A Cry for Help

by: Patricia (Send Feedback)

Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 039 Word Count: 112820
Rating: TEEN
Warning(s): Disturbing Imagery or Content
Character(s): Tony DiNozzo
Category(ies): Angst/Drama
Pairing(s): - No Pairing -
Summary: Tony's world is crashing down around him, but he doesn't believe his friends can help. He turns to someone unexpected for help, but will it be enough to save him?

Author Notes: This is my first attempt at a NCIS fic. I hope you enjoy it. Unfortunately, I do not own these characters.

Part 1




Anthony DiNozzo ran a trembling hand through his disheveled hair as he studied his pale reflection in the bathroom mirror. The result of his latest concussion was evident by the bandage on his forehead, covering the gash that was being held together by fifteen stitches. He had checked himself out of the hospital AMA and taken a cab to his apartment. Tony had made it no further than his couch before he willingly succumbed to the darkness that had been beckoning him since he left the hospital. He had known that he shouldn’t fall asleep, especially without someone to wake him every hour, but at that particular moment, he hadn’t cared.

Now, a couple of hours later, he was standing in front of his bathroom mirror after being awakened by the incessant ringing of his cell phone. He had clumsily reached for it to check the caller ID. Tony had slung the phone across the room after discovering that it had been Vance trying to call him. Director Vance was the last person Tony wanted to talk to.

Tony gripped the sink as he fought against the dizziness and nausea that threatened to overwhelm him. After a few seconds, he lifted his head, careful to move slowly so he wouldn’t exacerbate the pounding in his skull, and stared at the haunted eyes that seemed to look right through him. Who was this man in the mirror? It wasn’t Special Agent Anthony D. DiNozzo, that much was for certain. Tony was beginning to wonder if that man even existed anymore.

Glancing at his watch, he squinted to force the numbers to come into focus. It was almost 6:30 and he was supposed to be in the office at 7:00. He was going to be late for work and then Gibbs would not be happy. An angry Boss was not something that he wanted to face this morning, especially with the drum and bugle corps playing in his head. Besides being late, he was going to have to explain to Gibbs how he got yet another concussion and that he had received the concussion on another undercover assignment that Gibbs knew nothing about.

Tony had vowed that after the fiasco of La Grenouille that his days of going undercover for anyone but Gibbs were over. But then Vance…

“I can’t do this anymore,” he whispered to himself.

He bent over and placed his head on the cool tile and closed his eyes. “I can’t do it, Boss. Not anymore.”

Tony forced himself to stand back up and opened his eyes. “I’ve got to get out of here. I need to think.

The dizziness was not easing up, but he knew that he could not give in. Using his hand, he clung to the wall as he slowly made his way back towards his living room. “Come on DiNozzo, you’ve had worse than this. Quit being so pathetic!” he growled.

After what seemed like an eternity, Tony reached the couch. He gingerly sat down and cradled his aching head in his hands. He was aware of what he needed to do, but now he had to summon up the courage to do it. He sighed as he fumbled for the cordless phone on his coffee table.

He carefully dialed the familiar number and waited with baited breath until he heard the clipped voice of Jethro Gibbs.

“Gibbs.”

Tony swallowed nervously. “Hey Boss. I…I…uh…”

“Spit it out, DiNozzo!” the gruff voice ordered.

“I’m not going to make it into work today.”

The distinct pause on the other end almost made Tony hang up, but if he did that, Gibbs would definitely know something was wrong. All Tony was trying to do was buy himself some time.

“Are you all right?” Gibbs finally asked.

“Yeah, Boss. It’s just…a…migraine,” Tony replied. “I’m just going to go back to bed and sleep it off.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?” Tony couldn’t believe that Gibbs had just agreed to give him the day off.

“Did I stutter, DiNozzo?”

“Uh, no Boss. I just…”

“Migraines are a bitch, DiNozzo. I’ll call you if we get anything.”

“Sure, Boss. Thanks. I…”

It was too late. Gibbs had already hung up on his end. Tony hit the off button and placed the phone on the cushion beside him. He shakily rose to his feet, wincing as the movement sent shards of pain through his head.

“I should have never made that call. Gibbs will be here any minute,” he chastised himself. “I can’t deal with seeing him.” He didn’t want to see the hurt and confusion in the eyes of the one man that he had come to think of as a father. Gibbs, in his own unusual way, would want to help him. How could anyone help him if he didn’t know what was wrong?

He carefully bent down and picked up his bag that he had deposited on the floor earlier that morning. Turning off the light, Tony grabbed his jacket and locked the door behind him. He had no idea where he was going, but it really didn’t matter. He just had to go somewhere and try to get his head on straight. He needed to look for what was left of Anthony DiNozzo, but he wasn’t sure that he wanted to find him.

Tony had to hug the wall once again as he slowly made his way down the hall. Once he was in the elevator, he leaned against the metal partition, grateful for the brief respite. He swallowed the bile in his throat as the elevator lurched to a stop.

The doors opened and he stumbled outside. He knew that he was in no condition to drive, so his only option was to hail a cab. Disgusted by the feeling of helplessness, Tony hailed the next cab.

He opened the door and slid into the backseat.

“Where to?” the cab driver asked.

“Just drive,” Tony answered, laying his head against the seat.

“Which direction?”

“Take me to the bus station.”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Leroy Jethro Gibbs winced as he snapped his phone shut. His senior field agent has just called in sick for the first time since Tony had started working for NCIS. DiNozzo had been placed on medical leave before, but he had never willingly called in sick. Tony was always pushing himself beyond his physical limits, just like when he came back a week early after having the plague.

Something wasn’t right. Actually, now that Gibbs looked back over the past few weeks, something hadn’t been right for quite a while. Tony had changed. There was something that was eating away at Tony and although the charismatic young man had apparently been able to fool most of his co-workers, Gibbs had not been so easily misled. It was his eyes. Tony’s eyes were no longer full of life as they had once been; his eyes reminded him of a man who no longer had anything left to cling to.

Gibb’s strides were purposeful and determined as he walked past Ziva and McGee on his way to his desk. “DiNozzo’s out sick today,” he announced.

He didn’t have to see the expression on his other team members faces to know that they were as surprised as he had been.

“Tony’s not coming in today?” Ziva clarified.

“That’s what I said.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“Migraine.”

“A migraine? I’ve never known Tony to have migraines, unless he’s been hit on the head.”

“Well, evidently, he’s got one.”

“Does he need anything?”

“I didn’t ask. I’m sure if he needs something, he’ll call.”

“You didn’t ask?”

“Officer David, is there a reason that you are repeating everything I say?” Gibbs tersely demanded.

“I just find it unusual that Tony called in. As long as I’ve known him, he’s…”

“I’m aware of that, Ziva.”

“Don’t you find it odd that…”

Gibbs glared at the Mossad officer. “What I find odd is that you’re not at your desk, finishing the report that I wanted on my desk yesterday!”

“Of course, Gibbs.”

He turned his attention to his computer as Ziva retreated to her desk. Gibbs could feel McGee’s concerned gaze shift between him and Ziva.

“Do you have anything to add, McGee?”

“Uh, no Boss. Nothing to add,” McGee stammered.

Frustrated, Gibbs rose from his seat and headed towards the elevator. “I’m going for coffee!”

As the doors to elevator closed, Gibbs spared one last glance at the bewildered expression on David’s and McGee’s faces. He was sure that as soon as he was completely out of sight, that they would be calling Tony to check on him and warn him that he was coming over. His team had not been fooled by the claim that he was going to get coffee. Of course, he would make sure that he came back with a cup in hand and if he was feeling generous, maybe one for Ziva and McGee. Right now, he could not ignore the feeling in his gut that something was wrong with DiNozzo and it wasn’t just a migraine.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXX


“He’s not answering either phone,” Ziva said.

“Maybe he’s asleep,” McGee surmised.

“Maybe, but I don’t think so. I don’t think that he would be cutting logs so loudly that he didn’t hear either phone.”

“Sawing,” he corrected.

“Whatever. The point is, he’s not answering his phone. Maybe he’s not home.” Ziva walked over to McGee’s desk and stood behind him. “See if you can pull up his coordinates with his cell phone.”

Ziva was always amazed that with just a few strokes of the keyboard, McGee seemed to make anything magically appear. However, this time, there was an apparent problem. “What’s wrong?” she pressed.

“Uh…his cell must be turned off,” McGee replied.

“Tony never turns his cell off. That would be breaking one of Gibbs’ rules.”

“Wait a minute,” McGee began.

“What is it?”

“I just pulled his cell phone records and the last call that was made to Tony’s phone was from here.”

Ziva leaned in closer to the computer screen. “That’s the Director’s line.”

She and McGee stared at the screen in disbelief. Ziva studied the computer screen for another second before lifting her gaze towards the upper level that housed the Director’s office. “Vance was the last one to talk to Tony. That doesn’t make sense.”

“We should tell Gibbs,” McGee stated.

“You’re right. You call him,” she quickly ordered.

“Me?”

“Yes, you are the senior agent in this office at the moment.”

“But…”

“Just do it.”

“Fine, but you owe me.”

She continued staring at the office door of Director Vance as McGee called Gibbs. What was going on between Vance and Tony? The two of them seemed to only tolerate each other at the best of times. Ziva turned her attention back to McGee’s one sided conversation.

“Boss? We’ll we found something a little unusual,” McGee began. “What? You want us over at Tony’s. Is he all right?”

Ziva felt as if she were going to be sick. She was right. There was something strange about this entire situation. Her eyes narrowed as McGee hung up. “What’s wrong?” she pressed.

“Tony’s not at home. Gibbs found his cell phone smashed against the wall. He wants us to come over there. I didn’t even get a chance to tell him about Vance.”

"You can tell him when we get there. Come on, I’m driving.”

Ziva ignored the look of fear on McGee’s face at the proclamation that she was driving. She didn’t have time to worry about his queasy stomach, Ziva just wanted to get to Tony’s as fast as she could.

Grabbing her coat, she didn’t have to look behind her to see if McGee was coming. Whether they wanted to admit it or not, Tony was not only an integral part of their team, but he was a member of their family. Family was supposed to look out for one another and she could not shake the feeling that they had not done a good job of looking after one Anthony DiNozzo.



Part 2

Abby was worried about Tony. She had asked him last night to go to a new club with her that had just opened up and he had turned her down. Replaying the conversation in her head, she realized that he had not sounded like his usual, carefree self.


***flashback***

“Please Tony,” she begged. “It’s opening night.”

“Abs, I’m sorry. I just can’t go tonight.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t and let’s just leave it at that.”

Looking around the bullpen, she saw that it was practically empty. Abby then proceeded to sit down on Tony’s lap and put her arms around him. “Please, Tony. Just for a little while.”

Tony sighed. “Abs, you know it’s a school night. Gibbs will kill me if I’m out late.”

“We won’t tell him.”

“He always finds out and right now, I can’t afford to screw up.”

Abby arched her eyebrow as she studied the features of her best friend. Fine lines of exhaustion had appeared around his eyes and all of a sudden, he looked older than his years. “Tony, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Abs. I’m just tired. Ever since I got back from the Seahawk, things have been…different. I don’t know how to explain it.”

She placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. “I have an idea. Let’s skip the club and I’ll come over and bring dinner and we can watch a movie. We haven’t done that since you’ve been back. It’ll be fun.”

Tony smiled at her. She loved his smile; it always had a way of brightening her day. “Not tonight, but I’ll take a rain check.”

She knew it was no use to argue once Tony had made up his mind about something. Abby still couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that something was truly wrong with her friend. If only she could get him to open up. Tony had a habit of hiding behind the mask of a carefree, self-centered playboy, and very few people ever got a glimpse of the real Anthony DiNozzo. However, lately that mask had been slipping and Tony had been struggling to keep it in place.

She laid her head on his shoulder and the two of them sat there. It wasn’t until Director Vance was standing over Tony’s desk that either of them volunteered to move. Abby jumped up and placed another quick kiss on DiNozzo’s cheek. “Call me later.”

She headed towards the elevator, hoping that Vance wasn’t going to chew Tony out for something that she had done. As the doors closed and she pushed the button that would take her back to her lab, Abby decided that she would have to have a talk with Gibbs. If anyone knew what was going on with Tony, it would be Gibbs.


***end flashback***


She glanced at the clock and then picked up the phone. Tony should be in by now and she just wanted to hear his voice. The phone rang several times before someone picked up.

“Director Vance,”

Abby swallowed nervously. “I’m sorry. I was trying to call Tony. I...uh…don’t know how I got you, but then again, I don’t guess I need to know because…”

“Ms. Scuito?” Vance interjected. “Is there something you needed?”

“Tony. I was looking for Tony.”

“Gibbs sent me an email a few minutes ago. DiNozzo called in sick today.”

“Oh. Well, why did you answer Tony’s phone?”

“That, Ms. Scuito is none of your concern. Now, will there be anything else?”

“No. I mean no sir. Have a nice day, sir.”

Abby hung up. “Something is definitely hinky here. That’s it. I’m calling Gibbs.”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


The first thing that Gibbs had noticed when he reached Tony’s apartment was that DiNozzo’s car wasn’t in its usual spot. His first thought was that DiNozzo had better not called in sick and taken off with some girl. Gibbs silently chastised himself for even considering that option. He was looking for excuses to counteract the gnawing feeling in his stomach that told him Tony was in trouble. It wasn’t the same feeling that he had when Tony had been injured or sick; it was a feeling that told him that if he didn’t find his senior agent soon, that it would be too late.

Gibbs knocked on the door of Tony’s apartment three times. Not waiting for a response, he pulled out the spare key that he had acquired several years ago. Gibbs unlocked the door and entered the living room. By force of habit, he slipped on a pair of gloves and began to look around the room. At first glance, nothing seemed out of place. There were a few DVD cases scattered on top of the television, but there were no glasses or the usual pizza boxes lying around.

He stepped into the bedroom. The bed had not been slept in and there were no clothes lying about. The only indication that Tony may have been in this room was the fact that the light was on in the adjoining bathroom. He went into the bathroom, but again, everything seemed to be in its place.

“Where are you, DiNozzo?”

He could almost hear Tony answering, “On your six, Boss.” But the problem was that DiNozzo wasn’t on his six. In fact, Tony wasn’t anywhere around. His senior agent had called in sick and he wasn’t at home. Gibbs knew that DiNozzo would not willingly go to the doctor, especially for a migraine.

The sound of his phone ringing interrupted his thoughts. Glancing at the caller ID, he rolled his eyes as he answered. “What Abs?”

“Why didn’t you tell me Tony called in sick?” Abby demanded to know.

“Abby, I…”

“I have to find out from Director Vance that Tony called in sick!” she continued to rant. “You know that Tony never calls in sick. Something has to be wrong. Have you checked on him?”

A tiny smile escaped his lips. Abby and Tony had a special relationship, always seeming to understand each other. “I’m doing it now, Abs,” he replied.

“Oh. Well, is he okay? Did you know that last night he wouldn’t even go clubbing with me? Tell him that I’m coming over and bringing him some of my famous…”

“Abby, not now,” Gibbs warned.

“What do you mean not now? Let me talk to Tony.”

“He’s not here, Abs.”

“What? Where is he?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out. I gotta go, Abs.” Gibbs hung up knowing that he would owe Abby an extra Caf-Pow for cutting her short.

As Gibbs headed towards the tiny kitchen, something caught his eye. Gibbs knelt down and picked up the remains of Tony’s cell phone. He sighed in disgust as his own cell phone started ringing again.

He flipped his phone open. “Gibbs.”

It was McGee. Gibbs didn’t even give him an opportunity to utter two words before he was issuing an order. “McGee, Tony’s not here at his apartment. I need you and Ziva to get over here now.”

He didn’t offer any further explanation before he snapped his phone shut again. He closed his other fist around Tony’s cell phone. DiNozzo was as attached to his cell phone as Gibbs was his boat. For it to be left behind, smashed into pieces, only confirmed Gibbs’ suspicion that Tony was in some kind of trouble.

“DiNozzo, what is going on with you?” he quietly pondered. “Your car is gone, your cell phone’s destroyed, you call in sick, and you’re not home. It doesn’t add up!”

Jethro Gibbs did not like the fact that he had no idea where DiNozzo was. He usually knew the whereabouts of his team members, especially DiNozzo. But, he had to admit that the last few months, things had been different between them. Tony was a gifted investigator, but he had a tendency to attract trouble. Gibbs had a feeling that this time was no exception.

When McGee and Ziva got there, they would treat Tony’s apartment as a crime scene. This was a fact that bothered Gibbs deeply. It was going to be difficult going through Tony’s things as if they were strangers, but if they were going to find a clue as to where DiNozzo was, they had no choice. Gibbs was determined to find Tony and once he was safe and sound, he and DiNozzo were going to have a long talk.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXX


“Where do you think Tony could be?” Ziva asked as she and McGee drove towards Tony’s apartment.

McGee shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe he went to the doctor.”

Ziva stared at McGee in disbelief, at the last minute swerving to miss the car in front of her. “When have you even known Tony to voluntarily go to a doctor?”

“Good point,” McGee replied through gritted teeth.

“Something wrong, McGee?”

Tim took a deep breath and slowly released it. “Just keep your eyes on the road, Ziva.”

“Maybe he’s meeting someone,” Ziva surmised as she quickly changed lanes, forcing McGee to grab onto the handle above him.

“I doubt it. I mean Tony hasn’t really been interested in anyone since…well, since Jeanne.”

“That doesn’t mean he isn’t seeing someone. Maybe he just doesn’t want us to know about her. It’s not the first time that Tony’s kept secrets from us,” she reminded him.

“That’s true. But I don’t think he would do something like that again.”

Ziva skidded to a stop when the traffic light changed to red. “You’re right. But, now that I think about it, Tony seems to be a little quieter lately.”

“I haven’t noticed.”

“Well, I have. If I’ve noticed it, you can bet Gibbs has noticed too.”

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Tim pointed out. “Tony’s place is just up ahead.”

She nodded as the light changed and she traveled just a few more blocks before pulling into the parking lot of Tony’s apartment building. Ziva parked just behind Gibbs and got out of the truck. “Tony’s car is missing,” she observed.

“I still think that he’s seeing a girl.”

“It’s about time you two got here,” Gibbs snapped as he approached the two agents.

“Ziva was driving,” McGee quickly stated.

“Losing your touch, Officer David?” Gibbs chided.

Ziva chose to ignore the barb. “What do we have?”

“Tony’s car is missing, Tony is missing, and his cell phone has been smashed.”

“I guess that explains why he didn’t answer,” McGee said,

“Do you think, McGee?”

Ziva glanced up at the apartment building. “Was there a sign of a struggle?”

“No,” Gibbs tersely replied. “I want you to put a BOLO out on Tony’s car. I also want his phone records pulled and…”

“Boss?” McGee interrupted.

“What, McGee?”

“We…uh…checked his cell phone records this morning and…um the last call that Tony’s cell phone received was from Director Vance’s office.”

“What? What time was the call?”

“About 6 this morning.”

Ziva had seen Gibbs angry before and although she would never admit it, the rage that often consumed him frightened her. She looked at her watch and it was now almost 9. Within those three hours, Tony’s phone had been damaged and he had seemingly disappeared.

When Gibbs finally spoke, his voice was tightly controlled as he gave him their orders. “You two go up to his apartment and start looking for clues. I want this treated as a crime scene.”

“Where are you going?” Ziva reluctantly asked although she knew the answer.

“To see Director Vance!”

The Mossad agent nodded her understanding as they grabbed their gear and headed for Tony’s apartment. Ziva wasn’t sure what they were looking for, but she sincerely hoped that they would find something to help them find their missing colleague. She did not allow her mind to wander into the different possibilities of what had happened to Tony. Ziva didn’t want to consider that Tony could be in danger, but the little evidence that they had gathered told her otherwise.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Tony laid his head back on the headrest of his seat. The simple act of buying a ticket and getting on the bus had exhausted what little strength that he had. At least he had a few hours that he could sleep before his stop. He figured that Gibbs was already at his apartment, but Tony knew the only clue that he had left had been his cell phone and it was in several pieces. He also knew that they would probably be pulling his banking information, phone records, and anything else they could think of, in order to discover his whereabouts. Of course, he wasn’t about to make it too easy on his friends; he had purchased his ticket with cash. However, when they put the BOLO out on his car and discovered that it was at the garage getting the bullet holes repaired and a paint job, Tony knew that there would be no hiding the truth.

Guilt started to plague him as he thought about Gibbs. He probably should call him and let him know that he was all right, but then Gibbs would demand to know where he was and Tony wasn’t ready to talk to his Boss just yet. He didn’t want to admit to Gibbs that the man that he revered was part of the problem.

He looked out the window and watched the busy highway turn into a two lane road that would lead him to his destination. Tony had driven this road not too long ago with Abby punching him in the arm every time she saw a VolksWagon Beetle. He had a bruise on his arm for a week.

Tony missed Abby. He had wanted nothing more than accept her invitation last night, but once again, work had to come first. Vance made sure of that.

He shook his head and closed his eyes. Tony didn’t want to think about work. He wasn’t sure that he could even do his job any longer; he wasn’t sure that he wanted to do his job any longer. That’s why he had to get away. He had to think. Maybe things would look better after he had a few days off.

DiNozzo wasn’t sure why he decided to go back to Stillwater, but he felt comfortable there. For some reason, Jack Gibbs made him feel special and wanted—like a grandfather would a grandson. He knew that Jack would welcome him with open arms and would let him stay as long as he needed to. Tony didn’t know how much he would reveal to Jack, if he told him anything, but he just need a place where he could be himself. He wasn’t sure if Gibbs would understand why Tony was turning to his father and not him, but at the moment, DiNozzo didn’t want to think about the ramifications. Right now, he wanted to sleep.

Tony tried to calm his mind and allow sleep to come. As he finally gave in to the darkness embracing him, he whispered, “I’m sorry, Boss.”

Part 3



Director Leon Vance was normally a patient man, but at the moment, his patience with Anthony DiNozzo had reached its limit. Although DiNozzo had proven very useful in several undercover operations, he had yet to understand why Gibbs insisted on keeping the troublesome agent around. Gibbs had not even considered any of the other candidates that Vance had proposed, insisting that DiNozzo was the right fit for his team. He had finally consented and reassigned DiNozzo to Gibbs’ team; an action that at the moment, he was truly regretting.

Placing his toothpick in his mouth, he leaned back in his chair and stared at the door. He was well aware of the fact that it was only a matter of time before Gibbs came barging in. Vance mentally reviewed the events of the morning starting with the call that he had made to DiNozzo’s cell phone. The call had gone unanswered, which was surprising to the director; DiNozzo knew better than to ignore him. He thought that he had made that abundantly clear to the agent. Perhaps he would have to provide DiNozzo with a refresher course on proper etiquette during an undercover operation.

A few minutes later, Vance had received an e-mail from Gibbs stating that DiNozzo had called in sick for the day. The director had bristled at the fact that his undercover operative had been in contact with Gibbs and had refused to answer his call. He had stepped out of his office just in time to see Gibbs leaving, presumably to check on his senior field agent. As soon as the elevator doors had closed, Vance had noticed Ziva and McGee huddled together, probably deciding what they should do while Gibbs was gone. It was then Vance realized that they would quickly discover that he had called DiNozzo this morning, and of course, they would tell Gibbs.

Now, Vance was waiting for Gibbs, trying to decide what he was going to tell the ex-Marine. If he told Gibbs the truth, then the weeks of undercover work done by DiNozzo could be in jeopardy. He wasn’t sure that he was willing to take that risk, especially since he wasn’t sure what had transpired last night. Vance knew that he would have to make his decision quickly because Leroy Jethro Gibbs just stormed in his office.

“Special Agent Gibbs,” he greeted. “What can I do for you?”

Vance didn’t flinch when Gibbs slammed his fist on his desk. “Cut the crap, Leon,” the team leader growled. “What’s going on with you and DiNozzo?”

“I’m not sure what you mean, Agent Gibbs,” Vance coolly replied.

“Let me explain it to you then, Leon.”

“I wish you would.”

“Tony called in sick this morning,” Gibbs began.

“I’m aware of that. I got your e-mail.”

“I went to his apartment and DiNozzo wasn’t there.”

“Perhaps he went to a doctor,” Vance suggested.

Gibbs shook his head. “Not DiNozzo.”

Vance had heard several stories about the younger agent’s aversion to doctors and hospitals, and in the past few months, he had witnessed this aspect of DiNozzo’s personality first hand. “Where do you think he could be?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“Once again, Agent Gibbs, I’m not…”

“You called DiNozzo’s cell phone this morning and I want to know why.”

Vance stopped chewing on his toothpick, his eyes met Gibbs’ icy glare. “I don’t believe that I have to ask your permission to call Agent DiNozzo.”

“Why did you call him, Leon?” Gibbs pressed. “It’s not like the two of you are great friends. In fact, I personally know that you can barely tolerate being in the same room with him, so forgive me if I don’t believe that you just called to check up on him at six o’clock in the morning!”

The director leaned back in his chair. What Gibbs was saying was true. He personally did not care for Anthony DiNozzo, but professionally, he had come to respect him as an undercover agent. “I don’t believe that it is any of your business, Agent Gibbs,” Vance firmly replied.

“If it involves DiNozzo, it is my business.”

“Well, then perhaps you should have this conversation with Agent DiNozzo,” Vance countered.

“I will as soon as I find him,” Gibbs vowed. “Right now, I’m having this conversation with you.”

“I don’t think so.” Vance rose from his seat, glancing at his watch. “I have a meeting in MTAC with the SecNav and I don’t want to be late.”

“That’s rather convenient.”

Vance walked over to the door and opened it for the team leader, “If you’ll excuse me, Agent Gibbs.”

“This isn’t over, Leon. Not by a long shot.”

“I’m sure you’re right.”

“I’ll find out what’s going on and you better pray that you’re not involved in it.”

“Are you threatening me, Agent Gibbs?”

“I don’t make threats, Director Vance,” Gibbs stated.

“Neither do I Agent Gibbs,” Vance assured him. “Now, don’t let me keep you from finding your wayward agent.”

Vance closed the door behind Gibbs, knowing that Leroy Jethro Gibbs would not let this go. He pulled out a fresh toothpick and placed it in his mouth as he made his way towards MTAC. The director hadn’t lied to Gibbs when he said he had a meeting with the SecNav, but Gibbs probably wouldn’t have believed him if he had said he had a meeting with the President. Hopefully, by the time he was done in MTAC, Gibbs would have found DiNozzo and then Vance could get some answers of his own from the missing agent.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


McGee sighed as he packed the last of their equipment on the truck. There had been very little to do in Tony’s apartment besides lift fingerprints and take some pictures. Nothing had seemed out of the ordinary, with the exception that Tony wasn’t there. Despite the grief that the senior field agent constantly subjected him to, McGee had to admit that he was worried about Tony. As he climbed in the driver’s seat, he realized that he dreaded going back to the office and telling Gibbs that they didn’t have anything substantial to report yet.

“A nickel for your thoughts,” Ziva said, interrupting his self-imposed reverie.

“Penny,” he automatically corrected.

“Maybe I think your thoughts are worth more than a penny,” she replied.

McGee shrugged. “I wouldn’t be too sure,” he muttered as he started the tru. “I just think that we’re missing something. I keep going over the past few weeks in my mind to see if I can come up with a clue as to what’s going on with Tony.”

“I know what you mean. But unfortunately, you and I both know that there are some things that Tony keeps very close to his heart. He very seldom allows anyone to penetrate the wall that he has created around himself. We see what Tony wants us to see.”

“I know. I just…feel so helpless. I mean, Gibbs is probably expecting us to come back and tell him exactly where Tony is and we can’t. We can only hope that the BOLO we put out on his car turns up something.”

“We’ll just have to keep looking. I’m sure that everything will work out.”

McGee rolled his eyes at his colleague. “Do you honestly believe that?”

“No,” she stated. “But we can always hope.”

“I guess it’s all we’ve got for right now,” McGee agreed.

The rest of their journey back to NCIS headquarters was silent. McGee thought back to their earlier conversation when Ziva had mentioned that Tony had been quieter since his return from the Seahawk. He had actually noticed that Tony had been a little more subdued, but personally McGee had enjoyed it. Guilt consumed him as he realized that if he had been looking harder, he would have seen what Ziva had noticed. He would have paid attention to the fact that Tony was changing in front of their eyes and becoming someone that he no longer knew.

McGee silently berated himself. What kind of friend was he? Tony had, in his own unique way, always been there for him, but he wasn’t sure if he had always returned the favor. Had Tony been crying out for help and could they all have turned a deaf ear? His foot mashed down on the accelerator. The quicker they got back to the office, the quicker their search could resume. He owed Tony DiNozzo a great deal and McGee was determined to make sure that he would have the opportunity to thank him.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Gibbs sat at his desk, his gaze fixed on DiNozzo’s desk. His talk with Vance had been less than productive and he had already decided that as soon as the director was done with his conference that he would be answering Gibbs’ questions, one way or another. Vance had made his dislike for DiNozzo abundantly clear over the past year. Gibbs still believed that the director had assigned DiNozzo to a carrier as punishment, although Vance had denied it.

The ex-Marine closed his eyes for a minute, his mind recalling the look on DiNozzo’s face when he learned that he was going to be reassigned to the Reagan. Truthfully, he was surprised that DiNozzo hadn’t altogether quit NCIS. His previous assignments at various police departments never lasted for more than two years and he had been at NCIS for over seven years. That was the only time that Gibbs had truly been worried that Tony would leave NCIS and that was why he was determined to get him back on his team.

Gibbs had assumed that things had been going well since DiNozzo’s return, but he had to admit that he really hadn’t kept tabs on his senior agent. Something was wrong between them and he wasn’t sure how to fix it or if it could be fixed. If Gibbs wanted to be completely honest with himself, things had not been right since he had returned from Mexico.

“Any word yet?”

The team leader looked up to see Ducky standing in front of him. He should have expected the ME’s visit. After all, Ducky had been the one left here with Abby and he was sure that Abby, in her own special way, filled him in on everything that had happened so far.

“No. Vance admitted to calling Tony this morning.”

“Really? Now, that is odd. I always got the impression that Director Vance wasn’t as fond of Tony as we are,” Ducky stated.

“He’s not.”

“I assume that Director Vance was not forthcoming with an answer.”

“Hell, no!” Gibbs scowled. “He conveniently had a meeting with the SecNav.”

“I assume that you’re waiting on him so that you can continue your conversation.”

Gibbs nodded. “There’s not much else I can do until we get a concrete lead.”

“Well, Abby is pulling the rest of Tony’s records to see if there is anything unusual there.”

“Can I ask you something, Duck?” Gibbs wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear the answer to the question he was about to ask, but Ducky had an uncanny ability to understand people, both the living and the dead.

“Most certainly, Jethro.”

“Have you noticed anything different about DiNozzo lately?”

“Well, now that you mention it, I guess there have been a few things that have come to my attention.”

“Such as?” Gibbs wasn’t in the mood for Ducky to go off on one his tangents. Too much was at stake.

“Well, he is more withdrawn. He often seems lonely and sad. Oh, I admit that he hides it well, but sometimes Anthony lets things slip during conversation.”

“What do you mean?”

Ducky thought for a moment. “Well, a few weeks ago, I told him that it was certainly good to have him home and he said something to the nature that he should have just stayed on the Seahawk.”

“He hated the Seahawk.”

“I know. When I asked him to repeat himself, he smiled and changed the subject.”

“Just like DiNozzo always does when something becomes too personal.”

“Yes,” the ME concurred.

“Anything else?”

“Well, there are several things that…”

Gibbs’ cell phone interrupted Ducky’s revelation. “Gibbs,” he tersely answered.

“Gibbs, this is so not good.”

Pinching the bridge of his nose at the panicked voice of the forensic scientist, he blew out a breath and forced himself not to bark at Abby. “What, Abs?”

“There’s hardly been any activity on Tony’s bank account since his last paycheck was deposited. He took out some cash last Wednesday and nothing else since then. The last charge on Tony’s credit cards was right after he got back from the Seahawk and he and I went out to dinner.”

“That’s it?” Gibbs asked. “Go back to before the Seahawk and see what you can dig up.”

“But Gibbs, this is Tony.”

“I know that Abby and right now Tony is missing.”

“But…”

“No buts, Abby. Anything else?”

“No. Wait!” she yelled into the phone.

Gibbs winced as he switched the phone to the other ear. “What is it, Abby?”

“I just got a hit from the BOLO we put out on Tony’s car.”

“Where is it?”

“It’s at a garage in…”

“Where, Abby?”

“Norfolk.”

“Address?”

“I’m sending it to you now. Gibbs, why’s Tony’s car in Norfolk?”

“I don’t know, but I intend to find out.” He snapped his phone shut and looked up at the ME. “Any ideas?”

“No. But, I would encourage you that when you find Tony, you think before you speak. Don’t jump to conclusions.”

Gibbs looked up when he saw the door that led to MTAC opening. His eyes followed Vance until the director entered his office. “The only jumping I intend to do now is down Vance’s throat.”

He picked up his phone and called Ziva. “When you get back, turn your evidence over to Abby and then head down to Norfolk. We got a hit on Tony’s car. Abby will give you the address. If you find Tony, sit on him until I get there.”

He hung up his phone and headed back up the stairs to Vance’s office. “Ducky, go help Abby,” he ordered.

“Of course, Jethro,” the doctor replied. “You know, this reminds me of the time…”

Gibbs didn’t hear the rest of Ducky’s soliloquy as he burst into Vance’s office, ignoring the protests of the director’s secretary.

“I think you and I have a conversation to finish…”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Tony slowly made his way down the street towards the Stillwater General Store. Exhaustion was evident in every step and he was actually looking forward to being able to sleep in a bed. He had been able to sleep a little on the bus, but after he had awakened from a nightmare screaming, forcing the driver to pull over to make sure he was all right, he had refused to go back to sleep. The closer he got to the store, Tony began to wonder if he had made the right decision by running away.

“DiNozzo’s do not run away,” he mumbled to himself. “Of course, I’m not running. I’m just taking a sick day, or two or three.”

He opened the door to the store and cautiously entered. A voice called out to him, “Be with you in just a minute.”

Tony looked around the store, noticing that nothing had really changed since he was here the last time. He studied the Winchester hanging on the wall as he waited for Jack to come out of the back. “It’d been so cool to have a gun like that growing up.”

“Leroy thought so too.”

The younger man turned around, a fake smile plastered on his face. “I bet he did,” Tony answered as he extended his hand.

Jack shook it vigorously. “It’s good to see you, Tony. Where are the others?”

“I…uh…I’m by myself. I was just passing through and...”

“No one just passes through Stillwater, Tony.” Jack pulled out a chair at motioned for Tony to sit down. “Sit down before you fall down. Do you want to tell me what’s going on?”

Tony grinned. He knew where Gibbs got his lack of subtlety from. “What makes you think anything’s going on?”

“First of all, you look like crap,” Jack replied.

“And the second?”

“I recognize the signs of someone hurting and son, you’re eyes are telling me that you’re in sheer agony.”

Tony licked his lips nervously, not wanting to go into any details of why he was in Stillwater. “I just need a place where I can get my head back on straight.”

“Problems at work or home?”

He shrugged. “Both I guess. Mainly work.”

“Leroy giving you a hard time?”

“No more than usual,” Tony said. “I can’t explain it right now. I know that this puts you in an awkward position, but I didn’t know where else to go.”

Jack squeezed Tony’s shoulder. “You’re welcome to stay here as long as you want.”

“Thanks.”

“You didn’t let me finish.”

Tony’s cheeks flushed. “Sorry.”

“Does Leroy know you’re here?”

“No. I just took off. Pretty dumb, huh? I just couldn’t face anybody this morning.”

Jack shook his head. “I wouldn’t call it dumb, but you still need to call Leroy or let me call him, just so he’ll know that you’re okay. After that, you have to let the doc take a look at your head.”

“If I call him, he’ll be up here before nightfall; not to mention, Ziva, Abby, and McGee. I can’t deal with seeing them right now.”

“You call and let him know that you’re all right and then I’ll talk to him. I’ll convince him that there isn’t any need for him to come up here.”

“It won’t do any good.”

“I think he’ll listen to me. He’s probably worried sick.”

“I doubt it.”

“Why would you say that, Tony?” Jack wanted to know.

The agent chastised himself for the unintentional slip of the tongue. “I didn’t mean it the way it sounded.”

Jack nodded. “You still need to let him know that you’re safe. Whatever is going on between you two, you can work out later.”

Tony knew that Jack was right. He should have told Gibbs the truth this morning, but all that he could think about was getting out of D.C. “All right. I’ll call him.” He gestured towards the phone. “Can I use your phone? I kind of messed mine up.”

“You bet. Go use the phone in the back. It will give you some privacy. I’ll check on you in a few minutes.”

The agent nodded, slowly standing up. “All right. Thank you, Jack.”

“You’re welcome, son.”

Tony went to the back room and fell into the chair next to the desk. He picked up the phone and slowly dialed the number that he knew by heart. He waited with baited breath for Gibbs to answer.

“Gibbs!”

Tony flinched, fighting the urge to hang up. He cleared his throat and answered, “Boss…it’s me…”

Part 4

Gibbs’ harsh glare did not seem to affect the director as Vance returned his steady gaze. Determined to get the answers that he desperately sought, Gibbs silently vowed that he would not leave this office until Vance had revealed the veil of secrecy surrounding the relationship that had formed between him and DiNozzo. Jenny had used Tony for her personal vendetta and he wasn’t about to let Vance do the same thing to his agent.

“I want some answers,” Gibbs demanded.

Vance sighed. “I’ve already told you, Agent Gibbs, this doesn’t concern you.”

“And I told you, Leon. If it concerns DiNozzo, it concerns me.”

“I am not at liberty to…”

Gibbs cut the director off. “Don’t give me the old ‘I’m not at liberty to discuss it’ speech. It’s not going to fly.”

“That’s the only response you’re going to get, Agent Gibbs.”

The sound of his phone ringing prevented Gibb’s sharp reply to the director. Glancing at the caller ID, he was surprised to see his father’s number appear. It was odd for his dad to call him during the day, so Gibbs knew something must be wrong.

He flipped open his phone. “Gibbs!”

There was slight pause and the sound of a man clearing his throat.

“Hello?” Gibbs tersely repeated.

“Boss? It’s me.”

It was DiNozzo. As much as Gibbs didn’t want to let Vance out of his sight, the team leader didn’t want the director to figure out that he was talking to Tony. “Just a minute,” he mumbled into the phone. Without a backwards glance, he left the director’s office in search of a private place to talk to his agent. He entered the elevator and pushed the button to shut the door.

Hitting the emergency stop button, Gibbs released a pent up breath and took a few seconds to collect his thoughts. “Are you all right?” he finally asked.

“I’m fine, Boss.”

“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?”

For a second he thought that Tony had hung up. “Tony, are you still there?”

“Yeah, Boss. I’m still here. I…uh…I just wanted to let you know that I’m all right.”

“You’ve already said that, DiNozzo. I want to know what the hell is going on with you!”

Another pause. “I wish I knew, Boss. I just…I just need a few days to get my head on straight.”

Gibbs could hear the exhaustion in DiNozzo’s voice and he had to admit that it bothered him. He had seen Tony physically and mentally tired before, but the weariness now present in his senior agent’s tone was something that Gibbs had never heard before.

“Tony, talk to me,” Gibbs quietly pleaded.

“I can’t. Not yet.”

“Then when?”

“I don’t know. Please Boss; please don’t push me on this. I can’t deal with…I just can’t deal with seeing anyone right now.”

“Tony, I can’t leave this alone. I need to know what’s going on. I’ve never known you to run away from anything.”

“This is just too big for me to handle, Boss.”

“Then let me help you.”

“I can’t.”

Gibbs ran a hand through his hair. “Tony, I’m coming up there.”

“Leroy?”

The team leader cursed himself for pushing too hard. Sometimes, he really didn’t know when to quit. That was probably the reason that he was now talking to his dad instead of Tony.

“Dad? Where’s Tony?” Gibbs wanted to know.

“He’s sitting right beside me.”

“Put him back on.”

“Leroy, I want you to listen to me. Tony is safe and he’s here with me. The boy asked you for a few days to get his head on straight and that is what you’re going to give him.”

“I think that I…”

“I wasn’t finished yet,” Jack snapped. “I knew that you’d be worried, so I convinced him to call you. If you come up here before he’s ready to talk, he’ll high tail it out of here so fast, that you’ll lose him forever. Are you willing to take that chance?”

He wasn’t. Gibbs couldn’t imagine his life without Anthony DiNozzo. Over the years, he had come to consider Tony to being the closest thing to a son that he would ever have, but of course, he had never told that to DiNozzo. It had taken him over seven years to tell the younger man that he was actually proud of him.

“No, I’m not willing to take that chance. Tell Tony to call me if he needs anything.

“I will and I’ll call you later on tonight.”

“Okay.” Gibbs snapped his phone shut and flipped the switch to start the elevator again. His mind was reeling with questions that had no answers. When did everything start becoming too much for DiNozzo? What did Vance have to do with Tony’s hasty departure? Why did Tony go to Stillwater? The senior agent didn’t particularly care for the small town scene, but yet, DiNozzo had gone to Gibbs’ hometown and was staying with his dad.

Gibbs forced these questions to the back of his mind as the elevator doors opened. He headed back towards the director’s office but was stopped by his secretary.

“He’s not in there, Agent Gibbs,” she nervously informed him.

“Where is he?”

“He had another meeting.”

“With who?” Gibbs pressed.

“It’s his weekly director’s meeting. I’m not sure when he’ll be back.”

Gibbs heard the young woman sigh in relief as he turned and left. She was undoubtedly glad to see him leave. He didn’t have time to worry about hurting the woman’s feelings; he had other things on his mind.

Taking out his cell phone, he called Ziva and told her that he knew where Tony was. Gibbs still wanted her and McGee to find out why Tony’s car was in Norfolk, but at least they didn’t have to worry about trying to find DiNozzo.

“He says he’s fine,” Gibbs repeated, his patience wearing thin with the Mossad agent.

“When is he coming home?”

“I don’t know, Ziva. When he’s ready.”

“But he didn’t tell you when that would be?”

“Officer David, I know that you have something better to do than to ask me questions that I don’t know the answer to!” He hung up on Ziva, knowing that at that moment, she was probably cursing him in several different languages.

The next item on his agenda was to go and talk to Abby. He had to tell her about Tony and convince her not to go after him. His dad had been right. If Tony knew that Gibbs was on his way to Stillwater, the younger man would simply disappear again.

Gibbs headed for the elevator, his phone in hand. It had occurred to him that if Vance was in a directors meeting, then he would be meeting with the director of the FBI. Gibbs smiled as he dialed the number he had committed to memory a long time ago.

“Hello, Fornell…”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


“Is he coming?”

Tony closed his eyes against the dizziness that continued to plague him. He knew that physically he was reaching his limit and that he was going to have to rest before he ended up back in a hospital.

“No, not until your ready,” Jack answered.

“I give him two days, three days at the most,” Tony sleepily replied.

“I think Leroy knows that whatever is bothering you is not something that is going to be easily fixed with a head-slap.”

Tony grinned. “So, you know about those, huh?”

“Yeah. He told me that’s how he keeps you in line. A bit extreme if you ask me,” Jack said.

“It usually works,” DiNozzo admitted. “Of course, it’s been a while.”

“Do you miss them?”

“I guess I do. In a weird kind of way.”

“From the looks of you, it looks like someone else got a good lick in.”

“You should see the other guy,” Tony quipped.

“I hope he looks a lot a worse than you.”

“I hope so, too.”

“Want to tell me what happened?” Jack asked.

“No. I think I just want to sleep.”

Jack nodded. “All right. You can go and lay down on the couch over here. It’s actually pretty comfortable. I’m going to call the doctor so she can take a look at you.”

Tony willingly took Jack’s hand that he offered and slowly stood up. He let Jack hold onto his elbow as he carefully made his way to the couch. “Doctor’s still make house calls around here?” Tony asked.

“Sometimes she does.”

He clumsily fell onto the couch and lay down, situating his aching head on the throw pillow. Tony looked up at Jackson, “Wait a minute. Did you say ‘she’?”

“Yes I did. Twice.”

“Stillwater has a female doctor?” Tony smiled. Maybe coming to Stillwater was a good idea after all. Of course, considering his past history, he should probably just stay away from female doctors. She was probably too old for him anyway.

“She just took over old Doc Miller’s practice a couple months ago. Everybody seems to like her all right. Now, you rest and I’ll wake you up when the doc gets here.”

Tony barely heard the last part of Jack’s instructions. He wanted to sleep and part of him didn’t care if he ever woke up again. He mentally head slapped himself for thinking that way. Of course, he cared if he woke up. Didn’t he? Maybe he was worse off than he thought.

He couldn’t remember the last time that he had been the recipient of a good night’s sleep. That fact alone had worn his body down to the point that he was simply going through the motions of putting one foot in front of the other. His exhaustion had made his sloppy and because of that…

Tony didn’t allow himself to think about the previous night. Too much was still at stake and he knew that sometime soon, he would have to call Vance and let him know what happened. Not now. He couldn’t do it now. He clenched his eyes and prayed for sleep to hurry up and come. After a few minutes, Tony willingly gave into slumber’s sweet embrace.



XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX



“Have you heard from your man?”

Vance chewed on his toothpick, contemplating how to answer the question proposed to him by his FBI counterpart. No, he had not heard from DiNozzo, but he had a feeling that Gibbs had, probably more than once. Gibbs had immediately fled his office when he received that last phone call and Vance had a feeling that the team leader had been talking to DiNozzo.

“No. But I assure you that he will call me when he can,” Vance replied, hoping that his answer satisfied the others curiosity.

“When was the last time you heard from him?”

“Last night. As far as I know, he was on his way to meet Tompkins and Currin. I assume that everything went smoothly. Agent DiNozzo is an extremely gifted undercover operative. He would have let me know if something was amiss.”

“You better hope so, Leon, or this whole operation will blow up in our faces.”

Vance hoped that the others in the room believed he trusted DiNozzo completely. You didn’t get to be director of NCIS by trusting just anyone and truthfully, he didn’t trust Gibbs’ right hand man at all. He just knew that DiNozzo was the best man for this job.


***flashback***

“I can’t keep doing this, Director Vance,” Tony argued.

“You have no choice, Agent DiNozzo,” the director pointed out.

“Ever since I’ve been back from the Seahawk, I’ve kept up my end of the bargain. I expect you do to the same. I can’t do another undercover op so soon after the last one. Gibbs is going to know something is going on.”

“You can and you will, Agent DiNozzo. We have a chance to bring down one of the biggest drug running syndicates on the east coast and we need you to infiltrate the ring.”

“I can’t,” DiNozzo protested once again. “I’m not the only agent that can do this. Surely your buddies at the FBI have someone who can infiltrate a drug ring.”

“I’m sure they do, but they don’t have your background and they aren’t expendable.”

Vance smiled at the shocked expression on DiNozzo’s face. “I have prepared a dossier for you to memorize. I expect you ready to go in at a moment’s notice. As always, I will make sure that Gibbs is kept out of the loop and out of your hair.”

“I’m not doing it,” Tony growled.

“Then perhaps you better pack your bags. I hear the Seahawk really misses you.”

The director held out the file to the agent and Tony grabbed it out of his hand. “I thought you’d see it my way.”

“This is the last time,” DiNozzo vowed as he stormed out of the director’s office.

“We’ll see about that.”


***end flashback***


Vance smiled as he faced his colleagues. He folded his hands on the table and glanced around the room, making sure that everyone was listening to what he was about to say. “I assure you that everything will go according to plan. If it doesn’t, the only one to suffer the consequences will be Agent DiNozzo.”




5

Part 5


Abby hugged her stuffed hippo to her chest as she stared at the remains of Tony’s cell phone. The only fingerprints she had been able to lift off the damaged phone had belonged to Tony, leaving her with more questions than answers. She felt so helpless and wanted to be doing more than going through Tony’s personal records and waiting. Surely, Gibbs must know something by now.

Squeezing Bert even tighter, she fought back the tears that threatened to fall. “Why Tony?” she asked the hippo. “What if he’s hurt or really, really, really, sick? What if he’s been kidnapped again, or even worse?”

She put Bert down beside her. “We can’t think like that, Bert! We have to think positive thoughts. Tony doesn’t need our negativity. I just wish we knew that he was okay.”

“He’s okay, Abs.”

Abby turned around as Gibbs entered her lab, Caf-Pow in hand. She took the cup and set it down on the desk. Abby knew that Gibbs wouldn’t disappoint her. “You talked to him? You talked to Tony?”

“Yeah,” the team leader solemnly replied.

“Where is he?” Abby grabbed onto Gibbs’ arm. “When’s he coming back? Is he hurt? I mean, he’s not in the hospital again, is he?”

Her barrage of questions ceased when Gibbs kissed the top of her head. “He’s at my dad’s; I don’t know; I don’t know; and no.”

Abby’s eyes narrowed as she put her hands on her hips. “You don’t know if he’s hurt?”

“He said he was fine,” Gibbs explained.

“And you believed him?”

“No, Abs. I didn’t.”

“Oh,” Abby nodded in satisfaction. “Good. Because you know how Tony is.”

“I know, Abby.”

“How did he sound?” she wanted to know.

Gibbs sighed. “He sounded tired, Abs. More than tired. He sounded completely exhausted.”

Abby took a sip of her Caf-Pow. “You know, Tony hasn’t been himself lately. I can’t tell you the last time that he went clubbing with me and…” She stopped mid thought and stared at the team leader. “Did you say that Tony was at your dad’s? What’s he doing there?”

“I don’t know. Tony called me a little while ago. He said he needed some time to get his head on straight.”

“Gibbs, I’m worried.”

“Me too, Abs.”

Abby hugged the team leader. For Gibbs to admit that he was worried, things had to be worse than she thought. She didn’t understand why Tony hadn’t confided in her. Abby knew some of DiNozzo’s deepest secrets and yet, this time, he had chosen to run away.

“Why Gibbs?” she cried. “Why didn’t he come to us?”

“Whatever is going on with DiNozzo is obviously more than he can handle right now. My guess is that he feels that he’ll drag us down with him and that would just add to his problems.”

She pulled away from Gibbs and wiped the tears from her eyes. “I’m going to see him.”

Gibbs shook his head. “I know that you want to go to him, but I’m asking you to give him some time.”

“Can I call him?”

“Abby,” Gibbs gently warned.

“Fine,” she conceded. “But what can I do?”

“You can go through Tony’s hard drive,” he instructed. “See if you can find anything…”

“Hinky?”

Gibbs smiled at her. “Yeah, hinky.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to meet Fornell.”

“Fornell? Does this involve Tony? Do you think the FBI has something to do with Tony taking off?”

“That’s what I intend to find out,” Gibbs vowed as he headed towards the elevator.

“Gibbs,” Abby called out. “Be safe.”

“Always am, Abs.”

The elevator doors closed and she picked up Bert once again. “I’ll give DiNozzo one day to call me and then I’m calling him. If he doesn’t want to talk to me then, I’ll just hop in my hearse and go to Stillwater myself.”

For now, she had enough to keep her busy for a few hours by going through Tony’s hard drive. Hopefully, she could find something that would help her understand what was going on with her best friend. Abby stared at the phone, wanting desperately for it to ring. If she could just hear his voice, then maybe she would stop assuming the worst.

“I mean it, Tony. If you don’t call me within 24 hours, you are going to be in so much trouble.”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Ziva glanced at her watch, waiting impatiently for McGee to return from getting his lunch. He had insisted on stopping for something to eat, pointing out that neither of them had eaten breakfast. Ziva hadn’t particularly been hungry, but she had finally given in to his pleas and pulled over at the first fast food restaurant that she saw.

She had been relieved when Gibbs had called and informed them that Tony was all right, but the team leader had wanted her and McGee to continue to Norfolk and check out DiNozzo’s car. They still didn’t have a clue as to why Tony’s prized possession was in a garage in Norfolk, but hopefully that mystery would soon be laid to rest.

The car door opened and McGee slid in beside her. “It’s about time,” she muttered.

“I’m sorry, Ziva,” McGee profusely apologized. “The guy in front of me changed his order about three times and then when I finally got up to place my order, the cashier went on break and someone else had to log in. So, when…”

“Stop now or I will shoot you,” Ziva threatened.

“Ok,” he replied as he handed her a bottle. “Here’s your water. Are you sure that you don’t want something to eat?”

Ziva’s expression softened. “No, thank you, McGee. I have enough rations in my bag.”

“If you’re sure.”

This time Ziva smiled at her partner. “I’m positive and I’m sorry that I flapped at you.”

“Snapped,” McGee corrected.

“Of course. I’m sorry, I snapped at you.”

“Never apologize,” he began.

“It’s a sign of weakness.”

She started the car and headed towards the main road. When McGee had corrected her English, her thoughts had turned back to Tony. It bothered her that she still didn’t know where DiNozzo was and she silently cursed Gibbs for keeping her and McGee in the dark.

“We should be at the garage within the hour,” Ziva announced.

“Or less,” McGee mumbled as he took a bite of his burger.

“Or less,” she agreed. Ziva’s foot pressed down on the accelerator. She didn’t have to look over at her colleague to know that McGee was trying to hold onto his food with one hand while trying to brace himself with the other.

“Problems, McGee?”

“Uh…no,” he stammered.

“Good.”

“Have you heard anything else from Gibbs?” McGee asked.

“No, I have not and frankly I’m a little put on by the fact that he is withholding information from us.”

“Put out.”

Ziva glared at him, ignoring the road in front of her. She heard the sound of several horns blaring and quickly swerved to avoid a collision. “You’re getting worse than Tony about correcting my English.”

“And your driving is getting worse than Gibbs’,” he shot back.

The two of them rode in silence for the next half hour. Ziva realized that they were both worried about Tony and that in their own unique way, both of them were dealing with the events of the day. She finally broke the silence as they turned down the street that would take them to the garage that housed Tony’s car. “This should be the place we’re looking for.”

“It is. There’s Tony’s car over there,” McGee pointed straight ahead.

Ziva parked and she and McGee got out of their own vehicle and slowly made their way to Tony’s car. The driver’s side of his car was smashed, with the driver’s door literally shoved into the front seat. But what disturbed Ziva more was the fact that the car was riddled with bullet holes. She looked up at McGee, who appeared to be just as confused as she was.

“This can’t be good,” McGee whispered.

“No, it can’t.” Ziva slipped her gloves on and fingered one of the bullet holes. “This can’t be good at all.”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Jack Gibbs peered into the back room to make sure that Tony was still sleeping. When he had called Doctor Marshall, she had promised to come and check on the young man within the hour. He sat down at the table in his store and began writing out some bills, but Jack soon discovered that he couldn’t focus on the task at hand; his thoughts were occupied by the enigmatic Anthony DiNozzo.

When he first met the agent, Jackson had liked him immediately. There was just something about Tony that brought a smile to his face. He could tell that Tony wanted to know all about the man who raised Leroy Jethro Gibbs, but Leroy had managed to keep DiNozzo’s curiosity at bay. Jack would have enjoyed taking the young man aside and regaling Tony with stories about Leroy, but he didn’t get that chance.

Jackson also discovered that Tony DiNozzo’s purpose in life was to please Leroy and would strive to do so, despite what it cost him personally. That was why Jack was so surprised to find DiNozzo on his door step. Whatever had happened, it was bad enough to make the younger agent want to get away from Leroy and try to deal with his problems on his own. Recognizing the look of despair in Tony’s eyes awakened a protectiveness in Jackson Gibbs that had been buried for a long time.

He sighed in frustration, pouring himself a cup of coffee. Bringing the cup to his lips, he heard a soft moan coming from the back room. Rising from his seat, he put down his cup and in just a few seconds, he was by Tony’s side.

A thin sheen of sweat was evident on his forehead as the young man began to toss and turn. It was clear to Jackson that Tony was having one hell of a nightmare. Kneeling down beside him, he gently shook his shoulders and called out, “Tony? Can you hear me?”

Tony continued to thrash about, prompting Jack to squeeze his shoulders tighter and shake him a little harder. “Tony? It’s Jack. You need to wake up, son.”

Before Jack knew what was happening, he was on the floor with Tony on top of him; DiNozzo’s hands around his throat. Jack realized that Tony wasn’t aware of what he was doing. Although his eyes were open and looking at him, the older man knew that Tony wasn’t seeing him.

“I said leave me alone!” Tony growled.

Jack tried to pry Tony’s fingers from around his throat, knowing that he was about to lose consciousness. As he felt the darkness begin to embrace him, Jack heard a brief commotion and then he found himself able to breathe again. He slowly sat up and absently rubbed his throat, looking around to make sure Tony was all right.

His eyes came to rest on the agent, who sat sprawled out on the floor with Doctor Marshall standing above him. The young man was shaking, confusion clouding his pale features. There was no doubt in Jack’s mind that Tony was now awake, and judging by the expression on his face, DiNozzo realized what he had just done.

“Jack? Are you all right?” Dr. Marshall inquired.

Jack pushed himself to a standing position, wavering slightly as he fought off the momentary dizziness. “I’m fine,” he assured the doctor.

He walked over and knelt beside Tony. “Are you all right, son?”

Tony shook his head. “I’m sorry, Jack. I didn’t mean…I’m so sorry.”

“It’s all right, Tony. You were having a nightmare. I should have known better than to try and wake you up.”

“I never meant to hurt you. I’m sorry,” he apologized again.

Jack thought Tony looked like he was about to cry. “Don’t worry about it. I’m fine.”

“I shouldn’t have come here,” Tony whispered.

“Where else would you have gone? You’re safe here, Tony.”

“I may be,” Tony quietly stated. “But are you?”

“I’m fine.” Jack stood up and offered his hand to Tony. “Let’s get you off the floor.”

He could tell that Tony was reluctant to accept his gesture of help, but he finally grasped Jack’s hand and stood up. Sitting Tony back down on the couch, he looked over at the doctor and smiled. “He’s all yours, Doc. This is Tony DiNozzo. Tony, this is Dr. Katherine Marshall.”

Jack nudged Tony. “Don’t be rude, son.”

Tony sighed as he glanced up at the doctor. “Nice to meet you, Dr. Marshall,” he muttered.

“It’s nice to meet you too, Tony.”

Jackson saw the hesitation in the doctor’s eyes. He was grateful that she had obviously managed to keep Tony from choking him, but now, she almost seemed afraid of DiNozzo. “Is there a problem, Doc?”

Katherine motioned for Jack to follow her. “Can I speak to you for a moment?”

“Sure.” Patting Tony on the back, Jack leaned down and spoke loud enough for Tony to hear him. “You just sit back and relax.”

He followed Katherine out of the room. “Something wrong, Katherine?”

“I would like to know what’s going on,” she stated. “You call me and tell me that you need me to come and check out a friend of yours and then I come in to find your friend choking you. So, care to fill me in?”

“He was having a nightmare and I tried to wake him up,” Jack explained.

“That’s it?” she pressed.

“What more do you want to know?”

“Why is he here?”

“Why don’t you ask him?”

“Because I’m asking you.”

Jack grinned at the doctor. “He just needs a little vacation.”

“What does he do?”

“Why don’t you ask Tony these questions?” he suggested. “If he wants you to know the answers, then he’ll tell you. If he doesn’t, then I wouldn’t push him.”

Katherine sighed. “All right,” she said. “I get the point. I’m going to check him out and you better be here when I’m done. Don’t think for a moment that I’m going to let you by so easily after just being strangled.”

“I’ll be here,” he promised. “Now, please go and check on Tony.”

Jack watched as she went into the back room. Katherine was a good doctor, but he had a feeling that she was going to have her bedside manner severely tested by the young man in the other room. She was definitely going to have her work cut out for her. Maybe he should go in there and stand by just in case she needed him. But then again, he always believed that experience was the best teacher.

6

Gibbs glanced at his watch as he sat down on a bench that bordered one of the more challenging running trails in Rock Creek Park. He and Tony used to run this trail together, especially when Tony had first started working for him. The younger man had been full of boundless energy and needed a way to channel that energy, so Gibbs had insisted on a daily run through Rock Creek Park.

He had learned a lot about Tony during those runs, but Gibbs quickly learned that he had barely scratched the surface when it came to discovering the real Anthony DiNozzo. After Kate and McGee joined, they still enjoyed the occasional run through the park, usually after a trying case. Then Tony had contracted the plague and Kate had died soon after that. Was that when everything started changing?

There were no more runs in Rock Creek Park for a long time until a year or so ago. Jeanne Benoit had accused Tony of murdering her father. Fortunately, DiNozzo had been cleared, but he had been forced to tell Jeanne that their relationship had been a farce. He had wanted her to move on with her life and forget about him, but his sacrifice had cost Tony dearly.

After everything had settled, Gibbs had found Tony in the gym, taking his frustrations out on the punching bag. DiNozzo had not even bothered to change out of his suit. Gibbs had handed him a towel to wipe his face with and suggested that they take a run. Tony had simply nodded and both men quickly changed and headed towards the park. He had let DiNozzo set the pace and Gibbs managed to keep up, despite his aching knees.

He wasn’t sure how long they had run before Tony stumbled and fell to his knees.

“I loved her, Boss,” Tony had whispered, sweat dripping into his eyes.

Gibbs had squeezed his shoulder. “I know, Tony. I know,” was the only answer he could give the young man at the time. There were no words that would heal his senior agent’s broken heart.

They had walked back to the car and he had listened to Tony as he talked, while simultaneously cursing the director under his breath. That was the last time that Tony had opened up to him about anything; or perhaps, it was the last time that he truly listened to what Tony had to say. DiNozzo never voluntarily divulged intimate details of his personal life, and Gibbs had been one of the few people to catch a glimpse of the real Anthony DiNozzo.

As soon as they had walked back into the NCIS building, Tony’s mask had slipped firmly back in place. Neither man ever spoke of the conversation that had taken place in the park that day, but Gibbs had made a vow to keep an eye on his senior agent for a while. It wasn’t long after that, Jenny Shepherd died and Tony was consumed with guilt; guilt that Gibbs had forced him to bear.
His silence had condemned DiNozzo and things between them had been strained. Gibbs had finally told Tony that Jen’s death wasn’t his fault, but it was too late. Tony had already accepted the responsibility and Gibbs knew that the young man was drowning in a sea of self loathing.

When Tony had been reassigned to the Seahawk, there hadn’t been time to make things right between them. Now that DiNozzo was back, things were still awkward between them at times, and Gibbs had chosen to ignore the fact that he was losing his senior agent.

“When you get back, we’re going for a long run, DiNozzo,” Gibbs promised.

“Talking to yourself again?”

Gibbs took a sip of his coffee. “Just making a mental note, Fornell. You’re late.”

“I’m five minutes early,” Fornell protested.

“But I’ve been waiting for twenty.”

“I just thought I’d give you a few minutes to cool down.”

“It didn’t work,” Gibbs retorted. “You just gave me too much time to think.”

Gibbs gestured to his colleague to sit down beside him. “What did you find out?”

“You’re not going to like it,” Fornell warned.

“Spit it out, Tobias.”

Fornell took a sip of his own coffee. “DiNozzo has apparently been working undercover on a joint operation for several months now. He’s managed to infiltrate one of the largest drug running rings on the East Coast.”

“What?” Gibbs crushed his cup, spilling the hot liquid on his lap. “Whose operation?”

“FBI, NCIS, and the DEA are involved.”

Anger did not even begin to describe what Gibbs was feeling at the moment. Once again, Tony was involved in an undercover operation that he knew nothing about and for some inexplicable reason, his outrage wasn’t directed at his senior agent. There was a piece of the puzzle that was missing and Gibbs was determined to find it. “Do you mean to tell me that between three agencies, DiNozzo was the only agent who could do this particular undercover operation? I find that hard to believe.”

“I do too, Jethro, but the word is that your man volunteered.”

Gibbs shook his head. “The hell he did. Tony wouldn’t voluntarily go undercover without telling me; not after what happened with Jenny. There’s something bigger going on here and somehow DiNozzo is caught in the middle.”

“Maybe you don’t know DiNutso as well as you thought.”

“Don’t go there, Tobias,” Gibbs warned. “And his name is DiNozzo.”

“Sorry,” Fornell apologized.

Gibbs knew that Tobias didn’t mean to insult his agent. Fornell had even admitted to the team leader that if Tony ever quit NCIS, that he would offer DiNozzo a job with the FBI. He nodded his acceptance of Fornell’s apology. “What else can you tell me?”

Fornell shrugged. “Not much. I do know that the drug ring is based in Norfolk and that something went down last night, but I don’t know what.”

“That’s all you know?”

