

She winced and then immediately looked apologetic. "I'm sorry."

Tony shrugged. "Don't be. That's pretty much how I feel."

They were quiet for a while, each sipping at their coffee, the pie half-finished between them. "I'm not sure what you want to hear from me," Gena said at last.

"Neither am I," Tony said, letting out a strained laugh. "Did you and Pam ever talk about it?"

Gena tilted her head a little. "About what? Me actually losing her, or what would happen to me once she was gone?"

Tony found he couldn't look up at her as he answered, instead staring down into his coffee cup. "What would happen once she was gone."

A soft sigh. "Yeah. We planned for it, actually." Tony looked up in time to see Gena shrug. "I thought that including Pam in my planning for life without her would help it feel like she was still a part of my life." She watched Tony for a moment, sipping from her coffee as she looked for...God knew what. "Have you and Gibbs talked about it?"

"Gibbs isn't the type," Tony said dryly. "Hell, neither am I, most of the time. We nearly split up when I first found out because neither of us would tell the other what he was thinking."

"One of the many reasons I'm glad I prefer women," Gena said, a little light in her eyes that Tony hadn't seen before. It made him smile back. "Even if you never talk to him about it again, you need to think about it," Gena went on after a moment. "If all your plans in life end with him, you'll find yourself very, very lost..." She trailed off and lifted her coffee cup, taking a long, deep swallow of the bitter drink.

Gena might have made plans for when Pam was gone, Tony realized, but she hadn't expected to need them for another twenty years. Plans made for the future didn't necessarily work for right now. "Feeling a little adrift?" he asked softly.

She lowered the cup, but didn't set it down. "Yeah," she said, her words choked and her eyes gone watery. "It's almost like losing her twice. Now I don't even get the sense that she's had a hand in what I'm doing. I--" She stopped and took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "I'm probably going to have to move. Pam paid most of the rent on the apartment. It's just another little piece of her I have to leave behind."

"You know that they believe in an afterlife," Tony said awkwardly.

Gena finished her coffee and pushed cup and saucer aside. "Sure, but not the same one most people do," she said, reaching out and using the fork to take another bite of the pie. "Humans and centaurs go to different places when they die, according to Pam."

Tony blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Different gods, different heavens," Gena said, looking at him curiously. "You didn't know that?"

"I'm a lapsed Catholic," Tony said, "with the emphasis on 'lapsed.' I guess he thought it didn't matter." Didn't matter to Tony, but Christ, shouldn't it have mattered to Gibbs if he believed Tony wasn't going to be there in the afterlife? Come to think of it, shouldn't Gena have been more upset? "You're a little matter-of-fact about it, yourself."

Gena actually smiled. "I'm an atheist and a lesbian. I always told Pam that if there was a Christian heaven, they wouldn't take me. She always said, 'If they don't want you, maybe Zeus will let me sneak you into the Fields.' Elysian Fields," Gena explained. "It's what they call their heaven."

"Elysian Fields..." Tony mused. He smiled a little. "Lots of space to run, I bet."

"And a never ending game of tag always in need of new players," Gena added, eyes sparkling for a moment before grief clouded them again. "That was what Pam missed most about being with the herd. We used to play sometimes, just the two of us. Pam had to make up whole new rules for me, but that just seemed to make it more fun for her. I never won; I could never remember all the rules. But losing was just as much fun."

"Gibbs is more the obstacle course type," Tony said, leaning back in his seat. "I spent three months sneaking around building one for him. By the time I was ready to spring the surprise, we were both terrified--him that I was sneaking around for another reason and me that all the time would be for nothing." He grinned, remembering that night. "He ran it four times before we decided that he needed a nice, thorough brushing."

Gena grinned back at him. "Have you ever just left the brushes out where he can see them?" Tony shook his head. "Guaranteed distraction. Although if you're going to have fun with it at work, you better pick the day carefully." Gena's smile turned rueful. "I slipped Pam's brushes into her briefcase the morning of a day she was scheduled to make arguments, once. I thought she could use something to take her mind off the stress a little, you know? To help her relax." Gena shook her head. "Seeing them threw her off her stride so badly that she had to have her associate make the arguments in her place. We didn't fight much, but when she got home that night we yelled at each other until we were both in tears and the neighbors were pounding on the walls."

Tony looked down at his coffee cup and turned it in circles a couple of times. "Maybe this is a stupid question..." He paused, but Gena didn't fill in the expected response. He looked up and cocked his head. "Aren't you going to tell me that there are no stupid questions?"

"Oh, there are lots of stupid questions," Gena grinned briefly. "But that doesn't mean they don't need and deserve answers. So ask."

"Was it worth it?" Tony winced even as he heard the words leaving his lips. He dropped his eyes back to his coffee.

After a long, silent moment, Tony cautiously looked up. Gena was poking at the remains of the slice of apple pie, apparently giving the question serious thought. Tony relaxed a little and waited.

"Being with Pam was hard," Gena said after a long moment. "Being in the closet, hiding what Pam was...we always had to be on guard, even when we'd go away somewhere where Pam could change. I was constantly wishing we didn't have to hide so much. But Pam..." Gena laughed a little. "This is going to sound really cheesy. Pam changed how I felt inside. It wasn't so much that she made me feel complete as it was that she made me feel I was more than I had been before, whether we were together or apart. Even now that she's gone, I still feel that way, so yeah, it was worth it. But Tony," Gena said intently, leaning forward across the table a little, "even if I said it wasn't, you know that wouldn't change anything, don't you? You couldn't stop feeling what you feel for Gibbs no matter what the eventual outcome."

"I know," Tony said, smiling weakly. "But it's hard not to wonder what I'm going to think of all this in ten or fifteen years, when Gibbs is gone."

"At least you'll have people to remember him with," Pam said softly.

Not much of a consolation, Tony thought, but he didn't say it. It was all Gena had. One day, it'd be all he had. So he reached out and covered her hands with one of his. "You can remember Pam with me."

Gena looked down at their hands and smiled a little. "I'd been living with Pam for six months before we had a chance to go somewhere where she could run. She'd changed for me before that, of course, if only to show me that it was real, but seeing her inside the apartment couldn't compare to seeing her outside, moving freely..."

Tony let Gena's voice wash over him. It didn't really matter if he absorbed every detail. Eventually, she'd want to tell to the story again. But for now, he listened with half his attention and kept his eye on Gena's boss with the other half. She might not be able to hear what they were saying, but their body language hadn't been all that professional. They managed another half an hour before Gena had to go back to work and Tony returned to his car and, eventually, Gibbs's house.

It was five thirty in the morning by the time Tony got back and the neighborhood was showing signs of waking up for the day. Tony had more than half expected to find Gibbs up and around already, but when he eased into the house it was still quiet and dark, save for the automatic coffee maker--one of Tony's contributions to the household--that had just come on.

Taking off his shoes, Tony padded softly into the bedroom and found Gibbs still sound asleep, one arm stretched out onto Tony's side of the bed, as if reaching for him. Tony smiled and leaned against the door frame, tempted beyond words to shed his clothing and crawl into that embrace, if only for fifteen minutes.

But this close to the start of the day Gibbs would wake up at the first shift of the mattress and be out of bed before Tony could lie down, so he just paused and looked a little longer before turning and heading back to the kitchen. In a minute there would be enough coffee for the first cup, and Gibbs was incredibly sweet when he woke up with a cup of the brew under his nose. Not that Tony would ever take his life in his hands by saying so, but he wasn't going to miss a chance to see it, either.