“You didn’t give me time to do too much digging,” Tobias countered. “I had to call in several favors to find that much out.”

Gibbs stood up and threw his cup away. “Well, it looks like I’m going to go and wait on Director Vance to get out of his meeting.”

“Straight to the top, huh?”

“Yeah. He’s been giving me the runaround all day. Now I know why.”

“But you didn’t hear it from me,” Tobias reminded him.

“Nope. As a mater of fact, Fornell, we never had this conversation.”

Gibbs began to make his way down the worn path. “If you find out anything else, you let me know.”

“Will do. Hey Gibbs,” Fornell called out. “I hope DiNutso’s all right!”

A tiny smile escaped Gibbs’ lips. “So do I, Tobias; so do I.”

Gibbs left Fornell sitting on the bench. He began to pick up his pace until he was running a steady speed along the familiar trail. Rage coursed through his veins, forcing his legs to pump faster. His knees were already throbbing, but Gibbs refused to give in to the pain.

He ignored the stares of the other joggers that he passed. Gibbs was aware that he looked strange running in his jeans and a blazer, but at the moment, he didn’t care. The only thing on his mind was finding out what DiNozzo was involved in and why he knew nothing about it.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Tony still couldn’t believe what he had just done. He felt like he was going to throw up and not because of the concussion, but because he had almost killed Jackson Gibbs. Once Gibbs found out that he had tried to kill his father, Tony knew that whatever was left of their relationship would be destroyed. DiNozzo wasn’t sure he could survive if he lost the one man that had been like a father to him.

He had been disowned at the tender age of twelve by his biological father and it had taken Tony years to learn to live with the scars of rejection. Even after all this time, there were some days that the pain was still fresh and now with the possibility of Gibbs no longer being in his life, the agony of those memories returned full force.

He buried his face in his hands, silently willing the trembling to stop. Tony cursed his weakness, hating himself for what he had become. “Pull yourself together, DiNozzo. Quit being so pathetic!”

Tony heard someone enter the room. Looking up, he saw the doctor standing in the doorway. Her auburn hair fell on her shoulders as her piercing green eyes seemed to stare right through him. He had to admit that she was beautiful and there would have been a time that he would have unleashed the DiNozzo charm on her, but times had changed. He had changed.

“Do you make it a habit of talking to yourself, Mr. DiNozzo?” she asked.

“Only when nobody else is around,” he wearily replied. “Call me Tony, please.”

“Very well, Tony. Jack asked me to come over here and check you over. Is that all right with you?”

“It was a condition of my staying here,” Tony explained. “I guess I owe him that much, especially after almost killing him.”

“Jack doesn’t hold grudges.”

“Yeah, but his son does.”

Katherine walked over towards Tony and set her bag down on the table. “Why don’t you lie back down and let me take a look at you?”

Tony nodded and slowly swung his feet back on the couch and lowered his battered body against the cushion. She began her examination by carefully removing the bandage that covered the stitches in his head.

“That looks painful,” she observed. “What happened?”

“Forgot to duck.”

“I see. If I were to venture a guess, I would say a bullet graze. Am I right?”

DiNozzo looked up at the ceiling, purposefully ignoring her question. He heard her sigh in frustration as she shone her pen light in his eyes. He flinched against the brightness and closed his eyes.

“Are you experiencing any nausea and dizziness?”

“Yes,” Tony admitted. “The dizziness has eased up some unless I do something really stupid like getting up too fast.”

“What about the nausea?”

“Off and on.”

“Why did the hospital release you? You have a serious concussion which should have been monitored by…”

“I checked myself out AMA,” Tony said, interrupting the doctor’s tirade.

“Why?”

“I had to.” Offering no further explanation, he asked, “Are you done yet?”

“No. Now, remove your shirt,” she ordered.

“It’s just the first date. Are you always this forward?”

“Mr. DiNozzo…”

“Tony,” he reminded her.

“Tony,” she corrected herself. “I’m sure that you don’t want me to tell Jack that you aren’t cooperating with me. The better you cooperate, the quicker we will be done with your examination.”

“Not much on small talk, are you?” he teased.

“No, I’m not. Now, take off your shirt.”

Tony removed his shirt, mindful of the bruises that littered his chest and stomach. He gritted his teeth against the pain whenever she pressed on a particularly tender spot. The agent about came off the couch when she pressed on his stomach. He rolled over on his side and vomited in the floor. After a few minutes of drive heaves, he rolled back over onto his back.

“Sorry,” he breathlessly mumbled.

“It’s all right. It’s not the first time that I’ve worn my patient’s stomach contents. Although, judging from yours, you didn’t have very much in your stomach.”

“No.”

“And it looks like there some blood mixed in the emesis. Maybe from an ulcer?” she guessed.

“Maybe,” Tony admitted. When she glared at him with a look that could rival Gibbs’, he decided that he may as well tell her the truth. “Yeah.”

“How long have you had it?”

Tony shrugged. “I was diagnosed with it when I was Agent Afloat on the Seahawk, so about nine or ten months.”

“So, are you under a doctor’s care for it?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I haven’t had a lot of time to go to the doctor lately.” Tony didn’t like where this conversation was heading.

“I think you need to go the hospital and get a complete gastrointestinal workup so that we can have a better idea of what we’re dealing with. It will also give you a chance to rest for a couple of days.”

Tony shook his head. “I don’t think so. You see, I don’t do hospitals very well. Nothing personal, well, yeah I guess it is something personal, but it doesn’t concern you. But anyway, I’m rambling.”

“Yes, you are,” she heartily agreed.

“Anyway, I can rest here and once I get some rest, I’ll feel a lot better.”

“Tony, listen to me,” Katherine pleaded. “This could be serious. You already have a severe concussion and I don’t have to tell you the complications that could arise from that, but you’re exhausted. You’ve evidently not been eating properly. I’m guessing that you normally weigh between 180 and 190?”

Tony nodded. “I’ve been trying to lose a few pounds,” he quipped.

“This isn’t funny, Tony. This is your life we’re talking about.”

Tony put his shirt back on. “Well, let me save you the trouble, Doc. My life as I know it is probably over anyway, so it really doesn’t matter whether I spend a few days in the hospital or not. So, I appreciate you taking the time to check me out, but I’m not worth your trouble.”

“Who told you that?” she quietly asked.

DiNozzo swallowed nervously. “Who told me what?”

“Who told you that you’re not worth the trouble?”

“It’s been ingrained in me for a long time, Doc. Like I said, don’t worry about me,” he insisted. “You tell Jack that you did your job and that in a few days, I’ll be on my feet again.”

“I can’t tell him that because I can’t honestly agree with your self prognosis.”

“Tell him what you want then.” Tony closed his eyes, hoping that she would take a hint and leave him alone.

He felt a gentle touch on his arm. Opening his eyes, Tony placed his hand on top of hers and lightly squeezed it. “Thanks, Doc.”

“Katherine,” she softly said.

“You don’t look like a Katherine,” he sleepily observed.

“Really? So, what would you call me then? Hopefully something besides Doc; that makes me sound like an old man.”

Tony thought for a minute and then grinned. “How about Kate? I’ve always liked that name.”

“I’ll think about it,” she promised. “You rest and I’ll be by to check on you later.”

He nodded and watched her as she gathered her bag and left the room. The last thing that Tony wanted to do was to sleep. He didn’t want to take another chance on hurting anyone, especially Jack. His head still ached and he was too tired to even begin to contemplate what would happen when he finally had to talk to Gibbs. Tony began searching for ways to keep his mind busy, so he wouldn’t sleep and he wouldn’t have to think. He began replaying episodes of ‘Magnum, P.I.’ in his mind, allowing him to briefly escape from the nightmare that his life had become.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Dr. Katherine Marshall couldn’t begin to describe the myriad of emotions that she was experiencing at the moment. She was angry that Anthony DiNozzo apparently demonstrated little concern for his own health and she was concerned that he didn’t seem to care if he lived or died. Katherine couldn’t help but wonder what had made Tony DiNozzo feel as if he wasn’t worth her trouble. Was it something or someone in his past that had drummed that into his head? The man in the other room was definitely a mystery and while she wasn’t one to interfere in her the lives of her patients, she found herself drawn to Tony.

She slammed her bag down on the counter and looked around the store for Jack. “Jack? Where are you?”

“Done so soon?” he asked as he set a case of water down on the floor.

“Actually, I want to admit him to the hospital, but he’s refusing.”

“That sounds about right. Leroy, that’s my son, once told me that Tony hated hospitals. Something to do with Tony having the plague,” he recalled.

Her eyes widened in disbelief. “The plague?’

“I’m pretty sure that’s what Leroy said. So, what’s wrong with Tony?”

“He’s got a severe concussion and needs to be monitored for at least 48 hours. He also needs a complete gastrointestinal workup, not to mention some X-rays and blood work to make sure that he’s not bleeding internally.”

“And he refuses to go?’

Katherine nodded. “Yes. I need to speak to his personal physician. Do you know who it is?”

“No,” Jack replied. “But I can find out for you.”

“Would you mind?” Katherine picked up her bag and headed towards the door. “Have his doctor call me at my office,” she instructed. “I’ll be back later to check on Tony.”

“Will do.”

Without a backwards glance, she got in her car and drove the short distance to her office. While she was waiting on the call from Tony’s doctor, Katherine fixed herself some lunch. She sat down at her desk and began to eat. Katherine could not get her mind off of Tony DiNozzo. She had a feeling that on a normal day, Tony could be a handful. There had been a hint of playfulness in his voice while she was trying to examine him, but the cheerfulness had been forced. Then when he told her that he wasn’t worth the trouble, she thought her heart was going to break.

Tony DiNozzo was going to need more help than she could give him. She could heal him physically, but mentally and emotionally, that was out of her field of expertise. There had to be someone that Tony could turn to. What about Jack’s son, Leroy? Jack made it seem like they were close, but if that were the case, where was he? Was this the same son that Tony had said held grudges? Was Leroy Gibbs part of Tony’s problem? She would bring that up with her patient when she went to check on him, but for now, all she could do was wait on the phone to ring.

7

Jackson Gibbs heard laughter coming from the back room, where his houseguest was supposed to be resting. His curiosity piqued, he reached in the cooler and grabbed a soda and went to check on DiNozzo.

He lightly rapped on the door frame. “Mind if I come in?”

“It’s your place,” Tony answered.

Jack watched the younger man struggle to sit up. He motioned for Tony to lie down as he pulled up a chair beside him. “There’s no need to get up, Tony.”

“That’s good. Because right now, I don’t think I could.”

“Maybe that’s a sign that you need to be in the hospital.”

Tony quickly averted his gaze and Jack knew that DiNozzo was probably thinking that he was trying to get rid of the young man. “Not that you aren’t welcome here,” Jack quickly clarified, hoping to ease Tony’s guilty conscience. “Katherine just said that you need to get some tests done.”

“You mean, Kate?” Tony asked. “I told her that I was fine.”

“Kate, huh?” Jackson smiled. “She must like you. The last person that called her Kate had to go and see a chiropractor.”

DiNozzo shrugged. “I just told her that she didn’t look like a Katherine.”

“Like I said, she must like you.”

Taking the soda and opening it, he offered it to Tony, who shook his head. “Anyway,” Jack continued. “She wanted me to find out who your doctor is so she can get your history.”

“She doesn’t need to bother. I’m fine,” Tony repeated, his tone forced and controlled.

Jack leaned back in his chair. “Son, have you looked in the mirror lately?”

“Yeah, I have and believe me I haven’t liked the person staring back at me for a long time now.”

Anthony DiNozzo was hurting and not just physically. Jack was at a loss, unsure of what to do to help Tony. Leroy knew the agent so much better, but yet Tony had come to him for help. There was no doubt in his mind that Tony needed to talk about what was bothering him, but Jack wasn’t a psychologist. He couldn’t wave a magic wand and make all of DiNozzo’s problem go away. But the one thing he could do for Tony was to be his friend.

“That didn’t come out like I wanted it to,” Jack said. “I tend to speak first and think later; if you don’t believe me, ask Leroy. It was one of the reasons why we didn’t talk for so long. I’m not sure what’s going on in your head; but just for the record Tony, the man I know is a pretty incredible person.”

“You don’t know me very well, then,” Tony whispered.

“You’ve worked with Leroy all these years; that tells me all I need to know.”

“How can you say that?” the agent wanted to know. “You’ve only known me for a few months.”

“Leroy’s told me a lot about you. He says that you’ve been with him for almost eight years and you’ve even passed up on your own team to stay with him.”

“I didn’t think he knew about that.”

Jack grinned. “This is Leroy we’re talking about.”

“Good point,” Tony conceded.

“He says that there’s no one that he trusts more to watch his six that you. That tells me that you’re loyal and have integrity. Not many people have that combination.”

“I don’t think anyone has ever told me I have integrity before.”

Jack lightly squeezed Tony’s shoulder. “If you’d let people see the real Anthony DiNozzo, then there would be no way that anyone would question your integrity.”

“The real Anthony DiNozzo isn’t a very likable person, Jack.”

He wasn’t sure how to respond to Tony’s last remark. Leroy would probably head slap the boy, but considering the severe concussion the agent had, that probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Jack watched as Tony began to shut down, closing his eyes, as if he were trying to close out the world. DiNozzo was through talking and Jack knew better than to push him right now.

“So, do you want to give me the name of your doctor, or do I call Leroy?”

Jack met Tony’s hardened gaze. “It’s one or the other, Tony. Your choice.”

Tony sighed. “Dr. Mallard.”

“What’s his number?”

Jack wrote the number down on a piece of paper and stood up. “Get some rest and I’ll check on you later.” He set the bottle of soda on the table. “You need to drink that, it’ll help settle your stomach.”

“Thanks.”

Jack stopped in the doorway. “By the way, what was so funny earlier?”

“Huh?” Tony asked, obviously confused by Jack’s question.

“I heard you laughing as I came in,” Jack explained. “What was so funny?”

“Oh.”

Jack thought maybe he had embarrassed Tony when the young man’s cheeks flushed slightly, but the grin that appeared on DiNozzo’s face told him otherwise.

“I uh… was just thinking about an episode of ‘Magnum, P.I.’,” Tony answered. “It was the one where…uh, never mind. I’m sure that you don’t want to hear me ramble on about a T.V. show. I tend to do that quite a bit.”

Jack returned his smile. “’Magnum, P.I.’, huh? I haven’t seen that show in a long time.”

“You used to watch it?”

“Don’t sound so surprised, son. Believe it or not, I used to look rather fetching in a Hawaiian shirt.”

Tony laughed. “I’m sure you did.”

“I’ll have to show you a picture sometime.”

“I’d like that.”

“You just take it easy and I’ll be back to check on you later.”

“All right.”

Jack left Tony alone and walked to his counter to call Katherine. Hopefully, she and this Dr. Mallard would be able to convince Tony of his need to seek medical treatment. He wasn’t sure that Tony could even begin dealing with what was truly troubling him until he felt better physically. After he got done talking with the doctor, he was going to call Leroy. He had promised his son that he would call him back and let him know how Tony was doing and maybe he could get some idea of how to help his young friend.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Gibbs sat outside Vance’s house, waiting for the Director to come home. He recalled Leon saying that his wife and kids were visiting her parents and would be gone the rest of the week, so he knew that he didn’t have to worry about having this conversation in front of his family. He was going to get some answers and this time, he would not be leaving until he did.

His phone rang as he took a sip of his coffee. Glancing at the caller ID, he saw that it was McGee. He hoped that Tim and Ziva had managed to find something out about why Tony’s car was in Norfolk.

“Gibbs.”

“Boss, it’s me.”

Gibbs rolled his eyes. “Yeah, McGee, I know. What do you got?”

“We found Tony’s car, Boss. It looks like it’s been in a wreck: the entire driver’s side is caved in. We found several bullet holes as well. Ziva talked to the mechanic and he said that it was towed in early yesterday afternoon.”

“Get that car back to Abby,” he instructed. “I don’t want anyone else touching that car.”

“Yes, Boss. Anything else you want us to do?”

Until he found out more about what Tony was doing, there wasn’t much more Ziva and McGee could do in Norfolk. “Not right now. I want you two to come back and help Abby. She’s going through Tony’s hard drive to see if she can find anything.”

“Will do, Boss,” McGee replied. “Boss, do you want to tell us anything?”

“Like what, McGee?”

“Like what’s going on with Tony?”

“I wish I knew.” He closed his phone and threw it in the seat beside him. Gibbs didn’t want to reveal anything until he had the full story and even then, he wasn’t sure how much Ziva and McGee would need to know. For all outward appearances, Tony was a very private person and he knew that DiNozzo preferred to keep most people at arms length. It was bad enough that they were going through his phone records, financial records, and hard drive without his consent; hopefully, Tony would understand why they had to resort to such extreme measures.

Before he could take another sip of coffee, his phone rang again. This time it was Abby.

“Gibbs,” he snapped.

“And hello to you too,” Abby greeted.

“What do you need, Abs?”

“I’ve been going through Tony’s emails since he’s returned from the Seahawk, and I found something very weird.”

“What, Abs?”

“Vance has been sending Tony emails at least once a week and they aren’t just the generic departmental ones that he sends everyone. Most of them are very short and to the point.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, like the last one he sent to Tony just had a time on it. It was sent the day before yesterday and said 2:30 p.m.”

“That’s all?” questioned the team leader.

“Yep, that’s it.”

Gibbs could almost see the Goth sipping her Caf-Pow as she anticipated his next question.

“What about the other emails?” he wanted to know.

“I could just forward them to you and…never mind. I’ll print them out for you and have them ready when you get back.”

“I owe you another Caf-Pow, Abs,” he promised.

“I’ll put it on your tab.”

Gibbs heard a slight pause and before the next question even came out of her mouth, he cut her off. “No Abs, you can’t call him yet.”

“He’s got like 18 more hours and then I’m calling him,” she said with a hint of defiance.

“Abs,” he gently warned.

“I mean it, Gibbs. He better call me and if you talk to him again, you better tell him to call me.”

“I will.”

He hung up when he saw Vance’s car pull into his drive way. Gibbs gave him a few minutes to park and get inside and then he went up and knocked on the front door. It took just a few seconds for the Director to answer.

Gibbs was amazed that Vance had the nerve to look surprised to see him. “You didn’t think I’d give up that easily, did you Leon?”

“I guess I didn’t expect you to show up at my house,” the Director admitted. “But of course, you’ve been here before—without an invitation.”

“Actually, I was invited,” Gibbs pointed out. “Your wife invited me in.”

“Well, she’s not here and I certainly don’t recall inviting you. If this pertains to work, it will keep until tomorrow.”

“The hell it will,” Gibbs snarled. “Now, you can either invite me in or we can do this out here in front of your neighbors. It doesn’t make any difference to me.”

He walked in when Vance stepped aside, allowing him to enter the house. “I’m through beating around the bush, Leon. I want to know why DiNozzo has been working undercover for you.”

“So you know. I’ll have to find out who is leaking that information.”

“I know that he’s been undercover to infiltrate a drug running ring based in Norfolk. I want to know why.”

“He volunteered,” Vance icily replied.

“No, he didn’t. He wouldn’t. Not after getting burned like he did on the op he did for Jen.”

“Then perhaps you don’t know you’re agent as well as you thought,” Leon taunted. “Actually, this has been the fourth operation Agent DiNozzo has been involved in since his return. He really is very good at what he does.”

Gibbs clenched his fist, fighting the urge to pommel the man in front of him. “You bastard,” he spat.

“So I’ve been told.”

“Pull him off,” Gibbs insisted. “There’ll be no more undercover operations for DiNozzo.”

“I can’t. I don’t have the authority to do that.”

“Then you tell whoever does have the authority to pull him out that Tony’s off the case.”

“I can’t do that either. You see, until we find DiNozzo and find out what happened yesterday, our hands are tied.”

“What do you mean what happened yesterday?” the agent pressed.

Gibbs stony glare followed Leon as he poured himself a drink and sat down on the couch. “Leon, I asked you a question.”

“I can’t. It’s on a need to know basis and Jethro, you aren’t on that list.”

“Read me in then.”

“I can’t at the moment.”

The team leader’s gaze narrowed. “Why DiNozzo?” he asked again.

“I’ve told you what I can.”

“Why DiNozzo?” Gibbs continued to press. “Is it some kind of punishment? You don’t think he was punished enough for what happened in L.A.? You don’t think that he beat himself up enough over the death of Jenny, so you wanted to help? What is it, Leon?” Gibbs yelled, no longer trying to reign in his temper.

Vance stood up and opened the door. “I think you need to leave before you say something that you regret.”

“If I find out that you’re doing this to punish him, I’ll have your job,” Gibbs vowed. “If something happens to him and he dies,” the agent continued. “I’ll have more than your job.”

Gibbs headed towards his car. He stopped mid stride when Vance called out to him.

“Gibbs Do you know where DiNozzo is?”

The agent smiled at the fact that the only good thing about this situation is that Vance had no idea where Tony was.. “Worried about him, Leon?”

“If you talk to him, tell him that he needs to get in touch with me ASAP,” Vance ordered.

“You know Leon, not knowing where your undercover agent is must make you look bad in front of all your friends,” Gibbs retorted as he got in the car.

He could tell by the clenched jaw that Vance was now fuming. Gibbs pulled off and headed back to the headquarters. Since Vance wasn’t forthcoming with any useful information, he would go through the emails that Abby printed off and see what he could piece together.

His phone rang once again. He didn’t even have to look at the caller ID to see who was calling. “What do you need, Ducky?”

“Jethro, we really must work on your phone etiquette.”

The team leader grinned and shook his head. “Something wrong, Duck?”

“Well,” the Scotsman began. “I just got a rather interesting phone call.”

“From who?”

“From a doctor in St…”

Gibbs cut Ducky off as his foot pressed down on the accelerator. “Meet me in Abby’s lab in ten minutes.”

“But I thought that you would want to know…”

“Not on the phone, Duck. I’ll see you in ten.” Gibbs hung up. If this pertained to Tony, he didn’t want to do it over the phone. He wouldn’t put it past Vance to put a tap on his phone in case Tony called him.

If the doctor in Stillwater was calling Ducky, then Tony must be hurt worse than he had originally assumed. Gibbs had learned long ago not to take DiNozzo at his word when it came to his health. He silently cursed the cars in front of him as he weaved his way through traffic. If DiNozzo was injured, then Tony could just forget about having a few days to himself; Gibbs would be by his side by sunrise.

8

Looking around to make sure that he was alone, Tony carefully sat up on the couch, using his arm to brace his aching ribs. It had taken every ounce of his reserve not to scream when Kate was poking and prodding around the tender bruises that littered his chest and stomach. He still felt bad that he had vomited in front of her; that was not the best first impression that he had ever made.

He grabbed the bottle of soda that Jack had left for him and took a sip. Tony winced against the burning sensation of the liquid as he swallowed. “I shouldn’t have done that,” he muttered to himself.

Setting the bottle down, he laid his head back against the cushion of the couch. Tony could hear Jack talking to someone in the store. He figured that the older man had called Katherine to give her Ducky’s number. The agent hadn’t wanted to involve Ducky, but Jack had backed him into a corner by threatening to call Gibbs. He knew that Gibbs Sr., was a lot like his son in that he didn’t back down when he thought he was in the right.

Tony wasn’t ready to talk to his Boss just yet, so he relented and gave Jack Ducky’s phone number. He could just hear the ME now once Kate had informed him of her findings.

“Anthony, my boy,” Tony said, doing a weak imitation of the Scotsman, “what have you gotten yourself into now?”

“Well Ducky, it’s like this,” the agent answered. “You really don’t want to know.”

Tony again emulated the voice of the ME. “How do you expect us to help you, Anthony?”

He sighed and shook his head. “I don’t know if you can. I’m not sure anybody can.”

Running his hands through his disheveled hair, Tony laughed to himself. “You are so screwed up, DiNozzo. If Kate or Jack sees you talking to yourself, they’ll call the men in the white coats. Pull yourself together!”

Tony forced himself to stand up. If he stayed still too long, he would be tempted to go to sleep. While he was staying with Jack, he would not take another chance of hurting Gibbs’ father, or worse, killing him. He began to slowly pace the room, his mind racing. Where did it all go wrong?

Sometimes Tony wondered if God hated him that much. Sure he wasn’t a saint, but he wasn’t that bad of a person, was he? He didn’t think so, but Tony was certain that there were those who would disagree. Director Vance certainly didn’t care for him; in fact, according to the director, Tony was expendable. He briefly wondered if Vance knew his father, they seemed to share the same opinion of him.

Vance. That name alone made him feel sick. Tony was completely aware that he needed to report to the Director, but Leon Vance was the last person he wanted to talk to. He would find out soon enough that the bust didn’t go down as planned. Tony’s cover had been blown and he had barely escaped with his life, but that wouldn’t matter to Leon Vance.

He didn’t figure that Vance knew where he was, or the Director would have already been here. All that mattered to the man was making himself and the agency look good and right now, that was the furthest thing from Tony’s mind. DiNozzo didn’t have the energy to care about too much except remaining upright and putting one foot in front of the other.

Tony swayed slightly as the room began to spin. “Gotta stay awake, DiNozzo.”

Knowing that there was one person who could keep him awake, Tony felt his pocket for his cell phone. “Oh, yeah. I threw it against the wall. We can just add that to the list of stupid things I’ve done.”

“Maybe I should make a list of stupid things that Anthony DiNozzo has done in his lifetime. That’ll certainly pass the time.”

“What are you doing off the couch?”

Tony startled at the sound of Jack’s voice. He spun around too fast and nearly went to the floor. The agent felt the strong arms of Jack holding him and helping him back to the couch. He could certainly add this stunt to the mental list he was forming in his mind.

“I…uh…just was tired of lying down,” Tony lied.

He didn’t have to look at Jack to know that the older man didn’t believe him. “Well, it looks like to me that lying down is about all you can do. You certainly can’t walk too well at the moment.”

“I was doing fine,” Tony protested, “until someone snuck upon me.”

“I didn’t sneak upon you. You just didn’t hear me come in.”

“There’s a difference?”

“Yep.”

Tony sighed, too tired to argue. “If you say so.”

“I called Katherine with that number you gave me.”

“And?”

“She was going to call Dr. Mallard and she said to tell you that she would be back to check on you within the hour.”

“All right.”

Tony could tell that Jack seemed hesitant. There was obviously something else that Jack wanted to tell him, so the agent decided to make it easy on the man who had opened his home to him. “Something else, Jack?”

“Yeah, Tony,” Jack replied. “I’m getting ready to call Leroy. Do you want to talk to him?”

Tony shook his head. “Not yet.”

“All right. I thought I’d ask.”

He nodded his thanks as Jack stood to leave the room. “Jack, there is someone I’d like to talk to. Can you tell Gibbs to have Abby call me?”

“Abby, huh?”

“Yeah. Not that I’m going to do a lot of talking, I just need her to keep me…I just want to hear her voice.”

“I’ll tell him,” Jack promised.

“Thanks.”

Tony knew that Abby would be worried sick about him and had probably put a time limit for him to call her. Right now, he just wanted to hear her talk about Sister Rosita, movies, clubs, anything but work. Since he no longer had a cell phone, and he doubted Jack did either, it would be better for Abby to call him, so that Jackson didn’t end up with as Abby would put it, a ‘ginourmas’ long distance bill.

Until she called, Tony planned to keep his mind busy. He had already gone through all the seasons of ‘Magnum, P.I.’, now he would start on ‘Airwolf’. Tony silently wished that his life was like a weekly television series with the problem of the week being solved in 43 minutes. Tony’s life was more like a box office movie with endless sequels.

“So much for wishful thinking,” he whispered as he began to hum the theme to ‘Airwolf’.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Ducky had just finished faxing the last of Tony’s medical records to Dr. Marshall when Jethro stormed into Autopsy, coffee cup in hand. The ME wasn’t looking forward to having this conversation and judging by the steely expression on Gibbs’ face, the team leader wasn’t in the mood for any of Ducky’s usual tangents.

“All right, Duck. What’s going on?” Gibbs demanded to know.

“I just finished faxing Tony’s medical records to a Dr. Katherine Marshall in Stillwater. She is quite concerned about the lad.”

“How badly is he hurt, Duck?”

“Well,” the ME began. “She said that Tony has a rather nasty concussion and is suffering some side effects from it. Dr. Marshall went on to say that he has quite a few bruises on his chest and possibly a couple of cracked ribs, not to mention a slight possibility of some internal bleeding.”

“Why isn’t he in the hospital, then?”

“Tony doesn’t want to go,” Ducky simply stated.

“He doesn’t want to go? From the sound of it, Ducky, he really doesn’t have a choice,” Gibbs exclaimed.

“There’s always a choice, Jethro,” the ME pointed out. “Right now, Tony is making his choice.”

Gibbs threw his cup in the trash, sighing in frustration and anger. “Anything else?”

“Yes, I’m afraid there is.”

“Spit it out, Ducky,” the team leader ordered.

The ME crossed his arms and studied the concerned features of his friend. How was he going to tell Gibbs that Tony had been hiding information about his health? “Jethro, were you aware of the fact that Anthony has an ulcer?”

“DiNozzo? An ulcer?”

“Yes,” Ducky answered. “Dr. Marshall said that he was throwing up blood and during her examination, his abdomen was tender. She said that Tony admitted to being diagnosed with an ulcer on the Seahawk.”

Gibb’s expression softened. “An ulcer,” he repeated. “I would have never thought about DiNozzo getting an ulcer.”

“I don’t know why not, Jethro. That boy internalizes everything,” Ducky pointed out. “I’m just amazed that it took this long to show up. After all he’s been through, especially the past two or three years, it was bound to happen.”

“He didn’t say anything about it when he returned from the Seahawk?” Gibbs questioned.

“No and I don’t have his medical records from the time he was on the ship either. I’m waiting on the physician of the Seahawk to contact me and then I’ll know more.”

“His records should have transferred back with him.”

“But where are they? You know this reminds me of the time…” Ducky caught himself before Gibbs could say anything. “It’s not important.”

“Anything else?”

“Nothing yet. I’ve asked her to call me should Tony be hospitalized. I’m going to call Dr. Pitt and ask him to fax Tony’s records from the time he had the plague as well.”

“That’s good thinking. Find out what happened to Tony’s records from the Seahawk,” Gibbs instructed. “I’ll be in Abby’s lab if you need me.”

He let Gibbs get to the door before he called out to him. “Are you planning on a visit to Stillwater any time in the near future?”

Gibbs merely smiled. That was the answer that Ducky had been expecting. One thing for sure was that Gibbs looked out for his own, especially Tony. Whether Jethro ever admitted it publicly or not, Anthony DiNozzo held a special place in the team leader’s heart; he was like the son that Jethro never had. Most people never saw the smile that Gibbs tried to hide when Tony managed to crack the case by using some kind of movie comparison, or when Tony would outsmart McGee and Ziva, and truthfully, the list could go on forever.

Ducky knew that Gibbs was bound and determined to help Tony, but the doctor couldn’t help but wonder if Jethro would be too late.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


As Gibbs entered Abby’s lab, his phone rang. Glancing at his caller ID, he saw that it was his dad. “Gibbs,” he answered.

“Don’t you ever say hello like normal people?” his dad inquired.

“Nope. What’s going on, Dad?”

“Just thought you’d want an update.”

Gibbs hoped that his dad would pick upon what he was about to do. “Yeah, you were going to tell me about Mike the last time you called. How’s he doing?”

There was a brief second of silence before his dad replied. Gibbs breathed a sigh of relief when Jack answered, “Well, you know Mike. He’s as stubborn as they come.”

“Yeah, I know. Is he feeling any better?”

“Not really, but he did want you to do something for him.”

“What’s that?”

“He wants to talk to the hugger. Do you think you can set that up?”

Gibbs smiled. Jack always referred to Abby as the hugger. His dad had once made the comment that he never met anyone who could hug so well. “I’ll do my best. Dad, I’m going to have to go. I’ll call you back later.”

“All right, son.”

The team leader hung up to find three sets of eyes staring at him. “That was my dad.”

“Your father? Is something wrong?” Ziva asked.

“No, at least not with him. Tony is with him. I don’t want Vance knowing where Tony is and I wouldn’t put it past the director to use us to find DiNozzo.”

“Tony is in Stillwater? Why?”

“I don’t fully know.” Gibbs studied each member of his team. He could trust them, he knew that, but what he was about to tell them could change how they viewed their senior field agent. “Tony’s been undercover per the director’s orders. I don’t know the details of this latest case, but whatever has happened, Tony can’t…Tony just needs some time to work some things out and that’s what he’s going to get.”

“Is he all right?” McGee asked.

“No.”

“What can we do?” Ziva asked.

“What you’re doing now. Keep going through his computer and see if there is anything that will tell us what Tony has been doing. Any emails from Vance to Tony, print them out and give them to me. Abby, I have a special assignment for you while you’re waiting on Tony’s car.”

He took Abby by the arm and led her away from the others. “Tony wants you to call him, but don’t use your phone.”

Deepening her voice, she answered, “On it, Boss. Did I sound like Tony? I’ve been practicing all day.”

“Good job, Abs. Now go!”

He watched as Abby ran out of the lab as fast her thick platform soles would carry her. Turning his attention back to Ziva and McGee, he wondered how much more he should tell them. They were Tony’s friends too and were as equally worried about him. He watched them work as they went through Tony’s emails, debating on what to do. His phone rang again and this time it was Vance.

Gibbs hit the mute button, refusing the answer the man’s call. The next phone to ring was Ziva’s and she followed suit as did McGee when his rang.

“The equipment in here sometimes messes up my phone,” Ziva said.

“We really should see about getting a new service or something,” McGee added.

Gibbs smiled. He knew where his team’s loyalty lied; with him and with their friend, Tony DiNozzo.

9

Abby dialed Jack’s number and waited anxiously, silently counting the number of rings it took for someone to answer. Gibbs had warned her not to use her phone to call Tony, in case their lines were being monitored. It bothered her to think that the Director would resort to such extreme measures to find her friend. She knew that whatever was going on between Tony and Vance could not be good; making her concern for the senior agent grow every second that she was unable to hear his voice. Abby had been thrilled when Gibbs had said that Tony wanted her to call him.

Knowing Tony, she realized that he probably just wanted someone to help keep him awake. Whenever DiNozzo was hurt or tired, he seemed to be plagued by nightmares and Abby would find herself over at his apartment either watching movies or talking until he fell asleep. Usually his head would be on her lap or against her shoulder and the two of them would stay like that until morning. Since Tony was in Stillwater, they had to settle on the next best thing and use the telephone.

Since she couldn’t use any of her phones, including her house or work phone, she came to the one place where she figured it would be safe to call DiNozzo—the bowling alley. Abby knew that Sister Rosita and the nuns would be bowling tonight, so no one would think it odd that she there. She smiled at her stroke of genius; Tony would be so proud. Mac, the manager of the Leisure Lanes Bowling Alley was an old friend and was more than happy to let her use the phone in his office.

After speaking to Sister Rosita and asking her to say a special prayer for Tony, Abby had retreated to the office to make her call. She had mentally counted the fifth ring before someone picked up.

“Hello?”

Abby smiled, instantly recognizing the voice of Jackson Gibbs. “Hello yourself, you handsome devil,” she answered.

“Abby? It’s good to hear your voice, sweetheart!” Jack said.

“Yours too. How have you been?”

“I’ve been doing well.” There was a slight pause before Jack asked, “Abby, where are you at? What’s that noise in the background?”

“Oh, I’m at a bowling alley and I think Sister Rosita just got a strike,” she hastily explained.

“A bowling alley? Why are you at a bowling alley? I’d figure that you’d be at work.”

“I had to use the phone,” Abby said, hoping that Jack would understand the underlying message. Of course, he would. He was just like Gibbs, only older.

“Of course,” he replied.

Abby could almost see Jack’s charming grin as he realized why she wasn’t using her own phone. “So, I hear you have some company. Anyone I know?” she playfully inquired.

“I believe so. Just hang on a minute and I’ll take him the phone.”

“Jack? Is he all right?” She had the feeling that she already knew the answer to her question.

“No,” Jack admitted. “But I do think that hearing from you will make him feel a lot better.”

She could hear Jack saying something to Tony and then it was just a few seconds before she heard Tony’s voice. Gibbs had been right, Tony sounded exhausted.

“Hey Abs,” the weary voice greeted.

“Tony? Oh my gosh! Are you okay?”

Silence. Abby hated silence. “Tony? Are you still there?”

“Yeah, I’m here Abby and no, I’m not okay.”

For Tony to so easily admit that he wasn’t all right, things had to be worse than she originally thought. “Talk to me, Tony,” she pleaded. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“I can’t Abs; not right now. Besides, I don’t think you have that much time,” he quipped.

“Tony, I have all the time in the world for you.”

She heard Tony sigh. Abby wished that she could reach through the phone and embrace her hurting friend. Holding the phone on her shoulder, she wrapped her arms around herself. “I’m sending you a hug, Tony.”

“Thanks Abs,” he whispered. “I needed that.”

“You’re welcome. I’m here and ready to listen.”

Another sigh. “Not right now. Right now, I don’t want to think about my problems. I just…”

“Need a friend?”

“Yeah. I need a friend.”

Abby leaned back in her chair and began talking about anything and everything that didn’t pertain to work or to the real reason Tony was in Stillwater. She would pause long enough to make sure that Tony was still there. Satisfied that he was still listening, she would continue chatting.

If her talking non stop was what it took to get Tony to the point that he felt like opening up, even a little, then she would ramble on all night. Abby refused to give up on Tony. He was more than her colleague; he was like her brother and family looked out for each other.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Director Vance was furious with Gibbs and his team. He had expected Gibbs to ignore his calls, but he had to admit that he was surprised that David and McGee had followed suit. They all knew where DiNozzo was and they obviously were going to great lengths to make sure that he didn’t find out the location of the missing agent.

Gibbs had been right when he had remarked that losing contact with his undercover operative made Vance look bad. Leon had barely been able to appease the SecNav with his excuses, but his peers had not been so easily fooled. Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo was attempting to play him for a fool and he was not going to that happen.

As soon as Gibbs had left, Vance had ordered all of the ex-Marine’s team phones to be monitored. DiNozzo would have to contact one of them soon. He had to give the agent credit; Tony DiNozzo didn’t want to be found and had covered his tracks well.

His phone rang. The caller ID revealed that the SecNav was calling him. Flipping open his phone, he answered, “Yes, sir?”

Vance listened carefully as the SecNav spoke. His superior was informing him of some new information that had come to his attention pertaining to DiNozzo and the undercover operation that he had been involved in. The NCIS Director‘s anger steadily grew as he listened with a forced calmness. When the SecNav was done, all Vance could manage was a terse, “I understand, sir.”

He hung up the phone and poured himself a drink. After quickly downing it, he threw the glass across the room. Vance didn’t flinch as the glass shattered against the wall. Damn DiNozzo! The bust hadn’t gone as planned and he was just finding out about it. The fact that two men had been killed and DiNozzo had not taken the time to inform him of this development infuriated the man even further.

“You better have a good explanation, DiNozzo,” Vance growled, “because you’ll be the one taking the fall.”

A tiny smile danced upon his lips. He now knew how to find out where DiNozzo was hiding and Gibbs would be the one to lead him to the agent. All he had to do was convince Jethro Gibbs that his boy was in danger of losing everything, including his job, his freedom, and his life. Of course, as far Vance was concerned, it wasn’t far from the truth.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Gibbs sat at Abby’s desk going through the emails that Vance had sent Tony. Most of them were short and to the point, consisting of various times followed by one or two words. He assumed that it was some kind of code that only Tony understood. There were also a couple of emails that Vance had forwarded from the SecNav congratulating DiNozzo on a job well done.

He scrubbed his face with his hand and sat back in his chair. When was DiNozzo finding time to pull these undercover operations off? Since Tony had been back from the Seahawk, his team had stayed busy with back to back cases and DiNozzo hadn’t been prone to disappearing like he had when he was working undercover for Jen. How could Tony keep up that pace for so long? It was no wonder that his senior agent sounded completely and utterly exhausted. Gibbs sighed. Hopefully, Tony would provide him with some answers sooner than later.

His phone rang and he flipped it open. “Gibbs.”

“Leroy Jethro Gibbs?” a female voice hesitantly asked.

“Yes.”

“My name is Dr. Katherine Marshall,” she introduced herself. “I’m the doctor here in…”

“Can I call you right back?” Gibbs interrupted.

“I’m not going to take up to much of your time, Mr. Gibbs. I just need to ask you a few questions about…”

“I assure you that I’ll answer your questions to the best of my ability, but I need to call you back. Give me ten minutes.” Hanging up his phone, he pushed himself back from the desk and stood up.

“I’m going for coffee. I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he called back over his shoulder to Ziva and McGee as he headed towards the elevator.

Within a few minutes, he was at his favorite coffee shop, purchasing a prepaid phone card. He went over to the payphone, thankful that the manager of the shop hadn’t taken the payphone out when he had remodeled. Glancing at his cell phone, he quickly memorized Dr. Marshall’s phone number and then entered the card information and the number on the payphone. He wasn’t surprised when the doctor picked up on the first ring.

“I don’t appreciate being cut off like that,” she blurted out.

“I had to switch phones. There wasn’t very good reception where I was,” he lied.

“I could hear you just fine.”

Gibbs blew out a frustrated breath. “What can I do for you, Dr. Marshall? Are you calling about Tony?”

“Yes, I am. You’re listed as his next of kin,” she stated.

“I have been for years, ever since he came to work for me.”

“Then you are familiar with his medical history.”

“Is that a question or a statement, Dr. Marshall?”

“Both,” she coolly replied. “I’ve just been reviewing his medical history and it seems that Mr. DiNozzo has been injured in the line of duty several times.”

“Yes, he has.”

“And he’s suffered a variety of injuries, from a sprained ankle to the pneumonic plague. That’s quite an extensive history.”

“Is there a point to this, Dr. Marshall?” the team leader snapped. “I thought that you would want to inform me about his current medical condition. I don’t need a reminder about DiNozzo’s past medical history; I need to know what’s going on with him now.”

He knew that she probably didn’t welcome his abruptness, but at the moment, he didn’t care. All Gibbs wanted to know was how DiNozzo was doing and what she was doing to help him.

“I’m sure that you spoke with Dr. Mallard and you’re aware of his physical condition. I want him to go to the hospital for some tests and to make sure that I’m not missing something. I thought that perhaps as his next of kin, you could persuade him to go.”

Gibbs smiled. The doctor had discovered Tony’s stubborn streak. “That’s easier said than done, Dr. Marshall.”

“So, I’ve discovered. My main concern is that he could be bleeding internally, either from the bruising or from the ulcer. He also seems to be dehydrated and has lost some weight, which is taxing his system as well.”

He mentally head slapped himself. How could he not notice that Tony was losing weight? Had he been that blind?

“Mr. Gibbs, are you still there?” the doctor inquired.

“Jethro,” he corrected.

“Very well, Jethro.”

“Is he still at my dad’s?”

“Yes. I left him with strict orders to rest. He’s had an eventful day.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a long story. Right now, I need you to convince him to let me admit him to hospital.”

He sighed in frustration. “I’ll see what I can do, but you have to understand, that I can’t make any promises. When Tony makes up his mind about something, he doesn’t change it so easily.”

“I’m aware of that,” she said. “However, at the rate he’s going, he’s going to end up in the hospital one way or another. I just want to get a handle on his condition before he ends up worse than he already is.”

“I’ll talk to him,” the team leader agreed.

Gibbs took a sip of his coffee that he had purchased earlier and set it down on top of the payphone. “I have a feeling that something else is bothering you, Dr. Marshall.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“I’ve spent most of my life learning how to read people and you seem like you’re hiding something from me. Am I right?”

“You’re very perceptive, Jethro. But, I’d rather not continue this conversation over the phone. How soon can you get to Stillwater?”

The team leader grinned. It seemed that Dr. Katherine Marshall preferred the direct approach as well. “I’ll be there in the morning.”

“I’m looking forward to meeting you, Jethro.”

“Same here.”

Gibbs hung up and took another sip of his coffee. He had wanted to give his senior agent the time to himself that he had asked for, but that was before Gibbs had discovered that Tony was hurt. DiNozzo had a habit of denying that he needed help whenever he was injured or sick, not believing that he was worthy of anyone’s concern. The feeling of inadequacy stemmed from the lessons that Tony’s father pounded into him. He couldn’t begin to count how many times had he heard Tony say something like, “DiNozzo’s don’t pass out; DiNozzo’s don’t get sick; DiNozzo’s don’t cry.”

Pushing these thoughts to the back of his mind, he purchased three more coffees and headed back to Abby’s lab. As he walked down the street, his phone rang. It was Vance. He didn’t want to talk to the Director, but something in his gut told him that he needed to take the call.

“Gibbs,” he answered.

“So, you finally decided to answer my calls,” Vance said.

“I left my phone in the car,” Gibbs replied.

“I guess David and McGee left theirs in the car as well?”

“Something like that.” Annoyed, Gibbs asked, “What do you want, Leon?”

“I just got off the phone with the SecNav. I need to know where DiNozzo is.”

“Why?”

“Because his undercover operation got blown all to hell and I need to know why. Two men are dead and DiNozzo is suddenly missing. It’s in his best interest if you tell me where he is.”

Gibbs clenched his jaw tightly. “I don’t know.”

“Do you realize what kind of trouble your man could be in?” Vance pressed.

“I understand that you’re trying to imply that DiNozzo somehow screwed up the mission and I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong,” he barked.

“Tell me where he is or you’re going to leave me no choice but to suspend you for withholding information pertinent to a case.”

“I’ll leave my badge and gun on your desk, Director Vance.”

Gibbs slammed his phone shut and tossed it in the nearest trashcan. He entered the NCIS building and headed straight for the lab. As he handed Ziva and McGee their coffee, the team leader quickly explained what was going on and made them promise that they would simply lay low and wait for him to contact them.

“I don’t know how long I’ll be,” he said. “Right now, stay under Vance’s radar. He wants to know where Tony is and I need time to sort out whatever is going on. I’ve just approved you two for a week’s vacation, so make yourselves scarce. I’ll call you when Tony’s up to having company. I know what I’m asking is a lot, but…”

Ziva didn’t give him a chance to finish. “Tony is one of us and we always have each other’s backs. He has always had ours; it’s now time for us to watch his.”

“Yeah, Boss,” McGee added. “We all owe him a lot. You can count on us.”

Gibbs patted McGee on the shoulder. “Never doubted it for a minute. Now, get out of here, both of you. I’ll call Abby later and explain what’s going on.”

“Shouldn’t she be back by now?” Ziva wanted to know.

The team leader glanced at his watch. “Nah. Knowing Abby and Tony, they’re just getting started.”

Taking one final look at his team, he realized that although he was always proud of his team, he had never been prouder of them than he was at that moment. “I won’t forget this.”

“Keep in touch, Boss,” McGee said.

“I will.”

Without a backwards glance, Gibbs headed up to the Director’s office. He laid his badge and gun on Leon’s desk and left as quickly as he had entered. Now he wouldn’t have to worry about anyone looking over his shoulder and that should hopefully make things easier for him and for Tony. DiNozzo probably wouldn’t be thrilled to see him, but hopefully the younger man would realize that Gibbs simply wanted to help.

He hadn’t been much of one to pray in the past because he wasn’t convinced that it did any good. Gibbs wasn’t even sure he believed in a higher power any more, but he found himself daring God. “If you’re listening,” he began, “you’ve got to help me get through to DiNozzo. I can’t lose him. I won’t lose him. You’ve taken Shannon and Kelly; I’m not going to let you have my son…Tony. Do you hear me? I won’t lose him!”





10

Tony couldn’t help but laugh when Abby told him about how she had talked Palmer into getting a tattoo. He could just see the ME’s assistant walking into the tattoo parlor, trying to decide on what to get and where to put it.

“So, what did he finally decide on?” Tony wanted to know.

“A skull and crossbones,” Abby answered. “Actually, he thought about getting a black lung, since that was his code name back when you…oops.”

“Oops?” What do you mean ‘oops’?”

“You didn’t want me to talk about work or anything like that. I shouldn’t have even mentioned Palmer’s name. I’m really, really, really sorry, Tony,” the Goth apologized profusely.

“Abs, it’s all right,” he assured her. “I’m not going to fall apart on you; I’m not that far gone.”

Truthfully, Tony knew that he had a very tenuous grip on his emotions, but he had to convince Abby otherwise. He couldn’t deal with her guilt on top of his own.

He had thoroughly been enjoying Abby’s ramblings. She had successfully taken his mind off his problems, at least temporarily, and for that he was grateful. Tony had just started to relax a little, but now the tension was back as the all too familiar pain in his stomach reared its ugly head. He gasped as he shifted slightly on the couch, attempting to find a more comfortable position.

Unfortunately, Abby had not missed the hitch in his breath and began to rapidly fire questions at him. “What’s wrong?” Tony, are you all right?” You’re in pain, aren’t you? Don’t you think you should call the doctor?”

“Abby, I’m all right. I’m just a little stiff and sore and I moved wrong. I’m fine, really.”

“You’re not fine, Tony,” she argued. “You might can fool Jack and you might be able to fool that doctor, but you know you can’t fool me.”

Tony weakly smiled. “I know, Abs.”

“Then why aren’t you being honest with me? Do I have to remind you about Abby’s rule number one?”

“No, y
ou don’t have to remind me.”

“Tony, you’re my best friend and I know when you’re hurting, and I’m not just talking about the physical pain that you are obviously in.”

He closed his eyes, listening and replaying Abby’s words in his mind. Tony knew that she was right. He had always been able to open up to Abby, but this was different. How could he begin to tell Abby what was bothering him when he didn’t fully understand it himself?”

“Tony, are you still there?” Abby nervously asked.

Tony sighed, silently chastising himself for zoning out. “Yeah, I’m here Abby. I was just…”

“Thinking about what you were going to tell me?”

“Not really.”

“Tony, please,” she pleaded once again.

Blinking back the tears that threatened to fall, Tony refused to allow himself the luxury of crying. He could remember only crying two times in his life; once when he found his mother’s body and the second time was after Paula Cassidy had been killed. Showing his feelings had never been easy for Tony and now was no exception. He expertly hid beside the façade of a frat boy in order to keep people at arm’s length. However, Abby was one of the few people that had seen behind his mask and yet, she had remained by his side regardless of his attempts to push her away.

He swallowed hard, ignoring the lump that had developed in his throat. “I’m tired, Abs.”

“I know Tony, but if you would just…”

“No Abby, you don’t understand. I’m tired. I’m just so tired of everything.”

“What do you mean?”

Abby was ready to listen but Tony was at a loss of words. “I don’t know…where to start.”

“Just take your time,” she urged.

“I can’t go on like this, Abs. I can’t go on living a lie. I don’t know what’s wrong with me; I can’t seem to get my act together. Once I came back from the Seahawk, I thought things would be back to normal, but so far, it’s been anything but normal.”

“What’s been going on?”

“I can’t tell you that, at least not yet.”

“Does this have something to do with Director Vance?” Abby guessed.

Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. “Abby, why would you say that?”

“Because I know that he’s been sending you mysterious emails and that he’s desperate to find you.”

“You’ve been going through my emails?” Tony knew that his sharp tone probably caught Abby by surprise.

He shook his head in frustration, wincing as the pounding in his head intensified. Tony should have known that Gibbs would have ordered the others to search his hard drive. It wouldn’t be long before Gibbs figured out exactly what was going on.

“Oops,” Abby said again. “I guess I shouldn’t have mentioned that.”

“That’s all right, Abby. I’m sure that you were just following Gibb’s instructions.”

“He’s worried about you, Tony. We all are.”

It wasn’t his intention to cause his teammates concern; Tony certainly didn’t believe that he was worth the effort. He had just wanted to get away for a while and decide if he could continue living that life that had been forced upon him since his return from his posting as Agent Afloat.

“Abby,” he whispered. “I think I want out.”

“What?”

He could hear the slight tremble in her voice. Tony wished that he could take back what he had just said; he really didn’t know why he even said it. He had no idea what he wanted right now.

“Forget it,” he quickly said. “I’m just tired; I don’t even know why I said that.”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Abby gently admonished. “You’re not getting off that easily, Tony.”

“Let it go, Abs,” he begged.

“I can’t. You either start talking or I’m driving up to Stillwater right now,” she threatened.

Tony knew that she wasn’t bluffing. He had played poker with Abby enough to know that she very seldom bluffed. Taking a deep breath, he said, “I think…I think it’s time I left NCIS.”

“Tony, you can’t be serious,” Abby replied. “I mean you love your job. We finally got you back from the Seahawk and now you decide that you want to leave? That doesn’t make sense!”

“I’ve been with NCIS six years longer than I have any other job, Abs. It’s probably past time I moved on,” he tried to reason.

“Tony, you can’t just leave.”

Tony felt something snap inside him as his resolve began to crumble. “Abby, I’m kind of getting tired of people telling me what I can and can’t do,” he growled. “I’ve reached my limit! I can’t keep going between working for Gibbs and working for Vance. I’m being pulled in so many different directions that I feel like that there’s nothing left of Tony DiNozzo! I don’t even want to be Tony DiNozzo any more. He’s nothing but a disappointment to everyone around him!”

He cursed under his breath. Tony couldn’t believe that he had just let the proverbial cat out of the bag. He had just admitted that he was working for Vance. Hopefully, Abby wouldn’t catch his slip up, but he knew that she would eventually put two and two together.

“That’s not true!” she tearfully protested. “You’ve never been a disappointment to me or to any of the others.”

“Really?” Tony forced himself to sit up on the couch. He gritted his teeth against the pain, hating his own weakness. “Then answer a few questions for me, Abs,” he grunted. “Tell me why Gibbs still blames me for Jenny’s death. Why hasn’t he head slapped me since I’ve been back? Why does McGee look at me like I’m not worthy to be the gum on the bottom of his shoe? Why does Ziva not want to be partnered with me anymore? Why does Vance think I’m expendable?”

Tony abruptly stopped his tirade. He had said too much. His head now ached with an intensity that he had never experienced before. Tony dropped the phone and clutched his head. Sliding off the couch, he cried out in pain. He could hear Abby screaming at him through the phone, but his body was shaking so badly that he couldn’t answer her.

The last thing that he remembered was someone turning him on his side and Dr. Marshall calling out to him. What was happening to him? Why couldn’t he control his own body any longer? Was this how his life was going to end? Was he ready to die or were there too many things left unsaid? Tony would have to wait for the answers to his questions; he couldn’t hold his eyes open any longer, succumbing to the blissfulness of darkness.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Katherine Marshall sat across from the table from Jackson Gibbs, sipping on a cup of coffee. After getting off the phone with Jethro Gibbs, she had decided to check on her patient. When she got there, Jack had informed her that Tony was talking on the phone to one of his friends, so she decided not to interrupt them. Jack had insisted that she stay for a cup of coffee and a game of chess and she had readily accepted.

“I’ve had the pleasure of talking with your son,” she said as she studied the board, trying to decide her next move.

Jack grinned. “Leroy? I bet you had an interesting conversation.”

“Well, he hung up on me the first time and then called me back. Despite his lack of phone etiquette, he seemed genuinely worried about Tony.”

“That boy in there is like a son to Leroy, although I’m not sure that he’d ever admit it.”

“I’m just hoping that when your son gets here, that he can talk Tony into going to the hospital.” She moved her knight and said, “Check.”

“Leroy’s coming here?”

“You seemed surprised.”

“Well, I knew he would come. I just thought he’d give Tony a few days to himself. That boy in there is in a world of hurt.”

“I know. But until he starts feeling better physically, he can’t begin to heal emotionally. It’s your move,” she reminded him.

“Don’t rush me.”

Katherine sighed impatiently, waiting for the older man to make his move. “Any day now, Jack,” she taunted.

“I said…”

She never heard Jack’s reply. A strangled cry and a crash emitted from the room that Tony was occupying. The two of them ran in the room to find Tony writhing on the floor, his body wracked with tremors. “Get him on his side, Jack. It looks like he’s having a seizure of some kind.”

Katherine knelt beside Tony and called out to him. “Tony? Tony, can you hear me? It’s Doctor Marshall.”

His eyes were unfocused and dilated and a trickle of blood was running out of the corner of his mouth. “He must have bit his tongue,” she mumbled to herself.

Glancing over her shoulder, she heard someone yelling through the phone. “Jack, tell Tony’s friend that you’ll call her back and go get my bag,” she instructed.

She kept a hand on Tony’s shoulder and quietly encouraged him. “It’s okay, Tony. I know you’re probably scared right now, but it will be over soon.” Looking at her watch, she mentally figured that it had been close to two minutes now and Tony wasn’t showing any sign of stopping.

The doctor grabbed her bag from Jack and prepared a syringe of Valium and quickly injected it in Tony’s hip. Within a couple of minutes, the tremors had subsided to an occasional twitch and Tony had lost consciousness. As she sat there monitoring the young man, she heard Jack on the phone trying to calm Tony’s friend.

“He’s all right, Abby. I promise, sweetheart. The doctor’s here with him. He had some kind of seizure, but he’s resting now. I’ll call you back in a little bit,” he promised. “Bye.”

Katherine pulled out her own phone and requested an ambulance. “Looks like you’re going to the hospital the hard way, Tony.”

She hung up at the same time Jack did. “The ambulance is on its way. I’m going to ride in with him.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I lock up,” Jack said.

“All right,” she agreed. “You might want to call your son and tell him to come to the hospital.”

“I will.”

Within a few minutes, the ambulance had arrived and Tony was heading for the hospital. Katherine frowned as she took his blood pressure. It was too low, which could indicate that he was bleeding internally. Tony hadn’t regained consciousness yet, but she hadn’t really expected him to. Sometimes when people had seizures, they would sleep for several hours afterwards or in extreme cases, for several days.

The ambulance pulled up to the hospital. As Tony was ushered into the emergency room on the gurney, Katherine began spouting orders to the nurses. She was determined to find out what was wrong with her patient, knowing that if she didn’t have something substantial to tell Jethro Gibbs, there would be hell to pay.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Jack slammed the phone down in frustration. This had made the third time that he had called Leroy and each time he had gotten a recording. He decided to go ahead and call Abby back, hoping that she could get in touch with his son. Jack dialed the number that Abby had hastily given him and waited for her to answer. She picked up on the first ring.

“Hello? Jack?”

“It’s me, Abby,” he answered.

“How’s Tony? Please tell me he’s going to be all right.”

“He’s been taken to the hospital and I don’t know anything else,” he informed her. “Katherine thinks he had a seizure and I’m sure that now she’s got him in the hospital that she will be running some tests to find out exactly what’s going on.”

“He’s never had a seizure before,” Abby said. “Oh my gosh! What if I caused him to have one? I shouldn’t have pushed him to talk. He was fine before I started demanding...” Abby sniffled. “Poor Tony! I’m coming up.”

“There’s nothing you can do up here. Why don’t you wait until you know something more?” he suggested.

“Because if our situations were reversed, Tony would be by my side no matter what!”

“I’m not disputing that,” Jack said. “I tell you what, why don’t you find Leroy? Dr. Marshall asked me to get hold of him, but I’m not having any luck.”

“Okay,” she agreed. A few seconds later, she stated, “I found him.”

Puzzled, Jack asked, “You found him?”

“Yep,” she said. “He just walked in.”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Jethro Gibbs wheeled into the parking lot of the Leisure Lanes Bowling Alley. He had known that once he told Abby not to use any of her personal phones to call Tony, that she would have either come to the bowling alley or to the convent. Since it was Monday night, his choice was easy. Sister Rosita wouldn’t miss league night.

He walked in the front door and the manager pointed towards his office. Nodding his thanks, he walked in to hear Abby say, “I found him.”

He took the phone from her and answered it. His eyes met her worried gaze as he said, “Gibbs.”

“Leroy? I’ve been trying to get in touch with you,” his dad said. Gibbs could hear a hint of irritation in his voice.

“What’s wrong?”

“Tony’s in the hospital,” Jack began. “He was talking to Abby and he had a seizure. Katherine called an ambulance and he should be at the hospital by now.”

Gibbs felt sick. Was he too late to help Tony? “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Gibbs hung up the phone and held his arms out. Abby fell against him and started to sob.

“It’s all right, Abs,” he soothingly whispered. “I’m sure that he’ll be all right.”

“It’s all my fault, Gibbs,” she cried. “He didn’t want to talk and I kept pushing him. Next thing I know he was shouting and then I heard him yell out like he was in pain, and…”

The team leader kissed her on her forehead. “He’ll be okay, Abs.”

Abby shook her head. “I don’t think so, Gibbs. Did you know that he’s thinking about leaving NCIS?”

“He won’t, Abs,” he promised her. “I won’t let him.”

“I don’t know, Gibbs. He was so sad and then he got mad. I can’t explain it.”

Gibbs put his arm around her and guided her out of the office and towards his car. “Why don’t you tell me everything that happened?”

“But you need to get to Stillwater.”

“You’re coming with me. We’ll go by your house and you can grab what you need.”

“Don’t need to,” she grinned, wiping away her tears. My bag’s in my car and Mac will let me park my hearse here, even though he says it’s bad for business.”

Gibbs should have known that Abby would have been ready at a moment’s notice. She and Tony were close and short of dying herself, nothing would have kept her from his side.

“Let’s go then.”

He saw Abby look around for his car. “Over here, Abs,” he called out as he opened the door for her.

“This isn’t your car,” Abby observed.

“Nope.”

“Rental?”

“Sorta.”

“I know this car. It’s Fornell’s,” she exclaimed.

“Yep.”

“Smart Gibbs, very smart. Tony would be proud of your sneakiness.”

The two of them began their journey towards Stillwater. He would never admit it, but Gibbs dreaded going to the hospital. The last time he had set foot in Stillwater General was when his mom died and he was not looking forward to facing those demons once again. But, for Tony, he would do what he had to in order to help his agent, even if forced his own memories to resurface.





11

Jack paced the length of the waiting room, hoping to hear something about Tony’s condition. He was fully expecting Leroy to call him any minute, demanding an update. Jack initially had trouble getting in touch with his son, but thankfully Leroy had found Abby at the bowling alley and Jack had finally been able to talk to him. Satisfied that Leroy was on his way, probably with Abby in tow, Jack had come to the hospital and began the tedious act of waiting.

His thoughts turned to Tony. He recognized the fact that Anthony DiNozzo was a troubled man. It was also clear to the older man that the agent was obviously running from something; Jack had seen the same look in Leroy’s eyes almost eighteen years ago after Shannon and Kelly had died. Jack sighed. He hadn’t been much help to Leroy back then, but maybe he could help Tony. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that Leroy wanted to help Tony, but he wasn’t sure that the young man was ready to accept his help.

Staring at the clock on the wall, Jack realized that it had been nearly three hours since he had arrived and his patience was about to reach its limit. He should have heard something by now. Jack finally sat down in on e of the hard, vinyl chairs and thumbed through an outdated magazine.

After another half hour, Katherine entered the waiting room and sat down beside him. Jack noticed the fine lines of exhaustion evident in her face; nor did he miss the genuine concern in her eyes.

“So, how’s Tony?” Jack eagerly inquired. “You certainly took long enough.”

“He’s a very sick man,” Katherine answered, her tone cool and defensive.

Nonplussed by Katherine’s almost frigid reply, he glanced at his watch. “It’s been almost three hours and that’s all you can tell me?”

“I’m still waiting for some of his tests to com back,” she said, her expression softening a bit. “Right now, he’s resting. He should be out for a few more hours.”

“You’re going to have to be a heck of a lot more specific about Tony’s condition when you talk to Leroy,” Jack warned. He knew that Leroy Jethro Gibbs would insist on knowing every detail regarding the agent’s health.

“Hopefully, I’ll know more by the time your son gets here.”

“You better do more than hope,” Jack muttered under his breath.

“What?”

Jack cleared his throat. “Nothing,” he quickly answered. “Can I see him? That way if Leroy calls, I can at least tell him that I’ve seen Tony.”

“He really needs to rest,” she protested. “Maybe in a few hours.”

“I won’t wake him up, Doc. I just want to check on him.”

“Jack…”

“Katherine right now, I’m all that boy’s got,” he reminded her.

“All right,” the doctor conceded, “but only for a few minutes. He’s in ICU 4.”

Jack became alarmed. “ICU? I didn’t realize that he was that sick.”

“Between his concussion and the seizure, I wanted him monitored closely,” Katherine explained. “More than likely he’ll be moved to a regular room tomorrow or the next day.”

He nodded his understanding as he stood and headed for the door. “I won’t stay long.” Jack paused at the door and pointed towards the nearly empty coffee pot. “If I were you, I’d see about getting some halfway decent coffee before Leroy gets here. He’s much more bearable if he has his coffee.”

Katherine smiled. “I’ll make sure he gets his coffee out of the doctor’s lounge.”

Jack returned her smile. “Good thinking.”

He made his way towards ICU. Jack nodded a silent greeting to the nurses, realizing that Katherine must have called ahead and instructed the nurses to let him in to see Tony. He would have to remember to thank her later.

Leaning against the door frame, Jack watched the even rise and fall of Tony’s chest. He was relieved to see the young man was in deed, resting comfortably; something that the agent had been unable to do since he had arrived in Stillwater.

Jack quietly pulled up a chair beside Tony’s bedside and sat down. Careful of the IV’s and the wires that led to the monitors, he placed his calloused hand on the younger man’s arm. He reasoned that even if Tony was asleep, perhaps on some level, he would know that he wasn’t alone.

“You’re going to be all right, son,” Jack whispered, in an effort not to wake the sleeping agent.

“So they keep telling me,” Tony slurred.

Jack smiled as Tony opened his eyes. “You’re supposed to be sleeping.”

“I was until the last time the nurse came in to check my blood pressure,” Tony sleepily replied. “I’ve been drifting in and out since then. Mostly I would pretend to be out when they were in.” A lopsided grin escaped the agent’s lips. “That probably didn’t make any sense.”

“It makes perfect sense,” Jack assured him. “You were pretending to be asleep when the nurse came in so she wouldn’t ask you a bunch of stupid questions that you don’t feel like answering.”

Tony’s smile widened just a bit. “Yeah, that just about sums it up.”

“I don’t blame you. The doctors and nurses tell you to rest and then when you try to rest, they come in and start poking and prodding.”

“Tell me about it,” Tony mumbled. “So, why am I here?”

“You had a seizure.”

“I don’t remember.”

“I’m not surprised. It knocked you on your ass.”

“Guess so. What caused it?”

Jack shrugged. “Katherine didn’t say.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “What exactly did Kate say?”

He smiled at the young man. Under different circumstances, he had the feeling that Katherine Marshall would be no match for Anthony DiNozzo’s sharp tongue. “She said she was waiting for some of your test results to come back. Personally, I think she’s trying to get everything together before Leroy gets up here.”

Jack winced, mentally chastising himself for inadvertently telling Tony that Leroy was on his way. Katherine would not be happy with him for upsetting her patient. To his astonishment, DiNozzo had remained calm; almost like he didn’t hear what Jack had said. He hoped that Tony was still too drugged to realize what he had said. Jack waited for the agent to respond.

“Gibbs is here?” Tony finally asked.

So much for wishful thinking. Jack took a deep breath and blew it out. “Not yet. He’s on his way. Dr. Marshall thought that he should be contacted after you had the seizure, especially since he’s listed as your next of kin.”

“How did she know that?”

“Your medical records.”

“Oh, I see,” was all Tony could manage to say.

“Kind of odd having your boss listed as your next of kin,” Jack remarked.

“It was Gibbs’ idea,” Tony admitted. “After I started NCIS, personnel called Gibbs and told him that I had left my emergency contact and next of kin blank on my information form. He asked me about it and I told him I really didn’t have anyone, so he volunteered.”

“Just like that, huh?”

“Pretty much.”

Jack wasn’t sure how much he should push Tony to reveal, but the boy seemed to want to talk. Leroy had once told him that DiNozzo was very private person and that people only saw what Tony wanted them to see. Jackson Gibbs was finding that out to be the truth. “What about your parents? Most people would list them as…”

“Mother died when I was ten; my father doesn’t acknowledge my existence,” Tony blurted out.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’m over it.”

“How can you get over something like that?” Jack pressed.

“Years of practice.”

Jack patted Tony’s arm. “I’m glad Leroy can help fill that void in your life,” Jack said. “I’m glad that he can return the favor.”

Tony arched his brow. “What do you mean?”

“After Shannon and Kelly were killed, Leroy became a different person. Their deaths had nearly destroyed the man that he used to be. He was bitter and angry and he kept people at arms length, including me. Especially me.”

“Keeping people at arms length prevents them getting too close. You can’t get hurt as easily,” Tony added.

“You know all about that, don’t you?” Jack didn’t expect an answer. “Anyway, years later, I can see that the hole that was left in his heart is beginning to heal and I have a feeling that you played a big part in that. Thank you.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“That’s not true,” Jack countered. “Leroy may have lost a wife and daughter, but he found a son.”

“I guess that’s why this is so hard,” Tony said. “He’s done so much for me and I’ve betrayed his trust. Once trust is betrayed, things are never the same. A son doesn’t do that to his father.”

“What are you talking about?”

Tony shook his head. “Nothing, forget I said anything.”

Jack had just witnessed Tony slipping back behind the mask that he wore so efficiently. “Tony?”

“I’m a little tired, Jack. Do you mind?”

“No,” Jack said. “You rest and I’ll see you later.”

“All right.”

Jack stood up and turned to leave.

“Jack?” Tony called out.

“What is it?”

“Don’t leave.”

Jack smiled and sat back down in his chair. “I’ll be right here,” he promised. Within a few minutes, he was certain that Tony had drifted back off to sleep. He knew that Katherine would probably try and kick him out, but he had no intentions of moving until Tony asked him to leave. His heart ached for the younger man and DiNozzo needed to know that someone was willing to stay by his side. Jack figured that he was a poor substitution for Leroy, but just like he told Katherine, right now, he was all that Tony had.



XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Jethro Gibbs turned off the main highway onto the two lane road that would lead them to Stillwater. He should be at the hospital in a little over an hour where he would hopefully find out exactly what was going on with DiNozzo. The team leader was well aware of the fact that his usual gruff tactics wouldn’t work this time; he had to show Tony that he was willing to listen to what his senior field agent had to say.

Listening was not one of his strengths; he had three ex-wives that would testify to that. Perhaps if he had taken the time to listen to the younger man, Tony wouldn’t be lying in a hospital in his hometown. DiNozzo had practically been screaming inside the past few weeks for someone to hear him and Gibbs had made a feeble attempt to talk to his agent earlier this week. He allowed his thoughts to drift back to that particular conversation. The words began to replay in his mind forcing Gibbs to wonder if he had handled the situation well or if he had just permitted Tony to frustrate him so that he would leave the younger man alone.


****flashback****


Gibbs had been watching his senior field agent for the past half hour. Tony was finishing up the paperwork on their latest case, staying long after Ziva and McGee had gone home. DiNozzo would always read and sign off on the other agent’s reports before he gave them to Gibbs, making sure that there weren’t any loopholes that would come back and haunt them later.

He noticed that several times, Tony would close his eyes and massage his temples as if he were trying to fight off a headache. DiNozzo looked like crap. How had he missed the dark circles under Tony’s eyes? Maybe he should insist that the agent take a couple of extra days off.

He stood and walked over to DiNozzo’s desk. As Gibbs sat on the edge of the desk, Tony sat up and ran his hand through his slightly disheveled hair.

“Sorry, Boss,” Tony apologized. “I was just taking a little break.”

“It’s all right,” Gibbs assured him. “I know you’ll get it done.”

“I’m almost finished. Ziva actually gave me a report that was grammatically correct.”

Gibbs smiled at the young man’s jibe. Tony had accused Ziva of reverting back to her old speech patterns after returning from Israel. “Maybe she’s finally getting back in the swing of things.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“You want me to finish up for you?”

Tony shook his head. “I got it, Boss. Why don’t you go on home? I won’t be much longer.”

“I’m not in any hurry,” the team leader replied.

“I guess I better get this done so we can both go home.”

“I guess so.” Gibbs didn’t offer to move, knowing that his close proximity was making the younger agent nervous.

“Is there something else you needed, Boss?” Tony anxiously inquired.

Now that Gibbs was sitting closer to DiNozzo, he could see the fine line of exhaustion around Tony’s eyes and he was sure that the agent had dropped some weight. The team leader realized that he couldn’t remember the last time Tony had taken the others up on the offer of ordering takeout.

“DiNozzo, are you all right?” Gibbs wanted to know. He had the feeling that he would get the same answer that he always got when Tony was questioned about his health.

“I’m fine, Boss,” Tony answered a bit too quickly.

“You don’t look so good,” he pointed out to the senior agent.

Tony’s grin didn’t quite reach his eyes. “That’s just nearly impossible unless you count the time I had the plague, but personally, I think it was the blue lights,” DiNozzo surmised. “I don’t think I’ve worn the color blue since then.”

“DiNozzo…”

“Gibbs, I’m fine!” Tony forcefully repeated.

The ex-Marine bristled. There had been very few times that Tony had raised his voice to him. It wasn’t that DiNozzo was afraid to stand up to him or disagree with him, but Tony could usually do so without losing his own temper. Of course, recent events had caused everyone’s tempers to flare, but Gibbs had assumed things had settled back down. Maybe he was wrong.

“You sure about that, DiNozzo?”

Tony didn’t look up from his desk. “I’m sorry, Boss. I’m just a little tired.”

“A little?”

“Okay, a lot.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“There’s nothing to say. We’ve worked the last 72 hours straight,” Tony reasoned. “Most of us mere mortals get tired every once in a while.”

Gibbs leaned in closer until their faces were just a few inches apart. “Don’t try and give me the runaround, Tony.”

“Just returning the favor,” DiNozzo snapped.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Tony looked away. “Nothing. I didn’t mean anything by it. Like I said, I’m tired and I just want to get these reports done so I can go home.”

“If you have a problem with me, I expect you to come directly to me and you know that. It’s not like you to beat around the bush, Tony.”

“Speaking my mind only seems to get me into trouble.”

“Since when?”

“Since the toothpick took over.”

Gibbs sat up and stared at his senior field agent. “What are you talking about? You having problems with Leon?”

Tony snorted. “Forget it, Gibbs. It’s no big deal. You know Director Vance has never liked me. I guess some days, I just take it personally.”

He knew that Tony was right. Vance had always seemed to have a problem with DiNozzo, but the team leader assumed it was because Tony never allowed Leon to see the real Anthony DiNozzo. But lately, the Director had been praising DiNozzo’s work, leading Gibbs to believe that Vance was slowly getting used to how Tony operated.

“He’s been very complimentary of your work lately,” Gibbs said, hoping to bait DiNozzo into opening up even more.

“I bet he has,” Tony mumbled under his breath.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

Gibbs could feel a set of eyes bearing down on them. Looking up, he saw the Director leaning on the railing, watching him and DiNozzo. His steely gaze followed Vance as he came down the stairs and joined them at Tony’s desk.

“Working late, gentlemen?” Vance inquired.

The team leader could sense the tension radiating from Tony. What was going on between DiNozzo and Vance? Gibbs had a feeling that he wasn’t going to like the answer.

“We’re just finishing up.” Gibbs took the reports from Tony. “Go on home, DiNozzo. Get some rest. I don’t want to see you in here for two days.”

DiNozzo nodded and stood up. Gibbs didn’t miss the fact that Tony had to grab onto the desk to steady himself. “Are you okay to drive?”

“I’m fine, Boss.”

“You do look tired, Agent DiNozzo,” Leon added. “I’m on my way home. I’ll be glad to follow you to your apartment to make sure that you don’t have any problems.”

“I’ll give him a ride, Leon,” Gibbs insisted.

“It’s all right, Boss,” Tony said. “Director Vance is going that way any way. I’ll see you in a couple of days.”

“Tony, I…”

“It’s all right, Boss. Just forget everything I said. It’s just the fatigue talking.”

Gibbs started to protest, but the edginess in DiNozzo’s voice begged him not to say anything else. He nodded as he watched DiNozzo and the Director walk towards the elevator. Something was definitely wrong. The team leader decided that he would give DiNozzo a day or so to rest and then he would get some answers.

“Ah, hell,” he growled as he threw down the reports on his desk. Grabbing his jacket, he headed towards the elevator. He was going to make sure that DiNozzo made it home, if for no other reason than to ease the gnawing feeling in his gut.


****end flashback****


DiNozzo had made it home that night and Vance had continued on to his house. Gibbs had pulled over and waited until he saw the light come on in Tony’s apartment. Satisfied that DiNozzo was safe, he peeled off towards his own house. He now wished that he had gone up to check on his agent. Maybe Tony wouldn’t be in the mess that he was in now if Gibbs had just kept after him until he wore the agent down, forcing DiNozzo to tell him what was going on.

Gibbs tightened his grip on the steering wheel. “I should have known.”

He hadn’t realized that he had spoken out loud until Abby had said, “What?”

Taking a deep breath, he replied, “I should have known that Tony was in some kind of trouble.”

“Why do you say that?”

“All the signs were there and I ignored them.”

“No, you didn’t. Tony is an expert at hiding things,” Abby pointed out. “He always has been.”

“He was trying to hide too many secrets and it was beginning to become too much for him. Vance was using him, just like Jen did and now he’s paying the price again.” Gibbs didn’t bother to hide the anger in his voice. He knew that Abby would realize that his rage wasn’t directed at her. “What gave Vance the right to do that to him? What gave him the right to force one of my agents to work undercover without my knowledge? Tony vowed never to do that again, so Vance has to be holding something over DiNozzo’s head.

“I should have known when Vance started bragging on DiNozzo that something was up. Now, Vance has gotten Tony in the middle of something that…”

“That what?” Abby pressed.

“That could ruin his life.”

“Gibbs, we have to protect him.”

“We will,” he vowed.

The two of them rode in silence for the next few minutes. Gibbs forced himself to calm down, knowing that he wouldn’t be allowed to see DiNozzo in his current frame of mind. He finally broke the silence when they were about 30 minutes away from the hospital. “How did he sound when you talked to him, Abs?”

He recalled their earlier chat and she had told him how Tony had actually laughed when she told about Palmer getting a tattoo, but she had started crying and hadn’t been able to finish relaying the details to him.

Gibbs looks over to see Abby intently studying her gloves. “Abs? How did he sound?” he asked again.

“Tired, maybe a little scared. He was in pain. Tony wasn’t too happy that we were going through his emails, but he wasn’t mad either. It was almost like he didn’t care.”

“Did he say that?”

“No, not in so many words,” she replied. “He just said that he was tired of everything. I’ve never heard him sound so lost, Gibbs.”

“We’ll just have to help him find his way back, Abs.”

“What if we’re too late?”

Gibbs reached out and squeezed her hand. “Positive thoughts, Abs. Positive thoughts.”

“I’m trying, Gibbs. I’m really trying.”

“I know.”

He turned the car into the hospital parking lot. “We’re here,” he informed her. He shut the engine off and stared at the building in front of him. “It’s changed a little since the last time I was here.”

“When was that?”

“When my mom died,” he quietly answered.

Gibbs smiled when Abby laid her head on his shoulder. “Are you all right?” she asked.

“I’m fine. Right now, our main concern is DiNozzo.”

Abby nodded eagerly. “Then let’s go see our boy!”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Gibbs stepped out of the car and waited for Abby to join him. Together they walked towards the entrance of the hospital. He knew that Abby anxious to see Tony, but Gibbs had to admit to himself that he was a little nervous. What was he going to say to DiNozzo to make the young man believe that everything was going to be all right? How could he even make that promise to Tony when he wasn’t sure he believed it himself?

Chapter 12

McGee sat in front of his typewriter, but he had yet to type a single word. Glancing at his watch, he realized that he’d been at home for over four hours and all he had managed to do was sit and stare at the blank piece of paper in front of him. Frustrated, he jerked the paper out of the typewriter, crumpled it up and tossed it in the trashcan. He could almost hear Tony saying, “Nice shot, Probie!” Of course, DiNozzo would probably follow the compliment with a sarcastic remark of some kind, ruining the moment as only Tony could do.

But, that was part of Tony’s charm, a part that had been slowly disappearing ever since he returned from the Seahawk. The first week DiNozzo was back, it had seemed like old times. McGee couldn’t pinpoint an exact moment that he started noticing the subtle changes in Tony’s personality: but surely if he noticed the shift in the senior field agent’s demeanor, others had as well.

He hated to admit that he was truly worried about his colleague. Tony was someone who never seemed to let things bother him on a deeper level, or so McGee had assumed. He had worked with Tony for almost six years, but he knew very little about him. He knew that Tony’s mom was dead and that his father had disowned him. The agent also knew that he loved movies and did a decent Sean Connery impression; DiNozzo was also a damned good investigator and excelled at his job as Gibbs’ senior field agent.

McGee shook his head in disgust when he realized that even after working side by side with Tony DiNozzo for several years, he hardly knew the man. But there was one thing for certain; Tony had been a good friend to him. How many times had DiNozzo covered his mistakes and taken the blame so he wouldn’t have to experience Gibbs’ wrath? McGee would never forget the time that Tony had come to his apartment after he had shot that cop. DiNozzo had revealed a very personal detail of his life in an effort to make him feel better. Yes, Anthony DiNozzo had been a good friend to him, but he wasn’t sure that he could say the same.

Lately, he’d been down right snobbish to Tony, and now he was beginning to regret the careless remarks and hurtful words. McGee began to wonder if he was partially to blame for the change in Tony’s behavior.

His door bell rang, bringing him out of his self-imposed reverie. With the exception of Abby, McGee had no idea who would be coming to see him at this late hour. Abby would often stop by on her way home from a party, but he knew that she was with Gibbs and they were on their way to Stillwater. He tentatively peered through the tiny peephole to discover Director Vance standing outside his door.

“Oh no,” he muttered. “This can’t be happening.”

McGee knew that he couldn’t keep Vance standing in the hallway indefinitely, but he wasn’t sure that he was ready to face the inquisition that was coming. Vance was desperate to discover DiNozzo’s whereabouts and the Director probably figured that he would be able to break McGee easier than Ziva.

He chafed at the thought that Vance saw him as weak. Again, he could hear Tony’s voice in his head. “Suck it up, McProbie! Show Vance what you’re made of!”

Having a renewed sense of determination, McGee unlocked the door and swung it open. “Director Vance,” he greeted, not bothering to disguise the coolness in his voice. “It’s kind of late for a social call. I was just on my way to bed.”

McGee gestured for the Director to come inside his apartment. “Then I won’t keep you long, Agent McGee,” Vance replied.

“All right.” McGee closed the door and leaned against the wall, mentally steeling himself for what could be a nasty confrontation.

“Let’s just get right to the point, McGee,” Vance suggested.

“I’m not sure what you mean, Director.”

He silently admonished himself for the barely noticeable quiver in his voice. The agent couldn’t let Vance intimidate him; McGee had a feeling that Tony’s safety depended on him being able to withstand the scrutiny of Leon Vance.

“I think you do, Agent McGee. I need to know where Agent DiNozzo is,” the Director insisted.

“Director, I’m on vacation,” Tim pointed out. “I don’t usually spend my time keeping track of Tony.”

“I’m well aware of the fact that you and Officer David are on vacation. I find that rather convenient, but I’m not here to debate if your time off is warranted or not. But even though you’re on vacation, you are still a federal agent.” A small grin escaped Vance’s lips. “For now.”

McGee swallowed hard. “For now?”

“For now,” Vance repeated. “If you want to continue working for the federal government, I would stop withholding information that is vital to a case.”

“What case?”

“That is none of your concern,” the Director growled. “Now, I’ll ask you one more time, Agent McGee, where is DiNozzo?”

McGee took a deep breath and slowly released it in an effort to calm his frazzled nerves. He really hadn’t expected Vance to threaten him with his job. Tim knew that Tony would never ask him to sacrifice his career, but McGee couldn’t shake the feeling that if their situation were reversed, DiNozzo would protect him at all costs.

Squaring his shoulders, McGee met the Director’s hard glare. Gibbs’ rule number seven was echoing in his mind; be specific when you lie. “We think Tony went to Ohio,” he quickly blurted out.

“Ohio?” Vance pulled a toothpick out of his pocket and placed it between his teeth. “Tell me Agent McGee, why would he go to Ohio?”

McGee shrugged. “I don’t know. He went to school there, maybe he’s visiting one of his frat brothers.”

He watched with baited breath as Vance sat down on his couch. The Director leaned back and crossed his arms. McGee felt the bile catch in his throat when Vance asked, “You don’t really expect me to believe that he’s on some frat holiday, do you Agent McGee?”

Tim stammered, “Uh…well, actually…”

“I didn’t think so. So, I’ll just make myself comfortable until you decide to tell me the truth.”

McGee looked at his watch again. It was clearly evident that Vance was not planning on leaving anytime soon, or at least until he got the answer he was looking for. Tim decided that there was only one thing that he could do. Turning off the light, he headed towards his bedroom. “Good night, Director Vance. You can use that blanket on the back of the couch if you get cold.”

He didn’t have to look back over his shoulder to know that the Director was fuming. McGee smiled as he closed his bedroom door and crawled into bed. He had a feeling that Gibbs and Tony would have enjoyed that rare exhibition of defiance. As he closed his eyes, he could hear Tony once last time saying, “I never knew you had it in you, McGoo…”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


It didn’t take long for Gibbs to discover that Tony was in ICU. He and Abby had quickly made their way to the floor housing the intensive care unit. Gibbs had managed to convince Abby to stay in the waiting area until he actually saw how Tony was doing. Jethro entered the ICU and was stopped by a nurse.

“I’m here to see Anthony DiNozzo,” he informed the young lady.

“He has someone in there with him at the moment. If you would like to go back to the waiting area, I’ll let you know when you can see him.”

Gibbs simply glared at the nurse.

“Or not,” she quickly said. “I’ll go and ask Mr. Gibbs how much longer he’ll be.”

“I’ll ask him myself.”

The ex-Marine dismissed her with a curt nod and entered Tony’s room where he saw his dad sitting in a chair next to DiNozzo’s bed. Although his senior agent was asleep, Jack was recalling a tale from his days of working the coal mines. It reminded Jethro of his childhood when his dad would come in and tuck him in at night, sitting by his side and telling him stories until he fell asleep. He hadn’t thought about that in years, but seeing his dad with Tony, had allowed those wonderful memories to resurface.

He took a step forward and put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. “Last time you told that story, I believe that it was 40 tons of rock that covered that opening.”

Gibbs smiled when Jack looked over his shoulder. “You got here quicker than I thought you would. Must of taken some of your famous shortcuts,” his dad quipped.

“Yep.” Jethro nodded towards Tony. “How’s he doing?”

“He’s sleeping. The boy’s worn out.”

“He looks it.”

“I’m glad you’re here, Leroy. I have a feeling that you’re the only one who can help him. He’s really hurting.”

Gibbs sighed. “If Tony thought I could help him, he would have come to me first instead of running. So either he thinks I can’t help him or he doesn’t want my help.”

“Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions,” Jack warned. “He may think he doesn’t want your help, but he does.”

“We’ll see.”

He stared at the still figure lying in the bed, Tony’s complexion as white as the sheets. Gibbs could see shades of deep purple peeking out from the under the bandage on his head. Tony was dressed in a hospital gown which made his weight loss even more noticeable. The dark circles under DiNozzo’s eyes were a dead giveaway to the level of exhaustion the young man was experiencing. Gibbs couldn’t understand how he had missed the signs.

“Where’s his doctor?” he finally managed to inquire.

“I’ll go and make sure that she knows you’re here,” Jack said, rising from his seat.

Gibbs moved to take his dad’s seat. “She probably already knows. I’m sure the nurse informed her that I was here.”

“I take it you made another good first impression.” Shaking his head, Jack headed towards the nurses station. “I’ll go see if I can smooth things over for you.”

“I don’t need things smoothed over for me, dad. I just need some answers from this Doctor Marshall.”

“I’ll see what I can do. By the way, did you bring Abby with you?”

Jethro grinned. His dad really liked the Goth; he was always asking about her during their phone calls. “She’s in the waiting room.”

“That’s where I’m headed as well,” Jack happily replied, “as soon as I make sure Katherine is on her way.”

Gibbs nodded his understanding, his gaze never breaking from the gaunt face of his senior agent. “DiNozzo, you look like crap,” he muttered.

“So, I’ve been told.”

Jethro sat up at the sound of DiNozzo’s voice. Tony was barely speaking above a whisper, but Gibbs was simply grateful to hear the young man’s voice. “How long have you been awake?”

Tony licked his parched lips. “Long enough to know that you’ve probably made some young nurse cry…forcing her to reexamine the reason that she…went into nursing.”

“Smart ass.”

“I’ve been told that…as well.”

Gibbs picked up a cup of ice chips from the table beside Tony’s bed. “Want some?” he asked the young man.

Tony nodded, accepting the ice chip without complaint. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” He sat the cup back down, unsure of what to make of the silence between them. The banter had been forced, but Gibbs had been willing to accept that. At least Tony hadn’t thrown him out of his room…yet.

“How are you feeling?” the team leader wanted to know.

Tony weakly grinned. “Like crap.”

“Care to be more specific?”

“Not really. I don’t know a whole lot except for the fact that I’m hurting. If you want details, you’ll have to wait on Kate.”

Gibbs stared at his senior agent. “Kate?”

“Her real name’s Katherine, but I think she looks like a Kate,” he explained. “She doesn’t look like our Kate, but she’s got a lot of fire, if you know what I mean.”

“You’re on a first name basis with your doctor, DiNozzo?”

“I always have been. Ducky, Brad, and now Kate.”

Gibbs had to smile at the younger agent. It was good to see a little of the injured man’s spirit shining through the fog of despair that seemed to be surrounding Tony. “Tony, we’re going to have to talk about…”

Tony raised his hand. “I know, Gibbs. I know. Just not now.”

“Tony…”

“Please,” Tony begged.

“One question and then I’ll leave you alone until you’re ready,” the team leader vowed.

“The undercover op,” Gibbs began. “What happened?”

He wasn’t certain that Tony was going to answer him, but if Gibbs was going to protect him from Vance, he had to know what was going on. “Tony?” he gently called out to the hurting man. “You’ve got to be honest with me; you’ve got to tell me what happened.”

Tony closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them, Gibbs didn’t miss the look of desolation in his agent’s eyes.

“It went to hell, that’s what happened,” Tony snapped. “My cover was blown and…”

Gibbs easily sensed DiNozzo’s internal struggles. The pain of everything that had happened to him was still fresh in his mind and Gibbs knew that he was forcing Tony to reopen those wounds before they had barely started to heal. “And what?” he pressed.

“I had some bad intel regarding some of the players. No one bothered telling me that there was another fed that had been undercover several months before I got in; this agent sold out to the drug cartel. I guess the lure of all that money was too much for him.” Tony scrubbed his face with a trembling hand.

“Take your time, Tony,” Gibbs encouraged him. “You’re doing fine.”

“I was down in Norfolk, meeting two men on the inside, Tompkins and Currin were their names. When I got there, I...”

“Tony?”

Gibbs heart nearly broke when he saw a tear escape his senior agent’s eye. “Tony?” he called out again.

“I told Vance that I thought my cover was in danger of being blown and he didn’t pull me out,” Tony yelled. “Damn it! If he had pulled me out, none of this would have happened!”

Gibbs placed his hand on Tony’s arm. He could hear the sound of the monitors in the background beeping excitedly as DiNozzo became increasingly agitated. “Tony, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed you. Just relax.”

The team leader was pushed out of the way by two nurses and a doctor, the latter he assumed was Dr. Marshall. He positioned himself at the foot of the bed, making sure that he was in Tony’s line of sight as the doctor barked orders to the nurses. Gibbs saw something being injected into Tony’s IV and within a few seconds, the young man was drifting towards unconsciousness.

He met the frigid glare of the doctor with his own resolute gaze. She motioned for him to follow her out of Tony’s room. Gibbs spared one last glance at Tony, trying to tamp down the guilt that was plaguing him. He knew he shouldn’t have pushed DiNozzo, but he wanted answers.

She was waiting for him at the nurse’s station. “It would probably be a good idea if we had this conversation somewhere else,” she suggested.

“All right,” he quietly agreed.

He followed her out of ICU and down the corridor, neither of them uttering the first word until they were safely within the confines of her office walls. Katherine slammed the door behind him. “Are you trying to kill him?” she demanded to know.

Gibbs could feel his own temper flaring. “What kind of question is that?”

“A logical one it would seem. He’s in ICU for a reason! He’s not up for an interrogation!”

“I wasn’t interrogating him!” he protested.

“Then what do you call it?”

He clenched his jaw tightly. “I was trying to help him.”

“Well, if that is the kind of help that you’re going to offer him, I suggest that you just go back to D.C. Now, if you want to stay, it will be on my terms, not yours.”

“And what are your terms?”

Katherine’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll let you know,” she promised. “Right now, I think you would be more interested in finding out what exactly is wrong with Agent DiNozzo.”

“You’re right,” he conceded.

He sat down in a chair across from her desk and waited for her to take the opposite one. Gibbs forced himself to calm down as he waited on Katherine to join him. He looked around the office. “Do you have any coffee?”

She nodded and poured him a cup. He nodded his thanks, taking the steaming mug from her. “How’d you know how I liked my coffee?”

“Lucky guess,” she said as she took her seat.

Taking another sip, he set the cup down on her desk. “So, how’s Tony?”

“Not good,” she said, opening up what Gibbs assumed to be DiNozzo’s chart. “He has a severe concussion, but according to his CT scan, there’s no sign of bleeding or of any kind of fracture. Tony has unfortunately been experiencing many of the common side effects of a concussion, but I think with some proper rest, he should start to feel better in a day or two.

“Agent DiNozzo also has quiet a few bruises on his chest and back, resulting in two bruised ribs and a bruised kidney, which should heal in time. What concerns me is the fact that he does have an ulcer and if he’s not careful, it could start bleeding. Like I told Dr. Mallard, this didn’t happen overnight and it’s not going to get better overnight. Tony has already lost a considerable amount of weight. I’m hoping that we can heal his ulcer with medication and a strict diet, if not, well, we’ll just have to see.”

Gibbs took another sip of coffee. “What about the seizure?”

“It could have been the cumulative effect of the concussion and the physical punishment that his body has been subjected to.”

“But you don’t think that’s the cause, do you?”

“No,” she replied. “I think that his seizure was caused by emotional stress coupled with his physical injuries. Right now, he can not physically or mentally handle any pressure coming from you or anyone else.”

“When will…” Gibbs couldn’t finish his sentence.

“I don’t know. We have to take it a day at a time.”

“Can I go back and sit with him? I just don’t want him to be alone.”

Katherine smiled. “All right, but let’s go over those terms we spoke of earlier, shall we?”

Grinning, he downed the rest of his coffee. He had no doubt that Tony was in good hands with Dr. Katherine Marshall. She certainly had his agent’s best interests in mind and he knew that she had what it would take to pull DiNozzo through this crisis, at least physically. Mentally and emotionally was another story.

Chapter 13

Dr. Katherine Marshall glanced at the monitor one last time, making sure that her patient’s vital signs were stabilized. She had been forced to sedate the man lying in the bed thanks to one Leroy Jethro Gibbs. The doctor still couldn’t believe that Gibbs actually had the audacity to question the injured agent, but then again, after meeting him, she realized that in his own unique way, he was trying to help Anthony DiNozzo.

Gibbs had all but pleaded to stay with his agent and she had reluctantly agreed. It seemed that Jethro Gibbs was indeed the closest thing to family that Agent DiNozzo had and although she might consider them slightly dysfunctional, they were still a family.

As she turned to leave, Katherine heard a low moan coming from Tony. She back to his bedside and softly called his name. “Tony? Tony, can you hear me?”

The agent nodded and opened his eyes. “How ya doin’, Kate?” he rasped.

“A lot better than you, DiNozzo,” she retorted.

“You sound like Gibbs.”

“I’m not sure if I should take that as a compliment or as an insult.”

“It depends on the day,” he quipped. “Overall, you should probably take it as a compliment.”

“All right then,” she said, “in that case, thank you.”

The doctor didn’t miss the pained expression on Tony’s face when he attempted to sit up. “What do you think you’re doing?” she asked, gently pushing him back down on the bed.

“Lying back down,” he panted.

“Good idea.”

“Thanks. I have them from…time to time,” Tony grunted.

“Trying to sit up just now wasn’t one of your better ones, was it?’

“No, it wasn’t.”

She patted his shoulder and then pulled the blanket up over his chest. “You’re about due for some more pain medication. I’ll tell the nurse to go ahead and…”

“No!” he growled.

Katherine was startled by Tony’s quick movements as he clamped his hand around her wrist. “Tony, you need this medication,” she tried to explain.

“No more pain medicine and no more of whatever you’re giving me that knocks me on my ass,” he warned.

She stared at him in disbelief. “You must have hit your head harder than I thought if you think I’m going to agree to that.”

“No more!”

The doctor pulled from his grasp and crossed her arms. She was beginning to feel more like a mother scolding her child instead of a physician. “If you have to fight the pain, Tony, you can’t rest; and if you can’t rest, you’re not going to get better.”

“I’ve had worse and lived to tell about it.”

“That’s not something to brag about.”

“I wasn’t bragging,” he countered. “I was stating a fact.”

“You are not in any shape to make any kind of judgment about your health,” Katherine argued.

“I can decide if I want to be doped up or not.”

“Tony, you need…”

She was interrupted by a knock at the door. Katherine didn’t have to turn around to know that Jethro Gibbs was standing behind her. Her gaze still fixed on her obstinate patient, she said, “I thought I told you I would come and get you when I was done examining him.”

“You took too long. I figured DiNozzo was probably awake and giving you a hard time,” Gibbs replied. “Looks like I was right.”

She nodded at the team leader’s assumption. “He’s refusing his pain medication and sedatives, although he obviously still needs them.”

“Sounds about right.”

“I’ve tried to explain to Tony that he…”

“I’ll talk to him,” Gibbs insisted.

“Last time you talked to him, I had to sedate him,” she reminded the ex-Marine.

“If you want him to agree to take his meds, you’ll let me talk to Tony. Alone,” he added.

“Could you two stop talking about me like I’m not here?” Tony barked.

Neither Katherine nor Gibbs could deny the frustration and anger radiating from the young man. She could actually empathize with the agent; her own patience was quickly reaching its limits. Not wanting to upset Tony any further, she turned to leave. Sparing a final glance at the two agents, she pointed a finger at the older man. “I know that you’re listed as Tony’s next of kin, but if you upset him like you did the last time, I’ll ban you from ICU.”

Katherine left and went over to the nurse’s station and pulled Tony’s chart. Her attention was drawn back to Jethro Gibbs and Tony DiNozzo. If she had met them under different circumstance, she would have easily pegged the pair for father and son; but right now, judging by the tense expression on the younger man’s face, that relationship was definitely strained. It hadn’t taken Katherine long to figure out that these two men were more alike than different, and at the moment, she wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. Time would certainly tell.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Abby stood in the doorway of the waiting room, her eyes fixed on the set of double doors that led to the Intensive Care Unit. Gibbs had just gone back in to see Tony for the second time and she had yet been able to see her best friend. When they had first arrived, Gibbs had insisted that she stay in the waiting room until he had seen DiNozzo and she had foolishly agreed. It wasn’t too long before Jackson Gibbs had joined her and told her what he knew about Tony’s condition. Knowing that Tony was hurting and not just in a physical sense, made Abby even more desperate to see him and try and cheer him up.

When Gibbs came in the waiting room for the first time after seeing Tony, he had informed them that DiNozzo had become upset and the Doctor had been forced to sedate him.

“Now, I’ll never get to see him,” Abby had exclaimed, annoyance dripping from every word. “You shouldn’t have upset him, Gibbs. I knew I should have gone in first.”

“Abby, I…”

She hadn’t allowed the team leader to finish his sentence before she had thrown her arms around his neck. “I’m sorry, Gibbs. I didn’t mean to sound like I’m blaming you.”

“I know, Abs.”

“I just want to see Tony.”

“I know, Abby and you will,” he promised.

“When?” she wanted to know.

“Soon.”

Now, two hours later, Gibbs was once again back in the ICU with Tony and she was still in the waiting room. She felt a strong pair of arms pull her into a hug. Abby pulled back and smiled at Jackson Gibbs. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I’m not very good company.”

Jack returned her smile. “I don’t expect you to be. I know you’re worried about Tony.”

“I just need to see him and let him know that I’m here for him.”

“Im sure he knows.”

“I hope so.”

“You were the first one that he wanted to talk to,” Jack said.

“That’s true, but then he had a seizure and…”

Jack kissed the top of her forehead. “That was not your fault. Now, come on and sit down. I’m sure you’re tired.”

Abby let Jack lead her back to the couch. She leaned against his shoulder, her gaze still riveted to the door. The Goth silently determined that if Gibbs didn’t come back within the next ten minutes, she was going to see Tony and no one was going to stop her.

“You and Tony are pretty close, huh?” Jack asked.

She nodded. “Yeah. We’ve always been close; well, if you don’t count the first week we worked together.”

“I take it that you two didn’t get off on the right foot.”

“No, we didn’t, but it didn’t take me too long to discover the real Tony.” She wiped a tear off her cheek. “Tony has a habit of only letting people see what he wants them to see.”

“I figured that one out all by myself and I’ve only known him for a few months,” Jack muttered under his breath.

“That’s because you dared to look behind the mask. You should feel honored that he trusted you enough to let you catch a glimpse of his true personality. Tony doesn’t trust easy but when he does, he gives it completely.”

“And when that trust has been shattered?”

Abby shrugged. “He puts the pain and disappointment in a box and throws away the key.”

“And when the box gets too full?”

Abby thought for a moment. “He ends up in a hospital in Stillwater,” she finally replied.

The two sat in companionable silence for the next few minutes, each lost in their own thoughts. Abby felt Jack lightly tug on her braid. “Why don’t you tell me about that first week you and Tony worked together? It sounds like a story that I’d be interested in hearing.”

“Maybe later,” she sighed. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Jack, but I can’t think about anything but…”

“Seeing Tony,” he finished.

“Yeah.”

Jack stood and held his hand out. Abby took it and allowed him to pull her up off the couch. Her curiosity piqued, she asked, “What are you up to, Jack?”

“I’m taking you to see Tony.”

“But Gibbs said…”

“You let me handle Leroy,” Jack said. “Now, do you want to go and see Tony or not?”

“Of course I do, but how are we going to get in there?”

Abby caught the mischievous glint in Jack’s eye. “You have a plan,” she surmised. “A devious plan at that.”

Jack offered his arm in order to escort her down the short corridor. ‘May I take you to see your husband, Mrs. DiNozzo?”

She felt the tears well up in her eyes once again. “You are a sweet man, Jackson Gibbs.”

“Right this way, Mrs. DiNozzo.”

She took the proffered arm and the pair made their way towards the ICU. Gibbs would not be happy with her or Jack, but it didn’t matter; she was getting to see Tony. She knew that the team leader wouldn’t stay mad at her for long; he never did. She was his favorite, or so Tony had told her. Abby hoped that Gibbs remembered that fact as she introduced herself to the nurse as Mrs. Anthony DiNozzo.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Tony almost dreaded seeing Kate leave. He wasn’t sure that he was ready for another round with the former Marine. DiNozzo was well aware of the fact that he had revealed too much earlier and that Gibbs would not simply forget their last conversation. Gibbs would keep digging until he had discovered the truth and then, life as Tony knew it would cease to exist.

He could feel Gibbs staring at him as the older man sat down in the chair next to him. “You want to tell me why you don’t want to take your pain meds?” the team leader asked.

“I don’t want them,” he quietly answered, his eyes refusing to meet those of his boss.

“What you want and what you need are two different things, DiNozzo.”

“You know what pain medicine does to me. I’m confused enough as it is without being drugged.”

“Confused about what, Tony?”

“Everything,” Tony admitted.

“You think being in pain and not resting is going to make things less confusing?”

Tony shrugged. “I don’t know, but at least I know I’m in control.”

Gibbs leaned forward in his chair. “Tony, look at me.”

“I can’t.”

“Tony, look at me,” Gibbs repeated, his tone soft but demanding obedience.

Tony blew out a breath and slowly shifted his gaze until he was looking at his team leader face to face. He didn’t know how long he could stand to see the disappointment etched in the face of the man who was like a father to him. Tony had worked hard these past few years to win the approval of Jethro Gibbs and now all those years of sacrifice had been shot to hell. He flinched as Gibbs raised his hand towards his head.

His cheeks flushed as Jethro’s hand stopped in mid-air. “Tony,” Gibbs whispered. “I’m not going to hit you. I was just going to…” The older man lowered his hand. “Never mind. I shouldn’t have…”

“Sorry,” Tony mumbled. He felt sick, knowing that he had just added another failure to the growing list. How could he be so stupid? Gibbs would never intentionally hurt him.

“I told you those meds keep me confused,” Tony tried to reason. “That’s why I don’t want to take them.”

Tony’s eyes narrowed when his boss nodded his head in agreement. “All right,” Gibbs said. “I’ll tell the doctor that it’s your choice. If you don’t want to take them, you don’t have to.”

“What’s the catch?”

“You tell me the truth about everything that’s happened.”

“Damn you!” Tony blurted out. “That’s not fair!”

“Life isn’t fair, Tony. I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s going on.”

“Excuse me, Mr. DiNozzo?”

Both men glanced up to see the nurse standing in the door frame.

Tony cleared his throat. “Yes?”

“Your…um…your wife is here to see you,” she said.

“My wife?”

It was just a few seconds before Tony saw Abby push her way past the nurse. “Tony! Baby!”

He dismissed then nurse with a curt nod as Abby came over and kissed him on the cheek. Tony should have known that Abby would have figured out a way to come and see him, and the fact that she had posed as his wife only endeared her to him even more. She had obviously gone to a lot of trouble think up this scheme, so he figured that he might as well play along. Truthfully, Tony was glad to see Abby, if for no other reason that it postponed his confrontation with Gibbs. Of course, judging by the soured expression on the former Marine’s face, he didn’t share Tony’s point of view.



Chapter 14

Jethro Gibbs stepped outside of DiNozzo’s room where he found his dad talking to Dr. Marshall. He guessed that Jack was attempting to explain the sudden appearance of Mrs. Anthony DiNozzo, especially since Katherine knew that Tony wasn’t married. Gibbs studied the pair, wondering, not for the first time, if there was something more than friendship between the two of them. It wasn’t really any of his business. As long as Jack was happy; that was all that mattered.

He had resented his dad for years because Jack had insisted on moving on with his life after his mom had died. Deep down he had known that his parent’s feelings for each other had changed, but yet Jack had stayed by his mom’s side until her death. Then when Jack showed up at Shannon and Kelly’s funeral with a date, Jethro felt that his dad had not only betrayed him, but the memory of his mom as well. It wasn’t until years later that he was able to understand his dad’s side of the story. Jack had been hurting as well and Jethro had been so wrapped up in his own grief that he couldn’t see that his dad had needed someone to lean on as well. He wouldn’t make that same mistake again; he wouldn’t deny his dad the happiness that he deserved.

“Hey, Leroy,” Jack called out. “Are you just going to stand there or are you going to join us?”

Gibbs sauntered over and took the cup of coffee that his dad held out to him. He nodded his thanks and took a sip of the steaming liquid. “Good coffee.”

“I just made it,” his dad said. “It keeps the nurses happy.”

“Especially after you’ve just lied to them,” Gibbs pointed out.

Jack grinned. Splaying his had on his chest, he asked, “Now son, would I do that?”

“Of course you would.” Jethro shook his head, a tiny smile dancing on his own lips. “Mrs. Anthony DiNozzo,” he muttered. “Whose bright idea was that, yours or Abby’s?”

“It doesn’t matter. It was a stroke of pure genius if you ask me.”

Rolling his eyes, Gibbs took another drink of his coffee. “Is that a fact?”

“I’d like to think so.”

“Couldn’t you have waited a few minutes?”

“No, I couldn’t and neither could Abby. You aren’t the only one concerned about Tony. That girl was going out of her mind with worry and she needed to see for herself how Tony was doing.”

Gibbs pinched the bridge of his nose. “I know she’s worried, but…”

Jack held up his hand. “But nothing. Give her a little time with Tony,” he encouraged. “You never know; Abby might get him to open up a little.”

“That’s what I was about to get him to do,” Gibbs countered.

“Really?” Jack chuckled.

The agent bristled, his eyes narrowing into his infamous glare. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The whole ICU could hear Tony yelling at you,” his dad exclaimed. “The only reason that Katherine didn’t kick your butt out of his room was that I was able to convince her that seeing Abby would calm Tony down.”

Gibbs’ icy stare was now focused on the doctor, who had remained unusually quiet ever since he had joined their private conversation. “So, you were ready to throw me out, huh?”

“Yes,” Katherine sharply replied. “I warned you before I left that if you upset him, I would ban you from ICU. You said you could convince him to take his pain meds, but instead, you managed to upset him once again. What do I have to do to make you understand that Tony’s condition is still very serious? He doesn’t need any more stress and all you seem to be doing is causing him stress.”

The ex-Marine wished that she had just continued to give him the silent treatment. “Let’s get something clear, Dr. Marshall.” Gibbs forced himself to keep a tight rein on his temper. “I know that man in that room better than anyone and I know what’s best for him.”

“Are you sure about that?” she challenged. “From where I’m standing, I’m not sure that you do know what’s best for him. Personally, I believe that you are part of his problem. The man lying in that bed is not the Anthony DiNozzo that you know and the quicker that you accept that, the easier things will be for him and for you.”

Gibbs hit the counter with his fist. “He’s still the same man he always was. Tony may be sick and hurting both physically and emotionally, but that doesn’t change who he is on the inside.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Katherine angrily conceded. “However, it does mean that he doesn’t need to be subjected to your usual bullying tactics.” She handed Tony’s chart back to the nurse. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some other patients to see. I’ll be back to check on Tony before I go home. Maybe ‘Mrs. DiNozzo’ will be able to convince him to take his meds by then.”

Gibbs watched her leave as he gulped down the last of his coffee. He had to admit that Dr. Katherine Marshall had guts; there weren’t too many people that would stand up to him like she had just done. Was she right? Was he part of Tony’s problem? Was he putting too much pressure on Tony?

“She’s got a point, you know,” Jack said, interrupting his mental guilt trip.

“Yeah, I know.”

“She’s only got Tony’s best interests in mind.”

“I know that, too.”

“Well, maybe you two should work together to help Tony, instead of constantly butting heads.”

Jethro glared at his dad. “Do you think?”

“Yeah, I do.”

Gibbs poured himself another cup of coffee. “I need some air. Tell ‘Mrs. DiNozzo’ she has 30 minutes.”

“I’ll be sure to let her know,” Jack said.

The team leader felt a firm grip on his arm. “Leroy, we all want to help that boy,” his dad said. “Don’t think you have to do this alone.”

Jethro nodded. “I know.”

He left his dad standing at the nurse’s station. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Gibbs called back over his shoulder. He found the nearest exit and went outside. Leaning against the wall, he watched as the sun began to make its ascent into the sky. A new day was dawning and he was no closer to finding the answers to the myriad of questions that bombarded his mind.

The only thing that he knew for sure was that Vance had failed to pull Tony out of an operation that was going south, but Gibbs needed to know more. He needed to understand why Vance had even put Tony undercover in the first place. How did everything get so out of control? Tony talked about how he needed to be in control; was it because his senior agent felt that he no longer had any power over his own life? How could he not have known what was going on with DiNozzo? Maybe Dr. Marshall was right; maybe he was part of Tony’s problems.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


McGee rolled over and hit the snooze on his alarm clock. He had slept surprisingly well last night, considering everything that was going on with Tony; not to mention the fact that he had left Vance sitting on his couch in his living room. Tim sat up in bed. “Vance!” he whispered. “I am so fired! I can’t believe that I left the Director sitting in my living room.”

He got up and quietly opened his door, peering out into his living room. “Please be gone, please be gone,” he softly repeated over and over.

Opening the door just a little more, he breathed a sigh of relief when he didn’t see the Director sitting on the couch. He went into the living room and looked around. Vance was gone. Tim wasn’t sure what he would have done if Director Vance had still been in his apartment. Would he have caved in to the pressure and told Vance what he knew? He would like to think that he would have been able to continue standing up to the Director, protecting Tony at all costs. However, at the moment, he was glad that he didn’t have to make that decision.

Glancing at his watch, he saw that is was just after six. He had to call Ziva. Knowing that she was up, he went back into his bedroom and retrieved his cell phone. It only took one ring for Ziva to answer.

“David.”

“Ziva, have you heard anything?” McGee anxiously inquired.

“No,” she replied. “Nothing. Have you?”

“No, but I did have a visitor last night.”

“Director Vance?”

“How did you know?”

“Just a lucky guess. Is he still there?”

“No. I went to bed and left him on the couch. When I woke up this morning, he was gone.”

“I’m guessing he wanted to know where Tony was,” Ziva mused.

“Yeah, but I didn’t tell him anything,” McGee snapped.

“I never said you did.”

“Sorry,” Tim apologized. “I’m just a little on edge.”

“It’s all right. Water under the road.”

“Bridge,” he automatically corrected.

“Bridge,” she repeated. “We’ve got to do something. I know we’re supposed to be on vacation, but I can’t just sit around and do nothing.”

“I know what you mean.”

“Give me ten minutes and I’ll meet you at the coffee shop.”

“That sounds good. I’ll…”

McGee was interrupted by a knock at his door. That gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach returned as he opened the door to reveal Director Vance with two cups of coffee and a bag in his hands. “Agent McGee,” Vance greeted. “I ran out and got us some breakfast; I thought I would make it back before you woke up.”

He whispered into the phone. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Hanging up his phone, he stood aside and allowed the Director to enter. “Director Vance. I assumed that you had…”

“Given up? You should know me better than that, Agent McGee.”

Tim swallowed hard as Vance went to the kitchen table and sat down. “Join me, Agent McGee.”

“I actually already had plans for breakfast, Director Vance.”

“Change them, Agent McGee,” Vance ordered.

“Director, I’m on vacation. I don’t believe that I have to subject myself to your orders while I’m on leave.”

“You’re a federal agent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Agent McGee. So, vacation or not, I expect you to act like one. I don’t enjoy putting you in this predicament. I know that you are loyal to Agent DiNozzo, but I need to find him and I need to find him as soon as possible.”

“Why?” McGee dared to ask.

“It’s a very delicate matter, Agent McGee. The fewer people directly involved, the safer DiNozzo will be.”

“Is he in danger?”

McGee didn’t miss the Director’s hesitant response. “He could be,” Vance finally admitted.

“Danger from whom?” McGee pressed.

“Again, Agent McGee, that is on a need to know basis and you don’t need to know.”

Tim nodded as he took a sip of the coffee that Vance had brought him. “Well, Director Vance, Tony’s whereabouts are on a need to know basis as well and I’m not convinced that you need to know. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a breakfast date.”

McGee went to his room and quickly dressed. When he came back out, Vance was still sitting at his table. “Please lock up when you leave, Director Vance,” he instructed.

Closing the door behind him, he heard Vance call out to him. “Tell Officer David that I said hello.”

How did he know that he was meeting Ziva? McGee silently chastised himself. Of course he would know, he was the Director; it was his job to know everything. Tim decided that he would take the long way to the coffee shop just in case he was being followed. There were a couple of streets that he could easily shake any would be followers.

As he wove his way through the streets, he couldn’t help but hear Vance’s words echo in his mind. The fact that DiNozzo could be in danger had almost convinced him to tell Vance where Tony was at, but his gut was telling him something else entirely. If there was one thing that he had learned from Jethro Gibbs was to listen to his gut.

He knew that Tony was with Gibbs and the team leader would keep Tony safe. Now all he and Ziva had to do was come up with a way to stay under Vance’s radar and wait for Gibbs to contact them. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Tony leaned into Abby’s touch as she gently cupped his cheek. She had put down the rail and was sitting on the edge of his bed, feeding him ice chips, regaling him with the story of how she pretended to be his wife in order to get in and see him.

“You should have seen her expression, Tony. It was priceless,” Abby proclaimed.

“I bet,” Tony said. “They were probably thinking that you were too good for somebody like me.”

Abby arched her eyebrow. “You know I don’t like it when you talk about yourself like that. You are a great guy, Tony DiNozzo and don’t you forget it.”

“I think you’re a little biased. I mean of course you’re going to think I’m great; you’re my wife,” he teased.

“That’s right and so you should listen to everything I say,” Abby stated.

“Really?”

“Yep. That’s the way a marriage works, or so I’ve been told.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “I don’t think either one of us can consider ourselves experts on marriage, Abby.”

She leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. “We’ll learn together, my darling.”

“Whatever you say, dear,” Tony replied.

“See, you’re learning already.”

Tony winced as he laughed. “I need to remember not to do that.”

“Do what?”

“Laugh.”

“If you’re in pain, I’ll see if you can have something.”

He shook his head. “No. I’ve already been through this with Kate and Gibbs. I’m not taking any more pain meds; they mess me up.”

“Kate?”

“Dr. Katherine Marshall. I call her Kate,” Tony explained.

“Oh. Does she look anything like our Kate did?”

“No, but she’s got the same kind of fire in her that our Kate had.”

“That means she’s got your number.”

“You could say that.”

Tony took another ice chip, welcoming its cool relief as it melted in his mouth. “Thanks, Abby.”

“You’re welcome.” She sat the cup of ice on the small table beside his bed. “Now, let’s get back to why you don’t want to take your pain medicine. I know it makes you a little loopy, but that’s got to be better than hurting all the time.”

Tony closed his eyes. He could never lie to Abby; she could always see right through him. “The pain keeps me focused,” he tried to explain. “I can’t afford to be out of control. Too much is at stake.”

“What do you mean? What’s at stake, Tony?”

He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. He had no right to drag Abby into the mess that he had gotten himself into. It was bad enough that Gibbs would eventually know everything that had happened.

“Tony,” she softly called out to him. “Tony, you’ve never lied to me before; please don’t start now.”

He ran a shaking hand through his hair. “Abby, I’m about to lose everything. My job, my friends, my life, Gibbs’ respect. I just want to hang onto it a little longer because when I come clean, everything will be over.”

“Don’t say that. You’ve got to trust us to help you. I’m not going to let anything happen to you and neither is Gibbs.”

“I won’t pull you all down with me.”

“Tony, please…”

Tony clenched his jaw tightly. “The only person that is going down with me is Vance.”

Abby sat up. “Vance? What’s he got to do with this?”

“Everything.”

“Talk to me,” she pleaded.

He studied the woman before him. They had shared so much over the years. She knew more about him that anyone, even Gibbs, and had never betrayed his confidence. Abby was begging for him to trust her with yet another secret and he wasn’t sure he could. He realized that it wasn’t a matter of whether he trusted her; it was the fact that he could put her life in jeopardy and he would not take that chance.

“I can’t, Abby.”

She took his hand and gently squeezed it. “Yes, you can.”

Tony started to tell her no, but he stopped himself. “I’ve been living a lie ever since I got back from the Seahawk. I’ve been doing undercover operations for Director Vance. This last one started to go south and he didn’t pull me out in time. I ended up uncovering some damaging information about some of the higher ups, including Vance and…”

“Who?” she urged.

“I’m sorry, Abs. I can’t tell you any more; I don’t want you getting hurt. I shouldn’t have told you that much.”

“Tony, don’t you see what holding all this in is doing to you?”

“I know what it’s doing to me. It’s killing me and right now, that may be the best thing that could happen to me.”

He took his thumb and wiped a stray tear off Abby’s cheek. “Please don’t cry, Abs. You know I can’t stand it when you cry.”

“I know,” she whispered. “I just don’t want to hear you talking that way.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” she began.

“It’s a sign of weakness.”

“Promise me one thing, Tony.”

“What’s that?”

He could see the wheels of her brilliant mind turning as she said, “Wait a minute, promise me two things,” she said.

Tony sighed, a small grin escaping his lips. “What?”

She held out her pinkie finger. “You have to pinkie swear that you’ll do what I ask.”

“That depends on what you want me to do,” he reasoned. “Last time I promised you something before you told me what it was, I ended up bowling the league finals with a bunch of nuns.”

“But you won,” Abby reminded him. “Oh, and Sister Rosita said to tell you that she is saying a special prayer for you.”

“Tell her thank you. I need all the prayer I can get.”

“Now, tell me that you’ll promise to do these two things that I’m about to ask you to do,” Abby pressed.

Tony knew that there was no use arguing with Abby; he always lost. “What are they?”

“First, you have to reach a compromise about your pain medicine. Let the doctor give you something that will take the edge off the pain and not totally knock you out,” she suggested.

“Abby, I…”

“I’m not done.”

“Sorry.”

“Secondly, you have to come clean with Gibbs.”

Tony shook his head. “I can’t.”

“Yes, you can. You have to and you know I’m right.”

Gibbs did have a right to know what was going on with his senior field agent, but how could Tony even begin to explain everything that had happened? Would Gibbs even believe him? “Abby, you don’t know what you’re asking me to do.”

“Yes, I do. I’m asking you to take that first step and let us help you.”

Tony closed his eyes. He considered her first request. Tony was hurting more than he cared to admit; maybe something to dull the pain just a little wouldn’t be out of the question. It was her second request that he was having trouble with. Abby wanted him to take that first step and talk to Gibbs. But, she didn’t realize that the only problem with taking that first step was that it would send him over the edge.

15


Gibbs had been standing just outside the door to DiNozzo’s room watching Abby and Tony for the past ten minutes. When he had returned from outside, the pair had been in the middle of what appeared to be a rather intense discussion. It wasn’t but a few minutes later until a he saw a nurse enter Tony’s room and inject something into the younger agent’s IV. Abby had evidently been successful in getting DiNozzo to agree to take something for pain.

The team leader smiled when he saw the Goth kiss his senior field agent on the forehead; she then whispered something in DiNozzo’s ear, causing him to blush. Gibbs would have to find out what Abby had said to Tony to get such an unusual response from the ailing man; DiNozzo didn’t embarrass easily.

He finished the last of his coffee, threw the cup away, and walked into Tony’s room. Gibbs was determined not to upset the younger man, but it almost seemed like his presence alone instilled a fear in Tony’s eyes that hadn’t been there before. “Well, Mrs. DiNozzo, how’s he doing?”

“A little better,” Abby proudly announced.

Gibbs nodded his approval. “Good.”

He wasn’t sure how to handle the awkward silence in the room. His eyes fell on DiNozzo, who was lying there, refusing to meet his gaze. Gibbs cleared his throat. “Tony? Can I get you anything?”

Tony shook his head. “No, Boss. I’m all right.”

“Was that pain medicine that I saw the nurse give you?”

“Yeah. It was just a mild one,” Tony confessed.

“That’s good, Tony.” Gibbs wasn’t sure exactly what to say to DiNozzo. He had been warned about not causing Tony any undue stress but it seemed like every word that came out of his mouth increased the younger agent’s discomfort.

“Abby made me do it.”

“I’m glad. I want you to hurry up and get better; I need my senior field agent back at work.”

Gibbs didn’t miss the silent exchange between Abby and Tony. Had he said something wrong once again? The way things had been going, he wouldn’t be surprised if he had. “Something wrong?” he reluctantly asked.

“No, Boss. I’m just tired,” Tony whispered.

“Actually,” Abby interrupted. “Tony has some things that he wants to tell you, don’t you Tony?”

The former Marine suddenly realized what Tony and Abby had been talking about earlier. She had persuaded him, in her own unique way, to talk to him. It still bothered Gibbs that Tony hadn’t come to him earlier with his problems, but at least DiNozzo was ready to talk now. He just had to listen and sometimes that was the hardest thing to do in a conversation.

“Is that true, Tony?” he inquired.

Gibbs almost missed Tony’s almost imperceptible nod. “I guess,” the young man finally muttered.

“Now?” Gibbs pressed.

“Might as well.”

Abby grabbed his arm and sat him down in the chair beside Tony’s bed. “Now, you sit and listen and I’ll go get you some more coffee.”

“All right,” he agreed.

He was forced to hide his amusement when Abby pointed her finger at him and threatened him. “And don’t you head slap him either,” she warned.

“I’m not going head slap him, Abby,” Gibbs assured her.

“You better not. I’ll know if you do.”

Gibbs shook his head and grinned as he watched the Goth leave. He truly believed that the world would be a much better place if there were more people like Abby in the world. He turned his attention back to the young man lying in the bed. “So, can I get you anything?”

Tony shook his head. “You already asked me that.”

“So I did.” He leaned back in the chair. “I’m guessing that you ended up promising Abby that you’d talk to me,” Gibbs surmised.

“How’d you know?”

“No one can say no to Abby. Not even me,” he added.

A tiny smile cracked the semi-stoic mask that Tony had in place and disappeared just as quickly. “I don’t know if I can keep my promise to her and then she’ll be mad at me. I hate it when she’s mad at me.”

“So do I.”

“I don’t know where to start.”

“How about the beginning?” Gibbs suggested. He felt like he was standing on a land mine and one wrong word would set it off and he would lose Tony forever. Jethro Gibbs knew he had to proceed slowly if he wanted the answers to the questions that had been plaguing him since this whole nightmare started.

“I don’t think I’m ready for that,” Tony said. “Can I just start from the time after I was reassigned to D.C. from the Seahawk?”

Gibbs’ brow furrowed. What did Tony mean that he wasn’t ready to start at the beginning? Did DiNozzo’s problems stem from something else in his past? “I guess that’ll be all right. I just want you to talk to me, Tony. I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s going on.”

Tony sighed. “I know.”

The team leader was determined that he wouldn’t rush Tony and would let the young man tell his story in his own time. He had a feeling that he was not going to like everything DiNozzo was going to say and that what the younger man was about to reveal could possibly have devastating effects on Tony personally, but everybody involved.

“Whenever you’re ready, Tony,” Gibbs said.

It still bothered Gibbs that DiNozzo wouldn’t look him in the eye, but he didn’t say anything; he wanted to make this as easy on Tony as possible.

“It was about a week or two after I came back from the Seahawk,” Tony began. “I was working late one night, you know like I usually do, and Director Vance was still there. He threw a file down on my desk and asked me to explain its contents. I opened the file and it was my medical records from the Seahawk where I had been treated for an ulcer. Vance discovered that I had failed to report that fact to Ducky and was reading me the riot act for failing to follow agency procedures.”

“Why didn’t you tell Ducky?” Jethro asked.

“It was under control and I hadn’t had any problems for a while, so I guess I just didn’t think it was important.”

“If it pertains to your health, it is important.” One of these days, Gibbs vowed to have a long talk with Tony about his lack of concern towards his own well being.

“I figured that I didn’t need another mark on my record. It’s bad enough having pneumonic plague listed in your files. Actually, I consider myself a medical marvel,” Tony tiredly boasted, “it’s too bad personnel doesn’t see it like that.”

Gibbs smiled at his senior agent; he was glad to see a hint of Tony’s usual wit shining through like a ray of sunshine amidst the gathering of dark storm clouds surrounding his agent.

Tony licked his parched lips and Gibbs automatically reached for the cup of ice and gave him a small ice chip. “Thanks,” DiNozzo said.

“You’re welcome.” Gibbs set the cup back down and patiently waited for Tony to continue.

“Vance told me he was going to have to report my ulcer and then suddenly he talking about my past undercover work and said that he had a few cases that he could use my expertise on. I told him no.”

“And he didn’t like that?” the team leader guessed.

“No. He told me that I had two choices. I could work undercover for him on these cases or he would split up the team again, this time permanently.”

The ex-Marine struggled to control the anger that was coursing through his veins. He almost wished Vance was standing right next to him so he could beat him to a pulp. “He blackmailed you into going undercover for his operations?”

Tony nodded.

“Why didn’t you come to me?” Gibbs wanted to know.

“I couldn’t. The Director told me that if you found out what I was doing that you would be the first one to go. I wasn’t willing to take that chance.”

For the second time, within the time span of a half hour, Gibbs found himself speechless once again. Tony was lying in this hospital bed because DiNozzo felt that he had to protect him, all of them. “So you agreed to go undercover for him,” Jethro deduced.

“Yes.”

“How many operations have you been involved in?”

“I’ve completed three successfully and well, I guess you figured that this last one was a bust,” Tony said.

“I kind of figured that one out. Do you want to tell me about it?”

“I was undercover to break up a drug ring that was operating in Norfolk. Two sailors, Tompkins and Currin were my contacts and after about a month, I was accepted into the ring. After that, I started gaining access to their client list and files. There’s a lot of names that…”

The team leader sensed DiNozzo’s trepidation. “Then what happened?” Gibbs gently prodded.

Tony’s gaze shifted to the blank wall opposite Gibbs. “It took another few weeks before I met the head honcho, a former Marine by the name of Mitchell Carter and I guess maybe I was getting a little sloppy, but I got this feeling that I had met him before, but I ignored what my gut was telling me. I was tired. I’d been running off energy drinks and No-Doz for a long time and I needed a break. I asked Vance to pull me out then but he didn’t. He said that I had to stay undercover.” Tony paused and swallowed hard. “He told me that I was expendable.”

“What?” the team leader roared. “He told you were expendable? That bastard!”

Tony visibly cringed at Gibb’s verbal explosion. Jethro began to apologize profusely. “I’m sorry, Tony. I’m not upset at you.”

“I know,” Tony softly replied.

Gibbs placed a calloused hand on Tony’s arm. “Do you feel like continuing?” He was already aware of the fact that Tony was feeling like he had no control over his life and Gibbs was determined to give the young man back a modicum of the control that he had lost. If DiNozzo wanted to quit for now, Gibbs silently vowed that he would not push him.

“Sure. Might as well.”

Jethro nodded. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“I don’t guess there’s too much more to say. The other day, I got the call to Norfolk and when I got there, I discovered that Currin made me out to be a fed, so I called Vance and told him that I had to pull out and he wouldn’t let me. I guess that he figured that if I died, there would be one less thorn in his side.

“I ended up in a shootout with Currin and Tompkins and I killed them both. Since they were both dead, and no one else it, I assumed my cover was safe and so I went to the harbor to wait for the ship; no one was there but Carter and a few of his henchmen. That was when he informed me that Vance had been right, but he never told me what about. We fought and I got away from them; they shot at my car and I ended up wrecking it after a bullet grazed my head. I figure that some passerby called 911 and the next thing I know I’m waking up in the hospital with a concussion. I checked myself out and the rest you know.”

Gibbs scrubbed his face with his other hand. “God, Tony. I wish I knew what to say.”

Tony shrugged. “I wish you did, too.”

“I guess that explains why Vance is so eager to find you. He wants to do damage control.”

“Actually, I think that he just wants me to keep my mouth shut,” DiNozzo rationalized. “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter anyway.”

“Why not?”

The team leader was not expecting Tony’s next words.

“Because I’m not doing this anymore,” Tony declared. “I’m quitting NCIS.”

Gibbs felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. He had to have misunderstood what Tony had said.

“What?”

“I’m quitting NCIS,” DiNozzo forcibly repeated. “I can’t handle it anymore.”

“Don’t you let Vance win,” Gibbs begged the younger man. “I’ve never known you to give up, Tony; in all the years we’ve worked with each other, you’ve been the glue that’s held this team together.”

Tony shook his head. “No, I haven’t.”

“Tony, listen to me,” Gibbs desperately pleaded. “Don’t let Vance take this away from you. Fight for what you believe in.”

“That’s the problem, Gibbs. I don’t know what I believe in anymore. The only thing I know for certain is that Vance is going to turn this on me and take me down and I swear that he’s going down with me. I don’t want you or any of the others associated with this mess I’ve gotten myself in.”

Gibbs breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m glad to see you’ve got some fight left in you. But I want you to listen to me. I’m not going to let you quit NCIS in order to protect us. We can take care of ourselves. You’re tired. It’s your exhaustion talking,” Jethro tried to reason. “Don’t make any hasty judgments until you’re feeling better. Will you promise me that?”

“I won’t change my mind.”

“Just don’t make any decisions right now, okay?”

Gibbs waited for what seemed like hours before Tony finally agreed to wait. He was convinced that there was something else contributing to DiNozzo’s decision besides an undercover operation going bad. Vance certainly played a part, but there was something else bothering Tony.

“Gibbs, I…”

“What is it, Tony?’

“Thanks for listening.”

Gibbs gently squeezed Tony’s forearm. “You don’t have to thank me, Tony. If I had been paying attention and listening all along, maybe none of this would have happened.”

Again, Tony’s reaction caught the team leader off guard. Gibbs’ confusion only grew when DiNozzo jerked his arm free of the ex-Marine’s grasp. “Tony? What’s wrong?”

Silence.

“Tony, what’s wrong?” Gibbs asked again.

More silence.

“Tony?” he called out for a third time.

“I have enough problems to deal with; I don’t need your misplaced guilt!” Tony snapped.

“Tony, I was just…”

“You were just trying to…” Tony clenched his fist. “You’re not responsible for me or for what’s happened. I did it to myself.”

“I look out for my own,” Gibbs said with a forced calmness. “Or have you forgotten that?”

Tony hung his head. “No, I haven’t forgotten. I’m just not sure…”

“What, Tony?”

“I’m not exactly sure where I belong.”

Gibbs’ expression softened. “What do you mean, Tony?”

The young man closed his eyes. Jethro could tell that Tony was through talking for now.

“I’m kind of tired, Gibbs,” Tony said. “Can we finish this later?”

Gibbs nodded. “Yeah. But Tony, we are going to finish this. Understand?”

“I gotcha, Boss.”

The former Marine waited until he was certain that DiNozzo was asleep. It had been a long time since he was consumed by the kind of rage that demanded justice, and he would make sure that DiNozzo got justice for what he had been through. Rising up from his seat, he quietly slipped out of Tony’s room.

“Gibbs, where are you going?”

He turned to see Abby coming towards him. Gibbs took the cup of coffee that Abby handed to him and mumbled, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, my silver haired fox,” she cheerfully replied. “So, did Tony talk to you?”

Gibbs took a sip of coffee. “Yeah.”

“And?”

“And I listened.”

Abby crossed her arms and attempted to imitate his famous glare. He kissed her on the head, “Haven’t quite got it yet, Abs.” Gibbs nodded towards Tony’s room. “Stay with him.”

“Where are you going?”

“Back to D.C.”

“You can’t just leave him and go back to D.C.! He needs you.”

“I’m not leaving him, Abs”, he promised. “I’ll be back as soon as I talk to Vance and figure out what the hell gave him the right to screw with DiNozzo’s life.”

“I love it when you go all Poppa Bear,” Abby said. “Just hurry back.”

“I will, Abs. I will.”

It only took a couple of long strides before he was out of ICU and headed towards the parking lot. The only thing on his mind was his upcoming confrontation with Vance; he would make sure the Director answered for what he did to Tony. Gibbs knew he should probably let the SecNav handle it, but this was personal. Vance had crossed the line and now he had to face the consequences.

16

Jackson Gibbs had pulled in his parking space just in time to see his son storming out of the main entrance of the hospital. He quickly put his car in park and got out, hoping to get Leroy’s attention before he reached the sidewalk. “Leroy,” he called out, his baritone voice resonating through the semi-deserted parking lot.

The younger man continued walking towards his car. Jack decided that either Leroy was making a conscious decision to ignore him or something was weighing heavily on his son’s mind. He increased his pace in an effort to catch up to the young man. “Leroy!” he shouted.

He stopped mid-stride as Leroy wheeled around. “What?”

Jack swallowed hard. It had been a long time since he had seen this much anger radiating from his son; the last time being Shannon and Kelly’s funeral. Leroy’s eyes were burning with rage and hatred and it frightened the elder Gibbs to his core. “Son, what’s wrong?”

“Everything,” came the curt reply.

“Such as?”

“Dad, I don’t have time to go into details,” the agent seethed. “I’ve got to get back to D.C.”

“Why?” Jack pressed.

“I’ve just got some things to take care of.”

“What about Tony?”

“He’s resting now, Abby is with him.”

“How long are you going to be?” Jack grinned and shook his head as his son glared at him. “Your infamous stare may work on your agents, but it doesn’t work on me. I just asked a reasonable question, son. How long are you going to be gone?”

“I don’t know,” Gibbs answered.

“When will you be back?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t you think that whatever this is can wait? I think Tony’s welfare is a bit more important that some personal crusade, Leroy.”

“Tony’s not going to get better until I take care of the source of his problems. No one gets away with using a member of my team like they were a piece of yesterday’s garbage.”

Jack was more than familiar with his son’s sense of responsibility to his team. Whenever Leroy called, he was always regaling the senior Gibbs with details of their last case or the latest antics of his team. He spoke of them all fondly, but there was always more than a hint of pride in his voice when he spoke of Tony. But lately, his son had said very little about DiNozzo after the agent had returned from the Seahawk. He wondered if his son realized that he had apparently been distancing himself from Tony.

“Leroy, maybe you should wait,” he suggested. “Talk to Tony some more before you go off half cocked and make things worse for him.”

“I have to make a move before Vance does.”

“Vance? The Director? You’re boss?”

“The one and the same.”

Jack scrubbed his face with his hand. “Boy, this is big, isn’t it?”

“It could be.”

“I still think you should wait, son,” Jack encouraged. “Give Tony another couple of days to get his strength back and you need a couple of days to cool off.”

“What I need is irrelevant, but what Tony needs is for me to get to the bottom of this,” Jethro growled. “Vance has been causing trouble for Tony for far too long and I didn’t know anything about it! I’m not letting that bastard get away with it!”

“Vance is only part of Tony’s problems and you know it!” Jack argued. “Why else would he have come running to Stillwater? Why would I have to force him to call you and tell you where he is? Leroy, that boy worships the ground you walk on and you’re just going to…”

“That’s enough,” the agent warned. “This is not open for discussion. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Jack started to protest, but he knew that Leroy wouldn’t listen. He couldn’t help but notice that his son had the same look on his face the day that the two of them had argued, prompting Leroy to join the Marines. His son had been furious, just as he was now, and Jack had to admit that he was worried that Leroy would do something foolish. Of course, he could empathize with the younger man; if the situation was reversed and someone had hurt his son, nothing on this earth would stop Jack from getting his revenge.

As Leroy started his car and peeled out of the parking lot, Jack had to believe that his son could look after himself and that he would be back. Until then, he would do what he could to help the young man lying in ICU. Jack knew that he was no substitute for Leroy in Tony’s eyes, but he would be whatever the agent needed him to be. He already felt like he was DiNozzo’s grandfather in a sense; but he was also his friend and if Tony needed someone to listen, Jack would be his confidante.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Abby gently traced the outline of Tony’s fingers as she held his hand while he slept. She was glad that her friend was finally resting but part of her just wanted him to wake up and talk to her. She missed hearing his voice and his smile when he started to ramble on about some movie or the latest episode of his favorite TV show. It bothered Abby to see Tony so vulnerable. She wanted desperately to give him a hug; he always told her that her hugs made him feel better.

“How’s he doing, Mrs. DiNozzo?”

Abby glanced up to see Dr. Katherine Marshal leaning against the doorframe with what she assumed to be Tony’s chart in her hand. “Uh, he’s sleeping.”

“That’s good,” the doctor replied. “He needs to rest.”

“Yeah. I just don’t understand how he could get so sick. I mean the last time he looked this bad, he had the plague and it took him a long time to recover from that. Of course, it didn’t help that at the time a terrorist was after Gibbs and Tony was as determined as Gibbs to find Kate’s killer and…I’m not Mrs. DiNozzo,” Abby blurted out.

“I know, Ms. Scuito,” Katherine assured her. “Your secret is safe with me.”

“I’m sorry I lied about being married to Tony, but I just had to see him,” she tried to reason.

“It’s all right. Tony is fortunate to have you as a friend. He seems to rest easier knowing that you’re here with him.”

“Does that mean that I can stay?”

“Absolutely. I have a feeling that when Mr. DiNozzo begins to get his strength back, that I’m going to have my hands full. He listens to you, so you be sure and stay close.”

Abby smiled. She was relieved that Dr. Marshall wasn’t angry with her and that she would get to stay with Tony, at least until Gibbs returned. At some point, she knew that she was going to have to go back to work, but hopefully, Tony would be doing better before she had to head back to D.C.

“Thank you so much, Dr. Marshall. I’ll take good care of Tony,” Abby promised.

“I know you will. By the way, thank you for getting him to agree to take something for pain.”

“You’re welcome. It wasn’t that hard; he never has been able to say no to me.”

“What about his boss?” Katherine asked. “Has he ever been able to say no to Special Agent Gibbs?”

“Tony will stand up to him if the need arises,” Abby reluctantly answered.

“You didn’t answer my question, Ms. Scuito.”

“It’s Abby and I’d rather not answer it. The relationship between Gibbs and Tony is a bit unusual; Tony worries when Gibbs is nice to him or if he feels like he has to complete for Bossman’s attention. It’s very complicated. Gibbs is the father that Tony never had and Tony is like a son to him, but they would never admit it to each other or anyone else for that matter.”

“Have things been strained between them lately?”

Abby thought for a moment. “Why are you asking me these questions? Shouldn’t you be talking to Tony or Gibbs?”

“I was just trying to get a handle on Tony’s mental and emotional state,” the doctor explained. “Sometimes, it’s better to get a more objective view.”

“I don’t feel comfortable doing this. I mean, Tony and I have shared a lot of secrets and I even know his MOAS and he knows mine.”

“MOAS?” Katherine curiously inquired.

“Mother of all secrets,” the Goth clarified.

Katherine nodded. “Of course. I’m sorry, Abby. I shouldn’t have put you on the spot; I was just trying to figure out how to help Tony.”

“I know. You know, he was right about you,” she stated.

“Who?”

“Tony. He said that you were a lot like Kate.”

“Who’s Kate?”

“She was his partner,” Abby informed her. “Kate was killed almost four years ago.”

“I’m sorry. So, how do I remind Tony of this Kate?” Katherine wanted to know.

“Your determination and compassion; I know that you’re just doing your job, but I can tell that you really do care about your patients. Tony is lucky to have you as his doctor.”

Katherine grinned as she studied the monitors. “Tell that to him when he wakes up.”

“I will.”

She watched as the doctor made a note in Tony’s chart. “So, when is Agent Gibbs coming back?” Katherine inquired. “There’s something I need to talk to him about.”

Abby shrugged. “I don’t know. But if it’s an emergency, I’ll get in contact with him and have him call you.”

“No, it’ll wait until he gets back. I have a feeling that he won’t be gone too long.”

“Nope, not as long as Tony’s in the hospital,” Abby said.

The scientist barely caught Katherine’s almost imperceptible nod. “Let the nurses know if you need anything. I’m going to catch a nap in the doctor’s lounge.”

“Thank you, Kate.”

“You’re welcome, Abby.”

Abby watched the doctor leave and she settled back in her chair, still holding Tony’s hand in her own. She was glad that she had finally been able to talk to the doctor; it made her feel better knowing that Dr. Marshall was genuinely concerned about her friend. “It’s good to know that someone’s looking out for you, Tony,” she whispered. “We haven’t certainly been doing a good job of it.”

She wished that Ziva, McGee, and Ducky were here so they could all show Tony how much they care about him. Despite the constant teasing and the often childish pranks, there was no doubt that Tony cared for them. DiNozzo would never come and verbally say that he cared, but his actions always spoke louder than his words ever could. Why didn’t they notice he was hurting? Had Tony become that much of an expert at hiding his feelings?

She sighed in frustration. “I hope you know that we’re not through with our conversation from earlier. Just because you fell asleep doesn’t mean you get out of talking.”

“I know,” Tony moaned as he squeezed her hand.

“How long have you been awake?” Abby demanded to know.

“Since Kate left,” he admitted.

“You just let me sit here and talk to myself?”

“I didn’t want to interrupt.”

“Very funny, DiNozzo.”

“I try.”

“Well, you better try and go back to sleep or I’m going to get in trouble.”

Tony obediently closed his eyes. Within a minute, Abby could hear him snoring softly once again. She leaned over and laid her head on his arm. Before long, her eyes began to close as she gave into the sweet embrace of slumber. Her last thought before sleep claimed her was Tony’s voice in her mind saying, “This reminds me of a movie…”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Director Leon Vance stormed into his office and slammed the door, giving orders to his personal assistant that he was not to be bothered. He poured himself a drink and quickly downed it. Damn DiNozzo! That man was going to regret the day that he crossed his path. SecNav was demanding answers and the only person who could supply those answers was missing.

If only Tompkins and Currin had stuck to the plan, DiNozzo would no longer be a thorn in his side. Instead, Anthony DiNozzo was holed up somewhere and Gibbs and his team were refusing to give up the whereabouts of their teammate. Whenever he found the wayward agent, there would be hell to pay, starting with DiNozzo.

His cell phone rang. Vance looked at the caller ID and cursed under his breath. Flipping his phone opened, he answered, “Yes, Mr. Secretary?”

“Have you found him yet?”

“No sir. I’m still working on it. It shouldn’t be much longer.”

“Define much longer, Leon.”

Vance pulled out a toothpick and placed it in his mouth. “I’m not sure, Mr. Secretary. I…”

“Twenty four hours, Leon. You have twenty four hours to find Agent DiNozzo and then I’ll be looking for a new director to fill your chair. Have I made myself clear?”

“Yes sir, you have. However sir, if you would just give…”

“Leon, have you forgotten what’s at stake here?”

“No sir, I have not.”

“Good,” the SecNav growled. “Twenty four hours, Leon.”

Vance slowly closed his phone and laid it on his desk. He poured himself another drink and made his way over towards the window. The Director stared out across the Navy Yard, his mind reeling of possibilities of where DiNozzo could be hiding. He glanced at his watch. He now had twenty three hours and fifty eight minutes.

He went to his desk and began to pull out his file on Anthony DiNozzo. There had to be something in the dossier that he had missed; something that would give him a clue as to where the agent was. His cell phone rang again, looking at the caller ID, he saw that it was Agent Tobias Fornell of the FBI.

“This is Vance.”

“Hello, Director.”

Vance bit his toothpick in half; it was not Agent Fornell. “Agent Gibbs, what are you doing with Agent Fornell’s phone?”

“It doesn’t matter. We need to meet.”

“I agree.”

“Be at my house in three hours,” Gibbs instructed him.

“Why three hours? Why not now?”

“Because it’ll give you time to come up with some damn good answers as to why the hell you were blackmailing my senior field agent into doing undercover operations for you.”

“I’ll be there.”

“You better. Don’t make me come looking for you.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it agent Gibbs.”

The connection went dead and Vance knew that the team leader had hung up on him. He smiled as he realized that within three hours, he would know where DiNozzo was and that Gibbs would not be there to protect his agent. Vance laughed as he felt the burden of the past couple of days lift from his shoulders. Everything was going to be fine. DiNozzo would be gone, Gibbs would be taken down a couple of notches, and he would be well on his way to greater things.

17

Gibbs snapped his phone shut and threw it on the seat beside him. He figured that as soon as the call was disconnected, the Director would be attempting to locate him through the GPS tracker in Fornell’s phone. Fortunately, the team leader had enough insight into the way that Vance operated, that he had called McGee before he called the Director and ordered him to scramble the GPS signal. He would like to see Leon’s face when he discovered that he had been outsmarted once again by Gibbs and his team.

He was a couple hours away from home and yet it seemed like an eternity. Ever since he had left Stillwater, his thoughts had been consumed by his last conversation with Tony, as well as with what he was going to say to Vance. Gibbs would never forget the expression on DiNozzo’s face when he had told him that Vance had declared him expendable. He knew that Tony would take that comment to heart, dredging up memories of the past that his senior agent would rather leave buried in the recesses of his mind. Damn Vance! The former Marine vowed to uncover the reason for the Director’s hatred for his agent.

The look of defeat on Tony’s face was utterly heartbreaking. DiNozzo was infamous for being able to push his feelings aside and act if nothing were wrong; but now, Tony had reached his breaking point and Gibbs wasn’t sure how to help the younger man pick up the pieces of his shattered life. He had been angry at Jack when he had all but said that he was part of Tony’s problems; maybe his dad was right.

Gibbs had to admit that their relationship had changed over the past couple of years, but he wasn’t sure when it started to happen. Was it when he returned from Mexico, or was it when he discovered that Tony had been working undercover for Jenny? Could it have been the unspoken blame that he placed on DiNozzo’s shoulders when Jen had died? So much had happened, especially in the last couple of years. Had he just assumed that Tony was dealing with the various situations as he normally did? “God, Tony, how could I’ve been so blind?” he mumbled to himself.

“Because you didn’t want to see what was happening,” Gibbs answered. “Great, I’m talking to myself now. Wouldn’t DiNozzo like to see this?”

He could almost hear Tony saying, “Boss, you know what talking to yourself is a sign of, don’t you?”

Normally, that would earn the agent a head slap, but lately, those had been few and far between. He knew that Tony preferred Gibbs growling at him and giving him head slaps every day, but the team leader had not been as free with them since DiNozzo’s return. Tony had returned a changed man; Ziva had been right when she said that DiNozzo seemed older. Gibbs recalled the image of Tony lying in the bed in ICU and he realized that Ziva had been right; his senior field agent looked as if he had aged ten years. Again, Gibbs silently cursed the Director for the sheer hell he had been putting DiNozzo through.

His thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of his cell phone. He recognized the number as belonging to Ducky. He flipped the phone open, “Yeah, Gibbs,” he grunted.

“Jethro, I hope you don’t mind me calling you. I spoke with young Timothy and he told me that it would be all right to call you at this number,” the ME explained.

“It’s all right, Duck,” Gibbs assured the Scotsman. “What do you need?”

“I just wanted you to know that I’ve had several conversations with Dr. Marshall regarding Tony.”

“Is something wrong?” Jethro anxiously inquired. “He was resting when I left.”

“She assured me that he’s still resting and that Mrs. DiNozzo was by his side. Of course, I was relieved to learn that Anthony’s bride was none other than Abigail.”

“It’s a long story, Ducky.”

“I can’t wait to hear it.”

Gibbs sensed that his long time friend was trying to avoid telling him something. “So, how long am I going to have to wait until you tell me the real reason that you called me.”

“You know me too well, Jethro.”

“So, are you going to tell me?” the team leader pressed.

“My last conversation with the lovely Dr. Marshall was just over a couple of hours ago. She had just come from checking on Tony and he was doing very well. Katherine was looking for you to talk to you about something, but you had long since left.”

“Get to the point, Duck.”

“I’m getting there, Jethro,” the ME stated. “She called me since I’m his doctor and told me that she’d like to recommend a psychiatric consultation for Tony once he’s out of ICU.”

“What?”

“She wants to recommend a…”

“I heard you,” the ex-Marine snapped. “He doesn’t need a shrink, Ducky. He needs to be able to get back to his normal life without having Vance breathing down his neck and telling him that he’s expendable.”

“Jethro, I see your point, but I do think the consult is a good idea. It certainly couldn’t hurt,” Ducky tried to reason.

“All that’s going to do is make DiNozzo think that he’s lost it. I know how Tony thinks, Duck. This isn’t a good idea.”

“You don’t know Tony as well as you think you do.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” the team leader challenged.

“In case you haven’t noticed, Tony isn’t the same person that he was a year ago,” Ducky pointed out. “He still wants to please you, but now it doesn’t seem to be as important to him; I’m not sure if he is just simply too tired to care or if he’s decided that he’s never going to get your approval and has accepted it.”

Gripping the steering wheel, he fought the urge to yell at the ME. Through gritted teeth, he said, “You are the third person who has implied that I am in some way responsible for Tony’s condition.”

“Are you?” Ducky asked.

Gibbs remained silent for a moment. He knew that Katherine believed him to be partly responsible for Tony’s fragile state of mind, but to hear the same thing from his father and one of his oldest friends, forced Jethro to consider their words. What was he missing? What did they see that he could not? He sighed in frustration; he really didn’t need to think about this now. He had to be focused for his confrontation with Vance. “No psych evaluation, at least for now.”

“But Jethro,” Ducky started to protest.

“At least not until I get back. Understand?”

“I’ll pass that along to Dr. Marshall,” the ME promised.

Gibbs closed his phone and tossed it over his shoulder. He didn’t want to talk to anyone else right at the moment; for now, he was content to silently contemplate what he was going to say to Director Leon Vance. However, he was finding it difficult to concentrate due to the fact that Ducky and Jack’s words kept replaying in his mind.

Tony had to know that Gibbs was proud of him. He had told his senior agent just how proud he was of him not too long ago, but apparently, it had been too little, too late. DiNozzo had already been well on his way to self-destructing thanks to Vance’s covert operations. “Aw, Tony,” he whispered. “I wish that you could have felt like you could have come to me. I let you down.”

He knew that when he got back to Stillwater, Gibbs would have to break one of his infamous rules. The team leader was going to have to apologize to Tony; a father was going to have to tell his son he was sorry. Expressing regret was not something that came easily to Jethro Gibbs, but for Tony’s sake, he found himself willing to put aside his uneasiness and acknowledge the fact that he had messed up by ignoring Tony’s silent pleas for help.

Gibbs pulled Fornell’s car in his driveway and cut off the engine. He glanced at his watch. Vance would be here soon, possibly before his three hour deadline. The toothpick, as Tony often called the Director, had a habit of showing up early and Gibbs was going to be ready for him. The gauntlet had been thrown when Vance had blackmailed Tony into working undercover for him; Gibbs was now prepared to pick up that gauntlet and slay the dragon that had taken on the form of NCIS Director Leon Vance.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Tony felt something tickling his arm. Slowly opening his eyes, he looked down to see a black pigtail lying across his arm. He smiled to himself. Abby. He should have known that she would still be here; she was always there for him even when he denied needing anybody. It frightened him that she seemed to be able to see beyond the façade that he constantly hid behind. Of course, he knew a lot about her as well; he even knew things about Abby that Gibbs didn’t know.

With his other hand, he slowly reached across and laid it on top of Abby’s head and softly called her name. “Abby?”

She sat straight up, panic etched on her normally pale features. “Oh my gosh! I didn’t mean to sleep that long!” she exclaimed.

“How long were you asleep, Abs?” Tony wearily asked.

“At least three hours.”

“That’s about two more hours than you usually get. You must be really tired.”

“Just worried,” Abby replied. “Plus, I haven’t had a Caf-Pow in quite a while. Jack was going out to see if he could find me one. If not, he said that he’d get me some Red Bull.”

“Maybe you could put one of those Red Bulls in my IV so I can get some energy,” Tony playfully suggested.

Abby winked at him. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Right now, I’d settle for something to eat.”

“You’re hungry! That’s a good sign; it means you’re getting better.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Hunger was probably a good sign that he was actually getting better physically, but he still couldn’t shake the growing feeling of guilt that was starting to consume him; guilt for not being strong enough to stand up to Vance, guilt for dragging his friends into the mess that his life had become, and guilt for not measuring up to his own expectations.

He smiled as Abby ran her fingers through his hair. “It needs washing. Whenever they move you to a regular room, I’ll go and get your favorite shampoo and help you wash it.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I know. I want to.”

“Thanks.”

He watched as Abby reached across him and grabbed the call button. “I’ll tell the nurse that you’re hungry; maybe she can get you a tray.”

“Thanks, Abs,” he whispered.

“You’re welcome.”

He listened as Abby told the nurse that he needed something to eat. “Don’t take too long,” she warned the nurse. “A hungry DiNozzo is not someone you want to deal with.”

Tony rolled his eyes, silently amused by Abby’s directness. “So, are you trying to make me sound like I’m a difficult patient?”

Abby shook her head. “Oh, they already know that. I’m just trying to give them pointers on how to keep you happy.”

He eyed the pitcher of water sitting next to his ice chips. Before he could ask for a drink, Abby was pouring him some water in a cup. She put the straw up to his lips and he greedily drank. “Not too much at one time,” she fussed.

“I’m thirsty.”

“So I noticed.” She set the cup back down on the nightstand. “By the way, I really like your doctor.”

“I knew you would. Doesn’t she remind you of Kate?”

“Yeah, a little. She really is worried about you.”

“I know,” he sighed. “I’m worried about me, too.”

“What do you mean?” Abby wanted to know.

“Nothing,” he answered a bit too quickly. “You know that you can’t pay attention to what I say when I’m taking any kind of pain medication.”

“You seem pretty with it to me,” she observed.

“You’re just saying that.”

“Don’t try and pull your charm on me, DiNozzo. It won’t work.”

“It wouldn’t do me any good, you always see right through me,” he reminded her.

“Yep. So, you want to tell me what you and Gibbs talked about?”

Tony was used to Abby jumping from one train of thought to another, often switching tracks in the middle of a conversation; he usually could keep up with her, but this time, it took him by surprise. Damn medication!

“Not really,” he muttered.

“Tony, please,” she begged. “It’ll make you feel better.”

“I’m all talked out, Abs.”

“Are you ever going to tell me what you two talked about?” she pressed.

Tony shrugged. “Maybe one day. Just not right now.” The young man looked out the door. “By the way, where is Gibbs?”

“He didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“Where he was going?”

“No.” Tony found the button that would raise him up to a sitting position.

“What are you doing?”

Abby started to lower him back down, but he grabbed her hand. “Where is Gibbs? You’ve never lied to me before Abs, don’t start now.”

“Okay, I’ll tell you,” she said. “But you have to promise me that you will stay calm.”

“Just tell me.”

“He went back to D.C., but he said that he would be back as soon as he could.”

“He went to D.C.?” Tony felt like he had been punched in the stomach. “He’s going to see Vance, isn’t he?”

He didn’t have to see Abby nod to know the answer to his question. He laid his head back on his pillow and closed his eyes. “This can’t be happening. This is exactly what I didn’t want!”

“Tony? What are you talking about?”

Opening his eyes, he met Abby’s concerned glaze. “Gibbs and Vance,” Tony barked, knowing later that he would have to apologize to Abby for his rudeness. “If Gibbs confronts Vance, all hell is going to break loose and…” He forced himself to slow his breathing. “Get me a phone,” he instructed the Goth.

“Tony, you’re still in ICU,” Abby said.

“Get me a phone, now.”

“But Tony, you need to rest.”

Tony reached for his IV, threatening to pull it out. “Abby, you either get me a phone or I’ll check myself out of here AMA and find one.”

Abby put her hands on her hips. “Tony, that’s not fair.”

“Your choice.”

Tony never took his eyes off of his friend as she dumped out her purse on his bed. He reached out and grabbed her cell phone.

“You’re not supposed to use it in ICU. It’ll interfere with the monitors,” she stated.

Ignoring Abby’s warning, he turned on the cell phone and began to dial the number that he unfortunately had become all too familiar with.

“Who are you calling anyway?” Abby inquired.

Tony looked straight ahead, ignoring Abby’s question. She would find out soon enough. He swallowed nervously as he heard the one voice that he had come to fear more than his father’s. He took a deep breath and said, “Director Vance? It’s me…”



Chapter 18

“It’s about time you got here.”

Gibbs tossed back the last of his bourbon and set the glass on the coffee table in front of him. He had wanted to meet Vance on his home turf, giving the team leader a psychological advantage over his opponent. The former Marine had briefly considered meeting with the Director in his basement, but he didn’t want to take a chance on damaging his boat should the confrontation become physical.

He poured himself another drink, but didn’t offer to touch it. That drink was for later after he dealt with Vance. For now, he had to remain focused and in control if he was going to help Tony. Gibbs would not make the mistake of underestimating the Director; Vance had not risen through the ranks by being careless or stupid.

“You said three hours,” Vance coolly replied. “I still have two minutes to spare.”

“You’re usually at least fifteen minutes early anywhere you go. Afraid of something, Leon?” the ex-Marine taunted.

“I figured that I was becoming too predictable; I like keeping my agents on their toes.”

Gibbs tightly clenched his jaw, wanting nothing more than to pommel Vance into the ground. He wondered if Leon was arrogant enough to believe that he was going to get away with the hell that he was putting DiNozzo through.

“So, you think I need to be kept on my toes?” Gibbs inquired, his gaze remaining fixed on the table that still held his drink.

“We all do, especially in this day and age,” Vance said.

“Some more than others, Leon?”

“I’m not sure what you mean, Agent Gibbs.”

He blew out a frustrated breath. “I’m sure you don’t, Leon,” Gibbs muttered. Leaning back, he watched as the Director gingerly walked over and sat down opposite of him. Vance leaned forward and claimed the drink that Gibbs had poured earlier. The agent had to admit that Director Leon Vance had gall.

“I assume that this drink is for me,” Vance said, taking a sip of the amber liquid before placing the glass back on the table.

“You know what they say about assuming, Leon.”

“I’m very familiar with that saying, Jethro. As a matter a fact, I’ve also learned that one shouldn’t always assume that situations will play out like they are supposed to.” Vance placed his toothpick in his mouth. “For instance,” he continued. “I assumed that you wanted this meeting because you’ve been in contact with Agent DiNozzo and had a few questions.”

“A few questions?” Gibbs shook his head in disbelief. “I believe that’s an understatement.”

“So, you have talked to Agent DiNozzo,” the Director stated.

“I’ve talked to him and I’ve seen him.”

“Where is he, Agent Gibbs?”

“You actually believe I’m going to tell you that?”

“If you want to help him, you will.”

Gibbs laughed, sarcasm dripping from his every word. “Forgive me if I don’t believe that you have DiNozzo’s best interests in mind.”

The team leader’s smile faded as he saw the Director’s expression harden. There was no way in hell that he was going to let Vance anywhere near his agent. DiNozzo had enough to worry about without fretting over what kind of repercussions that he would face if Vance found out where he was.

“Agent Gibbs, I don’t think you realize what’s at stake here,” Vance tried to reason.

“Yes, I do, Director,” Gibbs assured him. “I realize that your job is on the line.”

“My job?”

“Yeah, Leon. You’re job.”

“Making empty threats again, Agent Gibbs?”

“No. It’s a promise,” Gibbs vowed. “You’re using one of my agents for your personal gain and I’m putting a stop to it, here and now.”

“Is that what Agent DiNozzo told you?”

“It doesn’t matter what he told me, it’s what I know that’s important.”

“And what exactly do you know, Agent Gibbs?”

Gibbs wondered where he should begin. The more he thought about what Vance had done to DiNozzo, the more difficult it was becoming to control his anger. “What I know is that you blackmailed DiNozzo into working undercover for your little operations, and that you threatened his job and ours in order to secure his cooperation.”

“And you believe him?”

Ignoring Vance’s questions, Gibbs stood up and began pacing. He knew that it wasn’t a good idea for him to be in such close proximity to the Director; it was too tempting to throw the first punch.

“I also know that you’ve sent him on one undercover operation after another without giving him time to debrief. I thought that even you would follow standard operating procedure and force him to see the agency shrink in between cases.”

“I don’t think that you’re getting the entire picture, Agent Gibbs. Agent DiNozzo…”

“I’m not through,” the former Marine growled. “I also know that you refused to pull him off this last case even though DiNozzo knew that his cover had been compromised. You left him in a particularly volatile situation that endangered his life and…”

Gibbs bristled when Vance stood and blocked his path. He glared at the Director, silently wishing that he had been able to learn to read Leon Vance better; the man was a mystery and full of contradictions, and the ex-sniper wasn’t sure which aspect of Leon’s characteristics bothered him more.

“And I still don’t believe that Agent DiNozzo is giving you the full picture,” Vance declared. “Just to set the record straight, your agent was asked by myself to be involved in several operations because of his expertise in long-term undercover assignments and he readily agreed. He stated to me that he needed to feel useful and perhaps regain your trust at the same time. I think he was still feeling guilty about Director Shepherd’s death.”

“DiNozzo doesn’t have anything to prove to me or anyone else.”

“He seems to think he does,” Vance countered. “For some unknown reason, Special Agent DiNozzo idolizes you. He wants to be another Leroy Jethro Gibbs. His own father didn’t want him, so he’s replaced his biological father with you. He follows you around like a little boy waiting for a pat to the head and a kind word and yet you seldom give him the time of day. His loyalty to you is quite commendable, but yet sickening at the same time. So, tell me Gibbs, what kind of bone did you have to dangle in front of your agent to get him to weave such an intricate tale of lies?”

Gibbs forced the Director back against the wall, resisting the urge to knock Vance on his ass. “You bastard!” he roared. Gibbs could no longer contain the rage that was burning inside of him. “I’m not going to let you blame Tony for the mess you created.”

“Special Agent DiNozzo is a master at lying. Look how long he’s been lying to you,” Vance pointed out.

“He’s not lying to me.”

“How do you know? How do you know that he just told you what you wanted to hear so you would get off his back?”

“Because I know DiNozzo.”

“No, you don’t. Not any longer. He’s a changed man.”

“Not by choice.”

“You have only yourself to blame, Agent Gibbs.”

His anger was beginning to blind his ability to think rationally. Not since he had quit NCIS because of the disaster on the Cape Fear, had he been consumed by such pure unadulterated fury. He wanted to justice and he wanted a revenge; a deadly combination to be sure.

Gibbs stood toe to toe with the Director, clenching and unclenching his fist. “Don’t,” he warned. “Don’t even go there. I have no reason to doubt my agent. You however on the other hand, have not done anything since you’ve become Director to earn my trust.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.”

The team leader shook his head. “No you’re not. You think that you’re not going to have to answer for what you’ve done to Tony and I’m here to tell you, that you’re wrong. You’re going down and whoever is backing you is going down with you.”

He could tell by Vance’s soured expression that he had struck a nerve. “Scared, Leon?”

“Not of you.”

“Really? Then you must be scared of what DiNozzo can do to you. He told me what happened. He told me that you wouldn’t pull him out after he was compromised. What were you trying to do, Leon? Did you want DiNozzo to get killed? What was it that you told him? That’s right; you told him that he was expendable.”

“It’s his word against mine, Agent Gibbs and I don’t think your boy’s got the balls to go up against me,” Leon retorted.

“My money’s on DiNozzo.”

“Then you lose. You see, DiNozzo will never go up against me, he has too much at stake. Now, I insist that you tell me where Agent DiNozzo is at; I need a sit rep from him.”

Gibbs briefly wondered if Vance had lost his mind. There was nothing that the Director could say or do that would make him give away his agent’s location. “When hell freezes over,” he grumbled.

“That may come sooner than you think if you don’t tell me where DiNozzo is,” Vance shot back.

“Why should I answer your questions when you haven’t answered mine?” Gibbs inquired. “What are you hiding?”

“Again, maybe you should ask your agent. He seems to be the one hiding things.”

The former sniper leaned closer, his face mere centimeters away from the Director’s. “He asked you to pull him off this last case and you refused. He knew that he was in danger and yet you chose to ignore him; you ignored his expertise, as you put it, and then proceeded to inform him that he was expendable! Why?”

“I don’t think I like your tone, Agent Gibbs.”

“I don’t give a damn about what you like or don’t like, Director Vance. All I want to know is why you want my senior field agent dead.”

Gibbs refused to budge when Vance tried to get around him. “You’re not going anywhere.”

“You can’t stop me,” the Director challenged.

“Oh, but I can.”

Gibbs was taken by surprise when Leon drew back his fist and caught him on the jaw. He stumbled backwards, but quickly regained his balance. The dam that had been holding back his rage finally burst and he charged at the Director, catching him in the stomach with his shoulder. Vance tried to resist, but it proved useless as Gibbs took Leon to the ground and pinned him. The ex-Marine straddled him, his arm firmly pressing against Vance’s throat.

“You were saying, Leon?”

Vance was fuming. “You have no idea who you’re going up against, Agent Gibbs.”

The agent grinned. “I’m not scared of you, Leon.”

“But DiNozzo is. DiNozzo knows that I hold his life in my hands,” Vance boasted.

Gibbs leaned down closer, effectively shifting his weight enough to force the Director to gasp. “You son of a…he’s not your puppet! You’re not going to get away with this,” he vowed.

“That’s where you’re wrong. I own him,” Vance declared.

Gibbs pulled Vance up on his feet and slung him against the wall once again. “No, you don’t. You might as well kiss your career good bye, Leon, because by the time that I get done with you and hand you over to DiNozzo, there’s not going to be anything left of your sorry ass. SecNav will…”

“Do nothing,” Vance finished.

“You’re sadly mistaken. SecNav will have your head on a platter, especially if you’ve done something to tarnish the reputable image of NCIS,” Gibbs said.

“We’ll see about that. You see, Agent Gibbs, the one thing that DiNozzo apparently forgot to mention is that SecNav has authorized these undercover operations. The one DiNozzo is currently involved in will have repercussions from the SecNav’s office on down to Capitol Hill; there could even be some fallout in some of our sister agencies. Hopefully Agent DiNozzo hasn’t screwed it up by disappearing off the face of the earth.”

Wiping away the thin sheen of sweat that had formed on his brow, Gibbs stared at the Director, his eyes brimming with hatred for this man who apparently enjoyed ruining other people’s lives. “I don’t care if the whole operation has been blown to hell and who gets caught in the process, you’re through using DiNozzo. He works for me and only me.”

“You’re forgetting one thing, Gibbs. Your agent will be the one that is left holding the bag. He will take the fall for all of us. I always have an out.”

“Not this time, Leon.”

“We’ll see.”

Gibbs walked over to his jacket pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He hit a button and waited for the person he was calling to pick up. “Did you get it?”

“Got it, Boss,” McGee answered.

“Come and get him,” Gibbs ordered. Turning back to Vance, he smiled. “You don’t have an out this time, Leon. You’re under…”

The agent was interrupted by the ringing of the Director’s cell phone. He watched with interest as the Director glanced at the caller ID.

“It’s Ms. Scuito,” Vance announced.

“Abby?”

Vance nodded. “Why would she be calling me?”

Truthfully, Gibbs had to admit that he had no idea why Abby would be calling Director Vance. He had left Abby with Tony and…God, no! He wondered if it would do any good if he started praying that it wasn’t DiNozzo on the other end of the phone. The knot in his stomach tightened as an evil smile spread over Leon’s face.

“Agent DiNozzo,” Vance greeted. “It’s about time you called.”

Gibbs felt sick as he stared at the phone in Vance’s hand. What was DiNozzo thinking? What was Abby thinking by letting him use her cell phone? Maybe Jack had been right, maybe he shouldn’t have left. Had he just made things worse for Tony?

He had his answer when Vance returned his glared and said, “I told you, Gibbs; I always have a way out.”







19

“Agent DiNozzo, it’s about time you called.”

Tony’s stomach began churning the moment that he heard the voice of Director Leon Vance. He had not planned on having to talk to the Director for a few more days, but the recent chain of events had forced him to do so. Gibbs had gone to confront Vance and now Tony’s hand had been forced. Why couldn’t the team leader trust him just this once to know what was best? Did Gibbs really have that little faith in him?

“I really didn’t have a choice, did I?” Tony coolly inquired.

“I’m glad you realize that, Agent DiNozzo. Do you realize how much trouble you are in?”

“I have a pretty good idea.”

“And yet, you chose to run away instead of come to me for help.”

Tony bristled. He pinched the bridge of his nose in an effort to keep his headache at bay. “You arrogant bastard,” the agent growled in frustration. “You’re the one who got me in this mess; why would I come to you for help?”

“I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Agent DiNozzo. You created this mess, as you like to call it, all on your own. You knew what your orders where and you blatantly disobeyed them.”

DiNozzo sat up in bed, doing his best to ignore the searing pain in his stomach. Damn ulcer! He waved away Abby as she stood over him, anxiously wanting to do something to alleviate his pain.

“I’m okay,” he silently mouthed to her.

He tamped down the pain and focused on the conversation that he was having with the Director. Tony was aware that he couldn’t let his guard down for a moment; Vance would take any opportunity he could to destroy him. “I had no choice but to disobey them, my cover had been blown and you wouldn’t pull me out. You were ready to sacrifice me in order to save the operation and I almost let you.”

“Don’t worry, Agent DiNozzo,” Vance said. “You’ll have ample opportunity to sacrifice yourself for the good of the agency.”

“I don’t give a damn about the agency any more,” Tony fumed. “You can take your undercover operations and shove them up your…”

“But you do care about the people in the agency, don’t you, Agent DiNozzo?” the Director inquired; his unspoken words intentionally placing a burden upon the young agent’s shoulders.

The fact that Tony did care about his co-workers and friends was his Achilles’ heel and Vance knew it. “You know I do,” he retorted. “Unlike you, Director Vance; the only person that you seem to care about is yourself.”

“It may seem that way to you, Agent DiNozzo, but once again, you don’t have the entire picture. You assume too much, just like your boss.”

“Gibbs? Have you talked to him?” Tony nervously asked.

“As a matter of fact, that’s what we were doing when you called,” Vance informed him. “We were having a lovely conversation, among other things,” the Director added. “You told him too much.”

“I didn’t tell him everything,” the weary agent shot back. “I left out a few important details.”

“I’m aware of that. However, I think that Agent Gibbs believes that you’ve told him everything. As a matter of fact, he was getting ready to arrest me when you called.”

“Let me talk to him,” DiNozzo insisted.

“I don’t think so, Agent DiNozzo. Like I said, you’ve already told him way too much.”

“If you make me hang up and call him, I’ll tell him the true nature of this last operation. I’ll spill my guts to him and I’ll bring you down so fast that you won’t know what hit you.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“No, sir.”

Tony fought back the urge to throw up while he waited for Vance to respond. Simply talking with the Director was taking a lot out of him. If he didn’t end up killing himself from his stupidity, he was sure that there would be several people waiting for the opportunity, starting with Gibbs.

“Very well,” Vance finally grunted. “Answer this one question for me, Agent DiNozzo.”

“What?”

“Do you have the missing files?”

The agent weakly grinned. “What files would those be, Director Vance?”

“You know damn well which ones I’m talking about.”

“Oh, those files.” Tony scrubbed his face. “Let’s just say I’m hanging onto those for added security.”

“Now who’s the arrogant bastard?” Vance taunted.

Tony chose to ignore the barb and asked again to speak to the team leader. “Put Gibbs on the phone.”

It wasn’t but a second before he heard the ex-Marine saying, “DiNozzo, what the hell are you thinking?”

“Boss, you can’t arrest him,” Tony said. “At least not yet.”

“Do you want to tell me what’s going on? And how about trying the truth this time?”

“I told you the truth the last time,” DiNozzo tried to reason. “I just didn’t tell you everything. But right now, I just need you to trust me on this.”

“Tony, I’m not going to ask you again…”

“Then don’t!” the younger agent pleaded. “If you arrest Vance now, it’s not going to do anything but cause problems not only for NCIS, but for me as well. Please, just trust me.”

“I don’t…”

Tony figured that the next time Gibbs saw him, the team leader would owe the agent quite a few head slaps for constantly interrupting him. “I know that you’re finding it hard to, but please Boss, I’m begging you, let me handle this.

“I’ve already stood by too long and done nothing and because of that, you’ve gotten in way over your head.” Gibbs pointed out.

“It wasn’t my intention to end up in the hospital, Boss. The only thing I wanted to do was to get away and clear my head; but it just didn’t work out that way.”

He could almost see Gibbs clenching his jaw and the vein throbbing in his temple. Tony knew that the team leader was mad, but he’d rather have Gibbs mad at him than lose the older agent to Vance’s evil manipulations. “Please, Boss,” Tony rasped, his plea drowning in desperation.

“You come clean with me when I get back up there,” Gibbs ordered.

Tony nodded although Gibbs couldn’t see him. “All right,” he agreed. “Put Vance back on,” he requested.

“Tony?” the former Marine called out one last time.

“Yeah, Boss?”

“Take care of yourself.”

“Will do.”

With his free hand, he took a sip of water. His body felt heavy, screaming for him to lie down and rest. He was beyond tired and he had a feeling that both Gibbs and Vance could sense his weariness.

“Agent DiNozzo?”

He winced at the sound of the Director’s voice. Tony looked forward to the day that he wouldn’t have to speak to the man ever again.

“I’m here.”

“Where are you?” the Director wanted to know.

“Why?”

“I think we need to talk in person, don’t you?” Vance suggested.

“Why? Afraid I’ll say something condemning over the phone?”

Tony knew that Vance could simply have the call traced, but he was actually enjoying toying with the Director. What was the saying? You reap what you sow?

“The sensitivity of what we have to discuss should not be…”

Too tired to hear Vance’s explanation as to why they shouldn’t continue their phone conversation, Tony blurted out his location. “I’m in Stillwater.”

DiNozzo hung up the phone and handed it back to Abby. He buried his head in his hands. “God, Gibbs is going to kill me,” he muttered.

“Yep,” she agreed. “If your doctor doesn’t do it first.”

Tony looked up as Dr. Katherine Marshall stormed in his room. Hands on her hips, she stood at his bedside, silently demanding an explanation from him. He briefly wondered if he could simply pass out and avoid answering Kate’s questions. Unfortunately, he wasn’t even feeling the slightest bit faint. It seemed that fate was not smiling on him at all lately; why should things go his way now?


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


DiNozzo had pleaded for Gibbs to trust him. Truth be told, he trusted Tony with his life; what he didn’t trust his senior agent to do was to take care of himself. Although, DiNozzo had technically been on his own since he was twelve, Tony had a habit of ignoring his own well-being. When someone reached out to the agent, his first instinct was to hide behind sarcasm, hoping that no one could see behind the mask that Tony wore so well.

“Well, it seems that your senior agent finally got his head out of his ass,” Vance said.

The ex-Marine glared at the Director. “Don’t think I’m letting you off the hook. I still have you on blackmail and conspiracy. Whatever DiNozzo has on you will be the nail in your coffin, Leon.”

“I will admit that DiNozzo’s a lot smarter than I gave him credit for, but like you said, he’s in over his head.”

“It’s a good thing that he’s a good swimmer then, isn’t Leon?” the team leader challenged.

“I guess you would know.”

“DiNozzo will not be caught in the fallout of whatever elaborate scheme that you’ve gotten him involved in. I’ll make sure of that,” Gibbs vowed.

The former sniper clenched his fist, wanting to wipe that irritating smile off the Director’s face. Tony was putting more than his career on the line by playing this cat and mouse game with Vance and Gibbs realized that at the moment, he was powerless to do anything. He made a mental note to make sure that McGee had recorded everything so at least Vance would have to answer for some of his actions.

He saw Vance looking at his watch. “Do you have somewhere to be, Director?” Gibbs inquired.

“I was just calculating how long it would take me to reach Stillwater. I’m assuming that would be Stillwater, Pennsylvania. Am I right?”

“What’s in Stillwater?”

“Not what, Agent Gibbs. It’s who’s in Stillwater that I’m interested in. So, do you want to drive up separate or do you want to carpool?” Vance asked.

DiNozzo must have told Vance where he was, so Gibbs had to assume that it was part of Tony’s plan. “If you think I’m going to let you out of my sight, you’ve got another thing coming.”

“Do you want to take my car or do you think Agent Fornell will mind if we borrow his again?”

“I have a car,” Gibbs growled. “Be ready to go in an hour and so help me Leon, you take off without me, facing DiNozzo will be the least of your problems.”

“Are you the one who taught Agent DiNozzo that he can threaten his superiors?” Vance wanted to know.

“No. I’m the one who taught him that he wasn’t expendable.”

“Too bad, I’ve had to undo all your teaching, Agent Gibbs. When it’s all said and done, we are all expendable.”

“Then why isn’t it your ass going undercover?” the team leader asked.

Vance glanced at his watch again and then placed another toothpick in his mouth. “I’ll be back in an hour. I’m going to pack a bag and say goodbye to my family.”

“Do they know what you’re involved in?”

“I don’t take my work home with me, Agent Gibbs.”

“Obviously.”

The door closed behind Vance and it was just a few seconds before McGee came charging in.

“What’s going on, Boss?” McGee inquired, confusion clouding his youthful features.

“Change of plans,” Gibbs replied.

“Why?”

“It’s Tony’s call.” He knew that his response wouldn’t satisfy McGee’s question, but it was the only one he could come up with at the moment.

“What do you mean?”

“Tony asked me to trust him. He didn’t want me to arrest Vance yet.”

“But we had a confession, Boss,” McGee reminded him.

“I know and we still do just in case something goes wrong, but like I said, Tony asked me to trust him on this and I’m going to.”

Gibbs could sense that McGee wanted to say something, but the younger agent simply stood there in silence.

“What, McGee?” Gibbs finally snapped.

“Nothing, Boss,” he quickly replied. “So what now?”

“Vance and I are going to Stillwater.”

“Do you want me and Ziva to go with you? I mean the Director is supposed to have a protection detail when he is out of D.C, right?”

“That would be me, McGee.”

“You, Boss?”

Gibbs sighed. “Yes, McGee. I’m as qualified as you to be on protection detail.”

“I know that, but there are supposed to be two agents,” Tim reluctantly pointed out.

“I’m aware of that, McGee!” Gibbs barked.

“I…I didn’t mean….well, I was just…yes, Boss,” McGee stammered.

“I’m planning on taking Ziva,” he announced. “I have something else for you to do.”

“What is it?” Tim nervously asked.

“While we’re gone, I want you to hack into Vance’s computer and the SecNav’s computer as well and see what you can find,” Gibbs instructed.

“Vance and the SecNav?”

The team leader grinned as he patted the young man on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, McGee, it’ll make a great chapter in your next book...”



Chapter 20

Katherine Marshall glared at the young man sitting in the bed. Once again, Anthony DiNozzo was proving to be that patient that the professors warned her about; the one who didn’t seem to care about his own health and would intentionally or unintentionally sabotage any efforts to help to him. It was a good thing that he had finished his conversation as she had been walking through the door or she would have grabbed the phone and tossed it in the trash.

She heard him mutter something about Agent Gibbs and then Abby had acknowledged the physician’s presence. Katherine smirked as she watched the agent shift uncomfortably under her scrutiny. He finally sighed and laid his head back on his pillow in defeat, seemingly waiting for her to chastise his foolish actions.

“So, what do you have to say for yourself, Agent DiNozzo?” she asked. Katherine didn’t bother to hide the annoyance in her voice; she wanted the young man to know that she wasn’t happy with his recent actions.

Tony shrugged and mustered his best grin. “You caught me, Kate. I was hungry and thought I’d order a pizza. Pepperoni, sausage, and extra cheese; it’s my favorite.”

“A pizza, huh?” Kate sat on the edge of the bed. “Judging by your expression when you hung up the phone, the pizza place must have been closed.”

“Yeah, so I guess I’ll have to call back later.”

“I don’t think so,” Katherine warned. “Right now, pizza is not on your diet.”

“It’s not?”

“Nope.”

“But I love pizza,” Tony countered.

“But your ulcer doesn’t. Now, let’s get back to the real reason why you found it necessary to commandeer a phone and why you’re so upset.”

She saw Tony’s mask slip back into place. The doctor had to admit that DiNozzo was an expert at hiding his true feelings; it was something that he had evidently been forced to master at a young age and this ability had been carried over from his youth throughout his adulthood. Katherine had promised that she wouldn’t recommend a psychiatric consult yet, but she was beginning to regret that decision.

“It doesn’t concern you, Kate,” the agent said.

“It does when it affects your health.”

“It’s not affecting my health.”

“Being a federal agent isn’t rewarding enough so you decided to get a medical degree as well?” she snapped, knowing that her sarcasm would probably do nothing more than agitate the agent. She was right.

“I’m not in the mood, Kate,” he warned.

“Neither am I, Agent DiNozzo. The next time you…”

Katherine was cut off by the ailing man. “There won’t be a next time, Dr. Marshall. I’m checking myself out.”

Her eyes widened in surprise at DiNozzo’s sudden formality; she had grown used to him calling her Kate and to hear him call her Dr. Marshall with such venom was unexpected. “You can’t do that!” she protested. “You’re still in ICU!”

“Not for much longer.”

“I’m not letting you out of that bed, much less this hospital.”

“You can’t stop me,” Tony pointed out. “Now, do you want to take this IV out or would you prefer I do it?”

Sighing in frustration, she glanced over at Abby, who was nervously playing with her pigtail with one hand while fiddling with her phone in her other hand. Evidently the young lady was not going to try and talk Agent DiNozzo out of checking himself out AMA, so she was on her own. Before she could continue with her reasons why Tony needed to stay in the hospital, Abby raised her hand.

Katherine acknowledged her with a curt nod. “Yes?”

“May I be excused Dr. Marshall? I have to uh…I have to go to the bathroom,” Abby informed her.

The doctor knew that Abby was lying, but she chose not to confront her. With a forced smile, she replied, “Of course.”

She watched as Abby placed a quick kiss on Tony’s cheek and then hastily left the room. Katherine turned her attention back to her patient. “Now, where were we?”

“You were about to take my IV out,” Tony said.

Shaking her head, she answered, “No, I wasn’t. I was about to remind you that your not ready to leave the hospital. Your body is still trying to recuperate from the constant abuse that you’ve subjected yourself to and if you leave before you’ve had the chance to fully heal, you’ll either end up right back in here or dead.”

“Gee, thanks for the pep talk, Kate. You really know how to cheer up a guy.”

“I’m stating the facts Tony,” she tried to reason. ”You may not care about yourself, but there are those who do care,” she pointed out.

“I can’t stay here and I can’t explain why. Now, I’ll sign whatever release forms you want me to and I’ll even take whatever prescriptions that you think I need, but I am leaving.”

The doctor knew that her hands were tied. If the agent was insisting on checking himself out against her medical advice, she would have to let him leave. Katherine could have said that his concussion was impairing his judgment, but in the end, a man as resourceful as Tony DiNozzo would have found a way to leave despite her efforts.

She was going to be forced to do something that she normally didn’t do; Dr. Katherine Marshall was going to have to bargain with a patient. “I’ll let you leave under one condition.”

“What’s that?” Tony impatiently inquired.

“You have to stay at Jackson’s house and you will come by my office daily so I can at least see for myself that you’re in one piece.”

After a few minutes of consideration, he nodded in agreement. “I’ll stay at Jack’s for as long as I can.”

“What does that mean?”

“Just what I said.”

“I guess that’s all I’m going to get out of you, isn’t it?”

“It’s all I can offer right now,” Tony mumbled.

“What about coming by my office every day?”

“I’ll try,” the young man promised.

Katherine stood up and headed for the door. “I’ll be back in a few minutes with your discharge papers as well as your prescriptions and a strict diet you need to follow. The nurse will come in and take your IV out.”

“Thank you,” Tony said. “I’m sorry it has to be like this, but I really don’t have a choice.”

“You always have a choice, Tony.”

The agent shook his head. “Not always, Kate. Not always.”

Sensing the despair radiating from the agent, she allowed a tiny smile to escape her lips. Katherine had to admit that she was worried for Anthony DiNozzo and that whatever was driving him to the point that he would risk his life must be important to him. “I’ll be back in a minute,” she finally assured him.

“Hey, Kate,” Tony called out. “One last thing.”

“What is it?”

She could have sworn that she saw Agent DiNozzo’s cheeks flush slightly.

“I was just wondering, where are my clothes?” he wanted to know.

“I’ll have the nurse bring them to you.”

“Thanks,” he sheepishly replied. “I’m sorry.”

Katherine nodded and walked out of Tony’s room, slowly heading towards the nurse’s station. As she picked up DiNozzo’s chart, a cell phone appeared in front of her face. She looked up to see Abby Scuito holding the phone out to her.

“It’s for you,” the Goth announced.

Confused, Katherine took the phone from Abby. “For me?”

“Yep.”

“Who is it?” the doctor asked.

“Gibbs.”

Katherine sighed. Could this day get any worse? Not only was Tony DiNozzo checking himself out AMA, now she had to talk to the enigmatic Leroy Jethro Gibbs. She would really have to thank Jackson Gibbs for getting her involved in this particular situation. She took a deep breath and held the phone up to her ear.

“Hello?”

She quickly pulled the phone away from her ear, but still managed to hear an irate Jethro Gibbs shouting, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Dr. Marshall had a feeling that as soon as she got through talking to Agent Gibbs, she was going to start planning a nice long vacation. She hung up the phone and handed it back to Abby. “When he wants to talk to me and not yell at me, tell him to call me.”

She couldn’t help but smirk as she started writing in Tony’s chart. Katherine could see Abby out of the corner of her eye, staring at her cell phone, her mouth hanging open. Within fifteen seconds, the Goth’s cell phone rang again. Abby answered it and cautiously handed it back to Katherine.

The doctor took it and nodded her thanks to Abby. “What can I do for you, Agent Gibbs?”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Jethro Gibbs glanced at the clock on the wall for the third time in the past ten minutes. He was waiting on Ziva and Vance so they could head back up to Stillwater. The team leader was having a difficult time getting a handle on why DiNozzo told Vance where he was. What was Tony thinking? His senior agent asked Gibbs to trust him and as much as he wanted to trust DiNozzo, he couldn’t help but wonder if he was making the right decision.

His cell phone rang and he saw that Abby was calling him. He flipped open his phone, knowing that he had a few choice words for the Goth scientist. “Gibbs,” he grunted.

“Okay, first let me say that I’m so sorry that I gave Tony my phone but he said that if I didn’t that he would just leave the hospital and find one and I knew that he would, so I let him have my phone. The only problem is that now he told Kate that he’s checking himself out and they’re in there arguing and so I asked to go to the bathroom, although I didn’t have to go, but I had to get out of there so I could call you.”

Amazingly, the former Marine was able to follow Abby’s verbal rampage enough to understand that Tony was trying to leave the hospital when he had no business doing so. “Surely, she’s not going to let him leave,” he seethed.

“I don’t know. I left before I found that out, but I’m standing here looking in his window and it looks like Tony’s about to convince her to let him go,” Abby said.

“Let me talk to Tony,” Gibbs demanded.

“I don’t want to go back in there,” she pleaded.

“Why not, Abby?”

“Well, I don’t want you to yell at Tony. He’s got enough to worry about.”

“I won’t yell at him,” Gibbs said.

“Yes, you will. You always yell at him.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I didn’t mean anything bad, Gibbs,” Abby attempted to explain. “I just meant that...oh, wait a minute, here comes Kate now and she doesn’t look happy.”

“Let me talk to ‘Kate’ then,” he ordered.

The next voice he heard on the phone was that of Dr Katherine Marshall. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he yelled.

Gibbs heard a click. He looked at the screen and saw the words ‘call ended’ blaring at him. Clenching his jaw, he called Abby’s phone again. “Put her back on, Abs.”

“What can I do for you, Agent Gibbs?” Katherine Marshall inquired, her voice taking on a sickeningly sweet tone.

Releasing a frustrated breath, he said, “You can tell me why you’re letting DiNozzo leave the hospital, AMA.”

“My hands are tied, Agent Gibbs. I can’t force him to stay here. Even if I came up with a reason, Agent DiNozzo would find a way to leave if he wanted to,” she rationalized.

“Sedate him.”

“It’s not that simple, Agent Gibbs.”

“Of course it is. Give him a shot of something that will knock him out and keep him out until I get there. The safest place he could be right now is the hospital.”

“What do you mean the safest place he could be?” Katherine asked.

“Long story. Just don’t let him leave the hospital,” Gibbs repeated.

“I can’t do that. You’re asking me to go against my code of ethics, Agent Gibbs. I won’t cross that line.”

The team leader hit the wall with his fist. “Damn it, Doctor Marshall! I don’t need you to start spouting off a bunch of crap about ethics. I need you to keep DiNozzo in the hospital until I get there!”

“I can’t unless…”

“Unless what?”

“Unless as next of kin and medical power of attorney, you deem Agent DiNozzo incapable of making sound decisions regarding his own health. He would then have to have a psychiatric evaluation to dispute your allegations.”

“I won’t do that to him,” Gibbs vowed.

“Then like I said, my hands are tied.”

“You go and tell DiNozzo that I’m ordering him to stay put,” the ex-Marine instructed.

“And you think that will keep him here?” she wanted to know.

“He’ll do what I tell him to do.”

“Are you sure about that?” the doctor questioned.

“Yes.”

“It must be nice to be so sure of yourself and the power you seem to wield over your people. I’ll tell him, but I can almost guarantee that this time it’s not going to make a difference,” she stated.

“Just do it,” he growled. “I’ll be up there as soon as I can.”

He hung up and threw his phone against the wall. “What are you thinking, Tony? Are you trying to get yourself killed? What is Vance holding over you that you’re willing to risk your life for?”

Leroy Jethro Gibbs was determined to get the answers to those questions. He had a feeling that when he returned to Stillwater, that all hell was going to break loose and he was going to have to be sure that DiNozzo didn’t end up being the scapegoat for Vance’s actions. Gibbs had to wonder if Jack had been right; maybe he didn’t know DiNozzo anymore. When had Tony changed and why hadn’t he noticed it? Maybe if he had been listening, he would have realized the significant changes in Tony’s personality; then again, maybe if he had been listening, DiNozzo wouldn’t be in this mess at all.







Chapter 21

Tony didn’t bother watching as the nurse removed the IV from his hand; he had never been fond of needles and his dislike for them had significantly increased after having the plague. Actually, he hated hospitals and doctors even more than needles; but his distaste for the medical field had nothing to do with why he was checking himself out against medical advice. He just knew that if he were going to have a showdown with Vance, he didn’t want to be lying in a hospital bed. Tony would not allow the Director to use his physical illness against him.

The nurse indicated that she was done and Tony nodded his thanks. In a few minutes, Kate would be back in here to see him and although she would probably try and convince him to stay, his mind was made up and there was nothing that she could say that would change it. Tony slowly sat up in the bed and looked around the room. He saw his clothes lying across the foot of the bed and came to the conclusion that the nurse must have brought them in to him.

He was thankful that the dizziness and nausea were starting to subside, but he still had the remnants of a headache, which had been exacerbated by his conversation with Vance and Gibbs. Swinging his feet around, he sat on the edge of the bed in an effort to muster the energy that he was going to need to put his clothes on. He shook his head in frustration. If he didn’t have enough strength to get his clothes on, how was he going to handle a confrontation with the Director?

“One of these days Anthony, you’re going to learn not to get yourself in such stupid predicaments,” he muttered to himself. “All you’re doing is proving your father right.”

“Your father wasn’t right.”

Tony looked up to see Abby standing in the door way. He figured that the Goth had conveniently excused herself from the room earlier to go and call Gibbs because of the escalating situation between him and Kate. Tony wasn’t mad at Abby; he knew that she was worried about him. It always seemed like he was causing unnecessary worries to those who truly cared about him.

He tiredly smiled at his friend. She was the only person that he had ever confided in about his childhood. Tony would give glimpses to the others, but Abby was the only one who knew all the sordid details of his past. “I think that may be up for debate,” he replied.

“You know that’s not true,” Abby said as she sat down beside him on the bed.

“Like I said, it’s up for debate. Right now, all I can hear in my head is what a failure I am and how I manage to screw up everything thing I do.” Tony laughed bitterly. “Of course, I can’t forget about the part where I end up hurting anyone who gets too close to me. You better watch out Abby, you could be next.”

Abby laid her head on his shoulder. “I hate it when you talk like that. It scares me,” she admitted.

Tony kissed the top of her head. “I’m sorry. You know how I get when I have a lot on my mind.”

“I know.”

He put his arm around Abby and the two friends sat in companionable silence for a few minutes. Tony knew he had to get his head on straight and he was glad that Abby was here to help keep him focused.

“So, how mad was Gibbs?” Tony asked, finally breaking the silence.

“Gibbs? What makes you think I’ve talked to Gibbs?”

DiNozzo rolled his eyes. “I know you left the room so you could call him and tell him that I was checking myself out of the hospital.”

“I’m sorry, Tony,” Abby apologized profusely. “I didn’t know what else to do. I mean you’re still sick and you really shouldn’t be out of the hospital. You’re under a lot of stress and with Vance coming, your stress level is going to go through the roof and…”

Tony placed his index finger on Abby’s lips. “Abby, it’s all right,” he assured her. “ What did Gibbs say?”

“He ordered you to stay put.”

He instantly recognized the voice of Dr. Katherine Marshall. “And how do you know what he said?” Tony inquired.

“Because I talked to him,” Kate answered.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that Abby was looking decidedly guilty. Glancing over at his friend, he shook his head in disbelief. “You let her talk to Gibbs?”

Abby shrugged. “Gibbs made me do it.”

“Figures,” he muttered under his breath.

Tony ran his hand through his hair as he turned his attention back the doctor. “Have you got my walking papers ready? I need to get out of here.”

His eyes remained fixed on the physician as she stood in front of him with her arms crossed, reminding him of a parent preparing to deliver a stern lecture to a child.

“I take it that you’re not going to obey that order,” Kate observed. “Agent Gibbs was so sure that you follow his instructions to the letter.”

“Guess he was wrong.”

“I guess he was,” the doctor agreed. “He’s not going to be happy.”

“I don’t think that I’ve done a whole hell of a lot to make him happy for quite a while,” Tony retorted.

“Why do you say that?”

Tony’s gaze narrowed. “Don’t try and get inside my head, Kate. It’s not a pretty place.”

“I was just…”

“It doesn’t matter. Do you have my discharge papers ready or not?” he asked again, his patience starting to wear thin.

“Yes, I have them, but I wish you would reconsider,” Kate urged.

“I can’t.”

He felt Abby squeeze his hand, her constant presence serving as a source of strength. Tony was having a hard time believing that he was going to disobey a direct order from Gibbs, but he truly had no choice. Maybe one of these days, the former Marine would appreciate the sacrifice that Tony was about to make.

“I had to ask,” Kate said.

“I know.”

“Get dressed and I’ll be right back,” the physician instructed.

Tony didn’t miss the hint of defeat in Kate’s tone. As the doctor left, Tony shakily stood to his feet, grateful that Abby was there by his side. He leaned on her until he was certain that he could stand by himself. Tony nodded his thanks to Abby and pulled free from her embrace.

“Do you need any help?” the Goth asked.

He sheepishly grinned. “I think I can manage, Abs.”

“It’s not like I haven’t seen you naked before,” Abby pointed out.

“I know. I still think I can manage.”

“Suit yourself. I’ll just sit here and watch.”

“Abs, you don’t have to stay.”

“Of course I do. I have no intention of letting you out of my sight until Gibbs arrives.”

“You’re just trying to get back on his good side,” he teased.

“Do you think it will work?”

Tony shrugged as he removed the hospital gown. “It depends on his trip up here. If he’s coming with Vance, I wouldn’t count on Gibbs being in a good mood for a long time.”

“That’s what I was afraid of.”

“Don’t worry, Abs,” Tony said. “You’re still his favorite.”

“You really think so?”

He slipped on his shirt on and slowly buttoned it. “I don’t think. I know that you’re his favorite.”

“So are you,” Abby reminded him. “He really is worried about you. That’s why he ordered you to stay put.”

“Sure,” he answered without conviction.

Tony finished buttoning his shirt and sat back down on the bed to put on his pants. The simple act of dressing was exhausting and a light sheen of perspiration appeared on his forehead. As he pulled his pants up to his knees, he allowed a small groan to escape. This prompted Abby to grab his socks away from him and put them on his feet.

“Thanks,” he whispered.

“You’re welcome, Tony.”

Rising back to his feet, he pulled his pants up and fastened them while simultaneously stepping into his shoes.

“Still going commando, DiNozzo?” Abby playfully taunted.

He winked at the Goth. “Always. It saves time.”

Tony walked over to the mirror and studied his reflection. He had to admit that he still looked like crap, but at least he was up and moving about. DiNozzo decided that as soon as he got back to Jack’s place, he was going to take a hot shower and shave. It may not help his looks, but Tony was certain that it would help him feel more human.

“Tony?” Abby softly called to him. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“What did you mean earlier when you said that you haven’t done a lot lately to make Gibbs happy?” she reluctantly asked.

“Just what I said. I just get the feeling that…”

He paused, searching for the right words.

“That what?” Abby pressed.

“That he doesn’t want me around anymore. I don’t seem to be able to say or do anything right. I used to be able to take the harsh comments because I always thought that he was kidding. Now, I’m not so sure. One of the other guys even told me that he overhead Gibbs saying that I needed an attitude adjustment. I don’t know what I’ve done Abs and he isn’t going to tell me. I’ve been with him almost eight years and I guess maybe I’ve worn out my welcome. God knows that I’ve lasted longer at NCIS than I have anywhere else. I…”

Tony choked back a sob. “After I get this mess cleared up, if I still have a career, I’m going to be moving on.”

He refused to look at Abby when he heard her sniffle. “You and Gibbs just need to talk things out. All families have problems from time to time, including ours. You two can work this out,” she insisted.

“I don’t know if we can, Abs. I guess that I needed him to be that father figure in my life that I didn’t have growing up and Gibbs just doesn’t want that responsibility.”

Tony smiled when Abby kissed him on the cheek again. “You’ll work it out,” she vowed. “If I have to lock the two of you in my lab, oh wait, that’s probably not a good idea; there’s too many sharp objects. If I have to lock the two of you up…”

“Abs, I appreciate what you’re doing, but it won’t work. Neither one of us is very good at talking about our feelings and I’m tired of fighting.”

“Tony, please. Don’t walk away from us,” Abby begged. “We’re your family.”

“She’s right, son.”

Tony smiled at the elder Gibbs as he walked in the room. “Hey, Jack,” he wearily greeted.

“Families need to talk things through,” Jackson continued. “You don’t want to end up like me and Leroy and not speak for fifteen years. Fathers and sons need to communicate.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Tony said. “But in my family, my father did all the talking and I was expected to listen. Nothing’s changed with Gibbs. He talks and expects me to listen. Neither of them are interested in what I have to say.”

Jack sighed. “Let’s get you out of here and back to my place and we can finish this conversation somewhere more comfortable.”

“So I take it you’re my ride,” Tony mused.

“Katherine called me and after she was done cussing me out, she told me to come and get you and take you back home with me,” he explained.

“Sorry to be so much trouble.”

“No trouble,” Jack said. “After all, we’re practically family.”

Tony nodded and sat down in the chair to wait for Katherine’s return. He was aware that Abby and Jack were trying to make him feel better and he truly appreciated their efforts. But talking wasn’t going to fix whatever was wrong between him and Gibbs; he wasn’t sure that there was anything to be fixed. Maybe he had been so desperate for a father figure that he thrust Gibbs in that role without considering that possibility that the team leader wasn’t interested in becoming his surrogate father.

For as much as he dreaded facing Vance, he was almost sick at the thought of having to see Gibbs again. Tony was starting to believe that everything would have been a lot easier if that bullet that grazed his head would have been a few centimeters the other way.



XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX



Gibbs glanced at his watch, mentally calculating how much time he had before Ziva and Vance arrived. He was still angry at DiNozzo for baiting Vance, but truthfully, he was angry with himself for leaving Stillwater. His dad had tried to warn him, but once again, Jethro Gibbs was determined to do things his own way and in turn, he made things worse for his senior field agent.

A knock at his door interrupted his thoughts. For some unexplainable reason, he knew that his visitor wasn’t Ziva or Vance. Picking up a set of keys off the kitchen table, he walked towards the front door.

He opened the door and held the keys up in the air. FBI Agent Tobias Fornell snatched them out of his hand as he entered the house.

“I hope you gassed it back up,” Fornell said.

“It has as much in it as when I borrowed it, Tobias.”

“It was almost on empty.”

“I know.”

Gibbs smiled at his old friend. “Want a drink?”

“Sure.”

The former Marine poured two drinks and handed a glass to his colleague. “I figured that you’d come around sooner or later. I was going to leave your keys where you could find them.”

“I thought I’d try and catch you and see how things were going,” Fornell replied.

“I don’t know,” the team leader admitted. “One minute I think that everything’s going to be okay and the next thing I know, everything’s gone to hell.”

“How’s DiNozzo?”

“Beats me. I can barely get a straight answer out of him these days. He finally told me enough to where I could take down Vance and then he calls and tells me not to. He wants me to trust him, but he doesn’t trust me enough to be completely honest with me about what’s going on,” Gibbs fumed.

“Maybe he can’t.”

“DiNozzo got burnt badly on the La Grenouille operation and I didn’t think I would see the day that he would willingly go undercover without telling me. But come to find out, he was letting Vance blackmail him into doing some covert operations and now…” Gibbs swallowed hard. “Now, I have an agent lying in the hospital because of Director Vance believing that he’s expendable. When Tony first started working for me, it took a long time for me to convince him that his life mattered. He was reckless and willing to put himself on the line without thinking about the consequences.”

“Sounds like someone else I know,” Tobias quipped.

“Don’t start, Fornell.”

“How come you’re the only one who can’t see how much you and DiNozzo are alike? He’s made himself into a junior Leroy Jethro Gibbs and you have to admit, you’re honored by the fact that he wants to be like you.”

“I never asked him to be like me. I always wanted him to be his own man.”

“And he is, but he used you as his role model,” the FBI agent pointed out.

“I never told him to.”

“Sometimes fathers and sons…”

“I’m not his father!” the team leader snapped.

“No, you’re not. Even though you’re a bastard, you’re not half the bastard DiNozzo’s father was.”

Gibbs shook his head, frustrated by the conversation. He didn’t have time to debate his and DiNozzo’s relationship; he had to stay focused for what was going to happen in the next few hours.

“So, why are you really here, Tobias?” Gibbs wanted to know.

“Thought you’d want to know that the FBI is looking for your boy,” Fornell informed him. “Fortunately, they put me in charge of finding him.”

“Why do they want him?”

“He apparently has something in his possession that could destroy a lot of careers and they don’t want it falling in the wrong hands.”

“The wrong hands,” Gibbs repeated. “Meaning Vance or the SecNav?”

“I don’t know; my orders were to bring him in.”

“I don’t know where he is,” Gibbs stated.

“I have Sacks following a lead in L.A. It should take him a day or so.”

Gibbs smiled. “Anymore leads, Tobias?”

“I think there’s one in Arizona that I’ll have him check out if the one in L.A. doesn’t pan out.”

Gibbs shook his friend’s hand. “Thanks, Tobias.”

“You’re welcome. I don’t know how long I can keep running down false leads, but it’ll buy you a little time to get to the bottom of it.”

Gibbs followed Fornell out to his car. “Thanks again,” he said.

“Tell DiNozzo he owes me one.”

“I’ll pass that along.”

The ex-Marine watched as Fornell pulled out of his driveway and headed down the street, out of sight. “DiNozzo, I swear we are going to have a long talk,” he mumbled to himself.

He heard the blaring of a horn and knew without looking that Ziva was speeding down his street. Gibbs smiled in amusement at the Mossad officer as she screeched to a stop and got out of her car. “Who did you run off the road this time?” he inquired.

“It looked like Fornell, but I’m not sure,” she replied.

“Thanks for getting here so quickly.”

“No problem. I’m eager to see Tony again and if I have to do a protection detail to do so, then so be it.”

Gibbs had often wondered about Ziva and Tony’s relationship. They seemed to enjoy teasing each other, their conversation often laced with sexual innuendos and constant flirting. As far as he knew, neither had broken rule number 12, but he wondered how much longer it would be before they did.

“I’m sure seeing you will do DiNozzo some good.”

“He probably won’t agree with you by the time I’m done kicking his ass for pulling a stunt like this.”

“You might have to stand in line.”

“Perhaps if you just gave him a good head slap,” Ziva suggested.

“I haven’t had to slap DiNozzo in a long time.”

“Why not?” she asked. “There have been many times that he deserved it. Sometimes I think that he says things just to see if you’ll head slap him.”

“We’ll leave as soon as Vance gets here,” Gibbs informed her, intentionally changing the subject. Ziva seemed to get the hint that he was through with that particular discussion.

“I will be ready.”

“I know you will.”

“So, how is Tony? Is he better?”

“A little, maybe. I’m not sure.”

“He hasn’t looked well to me for quite some time. Actually, since he has returned from his tme as Agent Afloat, he has been…”

“I know, Ziva,” he grunted.

Gibbs ignored her icy glare. “Are you going to let me finish any of my sentences?” she demanded to know.

“It depends on what you’re going to talk about.”

“Fine,” she snapped. “I will not say another word about Tony.”

“Thank you.”

“Except for one more thing. He is my friend and my partner and I don’t like seeing him hurt.”

“I don’t either, Ziva.”

He saw Ziva nervously lick her lips. “Permission to speak freely?” she asked.

“Since when have you asked permission?”

“Since now.”

“Granted.”

“Tony doesn’t know how to handle the way that you’ve been treating him. He has always acted as a buffer between us and you, taking the brunt of your anger and frustration; but I think that your harsh words are wearing him down to the point that he starting to believe that he can’t do anything to please you.”

“Did he tell you this?” the team leader wanted to know..

Ziva shook her head. “No, but I’ve spent my life reading people and I can see the pain in Tony’s face every time that he thinks that he’s disappointed you.”

Gibbs felt as if he had been punched in the gut. He respected both Ziva and Fornell and they were both telling him the same thing. Tony’s existence relied on Gibbs’ approval and the former Marine was too blind to see that he was slowly destroying his senior agent..

“I’m sorry if I have offended you,” Ziva apologized.

“Don’t apologize,” Gibbs mumbled.

“I know. It’s a sign of weakness.”

He didn’t get the chance to answer. Vance’s car pulled up to the curb and the Director got out and slung his overnight bag over his shoulder. Vance wore a smug expression that Gibbs silently vowed to erase from the man’s face.

Without saying a word, the three of them climbed into the car that his dad had restored for him. Gibbs had purposefully placed Vance in the back seat, knowing that the Director would have a very cramped ride to Stillwater. The team leader smiled in the rearview mirror as Vance tried to get comfortable.

“Ready?” he asked as he put the car in gear and mashed down on the gas pedal.

Glancing at his speedometer, Gibbs made sure that he was driving the exact speed limit. He was going to give DiNozzo as much time as he could to prepare for the meeting with Vance. Gibbs saw a smile spread across Ziva’s face as she realized what he was doing. He had barely turned off his street before Ziva requested to stop and get something to drink. Gibbs was glad to oblige.

Yes, the ride to Stillwater was going to be a long one and Leroy Jethro Gibbs was going to make sure that it was a ride that Director Leon Vance would never forget.



Chapter 22

Jackson Gibbs glanced at his watch and then took another sip of his coffee. It had been almost an hour since he and Abby had brought Tony home from the hospital. They had encouraged the young man to rest, but the obstinate agent insisted on taking a shower muttering something about looking good for his execution. Abby was outside making a phone call and now, Jack was waiting on DiNozzo to join him so they could talk. The older man knew that Tony was preoccupied with his impending confrontation with Director Vance, but Jack had a feeling that there were other issues that needed to be addressed; issues that concerned his own son’s relationship with the younger agent.

He realized that Leroy thought of Tony DiNozzo as the son he had never had, but for some odd reason, his son refused to acknowledge his feelings to the younger man. Jack didn’t understand Leroy’s reluctance to tell Tony how he felt, but the elder Gibbs had always assumed that Jethro had his reasons. He didn’t know a lot about Tony’s relationship with his own parents, but what little he had managed to gleam from his conversations with Leroy, he had an idea that it was less than exemplary. He didn’t want to pry into DiNozzo’s business, but Jack did want him to know that he would listen if Tony wanted to talk.

Finishing his coffee, he set the cup down and rose from his seat, deciding to busy himself with pricing some new items that had just arrived. Before he knew it, another hour had past and there had been no sign of Tony. “Maybe he fell asleep,” Jack mumbled to himself.

Jack walked into the back room only to discover that Tony was nowhere around. He checked in the bathroom and the spare guest room and found that they were empty as well. Noticing the back door was ajar, he went out and looked around for the missing agent. Jack made his way to the storage shed where he had painstakingly worked on Leroy’s car for years; he had often sought refuge there himself in the past, so he figured that Tony may be able to do the same.

Opening the door, he peered inside to find Tony sitting on a workbench, his back against the wall with his knees drawn up to his chest. Jack saw that DiNozzo’s eyes were closed, but he sensed that Tony wasn’t asleep. The elder Gibbs sat down beside him, patiently waiting for Tony to make the first move.

After several more minutes of awkward silence, Tony finally spoke. Jack couldn’t help but notice the weariness in the agent’s voice. He found himself wondering how Tony was going to physically or mentally handle the challenges he would be facing in the next few hours.

“I would have given anything for my father to restore a car for me,” Tony rasped.

“It takes a lot of time and patience,” Jack replied.

“Which he didn’t have. At least for me,” the young man added.

“So, I take it your dad was a busy man.”

Tony snorted. “You could say that.”

“Did you and your dad get along?”

“No.”

“I see. When’s the last time you talked to him?” Jack asked.

“Right before I left for college.”

“That’s been a while. You know Leroy and I didn’t talk for almost fifteen years.”

“I know.”

“We lost a lot of time that we can never regain,” Jack pointed out. “Maybe you should talk to your dad; time has a way of changing people’s perspectives.”

“No. My dad knows how to get a hold of me if he wants to talk.”

“Have you ever considered making the first move?”

Tony shook his head. “Nope and I’m not going to.”

“Can I ask why not?”

DiNozzo opened his eyes and stared at him. Jack was surprised by the intense hatred he saw burning in Tony’s gaze. “Because I don’t have anything to say to the bastard,” the agent growled.

“All right,” Jack sighed. “But don’t you think that…”

“Jack, I’ve never done anything but disappoint the man. I listened to him everyday for twelve years telling me what a failure I was and how I would never amount to anything. My degree of failure depended on how much he had to drink that day, but the results were the same, I wasn’t good enough and I was going to end up in the gutter.”

“Seems to me that you’ve managed to prove him wrong,” Jack said. “You’ve done quite well for yourself despite your father’s predictions. You’ve become a good man, Tony DiNozzo and don’t you let anyone tell you different. Leroy is always telling me about something that you’ve done and I can tell by the sound of his voice that he’s proud of you.”

“Gibbs is proud of me, huh? He’s only told me once and it took him almost eight years to do it,” Tony whispered. “I waited a long time to hear those words, but I think it was too little, too late.”

“What do you mean, son?”

“Nothing,” the young man mumbled. “Just thinking out loud.”

“You wouldn’t have said it if you hadn’t meant it,” Jack reasoned. “Talk to me, Tony.”

“I can’t.”

“Yes, you can.”

“You’re Gibbs’ father,” Tony pointed out.

“So?”

“So?” Tony shook his head. “I’m not going to sit here and talk about your son. I mean, he’s your son; it’s not fair to you or to him. I’m not putting you in the middle.”

“It’s my choice. I want to help,” Jack urged.

“I don’t think you can.”

“Then you have to talk to Leroy.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

Jack watched with concern when DiNozzo stood up and began pacing. He was worried that Tony seemed to be expending energy that he didn’t have. “Tony, why don’t you sit back down?” Jack suggested.

“I’m okay.”

“You still look like crap.”

“Feel like crap too,” the agent retorted.

“Then why don’t you come inside and rest?”

“I’ll have plenty of time to rest later,” Tony countered. “I like being out here. It helps clear my mind so I can focus on what I’m going to have to do.”

“I think before you do anything, you should talk to Leroy,” Jack pressed.

He saw Tony bristle as his strides became longer and his movements more agitated. Had he pushed the younger man too far?

“I told you that I don’t want to!” Tony shouted.

Jack wasn’t expecting such an outburst, but he patiently listened as Tony continued his tirade.

“I don’t want to see the disappointment in his eyes when he realizes that I’m a complete and total screw up!” Tony seethed. “I tried for years to be what he wants me to be and I can’t do it anymore. He doesn’t trust me and he hasn’t for a long time. I thought that after the whole La Grenouille mess that things would get back to normal, but that was just wishful thinking on my part. I was doing what I thought was right at the time and yeah, it blew up in my face, but that’s not the point.

“I was just doing what he trained me to do. He goes off on his own crusades all the time and doesn’t feel the need to fill us in until it’s almost too late. I ended up in the hospital with pneumonia because of one of his little self serving missions. But that’s not the worst of it. I can’t forget how I got my Director killed and although he won’t say it, I know he blames me. He tried to tell me it wasn’t my fault but I can see it in his eyes. He’ll always blame me for her death.”

Jack wasn’t sure what to say. He had wanted Tony to talk to him, or at least he thought he had, until the young man had actually started opening up to him. Jack should have known better than to try and play amateur psychologist, but now he had to carry through with his promise to listen.

Standing, he intentionally blocked Tony’s path, but DiNozzo wasn’t deterred and simply stepped around him. Jack grabbed Tony by the shoulders and whirled him around. The pain and desperation in the young man’s eyes was heartbreaking. “Listen to me, son.”

Tony pulled free from his grasp and resumed his almost frantic pacing. “No!” he cried out. “I don’t want to hear how everything’s going to be okay, because it’s not. I just want to know what I’ve done to make him hate me! Can you tell me that?”

“Leroy doesn’t hate you,” Jack said.

“Really?” Tony stopped in mid-stride, his body tense as he fought for control of his raging emotions. “I spent four months at sea trying to come to terms with what I did. I kept waiting for Gibbs to call me but unless he needed something that pertained to a case, I never heard from him.”

“Did you try and call him?”

“Yeah, several times,” Tony recalled. “One time he even answered, but all he said was that he had to go. So, I just stopped trying. I still wanted to come home and four months later, I did. I thought maybe things would get back to normal, but they haven’t; if anything they’re worse.”

“Did you ever consider the possibility that maybe Leroy thinks that you’ve learned your job so well, that he doesn’t need to hold your hand anymore?”

Tony laughed. “Gibbs has never held my hand. He expects me to do my job and I do it. I always do what’s expected of me and more, but it’s not good enough. I’ve been forced to take assignments so I can keep the team together, but it’s not enough. I’ve been told that I’m expendable and that my life doesn’t matter and if you want to know the truth, I’ve gotten to where I believe it. But, once again, it isn’t enough. It’s déjà vu.

“I feel like I’m standing in my father’s study after winning the state little league baseball championship, waiting for him to say, ‘Good job, Tony’, but instead, all I hear is about how I didn’t catch that fly ball in the first inning. The thing is he didn’t see the grand slam I hit in the bottom of the ninth. I’ve worked my ass off to try and prove something to a man who doesn’t give a damn.”

“Are you talking about your father or about Leroy?” Jack asked.

“Both.”

Jack could feel his own anger rising at the young man standing before him. Tony had no right to place such expectations upon his son. “How can you say that? Jethro thinks of you as family; you’re like the boy he never had.”

“Maybe he used to think like that, but not anymore. If that’s the way he wants it, that’s fine, but all I want to know is why. How can I attempt to fix something when I don’t know what it is I’ve done wrong?”

Jack blew out a frustrated breath. He regretted becoming so defensive, but some habits are hard to break. Tony wasn’t the only one experiencing a sense of déjà vu. “How do you know you’re the problem?”

Tony swallowed hard. “Because, I’ve always been the problem,” he said.

“No, you’re not,” Jack assured him.

“There’s a lot of people who’d disagree with you.”

“You need to talk to Leroy,” the older man urged. “He needs to hear this.”

Tony leaned against the wall and shook his head. “No, he doesn’t. Besides, none of it’s going to matter after Vance gets here.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing,” Tony whispered. “Just forget it.”

“Can I offer you some advice?”

“What?”

Jack moved to stand beside Tony. “You know, Leroy used to tell me some of the same things. He used to tell me that I didn’t listen and that he could never please me. I just brushed it off to him being a teenager. Looking back, I can see that he was right. I was a tough taskmaster and I thought I was teaching him character, but once he joined the Marines, I began to reexamine my life. There are things I’d like a chance to do over again, but I’m not going to get that opportunity; the only thing I can do is move forward. Jethro and I made our peace and you two need to do the same thing.”

“I’m not sure we can,” Tony said. “Despite what you think, he doesn’t want or need a son.”

“I wouldn’t be so fast to judge him,” Jack warned. “Talk to him first.”

“I don’t know,” Tony sighed. “I’ll think about it. We’ll just have to see what happens with Vance.”

“Leroy isn’t going to let Vance do anything to you.”

“He may not have a choice. I’ve made this mess and I have to clean it up before anyone else gets hurt.”

“Tony…”

“I don’t want to talk about Vance right now,” Tony said. “I just want to tell you that I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to have to deal with my issues. It was like a dam burst inside me and once the words started, I couldn’t stop them. I lost control and…and I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right, Tony. You needed to talk and I have feeling that you’ve got a lot more hurt inside you, but I’m not the one who can make it better.”

“Yeah, well,” Tony stammered. “I’m still sorry. I had no right to drag you into this mess. I…”

Jack could see Tony’s eyes brimming with tears. The boy was silently seeking permission to break down and cry. He wondered how many times in his life Anthony DiNozzo had ever cried; Jack figured he could probably count the times on one hand. Tony was a strong man, but even the strong have their moments of weakness.

Reaching out he pulled the younger man to him and held him tightly. “Go ahead son and let it out.”

“I can’t…”

“Yes, you can. Go ahead.”

He could feel DiNozzo trying to pull away, but Jack simply refused to let the young man go. Jack stroked the back of Tony’s head as the agent started to weep. At first, all Jack could hear was the occasional sniffle, but his sobs quickly developed into guttural cries that pierced the old man’s soul. “It’s all right, son. It’s all right,” he whispered into Tony’s ear.

Jack wasn’t sure if Tony was hearing his attempts at consolation; the young man kept repeating the words ‘I’m sorry’, over and over like a mantra. He knew that Tony was going to need more help than he could offer, but the fact was DiNozzo would never ask for it. It was obvious to Jack that Tony demons were waging a war for control of his soul. DiNozzo believed his life wasn’t worth living and it was going to be up to Leroy to prove the young man wrong. He just prayed that Leroy’s efforts wouldn’t be too late.



XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


McGee had chafed at the thought of being left behind. The only consolation had been the knowledge that he was helping Tony by using his skills to hack into Vance’s and the SecNav’s computer. If there was anything on those two computers that could help his friend, he would find it. Of course, if anyone discovered what he was doing, he could be looking for a new job, but it really didn’t matter. Despite their merciless teasing, Tony was his friend and wouldn’t hesitate to help him if their situations were reversed.

He had been working on cracking some of the encrypted files on the SecNav’s computer when his phone rang. McGee answered the phone and held it on his shoulder so he could continue working. “Agent McGee.”

“Tim!”

McGee grinned at the sound of the Goth’s voice. Abby always had a way of bringing a smile to his face even in the middle of a difficult case. “Hey Abby,” he answered. “How’s it going?”

“It’s going,” she replied. “Tony’s inside taking a shower, so I decided I’d call you and see what’s happening on your end.”

“I have to say that I’m not completely sure. We had enough evidence to arrest Vance but then Tony calls and the next thing I know, Gibbs, Vance, and Ziva are on their way to Stillwater.”

“That ought to be a fun trip,” Abby muttered under her breath.

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

“So, what are you doing?” she asked.

“Uh…me? Well, I…”

“Something illegal?”

“Yeah,” he admitted. “That’s all I can tell you.”

“That’s all right. I’m kind of getting used to being kept in the dark.”

“Abby, I’m sorry. I just want to protect you.”

“Now, you sound like Tony.”

“Speaking of Tony; how is he?” McGee wanted to know.

“Not good. He’s scared, Tim. I’ve never seen him like this. I’m so worried about him.”

“We all are.”

“We have to help him, but I just don’t know how,” Abby said.

“Just be his friend,” Tim said. “It sounds like he’s going to need…”

McGee stared in astonishment as he successfully opened one of the encrypted files and began to read its contents. He wasn’t sure how long Abby had been calling his name before he found his voice again and managed to answer.

“Tim, what’s wrong?” she asked for the third time.

“Abby, this is not good. I’ve got to call Gibbs.”

“But Tim…”

He hung up on Abby and quickly dialed Gibbs’ phone, silently hoping that he actually had his phone with him. It only took two rings before he heard the gruff voice of his team leader.

“Gibbs,” the ex-Marine snapped.

“Boss, it’s me,” McGee nervously stammered.

“I know, McGee.”

“I just opened one of the files from the SecNav’s computer and well, you’re not going to believe this.”

“What is it, McGee?”

McGee swallowed hard. What he was about to tell his boss would not make the man very happy; he wasn’t sure how Gibbs would take the news. He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “Boss, maybe you better pull over for this…”



Chapter 23


Ziva and Gibbs had been taking great pleasure in tormenting Vance during the ride to Stillwater. They had resorted to stopping every thirty minutes as well as playing games such as punch bug and the license plate game, much to the displeasure of the director. Vance had pleaded and even threatened them with their jobs, but that did not deter them from continuing to have some fun.

She knew that they were trying to give Tony time to prepare for his meeting with Vance and Ziva had been more than willing to help Gibbs in his plan to make sure that the Director was entertained during the trip. They had just stopped for some gas and Ziva had excused herself so that she could use the restroom.

Of course, she had to wait in line and so she allowed her thoughts to turn to Tony. He was more than a colleague, he was her friend. She truly hadn’t had very many people in her life that she could call friend, but Tony DiNozzo was one of the few. Despite his constant need to please Gibbs and his childish antics, underneath the surface, there was a man who had been scarred deeply by the events of the past. Tony was just very adept in covering up his true feelings by insults and sexual innuendos.

Ziva had to admit that she had often wondered what it would be like to be involved with Tony, but she knew from past experience that it was never a good idea to get involved with a co-worker. She was seeing someone else at the moment and so a relationship with Tony was out of the question, but she was still worried about him.

She knew that he had been in the hospital and that he had also checked himself out against medical advice. She liked to think that if she had been there that she would have been able to stop him, but then again, when Tony had his mind set on something, she wasn’t sure that anyone could stop him. The fact that he had disobeyed a direct order from Gibbs told her that DiNozzo was desperate and determined to make sure that his friends were safe.

Glancing at her watch, she decided that whoever was occupying the ladies room was apparently not coming out any time soon. She looked around and then knocked on the men’s door. When there was no answer, she entered and locked the door behind her. The stench only encouraged her to quickly finish her business and leave; this restroom was nothing like the men’s restroom at NCIS.

As she opened the door, she found Vance standing against the wall. Smiling at his astonished expression, she sweetly said, “Excuse me, Director Vance. It’s all yours.”

“Is there a reason that you just came out of the men’s room, Officer David?” Vance inquired.

“The ladies room was occupied. I would hold my breath if I were you, the smell is rather disgusting.”

“Thanks for the advice.”

Ziva smiled as she made her way over to Gibbs who was standing by the door. “So, how much farther do we have to go?”

“I figure if we make about three more stops, we should be in Stillwater in about 4 hours.”

“4 hours, huh? You know, Vance is fuming.”

“I know and I don’t care,” the team leader said. “Let’s go wait in the car. You don’t want him grabbing shotgun.”

“On it, Gibbs.”

She saw a brief flash of sadness come across the senior agent’s face. “Are you all right?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he sighed. “Just thinking about Tony.”

“Me too.”

“I just wish I knew what was going on with him,” Gibbs mused.

“I’m sure that once all this is over that you two will be able to talk things through.”

“In case you haven’t noticed Ziva, neither one of us is very good at talking about our feelings.”

“Maybe it’s time you both learned that being honest with those you care about isn’t a bad thing,” Ziva encouraged.

“Yeah.” He nodded his head towards the door of the gas station. “Vance is coming. We better go.”

Ziva opened the door and gestured for Vance to climb in the back seat. As soon as he was settled, she sat down and shut the door. “Are you comfortable, Director?”

She knew that he would never admit to them that he was in any discomfort. He loudly protested their games and the frequent stops, but he never mentioned the fact that he had to sit in the back seat, his large frame struggling to find a suitable position.

“I’m fine, Officer David,” Vance said. “How much longer until we reach Stillwater?”

“We’ve got a while, Director,” Gibbs replied. “If you need to stop, just let me know.”

“You are doing enough stopping as it is, Agent Gibbs. It’s amazing that you all ever make it to a crime scene.”

Ziva saw Gibbs smiled as he slowly pulled out of the gas station. “You know, Tony taught me a song one time when we are on our way to, oh I can’t remember, but anyway, would you like me to teach it to you?”

“Sure,” Gibbs said.

“Okay, let me see if I can remember the words.” She purposefully cleared her throat and began to sing. “1, 000 bottles of beer on the wall, a thousand bottles of beer, you take one down and pass it around, 999 bottles of beer on the wall.” Ziva looked over at Gibbs, whose grin had grown wider.

“I believe I’ve heard it once or twice.”

“Do you want to sing it? It will help pass the time,” she pointed out.

“Sure.”

Ziva opened her mouth to start singing the song again when Gibbs’ cell phone rang.

He glanced at the phone and then answered it. “Gibbs.”

She listened to the one sided conversation. “I know, McGee,” Then a few seconds later, she heard the ex-Marine ask, “What is it, McGee?”

The next thing she knew, they had pulled over on the side of the road. She could see the team leader’s jaw clenched tightly as anger radiated from his eyes. Whatever McGee was telling Gibbs, it couldn’t be good. Ziva felt a knot form in the pit of stomach as the former Marine continued to listen to McGee. She wished that she could hear what Tim was saying, because she wasn’t completely sure if Gibbs would tell her everything.

She swallowed nervously as he closed his phone and tossed in on the seat beside him. He slowly turned around and glared at Director Vance. The director had started to protest yet another unscheduled stop, but was cut short by the menacing stare of the former sniper.

“Is something wrong, Gibbs?” Ziva asked.

“You could say that,” the agent barked.

“Well, what is it?” Vance impatiently inquired.

Gibbs met the director’s question with silence. Ziva could feel that knot tightening as the team leader’s agitation grew. Her gaze alternated between Gibbs and Vance, wondering who was going to make the next move. The tension between the two men was almost overwhelming. Fortunately, she didn’t have to wait long as the senior agent hit the steering wheel with his first.

“Gibbs, what is it?” Ziva wanted to know.

“It seems that SecNav authorized a contract on DiNozzo’s life,” he quickly explained. “Do you care to fill us in on the details, Director Vance?”

Ziva studied the Director’s face. There was no doubt in her mind that Vance knew what Gibbs was talking about, but it was obvious that he was not about to admit to knowing anything. She saw Gibbs visibly bristle as the Director sat back in the seat, crossed his arms, and looked straight ahead.

Gibbs climbed out of the car and grabbed his phone, leaving her alone with the Director. “I’m not sure what is going on here, Director Vance; but there is one thing that you can count on. Gibbs will get to the bottom of it and he won’t quit until he gets the answers he wants. Tony is like a son to him and you and I both know what happened to the last man who dared to mess with Gibbs’ family.”

“Is that a threat, Officer David?”

“Not at all,” she replied. “You should know this team well enough by now to know that we don’t make threats and we take care of our own.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“Then I suggest that you come clean with Gibbs, or be prepared to suffer the consequences,” Ziva warned.

“There will not be any consequences; at least not for me.”

“You just keep believing that Director Vance and…”

“Do you really want to know who placed the contract on DiNozzo?” Vance asked.

“Yes.”

“Even though you may not like the answer?”

“Yes.”

Vance smiled, laid his head back on the seat and closed his eyes. “Perhaps I’ll tell you when we get to Stillwater.”

“When we get to Stillwater?”

“That’s what I said, so maybe you should discourage Agent Gibbs from making so many unnecessary pit stops.”

Ziva blew out a frustrated breath. “Gibbs will do as he pleases.”

“I’m aware of that. Now, Officer David, I’m going to take a nap. Be sure and wake me when we get there.”

She got out of the car and slammed the door. Ziva stormed over to where Gibbs was talking on the phone. He had evidently called McGee again and now he was talking to Abby. She had to tell him that Vance knew more than he was saying, but then again, he probably already knew that. How could things get any more complicated? That was a question that she wasn’t sure that she wanted the answer to.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Tony woke up on the couch and briefly struggled to remember how he had gotten there. He carefully swung his feet around and slowly sat up as he raked his hands through his disheveled hair. The last thing he could remember was breaking down and Jack telling him it was okay to cry; so he assumed that the older man had brought him back inside.

“I must’ve looked like an idiot, crying like a baby,” he mumbled to himself.

He couldn’t remember a time that he had experienced such a sense of self hatred. Not even after he had shattered Jeanne’s heart or realizing he was responsible for Jenny’s death, had he despised himself like he did at the moment. How had everything become such a mess? Of course, as his father used to remind him, he was poison and he infected everything around him.

“God, it would be so easy to end it all,” Tony whispered.

“Don’t say that!”

He looked up to see Abby standing in the door way, her hands on her hips, staring at him in disbelief. Tony silently chastised himself. When was he going to learn to keep his mouth shut?

“Sorry, Abs,” he tiredly apologized.

“You better be.”

Deciding not to have this conversation again, he quickly changed the subject. “How long have I been asleep?” he asked.

“Jack and I carried you in here about an hour ago. You fell asleep in his arms; he said you cried yourself to sleep,” she informed him.

“Just like a baby.”

“There’s nothing wrong with crying, Tony. It’s a healthy emotional release and personally, I say that you were about due to have a breakdown…I mean a release.”

Tony sat back and leaned his head against the cushion. “You had it right the first time. I broke down and ended up saying a lot of things that I shouldn’t have. You’d think I’d have better control over my emotions than that.”

“Tony, you’re not a machine. You’re only human,” she reminded him. “You can’t be expected to walk around without any feelings or emotions.”

“Sure I can,” he countered. “I’ve done it for years.”

“Tony…”

“Abby, please don’t. I’m just not in the mood to talk. I think I said enough out in the shed,” Tony mused.

“Okay, but we will talk later,” she promised.

Tony nodded in agreement. “Later.” He patted the seat beside him, inviting the Goth to sit down.

“What’ve you been up to while I was bearing my soul to Gibbs’ father?”

“I was talking to McGee, but then he had to go.”

“So, what’s McGoo up to?”

“I don’t know. He didn’t say.”

Tony weakly smiled. “I’m sure Gibbs has him doing something. I wish that…”

“What?”

“Nothing,” he hastily answered. “Got anything to eat?”

“There’s a store right through that door,” she cheerfully replied. “Name your heart’s desire?”

“Pizza.”

“No pizza. Doctor’s orders.”

“But that’s my heart’s desire.”

“How about some soup?” she suggested. “I can make you some of Grammie’s homemade chicken noodle soup. It’s really good.”

He knew he was beaten. There was no arguing with Abby. “Whatever.”

“Coming right up.”

When Abby stood up, she leaned over and kissed his cheek. Tony blushed slightly and winked at the Goth. “Thanks, Abs.”

“No problem. Just stay right here until…”

She was cut off by the sound of her phone ringing. “It’s Gibbs,” she announced.

Tony watched with interest as she answered the phone. Judging by the expression on her face, whatever Gibbs was telling her was not good news. She didn’t say anything but the occasional yes or no, prompting Tony to believe that they were talking about him. Abby finally hung up and put her phone back in her purse.

“What did Gibbs want?” Tony wanted to know.

“He was just checking on you.”

“You’re lying.”

She winced at the accusation. “I know.”

“Abs, what did he say?” he asked again.

She nervously licked her lips. “He just wants to make sure that I’m keeping an eye on you.”

“And?” the agent pressed.

“And, he just wants you to be in my sight or your dad’s sight all the time until he gets here.”

“Why?”

“He…uh…didn’t say. Not really.”

Tony sighed. “Abs, you’re lying again.”

“I know.”

“What did Gibbs say?”

His gaze followed her as she sat back down next to him and held his hand. “He said that you could be in danger and to make sure that you’re with someone at all times,” she admitted.

“In danger, how?”

“McGee discovered that there’s a contract out on you.”

Tony bitterly laughed. “Someone put a contract out on me?”

“That’s what he said.”

“Did he say who?”

“No, he just said that he would tell us more when he got here.”

Tony knew that Abby was expecting him to do something besides sit on the couch, but right now, he was too tired to care.

“Aren’t you upset?” she wanted to know.

He acknowledged Abby with a slight nod. “It’s just another thing to add to the list.”

“What list?” she asked.

Tony put his arm around Abby and pulled her close. He was glad that she was here with him, although, if what Gibbs said was true, she was in as much danger as he was. After things had settled down, if he was still around, Tony planned to thank her properly for everything that she had done for him. They would go clubbing, to an amusement park, or even bowling with the nuns; anything that she wanted to do, he would do.

He kissed the top of her forehead as she leaned against his chest. “What list?” she asked again.

Tony grinned. “The list of reasons why it sucks to be Anthony DiNozzo…”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Ziva had told Gibbs about her conversation with the Director, which only added fuel to the raging fire burning within him. He wanted to drag Vance out of the car and let Ziva get the answers out of the man as only she could. But he knew that doing so would only cause more problems for Tony. He had done everything he could for right now; he had told McGee to try and find out more about contract and he had ordered Abby to keep an eye on Tony. Now, all he had to do was get to Stillwater without killing Vance.

They got back in the car and Gibbs pulled back out on the road. He was no longer going the speed limit, his concern for Tony outweighing his need to aggravate Vance. Why would the SecNav sanction a hit on Tony? There was obviously something he was missing and he was hoping that McGee could come up with the one piece that would complete the puzzle.

About a half hour up the road, his phone rang. It was McGee. He flipped it open and said, “Tell me you have something, McGee.”

“I have something, Boss.”

“Good. What is it?”

I opened some more encrypted files and discovered that the contract on Tony was a result of a negotiation between the SecNav and…”

“Who, McGee?”

“Between SecNav and…”

“McGee! Spit it out!” the team leader growled.

“Eli David,” McGee replied.

“Are you sure?” Gibbs quietly asked.

“Unfortunately, I…”

“McGee? Are you still there?”

“Uh, yeah Boss,” McGee stammered. “I have to go.”

“What’s wrong?’’ Gibbs could hear voices in the background, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. “McGee?”

“I’ve got some company, Boss. I’ll have to call you back.”

Gibbs clenched his phone in his hand. “Damn!” he muttered.

“What’s the matter?” Ziva asked.

He kept his eyes focused on the road ahead of him. How could he even begin to tell Ziva what he had just learned? How had Tony managed to tick off Eli David enough that he would want him dead? As far as he knew, DiNozzo had never had any dealings with the man. He felt like screaming. More questions! He didn’t want any more questions; he wanted answers.

“Gibbs, what’s wrong?” the Mossad Officer inquired for the second time.

He shook his head, hoping that she would think that he just didn’t want to say anything in front of Leon. “We’ll talk later,” he whispered.

“Very well. “Is McGee all right?” she wanted to know. “You seem worried.”

“He’s fine.”

Gibbs was glad when she turned her attention back to the book she had been reading. He couldn’t help but wonder if maybe he should have listened to Tony; his senior agent had pleaded with him not to meddle, but Gibbs had not heeded DiNozzo’s words. He could hear Tony telling him that the consequences of his undercover work were more than he could handle. Gibbs considered Tony to be one of the best agents he had ever worked with, the young man’s instincts sometimes surpassing his own. DiNozzo had been in every undercover situation imaginable and this assignment had been the one that had been his undoing. Why?

His foot mashed down on the gas pedal again. He had to talk to Tony before Vance did. Gibbs considered taking DiNozzo into protective custody until this mess was sorted out, but he knew the young man would balk. He just hoped that Tony knew what he was doing; Gibbs couldn’t handle losing his son.





























Chapter 24


McGee hung up the phone and looked up at the two men in dark suits standing over his desk. He had thought he had taken extra measures to cover his tracks while he hacked into SecNav’s and Vance’s perspective computers, but now he wasn’t so sure.

“Uh…can I help you?” he asked.

The first man pulled out his identification. “My name is Agent Lawson and this is Agent Jeffries. We were sent on behalf of the Secretary of the Navy to escort you to his office.”

“The….the Secretary of the Navy?” McGee stammered. He felt like he was going to throw up, but the thought of Tony never letting him forget that he threw up in front of two other federal agents was more than enough incentive to tamp down the nausea. “What does he want with me?”

“You’ll just have to go with us and find out,” Jeffries informed him.

“Oh, well. All right, just give me a minute and I’ll meet you outside,” McGee suggested.

“We’ll wait. We wouldn’t you to get lost or anything.”

McGee blew out a breath that he had been inadvertently holding. “Okay, so just let me shut down my computer and grab my jacket.”

“Go ahead,” Lawson urged. “But I wouldn’t worry too much about your computer; it’s being confiscated along with Agent DiNozzo’s.”

“Confiscated?” McGee asked. This was not good. “Why?”

Lawson grinned. “SecNav’s orders. Now, let’s go, Agent McGee. You don’t want to keep the Secretary of the Navy waiting.”

“Of course not, but can I go to the bathroom before I go?”

“Sure, we’ll be waiting right outside the door.”

McGee nodded and quickly made his way to the bathroom. He locked himself in a stall and pulled out his phone and sent a text to Ziva. The young agent wasn’t sure what else to do, but he had to let Gibbs know what was going on, that much was for certain.

He put the phone back in his pocket, flushed the toilet for effect and went over to the sink and washed his hands. McGee opened the door and nodded at the two agents. “I’m ready when you are. Like you said, we shouldn’t keep Mr. Secretary waiting.”



XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX



Gibbs pulled up in front of his father’s store and parked the car, his mind still reeling from his conversation with McGee. He was having a difficult time understanding why Eli David would put a contract out on DiNozzo, but what bothered him more was the fact that the SecNav had actually known about the contract and condoned it. What could DiNozzo have done to tick off these men? He needed to talk to Tony, about a lot of things, but right now, the contract on DiNozzo’s life was taking precedence over the other unresolved issues between them.

Without sparing a glance at either Ziva or Vance, he took the key out of the ignition and opened his door. “I need to talk to DiNozzo.” He slammed his door shut. “Alone,” he quickly added.

“I’m not staying in this car one minute longer,” Vance declared.

“I didn’t say you had to, Leon. You’re just not talking to DiNozzo yet.”

“I don’t need your permission, Agent Gibbs.”

A smirk danced across the team leader’s lips. “You’re right, Leon. You don’t need my permission, but you’ll need his. This is after all his property and I don’t believe that you bought a warrant with you.”

He nodded towards the door as his father stepped onto the sidewalk. Gibbs had to smile at the annoyed expression that Vance now wore. There was no doubt in his mind that his dad could handle the likes of Director Leon Vance. If the need to talk to DiNozzo hadn’t been so great, he would have enjoyed watching his dad take down Vance a notch or two. He would have to make sure to get a full sitrep from Ziva.

Gibbs walked over to his dad as Ziva and Vance got out of the car. “Tony inside?” he inquired.

“He’s in the back with Abby,” Jack replied.

“How’s he doing?” Once he asked the question, Gibbs wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer.

“He’s doing about as well as can be expected.”

“Meaning what?”

“Just what I said; for someone who should be in the hospital, I’d say that he’s doing pretty well,” Jack said.

“I need to talk to him.”

“I think that you need to do more than talk, Leroy. You need to do some listening.”

He knew his dad was right, but at the moment his main priority was trying to sort out this mess DiNozzo was in. The ex-Marine merely nodded as he opened the door. “Do me a favor?”

“If I can.”

“Help Ziva keep the Director…entertained.”

“So that’s Director Vance?” Jack asked.

“Yeah.”

“Don’t you worry about a thing, son. I’ll take good care of your Director,” the elder Gibbs promised.

“Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome, Leroy.”

Jethro entered the store and closed the door behind him. He could hear Abby begging Tony to eat something, but DiNozzo was adamantly refusing her pleas. Whenever Tony was sick, it usually took a while before the agent’s appetite returned to normal; apparently this time was no exception.

He knocked on the door frame and walked into the room. Tony was sitting on the couch, his feet propped up on the coffee table, and his head was lying back against the cushion. Abby was sitting beside him, holding his hand, her head resting against DiNozzo’s shoulder.

“Hey, Boss,” Tony wearily greeted.

“DiNozzo.”

“Nice trip?”

Gibbs shook his head. “No, not really.”

Gibbs signed to Abby, silently asking how Tony was doing. She replied in the same manner and the team leader nodded his understanding. He then instructed her to leave them alone. He was aware of the fact that she didn’t want to leave Tony, but he needed to talk to DiNozzo alone. The Goth kissed Tony on the cheek, reminding the agent that she wouldn’t be far away if he needed her.

“Thanks, Abs,” the team leader said.

“You know I really hate it when you do that,” Tony mumbled.

“Do what?”

“The whole talking with you hands thing. It creeps me out because usually you’re talking about me.”

“Looks like after all these years, you would have picked up a least a few words by now,” Gibbs purposefully teased, hoping to put Tony at ease.

“You would think that I would have picked up on a lot of things over the years,” Tony countered. “My father always said I was a slow learner.”

Gibbs wondered what he would do if he ever met Tony’s father. He had a feeling that the confrontation would not be a pleasant one for DiNozzo, Sr. Quelling his anger, the team leader sat down on the coffee table so he could talk to Tony face to face. “Care to explain what you mean?”

“About what?”

“You’re not a slow leaner and you’re not stupid, so don’t try and play the fool Tony,” Gibbs warned.

Tony smiled at him, but Gibbs knew it wasn’t genuine; it was the grin that DiNozzo often hid behind to disguise his true feelings. Tony was a master at hiding his emotions and Gibbs figured that he had his father to thank for that as well.

“It’s a part I play so well, Boss,” Tony quipped.

“You’re nobody’s fool, DiNozzo.”

“Except the Director’s.”

“No, especially not his,” Gibbs assured him.

“How do you figure that?” Tony wanted to know. “I mean ever since I’ve been back from the Seahawk, all I’ve done is let him control me like a puppet. He’s doing the same thing to me that I accused you of letting him do to you.”

“Different circumstances.”

“Maybe, but the principle’s the same.”

Gibbs mentally cursed the Director. Vance had shredded DiNozzo’s confidence and self-worth. It had taken the former Marine years to make Tony believe that his life was worth something and Leon had managed to destroy his work in a matter of months. This was just something else that they were going to have to work through.

“If there’s anyone having their strings pulled, it’s SecNav and Vance,” the ex-Marine informed the younger man.

Tony sat up and leaned forward. Gibbs couldn’t help but notice the fine lines of exhaustion around DiNozzo’s eyes. He was forced to tamp down the guilt that threatened to overwhelm him; Gibbs had realized a while ago that he was partly to blame for Tony’s deteriorating health, but visibly seeing the toll that this situation was taking on his agent only served as a reminder of his failure as a team leader and as a friend.

“What do you mean Vance and SecNav are having their strings pulled?” DiNozzo asked.

“Eli David.”

“Ziva’s father?” Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. “What does he have to do with all this?”

“That’s what I intend to find out. McGee hacked into the SecNav’s computer and discovered that a contract had been placed on your life.”

“Abby told me that much.”

“McGee was also able to find out who put the contract out on you.”

“Eli David,” Tony stated.

“Yeah.” Gibbs cleared his throat. “I’ve got to ask you this, Tony.”

“What?”

“Do you have any idea why Eli David would put a contract out on you?”

The ailing man shook his head. “No. I’ve never even met the man,” Tony pointed out. “I don’t understand why he’d want me dead.”

“SecNav condoned it. I have a feeling that’s why you were being sent on these undercover missions,” Gibbs mused. “If you got killed during an operation, there would be no questions asked. It would look like you died in the line of duty and the contract would have been fulfilled.”

“I guess that makes sense, but it still doesn’t answer the question as to why the Director of Mossad would want me dead,” DiNozzo exclaimed.

“No, it doesn’t,” the former Marine agreed.

Gibbs watched as Tony picked up a glass and took a sip of water, grimacing as he swallowed. “Something wrong with the water?”

DiNozzo shrugged. “Not really. Nothing really tastes as it should right now and everything that I think would taste good isn’t on the list.”

“What list?”

“The list of foods that Kate gave Abby; it tells me what I can eat and what I can’t. Damn ulcer,” he muttered. “As soon as it’s healed up, I’m getting a pizza.”

“As soon as you’re better, the first pizza’s on me.”

Tony grinned. “Thanks, Boss.”

Gibbs took the glass from Tony and set it back on the table. DiNozzo nodded his thanks to him and then stood up. The team leader stood up as well and held onto Tony until he got his balance.

“Thanks again,” DiNozzo whispered.

“Any time. Are you sure you should be on your feet?”

“No, but I really don’t have a choice.”

He watched Tony walk over to the window and lean against the wall. The younger man’s gaze was fixed on the shed out back. Gibbs wondered what was going through DiNozzo’s mind; he used to be able to read his senior field agent so well, but that was not the case any longer. “Tony?”

“Does Ziva know about her father?” Tony quietly inquired.

“No, I haven’t said anything.”

“Good. Don’t tell her. She doesn’t need to know.”

“I’m not sure how you’re going to keep it from her,” Gibbs said.

“I’m not either, but I’ve got to try.”

“Don’t you think you’ve kept enough secrets?”

As soon as the words escaped his lips, Gibbs instantly regretted saying them. He saw Tony visibly tense at the unintentional barb. “That didn’t come out right, Tony,” Gibbs quickly added. “What I meant was…”

“When have you ever said something that you didn’t mean, Gibbs? You don’t waste words, not like me. The sad thing is that you’re right,” Tony admitted. “I’ve been keeping a lot of secrets and you would think that I would be tired of it, but truth is, I’m kind of used to it.”

“Tony, I…”

“It’s all right, Gibbs. I’ve been keeping secrets ever since I was a little boy; why should I stop now? Anyway,” Tony continued, purposefully changing the direction of the conversation, “back to the matter at hand. Do you think Vance knows why Director David put the contract out on me?”

“There’s a good chance that he does. He wasn’t surprised to learn that there was a contract,” Gibbs replied.

“Well, I guess I better talk to Vance. We have a lot to discuss.”

“Care to let me in on what you’re going to say to him?”

“No, but you’re welcome to stay. It might be a good idea to have a witness in case things turn ugly.” Tony paused. “Well, uglier than they already are.”

Gibbs put his hand on Tony’s shoulder and gently squeezed. “We’ll figure this out, Tony. I promise.”

“I hope so,” DiNozzo said.

“Trust me. You’re not going down for this,” Gibbs pledged.

“I trust you with my life, Boss.”

“Do you?”

Tony continued to stare out the window. “Yeah, I do.”

“We’re not finished with this conversation, DiNozzo.”

DiNozzo merely nodded his understanding. Gibbs wasn’t sure how to take the silence of his senior agent. A quiet, reflective DiNozzo was not something that he was used to, although since Tony’s return from the Seahawk, the agent had become more contemplative. Gibbs had wanted to believe that it was a sign of maturity, but now he wasn’t so sure. Looking back, he wondered if DiNozzo had silently been crying out for someone to help him and everyone, including himself had ignored his pleas.

“Did you hear me, Tony?” the team leader asked.

“Yeah, Boss. I heard you,” Tony softly answered. “You better go and get Vance. I’m sure he’s chomping at the bit.”

Without a word, Gibbs squeezed Tony’s shoulder once again and turned to leave. He wasn’t convinced that Tony was ready to face the Director, but as DiNozzo had reminded him, he really had no choice. Thanks to Vance and the SecNav, Tony had been robbed of the ability to make his own choices. That was about to change and Leroy Jethro Gibbs vowed that his agent would no longer be the pawn in whatever sick game Vance and the SecNav was playing.


Chapter 25

Jackson Gibbs watched as his son entered the store and closed the door behind him. Leroy had asked him for a favor and he intended to honor the request. He walked over and greeted Ziva and pulled her into a hug.

“It’s good to see you again, Ziva,” he greeted.

“It’s good to see you as well, Jack,” she replied. “You’re looking well.”

He winked at the agent. The last time that she was in Stillwater, Jack had enjoyed the innocent flirtation between them and it was a pattern that they seemed to be able to fall back into rather easily. “It’s in the genes,” he quipped.

“So, I’ve noticed,” Ziva teased.

“I’m sure you have. I have a feeling that very little escapes your attention.”

“That is a correct assumption. I am trained to be aware of my surroundings at all times and to be especially cautious of charming men who try and sweet talk their way into my good graces.”

Jack grinned, shaking his head in amusement. “Now who would be foolish enough to try that?”

“Many have tried.”

“But few have succeeded,” he finished.

They both laughed and hugged once again. He then turned his attention to the Director, who was leaning against Leroy’s car. The Director radiated an exaggerated sense of self importance and was use to getting his own way; he was driven but yet patient, which in Jack’s opinion was a deadly combination.

He walked around the car and stood in front of Vance. He stuck his hand out and introduced himself. “Jackson Gibbs.”

The Director reciprocated the handshake. “Leon Vance, Director of NCIS.”

“I’ve heard some interesting things about you, Director Vance.”

“Really? Such as?”

“Nothing worth repeating,” Jack assured him. “I usually don’t rely too much on other people’s opinions; I like to form my own.”

“An admirable trait,” Vance declared.

“Thank you. It’s the way I was raised and hopefully, I’ve passed it on to Leroy.”

“Believe me, you have.”

“That’s good to know. A father likes to hear those things.”

“What’s the old saying? Like father, like son?”

“That’s even more of a compliment,” Jack said, knowing that Vance was attempting to throw slurs at Leroy. “I’d like to think that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”

Jack watched as the Director gingerly placed a toothpick in his mouth. “So, how long have you been harboring a fugitive?” Vance wanted to know.

“A fugitive?” Jack snorted. “I’m not harboring a fugitive.”

“Anthony DiNozzo is wanted by the F.B.I. and NCIS for questioning,” Vance informed him.

“Well, I don’t see how I can be harboring a fugitive when he’s been in the hospital. As far as I know, he came here to wait so he could turn himself in.”

“I see where Agent Gibbs gets his ability to rationalize any situation to his advantage.”

Jack crossed his arms and stared disapprovingly at the Director. “It seems to me that as the Director of NCIS, you would be more concerned about the welfare of your agents. I get the feeling that you could care less about Agent DiNozzo’s well being. That boy in there can barely stand and you show no sympathy or compassion. He’s gotten caught up in something that he doesn’t even fully understand and you haven’t helped him at all.”

“I’m not here to receive a lecture from you on how to handle my agents. The only reason that I haven’t barged in there is because I don’t have a warrant, but in the next little bit, I’ll be taking Agent DiNozzo into custody and neither you or your son will be able to stop me. DiNozzo has a lot to answer for and I’m going to make sure that he is held accountable for his actions.”

“And what actions are those?” Jack pressed. “He was just following your instructions.”

“No, he wasn’t,” Vance argued. “DiNozzo doesn’t know how to follow anyone’s directions but those of Jethro Gibbs and clearly, I’m not Jethro Gibbs.”

“You can say that again.”

Jack was beginning to wonder how Leroy managed to work for this man. He had only known him for a few minutes and as far as he was concerned, Leon Vance had presented himself as a very unlikable character. The Director’s arrogance would be his undoing, that much was for certain.

“You know, Director Vance,” Jack continued. “I’ve never been one to mince words and I’m sure that’s a trait that you can appreciate. So, I just have to say that as a veteran of the armed forces and as a tax paying citizen of the United States, I find it appalling that the Director of a federal agency would make it his personal crusade to destroy another man’s life.”

“Is that what Agent DiNozzo told you? That I’ve destroyed his life?” Vance shook his head. “DiNozzo has always been one for dramatics.”

“Most of it I figured out by listening,” Jack said. “I just want to make sure that you understand something, Director Vance. If you plan on taking that boy into your custody, you’re going to have to go through me.”

“And me,” Ziva added as she moved to stand beside him.

“Officer David, I would be careful if I were you,” Vance warned. “It would be in your best interest not to get involved in this.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” the Director promised.

Jack stepped in front of Ziva, his chivalrous nature taking precedence over the knowledge that the Mossad officer didn’t need his protection. “You better watch your step, Director Vance. People in Stillwater don’t take kindly to troublemakers. If you don’t believe me, ask Jethro. You better keep that in mind during your stay.”

“And I suggest that you cease threatening a federal officer,” Vance tersely demanded.

“I’m not threatening anyone, Leon. I don’t make threats. That’s counterproductive.” Jack grinned. “Just consider it an exercise in freedom of speech.”

“Which you seem to do without any difficulty.”

“Thank you,” Jack replied. “Now that we understand each other, would you like a cup of coffee? The diner across the street keeps a fresh pot brewing.”

“No, thank you. I’ll just wait right here,” Vance said.

“Suit yourself. How about you, Ziva?”

“I’m fine, thank you,” she assured him.

“Well, I guess we’ll just wait until Leroy says you can come in. I’d let you come inside Director Vance, but I’m afraid that sour look on your face would scare away my customers,” Jack taunted.

“I wouldn’t want that,” Leon retorted.

“I would like to go inside and use your restroom,” Ziva requested.

“Go ahead,” Jack urged. “I’ll be happy to keep the Director company.”

The two men watched Ziva as she entered the store. “So,” Jack began. “Since you don’t want any coffee, how about a little tour around town? It’ll help pass the time. Leroy and Tony have a lot to talk about; who knows how long they’ll be?”

“No. I’ll stay right here,” Vance insisted.

“All right, but it could be a mighty long wait.”

“I’m a very patient man.”

“I bet you are.”

Jack began to ramble on about his early days and about raising his son. He realized that Director Leon Vance could probably care less about his past, but that wasn’t the point. A promise had been made to his son and he intended to keep it. He would continue to keep the Director occupied for as long as Leroy needed him to, giving his son and DiNozzo ample opportunity to talk. He took great pleasure in the fact that Vance was fuming, which only encouraged him to continue telling his life’s story in great detail.



XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX



Ziva closed the door behind her and pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. She had felt it vibrate that she had a text message and had elected not to read it in front of the director. Jackson seemed to be handling the Director and so she had excused herself under the guise of using the restroom.

Flipping open her phone, she noticed that the text was from McGee. She quickly read it and then promptly erased it. Ziva heard voices coming from the other room and she instantly recognized them as belonging to Tony and Gibbs; she needed to talk to the team leader about the text, but was reluctant to interrupt their conversation.

“Ziva!”

She turned and was nearly plowed over when Abby ran up to her and hugged her. “I’m so glad to see you,” the Goth excitedly proclaimed.

Ziva pulled back and smiled at her friend. “I’m glad to see you to, Abby.”

“So, how was your trip?”

“Interesting and quite long actually,” Ziva answered. “What are you doing?”

“I’m getting stuff to make Tony something to eat,” Abby informed her. “He’s not eating properly and unfortunately, he’s kind of limited in what he can have right now because of the ulcer.”

“I see. So, other than the ulcer, how is Tony doing?” Ziva wanted to know.

Abby shrugged. “I don’t know. He says he’s fine, but he’s not. I’ve never seen him look so tired and sad. Jack told me that Tony actually cried and I’ve never ever seen Tony cry. I’ve seen him angry, I’ve seen him drunk, I’ve seen him depressed, but I’ve never seen him cry. I’m scared for him.”

“I’m sure things will get better,” Ziva said unconvincingly.

“I don’t see how they can get much worse.”

“Actually, they just did. I need to talk to Gibbs.”

Abby nervously licked her lips. “What’s wrong?”

Ziva took a deep breath and blew it out. “I just got a text from McGee. He’s being taken to see the SecNav. His computer and Tony’s computer have been confiscated.”

“This is not good.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Thank goodness I managed to copy Tony’s hard drive when I was going through his computer,” Abby said.

“Yeah, but McGee was hacking into SecNav’s and Vance’s computers. That’s how he found out about the contract on Tony.”

“Gibbs needs to know about this.”

“I know, but you know how he feels about being interrupted.”

“I’ll do it,” Abby said. “He won’t get mad at me.”

“True. I’ll wait right here.”

Ziva watched as Abby opened the door to the back room and motioned for Gibbs to come over to the door. She saw the Goth whisper something into the team leader’s ear and he curtly nodded and went back into the room. Within a minute, Gibbs came out of the room and closed the door behind him.

“How long ago did you receive the text?” he wanted to know.

“About five minutes ago,” Ziva replied.

“All right. I’m going to get Vance. Ziva, go and stay with Tony for a few minutes; Abby, you make sure he eats something,” Gibbs instructed.

“What about McGee?” Abby inquired.

“I’ll take care of it as soon as I can, but for now, I have every confidence that McGee can handle the situation.”

Ziva nodded in agreement. “He seems to have gotten tougher over the years,” she agreed. “Of course, he has Tony to thank for that.”

“Yeah,” Gibbs grunted.

She headed towards the back room as Gibbs made his way towards the front door. “Hey,” he called out.

Ziva turned around and arched her eye brow. “Yes?”

“How was my dad doing with Director Vance?” he asked.

“You would be proud. As we speak, I believe that he regaling him with the story of how he came to Stillwater.”

The team leader grinned. “I can’t wait to hear the details.”

She nodded and opened the door to the room where Tony was staying. He was leaning against the wall, staring out the window. The man standing before her did not even look like Tony. He had lost weight and the paleness of his face told of the exhaustion that seemed to consume his soul. But it was the sadness in his eyes that disturbed her. The eyes that used to hold a mischievous glint were now dull and lifeless, making Tony appear to be older than his actual years.

Clearing her throat, she slowly approached him. “Tony?” she softly called to him.

He didn’t answer her; he just continued to stare out the window. The closer she got to him, the more she realized that Tony was struggling to keep his emotions in check. She said his name again, this time her tone was a little stronger. “Tony? Are you all right?”

“No, Ziva, I’m not,” he whispered. “I’m far from all right.”

“I am here if you want to talk,” she gently reminded him.

“No. Not now.”

Ziva nodded her understanding. For the time being, she would honor Tony’s wishes. He was about to face Vance and he needed to conserve what little strength he had. Ziva silently vowed that when he was ready, she would still be willing to listen; she just hoped that it wouldn’t be too late.



XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Gibbs joined his father and Director Vance outside the store. They were still standing by his car and his father was telling about how he gave the team leader his name. He grinned when he saw the irritated expression on Leon’s face; Gibbs knew that his father could outtalk Abby and subjecting Vance to his dad’s infamous storytelling was a fitting punishment for the Director of NCIS.

He nodded to his dad, who abruptly excused himself in order to get a cup of coffee at the diner. The former Marine glared at the Director. “DiNozzo’s waiting.”

“It’s about time,” Vance growled.

“You mean you didn’t enjoy talking with my dad?” Gibbs asked.

“Don’t you mean listening?”

The agent smiled. “Now you see why I’m a man of few words.”

“No, but I do see where you get your persistence from,” Leon stated.

“I consider that a compliment.”

“You would.”

Gibbs motioned for Vance to follow him. “Let’s not keep DiNozzo waiting.”

“Of course not. I wouldn’t want to inconvenience your golden boy. I mean after all, let’s not even consider the fact that he’s now wanted by the F.B.I. and NCIS for questioning. I simply must do a better job of arranging my schedule around DiNozzo’s pathetic excuse of a life.”

The team leader swallowed hard. He knew that Vance was trying to provoke him, but he couldn’t allow that to happen. Tony was relying on him to stay focused and strong during the upcoming confrontation and he was not about to disappoint DiNozzo. Gibbs was not about to let Tony down again; he had been doing that far too much recently. No, he would not give Vance the satisfaction of seeing him resort to violence; however, when all this was over, no one would stop him from giving the bastard what he deserved.




Chapter 26



Tony was grateful when Ziva excused herself, leaving him alone with his thoughts. He was cherishing the quietness of the moment, knowing that this was literally the calm before the storm. Director Vance, SecNav, and Eli David all wanted to destroy not only his career, but his life as well and he truly had no idea why. He wished that he could go back in time to the point that his life had become so complicated and do things differently; of course, he surmised that he would probably have to go back to the day he was born.

He heard Gibbs and Vance in the other room and he suddenly had to fight the urge to throw up. Tony dreaded seeing the man that had caused him so much pain and distress. He wanted to run far way, but he knew that running would only make things worse, not only for him, but for everyone involved. Tony sat down on the couch and cradled his aching head with his hands, willing the pain to stop so he could think clearly. Of course, his body was beyond his control now; the only thing that was keeping him upright was his sheer determination not to appear weak in front of the Director.

A soft knock on the door interrupted his private musings. He looked at the door, momentarily debating on whether to answer it or not. Tony knew that on the other side Vance was waiting like a predator waiting to pounce on his prey. But DiNozzo was comforted by thought that Gibbs was there as well and the ex-Marine always took care of his own.

Clearing his throat, he called out, “Come in.”

The door slowly opened and Gibbs walked in, followed by Director Vance. Tony rose from the couch, hoping that no one noticed his unsteadiness. He nodded a greeting to the two men. “Gibbs; Director Vance.”

“Agent DiNozzo,” Vance tersely replied. “I believe we have some things to discuss.”

“It does appear that way, Director,” Tony snapped.

He looked at Gibbs who with a slight shake of his head silently communicated the need for Tony to stay calm and focused. Tony nodded his understanding. The team leader was right; he couldn’t let Vance rile him and catch him off guard.

“So, shall we begin?” the Director suggested. “Or are we simply going to stand here and stare at each other all day?”

“Where do you want to start, Director Vance?”

“Let’s start with why you blew this last operation to hell,” Vance growled.

Tony could feel the rage begin to build inside him. The man was arrogant and self serving and believed that he could still bully him into doing his bidding; DiNozzo was through letting this man control his life.

“I think we both know why that happened. You set me up, plain and simple.”

“You shot and killed two men, one being an undercover agent.”

“Well, you didn’t bother telling me that, did you? This so called agent gave me away and he was under direct orders to do so, especially after I discovered the...”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Agent DiNozzo. I would be careful about making such ludicrous accusations,” Vance warned.

Tony tightly clenched his fists; his nails biting into his palms. He didn’t care if he was drawing blood; the pain was keeping him focused and right now, he needed to have all his wits about him. “Cut the crap, Director. It all makes sense now.”

“What does?”

“The undercover missions, trying to get me killed; it came from someone higher than you and you were more than willing to oblige, weren’t you? You made me agree to do these operations because I was afraid that you would split up the team again; but that was just your way of ensuring that I’d go along with the missions. These operations were designed to kill me and when the first one was unsuccessful, you sent me on another, thinking that if I wasn’t killed in the line of duty, maybe I would just drop dead from sheer exhaustion! You were hoping that I’d get careless and screw up! Well it took four undercover missions, but you got your wish, you bastard! I screwed up!”

“Yes, you did,” Vance agreed. “You ended up shooting two men, one who was a federal agent.”

Tony sighed. Vance seemed to enjoy driving that point into the ground. “He was on the take,” DiNozzo proclaimed.

“Trying to cover your ass?” Vance challenged. “Perhaps you were the agent on the take and you shot those two men in order to keep your secret safe.”

DiNozzo shook his head in disbelief. He should have expected this from the Director; the man was determined to make him look guilty. “I have proof that says otherwise.”

“What kind of proof?”

Tony grinned. “You actually think I’m turning that evidence over to you? You’re out of your freakin’ mind.”

Out of the corner, he saw a tiny smile escape from the team leader’s lips. Gibbs nodded his approval, giving Tony the strength to continue. Knowing that in some way, he had regained even a minute speck of trust from the man he regarded as a father figure, made his burden a little more bearable.

“You need to remember who you’re talking to, Agent DiNozzo,” Vance said. “I hold your future and your team’s future in my hands.”

“I already know I don’t have a future and Gibbs will take care of the others; you might as well quit trying to play that card.”

He watched as Vance pulled out a fresh toothpick and placed it in his mouth. Tony knew that the Director was trying to unnerve him, but he refused to be intimidated by this man any longer.

“You still have to answer for shooting those two men.”

Tony shrugged. “I have no problem with that.”

“You’re a cocky little son of a bitch, aren’t you DiNozzo?”

“So I’ve been told.” Tony closed his eyes against a sudden wave of dizziness. He silently cursed his weakened body, knowing that in all probability, he wasn’t going to be able to continue this conversation with the Director for much longer.

He felt Gibbs steady him and then the team leader whispered, “Easy, DiNozzo.”

“I’m okay, Boss.”

Tony pulled free of the ex-Marine’s grasp. He stood tall to face Vance once again. “Like I said, Director Vance, I’m not the only one who will have some explaining to do. Somebody is going to have to explain the fact that several high paid officials and businessmen are receiving a cut of the profits from this gun running operation. Some of them are very close friends with SecNav, aren’t they?”

“Once again DiNozzo, you’re sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong,” Vance seethed.

“Force of habit.”

“That habit is going to get you killed.”

“I’m kind of like a cat…you know the whole nine lives thing. It’s going to take a whole lot more than the likes of you and Eli David to kill me.”

DiNozzo saw a hint of uncertainly flicker across Vance’s face. “Oh, I know about the contract, Director Vance. The only thing I don’t know is why.”

“And you’ll probably never know unless Eli chooses to tell you,” Vance said.

“I’m sure I’ll eventually figure it out,” Tony retorted. “Ask Gibbs. I’m pretty good at figuring things out right when it counts. The one thing that I know for sure is that I’ve got enough to take you and SecNav down and short of killing me yourself, there won’t be a damn thing you can do about it.”

“Don’t be so sure, Agent DiNozzo. You’d be surprised at the aces that I have up my sleeve.”

“Sadly, I wouldn’t. You used me and I let you. That won’t happen again,” Tony vowed.

“We’ll see about that.”

“I’m sure we will. I hope you and SecNav are prepared to answer some questions, because if I go down, I’m dragging you with me. You want to frame me for killing those two men, go ahead; but I can guarantee, that I won’t go alone.”

“So, it seems we’re at an impasse,” Vance concluded.

“Maybe.”

“Maybe I misjudged you. Perhaps you aren’t as expendable as I thought. You seemed to have learned the art of blackmail to perfection. Tell me, who taught you how to be so devious?”

“What is it you told me a few months ago? Blackmail is such an ugly word. Why don’t we call this a negotiation?” Tony asked.

“Very well, we’ll negotiate.” He watched as Vance sat down in the chair and motioned for him to take a seat. “So tell me, Agent DiNozzo, let’s go back to the names on that list you saw. Did you recognize any of them?”

Damn Vance. Tony glared at the Director. “Maybe.”

“Any of them related to you?”

“Maybe.”

“So, is that why you called me up here? To cut a deal? Because you know that taking me and SecNav down, you would also destroy your father as well. He cut you off and now you’re returning the favor,” Vance taunted. “Is that it?”

“No.”

Tony could feel Gibbs’ piercing gaze fall upon him. Surely, the team leader knew him well enough to know that he didn’t want to have any dealings with his father; he wanted to do the right thing, but DiNozzo was no longer sure what that was.

“Quit trying to take the heat off yourself, Director Vance. You knew that there was a contract on me and that SecNav sanctioned it; you coerced me into taking undercover assignments that were designed to fulfill the contract, but they didn’t. So, information gets fed to an agent on the take and I almost get killed, but not before I learn that there are benefactors from this gunrunning operation and some of them are personal friends of the Secretary of the Navy, including…” Tony paused and exhaled. “Including my father. Actually, I’m surprised my father isn’t the one who put the hit on me.

“I’ve got the proof to back up what I’m saying, plus I have a witness to this conversation and if I’m not mistaken, Gibbs already has a confession that you refused to pull me out of the operation when I told you my cover had been blown. So, if I was you, I wouldn’t be worried about my father, I’d be worried about my own ass. Because I promise you that SecNav will try and cut the strings from all this and come out smelling squeaky clean and you know who’s going to take the fall? It won’t be SecNav. Crap tends to run downhill, Director.

Vance leaned forward in his chair. “What is it you want, Agent DiNozzo? What do you expect to gain from all this?”

Tony thought for a moment. “I want you to tell my why,” he began. “I want you to tell me what I’ve done to piss you people off so much that you would want to kill me. I’ve been with NCIS for almost eight years and I’m a damn good agent, but yet for some reason, I’m suddenly expendable and this agency is willing to sacrifice me to the wolves and I don’t even know why! How can I fix something when I don’t know what I’ve done?”

Vance sat back in his chair. “Have you ever played chess, Agent DiNozzo?”

“Some.”

“Good, then you’ll understand this analogy. You see, every king has a pawn that must be sacrificed in order to win the game. You are that pawn.”

“Why me?”

Vance took the toothpick out of his mouth and stared at him. “You are the only one who could get us what we wanted,” he declared.

Tony’s anger burned deep. He never thought that he could hate anyone more than he hated his father, but he was wrong. He had been betrayed by his superiors and for what? Gibbs placed his hand on his shoulder and gently squeezed. He appreciated the support but right now, all that he could think about was the fact that he wanted to pommel Vance and the SecNav into the ground. Tony briefly wondered how many years he would get for striking a high ranking federal agent.

“Tony,” Gibbs whispered. “Let’s take a break.”

“No, I’m fine,” he protested.

“No, you’re not. Take a minute and get some fresh air,” the team leader suggested. “You don’t want to do anything rash.”

He nodded and permitted Gibbs to guide him towards the door. Tony glanced over his shoulder to Vance still sitting in the chair with a satisfied smile on his face. “When I get back,” Tony mumbled so only Gibbs could hear him, “I’m going to wipe that smirk off his face.”

Gibbs opened the back door. “Come on, Tony.”

DiNozzo nodded and went out the door. He heard Gibbs say something to the Director, but he really couldn’t make out what he said. “What did you tell him?” he asked.

“I told him that he better be there when we get back.”

Tony nodded as he began to pace. He could feel the tears welling up in his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. He had already broken down once today; Tony knew that he couldn’t afford to let it happen again, at least not right now. Raking his hands through his hair, he gathered a clump of hair in each fist and began to pull, knowing the pain would keep him centered.

The agent felt calloused hands envelope his. “Stop it, Tony,” Gibbs softly ordered. “You’ve been hurt enough without adding any other self inflicted wounds.”

DiNozzo stopped pacing and stared at his mentor. “What did Vance mean when he said that I was the only one who could get them what they wanted?”

“I don’t know, Tony. But I swear to you that we’ll find out,” Gibbs vowed.

Despite everything that he had learned today, Gibbs was still on his side, at least for now. Tony was sure that the older man’s opinion of him had significantly dropped, over the past few days, but at the moment, Gibbs still had his six. He quickly decided that he would take what he could get.

“Are you all right?” the team leader asked.

Tony shook his head. “No.”

“At least you’re being honest with yourself.”

“For a change.”

“Yeah. Do you want to…”

Tony never heard the rest of Gibbs’ question. He clutched his stomach and doubled over, crying out in agony. DiNozzo fell to his knees and attempted to breathe through the pain, but his efforts were proving futile as he collapsed onto the ground. He could hear Gibbs frantically calling out to him, but he couldn’t answer. The last thing that he saw before darkness claimed him was Gibbs reaching for his cell phone and calling for help.

Chapter 27


Abby and Ziva were trying to keep busy by helping Jack in his store. The Goth was wielding the pricing gun, while Ziva was counting inventory. Both women found themselves distracted, wondering what was happening between Vance, Gibbs, and Tony. Judging by the shouting going on, things were not going well. Now, all they could hear was silence and that worried them even more.

“What do you think is going on?” Abby asked.

Ziva shrugged. “I do not know. I wish that I could be a mosquito on the wall.”

“A fly,” Abby corrected. “It’s a fly on the wall.”

“Whatever. I just wish I knew what was going on. The silence is unnerving.”

“Yeah.”

Abby finished pricing the last of the cans, her concern for Tony steadily increasing. Even after she had fixed him some soup, DiNozzo had refused to eat. He had attributed his queasy stomach to nerves, but she had a feeling that something else was wrong. Tony was still very sick and had no business being out of the hospital, but he had insisted on leaving against medical advice. She just hoped that the agent knew what he was doing.

“Maybe we should go and make sure that they haven’t…you know, killed each other or something,” Abby suggested.

“I am sure that Gibbs will let us know if he needs us,” Ziva tried to assure her. “I think that if we were to barge in there, that it would simply make things worse, especially for Tony.”

“I know. I just need to do something.”

“I understand, Abby, but Gibbs told us to say put and we need to trust him on this,” the Mossad officer reasoned.

“I do trust Gibbs and Tony; I just don’t trust Director Vance.”

“Neither do I.”

The front door opened and Jackson Gibbs came hurrying in, concern etched in his distinguished features. Abby started to ask him what was wrong, but was cut off by the older man as he began to make a call. She didn’t have to wait long to learn the identity of the person Jack was calling. Clutching his arm, Abby listened as he was forced to leave a message for Dr. Katherine Marshall.

“Katherine, it’s Jack Gibbs. Tony just collapsed out behind my store; Leroy has called an ambulance and he wanted me to try and get in touch with you. We’ll be taking him back to the hospital as soon as possible.”

Abby and Ziva didn’t need to hear anymore. They made their way through the back room and out the back door, purposefully ignoring the Director who was smugly sitting in a chair, apparently clueless as to what had just happened.

The two women found Tony lying on the ground, his head on Gibbs’ lap. The stillness of their friend was disturbing. Abby looked at Ziva, whose gaze was still fixated on the ailing man. “What happened?” the Goth nervously inquired.

“I don’t know,” Gibbs replied. “I’ve called an ambulance and I sent my dad to call Katherine.”

“What can we do?”

“Find me a couple of blankets,” he instructed them. “Then you can bring the car and meet us at the hospital.”

“What about the Director?” Ziva finally managed to ask.

“Bring him with you,” the former Marine tersely ordered. “If something happens to DiNozzo, I want him where I can find him.”

Abby nervously licked her lips. She had to believe that Tony was going to be all right, because any other alternative was unacceptable. DiNozzo had been close to dying before, but this time it was different. This time Abby wasn’t convinced that Tony wanted to live and that thought scared her more than anything.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


McGee was waiting outside the door of the office of the Secretary of the Navy. He forced himself to breathe deeply in an effort to calm his frazzled nerves. The past week had been filled with the revelation of what appeared to be several well kept secrets involving Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. It was hard to believe that the senior field agent was entangled in such a web of deceit and lies, but then again, he had learned long ago, that he should expect the unexpected.

Tony was his friend and although DiNozzo could be rather irritating at times with his constant teasing, McGee knew that there was no one that he’d rather have watching his back. The senior agent had helped the junior agent overcome his naivety and had made him a better investigator. It had taken McGee a while to recognize the fact that Tony constantly took the brunt of Gibbs’ wrath, deflecting it away from him and Ziva. Now, he was going to get the chance to repay the favor; he was going to get to deflect the SecNav’s anger away from his friend.

The door opened and he was ordered to enter the SecNav’s office. He tried not to let the massive size of the room overwhelm him as he approached the desk with an outward confidence that he didn’t feel on the inside. He stood before the Secretary’s desk and waited to be acknowledged.

“Agent McGee, it’s good to see you again,” the older man greeted.

McGee nodded. “Mr. Secretary.”

“Well, now that we have the formalities over with, let’s get down to business.”

“I have no problems with that,” the young agent agreed.

“Good.” The SecNav opened a box and offered McGee a cigar.

“No thank you. I don’t smoke.”

“I don’t either, just on special occasions.”

“And this is a special occasion?” McGee inquired.

“Of course it is,” Davenport conceded. “It’s not everyday that someone is able to hack into my personal files on my computer. I went to a lot of trouble to make sure that they were protected, but yet, you managed to open them. Congratulations.”

That was the last thing that McGee had expected to hear. He wasn’t sure if he should say ‘thank you’ or if the SecNav was just building him up in order to deliver the fatal blow. “I…uh…well, you see…”

“No wonder Gibbs wanted you for his team,” the SecNav continued. “You’re good. Actually, you’re better than good; you’re one of the best that I’ve seen.”

“Thank you, Mr. Secretary.”
“You’re welcome, Agent McGee.” The SecNav leaned back in his chair. “However, you’ve seen some things that are a matter of national security and now you’ve become a risk.”

“I was only searching for anything that might pertain to Agent DiNozzo, nothing else,” McGee informed him.

“Agent DiNozzo, huh? Well, right now, Agent DiNozzo is wanted by the FBI and NCIS for questioning. It seems to me that you would want to distance yourself as far as possible from him; he seems to have a penchant for attracting trouble.”

“He would be doing the same for me if our situations were reversed.”

“He wouldn’t be able to hack into my computer. DiNozzo’s not that smart.”

“I beg to differ, Mr. Secretary. Tony, I mean Agent DiNozzo is one of the best agents I’ve ever seen, next to Agent Gibbs, of course. He may not have the computer skills that I do, but he has his own way of finding out information.”

“You do realize that your loyalty to Agent DiNozzo has landed you in a lot of hot water.”

McGee stood tall. “Yes sir, I do.”

“And you’re willing to risk your career for DiNozzo.”

“Yes sir, I am. Like I said, he would do the same for me.”

The agent stood his ground as the SecNav rose from his seat and slowly approached him. Davenport squeezed his shoulder. “Well, Agent McGee, I’m impressed. You certainly have developed a backbone over the years. I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to offer you a deal.”

“What kind of deal?” McGee wondered.

Davenport smiled. “The kind of deal that will benefit everybody involved, including Agent DiNozzo. And who knows, you may even get to keep your job.”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Gibbs had just finished dialing 911 when his dad came out of the storage shed. He had instructed Jack to call Katherine and tell her what had happened. Within a few minutes, Abby and Ziva had come bursting through the back door, each one wanting to know what they could do to help their friend. Now, he was sitting on the ground, Tony’s head still cradled in his lap as he watched the paramedics feverishly work on the young man.

The two paramedics had introduced themselves as Greg and Randy and had only spoken to him since then if they had a question about Tony. He heard enough of their conversation to know that DiNozzo was more than likely bleeding internally. Guilt began to plague the former Marine, but he forced these thoughts to the deep recesses of his mind; he would have to deal with these feelings later. Right now, he had to stay focused on Tony.

He absently stroked Tony’s hair as Greg expertly started an IV in the agent’s arm. Gibbs could tell by the grim expressions on the paramedics’ faces that DiNozzo’s condition was deteriorating fast.

“You can ride with us if you want,” Randy informed him.

“Try and stop me,” Gibbs replied, moving aside so the two men could lift Tony onto the gurney.

“Just stay out of the way,” Greg said.

“You won’t even know I’m there.”

Tony was loaded into the ambulance and Gibbs quickly followed, making sure to stay out of Randy’s way. As they headed towards the hospital, Tony began to come around. The team leader placed his calloused hand on his forehead, hoping that the physical contact would keep his senior agent calm.

“Shh. It’s all right, Tony,” Gibbs whispered into his ear.

“What….wha…hap…pened?” Tony mumbled.

“You got sick, Tony. But Randy here is taking good care of you.”

“Hos…pital?”

“Yeah, you’re going to the hospital.”

“Hurts…belly…hurts.”

“I know, Tony. Just take it easy,” he gently urged. “Everything will be all right.”

Gibbs silently wished that he could take DiNozzo’s pain upon himself. It was a parent’s instinct when their child was hurting to want to take that hurt away, but he knew from experience that it didn’t work that way. Why didn’t he do more to stop Tony from leaving the hospital in the first place? Jack had told him to stay, but he had ignored his father’s warnings and went back to D.C., believing that he was helping Tony. All that he had managed to do was cause DiNozzo even more pain, both physically and emotionally.

“Vance?” Tony rasped, bringing Gibbs out of his private musings.

“Don’t worry about Vance. You just concentrate on getting better.”

“I’m…sor…ry. I screwed up.”

The team leader choked back his anger. His wrath at Vance didn’t need to be directed at Tony. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for.”

Tony didn’t answer. Gibbs leaned down closer to the ailing man. “I said that you have nothing to be sorry for. Do you understand me?”

Gibbs’ question was met with silence once again. Taking his hand that had been resting on Tony’s forehead; he gently tapped the top of his head, just as he did when DiNozzo had been dying from the plague. “Do you understand me?” he repeated.

Tony weakly smiled. “Got it, B…Boss.”

Satisfied, Gibbs sat back up in time to notice the concerned expression on the paramedic’s face. “What’s wrong?” he demanded to know.

“Pressure’s still dropping,” Randy explained as he started another IV. “Bleeding must be pretty bad.”

The ex-Marine clenched his jaw, mentally willing DiNozzo to fight for his life. He watched intently as Randy listened to Tony’s heart. The paramedic then radioed Greg who was driving wanting to know an ETA. Gibbs felt like he was going to be sick. The only person that he would ever call son was dying and he was helpless to stop it. He hadn’t been there for Shannon and Kelly and now there was nothing he could do for DiNozzo.

Within a couple of minutes, the ambulance pulled into the emergency entrance of the hospital where Dr. Katherine Marshall was waiting. As Tony was whisked away into one of the trauma room, Gibbs attempted to follow. The nurse stopped him with a stern shake of her head and he was forced to stand and watch their efforts to save Tony through the small window in the door.

He saw Katherine coming towards the door and he stepped aside to let her out, hoping that she would be able to tell him something about DiNozzo’s condition. “How is he?” he impatiently asked.

“He’s headed straight for surgery,” she snapped. “I don’t have time to go into details; we’ll have to talk later.”

Before he could reply, the nurse who had previously prevented him from entering the room came rushing towards them. “He’s crashing!” she cried out.

Katherine and the nurse ran back into the room and began working desperately to start Tony’s heart again. Gibbs stepped inside the door, knowing that his presence wouldn’t be noticed for the moment. Tears were welling up in his eyes and he did nothing to prevent them from running down his cheeks.

He wasn’t sure what the tears were for. Was he crying because Tony was dying? Was he crying because he had never taken the opportunity to tell Tony that the young man had managed to fill a void left by Kelly and Shannon? Or was he crying because he had failed Tony and was afraid he wouldn’t get a chance to set things right?

Gibbs would have to figure it out later. For right now, he would just have to cry and hope that his tears were enough to convince God to leave Anthony DiNozzo on this earth.

Chapter 28

Dr. Katherine Marshall breathed a sigh of relief as Anthony DiNozzo’s vital signs began to stabilize enough to take him to surgery. Barking orders to the nurses, she stepped aside as the orderlies wheeled him out of the trauma room and towards the surgery wing. Stripping off her gloves, she turned to throw them in the trash can when she caught a glimpse of Jethro Gibbs standing in the corner. She wasn’t surprised to discover that he had slipped into the room unnoticed; it really had been useless to try and make him stay in the waiting area.

She wasn’t sure exactly what to say to him and at the moment, she didn’t have a lot of time to ease his guilty conscience. “He’s a fighter,” she said convincingly.

“Always has been,” Gibbs quietly replied.

“That’s good. Hopefully, that will work to his and our advantage.”

“Take care of him. Please,” he added.

The doctor could sense the desperation of the man before her. This wasn’t a superior pleading for the life of his agent; this was a man begging for the life of his son.

“I’ll do what I can,” she promised. “I have to go.”

She hurried out of the room and headed towards surgery, knowing that she couldn’t afford to waste anymore time. Katherine had told Gibbs that she would do what she could to save Tony’s life, but she wasn’t convinced that DiNozzo truly wanted to live and that thought both scared and angered her. This entire situation could have possibly been avoided if Tony had listened to her and not checked himself out of the hospital against medical advice, but there had been no talking him out of it. It seemed like the young man had a death wish and was determined to see it fulfilled.

Blowing out a pent up breath, she pushed these thoughts out of her mind. Katherine knew that she needed to focus all her energy on saving Tony’s life. She didn’t tell Gibbs that the young man’s chances of survival were not favorable, the physician was not one to take away the element of hope from the family.

Katherine entered the scrub room to prepare for surgery. As she washed her hands, she found herself staring at her patient through the window. “Gibbs says you’re a fighter, Tony,” she whispered. “I just hope you have enough fight left in you to pull through this.”

Taking the towel from the scrub assistant, she quickly dried her hands and slipped into the rest of her surgical attire. Entering the operating room, she was informed of Tony’s vital signs and although they were still dangerously low, she knew that there wouldn’t be much improvement until she was able to control the bleeding. Without hesitation, Katherine took the scalpel from the nurse. “Ready?”

Everyone answered affirmatively. “Good,” she said. “Let’s get started.”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Gibbs slowly made his way towards the surgical waiting area, knowing that it would be a while before there would be any news on Tony. He poured himself a cup of coffee and took a sip; it was cold, but he really didn’t care. His thoughts were on his senior agent, Anthony DiNozzo. Tony had come close to dying in the line of duty several times before, but the agent had managed to beat the odds. This time was different.

Despite what he had told Dr. Marshall about Tony always being a fighter, he had a feeling that DiNozzo was tired of fighting. Gibbs knew that the young man had been battling both visible and invisible demons all his life and the ex-Marine couldn’t help but wonder how much more Tony could withstand.

His cell phone rang, shattering the silence of the room. He glanced at the caller ID; it was Ducky. He easily deduced that Ziva or Abby must have called the ME, informing him of what had happened to Tony. “Gibbs,” he mumbled.

“Jethro, how’s Anthony?” Ducky inquired.

Gibbs shook his head. “I don’t know, Duck. He’s not doing too well. He’s bleeding internally; he’s in surgery right now.”

“His ulcer must have perforated,” the ME guessed. “Is Dr. Marshall doing the surgery?”

“Yeah.”

“Jethro, is there something that you’re not telling me?”

The team leader took another sip of the cold coffee. Grimacing at the bitter taste, he set the cup down beside him. “They almost lost him before he even got to surgery. I’m not sure he’s going to pull through this.”

“Of course he will, Jethro. As Abigail would remind you, you must have positive thoughts. Tony is very strong, both physically and mentally, and…”

“I’m not so sure that’s going to be enough, Duck. I saw it in his eyes while we were in the ambulance. He’s tired.”

“I’m sure that he is,” the doctor readily agreed. “He’s been essentially pulling double duty by working for you and working for Vance. You know that Tony never does anything halfway: he puts everything he has into his work and…”

“And now it could cost him his life. That’s a price that he shouldn’t have to pay. He almost died on the table before I could…”

“Before you could what, Jethro?” Ducky pressed.

“Before I could make things right.”

“I’m certain that you’ll have that chance. Do you think Tony would pass up the opportunity to hear you say you’re sorry?” the ME gently teased.

“I wish I could be so sure, Duck.”

“Don’t give up on young Anthony just yet. Time and time again, he’s proven to be a resilient young man.”

“I know that Duck. How many times is he going to pick himself up off the ground and dust himself off only to discover that there’s someone else waiting in the wings to try and take him down?”

Gibbs could envision Ducky shaking his head. “I don’t know,” the physician admitted. “But I do know this, that when he gets to the point where he can’t pick himself up again, you’ll be right there with the helping hand. He knows that as well and that’s what he’s counting on. Despite the strain that your relationship is under, Tony knows that he can always depend on you.”

“Just like he depended on me being able to see what was happening to him right under my nose,” the team leader growled.

“Tony doesn’t blame you for that. He didn’t want you to see what was happening and we both know that Anthony is a master of disguise,” Ducky reminded him.

“Yeah. I still should have noticed something. I was too preoccupied making sure that Vance didn’t abuse the Director’s chair like Jenny did and unfortunately, Tony paid the price for my blindness.”

“He’s not dead, Jethro. You still have time to make things right. If it’s Tony’s forgiveness you’re seeking, I’m sure that he will readily give it. After all, you’re his family; his father.”

“Some father,” Gibbs mumbled. “I’m just as much of a bastard as his real one.”

Gibbs was startled by the indignant tone of the medical examiner’s voice. “Don’t you ever compare yourself to that man again, Agent Gibbs,” Ducky warned. “Tony worships the ground you walk on, he strives to be like you, he wants to make you proud; you are the father that he has always wanted and needed. Tony truly has no idea what it means to be someone’s son; he’s lived his life wondering why he couldn’t measure up to his real parent’s standard. You’ve at least had the chance to be a father and although Kelly was taken away from you, you have a chance to fill that void in your life with a son. He may not be flesh and blood, but he is the child of your heart. Don’t deny him the father that he deserves.”

The former Marine grinned. Leave it to Ducky to get straight to the point. “You’re right, Duck. We’ll work it out,” Gibbs vowed. “Somehow, we’ll work it out.”

“You might start with a nice whack to the back of the head,” the ME suggested.

“I think I’ll give him a couple of days to recover before I do that.”

“I wasn’t talking about Tony,” Ducky retorted.

His reply was cut short by the arrival of Abby, Ziva, Vance, and Jack. “I’ll call you back later when I hear something, Duck. I’ve got to go.”

Gibbs hung up his phone and slipped it back in his pocket. Three sets of eyes were staring at him, their concerned gazes silently asking the question that they were afraid to speak out loud. Vance merely walked over to the window and stared out across the parking lot. Standing, Gibbs approached the two women and his father.

“He’s in surgery as we speak,” Gibbs began. “He’s bleeding internally and Dr. Marshall rushed him into surgery. Ducky says Tony’s ulcer probably perforated causing the bleeding. That’s pretty much all I know right now.”

“Did he ever wake up?” Abby anxiously inquired.

“Very briefly, in the ambulance.”

He hugged Abby as she laid her head on his shoulder. “Please tell me he’s going to be all right, Gibbs,” she softly implored.

“He’ll pull through, Abs,” he stated with more confidence than he felt. “He has to.”

“You’re right. Positive thoughts.”

“We all need to have positive thoughts,” Ziva added.

“You’re right,” Jack agreed. “While we’re waiting, I’m going to go find us all some coffee and something to drink. Would one of you girls like to come with me?”

“I’ll go,” Abby said. “Ziva can stay here just in case you or the Director…need her.”

Gibbs smiled at Abby’s obvious attempt to cover her near faux pas. He kissed her on top of the head. “Thanks, Abs.”

Abby nodded as she took Jack’s proffered arm. “You’re welcome.”

The team leader signed ‘I love you’ to the Goth and then turned his attention to the Director. “You don’t have anything to say, Leon?”

“Not really,” the Director said. “Although I am glad that your father drove your car instead of Officer David: I’m not sure the good people of Stillwater could handle Ziva’s unique driving style.”

“Special Agent DiNozzo is fighting for his life and all you can manage to say is that you’re glad that my dad drove you here.” Gibbs clenched his jaw. “Is that your way of dealing with your guilt?”

“Guilt? I have no guilt.”

“Evidently you don’t have a conscience either.”

“Oh, I have a conscience, Agent Gibbs, but I don’t allow it to interfere in matters of international relations with our allies. I do what has to be done. Surely as a former sniper, you would understand that concept. I’m afraid that Agent DiNozzo doesn’t.”

Gibbs stood toe to toe with the Director. “You’re actually hoping that he doesn’t pull through,” he observed. “You would be more than happy if he were to die on that operating table, wouldn’t you?”

“I’m not that cold hearted, Agent Gibbs.”

“That’s debatable,” Gibbs countered. “You were cold hearted enough to help SecNav honor a contract on Tony’s life. You were cold hearted enough to send him on operation after operation without the obligatory debriefing time and you were cold hearted enough to leave him in an op after his cover was blown. So, forgive me, Director Vance, if I don’t believe that you are even the slightest bit concerned for DiNozzo. You’ve done everything humanly possible to ruin his life, but somehow he’s still managing to foil your plans.”

“If DiNozzo pulls through this, his career is over,” Vance warned. “And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, Agent Gibbs.”

“I thought you learned your lesson about underestimating me, Leon.”

“Maybe, but I haven’t underestimated Agent DiNozzo.”

“What do you mean?” the team leader wanted to know.

“Just that I know that DiNozzo will go to great lengths to protect those individuals that he cares about. He’s very noble in that way; he doesn’t want to see his friends, excuse me, his family hurt and he will do everything in his power to keep it from happening. For instance, you and I both know that DiNozzo is aware of who put that contract out on him, but he would rather carry that secret to his grave than risk a certain individual from discovering the truth.”

Gibbs didn’t miss Vance’s subtle glance towards the Mossad officer and he knew that Ziva didn’t miss it either. What was Vance trying to do? Destroy his team? The Director had tried that once and had failed; did he not realize that he would fail again?

“Is there something I should know?” Ziva asked.

“No,” Gibbs said.

“More secrets, Gibbs?” Vance challenged.

“Now’s not the time, Leon.”

The Director placed a toothpick between his teeth. “You started this conversation,” he reminded the team leader.

Gibbs’ face was now mere inches from Vance’s. “You better pray that Tony pulls through, because if he doesn’t, there won’t be enough of you to bury.”

“Another promise, Agent Gibbs?”

“Ziva,” Gibbs said. “Go and see if Ducky and Abby need any help.”

“But I want to stay here and…I’m going.”

He continued to glare at the Director, resisting the urge to inflict pain upon the pretentious man. “You’re going down, Vance. You’re going to discover how lonely it is at the bottom when you’re left holding the bag after everyone is done taking a crap.”

Before Vance could respond, Gibbs pulled out his handcuffs and in one fluid movement and cuffed Vance to the handle on the window frame.

“What are you doing?” Vance demanded.

“Placing you in protective custody?”

“And just who are you protecting me from?”

Gibbs smiled. “Me.”

Chapter 29


The teen was sitting on the beach, watching the waves wash upon the sand and go back out again. He had been there since last night and now the sun was coming up over the horizon. The ocean gave young Anthony DiNozzo a sense of peace that he was not accustomed to. His life was anything but peaceful, but right now, he didn’t have a care in the world.

Laughter filled the air and Tony looked up to see a man and a young girl walking down the beach. The girl couldn’t have been more than five and the man definitely looked as if he belonged in the military. He watched with interest as the girl picked up a seashell and then called out to her father. “Daddy, what about this one?” she gleefully shouted.

If Tony had to guess, he would have bet that the girl’s father was a Marine. Of course, his hypothesis had nothing to do with the Marine Corp t-shirt the man was wearing, but he liked to assume that he would have been able to figure it out on his own.

The father took the shell from the girl and held it up to examine it. “It’s perfect, Kelly. It’ll make a beautiful necklace for mommy.”

“Maybe we could find another one and make her a matching bracelet,” she exclaimed.

“That’s a great idea.”

“I love you, daddy!”

“I love you too, Kelly.”

Shaking his head as he rolled his eyes, Tony returned his attention to the waves. They were restless, just like he was. He wished that he could just drift out to sea forever where he would never have to face the harshness of the reality that had become his life ever again.

“Beautiful morning, isn’t it?”

Tony looked up to discover the Marine standing over him. The teen shrugged and drew his knees up to his chest. “I guess so,” he mumbled.

“Mind if I sit down?” the older man asked.

“I don’t own the beach; I guess you can sit anywhere you want.”

The Marine sat down and extended his hand. “My name’s Jethro, Jethro Gibbs. What’s yours?”

Again Tony shrugged. “Does it matter?”

“I don’t guess it does, but I’d kind of like to call you something besides hey you.”

“I answer to just about anything. Bastard, son of a bitch, stupid, idiot…”

“Who calls you those names?” Jethro asked.

“Doesn’t matter.”

“It does to me.”

Tony glared at the Marine. He considered himself to be an accurate judge of character and just by looking into the eyes of Jethro Gibbs; Tony knew that this man was sincere.

“Anthony,” the boy finally whispered.

“Got a last name?”

“Yeah.”

“But you’re not going to tell me,” Gibbs deduced.

“Nope.”

“Fair enough. So, Anthony, where are your parents?”

“Mother’s dead and father’s in a business meeting.”

“I’m sorry about your mom.”

“Not your fault.”

“No, but I’m still sorry. How did she die?”

Tony stared straight ahead. Who was Jethro Gibbs and why did he care about how his mother died? This man was a stranger and Tony had learned the hard way that you didn’t involve strangers in personal family business.

“Killed herself,” he finally admitted.

“I’m sorry.”

“She was smart and got out while she could.”

“Got out of what?”

Tony tiredly grinned. “Hell.”

He flinched with the Marine placed his hand on his shoulder. “Son, do you need help? Are you in trouble?”

Jethro Gibbs wanted to help him, Tony truly believed that, but he couldn’t risk the man becoming involved in his miserable life. “No sir, I’m all right.”

“If you’re in trouble, I’d like to help,” Gibbs urged.

“No sir. Everything is fine. I’m just being a typical, rebellious teenager.”

“I don’t believe that. You don’t seem too rebellious.”

“It’s the medication.”

“What are you on medication for?” Jethro wanted to know.

“At the moment? Depression.”

“Because of your mom dying?”

“Hell no, she’s been dead for five or six years. I guess I’m on pills just because there has to be something wrong with me.”

“Why’s that, Anthony?”

“I don’t know.”

That was the truth. His father had told Tony from a young age that something was wrong with him and he had finally gotten to the point that he believed his father. The first part of his summer break had been spent in a private psych hospital under the care of his father’s private physician. He had just been out a week, when his father informed him that he would be accompanying the senior DiNozzo on a business trip. He hoped that his father would forget him like he did in Hawaii.

“Look, if you need help,” Gibbs began. “I know some people who…”

“No!” Tony snapped. “You don’t know my father.”

“I would if you told me his name.”

Tony shook his head vehemently. “It’s not worth it. I’ll either make it a couple more years or I won’t.”

“You’ve got a long life…”

“Don’t!” Tony growled. “Don’t tell me how I’ve got a long life ahead of me! If this is what I’ve got to look forward to, then I might as well just walk in that ocean and never look back. I’ve managed to stay alive this long and if I can manage another couple of years, I’ll get the hell out of my father’s life and he never has to worry about me shaming his name again. I won’t…”

Tony closed his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I don’t know why I just went off like that.”

“Sounds to me like you’ve got a lot justified anger built up in you and…”

“Mr. Gibbs, I don’t need another therapist.”

“What do you need?”

“I don’t know,” the teen said.

“How about a friend?”

“You want to be my friend?”

Tony never received an answer as Kelly came running up to Gibbs. “Daddy, I think I found some shells for her bracelet! See?”

Feeling a twinge of jealousy, Tony hung his head in shame. Why should he be jealous of a little five year old girl and her dad? He barely even knew their names, they were strangers, and yet his heart ached for a father that would praise him for finding the perfect sea shell.

“They’re beautiful, princess,” Gibbs replied, kissing the top of Kelly’s head.

“Anthony!”

He jumped up at the sound of his name. Tony felt a knot form in the pit of his stomach as he turned around to see his father standing at the edge of the dune glaring at him with pure hatred.

“I gotta go.”

“Anthony, I can help you if you’ll let me,” Gibbs pleaded.

“No, you can’t, but thanks for listening.”

Tony hurried over to his father and fell into step behind him. He recognized that look; there was going to be hell to pay for disappearing and he was going to suffer the consequences for what his father would call a lack in judgment.

His thoughts turned briefly back to Jethro Gibbs and his daughter, Kelly. What would have happened if he had taken the Marine up on his offer of help? Would he have been better off or would he end up in more of a hell hole than he was in now? It didn’t matter, in a few weeks, Tony would be going to back to school and wouldn’t have to see his father until Christmas break. He just hoped that he was still alive by then.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


“Agent DiNozzo, I need you to wake up now. Tony, can you hear me?”

Tony opened his eyes, blinking them several times until he could focus on his surroundings. The agent had expected to see a sandy beach but instead he saw Dr. Marshall hovering over him. His mind was too clouded with fog to realize why she was here with him or what she was doing.

“Tony? It’s Katherine Marshall,” the doctor said. “Can you hear me?”

“Yeah,” he whispered. His throat felt like sandpaper and it pained him to swallow. “What…”

“Your ulcer perforated and you were bleeding internally. I managed to stop the bleeding and repair the damage, but you’re going to have to take it easy for a while.”

The agent truly had no idea what she had just said. His head was pounding and he felt as if he were going to throw up. As if she were able to read his mind, Katherine assured him that he was more than likely feeling the affect of the anesthesia and that she would get him something for the pain and the nausea.

He nodded and closed his eye, trying to ignore the sheer agony that he was experiencing. How had he ended up in the hospital? He had been on the beach talking to Gibbs. No, that wasn’t right. He had been talking to the ex-Marine, but they had not been at the beach. Tony doubted that Gibbs even remembered that day and it was probably for the best. He cursed under his breath, berating himself for his inability to make sense of his jumbled thoughts.

Tony’s eyes snapped back open as the memory of him and Gibbs talking outside of Jack’s store came flooding back. He struggled to sit up. “Vance,” he rasped. “Vance is gonna…”

He gasped in pain and collapsed back on the bed. His stomach was on fire; his head was pounding which further exacerbated the waves of nausea that threatened to overwhelm him. “Oh, God,” he moaned.

“That wasn’t a smart thing to do,” the doctor chastised.

“I know,” Tony grunted while he watched one of the nurses inject something in his IV.

“I’m going to go and talk to your friends and tell them you’re in recovery,” Katherine informed him. “You’re going to be here a few hours just so we can keep an eye on you, then I’m going to move you back up to ICU for a few days. Now, when I get back, I expect to hear that you were a model patient or there will be consequences. Do I make myself clear, Agent DiNozzo?”

Tony nodded. “I need to…see…Gibbs,” he said.

“Later,” she insisted.

“No…please…now…need to talk to him…”

“You are in no condition to be talking to anyone. You’re supposed to be resting.”

“Have to…talk…to him.”

“Tony, I said not now. You’ve just had major surgery and…”

“I’m not…going to…rest…until…I talk to Gibbs.”

“You can talk to him after you’re out of recovery and not before.”

Tony was no longer able to keep his eyes open. He didn’t have the strength to fight against the affects of the sedative and painkillers and he allowed himself to drift off. Before darkness claimed him, he found himself wondering if there was ever going to be a light at the end of the tunnel that didn’t belong to a train.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


He watched Anthony walk behind his father as the pair made their way back to the resort that they were staying at. Jethro Gibbs’ instincts were to follow the teen to make sure that he was going to be all right, but he had Kelly with him and he couldn’t risk her getting hurt. He felt a gentle tug on his hand. Looking down at his daughter, he smiled at the young girl.

“Who was that boy you were talking to, Daddy?” she asked.

“His name was Anthony.”

“He looked sad.”

“Yeah, he did.”

“Why was he sad?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think he gets along with his dad too well.”

“Oh. Is his dad mean to him?”

“I don’t know. I hope not.”

“Well, if his dad is mean to him, then we could just bring him home with us. It would be cool to have a big brother,” she grinned.

“It would?”

“Yeah, cause he could kill the spiders and bugs while you’re away.”

Gibbs laughed. “I thought that was your job.”

“It is,” Kelly said, “but I don’t like doing it. I just do it because mommy’s scared of spiders.”

“I see.” He shook his head in amusement. There was something about the innocence of a child that touched his heart. “Speaking of mommy, we better get back. I’m sure that she’s almost got breakfast ready for us.”

“Then after breakfast, we can make her necklace and bracelet!”

“Yep. Are you ready?”

Kelly grabbed his hand and the two of them headed back down the beach to their own hotel. As he listened to his daughter ramble on about their plans for the day, Jethro found his mind wandering back to Anthony. There was something special about that boy, but it was apparent that his father didn’t agree.

Deciding that he would take a run later on that day, he planned to make a detour to the resort that he saw Anthony and his father enter and check on the teen. His gut was screaming at him that the young man desperately needed help and he could not turn his back on Anthony.



Jethro Gibbs sat up, cursing under his breath for permitting himself to fall asleep. He pinched the bridge of his nose as he tried to clear his mind. The ex-Marine had pushed so many memories of Kelly and Shannon to the far recesses of his mind and he couldn’t figure out why he would be dreaming of the summer that they had gone to Virginia Beach.

As he played back the memory, he realized that he wasn’t really dreaming about Kelly and Shannon; he was remembering a lonely young teenager who was crying out for help. Why had he never made the connection? That young man that he had met on the beach had been none other than Anthony DiNozzo. It sickened him to think how different Tony’s life could have been if he had only managed to go back to the resort before Tony and his dad had checked out.

“Agent Gibbs?”

The team leader stood up as Dr. Marshall entered the waiting room, mentally noting that everyone was accounted for. “How’s Tony?” he anxiously inquired.

“His ulcer had perforated resulting in internal bleeding,” she explained. “It was touch and go with his blood pressure for a while, but I did get the bleeding stopped and repaired the damage. He’s still in recovery where he’ll stay for a few more hours. Tony was having a difficult time handling the affects of the anesthesia, which is not that unusual. I’ll be moving him to ICU after that where he’ll have to stay for several days.”

“Can we see him once he gets settled in ICU?”

The physician sighed. “One at a time and only for 15 minutes at a time. You have to adhere to the ICU visiting rules.”

“But one of us has to stay with Tony at all times,” Abby interjected. “Hospitals freak him out.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not making exceptions this time,” Katherine stated. “Tony needs to rest and he doesn’t need any added stress. He lost a lot of blood and it’s going to be awhile before he’s back on his feet. I’m just doing what’s best for him.”

“No, you’re not,” Abby challenged. “You’re denying him his friends, his family.”

“I’m trying to keep him alive,” Katherine snapped.

Gibbs put his finger on Abby’s lips and shook his head. “We’ll abide by your rules. We just want to be able to see him and let him know we’re here for him.”

“He asked to speak with you Agent Gibbs, so after he’s settled in ICU, you can see him.”

“Thank you.”

After Katherine left, Gibbs turned and faced his team. “She’s right. Our top priority is Tony and what’s best for him. We’re going to get him through this and we’ll do it together.”

Knowing that his team would not question his decision, he walked over to the Director. “You’re still not off the hook. I have enough to put you away for a long time. But there’s still some missing pieces and once Tony is better, he’ll be the one to drive the final nail in your coffin. He deserves that privilege after the hell you’ve put him through.”

“I think you have it wrong, Agent Gibbs. I’m not the one DiNozzo should be worried about,” Vance said. “He has many enemies, some that he doesn’t even know about. Isn’t that right, Officer David?”

Gibbs clenched his fist, struggling to control the rage burning inside him. He glanced at Ziva, who appeared to be confused by the Director’s insinuations. “Ziva, go and try and call Ducky and let him know that Tony’s out of surgery,” he ordered.

Ziva stood her ground. “I want to know what Director Vance meant by his last comment.”

“Not now, Ziva,” Gibbs growled, his icy tone daring her to challenge him.

The team leader breathed a sigh of relief as Ziva nodded and left the room. He turned his attention back to Vance. “You will not break up my team again, do you understand me?”

“Agent Gibbs, I…”

He cut off the Director with an angry glare. His phone rang and he saw that it was McGee. Knowing that he needed to take this call in private, he quickly excused himself from the waiting room and hurried down the hall. “Gibbs,” he answered.

“Hey, Boss.”

“McGee, are you all right?” the former Marine asked.

“I’m fine, Boss. I’m here with Secretary Davenport and he wants to talk to you.”

“To me?”

“Yeah, Boss. He wants to make a deal.”

“A deal, what kind of deal?”

“I’ll let him explain it to you.”

Gibbs shook his head in frustration. “I want you to explain it to me, McGee!”

The next voice he heard was that of Secretary Davenport. “Agent Gibbs, as I was telling Agent McGee, I have a deal to offer to Agent DiNozzo and I think he’ll be more than willing to accept it. If he is reluctant, I’m sure that you can convince him to take the deal.”

“If this deal is so good, why am I going to have to convince DiNozzo to accept it?” Gibbs pressed.

“I have a way to clear Agent DiNozzo’s name and to get rid of Leon,” the SecNav announced. “Are you interested?”

“I’m listening.”

“Not over the phone. I’ll be sending Agent McGee with the details. I’ll expect Agent DiNozzo’s answer within 12 hours.”

“Tony just had surgery and is on his way to ICU as we speak, sir. I don’t think he’s going to be up to listening to any kind of deal,” Gibbs pointed out.

“12 hours,” Davenport repeated.

The line went dead and Gibbs shut his phone and slipped it back in his pocket. “Damn it.”

Images of young Anthony DiNozzo sitting on the beach began to play in his mind once again. He was still admonishing himself for not being able to make the connection between the cynical young boy and his senior agent. He had buried so many memories after Shannon and Kelly died, believing that he was keeping his heartache at bay; but what had his selfishness cost Tony?

“Well DiNozzo, I guess we have more to talk about than I thought.”

He started to head back to the waiting room when he saw Ziva standing at the other end of the hallway, talking on the phone. She was supposed to be calling Ducky but Gibbs had a feeling that she wasn’t talking to the ME. Ziva’s movements were agitated, almost frantic as she spoke in Hebrew. Gibbs had a feeling that she was talking to none other than Eli David.

Chapter 30

She glanced up to see Gibbs heading towards her and quickly began speaking in Hebrew. Ziva shook her head, indicating to the team leader that his presence was not welcome. Thankfully, a nurse had come up and informed Gibbs that he could see Tony and she breathed an inward sigh of relief. She watched as he turned and headed towards the elevator and Ziva decided to step into an empty room to continue her conversation in private.

“Father, tell me what is going on,” she demanded.

“Ziva, I do not know what you are talking about,” Eli David innocently replied.

“Do not insult my intelligence, Father,” Ziva challenged. “I know that something is going on between you, Director Vance, and most likely Secretary Davenport.”

“Again, Ziva, I do not know what you are talking about.”

“Do not lie to me, Father. I know that you have been in touch with them and that the three of you are part of the reason that Tony is…”

“How is Agent DiNozzo?” Eli inquired.

“What do you mean?”

“I heard that he was not doing too well. I do hope that he pulls through.”

Ziva closed her eyes in an effort to center herself, refusing to let her father throw her off balance. “How did you know that he was ill?”

“I have my sources.”

“I see. And what else have your sources told you about?” she asked.

“That is on a need to know basis and right now, you do not need to know.”

“I would have to disagree.”

“Tell me something, Ziva. Do you have feelings for Agent DiNozzo?”

Ziva was taken back by the bluntness of her father’s inquiry. “What do you mean?”

“It is a simple question, Ziva. Do you have feelings for Agent DiNozzo?” Eli repeated.

“He is my partner; of course I care about him.”

“I do not mean on a professional level, Ziva.”

“We are good friends, nothing more,” she assured her father.

“Really?”

‘Yes.”

“I guess I will have to take your word for it. I will have to trust you, just like you should trust me,” he attempted to rationalize.

Ziva was getting frustrated with her father’s insinuations. “I do trust you, but…”

“Do you?” Eli challenged.

“Yes.”

“Then forget we ever had this conversation.”

“I can not do that,” Ziva said. “You know that I will eventually find out what is going on, so you might as well tell me. What is your connection to Tony?”

“The only connection that I have to Agent DiNozzo is through you,” Eli stated.

“I do not believe you.”

“Then my daughter, we have nothing more to discuss.”

“Wait!” she cried out. “I have one more question.”

She could sense her father’s annoyance, but at the moment, she wasn’t worried about incurring his wrath.

“What is it, Ziva?” he inquired, unable to disguise the anger in his cultured tone.

“Do you know who put a contract on Tony?”

There was a brief pause. “I have to go, Ziva.”

“You didn’t answer my question, Father.”

“I have to go,” he forcefully repeated.

Eli David’s reluctance to answer had told Ziva everything that she needed to know. “You put the contract on him, didn’t you?”

Again, the only answer that she received was silence. “Didn’t you?” she seethed.

“I have to go, Ziva,” Eli said.

“Why?” she pressed. “You don’t even know Tony. Why would you put a contract on his life?”

“He’s a very dangerous man and I foresee him causing great trouble for me and for you in the future. I can not take that risk.”

“That is not a reason!” she argued.

“It is the only one that you’re going to get.”

“Cancel the contract,” Ziva ordered.

“I can not do that.”

“Why not?”

“There is too much at stake.”

“Like what?” she wanted to know.

“I can not tell you. You would not understand. Your loyalties are divided and until I am certain as to who has your allegiance, there are some things that are better left unsaid.”

Before she could reply, the line went dead and she knew that her father had purposefully disconnected the call. She was not naïve enough to believe that Eli David was perfect; she had learned long ago that her father had many faults.

But why go after Tony? It made no sense to her; it was almost as if he was afraid of Tony. Ziva vowed to find out why her father wanted Tony dead. She was determined to discover the truth and she would not stop searching until she found the answers to her questions. A hint of a smile danced up on her lips. “You are not the only one who has sources, Father.”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Jethro Gibbs stood at the foot of the bed, his eyes fixed on his senior agent. Although Tony was awake, neither man spoke as the nurse took one final glance at his monitor and IV. Appearing to be satisfied with the readings, she slipped out leaving the two men alone. Gibbs pulled up a chair beside Tony’s bed and sat down.

“Hey Boss,” Tony whispered. “Knew you’d be here.”

“Where else would I be, DiNozzo? Especially when Katherine said you wanted to talk to me.”

“Got a lot to talk about, Gibbs.”

“Yeah, we do,” the team leader agreed. “But we don’t have to do it right now. You’ve just had major surgery and you need to rest.”

Tony shook his head, wincing at the sudden movement. “No, I can’t rest until I know what’s going to happen.”

“I don’t want you to worry about it. I’m not going to let anything else happen to you,” Gibbs promised.

“But Vance…”

“Don’t worry about Vance. I’m going to take care of him.”

“You don’t know what he’s capable of.”

“Yes, I do.”

Tony closed his eyes and for a moment, Gibbs thought that he had fallen asleep. It always amazed the team leader how young DiNozzo appeared when he was sleeping, but now, Tony looked older than his years and Gibbs knew that he was partly to blame. He hoped that one day, the young man would be able to forgive him for inadvertently driving a wedge between them.

“Boss?” Tony called out again.

“You’re supposed to be asleep,” Gibbs countered.

“Can’t sleep. My mind is racing. I…”

Gibbs gently squeezed Tony’s arm. “Tony, I want you to listen to me.” He waited until the younger agent was looking at him. “Are you listening to me?”

“Yeah, I’m listening.”

“Good. Now, I want you to trust me that everything is going to be all right. The only thing that I want you to do is get better. I need my senior field agent back at work.”

“Why?”

Gibbs was surprised and he had to admit a bit confused by the abruptness of Tony’s question. “Why what?”

“Why do you need me? I’ve done nothing but screw up for the past couple of years. You’d be better off making McGee your senior field agent.”

“You planning on going somewhere?”

Tony shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve thought about it.”

“Where would you go?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “My career at NCIS is pretty much in the toilet thanks to Vance, but I might be able to take Fornell up on his offer.”

“If you go to work for Fornell, I’ll kick your ass,” the former Marine vowed. “You’re not going anywhere. Like I said, I need you to trust me that this is all going to work out.”

“I do trust you, Boss. I have ever since…”

“Ever since what?” Gibbs pressed.

“Uh…ever since we met in Baltimore.”

The team leader had a feeling that Tony’s answer was almost an afterthought. “Baltimore, huh?”

“Yeah,” he answered. “Baltimore.”

“So, you’ve always trusted me.”

“Yeah, I have. I’m just not sure that you trust me anymore.”

Gibbs’ eyes narrowed. “Why do you say that? If I didn’t trust you, you wouldn’t be on my team.”

Tony tried to smile, but Gibbs could easily see the pain behind the young man’s eyes. “This medicine has me talking out of my head, Boss. Just forget everything I’ve said.”

“I can’t, Tony.”

“Sure you can. Just pretend I’ve been rambling on about some movie and…”

“Tony, stop.”

Gibbs lowered the bed rail and sat on the edge of the mattress. “Tony, talk to me.”

“What do you want to talk about?”

“You said I didn’t trust you anymore. Why?” Gibbs wanted to know.

“Gibbs, I said I was talking out of my head. You know what pain medicine does to me,” Tony reminded the team leader.

“Tony, I’m listening.”

Gibbs reached up and with a calloused thumb wiped away a single tear that had escaped down Tony’s cheek. “Tony, talk to me,” he pleaded.

The ex-Marine watched as Tony struggled to pull himself together. If Katherine knew that her patient was getting this upset, she wouldn’t hesitate to kick him out of ICU. He knew that he probably shouldn’t push Tony, but DiNozzo was fast reaching his breaking point and he needed to start dealing with some of the demons that were plaguing him.

“Have you ever been to Virginia Beach?” Tony blurted out.

“Yeah, a long time ago. Why do you ask?”

“Just curious.”

“Have you ever been?” Gibbs carefully inquired.

“Once.”

“With your parents?”

Tony closed his eyes and sighed. “With my father. He was on a business trip.”

“We were on vacation. Kelly and I were…”

“Looking for seashells,” Tony finished.

“It was you,” Gibbs whispered. “You were the kid I talked to on the beach that day. I had forgotten. After Kelly and Shannon died, I tended to put all those memories in a…”

“You don’t owe me an explanation, Gibbs.”

“Yeah I do. I did come looking for you later on, but you and your father had left.”

“We left that day,” Tony said.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“Things could have been different for you.”

“It doesn’t matter, now,” DiNozzo assured him. “When we met in Baltimore, I knew that I recognized you, but you didn’t seem to remember me, so Ididn’t press the issue. You had changed and you never said anything about your family, so I did some digging and found out that they were dead. I didn’t want to be a painful reminder of your past.”

Gibbs wasn’t sure what to say. Tony had selflessly sacrificed his peace of mind to keep the team leader from having to remember what he had deemed at the time to be painful memories. Even after he had lost his memory a few years ago, DiNozzo had not revealed his secret. He owed this young man more than he realized.

“Will you tell me what happened after you and your father left the hotel?” Gibbs asked.

“Long story.”

“I have all the time in the world,” the team leader pointed out.

“Later, please.”

“Okay, but will you answer another question?”

“No more questions, Agent Gibbs,” Dr. Marshall announced as she entered Tony’s room. “He’s exhausted from the surgery and he needs to rest in order to get better. Now, you’ve seen him and you’ve talked with him and it’s time for you to go.”

“No,” Tony cried out. “I don’t want him to go.”

“Tony, you need to sleep,” Katherine reminded him.

“Don’t want to be alone, please,” the young agent begged. “I don’t like hospitals.”

Gibbs could feel her icy glare and returned her stare with his own defiant gaze. “I’ll just sit here with him,” he said.

“No more talking. Let him sleep,” she tersely instructed.

“All right.”

“I’ll be back to check on him in fifteen minutes and if he’s not asleep, I’ll sedate him and kick you out of here. Do I make myself clear, Agent Gibbs?” she challenged.

“Crystal clear.”

Gibbs followed her with his eyes as she walked out the door. “You heard the lady.”

“I heard her,” Tony said.

“Get some sleep, DiNozzo.”

“Yeah, Boss. Sure.”

He watched as Tony closed his eyes, hoping that the agent would be able to rest. Gibbs sat back down in the chair and studied the agent.

“Boss?” Tony whispered.

“You’re supposed to be asleep,” he gently admonished the ailing man.

“I know,” the young man said. “I just want to say I’m sorry for going behind your back with Jenny and the whole undercover operation.”

“DiNozzo, that’s water under the…”

“And I’m really sorry that I got her killed.”

“Tony, you didn’t…”

Gibbs suddenly realized why Tony felt as if he had destroyed the team leader’s trust in him. Had long had DiNozzo been carrying this burden? He never got the chance to assure the young man that he had done nothing wrong; Tony had drifted off to sleep mid-sentence and Gibbs was knew that he needed his rest.

He laid his head back on the chair and stared at the ceiling as he listened to the soft hypnotic beeping of the monitors. Gibbs found himself wondering how Tony had managed to even function with the guilt that was obviously consuming him. The former Marine knew a lot about misplaced guilt and he could not allow Tony to go down the same road that he had trodden.

Wiping a tear from his own eye, he whispered, “God, Tony. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…”


Chapter 31




McGee had barely entered the waiting room before he was nearly bowled over by Abby, who was simultaneously pulling him into one of her infamous embraces. He allowed himself a moment to cherish the familiarity of the hug; it had been a while since he had seen a friendly face.

“Oh, McGee, it’s so good to see you!” Abby excitedly exclaimed.

“It’s good to see you too, Abby,” he gasped. “Abby, I can’t breathe.”

“Sorry,” she sheepishly replied as she released him.

He smiled at the Goth as she stepped aside, took him by the arm, and led him over to where Jackson Gibbs was obviously keeping a watchful eye on Director Vance. McGee would have preferred to make this trip without seeing Vance, but evidently the fates were continuing to conspire against him. Refusing to be intimidated by the Director’s harsh glare, he acknowledged his superior with a curt nod and then greeted Jack.

“Nice to see you again, Jack,” McGee said, shaking the elderly man’s hand.

“You too, Tim. I just wish it was under better circumstances,” Jack replied.

“Me too, sir.”

McGee looked around the sparsely decorated room, purposely avoiding eye contact with the Director. “Where’s Gibbs and Ziva?”

“I haven’t seen Ziva for a couple of hours and Gibbs is with Tony,” Abby informed him.

“How’s Tony doing?”

“Holding his own. He had a pretty close call and it’s going to take him awhile to get his strength back. He’s going to need a lot of rest and no stress whatsoever; which is going to be easier said than done,” she quickly added.

“Oh boy,” he mumbled.

“What’s wrong, son?” Jack inquired.

“The part about avoiding stress…that’s going to be a problem. I…uh…really need to talk to Gibbs. He needs to know what’s going on, especially if he’s going to help Tony.”

“He’s not going to want to leave Tony’s side,” Abby said.

“I know, but this is really important,” McGee reasoned.

He was thankful that Abby and Jack didn’t ask him any questions; they trusted him completely and that trust inspired a new level of confidence within him. He could do this. He could deliver the SecNav’s ultimatum. Surely Gibbs wouldn’t shoot the messenger. Would he?

“I’ll go and get him for you,” Abby volunteered.

“Thanks, Abs.”

McGee watched her scurry out of the waiting room towards ICU. He knew Abby would relish the opportunity to spend time with Tony. They were closer than brother and sister, but would never cross the line of being lovers. Abby and Tony were at ease with each other, the best of friends who shared their deepest secrets. Sometimes McGee envied their relationship, but he didn’t begrudge them their friendship; he and Abby had their own special connection.

“Agent McGee,” Director Vance called out, interrupting his private musings. “It would be a shame to pull Agent Gibbs away from DiNozzo’s side; after all, who knows how much longer Anthony DiNozzo will remain a free man. I’m sure Gibbs wants to spend as much time with him as possible. Why don’t you tell me what it is you have to say to Agent Gibbs and…”

“I don’t think so, Director,” McGee said, interrupting the Director mid-sentence. “My orders are to talk only to Agents Gibbs and DiNozzo.”

“Your orders? And who issued those orders?”

“Secretary Davenport.”

He stood tall against Vance’s cruel gaze. “Excuse me?”

“The Secretary of the Navy,” McGee repeated.

Vance fell silent. McGee waited for the Director to say something, but the man remained quiet. The junior agent sat down in the nearest chair, nodding his thanks to Jack as the elderly man handed him a cup of coffee.

“Looks like you could use it,” Jack observed.

“Believe me, I can.”

“Seems like you’re carrying quite a load on your shoulders, Tim.”

McGee took a sip of his coffee. “Yes sir. I guess I am.”

“Can I do anything to help?”

McGee shook his head. “Truthfully, there’s not a lot either of us can do except wait.”

“Waiting is sometimes the hardest job of all.”

“Tell me about it. It seems like waiting is all I’ve been doing ever since this whole mess began.”

“I know the feeling,” Jack said. “Hopefully this will all be over soon and things can get back to normal.”

“I’m not sure that things will ever be back to normal,” McGee mumbled.

“What do you mean?”

McGee’s cheeks flushed slightly. He had not meant for anyone to overhear his last remark. “Nothing,” he quickly answered. “Just thinking out loud.”

Jack grinned. “I do that a lot too. Sometimes it gets me in trouble.”

“It’s usually Tony that gets in trouble for thinking out loud,” McGee stated. “I guess he’s rubbed off on me.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

McGee thought for a moment. Over the years, Tony had taught him the importance of not taking himself so seriously. DiNozzo had managed to shatter his image of the perfect federal agent. McGee had always strived to do everything by the book and not disappoint his superiors. The senior agent had taken great pleasure in showing him that the only rules that he needed to worry about were the ones set by Gibbs.

“No, it’s not a bad thing,” Tim finally answered. “I’d say overall, it’s been a good thing. He’s a good guy to have at your side.”

He took another sip of his coffee and leaned his head back against the cushion. McGee knew that he needed to get his thoughts together before he talked to Gibbs and Tony; the team leader would be demanding answers that he wasn’t sure that he could supply. The ultimate decision would be Tony’s and McGee wasn’t sure that DiNozzo was willing to sell his soul to the devil again.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Abby stood in Tony’s doorway and peeked into the dimly lit room. She was glad that Tony seemed to be resting, but Gibbs would not allow himself that luxury; not while the child of his heart was hurting. She lightly pecked on the door in an effort to get the team leader’s attention. “Gibbs,” she whispered loudly.

When he looked up, she could see the fine lines of exhaustion around his eyes. This whole ordeal had been difficult on him, emotionally and physically. She motioned for him to join her outside Tony’s room, the fact that he winced when he stood up did not escape her attention.

“You really need to take better care of yourself, Gibbs,” she gently admonished. “You can’t help Tony if you let yourself get run down.”

He kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll keep that in mind, Abs. What’s up?”

“McGee’s here and he needs to talk to you.”

Gibbs glanced at his watch. “He made good time. I didn’t expect him for another hour. Where is he?”

“In the waiting room with Jack and Vance,” she answered.

She watched the team leader as he turned and stared at the dozing form of his senior agent. Abby moved to stand beside him, laying her head on his shoulder. “Gibbs? What’s wrong?”

“He’s been through a lot.”

“Yes, he has,” Abby agreed. “And he’ll get through this.”

“Do you really think so?”

“Yeah, I do. He knows you’ll kick his ass if he doesn’t,” she teased.

“He thinks I blame him for Jenny’s death.”

“Do you?”

Abby immediately regretted the words as soon as she had uttered them. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that like it sounded,” she apologized.

“It’s all right, Abs,” he assured her. “I’ve been asking myself that question. I don’t blame him, but I think I didn’t tell him that soon enough. I let his doubt and guilt fester until Tony actually believed it was his fault. We have a lot to talk about, that’s for sure.”

“But you will talk?”

“Yes, we will,” he vowed.

“Speaking of talking, You better go and talk to McGee before he gets an ulcer; I’ll stay here with Tony.”

“All right. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Abby nodded and signed ‘I love you’ to Gibbs as he left the ICU. She quietly entered Tony’s room and sat down beside him. He looked so pale; so sick. The Goth wanted to pull the man into her arms and sit and hold him like she did whenever he was forced to battle his demons. She took his hand and softly kissed it, smiling at the dark imprint of her lips on the back of his hand.

“I’ll never wash…that hand again.”

Abby grinned at her friend. “You’re supposed to be asleep,” she reminded him.

“I was.”

“Doesn’t look like it to me.”

“Woke up when Gibbs got up,” he rasped. “Just pretended I was asleep until he was gone.”

“Sneaky.”

“Yep.”

“How do you know I won’t tell Gibbs that you were faking him out?”

“Because he probably already knows.”

Abby smiled. “You’re probably right.”

“Can I have some…ice chips?” he asked.

“Sure.” Abby spooned a few small chips into his mouth and then set the cup back on the table.

“Thanks. Throat’s dry.”

“That’s to be expected. Can I get you anything else? Are you in pain?”

Tony shook his head. “No, I’m fine.”

“So that means you need something for pain.” Abby could tell that Tony was trying to hide his discomfort from her, but she wasn’t easily fooled.

“Said I was fine.”

“Forgive me if I don’t take your word for it, DiNozzo. Your definition of fine and my definition are nowhere close. Now, are you in pain?” she asked again.

“Maybe a little, but I don’t want anything right now. I need to have a clear head.”

“For what?”

“I figure there’s a reason that…McGoo is here and it has to do with this mess…I’m in. He wants to talk to Gibbs; that can’t be good.”

The Goth offered her friend a reassuring smile. “You don’t know that, Tony. You just have to trust Gibbs that he’s got your back.”

“I know he has…my back. I just…don’t know…why.”

Abby moved to sit on the edge of the mattress. “I don’t want to hear you talk like that. You know how much Gibbs cares about you. You’re like his son and you should know that he’ll go to any lengths to protect his family.”

“I know,” the ailing man whispered. “I…told…him I was sorry about Jenny.”

“Her death was not your fault, Tony.” She cupped his face with her hands, forcing him to look at her. “Do you understand me?”

“I hear you.”

“Tony, Gibbs doesn’t blame you.”

Abby could see Tony’s mask slipping firmly back into place. “So, why’s McGee here?” the agent asked, purposefully changing the subject.

She looked into his pain-filled eyes and quickly decided not to push DiNozzo. Abby wasn’t sure that he wouldn’t simply just shatter into a thousand pieces if she forced him to talk when he wasn’t ready.

“Abby?” he called out to her. “Why is McGee here?”

“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “All he really said was that he had to talk to Gibbs.”

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Tony muttered.

“Positive thoughts, DiNozzo.”

“I’m trying, Abs.”

She gently laid her head on his chest and wrapped her arms around him. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”

Tony didn’t answer her, but he didn’t have to. She knew he was worried and possibly scared, but Abby vowed that he wouldn’t have to face his future alone. He had always been there for her and now she would gladly return the favor.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Gibbs rounded the corner to discover Ziva standing against the wall, arms crossed, her expression hardened with anger. He stopped and studied the young woman. Even after being a valued member of his team for several years, he still considered Ziva David to be a mystery. She was a trained assassin who had allowed herself to develop emotional attachments to her coworkers. That in itself was an uncommon occurrence, but nevertheless, she had managed to cease thinking so much like a killer and more like an agent.

He was also aware that Ziva was worried about Tony, but Gibbs sometimes wondered if her concern for DiNozzo was more than platonic. The team leader sighed. Pushing these thoughts to the back of his mind, he finally asked, “Is something wrong, Ziva?”

“I need to speak with you,” she said in a hushed tone.

“Can it wait? McGee is waiting on me.”

“McGee is here already? He made excellent time.”

A hint of a smile crept across his face. “Yeah.”

“I think that you really need to hear what I have to say,” Ziva urged.

Gibbs nodded and glanced around for some place where they could talk in private. He motioned for Ziva to follow him as they entered the men’s room. The former Marine made sure that the stalls were empty and then locked the door.

“Private enough for you?”

“Some of my most poignant conversations have occurred in the men’s room,” Ziva quipped.

“So I’ve heard. So, what do you got?” he impatiently inquired.

“I will tell you what I have discovered, but first there is something that I need to know.”

“What is it?”

“I want to know why you felt it necessary to keep from me the fact that my father was the one who put the contract out on Tony’s life.”

He silently chastised himself for agreeing to Tony’s request not to tell Ziva. Gibbs knew he should have listened to his gut and told her from the beginning. Both he and DiNozzo were trying to protect Ziva, but she would not see it that way. “Tony asked me not to tell you and I agreed.”

“I had a right to know,” she argued.

“You’re right. We just wanted to…”

“Do you doubt where my loyalties lie?” Ziva tersely demanded to know.

“No. I know where your loyalties are, Ziva. There’s never been a doubt in my mind, but Eli David is your father and…”

“You were afraid that I would warn him that you were looking into his activities?”

Gibbs glared at the Mossad officer. “Do you think that you could let me finish my own sentences?”

“Sorry,” she quickly apologized. “Please continue.”

“As I was saying, we are accusing your father of some rather unsavory things and we didn’t want to put you in the position of having to choose sides.”

“What makes you think that I would have to choose sides?”

He pinched the bridge of his nose in an effort to ward off the headache that had been coming on for some time. “Ziva, if this is all you have to say, I need to go and talk to McGee. I made a mistake by not telling you, and I’m sorry. Right now, my concern is DiNozzo’s future and if all you want to do is stand in the men’s room and debate whether or not we should have told you about your father, then send me an email to remind me and we’ll continue this conversation back in D.C.!”

“You do not read your email,” she stated, a hint of annoyance still present in her distinctive accent.

“Your point?”

Gibbs saw her visibly relax. “I may have jumped off the handle and I apologize,” she said.

“It’s flown off the handle,” the team leader corrected.

“Of course.” Ziva blew out a pent up breath. “I have discovered something that may be crucial in helping Tony.”

“What is it?” Gibbs pressed.

“I spoke with my father and he admitted to placing the contract on Tony, but he would not tell me why. So, I contacted some of my own sources to see what I could find out.”

“And?”

“This is not going to be easy to hear,” she warned. “It seems that everything started when Tony’s father approached the Secretary of the Navy offering funding for a secret government project that was being headed up by SecNav. There was a stipulation to the project receiving this money; his father wanted Tony dead.”

“Bastard,” Gibbs muttered under his breath.

“Yes, that is what I thought. Anyway, it was supposed to be Vance’s job to get rid of Tony, but when that did not happen, Secretary Davenport called in a favor to my father and persuaded him to place a contract on Tony.”

“What reason did he give for the contract?”

“He told my father that Tony had feelings for me and that he would more than likely attempt to foil his future plans.”

“What future plans?”

Ziva shook her head. “I do not know. However, I do know that my father also received a substantial amount of funding for one of his projects as well.”

“I guess I don’t have to ask who the contributor was.”

“No.”

As angry as Gibbs was at Secretary Davenport and Leon Vance, he was furious at Tony’s father. What kind of man wants his own son dead and would pay to have him killed? Gibbs clenched his fist and pounded it against the wall. “Damn it!”

“Gibbs, I…”

“Not now. Go and get McGee,” he instructed. “I’ll wait here for you.”

He waited until Ziva had left the men’s room before he began spouting a string of curses reflecting the rage that was consuming him from the inside out. The last time that he had experienced a similar fury was after Shannon and Kelly had been killed. He had sought justice then and he vowed to seek it now; no one would be safe from his wrath.

Chapter 32

McGee smiled and nodded as Jack regaled him with a story from his childhood. He wasn’t really listening to the older man, but he appreciated Jackson’s efforts to keep him entertained. The junior agent had too much on his mind. For the first time in a long time, he was nervous about talking to Gibbs. What would the team leader think of SecNav’s proposal? Would he convince Tony to accept it, or would DiNozzo refuse to simply look the other way?

For all of Tony’s faults, the senior agent wanted to see justice served; one of DiNozzo’s characteristics that McGee actually admired. He was like Gibbs in that sense and Tim knew that because of their sense of right versus wrong, it was going to be difficult to sell them on the SecNav’s plan. But of course, Davenport knew Tony’s achilles heel and had factored that into his plan.

He ran his hand through his hair, as if it would help clear the cobwebs from his mind. He had to be able to think clearly and the events of the past week had left him exhausted.

“Are you all right, Tim?” Jack asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just want to get this over with. I want everything to get back to normal.”

“I would say a normal day is something that you don’t get very often,” Jack said.

McGee thought for a moment. “Now that you mention it, when you work for Gibbs, a nice quiet day at the office is a rarity. Even if we’re not working a case, something is always going on.”

“I can imagine.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m looking forward to having Tony back in the office. He tends to keep things,” Tim paused, searching for the right word. “Lively.”

“I bet he does. He’s worked with Leroy a long time now.”

“Right at eight years, I think.”

“He must like his job and the people he works with. I’m not sure I’d have turned down that job offer in Spain.”

Confused by Jack’s last statement, McGee muttered, “Huh? What job offer?”

“You know what I’m talking about. He told me all about it a couple of months ago when he drove up here for the weekend.”

“Tony drove up here to spend a weekend?”

“Yeah. Something wrong with that?”

“No, nothing at all,” McGee quickly assured Jack. “I just can hardly picture Tony spending the weekend with…”

Jack arched his eyebrow. “An old man?”

“That’s not what I meant. I just never figured that Tony…” McGee sighed in frustration. “Never mind.”

“Tony allows you to see what he wants you to see.”

“I know that.”

“Are you sure about that? Evidently there’s a lot about Tony that you haven’t quite figured out yet.”

McGee’s cheeks flushed slightly. “You’re probably right,” he admitted. He truly had no idea that DiNozzo had been offered his own team; how many more things had Tony managed to keep hidden not just from him, but from everyone?

“How did you find out about this promotion?”

Jack shrugged. “It just came up in conversation.”

“Just out of the blue?”

“It’s amazing what kind of things come up if you’re willing to listen.”

McGee realized that he wasn’t going to get anything else out of Jack. Apparently the elder Gibbs was satisfied just giving him something else to mull over. He would have to file this in the back of his mind to consider later; right now, he had to focus on the task at hand.

“McGee!”

The young man startled at the sound of his name. Ziva was standing in the doorway, motioning for him to join her. McGee nodded as he stood up, taking note of the rage in her eyes. Something was wrong. Where was Gibbs?

He joined Ziva out in the hall way. “Follow me,” she instructed.

“Where’s Gibbs?” he wanted to know.

“Waiting.”

“Waiting? Waiting where?”

Ziva smiled as she pushed open the door to the men’s room. “Right here,” she replied.

Knowing better than to question why they were meeting in the men’s room, McGee simply acknowledged Gibbs and locked the door behind him. “Boss, I’m sure glad to see you.”

“What do you got, McGee?”

“SecNav is prepared to make Tony an offer and he strongly suggests that he take him up on it.”

“McGee!” Gibbs barked. “I need details!”

“Secretary Davenport will not pursue the IA investigation against Tony if he agrees to the following terms.”

He saw Gibbs visibly bristle. “What investigation?” the ex-Marine inquired.

“SecNav is prepared to launch a full investigation into the failure of Tony’s last undercover case,” McGee explained.

“How can he do that? His cover was blown and Vance didn’t pull him out,” Gibbs recalled. “Tony didn’t screw up! Vance did!”

McGee was glad that he wasn’t the one Gibbs was angry at. He had a feeling that the team leader would have a few choice words of his own for SecNav. “He also said that he would make sure the contract on Tony’s life was nullified and that he would take care of Vance,” the younger man added.

“Take care of Vance? How?”

“Secretary Davenport just said that Leon Vance would no longer be the Director of NCIS; he would be reassigned to where his talents would be more suited.”

“And the contract?”

McGee glanced at Ziva and then back to Gibbs. “SecNav didn’t go into details; he just said that he would take care of it.”

“And in order for all this to happen, what does Tony have to do?” Gibbs pressed.

“He has to turn the list of names that he discovered over to SecNav and be willing to deny that the last undercover mission even took place.”

“So Davenport wants to sweep this under the rug? He’s got some buddies on that list and heads could roll,” Gibbs deduced.

“He didn’t say, but that was my impression as well,” McGee agreed.

“There’s one more thing, Boss.”

“Spit it out, McGee,” the ex-sniper growled.

“If Tony doesn’t agree to these terms, in addition to the IA investigation, we will all face disciplinary and possible criminal actions for helping Tony.”

“Bastard!” Gibbs mumbled under his breath. “He’s backing Tony into a corner.”

“I know.”

“What gives him the right to play God?”

“I don’t know, Boss.”

“What do you think Tony will do?” Ziva softly asked.

Gibbs tightly clenched his jaw. “Truthfully? He’ll probably quit.”

“You can not let him do that,” she exclaimed. “It would accomplish nothing.”

“I know that, but Tony’s not going to see it that way.”

“Quitting isn’t an option,” McGee stated. “Secretary Davenport wants to make sure that Tony knows that if he simply quit, he would still be facing charges; in fact, all of us would be facing charges.”

“So, basically he is nailed,” Ziva said.

“Screwed,” Gibbs corrected. “And yeah, Ziva. Tony’s pretty much screwed.”

McGee felt sick. Gibbs was right in that Tony was caught between a rock and a hard place. He couldn’t begin to imagine what Tony was going through and McGee found himself feeling sorry for his friend. Davenport had literally placed his future, all their futures, in Tony’s hand. It wasn’t fair and he could do nothing to help the man who had taught him so much over the past few years.

“Uh, Boss, I have to call Secretary Davenport back in,” he glanced at his watch. “A little over five hours.”

He was forced to quickly step out of the way as Gibbs unlocked the door and stormed out of the men’s room. McGee knew that the team leader was on his way to talk to Tony. DiNozzo didn’t need the added stress that this proposal was bound to create; hopefully, Gibbs would be able to keep Tony calm.

“What do you think Tony will do?” Ziva quietly wondered.

“I don’t know,” he answered.

“Tony should not have to deal with this now. He has barely been out of surgery 12 hours and…”

“I know, Ziva. But don’t worry; Gibbs will take care of Tony.”

Ziva nodded in agreement. “I know, but still…”

“We’re just going to have to trust Gibbs to handle it.”

“I hate waiting.”

“I thought your Mossad training gave you infinite amounts of patience,” he attempted to tease.

“It did, but this is different. This is Tony and he’s my friend. He has been through a lot, especially the last couple of years. I just do not know how much more he can handle before he breaks.”

McGee stared at Ziva. “You really care for him, don’t you?”

“Of course I do. He is my friend and he is my partner.”

“It’s more than that.”

“You are imagining things, McGee. I am currently seeing someone and…”

“I’m sorry,” he quickly apologized. “I didn’t mean to…it’s none of my business.”

“Apology accepted.” Ziva opened the door. “I’m going to see if Jack needs a break from watching Director Vance. Are you coming?”

McGee nodded. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

As soon as the door closed, he darted to the nearest stall and began to vomit. He could no longer hold back the nausea that had been threatening to overwhelm him the entire time he was telling Gibbs about Davenport’s offer. McGee felt used. He had been forced to play the role of the SecNav’s puppet and he found that thought revolting.

After a few minutes, he stood up and walked over to the sink in order to splash cold water on his face. McGee quickly dried his hands and his face before leaving the men’s room. Knowing he wasn’t ready to go back in the waiting room where he would have to face Vance, the young man decided to take a walk around the hospital grounds. He hoped that the fresh air would help clear his mind and that when the time came, he would be ready to do whatever was necessary to help his friend.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX



Tony held Abby’s hand, hanging on to her every word as she rambled on about absolutely nothing. It always amazed him how the Goth always seemed to know what he needed and at the moment, he needed something to keep his mind off of the reason McGee was here in Stillwater. He supposed that he would find out soon enough, but the waiting was beginning to get to him. That’s when Abby began talking about why she didn’t like the movie ‘Titanic’.

It really wasn’t one his favorites either, especially after his time at Agent Afloat. Personally, he didn’t care if he ever set foot upon another ship as long he lived, but working for NCIS, Tony knew that the likelihood of that never happening was astronomical. Of course, he wasn’t sure that he was going to continue working for NCIS. Too much had happened and he wondered if he had outlived his usefulness not only to NCIS, but to Gibbs.

“Tony?” Abby called out to him.

“Yeah?” he muttered.

“You kind of zoned out on me.”

Tony smiled at her. “Sorry about that.”

“Are you tired? Do you want to go to sleep?”

Tony shook his head and sighed. ‘No, I’m all right. Just…waiting.”

She tilted her head to one side as she studied him. Tony squeezed her hand. “I’m fine,” he promised. “I’m just waiting on Gibbs to come back and tell me what McGee had to say.”

“I’m sure that everything is fine.”

“You’re a horrible liar.”

“I know.”

He willingly took a sip of the refreshing water when Abby held the straw to his lips. “Thanks.”

Abby leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. “You’re welcome.”

“Abs? Can I ask you a question?”

“Ask away my handsome prince,” she said.

“Handsome prince? I don’t think I’d go that far; not until I’m on my feet. Maybe disheveled, confused, perplexed…”

“Even though you’re paler than your sheets, I still think you are handsome,” Abby assured him.

“I’ll have to take your word on that.”

She laughed as she held onto his hand even tighter. He loved the sound of her laughter; it always managed to warm his heart on the coldest of days. “So, what do you want to ask me?” the Goth wanted to know.

“I want you to be honest with me,” he pleaded.

“I’ve never lied to you Tony and I’m not about to start now.”

“I know.” He took a deep breath and blew it out. “Do you think that it’s time for me to move on?”

“What do you mean?”

“NCIS. Do you think it’s time for me to leave?”

“No!” she sharply replied. “How can you even think that?”

“I’ve been here for eight years.”

“So?”

“I just don’t know if this is what I want to do anymore.”

“Tony, don’t make any hasty decisions,” Abby pleaded. “You’re tired, you’re sick, and you’ve just had major surgery; now is not the time for you to be worrying about anything except getting better.”

“I don’t know, Abs. I guess a lot of it’s going to depend on whether Gibbs…”

“Abby.”

They both looked up at the sound of her name to discover Gibbs standing in the doorway. The team leader signed something to her, prompting Abby to give him another peck on the cheek before she stood up to leave. “Remember what I said,” she whispered in his ear. “Don’t do anything rash.”

Tony nodded and watched his friend leave, pausing long enough to sign one last thing to Gibbs. Acknowledging her with a curt nod, she left, leaving the two of them alone.

“You know, I’m still not deaf and that is still annoying,” Tony said.

“She just told me to go easy on you,” Gibbs translated.

“You should listen to her.”

Gibbs smiled and for a moment, Tony could almost believe that everything was going to be all right; but his gut was telling him something else completely. “So, what did McGee want?”

He watched as Gibbs took the seat that Abby had just vacated. Tony could tell by the solemn expression that the older man was now wearing that he was in serious trouble. “That bad, huh?”

Tony listened carefully as Gibbs began to lay out the SecNav’s proposal for him. He hung on every word, afraid to make a sound in fear of missing the minutest detail. His head was beginning to throb and his stomach was beginning to churn. God, when had he become so weak? He closed his eyes, fighting back the tears that threatened to fall.

He felt his mattress give slightly as Gibbs moved to sit on the edge of his bed. “Tony?” he softly called out.

“The bastard’s won!” Tony blurted out as he snapped open his eyes, no longer caring if his tears fell.

“No he hasn’t, DiNozzo.”

“Let me see if I can…get this straight.” A sharp pain took his breath for a moment.

“Tony, you’ve got to stay calm,” the team leader urged.

“I’m okay,” he gasped, forcing himself to continue his train of thought. “Now, SecNav is willing to get rid of Vance and not open an investigation against me if I’m willing to give him list of names I found and deny that the case even happened. And if I agree to this, we all get to keep our jobs and no charges will be filed against you all for helping me. Does that about cover it?”

“Yeah,” Gibbs replied. “He’ll also have the contract on your life nullified.”

Tony began to laugh. He realized that Gibbs probably thought that he had lost his mind and truthfully, he wasn’t convinced that he hadn’t. “So, I can just go and pretend that the hell I’ve been through didn’t actually happen. Sounds like a plan to me.”

“Tony…”

“Why not? I mean, I’m an…expert at hiding the truth,” Tony rationalized. “I’ve done it for years; what’s one more time? It’s probably better this way anyway, and then we all can pretend that the last few months didn’t happen. Maybe if I pretend hard enough, I can start believing that Jenny dying wasn’t my fault… and that I didn’t betray your trust by working undercover and not telling you about it!

“Maybe…I can pretend like I never fell in love with Jeanne and didn’t…live a lie for…over a year. Then maybe I can pretend to accept the fact that it’s all right for a father to leave his…son in a hotel room in Hawaii and that my child hood was actually normal. Maybe I can pretend that it doesn’t bother me that my father hates me and…”

Calloused hands cupped his face, forcing him to look into the eyes of the one man that he truly admired. “Tony, you’ve got to calm down. Listen to me.” Gibbs ordered. “If you don’t calm down, the nurses are going to come in here and give you a shot that’s going to knock you on your ass. I know you don’t want that.”

Tony shook his head. “No, I don’t.”

“Then I want you to hear me out.”

“All right.”

“Tony, I’m not going to tell you what to do. I don’t want you to think about all the stipulations that Davenport has put on this deal; I just want you to think about what you want to do. None of us are willing to see you sell your soul to the devil and no matter what your decision, we will stand by you.”

Tony continued to stare into the piercing blue eyes of the team leader. He knew that the team would stand by him, but he wasn’t sure that he could live with himself knowing that he’d be responsible for destroying their lives as well as his. There had to be another solution.

“I need to think,” he said.

“All right,” Gibbs agreed. “You’ve only got a few hours though. McGee is supposed to call Davenport back in just under 5 hours.”

Tony nodded. “Can you…leave me alone for…a few minutes?”

“Yeah. I’ll be right outside if you need me.”

Tony watched as Gibbs stepped out of his room. Once he was alone, he began to replay the conversation that he had just had with Gibbs in his mind. Tony hated himself for allowing his emotional floodgate to burst open, revealing to the ex-Marine some of his most private thoughts. If his decision only affected him, he would have no trouble telling the SecNav where to stick his deal, but ultimately, his decision would affect everybody that he cared about and he wasn’t willing to take that chance.

He heard familiar voices arguing outside his door. Although Gibbs was trying to be quiet, Tony could sense the anger in the ex-sniper’s voice. Who was he talking to? Tony listened carefully.

“It can’t be,” he whispered to himself. “Why would he be here?” Tony wasn’t sure that things could get any worse. That solution that he had been searching for was becoming abundantly clear; he just wasn’t sure how he was going to be able to pull it off surrounded by nurses and equipment that could save his life.

Chapter 33


Jethro Gibbs was staring out the window of the small waiting room in the Intensive Care Unit, giving Tony the few minutes of privacy that the young man seemed to so desperately crave. He was also taking this time to calm the raging sea of anger that was churning inside of him. His wrath was not only directed at Secretary Davenport, but towards himself as well. Gibbs couldn’t help but wonder what he could have to done to prevent this nightmare from occurring. If only he had known what was happening to DiNozzo, maybe he could have stepped in and helped alleviate some of his son’s burden.

He truly had no idea what DiNozzo would do. His back was against the wall and Tony’s usual instinct was to come out fighting, but with the jobs of the team at stake, he knew his senior agent well enough to know that he would not revert to his usual tactics. Tony would never be able to live with himself if his actions ended up hurting those he cared about. The younger man carried his guilt for a long time; not many people were aware that Tony was still bearing the scars from having to hurt Jeanne Benoit..

The sound of two people arguing brought Gibbs out of his self imposed reverie. He stepped out into the corridor to discover a nurse having a heated discussion with a familiar looking man. Gibbs studied the older gentleman for a moment; with the exception of the salt and pepper hair, he was looking at the spitting image of his senior field agent. He knew that the man trying to bully the young nurse was none other than Tony’s father.

In three strides, he was standing beside Tony’s father, intentionally interrupting the conversation taking place between the older man and the young lady. Gibbs recalled that she had introduced herself as Rachel when she had come on duty. “Is there a problem here?” he asked the nurse.

He could see the relief quickly spread across her youthful features. “I was just trying to explain to this gentleman that Agent DiNozzo’s visits have been restricted by the physician and that he would have to speak with Dr. Marshall before I could grant him access to see Agent DiNozzo,” she explained.

Gibbs turned to face Tony’s father. He had often wondered what he would do if came face to face with the man who had caused DiNozzo so much pain in his life. His first instinct was to simply pommel the man, but that would solve nothing and only create more problems for Tony. “You heard the lady,” he said. “You’re going to have to wait to see Tony; it’s been over twenty years since you’ve seen him, I don’t think a few more days will hurt anything, Mr. DiNozzo.”

“So, you know who I am,” the elder DiNozzo stated.

“I know who you are and I’m sure you know who I am, especially since you’re so cozy with the Secretary of the Navy,” Gibbs taunted.

“Vincent DiNozzo. Actually, my given name is Vincentio, but my associates call me Vincent.”

“I’m not your associate, Mr. DiNozzo.”

Vincent smiled. “Do you know what my name means, Agent Gibbs?”

“Yes I do.”

“Good. Then you know that I always get what I want.”

“Your name means conqueror, victor,” Gibbs continued, nonplussed. “But it really doesn’t matter a whole hell of a lot to me what your name means, because you won’t be conquering anybody here.”

“I don’t know about that. I wield a lot of power.”

“Not as far as Tony’s concerned.”

“Especially where Anthony is concerned. I am his father after all.”

The former Marine clenched his fist, struggling to keep control of his temper. “Only in name,” he growled. “You don’t have the right to claim Tony as your son. Did you forget that you’ve disowned him?”

“No, I didn’t forget. He got what he deserved. Nothing.”

Gibbs’ eyes narrowed, his steely gaze intently studying the man before him. Vincent DiNozzo was truly a bastard. His arrogance would be his undoing; he would make sure of that. “Why are you here? Hoping to see a corpse?” he challenged.

“No,” Vincent replied. “I would know if my son were dead. Believe it or not, Agent Gibbs, I’ve followed Anthony’s career with a watchful eye. I know all of his successes and his many failures. I always figured that Anthony’s recklessness would eventually lead to his demise, but my son has always insisted on doing things the hard way.”

“So you figured out a way to get rid of him,” the team leader deduced.

Vincent’s eyes widened in astonishment; it was obvious that the senior DiNozzo was not used to his authority being challenged. “You’re well informed Agent Gibbs; but you’ll never be able to do anything about it. I’m untouchable, unlike my son.”

Gibbs took a step closer to the ruthless man. “Care to explain what you mean by that comment?”

“I think you know what I mean, Agent Gibbs. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some unfinished business to discuss with my son.”

He grabbed the older man by the arm, his grip was firm and unrelenting. “You put a contract on Tony’s life and you think I’m going to let you anywhere near him? Wishful thinking, Mr. DiNozzo.”

“Do you actually intend on stopping me?” Vincent challenged, jerking his arm free.

“Damn straight.”

DiNozzo Sr. pulled out his cell phone and quickly place a call. Within a few seconds, he was handing his phone to Gibbs. “It’s for you, Agent Gibbs.”

The team leader stared at him, his eyes silently questioning the other man’s motives. Taking the phone, he answered, “Gibbs.”

“Agent Gibbs. Has Agent DiNozzo accepted my offer?”

Gibbs clenched his jaw, knowing that he was further exacerbating the pounding in his skull. “Secretary Davenport.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” the SecNav pointed out.

“He’s still mulling it over,” Gibbs managed to reply.

“Well, I suggest that you encourage him to accept my more than generous offer. It’s the only way that everyone will be satisfied.”

“Except Tony,” he snapped.

“Knowing that he saved your career as well as the careers of his friends will help ease his conscience.”

“What about your conscience?”

A brief pause ensued, making Gibbs wonder if Davenport was actually considering his question. “Secretary Davenport? Are you still there?”

“I’m here, Agent Gibbs.”

“You haven’t answered my question.”

“And I don’t intend to,” the SecNav said. There was no doubt in Gibbs’ mind that he had struck a nerve; Davenport’s voice dripped with a forced politeness as he proceeded to inform the team leader of his latest orders. “You are to allow Mr. DiNozzo to see his son,” SecNav began. “I promised Vincent that he could see Tony; he has some things he wants to say to his son.”

“I’m sure he does,” Gibbs snarled. “Too bad he’s not going to get the chance.”

“Yes, he will.”

“Tony’s got too much to deal with right now. He doesn’t need this.”

“It’s an order, Agent Gibbs. You do remember what those are, don’t you?” Davenport taunted.

“I remember what they are, but this is one I’m not going to follow!” Gibbs snapped the phone shut and handed it back to Vincent DiNozzo. “Leave. Now,” he demanded.

“Not until I see Anthony.”

Gibbs shook his head. “Hell hasn’t frozen over yet. Now if you don’t leave, I’ll…”

Alarms began blaring at the nurse’s station. The team leader glared at Tony’s father, “Stay here!” he ordered.

Gibbs followed the nurse into Tony’s room to discover that he was attempting to sit up, cursing at the shrill sound of the monitors as they continued to wail. He grabbed Tony by the shoulders and gently forced him to lie back down “What the hell do you think you’re doing, DiNozzo?”

Tony winced, gasping in pain. “He’s here…isn’t he? My father’s...here. I heard his voice.”

“Yeah,” Gibbs admitted. “But I’m not going to let him anywhere near you. You have my word on that.”

“Why’s he here?”

“It doesn’t matter. You need to calm down, Tony,” the team leader insisted. “If you don’t want them to sedate your ass, you’re going to have calm down.”

Gibbs watched as Tony struggled to slow his breathing down, forcing himself to relax. Rachel stood over DiNozzo, intently studying the monitor to make sure that his vitals were stabilizing. He figured that she would be contacting Dr. Marshall and that Katherine would order a stronger sedative for Tony, which would not make his senior agent very happy.

“You all right?” Gibbs asked.

Tony nodded. “I’m okay, Boss.”

“Good. Now, what the hell were you doing?’

“Going to tell you…to send him…in.”

“I don’t think so.”

“It’s okay.”

“Tony, he…”

“Please Gibbs,” Tony pleaded. “Just let me get it over with. My father usually…gets…what he wants.”

Gibbs shook his head. “Not this time, Tony. Not this time.”

“You don’t…know…him… and…what he’s capable of. Please, you can stay…I just need…to do this.”

“No you don’t,” the ex-Marine repeated, his tone harsher than he intended.

“Tired of people making…decisions for me,” Tony seethed. “I have to do this.”

The younger man’s words tore at his heart. It was his decision, but Gibbs wasn’t convinced that Tony was stable enough, physically or mentally to confront his father; but the team leader knew that he could not deny DiNozzo the right to make up his own mind. Ever since he had returned from being Agent Afloat, Tony’s life had literally been controlled by Vance and SecNav; it was past time that his senior agent felt as if he had a modicum of control of his life. Against his better judgment, Gibbs reluctantly consented to Tony’s request.

“All right, but I’m staying right here. If I think it becomes too much, I’ll put a stop to it,” Gibbs warned.

Satisfied that Tony was agreeable to his terms, he glanced up at the nurse, who was grim expression clearly indicated that she was not happy with what had just occurred. “I’ll make sure that he stays calm,” the team leader attempted to reassure her.

“He is in ICU for a reason,” Rachel said. “A reason that you seem to have forgotten. He doesn’t need the added stress that you seem to be inflicting upon him.”

“It’s not him,” Tony insisted.

Gibbs smiled. Leave it to DiNozzo to come to his defense.

“It doesn’t matter who it is, the fact remain that…”

“The fact remains that you can leave us…alone or I’ll sign…myself out…of here AMA,” Tony rasped.

“I’m going to call Dr. Marshall,” she informed them.

The two agents watched as the nurse left Tony’s room in a huff. “Guess we pissed another one off, huh, Boss?” Tony tiredly quipped.

“Looks that way, DiNozzo.” Gibbs placed his hand on Tony’s shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze. “Are you sure about this?”

“No, but before I give Davenport an answer, I need to know something…that only my…dad can tell me.”

“All right.”

Gibbs walked over to the door and motioned for the senior DiNozzo to join him. Intentionally blocking the other man’s path, the ex sniper leaned forward and whispered, “You do or say anything to upset him, you’ll be the one needing the services of a doctor. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal,” Vincent answered.

“As long as we understand each other.”

Stepping aside, he allowed the elder man to enter Tony’s room. Gibbs could immediately sense the tension radiating from his senior agent. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea; maybe he should have insisted that Tony wait. He leaned up against the wall, making sure that he could keep a watchful eye not only on Vincent, but on Tony as well.

He watched as Vincent laid his coat across the foot of Tony’s bed. “Anthony,” his father began, “it’s been a long time.”

“Not long…enough,” Tony retorted.

“Ah yes, that quick wit of yours. I haven’t missed it.”

“I guess we’re even. I haven’t missed you.”

“The feeling is mutual.”

Gibbs felt the knot in his stomach tightening as doubts continued to creep into his mind. This confrontation was too much for Tony; it was too soon. He could see Tony struggling to maintain his composure in the presence of his father. It was evident that Vincent DiNozzo thrived on intimidation and that he was used to getting what he wanted. Gibbs wondered how many times Tony had been forced to give into his father’s demands because of the man’s cruel and demanding tactics; how many times had the young man sacrificed his happiness in hopes of earning his father’s love and respect?

“What are you…doing here?” Tony pressed.

Vincent smiled at his son. “I heard you were ill and i…”

“Cut the crap,” Tony grunted. “I had the freakin’ plague a few years ago and you didn’t come then. What makes you think…that I would be stupid enough to believe that you’re…actually concerned about my well being?”

Gibbs heard Tony’s breath hitch as he tried to shift into a more comfortable position. He started to move forward to help the agent, but DiNozzo’s slight shake of his head, told him that his assistance would not be welcome. One of these days, he was going to have to convince Tony that there was nothing wrong with accepting help from your friends; of course, DiNozzo would probably point out that he needed to learn that lesson as well.

“Maybe I’ve changed,” the senior DiNozzo tried to reason.

“Yeah, right. And maybe…I’ve…become…celibate,” Tony shot back.

The team leader didn’t bother to hide his grin at Tony’s remark. Maybe letting him confront his father hadn’t been a mistake after all; his senior agent was holding his own against his father.

“So, what is it…you want from me?” the dark haired agent asked once again.

“You were so much easier to get along with when you were being medicated. Tell me, does Agent Gibbs know your psychiatric history? You must have kept it hidden from him so you could get on with NCIS,” Vincent deduced.

“What do you want?” Tony asked once again, the younger agent’s patience was starting to wane.

Without seeking Tony’s approval this time, Gibbs placed himself between Tony and his father. He glared at the older man, sending him a silent reminder of the threat that he had made earlier.

“I’ve been in contact with Secretary Davenport and he has filled me in on the latest developments,” Vincent began to explain. “I know that he has extended to you an offer…”

“What’s your point?” the young man wanted to know.

Vincent squared his shoulders and stood tall. “Unfortunately, Secretary Davenport omitted a very important part of the deal.”

“And that is?”

The ex-Marine continued to stare at Tony’s father, impatiently waiting for Vincent DiNozzo to answer the agent’s question. Gibbs met Vincent’s icy gaze, taking great pleasure that his presence was obviously unnerving DiNozzo’s father. “I think he asked you a question, Mr. DiNozzo,” he said.

“Indeed he did,” Vincent remarked. “I need to talk to with my son. Alone.”

“Not going to happen,” Gibbs declared.

“This is personal family business.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m not leaving you alone with him.”

Gibbs refused to back down from the arrogant man. He thought back to the boy on the beach; he couldn’t help Tony all those years ago, but he would stand by him now. Vincent DiNozzo would not hurt his agent, his son, ever again.

“Very well,” Vincent conceded as he turned his attention back to Tony. “You asked me what I was doing here, Anthony. The answer is simple. I want something and I’m prepared to do anything necessary to get it.”

“I’m waiting,” Tony whispered.

The team leader remained guarded as Tony’s father crossed his arms and stared at his ailing son. Gibbs didn’t miss the evil glint in Vincent’s eye when he said, “I think you’ll be very surprised at what I’m going to say…”

Chapter 34

Tony returned his father’s icy gaze with his own harsh glare. He was no longer twelve years old and he refused to be intimidated by the likes of Vincent DiNozzo. Growing up, Tony always understood that he was low on his father’s list of priorities, a fact that he had come to accept over the years. It was a little disconcerting to the younger man that the very man who had wanted to deny his existence for forty years was now insisting on speaking with him.

Vincent DiNozzo was used to getting what he wanted and he had never been denied his prize. Tony knew that his father wanted something from him, but honestly, he wasn’t sure what he had to offer the man that constantly cursed his very existence.

“I think you’ll be very surprised at what I’m going to say,” Vincent claimed.

The senior agent shook his head. “I doubt it,” Tony retorted. “I’ve heard it all before and I can’t imagine that anything you have to say is worth hearing.”

“You must hear me out,” his father attempted to demand.

“Why? Why should I listen to someone who placed a contract on my life? I knew you hated me, but I never figured that you would stoop so low as to try and have me killed.”

“If you will just listen, I will explain everything.”

“You were always very good at explaining things,” Tony snapped.

“I can see that you still have a problem with authority. It’s always been one of your weaknesses.”

Tony saw Gibbs’ visibly bristle. He was grateful for the team leader’s presence, but the last thing he wanted was another confrontation between the former Marine and his father. With a slight shake of his head, Tony silently indicated that he did not need Gibbs to interfere. He could handle this; he had no choice.

“I’m sure by the end of our conversation, you’ll have covered all my other weaknesses as well.”

“I probably will, you ungrateful bastard.”

Tony grinned. “Oh, we’re already to the name calling. Hmm…too bad you can’t medicate me and send me to my room now.”

“If only it were that easy,” Vincent shot back.

“Why don’t you just say what you came to say?” Tony growled.

Vincent nodded, his arrogance stagnated the air in the tiny room. Tony wondered if there was an area big enough to contain the man’s ego.

“Very well,” the elder DiNozzo conceded.

“About a year ago, my lawyer discovered something unexpected when he was going over the finances of the estate,” Vincent began to explain. “Apparently, before your mother died, she managed to set up a trust fund for you that I knew nothing about. It was to be given to you when you married or on your 40th birthday, whichever came first. I don’t know why she set it up that way or how she did it without my knowledge, but that doesn’t matter now. Your mother was always a sneaky little drunken…”

“Don’t say it,” Tony threatened. “At least she remembered that she had a son.”

“When she was sober,” Vincent added. “I find it hard to believe that you’re defending her after all the times that she humiliated you.”

“I think you both excelled at that,” the young man said. “Why don’t you just get to the point? It’s not like you to beat around the bush.”

“You’re right, for once. Anyway, your mother did have the sense to name me as the beneficiary should something happen to you and…”

“And so that’s why you want me dead.” Tony swallowed hard, trying to control the anger that was coursing through his veins. “How much am I worth?”

Tony refused to wilt under his father’s commanding stare. “You’re not worth a damn thing,” Vincent spat. “But your trust fund is worth 17.5 million dollars.”

He gathered the sheet up in his fist, clutching it against his chest. Closing his eyes, Tony fought against the urge to throw up, knowing that that action would only cause him excruciating pain. Of course, it would be no greater than the agony tearing apart his heart. He tried not to let his father’s hurtful words affect him, but there were times that words could cause more damage than a knife or a bullet; especially to the soul.

A hand gently squeezed his shoulder. Gibbs. He knew it was Gibbs and he drew strength from the team leader’s silent support. Opening his eyes, Tony nodded his thanks to the ex-Marine. “That’s pocket change…to you,” Tony rasped, still trying to tamp down the overwhelming need to vomit.

“Yes it is, but the fact is that I need…I want that money.”

“Go to hell.”

Nonplussed, his father continued, pulling what appeared to be some kind of document out of his jacket. “I’ve taken the liberty to have my lawyer draw up a paper so that you can sign over your inheritance to me.”

“And why would I do that?” Tony asked.

“Because you don’t want the money,” Vincent coolly replied. “You don’t want anything that has to do with the DiNozzo fortune.”

“Maybe it’s because that your fortune was made at the expense of my childhood,” he countered.

Vincent shoved the document in front of his face. “Do you need a pen?”

“I’m not signing it over to you,” Tony stated.

“Why not?”

The agent started to laugh. “I can’t believe you have the nerve to ask me that,” he seethed. “After the heel you’ve put me through, you expect me to sigh over 17.5 million dollars to you? I thought you were a smarter business man than that.”

“Oh, but I am,” Vincent declared.

“Really?”

“Yes. I know the details of the offer that Secretary Davenport made to you and I must say that if I were you, I’d take the deal.”

“You’re not me.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Anyway,” the elder man continued. “He asked me to nullify the contract and I agreed to speak with Eli David regarding this issue on the condition that I could speak to you. I’m prepared to sweeten the deal and relive you of the burden of having that tainted money. We all go home happy. You may even be able to live with yourself.”

“I doubt it.”

“Hear me out, Anthony.”

“When you sign over the money to me, I will be using it to…”

“To what? To help fund one of SecNav’s secret projects? Maybe you’ll be using it to help cover up the names of the people on that damn list that will evidently cause a political upheaval when it gets out. You wouldn’t want that to happen, would you? Oh, wait a minute, you had some friends on that list, didn’t you?”

“That’s enough!’ Vincent roared. “I am not playing games with you, Anthony! You will sign that money over to me or your friends will pay the consequences. My connections go higher than Secretary Davenport and…”

Tony rubbed a hand over his face. “Get out,” he mumbled.

“Not until I have the money.”

He glared at the older man. “I’m tired of being threatened and I’m tired of talking to you. I’ve got a lot on my plate right now and there’s no room for you and your pathetic lies. Get out!” Tony shouted, hoping that he managed to sound stronger than he felt.

He watched as Gibbs took a step towards his father. The team leader always had his six, just like a father should. “You heard him,” Gibbs said.

“This is none of your concern, Agent Gibbs. I’m not through…”

“Yes, you are,” the former sniper pointed out. “Now leave.”

“You’ll be sorry, Anthony,” Vincent warned.

Tony didn’t bother hiding the weariness in his voice. “I’ve heard that before.”

“Leave or I’ll make you leave,” Gibbs vowed.

The two men watched as Vincent DiNozzo tucked the paper back in his pocket and picked up his coat. “You’re making a huge mistake, Anthony,” he stated. “A huge mistake.”

“Won’t be the first time,” Tony assured him.

Tony breathed a sigh of relief when his father was out of his sight. He began to chuckle; a tired smile taking up permanent residence on his face.

“Care to tell me what’s so funny, DiNozzo?” Gibbs inquired.

“Some things never change. It’s always about the money,” he sighed. “I just didn’t have the heart to tell him that there isn’t any money.”

A confused expression spread across the team leader’s face. “What?”

“She wasn’t quite the lush that my father took her for,” Tony continued to explain. “Truthfully, she just drank when he was around; not that I blame her.”

“Were you and your mom close?”

“No, but most of the time she tolerated me. My mom sat the whole thing up as a way to get back at my dad. After she died, we had the reading of her will, I got a letter that she had left me; my father just assumed that it was a bunch of garbage about how sorry she was that she screwed up my life and he was pretty much right. But she also wrote about this elaborate scheme she had in place to give Vincent a taste of his own medicine.” Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. “She always did have to have the last word.”

“So, why didn’t you tell him that there wasn’t any money?” Gibbs wanted to know.

Tony shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess part of me wanted to see him beg like I used to; but I should have known better. Vincentio DiNozzo doesn’t beg. He simply takes and he never gives back anything in return.”

“Tony, I’m sorry.”

He suddenly began to retch, unable to control the nausea that had been plaguing him since his father’s arrival. Tony didn’t offer any resistance as Gibbs helped him onto his side as he vomited onto the bed sheets. Dr. Marshall was not going to be happy with him.

Tony wasn’t sure when Gibbs had managed to call for help, but within seconds, two nurses were hovering over him as he continued to heave. He cried out in pain, as waves of agony assaulted him.

“Just breathe, Tony,” encouraged the nurse. “The pain should be easing up in just a few minutes. Breathe through it.”

“Sorry, Boss,” he muttered.

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for, Tony,” Gibbs assured him.

Before Tony could answer, the nurse asked Gibbs to step out so they could clean him up. “Let him stay,” DiNozzo gasped.

“I won’t get in the way,” the team leader promised.

“Let him stay,” Dr. Katherine Marshall instructed as she entered the room.

“Crap,” Tony whispered. “We’re up that creek, Boss.”

“I just don’t want him disappearing before I chew him a new one,” the doctor stated as she began to help the nurses clean him up.

A moan escaped Tony’s lips despite the nurses’ attempts not to cause him any discomfort during their ministrations. He started to protest when he heard Kate order one of them to give him something for pain and for nausea, but was cut off by the physician’s unrelenting stare.

“I don’t want to hear one word out of you,” Kate warned.

“But…”

“I mean it Tony,” she angrily repeated.

Even though he hated the way that the painkillers made him feel, Tony found himself hoping that they would take effect before Kate delivered yet another lecture about his health. He would prefer to go to sleep and never wake up, but that apparently wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

“I warned you about this,” she continued. “Are you trying to kill yourself?”

Tony stared at her, his face void of emotion, but she managed to somehow know what he was thinking. The only problem was that Gibbs knew as well. They finally figured out that he was truly insane and now they were faced with the dilemma of what to do with him.

“I guess that answers my question,” Kate said, sparing a concerned glance at Gibbs.

“I’m just tired,” Tony muttered, knowing that his despondent tone did nothing to reassure Kate.

“You’ve evidently had quite a day. I want you to rest and I’ll be back in a few minutes to check on you.”

Tony nodded as he closed his eyes, unable to fight the effects of the drugs that he had been given. As he started to doze, he heard Kate asking Gibbs to join her outside of the room. There was no doubt that they were going to talk about him and didn’t want him overhearing their conversation.

He was grateful to find that he was actually alone for a few minutes. Tony still hadn’t reached a decision about the SecNav’s offer before his father had entered the picture. His eyes snapped open, knowing that he could not go to sleep until he reached a decision. He took his hand and raked it through his hair. “God, I hate my life.”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


“What the hell are you trying to do him?” Katherine Marshall wanted to know. Angry did not even begin to describe what she was feeling.

“You don’t understand what’s at stake,” Gibbs tried to explain.

“What’s at stake? I’ll tell you what’s at stake, Agent Gibbs. Tony’s life is at stake.”

“I’m aware of that,” Gibbs snapped. “But you’ve got to understand that his soul is at stake as well.”

Blowing out a frustrated breath, she forced herself to calm down. “No more visitors. I don’t care if the President of the United States wants to see him, it’s not happening. One person may stay with him and only one person. Do I make myself clear?”

She was surprised that the former Marine seemed to be struggling to keep his composure. “It’s not what you think.”

“I don’t care. My main concern is for Tony. I want to see him walk out of her on his own feet, not on a gurney on the way to the morgue. Right now, I’m not sure that Tony even wants to get better. I see it in his eyes; he wants to die and I think you see it as well.”

Gibbs swallowed hard. “I’ve seen that look before, many years ago.”

“Then you better do something about it. He needs help and so far he’s not getting it from his friends.”

She was taken back when Gibbs expression hardened and he took a menacing step towards her. “Are you finished?” he asked.

“Well…”

“Good,” he growled. “Because I have a few things I need to say to you.”


35

Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ limited patience had expired about ten minutes ago. He had respected Tony’s wishes and kept a low profile when the young man had confronted his father; a difficult task, especially when the elder DiNozzo started throwing slurs at the young man. Now, Dr. Katherine Marshall was prepared to deliver a lecture to him about what she thought Tony needed, and he was not in the mood to hear what she had to say. He believed that she had DiNozzo’s best interests in mind, but she didn’t know Tony.

When Dr. Marshall had indicated that he and the others did not care about Tony’s welfare, Gibbs could no longer contain his temper. He admitted the relationship between him and his senior agent had been strained, but that didn’t mean that he was going to sit by and allow the woman accuse him of not caring about DiNozzo. His eyes were flaming with rage as he stood face to face with the physician. “How dare you! How dare you even suggest that we don’t, that I don’t give a damn about what happens to Tony!” he roared.

“I wasn’t…”

“Don’t talk! Don’t say a word!” he warned. “Just listen.”

He didn’t care if she was offended by his actions; it wouldn’t be the first or last time that somebody had been upset by something he had said. The team leader was determined to make Katherine understand just how much he and the others cared for DiNozzo. Tony was the heart of their team. Whenever Tony wasn’t there, things just didn’t seem right; but the moment he walked in, the room would hum with an unexplainable energy that they all seemed to draw on.

“Tony’s got a lot on him right now,” Gibbs began to explain, his steely gaze daring the physician to interrupt him. “He’s been through hell these past few days and he’s still got a long road ahead of him, but we’re going to be right there with him. We may not be as orthodox and by the book as you want us to be, but we’re his family and as dysfunctional as you think we are, we’re all he’s got.

“There’s a lot going on that you know nothing about, Dr. Marshall, so I suggest that you refrain from passing judgment on me and my team. I know better than anyone how hard this is on Tony and I’m doing everything in my power to make sure he keeps fighting. Maybe letting him see his dad wasn’t the idea, but it was Tony’s decision and I respected his wishes. If you don’t want DiNozzo to leave this hospital AMA, which you know he’ll do, then you better back off, Dr. Marshall.”

The former Marine took a deep breath and blew it out. “Tony’s just another patient to you; he more than that to me. He’s the son I never had and it pisses me off that you have the audacity to even think that I don’t care about what happens to him.”

“He doesn’t know his own limits,” she quickly blurted out, her sharp tone reflecting his anger at being addressed in such a rude manner.

The team leader leaned in closer to her. “Neither do you,” he whispered. “And I told you not to talk.”

He straightened his stance, his eyes still fixed upon the physician, ignoring her obvious displeasure. “Tony does push himself,” Gibbs agreed. “That’s part of what makes him the man he is and if you want to remain on as his primary physician, you better not take that away from him. He doesn’t need your holier than thou attitude constantly badgering him; he has enough on his plate without you adding insult to injury. Do we have an understanding, Dr. Marshall?”

“May I speak now?” she snapped.

“Choose your words carefully,” he replied.

Gibbs knew that she wasn’t pleased with the dressing down that he had just delivered to her. He remained firmly planted where he stood, despite her useless attempts at intimidating him.

“I’m Tony’s doctor,” she stated with authority, “and I’ll do what I think is best for him and if I think it’s best to restrict his visitors, I will do just that. He is under too much stress, both physically and emotionally, to make any decisions about his health and his recovery. As his next of kin, you should be making those decisions for him, but you’re not. Instead, you are just contributing to his problems.”

“I thought I told you to choose your words carefully.”

“And I thought you appreciated brutal honesty.”

“I do, but I don’t appreciate you talking about Tony like he’s a child, incapable of making his own decisions. I suggest that you limit your practice to the physical aspects of Tony’s recovery and leave the rest to me and his friends.”

“With friends like you, he certainly doesn’t need enemies. Tony’s going to end up dead if he continues on like he is,” she growled in frustration.

Gibbs clenched his jaw. “Perhaps it would be better if you did remove yourself from Tony’s case,” he suggested. ”You’re obviously used to doing things your own way, everyone else be damned, but that’s not going to fly, Dr. Marshall. Not with Tony and not with me!”

“Maybe you’re right,” she conceded. “I am used to doing things my own way, as are you, Agent Gibbs. Maybe someone else would be willing to stand by and watch Agent DiNozzo on this path of self destruction, but I’m not. I just hope you really mean what you say and that you’re there to catch him when he falls, Agent Gibbs, because it’s a long way down to the bottom.”

“I’ve got his six.”

“I hope you’ve got a lot more than his six, Agent Gibbs. I’m going to go and check on Tony again before I leave. If he wants a new doctor, I’ll hand over his case to someone else,” Katherine promised.

“So, now you think he’s capable of making a decision?” Gibbs asked. “Five minutes ago, you implied that he couldn’t make a sound judgment about what he wanted. Which is it, Doctor?”

The physician visibly bristled. “I think we’re through here,” she coolly stated.

“For now,” the team leader said as he followed her back into Tony’s room.

Gibbs stood at the end of Tony’s bed, watching her as she checked his surgical incision and his vital signs. DiNozzo stirred slightly at her touch, a tiny moan escaping his lips as he opened his eyes.

“Sorry, Tony,” she mumbled.

“S’okay,” DiNozzo slurred. “You two done fighting?”

“I thought you were asleep.”

“Just dozing. Heard some of it, tuned out the rest. Used to do the same thing when my parent would fight,” Tony recalled.

“I’m sorry you had to hear any of it.”

“Sorry you had to be on the receiving end of one of Gibbs’ lectures,” Tony countered. “He can be a real bastard when he’s fired up.”

Gibbs couldn’t help but grin. DiNozzo had a unique way of forcing the team leader to climb down off his high horse. But Tony was right; he was a bastard when it came to somebody threatening the sanctity of his team. The ex-Marine protected his team; over the years they had earned his loyalty, especially Tony. There had been an unspoken bond between him and DiNozzo from the first time they had met and although there were some issues between them that still needed to be resolved, Gibbs refused to believe that their relationship was damaged beyond repair.

“I assume that’s the medication talking for you, DiNozzo,” Gibbs teased.

“Uh, yeah Boss. You know how loopy I get when I’m on pain meds.”

“Yeah, I know.”

A hint of smile escaped the doctor’s lips as she took one final glance at the monitors. “You’re incision is a little inflamed. I’m going to start you on a different antibiotic that’s a little stronger to help clear that up.”

Tony nodded. “Thanks, Kate.”

“You’re welcome.” She paused and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry for yelling at you earlier.”

“That was yelling?” Tony playfully retorted. “That was nothing. My father could yell so loud, that the servants three mansions down the road could hear him.”

“Tony, I just…”

“I know, Kate. I know. Don’t worry about me and don’t worry about Gibbs. He’s just in need of some real coffee.”

Again, Gibbs was amazed by Tony’s ability to forgive so easily. He had mentioned this to DiNozzo one time and the young man had told him that it was easier to let a wrong go than to hold a grudge and let it eat at you like a cancer. Tony admitted that it took longer to let go of some grudges; Gibbs knew that the agent was referring to his father and possibly Trent Kort.

He was drawn back into the conversation as Kate suggested turning over his care to another doctor. The choice was Tony’s and despite his personal objections, he would respect his senior agent’s decision.

DiNozzo shook his head. “Hell no! I’ll probably get some old guy who’s a hundred years old with hands like ice. I want you to be my doctor, but I can’t promise to be an easy patient, not until I’ve taken care of a…certain matter.”

“This certain matter may end up killing you,” she pointed out. “I’m not going to stand by and watch you die.”

“Haven’t you heard? I can’t be killed.”

“This isn’t funny,” she barked.

“Do you see me laughing?”

Gibbs heard the frustrated sigh of the physician. “I’ll check on you in the morning,” she said. “If you’re still around.”

“I’ll be here,” Tony assured her.

The team leader watched Katherine leave. He didn’t regret anything that he had said to her earlier, but he probably should have been a bit more diplomatic about his delivery. Of course, most of his superiors would say that Leroy Jethro Gibbs didn’t even know the meaning of the word diplomacy.

He sat down in the chair beside Tony’s bed to find DiNozzo staring at him with a clarity that the agent didn’t exhibit when the doctor had been in the room. Something was amiss, Tony’s demeanor had changed completely, anger was radiating from the young man and Gibbs sensed it was directed towards him.

“Tony? You okay?” he asked.

Gibbs noticed Tony clutching the sheet beneath his fingers; his knuckles were turning white from the effort. “Tony?” Gibbs called out to his senior agent. “Are you all right?”

Tony slowly shook his head as he continued to glare at the former Marine. Gibbs watched as DiNozzo struggled to form the words that he wanted to say. Unfortunately, what came out of Tony’s mouth was not what the team leader expected to hear.

The senior agent leaned forward slightly, his eyes never leaving Gibbs’ face. “Just who the hell do you think you are?”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Jackson Gibbs walked down the hallway, nodding a pleasant greeting to staff and patients as he made his way towards the front entrance. He had been at the hospital for hours and he felt like the walls were starting to close in; he desperately needed some fresh air. Inhaling the crisp evening air, he felt refreshed as the cobwebs that had been taking up residence in his mind were swept away.

It had been a trying day for everyone, but especially for the young man that he had come to cherish as one of his one—Tony DiNozzo. The elderly man’s heart ached for the agent whose life had been turned upside down by the events of the past few months to the point that Tony was now suffering the consequences both physically and emotionally. There were so many people that wanted to help DiNozzo, including him, but at the moment there was nothing that any of them could do but wait.

He hated waiting, but over the years he had become an expert at it. How many years did he have to wait for Jethro to speak to him again? Now they were learning to be father and son again, trying to recapture some of the years that they had lost. Their stubborn pride had denied them their ability to talk and the silence had created a rift between them that had almost impossible to heal. “Almost,” Jack smiled. “But not quite.”

Jack sat down on a rock wall adorning a raised flower bed and began to watch as strangers and acquaintances would speak to him as they entered or left the hospital. The thing about being in a small town was that if someone didn’t know your name, they would still speak and expected a greeting in return. Maybe that’s why several of the visitors were seemingly put off by the man that was frantically pacing while talking on his cell phone.

He noticed how the well dressed man’s expressions fluctuate between frustration and anger. As he studied this stranger, Jack found himself looking at an older version of Tony DiNozzo; there was no doubt in his mind that his man was Tony’s father. Other than their appearance, the senior Gibbs had a feeling that father and son were as different as night and day and from what the younger man had told him in some of their past conversations, Tony didn’t want to be anything like his father.

As the senior DiNozzo snapped shut his phone and put if back in his pocket, Jackson rose from his seat and headed towards the obviously irritated man. “You’re new in town, aren’t you?” Jack called out.

Tony’s father turned to face him. “Excuse me? Were you talking to me?”

“Yes, I was.” Jack extended his hand. “My name is Jackson Gibbs.”

“Vincent DiNozzo.”

The senior DiNozzo had yet to shake his hand. “You too good to shake a man’s hand, Vinnie?”

The other man tensed as he reluctantly grasped Jack’s hand. “My name is Vincent, Mr. Gibbs.”

“Whatever you say, Vinnie,” Jack taunted. “So, what brings you to town?”

“I came to see someone.”

“Who?”

“Someone,” Vincent growled. “Is everyone in this charming town as…inquisitive as you, Mr. Gibbs?”

“Pretty much. You know how small towns are, or maybe you don’t. You look like you’re more at home in the city,” Jack stated. “So, who did you say that you were coming to see?”

“I didn’t say, did I?”

“Don’t guess you did. Oh well, I thought I might could help you find whoever you were looking for; save you some time.”

“I know exactly who I’m looking for and where he is.”

“Oh, is he a patient here?”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry. What happened?”

Vincent glared at Jackson. “Gibbs,” he mumbled. “Are you by chance any relation to Jethro Gibbs, are you?”

“He’s my son,” Jack proudly replied.

“I should have known,” Vincent mumbled. “Let me ask you something, Jackson. As a father, have you ever been disappointed in your son?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“Just an honest one. You see, my son has disappointed me in the past so many times that I’ve lost count. I was just wondering if your son had ever acted in a way that didn’t please you.”

Jack thought for a moment. If Vincent DiNozzo was trying to find an ally, he was going to have to look somewhere else. “I think that disappointment is something that we all have to face at one time or another; we’re human and we all make mistakes.”

“But some mistakes are inexcusable, don’t you agree?”

“It depends on what they are.”

“How about the mistake of even being born?”

Jackson Gibbs stared at Vincent in disbelief. How could a father wish his own son had never been born? “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“My son has caused me nothing but heartache; his mere existence has been nothing but a thorn in my side.”

“Those are pretty harsh words.”

“Anthony deserves every one of them,” Vincent sneered.

Jack took a deep breath and blew it out, struggling to keep a hold on his temper. Tony had been right about his father; the man gave new meaning to the words heartless bastard. “So why are you here?”

“Anthony has something I need.”

“I thought you said he was worthless,” Jack challenged. “Seems to me if he’s got something you want, that makes him an asset to you.”

“You would think so, wouldn’t you?” Victor shot back. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.”

“So, I guess you haven’t gotten what you came after,” Jackson deduced.

“No, but I’m not going to give up. The wheels are already in motion,” Vincent gloated.

“Mind if I tell you something?” Jackson asked.

“I’m surprised you even asked.”

Jack smiled. “Just a formality.”

“I figured as much.”

He stepped forward, intentionally blocking Vincent’s direct path. “You’re a fool. That boy of yours is worth more than all your stocks, bonds, companies, and money combined. If you’re too blind to see that, then you don’t deserve to even speak his name. He wanted to make you happy, but you never gave him a chance. You were too busy making money to have time for him and you missed out on one of the greatest joys a man could have; the joy of being a father.

“It’s amazing that Tony turned out to be the man that he is today. He’s a good man; someone that puts other people’s needs in front of his own. You should try that sometime.”

Vincent smiled. “Another member of the Anthony DiNozzo fan club,” he said. “Just remember that there are two sides to every story.”

Jack shook his head. “Not this one. Tony carries too many scars, both inside and out. Sounds a little one sided to me.”

“Believe what you want to. I really do not have any more time to devote to listening to you sing my son’s praises. Maybe you should save those for his funeral; I’m sure that you’d do a great job with the eulogy,” Vincent taunted.

Jackson watched Tony’s father arrogantly stride into the hospital. He didn’t waste any time following suit; the need to talk to Leroy had become urgent. Jack didn’t like the intent of Vincent’s last comment and he wanted his son to be aware of the conversation that he had just had with Tony’s father. He also wanted to make sure that Leroy understood how important it was that he made things right with Tony; DiNozzo needed a father and Jethro was the only one who could fill that void.











Chapter 36

Tony couldn’t believe the expression of surprise on Gibbs’ face. Surely someone as intuitive as Leroy Jethro Gibbs could see that he was angry. Actually, anger didn’t begin to describe what he was feeling at the moment; frustration, hurt, rage, and a sense of betrayal, all were attempting to surface, forcing him to acknowledge their existence. He despised feeling like this. Tony didn’t like losing control; the price he had to pay for his actions was too great.

He had tried to fight the urge to confront the team leader, but the desire to be heard was too strong. Gibbs had been telling him that he needed to open up but Tony wasn’t sure that the former Marine was prepared to hear what he had to say. He was tired of being told what to do, how to feel, and what to think. Somewhere in the past few months, he had lost Anthony DiNozzo, but now he was determined to find him again.

DiNozzo had overheard most of the conversation between Gibbs and Dr. Marshall. It reminded him of when his parents would fight over him, but their arguments were never about who knew what was best for him; their overly loud discussions usually ended up with his mother and father cursing the day he was born. He supposed that he should be glad that Gibbs seemed to care so much about him, but what he couldn’t figure out was why he was finally admitting it now. The team leader’s revelation had unnerved him. For so long Tony had been trying to regain Gibbs’ trust and respect and failed miserably in his efforts, or so he thought.

After Tony had returned from being Agent Afloat, he had waited for Gibbs to take him aside and tell him that everything was going to be all right. He wanted to know that the team leader didn’t blame him for Jenny’s death, but it quickly became evident to Tony that Gibbs didn’t want to talk about it. No one wanted to talk about how he had screwed up, except for Vance. Director Vance took great pleasure in reminding him that Jenny Shepard was dead because of him and Tony knew it was true. He thought that he had come to terms with her death while he had been on the Seahawk, but once he had returned to D.C., he quickly learned that all was not forgiven or forgotten.

Things between him and Gibbs had only been strained further in the following months; Tony felt like he couldn’t say or do anything to please the former Marine. It wasn’t until he had overheard the conversation between Kate and Gibbs did he realize that Gibbs still trusted and apparently respected him. That was until he heard Gibbs threaten to have Kate replaced with another doctor. Maybe Gibbs’ opinion of him hadn’t changed after all.

Everything that he had kept bottled up inside him erupted like a volcano. One minute, the team leader had been saying how Tony should be allowed to make his own decisions and the next minute, Gibbs was making decisions for him when he insisted that Dr. Marshall turn over Tony’s care to another doctor. The team leader had told Kate that he had Tony’s six, but he could tell that she wasn’t convinced. Truthfully, he wasn’t either.

He had heard Gibbs calling out to him as he wrapped his hand around the sheet. His eyes narrowed as his own icy stare met the concerned eyes of his Boss. “Just who the hell do you think you are?” he had snapped.

Gibbs was clearly taken back by Tony’s vehemence. He refused to back down as he waited for the team leader’s answer.

“What are you talking about?” Gibbs asked.

“You know what I’m talking about,” Tony growled. “I’m talking about the crap you tried to pull with Kate.”

“Tony, I…”

“Don’t try and tell me that you don’t know what I’m talking about! You have no right to threaten to have her removed from my case.”

“You gave me that right when you listed me as your next of kin,” Gibbs pointed out.

“You’re only to exercise that right when I’m unable to do so. You told her that I could make my own decisions, and then you go and try and make them for me! Sounds like a double standard to me.”

“You’ve got a lot on your mind,” Gibbs pointed out. “I was just trying to look out for you.”

Tony clenched his jaw. “You were trying to look out for me?”

“I’ve always looked out for you.”

“When it’s convenient for you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” the team leader wanted to know.

“Just what I said.”

“I won’t accept that answer.”

“It’s the only one you’re going to get,” Tony shot back.

“You’re not getting off that easy. This isn’t just about what I said to the good doctor; it goes a lot deeper. We’ve never minced words and we’re not starting now.”

“Why not? You’re not going to want to hear what I have to say,” he warned.

“Yes, I do.”

Tony stared down at the sheet that was still tightly clutched in his hand. When was he ever going to learn to keep his mouth shut? Apparently, it wasn’t going to be today. Gibbs was right, his anger had very little to do with Gibbs wanting a different doctor to take over his case; that was just the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It was much deeper, deeper than even Tony realized as nearly a year of pent up emotions came pouring from his lips and he was powerless to stop it.

“You told me once I was irreplaceable and I used to believe it, but I don’t anymore,” Tony began. “After I was sent away, I didn’t hear from you for four months. I’d get emails and letters from Abby and she would tell me that you were busy with your new team, but I knew that the real reason was that you blamed me for Jenny’s death. I finally told myself that you had every right to blame me and I guess I just accepted that it really was my fault.”

Gibbs shook his head. “Tony, Jenny’s death was not your fault. I…”

Tony raised his hand, abruptly cutting off the team leader in mid-sentence. “Please let me finish,” he pleaded.

“All right,” the ex-Marine agreed.

He took a deep breath and blew it out in an effort to release some of the anger that he was still carrying, but when he spoke, his voice still had an edge of bitterness to it.

“I’d lay awake at night and try to figure out how I could make it right, but I couldn’t come up with a way to fix it. When I finally heard from you, I thought maybe you’d forgiven me after all. God, I wanted to come home so bad and when I finally got home, I wished I had stayed on the Seahawk. Things were different between us and I didn’t know how to get them back on the right track. This big hole had been created and the more I tried to fill it up, the more I’d end up digging. I’d try and do stupid stuff just so you’d slap me upside the head. Nothing worked.

“Then Vance approached me and I started working undercover for him. I should have just let him ship me back, but I didn’t want the rest of you to be split up. I kept telling myself that you’d figure everything out and put Vance in his place, but that didn’t happen either. I guess I was just expecting too much. I shouldn’t have expected anything.

“You told Kate you had my six, but right now, I feel like those are just words. Right now, you’re here because you have to be; because Tony DiNozzo made another great big mess that you have to clean up. I’m sorry, Boss. I’m sorry for letting you down and not being who you wanted me to be.”

Tony startled when Gibbs suddenly stood up and leaned over him. The young man didn’t dare look away as the former Marine glared at him. “Don’t you dare say that!” the team leader barked. “You’ve have never let me down! Ever! Jenny was dying anyway; she went out of here just like she wanted to—in a blaze of glory. That was not your fault. I should have told you that but I waited too long. I was trying to deal with my own grief and I didn’t realize that you were drowning in guilt. Maybe I wanted someone to blame besides myself and that was wrong. I guess you were an easy target because I knew that you’d take the responsibility without question.”

“Glad I’m good for something,” Tony retorted.

He had no idea why he said that other than his desire to not make this easy for the ex-Marine. Anger and frustration were fueling Tony’s words and he figured that he was going to eventually say something that he was going to regret.

Ignoring his sharp reply, Gibbs continued. “As for your time on the Seahawk, I never intended for you to have to stay on that ship any longer than necessary, but my hands were tied and deep down you know that. I got you back to D.C. as soon as I could. You seemed to content and happy to be home, so I just assumed that you were all right. I broke one of my own rules,” the older man snorted. “Never assume, always double check.

“I became so focused on making sure that Vance didn’t abuse that chair like Jenny did that I missed what was happening to you. There’s no excuse and nothing I say can change what I did. It seems that once again I let you pay the price for my lack of objectivity.”

Tony closed his eyes, fighting back the urge to take a swing at the former sniper. “How much more do you think I have left in me, Gibbs?” he cried out. “Let me answer that for you! I don’t have anything! But you were right about one thing, I can make my own decisions and I intend to do just that without any help from you or anyone else.”

Gibbs smiled, which only served to enrage Tony further. “What the hell are you smiling at?” he wanted to know.

He felt his anger begin to dissipate and it frightened him. Tony knew that once his reserves of anger had been depleted, that the tears would come. He wasn’t ready for that to happen, but he could not stop them from flowing.

“I think you’ve underestimated yourself,” Gibbs went on to say. “You’ve still got a lot of fight left in you, Tony. It’s good to see that fire in your eye again. Take your own advice. Make your own decisions and don’t look back,” he urged.. “No regrets. You do what’s best for you. Do you understand me?”

Tony eyed Gibbs suspiciously. “Does that mean that I get to keep Kate as my doctor?”

A gentle tap to the top of the head brought a tiny smile to the young man’s face, but his expression quickly changed as he struggled to keep his tears from escaping down his cheeks. “Thank you, Boss,” he rasped.

He felt himself carefully being pulled into the arms of the team leader. Gibbs embraced him as he started to weep. He was embarrassed to appear to be so weak, but the older man continually reassured him that everything was going to be all right. Tony had been waiting to hear those words for a long time and now that they were being uttered, he wasn’t sure if he could believe them. He tried to pull away, but Gibbs refused to let him go. It was then that Tony realized that he no longer had to pretend that he could carry the burden that had been placed on his shoulders.

Tony wasn’t sure how long he allowed Gibbs to hold him, but it had been long enough that he had found himself drifting off to sleep. He was startled awake when Gibbs tried to lay him back down. “Sorry, Boss,” he mumbled.

“You have nothing to apologize for, DiNozzo.” Gibbs pulled the sheet up over Tony. “But if you ever yell at me like that again, I’ll slap you so hard your grandkids will feel it.”

“Gotcha Boss,” Tony sheepishly replied.

“Why don’t I give you a minute or two and then we’ll talk about what you’ve decided to tell Davenport,” Gibbs suggested.

“I’m all right,” he assured the former Marine. “I already know what I’m going to tell Secretary Davenport.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Care to share it with me?”

Tony shrugged. Once the ultimatum had been given to him, he had realized that he was backed into a corner and there was only one thing for him to do. Tony was going to come out fighting. “You probably won’t like it.”

“Maybe, but I told you that I’d back your decision.”

He studied Gibbs’ solemn expression. It was his decision and Gibbs had promised to support him. Guilt swept over him as snippets of their conversation replayed in his mind. He all but accused the man who had been like a father to him of not caring about him. Had he lost his mind? Maybe he should be locked away somewhere until he got his head on straight.

“All right,” he finally conceded. “This is what I’ve decided to do.”


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Ziva looked up from the magazine that she had been perusing to see whom she assumed to be Tony’s father enter the waiting room. He was tall, well-dressed, and well-groomed; the expressive eyes and the firmly distinguished jaw line cemented the fact this man was indeed related to her partner. She put down her magazine and rose to greet him. “Can I help you?” she asked.

“I need to speak to Director Vance,” Vincent DiNozzo stated.

“And you are?”

“I think you know my name, Officer David.”

“You are Tony’s father.”

“Unfortunately,” he grumbled. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll…”

“How did you know my name?” she demanded to know. “I don’t believe our paths have crossed before.”

“Even though I haven’t seen my son in many years, I still know a great deal about his life. I know where he lives, I know who he works with, and I know who he associates with outside of work.”

“Why would you care?”

“I don’t, but it pays to know your enemies.”

She inwardly shuddered when Vincent smiled at her. “You consider your own son your enemy?”

The elder DiNozzo nodded. “Right now, he’s probably my greatest nemesis.”

She believed that neither Vincent DiNozzo or Eli David were going to be nominated for the father of the year award, but at least her father loved her in his own unique way. Tony had never experienced the love of a father until he had met Jethro Gibbs and now she understood why he was always striving to please the team leader.

“That is a cruel thing to say about your own son,” Ziva insisted.

“Sometimes the truth can be cruel, my dear. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m here to speak to Director Vance.”

“I’m afraid that I can not allow you to…”

“David!” Vance angrily called out. “Stand down. He doesn’t need your permission to speak to me. I’m still the Director of NCIS and you still answer to me.”

Ziva smiled as she returned to her seat, silently wishing that McGee and Abby would hurry back so they could witness the conversation that was about to take place. She could have physically removed Vincent DiNozzo from the room, but she quickly tamped down the urge to do so in hopes of learning something that could be used against not only the Director, but Tony’s father as well. “I’ll be right here if you need me, Director.”

She listened intently as the two men talked in hushed tones, grateful that her training had taught her to be observant without attracting attention to herself. Their conversation was limited to short sentences, both men being careful to not divulge too much information.

“Did you get whatever it is you came for?” Vance asked Tony’s father.

“No, not yet.”

“Are you surprised?”

“Truthfully, I was a little surprised.”

“So, what’s our next move?” Vance inquired.

“We have to wait.”

“On what?”

“On Anthony to make up his mind.”

Ziva felt her body tense at the mention of Tony’s name. She was protective of her partner as he was of her; their friendship had many different layers, but the foundation was the fact the knowledge that they trusted each other with their lives.

“He should make his decision soon,” Vance continued. She was glad that he either didn’t see or was choosing her obvious physical reaction to the mention of DiNozzo’s name.

“I’m on my way to see him once again. I’ve spoken with Phillip and we’ve agreed to up the ante.”

“What do you mean?”

“It means that we have a new offer that my son can’t refuse.”

“Good luck,” the Director said as Vincent turned to leave.

As the senior DiNozzo made his way towards the door, he looked at Ziva one last time. “My son has such strong feelings for you, my dear. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn into his sordid life; he’ll only hurt you.”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” she insisted.

“I think you do,” he taunted as he left the room.

She stared at the door, confused by Vincent’s statement. There was no way that Tony would hurt her, intentionally or unintentionally. Quickly pulling out her phone, she sent a text to Gibbs warning him that Tony’s father was planning on coming to visit Tony once again.

“Was he right, David?” Vance wanted to know.

“Right about what, Director?”

“Does DiNozzo have feelings for you?”

“We are partners and we are friends; of course we would have feelings for one another, but they do not extend beyond friendship if that is what you’re wondering.”

“If you say so, David.”

Before she could reply, McGee entered the room, balancing a drink carrier in one hand and several paper bags in the other. “I brought food,” he announced.

“What took you so long?” Ziva snapped.

“Well, I uh…is something wrong?” Tim asked.

“You missed meeting Tony’s father,” she informed him as she grabbed one of the cups out of the tray. “I’m going to take this coffee to Gibbs; you stay here with the Director.”

“Okay, but can you tell me what’s going on?”

She glanced at the Director and then turned her attention back to McGee. “Nothing is going on,” she insisted. “I just have a feeling that he needs some coffee.”

“Is that all there is to it?”

“For now.”

Without further explanation, Ziva left McGee in the waiting room and headed towards ICU. She knew that Tony’s father was headed there and while she realized that Gibbs probably wouldn’t need her help, the team leader would still welcome her presence. More importantly, she was determined to be there in case Tony needed her; she would have her partner’s back, just as he had always had hers.

Chapter 37

Gibbs had listened intently while Tony had poured out his heart, holding back nothing, even the things that he knew would cause the team leader pain. It tore at the former Marine’s soul to know that his actions had almost destroyed the young man that had willing accepted the responsibility of having his back all these years. He had repaid that loyalty by abandoning Tony to drown in his guilt, ignoring his senior agent’s silent pleas for someone to reach out to him.

He had tried to rationalize his behavior, but he had to finally admit that he had let Tony down. Gibbs could now be added to the list of people who had taken Tony’s trust and trampled on it; but unlike the others, the team leader was determined to once again earn DiNozzo’s respect. He would start by supporting whatever decision that Tony was about to make regarding the SecNav’s offer.

Tony had warned him that he probably wouldn’t like his decision, but nevertheless, Gibbs vowed to help his senior agent to deal with the aftermath of the consequences that the younger man would have to face.

“So, are you ready to tell me your decision?” he cautiously asked.

Tony shrugged. “I guess there’s no use putting it off any longer.”

“If you need more time, I’ll talk to Davenport,” Gibbs offered.

“Having more time won’t change anything. I’ll still be stuck between that proverbial rock and a hard place.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“Ever been in one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t situations? What am I saying? Of course you have. So I don’t have to tell you how much they suck.”

Gibbs smiled at his senior agent. Tony had a special way of getting to the point of any conversation. “That’s one way of putting it.”

“I hope you know that I’m doing what I think is best,” Tony said.

“I know,” the team leader assured him.

“You may want to hold off on that decision.”

Gibbs didn’t miss the fact that Tony visibly flinched at the sound of his father’s voice, prompting him to physically block the older man’s path. “What are you doing here?” he demanded to know. “I thought your business here was finished.”

“You thought wrong,” Vincent DiNozzo retorted. “I’ve just spoken with Secretary Davenport and I need to…”

“All you need to do is crawl back under the rock that you slithered out from,” Gibbs snapped. “You had your chance to talk to Tony and now…”

“It’s all right, Boss,” Tony said. “Let him speak his peace; it won’t change anything.”

“Tony, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I…”

He suddenly realized that he was once again making decisions for Tony and if he were going to begin to build that bridge of trust between him and DiNozzo, he was going to have to respect the younger man’s wishes.

Nodding, he stepped aside, permitting the senior DiNozzo to approach Tony’s bedside. Gibbs hovered protectively at the head of the bed, wanting to make sure that both Tony and his father understood that he was still nearby.

“What do you want?” Tony tiredly inquired.

The team leader could hear the exhaustion in Tony’s voice. His senior agent usually hid his fatigue, but the events of the past few months, and especially the past few hours, had clearly taken their toll on Tony. What bothered Gibbs the most was the knowledge that he was partly responsible for DiNozzo’s mental and physical deterioration.

He gently squeezed Tony’s shoulder. “You don’t have to do this,” Gibbs reminded the younger man.

Ignoring the team leader, Tony’s gaze remained fixed on his father. “What do you want?” he forcibly repeated.

“I see you’re not interested in exchanging any pleasantries,” Vincent taunted. “To think of all the money your mother wasted on those etiquette lessons.”

“And don’t forget about those little sailor suits,” Tony shot back.

Gibbs felt every muscle in his body tense at the sound of the elder DiNozzo’s laughter. The man was purposefully goading Tony, forcing him to recall some of the more humiliating aspects of his childhood. He would never forget the younger man’s painful admission in that holding cell; the words had been spoken before Tony could stop them during his self interrogation. It had taken a late night in Gibbs’ basement and several beers before Tony was convinced that he still respected him. That particular night was never mentioned again.

“Your mother always loved a man in uniform. I always attributed that obsession to her mental illness,” Tony’s father declared.

“Hmm, interesting,” DiNozzo countered. “I always thought her mental illness was from having to live with you.”

“You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, Anthony,”

“Betcha can’t wait to hear what I’m going to say about you.”

The team leader stifled a grin. Despite everything, Tony still managed to exhibit that sharp wit that was part of his infamous DiNozzo charm.

“Now, I’ll ask you for the last time, what do you want?” Tony growled.

“I have something else for you to consider.”

“Really? And what would that be?”

“Are you sure you want him here?” Vincent nodded towards Gibbs.

“Yes,” Tony replied without hesitation.

“All right, if you insist.”

“I do.”

“Well, it seems that Secretary Davenport is concerned that you won’t take his deal; he thinks that your conscience and your innate sense of justice will prevent you from making the decision that will benefit the most people, especially your coworkers.”

“Whatever I decide, Gibbs and the others will support me,” Tony confidently stated.

“Are you sure about that?”

“Very sure.”

“It must difficult to have such faith in your friends, knowing that they have so little faith in you.”

Gibbs silently willed Tony not to listen to his father’s lies. It was obvious that Vincent DiNozzo was once again trying to plant seeds of doubt in his senior agent’s mind.

“Don’t go there,” Tony warned, his voice dangerously low.

“Perhaps you’re right,” Vincent sighed. “Speaking of your coworkers, do you realize that Director Vance has no idea that you hold his future in his hands? He doesn’t realize that his reassignment is part of the deal; how does it feel to have that kind of power in your grasp? Come on, you can be honest with me. It’s very exhilarating, isn’t it? Trust me. I know. We’re more alike that you think, Anthony.”

“We’re nothing alike!” the agent roared.

Gibbs squeezed Tony’s shoulder again, this time in an effort to calm the younger man. The last thing DiNozzo needed or wanted to do was draw the attention of the medical staff. “Take it easy, Tony,” he quietly urged. “He’s not worth it.”

“You’re right Gibbs,” Tony agreed. “He not worth it. In fact, he’s done nothing but waste my time since he got here. So either say what you’ve to say or get out!”

“Very well,” Vincent snorted. “You’ve already received a very favorable offer from Secretary Davenport, but yet you seem reluctant to accept it.”

“And?”

“And his concern is apparently warranted. You have the chance to put this whole mess that you created behind you.”

“I didn’t make this mess, but I’m sure being made responsible for the cleanup!”

“It’s about time you took responsibility for something,” the elder DiNozzo grunted.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Gibbs took a step forward, prepared to physically remove Vincent DiNozzo from the room if necessary. This man was still purposefully baiting his senior field agent and he could not allow it to continue.

“Gibbs, back off,” Tony snapped.

The team leader’s glare was now fixed on the younger man. Didn’t Tony understand that he was simply trying to look out for him? DiNozzo met his gaze, his eyes silently pleading for Gibbs’ understanding. Tony needed to handle this situation and he did not welcome the former Marine’s interference.

“Yes, Agent Gibbs. You should listen to Anthony,” Vincent urged. “It seems for once, he’s right. He doesn’t need to you to fight his battles; he’s got to learn to stand on his own two feet.”

“He’s been standing on his own two feet for quite a while; you’ve just been too blinded by your own ambition to notice,” Gibbs countered, moving back to the head of Tony’s bed.

“I suggest that you stay out of this. You know nothing of our past; I know my son better than you think.”

“We’ll see about that,” the team leader mumbled.

Gibbs saw Tony massage his temple as if he were trying to ward off a headache. The stress of his father’s presence was beginning to have an adverse affect on DiNozzo. He wanted to step in and insist that Vincent leave, but he had to trust Tony’s instincts.

“Quit playing games, Father,” Tony angrily demanded. “Tell me what it is that you want from me!”

“The SecNav and I have another tentative deal with some individuals, but we need a little more funding and neither of us want to delve into our own funds to do it.”

Tony began to laugh. “So, we’re back to the money, are we?”

Gibbs knew that there was no money, but he was not going to deny Tony the pleasure of stringing his father along; he at least deserved that opportunity.

Ignoring his son’s jocular outburst, Vincent continued. “If you turn over the money from that trust fund, Secretary Davenport is prepared to offer you your choice of assignments and your own team. You’ll be able to start fresh once again and you and I both know that’s what you really want; after all, starting over is what you do best.”

The team leader was surprised by Tony’s silence. He had expected DiNozzo to tell his father what SecNav could do with his offer, but the young man remained quiet and contemplative. There was no question that Tony deserved his own team, but he knew his senior agent could not be bought. However, he was still disturbed by DiNozzo’s passiveness; was Tony considering the offer?

When Tony finally spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper, but the bitterness that had been welling up inside him all these years came spewing out in his poignant reply.

“How would you know what I want?” Tony asked. “It was never about what I wanted, so why should things be any different now?”

“We both know that you’ve been at NCIS longer than you have any of your other jobs,” Vincent explained. “I would say that you’ve probably worn out your welcome. If you agree to this, the world is your oyster, so to speak.”

“I hate oysters,” Tony deadpanned. “Of course, you wouldn’t know that, because we never ate together.”

“I don’t have time to discuss what you deem to be the sordid details of your childhood.”

“What’s wrong? Time running out on your deal?”

“Something like that. So tell me, Anthony, what’s it going to be? What’s your decision?”

Gibbs waited for Tony to make the next move. The younger DiNozzo’s face was unreadable; his body was still tense and he could tell by the weakness in Tony’s eyes that the once impending headache was now raging full force, but otherwise, he remained unflappable.

“As tempting as it is to have my own team and my own assignment, I must respectfully decline,” Tony stated, his voice now dripping with sarcasm. “I think I’ll wait until I’ve earned it. I’m pretty content where I’m at.”

“You always did settle for second best,” Vincent declared. “Your loyalty lies with people and not with yourself; I thought I taught you better than that.”

“No, the only thing taught me how was to make a perfect martini and to have it waiting for you when you came home from the office.”

“It was the only thing you were good for.”

“Insulting the one person that stands between you and your money is not a good idea,” Tony taunted.

“You’re going to sign it over?”

Gibbs knew what was coming next and he was looking forward to seeing Vincent DiNozzo’s reaction upon learning that there was not going to be any money forthcoming. Tony had played his father and now the senior DiNozzo was going to learn a valuable lesson about underestimating his son.

“I’d be happy to sign the money over to you, especially if it got you out of my life for good,” Tony said.

“Well, what are we waiting for? I have my lawyer draw up the papers and…”

“Except for the fact that there’s no money.”

The team leader couldn’t hide the grin wanting to escape his lips. He smiled in satisfaction as he watched Vincent DiNozzo’s expression morph from happiness to utter disbelief.

“What did you just say?” Vincent’s displeasure at Tony’s revelation was obvious to both agents.

“I said that there’s no money. It was all a ruse mom set up to get even with you,” Tony clarified.

Tony’s father began to tremble with rage. “That conniving…”

“Now father, remember, you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.”

“You’re lying. You have to be lying; she wasn’t that crafty,” Vincent attempted to reason. “As long as she could have her elegant parties and expensive clothes, she was happy. I gave her everything and this is how she repays my generosity; by duping me into believing that she had set up a trust fund for you! All of this has been for nothing!

“I can’t believe this!” he continued to rant. “My attorneys assured me that…”

“You might want to get yourself some new attorneys; I have a feeling you’re going to need them.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because once I turn in that list of names, I’m sure your name will come up with great frequency.”

Gibbs stared at Tony, uncertainty etched in his distinguished features. Had he heard the agent correctly? Tony was going to turn in the list of names that the SecNav wanted so desperately to hide and that could only mean one thing; DiNozzo wasn’t going to accept the SecNav’s offer.

“You’d betray your own father?” Vincent challenged.

“No, I wouldn’t and I’m not,” Tony proclaimed. “The only man that I’ve ever considered to be like a father to me is standing here beside me and he’s already told me that he’s going to support whatever decision I make. Truthfully, I hadn’t completely made up my mind yet until you came in here; now, I know that I’m doing the right thing.”

Gibbs had always been proud of Tony, but at the moment, he wasn’t sure when he had been prouder of the younger man. His senior agent had turned out to be a fine man despite his parents; a man that anyone in their right mind would be honored to have as a son.

“You’re going to regret this, Anthony,” the older man vowed.

“I think you better leave before you say something you’ll regret. Verbally threatening a federal agent, especially in front of a witness, is not a good idea.”

Without uttering another word, Vincent stormed out of Tony’s room, leaving the two agents alone. Gibbs walked over to his customary chair and sat down. DiNozzo closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the pillow.

“You need something for that headache you’ve got?” Gibbs asked.

“Maybe in a minute,” came the soft spoken answer.

“I can tell you’re hurting.”

“I am,” Tony admitted. “But at the moment, I need to think clearly.”

“All right,” the team leader reluctantly agreed. “I guess I don’t need to ask what your decision is.”

“Nope. I thought about taking the SecNav up on this offer to sweep everything under the rug. Hell, he could have probably just offered to have Vance reassigned and I would’ve accepted it. But the more I was around my father, I realized that he’s lived his entire life sweeping things under the rug and I don’t want to be anything like him.

“I’m going to take the file with those names on it and turn it in over to IA. I figure they should know who it needs to go to.”

“You know you’ll be subjecting yourself to a pretty intense investigation.”

“I know,” Tony sighed. “But I won’t be the only one under the microscope, so will Vance and the SecNav.”

“Well, I know from experience that you can handle whatever’s thrown your way. You’ve proven that time and time again.”

“I hope so. The only thing that bothers me is what’s going to happen to the rest of the team. I don’t want you all punished for trying to help me. I should have come to you in the first place; instead, I tried to deal with it myself and everything just got out of control.”

“We’ll be fine. You just concentrate on what you have to do. We have your six, Tony,” Gibbs assured him.

“I know you do and I’m grateful. I just don’t want anyone else hurt because of me.”

“We look out for each other. We don’t leave a man behind.”

Tony nodded, quickly brushing away a tear that was threatening to fall. “Thanks, Boss.”

“Get some rest,” Gibbs instructed. “Before I call SecNav, I’m going to call the Office of Internal Affairs for you and have them send someone up here.”

“Sounds good.”

“I’ll tell the nurse you’re ready for some pain medicine.”

“Maybe while I’m sleeping, I can figure out what to do about that contract on my life that’s not going to get nullified.”

“Leave that to me.”

The two men looked up to see Ziva standing in the door frame. “How long have you been standing there?” the former Marine inquired.

“For a while,” she admitted. “I overheard Tony’s father talking with Vance and I was afraid that there would be a problem, so I followed him and remained outside the door just in case.”

“So I guess you know what’s going on.” .” Gibbs could sense the fierce determination in Ziva to help her friend.

“Yes and I think that Tony has made the right decision.” She moved closer to Tony and met his exhausted gaze. “I will deal with my father,” she vowed.

“I don’t want to cause any more problems between you and your father, Ziva,” Tony said.

“The problems between us have been there a long time; we have just chosen to ignore the giraffe in the living room.”

Tony chuckled. “Elephant.”

“Whatever. They are both animals that you wouldn’t want in your living room.”

“True.”

Gibbs rose from his seat and took Ziva by the arm. “Let’s allow Tony to get some well deserved rest.” Glancing back over his shoulder, he said, “I’ll send in Abby to sit with you.”

“Don’t need a baby sitter,” Tony mumbled.

“No, but you do need your friends.”

Gibbs and Ziva walked out of the room and headed towards the nurse’s station. He informed the nurse that Tony needed something for pain. The team leader was glad when she said that the medicine would also make him sleepy; DiNozzo needed to sleep. With everything that had happened, it was easy to forget that Tony had just been through major surgery. Of course, it was a testament to his senior agent’s inner strength to be able to handle the emotional upheaval of the past few hours.

Satisfied that Tony’s needs were being met, he stepped into the small lounge and pulled out his cell phone. He dreaded making this call, but it had to be done. After five minutes, he was assured that an investigative team was on their way to Stillwater. Gibbs knew that once they arrived, there would be no turning back for Tony. DiNozzo was headed down a long, hard path, but this time, his team was right behind him.

The team leader and Ziva made their way towards the waiting room. As soon as he came through the door, he glanced around, grateful that Tony’s father had not deemed it necessary to make another appearance.

He tossed the key to the handcuffs to his father. “Dad, take Director Vance back to the house and stay there with him until I get there. Don’t let him leave; if you have to, get out the Winchester. Abby, go and sit with Tony,” he ordered. “He should be asleep by now and you better let him sleep.”

“Yes sir!” she said, playfully saluting him as she darted out of the waiting room.

“Don’t call me sir!” he called after her.

“What are we doing, Boss?” McGee inquired.

Gibbs waited until his dad and Vance had left the room. Vance would find out soon enough what was about to happen, but for now, it was better if he was kept guessing.

“We have a lot of work to do, but first, I need you to get Secretary Davenport on the phone.”

“Tony’s made his decision?”

“Yes.”

“He’s accepting the offer?”

Gibbs smiled at the junior agent. “No.”

“So, what do you want me to tell the SecNav?”

He didn’t miss the almost panicked expression on Tim’s face. Gibbs clapped him on the shoulder. “I don’t want you to tell him anything.”

McGee nervously swallowed. “Then what do you want me to do, Boss?”

The team leader held his other hand out. “I want you to hand me the phone…”

Chapter 38

“Do you need anything else, Agent DiNozzo?”

Tony tiredly smiled at the nurse as she glanced at the monitor one final time making sure that his vital signs were stable. After Gibbs had left, Rachel had entered the room, syringe in hand, ready to send him into the sweet arms of Morpheus. He welcomed the relief from the physical pain; the pounding in his skull was quickly dulling to a low roar, allowing his mind to begin to process the events of the past few hours.

“I’m fine,” he sighed. “Thanks, Rachel.”

“All right. Get some rest,” she instructed. “You’ve had enough excitement for one day.”

“Truthfully, I’ve had enough excitement lately to last me for a lifetime,” Tony wearily quipped.

“No argument there.”

Rachel placed the call button within his reach. “Just call me if you need me.”

“Does this ring your home phone too?” he asked. “I might need someone to look in on me or wipe my fevered brow.”

She returned his brow. It was good to know that he had completely lost his touch when it came to the opposite sex.

“You don’t have a fever and no, it doesn’t ring my house,” she answered. “But if you put as much energy into getting well as you do flirting, then maybe you’ll get my home number.”

“That’s the best incentive I’ve heard yet. You wouldn’t be leading me on, would you?”

Shaking her head in amusement, Rachel left him alone. Laying his head back against his pillow, he listened to the rhythmic beeping of the machines as the sound threatened to lull him to sleep. However, Tony wasn’t ready to sleep; he wanted to enjoy the fact that he was alone. There was no one making demands of him, no one make a fuss over him, and no one trying to tell him that everything would be all right. He appreciated the efforts of his team mates; they had his six, but he still wasn’t convinced that he deserved such loyalty.

He knew that his few moments of tranquility would not last for much longer. Gibbs was sending Abby to stay with him and she would be fussing over him and telling him that the mess that had become his life would be straightened out in no time. Abby was an eternal optimist and he loved her for always being able to see the silver lining in the darkest of clouds. He also adored her for the fact the she would not expect any more out of him than he was willing to give. She understood him better than he understood himself at times.

As if on cue, Abby bounced into his room, her vibrant smile reminding him that despite everything that had happened, she was still his friend.

“Hey, Abs,” he slurred.

“Tony! You’re still awake!” she excitedly cried out.

The agent nodded as he stifled a yawn. “Yep. Don’t know for how long though.”

“It doesn’t matter. Whenever you want to go to sleep, just close your eyes.”

“Okay.”

“I mean it, Tony. Whenever you want to go to sleep, you let me know. Gibbs told me I had to let you rest and I promised that I would. After all, you need your sleep and…”

“And what, Abs?” Tony pressed.

He was taken by surprise as she carefully hugged him and planted a kiss on his cheek. “I’m so proud of you, Tony.”

“Uh, thanks,” he mumbled. “For what?”

“For doing the right thing,” she replied. “I never doubted you would do the right thing because you have this incredible sense of right and wrong and you always want to see justice done. I know that you could have taken the so called easy way out, but you didn’t. Not that you ever do anything the easy way,” Abby blurted out.

A look of panic was etched in her porcelain features. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”

Tony took Abby’s hand in his and squeezed it. “Thanks, Abby.”

“You know I meant every word, except for that last part about you not doing things the easy way.”

“I know. Of course, Gibbs would probably agree with you.”

The agent sheepishly grinned as she placed yet another kiss on top of his forehead. Tony knew he was now sporting a daunting shade of ‘midnight lust’ just below his hairline and on his cheek, but that was fine by him. He found it oddly comforting. It reminded him of something a mother would do to console a child after a terrifying nightmare; not necessarily his mother, but a mother who wasn’t afraid to be affectionate towards her child for fear it would tarnish her image.

The sound of the chair scraping the floor pulled him out of his reverie. Tony watched as Abby placed the chair as close as she could to the bed and made herself comfortable. “Speaking of Gibbs; did you guys talk?”

“Yeah. Some.”

“And?”

“We cleared the air, I guess.” He yawned once again, struggling to keep his eyes open.

“You can tell me all about it when you wake up. Right now, you better get some sleep.”

He nodded as his eyes began to close. “Stay close,” he whispered.

“Always,” Abby promised.

His lids became heavy and for the first time in a long time, he greeted sleep with open arms. Although the next few weeks were going to be difficult, he figured that it would be nothing compared to the last several months. He had survived to fight another day.

Tony had not been at peace with himself for a long time. He wasn’t sure if the serenity he was experiencing now was due to the fact that he had made what he believed to be the right decision, or if it was the simple fact that he was no longer fighting against the effect of the sedatives. Only time would tell.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Gibbs paced the length of the small waiting room, his impatience reaching a new level as he continued to hold for the Secretary of the Navy. Although he had only been waiting a couple of minutes, the team leader had no intention of wasting any more of his time than necessary. If Davenport didn’t want to talk to him, then he could learn about DiNozzo’s decision the hard way. The Internal Affairs investigators would be more than happy to fill him in on the details.

Just as he was about to hang up, a familiar voice answered, “Agent Gibbs?”

“Secretary Davenport,” the team leader tersely greeted.

“I really wasn’t expecting to hear from you.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“So, why am I speaking with you instead of Agent McGee?” Davenport inquired with a forced politeness.

“Because I told him to hand me the phone.”

“Ah yes,” SecNav sighed. “You’ve trained your team well. They’re the perfect little marionettes, aren’t they? Of course, I wasn’t speaking of your senior field agent; he’s a bit of an enigma, isn’t he?”

Gibbs clenched his jaw. Davenport was trying to get a rise out of him, but he was not going to take the bait. “I won’t keep you long,” the former Marine continued. “I’m just delivering a message to you from Agent DiNozzo.”

“And how is Agent DiNozzo doing?”

“He’s doing a lot better,” Gibbs said, knowing that truthfully, Tony still had a lot to deal with both physically and emotionally. “No thanks to you.”

“I’m not sure I know what you mean,” Davenport said, feigning innocence.

“I’m sure you don’t.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He could easily hear the defensive tone that SecNav’s voice now possessed. They could keep up this cat and mouse game indefinitely but the only problem with that was that Gibbs was not in the mood to play games.

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” he growled. “And while you’re figuring that out, you can try and figure out how you’re going to save your sorry ass. DiNozzo’s not taking your deal.”

His proclamation was met with silence. Gibbs found himself wishing that he could have informed the SecNav of Tony’s decision in person just so he could see the expression on Davenport’s face. He would just have to settle for the image that he had conjured up in his own mind.

“What did you just say?” Davenport asked, disbelief and bitterness were the emotions now present in his voice.

“DiNozzo’s not accepting your offer,” Gibbs repeated, knowing beyond a doubt that the SecNav had heard him the first time.

“Has he lost his mind?”

“Nope.”

“Doesn’t he realize what’s at stake?”

“Yep.”

“He’s about to throw away his career! Doesn’t that matter to him or to you? I’ve given him a chance for a fresh start; an opportunity to put all this behind him and he’s going to simply…” Davenport blew out a frustrated breath. “Why?” the SecNav demanded to know.

“He’s doing what he thinks is right. You can’t fault him for that,” Gibbs pointed out.

“The hell I can’t!” Davenport bellowed. “Even if Agent DiNozzo is willing to sacrifice his own future, I can’t believe that he would chance the future of his friends. If he doesn’t accept my offer, the consequences will be severe.”

“Are you afraid that Tony’s willingness to stand up for what’s right is going to ruin your plans?” the team leader taunted. “Are you worried that you’re not going to be able to keep all those promises you’ve made to your associates? Maybe you should worry about your future,” he suggested, His exhaustion fueling his anger and annoyance at the Secretary.

“Let me speak with Agent DiNozzo,” the SecNav insisted.

“Can’t. He’s asleep. Besides, it’s too late for that. IA has already been advised of the situation,” Gibbs informed him.

“I won’t go down without a fight!”

The ex-Marine smiled. “Neither will we,” he vowed.

Gibbs hung up, not caring that he had just cut off the Secretary of the Navy. He had thrown down the gauntlet on DiNozzo’s behalf and now they had to prepare for war. The former Marine had fought many battles in his military, but now he was fighting for Tony’s soul and it was fast becoming the most significant battle of his life.



XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX



Secretary of the Navy Phillip Davenport was beyond angry. DiNozzo’s decision would have far reaching consequences not only for him, but for several individuals who could not afford to have their private business transactions made public.

If only Vance had done his job, then he wouldn’t have had to worry about the likes of Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. He had told Leon to get his house in order and the results of Vance’s efforts had resulted in complete and utter chaos. It was now up to him to clean up the mess that had been created.

He quickly dialed Vincent DiNozzo. After two rings, the elder DiNozzo picked up. Davenport didn’t even give him an opportunity to say hello. “What happened?” he wanted to know. “You said you had things under control!”

“It seems that Anthony has learned quite a few skills since leaving the nest,” DiNozzo remarked, “the chief among them, manipulation.”

“It must be a genetic trait, because you my friend are a master of it in your own right. Or at least I thought so. You assured me that your son would back down and that he wouldn’t want to cause any trouble for his teammates, but I guess he surprised both of us, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he did,” DiNozzo admitted. “If I hadn’t been the one that he had manipulated, I would almost be proud of him.”

“But he maneuvered you right into that proverbial corner,” SecNav reminded him.

“I’m not the only one he surprised, am I, Philip?” Vincent challenged.

“No, you’re not.”

Davenport pinched the bridge of his nose in an attempt to ward off an impending headache. “By your comments, I can only assume that your plan to get the money from him was also a complete failure.”

“There is no money. Evidently, his mother was a master of deceit as well.”

“Well, that leaves us in quite a difficult spot, doesn’t it?”

“I should have known better than to expect anything from Anthony. He’s never been one to do what was required of him,” Vincent recalled. “He usually had to learn his lessons the hard way.”

The SecNav didn’t particularly want to hear the sordid details of Tony DiNozzo’s childhood; right now, he wanted a solution to the problem that was fast becoming his worst nightmare.

“So, where do we go from here?” DiNozzo asked. “Neither of us can afford to have that list fall into the hands of the investigators.”

“I’m aware of that, Vincent,” Davenport growled. “What do you suggest?”

“I suggest that the threat be eliminated.”

“We’ve tried that before, but your son has the propensity to get out of the most difficult of situations.”

“I guess it’s time to play our trump card then.”

“Perhaps you’re right.”

Davenport paused for a moment. Vincent DiNozzo was prepared to sacrifice his son; that was something that the SecNav didn’t think that he could ever do. His children were his life and they believed that their father could do no wrong. Agent DiNozzo and his father did not have that kind of relationship. Vincent hated his son and everything he stood for and he could only assume that the feeling was mutual on the younger man’s part.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked.

“Do what you have to do, Philip. I’ll be in touch.”

“All right,” Davenport agreed. “I’ll take care of it. At least I know it will be done right this time.”

He hung up the phone and sat down in his chair. After he received notification of Agent DiNozzo’s death, he could start doing damage control. He would not be the fall guy for this failed operation; there were too many others that could and would take the blame. Feeling confident of his new plan, he dialed the number of the one person who could possibly help him.

“Hello?” a quiet voice answered.

“You’ve been waiting for my call.”

“I’ve been expecting it,” the woman admitted.

“Then you know why I’m calling,” Davenport assumed. “Everything is falling apart at the seams. You know what you need to do.”

“There has to be another way.”

“There’s not.”

“I’m not sure I can go through with this.”

“Now is not the time for you to worry about your so called ethical standards. You have too much to lose! The next time we speak, Anthony DiNozzo better be dead or you’ll be sorry,” he warned.

“All right! I’ll do it, but this is the last time.”

“We’ll see. Don’t forget that you are on my payroll.”

Davenport hung up, satisfied that his plan would be carried into action. He was not going to permit Tony DiNozzo to destroy everything that he had worked so hard to achieve. “You should have taken the deal, Agent DiNozzo,” he muttered to himself. “You’ve brought this on yourself and now there’s no turning back.”

The SecNav stood up and walked over to the bar. As he poured himself a drink, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirrored glass. He quickly glanced away, not wanting to see the man that he had become.

At one time, he had believed in the system; he had once possessed the unerring sense of right and wrong, but now, things were different. The more power he had been given, the more he had wanted. Now, he was in danger of losing everything and he could not allow that to happen.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Dr. Katherine Marshall quietly entered the room of Special Agent DiNozzo. He was breathing softly and evenly, indicating that he was sleeping. She was aware that Rachel had given him something for pain a couple of hours ago and that he would probably stay asleep for a while. Abby Scuito was sitting beside him, her dark head lying on his arm as she dozed as well. The physician had not expected the Goth to be in the room, but she should have known that Agent Gibbs would not leave the young man alone.

She sighed as she glanced up at his monitors. For the first time since he had been admitted to the hospital, his vitals were stable. His face was no longer strained with the stress that had literally almost killed him. The agent was resting peacefully as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

“Dr. Marshall?”

Forcing a smile on her lips, Katherine looked to see Abby sitting up. “I was just checking on Tony,” she informed the scientist.

“He’s asleep,” Abby stated.

“I can see that. It’s what he needs.”

“Yep.”

“I’m just going to check his bandages,” Katherine informed her. “You can step out for a minute and get some fresh air. I won’t be long.”

“That’s okay. I’ll stay.”

“You don’t have to. He’ll be fine and if I’m lucky, he won’t even know that I’m here.”

“I’m fine.”

“All right,” she consented, knowing that the other woman was not going to be so easily swayed.

The doctor carefully removed Tony’s bandages and checked the incision sight. She was thankful that Tony didn’t stir. She hoped that he would remain asleep for several more hours, making what she had to do a lot easier. “It looks good,” Katherine announced.

“You sound surprised,” Abby observed.

“Well, I guess with everything that’s happened, I was just expecting it…never mind. I’ll have Rachel come in and change the bandages and make sure that he’s comfortable.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll see you later, Abby.”

Katherine left the room, muttering a curse under her breath. Her plan had backfired, but strangely, she felt a sense of relief. She had a job to do, but she wasn’t sure if she could go through with it. She fingered the syringe in her pocket as she realized that it was too late to back out now.

She noticed that Rachel was busy with another patient, so she decided to change the bandages herself, hoping that another opportunity would present itself. Katherine returned to Tony’s beside. “Rachel’s a little tied up, so I’m going to go ahead and change his bandages,” she informed Abby.

“Okay. Uh, if you don’t mind, I think I will slip out and go to the little girl’s room. I think I’ve had one too many Red Bulls,” Abby declared.

Katherine smiled at her. “How many have you had?”

“I don’t know. I lost count after 18.”

“It’s a wonder that you actually managed to fall asleep.”

“Oh, I wasn’t asleep. I was just thinking with my eyes closed.”

“Of course.”

The doctor watched as she left the room, leaving her alone with her patient. Once Abby was gone, she reached in her pocket and pulled out the syringe. “I’m sorry it has to be this way,” she whispered. “I have no choice.”

As she reached for his IV, Katherine couldn’t help but wonder how she had allowed herself to be maneuvered into doing such a desperate act. Tony DiNozzo didn’t deserve to die, but he had obviously brought this upon himself. She plunged the needle into the IV port, and emptied the contents of the syringe.

Katherine breathed a small sigh of relief. Her job was done. Everything had gone according to plan, or at least she thought it had, until Tony DiNozzo woke up.

Chapter 39

Something wasn’t right. His gut was screaming at him, trying to warn him, but he was having a difficult time processing a rational thought. A growing sense of urgency was beginning to consume him, rousing him from his slumber. Tony forced himself to climb his way out of the darkness. He struggled every step of the way, knowing that one wrong move would send him plummeting back into the clutches of the black void that he was trying to escape.

He managed to open his eyes to discover Kate standing over him. Tony blinked a couple of times in an effort to clear his blurred vision, despising the familiar groggy feeling that seemed to accompany him every time he woke up.

Tony thought he saw Kate slip something in her pocket, but he failed to see what the object was. “What was that?” he slurred.

“It was just a little extra something to help you sleep,” the physician hastily explained.

He knew she was lying the moment the words came out of her mouth; the fact that she refused to look him in the eye sealed his suspicion. Tony winced at the burning sensation now traveling up his arm. Judging by the sudden discomfort and the doctor’s increased nervousness; Tony knew that whatever she had given him was not a sedative.

Knowing that he was going to have to do something to help himself, he reached over with a trembling hand and pulled out his IV. Blood started streaming down his arm as he blindly searched for the call button that would summon the nurse. His own doctor had just tried to kill him and he wasn’t about to give her another opportunity.

He fingers were easily pried off the button and it was placed out his reach. Tony cursed his weakness as he fought to pull free of Kate’s grasp. “Why ?” he gasped.

“I didn’t have a choice.”

“Always…have a choice. I trusted you.”

“I know.”

“You won’t get away with this.”

Ignoring his warning, she tightened her hold on his wrists. “It will be a lot easier on you if you don’t fight it,” Kate insisted.

Sweat now plastered his hair to his head. “Can’t do that…don’t take orders…from you.”

He could hear Gibbs’ gruff voice in his mind, demanding that he fight with every ounce of strength he could muster. Tony managed to pull one hand free and rip the leads to the heart monitor off his chest, knowing that the alarm would start sounding, not only in his room, but at the nurse’s station as well. Katherine was forced to let go of his other wrist as she moved to silence the alarm, prompting Tony to quickly lower the side rail and roll himself out of bed on to the floor in hopes that the commotion would be heard.

Tony reached out and grabbed Katherine’s legs, forcing her to lose her balance and fall to the floor. He tried to yell for help, but he couldn’t seem to get anything out above a whisper. Whatever Katherine had given him was working fast and he was quickly reaching the point that he could no longer fight the effects of the drug.

The agent collapsed as Katherine scrambled to her feet. “I’ve got to hand it to you; you have a lot more grit than I thought,” she snarled.

“You…have…no idea,” he mumbled.

He was finding it difficult to stay awake. Tony could hear the sound of footsteps as several nurses rushed into his room and began to call his name. However, there was one voice in particular that forced him back to a state of semi-awareness, encouraging him not to surrender to the dark shadows that wanted to claim him.

“Oh my god, Tony!”

“Abs!” he weakly cried out.

“I’m right here, Tony!”

Although the medical staff was poking and prodding him, he managed to feel Abby’s vise like grip on his arm. “I’m sorry,” she apologized profusely. “I should have never gone to the bathroom. I should have just held it until Gibbs got here! I don’t know why I had to pee right then; I mean, I’ve gone for hours without a bathroom break! I even remember one time in college that…”

He loved Abby, but at the moment, he wasn’t sure how much longer he could stay awake and he needed to make sure that she understood who was responsible for doing this to him. “Abs…where’s Kate?”

“She’s right here,” Abby replied, simultaneously glancing around the room. “She was here a second ago.”

Tony realized that the physician must have slid out amidst the chaos. “Stop…her!” he rasped.

“What?”

“She…tried to…kill me. Put something…in…my IV.”

He silently prayed that Abby understood what he was trying to say. He wasn’t sure if he was making any sense, but thankfully the Goth always seemed to know what he was thinking, even when he didn’t have a clue.

Upon hearing what he had told Abby, the nurses began asking him questions as to what happened and if he knew what she had injected him with. Unable to answer, he closed his eyes as the voices around him faded to a dull roar. Tony found the sound almost hypnotic, lulling him into a state of oblivion where nothing seemed to matter. Consciousness was escaping him and as he floated towards the darkness, he found himself wondering if he would ever wake up again.


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Gibbs has planned on going to his dad’s place to shower and change. He also thought about catching a quick nap before the IA team arrived to talk to Tony; DiNozzo would need to draw from his strength and it wouldn’t do any good for him to collapse from exhaustion. As he left the waiting room, he hesitated and glanced down the corridor would lead to the Intensive Care Unit. He couldn’t shake the nagging suspicion that something was wrong.

Knowing better than to ignore his gut instincts, he made his way down the hall. He didn’t bother hiding his irritation at nearly being bowled over by Dr. Katherine Marshall. The knot in his stomach pulled tighter as he studied her disheveled appearance; years of experience told him that she was scared and was running away from something or someone.

“In a hurry, Doc?” he inquired.

“Um…I’m needed down in emergency,” she quickly explained.

“I didn’t hear the page.”

“They paged my beeper.”

“Oh, I see.”

“If you’ll excuse me, Agent Gibbs.”

“Did you just come from seeing Tony?” Gibbs continued to press.

“Yes and he’s…resting.”

“Really?”

“What else would he be doing?” Kate snapped. “I really have to be going, Agent Gibbs.”

As Kate turned to leave, he grabbed her arm and whirled her around to face him. “You’re lying, Dr. Marshall. Now, do you care to tell me the truth?”

She tried to pull free, but he only tightened his grip. “Let me go!” Kate demanded.

“Not until you tell me what’s going on!”

“Nothing,” she countered. “I’ve already told you that I’m on my way to my office.”

“I thought you were on your way to the emergency room.”

Kate blew out a frustrated breath. “That’s what I meant.”

“No, it’s not. That’s just another lie.”

Before Kate had an opportunity to defend her actions, Abby came bounding through the ICU doors, nearly knocking him down for the second time that day. He managed to keep his balance as well as his grasp on Dr. Katherine Marshall, who was determined to break free. One look at Abby’s panic-stricken, tear stained face filled the team leader with a sense of dread.

“Abby?”

“Gibbs! You caught her!” Abby excitedly proclaimed.

“Are you taking about the doc?”

“Yes! She just tried to kill Tony! Aren’t you going to arrest her?”

“Slow down and explain what happened.” Gibbs wanted nothing more than to be at Tony’s side, but right now, he knew that he could be of a greater help to DiNozzo by finding out why his doctor had just tried to kill him.

“I couldn’t get much out of Tony except that she slipped something in his IV. When I got to the room, he had pulled out his IV and was on the floor. He looked so sick, Gibbs.”

He glared at Dr. Marshall in disbelief. “Why?” he wanted to know. “You save his life only to kill him? Why?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kate protested. “Agent DiNozzo was fine when I left him.”

“Liar!” Abby cursed. “You were still in there when I got back. You slipped out while the nurses were working with him!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Gibbs placed himself between Abby and the doctor, mainly to prevent the Goth from doing something she might regret. “Things will go much easier for you if you just come clean!”

“You’re both crazy!”

“You’re going to find out just how crazy we are if you don’t start talking,” the team leader warned. “You do remember that Abby is a forensic scientist, don’t you? She could kill you without leaving any evidence behind.”

“You don’t scare me,” Kate retorted, defiance and arrogance evident in her stance.

“I don’t?” Gibbs leaned in closer. “How about now, Dr. Marshall?”

He smiled when he saw a glint of fear in her eyes. “What happened to that Hippocratic Oath that you took? Were they just words?”

“Don’t you dare judge me! You don’t understand…”

The former Marine didn’t want to hear another word. “You’re right! I don’t understand! I don’t understand how a doctor can take their patient’s trust and completely shatter it. He defended you to me and how do you repay him? You try and kill him! I want to know why! Did someone pay you to do it? Whose pay roll are you on?”

Katherine Marshall remained silent. Gibbs knew that whoever she worked for had to be very powerful for her not to give up his or her identity. The team leader could easily narrow it down to Tony’s father or to SecNav; it would not take a lot for him to figure out which one was paying the doctor to kill his senior agent. “You’re under arrest,” he stated.

“For what?”

“The attempted murder of Anthony DiNozzo.”

“You have no proof!”

“You want me to frisk her for you, Gibbs?” Abby offered. “I’d be happy to.”

“I’ve got it, Abs.”

As he patted her down, his hand came across an object in the pocket of her lab coat. Taking out his handkerchief, Gibbs reached into her pocket and pulled out a half empty syringe and held it up. “What’s in this?”

“It’s just a sedative,” Kate answered.

“For Tony?”

“Yes.”

“He didn’t need it. He was already sleeping when you got there,” the Goth pointed out.

“He woke up just after you left.”

He clenched his fist, resisting the urge to hit the woman in front of him. Tucking the syringe in his own pocket, he held out his hand to Abby. “Hand me your cuffs, Abs.”

“With pleasure, Gibbs.”

Gibbs continued to stare at Dr. Marshall, his gaze unrelenting. Within a few seconds, Abby had produced her personal handcuffs that Tony had given her. He had always wondered why DiNozzo had given the scientist handcuffs, but at the moment, it didn’t matter; the team leader was just glad that she had them.

He none too gently pulled Kate’s hands behind her back and placed the handcuffs around her wrists. “You stay put,” he ordered. “Abby, call the police and then call Ziva and tell her what’s happened and then stay with Dr. Marshall until she gets here.”

“I won’t let her out of my sight,” Abby vowed.

“Good girl.” He kissed Abby on the cheek and entered the Intensive Care Unit. Gibbs had to smile as he heard the Goth inform the doctor that Ziva was a trained assassin. He jogged around the corner of the nurse’s station to see several nurses and a doctor he didn’t recognize gathered around Tony’s bed.

Gibbs didn’t bother with any pleasantries as he came into the room. Standing at the foot of DiNozzo’s bed, his concern immediately grew at the site of the younger man. Despite the fact that Tony seemed to be comfortable, his face betrayed an exhaustion that seemed to claim his soul. He reached out and patted his leg. “Tony?”

A weak smile returned his greeting. “Hey, Boss.”

“You okay?”

“Guess so.”

He turned his attention to the doctor. “I’m Agent Gibbs. I’m listed as Tony’s next of kin.”

“Dr. Alex Harrington. I was next door when I heard the alarm. I know he’s Dr. Marshall’s patient, but she seemed to disappear, so I thought I’d see what I could do.”

“How is he?”

“I think he’s going to be fine. We’ve started a new IV and we’re sending his blood to the lab to be tested. He says that Dr. Marshall was giving something in his IV and…”

Gibbs pulled out the syringe with his handkerchief. “My forensic scientist will be analyzing the contents.”

“We have a lab here.”

“I’m sure that Abby will appreciate the use of it.”

“Don’t you trust our lab techs?”

“Not really. Not when it comes to handling evidence and this syringe is evidence.”

“I’ll make the necessary arrangements.”

He nodded his approval and turned his attention back to Tony. “Are you sure he’s all right?”

“His vitals were a little high, but as of a couple minutes ago, they were stable. Evidently, whatever she gave him wasn’t enough to do any significant damage. He must have managed to pull out his IV before too much got in his system. He did pass out, but we think it was from simply overdoing it. He pulled a few stitches, but we took care of that and there shouldn’t be any residual problems. We gave him a mild sedative to help him relax, so that’s why he seems a little groggy.”

As the nurse’s left, Gibbs moved to Tony’s side. The young man was struggling to keep his eyes open, but he knew that DiNozzo would soon lose the battle to stay awake. He brushed a stray piece of hair off his forehead, the simple gesture serving as a reassurance to Tony that he wasn’t alone.

Harrington turned to leave, pausing only a moment to ask the team leader a question. “Did she say why she did it?”

“Nope, but I’ll find out.”

“I can’t believe that she would do this. Katherine’s such a good doctor.”

“Was a good doctor,” the ex-Marine corrected. “The last time I looked, good doctors didn’t try and kill their patients.”

“There has to be an explanation.”

“You would think so, wouldn’t you?”

The doctor nodded and left the two men alone. Gibbs sat down in the chair beside Tony’s bed. “Tony? You still with me?”

“Not going anywhere, Boss.”

“That’s good to know, DiNozzo.”

“You told me a long time ago that I couldn’t die.”

“Yeah, I did and I meant it.”

Tony tiredly grinned. “I know.”

Gibbs leaned forward in the chair. “I arrested Dr. Marshall.”

“Guess Abby found her.”

“Sort of. I was coming back to check on you before I left and the doctor and I literally ran into each other. Abby told me what happened and I found the syringe.”

“Knew you’d come through, Boss. You always do.”

Gibbs squeezed his shoulder. “I’ve got your six.”

“I know that now,” Tony replied. “I should’ve never doubted that fact.”

“Don’t worry about it. Right now, you need to get some rest. The IA team should be here in a few hours.”

“Oh, yeah.” The younger agent yawned. “I almost forgot about them. How did SecNav take the news?”

“He was pretty pissed.”

Tony’s eyes were beginning to close. “You know something, Gibbs? I’m getting as good as you are at pissing people off.”

The team leader smiled. “I think you’ve surpassed me, DiNozzo.”

“Not so sure about that, Boss. I don’t have three ex-wives.”

“Good point.”

“Sleepy.”

“Then go to sleep,” Gibbs instructed. “You’re safe.”

“I know.”

Gibbs watched Tony’s breathing even out as his senior agent drifted off to sleep. Part of him still couldn’t believe that Katherine Marshall had tried to kill DiNozzo; thankfully Tony had managed to act quickly, despite his injuries, and save his own life. Sometimes the younger man simply amazed him. DiNozzo’s tenacity and ability to overcome the obstacles in his life had played a part in creating the man that he knew today. He was proud of Tony; as proud as a father could be of his son and he vowed to make sure that DiNozzo knew how he felt.



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MTAC - NCIS Fic