AN: I have no idea if it's possible to do what SecNav did; but if she couldn't, well, she would have done if she could, so I did it.
The Wife Didn't Do It
Whatever he was lying on – yes, he was lying on something... seemed to be moving, like a boat in a heavy swell. He tried to grab onto something, anything, to stop himself from being washed overboard, but wow – it hurt. All through his torso and down to his fingertips and toes the pain danced like little lightning bolts, and he grunted and wriggled.
As soon as he did that, he found he couldn't move his hands at all. He didn't like that, and wriggled some more. Surprise, that hurt too. As if something had just sat down on his chest. Elephant. Water buffalo. Bert the hippo?
"Tony..." It wasn't Abby's voice. "Tony, just lie still. Take it easy, wake up slowly. No need to move..." He moved some more in protest, and no surprise this time, it hurt. Not all over, just concentrated in one spot. No... not spot... spot's the size of a shirt-button... this is more... Frisbee? Dinner plate? When did I last eat anyway? I'm hungry. "Tony, stop it. DiNozzo! You listening to me? Come on, I'm using my best Gibbs voice here... Just lie still. Everything's fine..." OK, not Gibbs. Not a hippo. McPartner... "That's better... I so do not want to be caught holding your hands, Tony." That got his attention.
"OK..." His left hand was released, and something placed in it.
"Good. Like I said, just wake up slowly. Here... can you feel that? That's the morphine pump... it's a nice kind derivative that won't send you over the rainbow, or so they tell me."
"Already there, McDucky..."
"Oh? You seem almost lucid to me... going to hang on to this hand for just a moment longer though, until I'm sure. They don't want you poking away at the dressing, you're too bruised and cut underneath it."
Sleepy eyes opened. "I'll be good." Tim patted the hand he still held, as he'd done last night, and laid it down on the covers. Tony regarded his own fingers vaguely for a moment, then his focus sharpened. "So... what did I miss?" Tim sat back in his chair and half smiled as he wondered where to begin, but the older man's eyes, alert now, flicked appraisingly over him.
"How's the pain?"
Tony resignedly clicked the dispenser. "It'll be fine in a minute. You been here all night?"
"What makes you think that?"
"Well... you're wearing that sweater you keep in your go bag, so you've not been home... and you've not shaved, so you've not been to NCIS either." As Tim leaned towards him again, one of the pillows he'd propped on the back of the chair slid off and hit the floor with a soft pffut, and Tony grinned. "I rest my case."
"Gibbs dropped it in earlier... I'd tried to sponge... the blood off my shirt, but –"
Lurch... "Gibbs was here?"
"Three times. He brought Mrs Childs once." Tim knew more than what he'd been told, and tried for reassurance. "He said to tell you he'll be back later; he sat with you for a while this morning when I went to clean myself up, then he left to escort Mrs Childs." He watched Tony's grave reaction to that, and how he put it firmly onto the back burner to concentrate on the present.
"Escort... ah. They're taking the Lieutenant home." He nodded thoughtfully, as Tim wondered ruefully, not for the first time how his friend and bane-of-his-existence could go from deep sleep to razor sharp in under a minute. "I owe you, Tim," he finally went on quietly. "That shot... finding the Lieutenant... and investigating for me even when you knew it'd make Gibbs mad."
The younger agent almost blushed. He understood why Tony brushed compliments off with a joke or sarcasm... He shook his head. "Tony, one, you told me where to find the Lieutenant. Two, if I'd thought you were wrong I'd have said so, but I'd still have investigated just so we'd know one way or the other."
"I didn't think of that at the time, just didn't want you to get into trouble. But yeah... I wouldn't expect anything less from you."
Tim grinned. "We're being nice to each other. Things must be bad. And three, failure was not an option with that shot. You didn't see that knife hovering over your back." He told Tony what he'd said to Gibbs the previous evening, and Tony automatically put his hand up to the bandage on his chest. Tim didn't try to stop him, just warned him softly to be careful.
"Mmm..." Tony said after a while, "I see. No wonder you were hanging on to my hands. Nice Gibbs voice though... so what's the damage?"
Tim told him, in detail. "The surgeon explained to Ducky that since one rib was already displaced, they moved that to repair your lung, rather than break another one. But that caused more tissue damage, Tony. They've done all the repairs they can ," he finished, "and yes, they do expect you to make a complete recovery. But –"
"There's always a but," Tony groaned.
"You know what I'm going to say. You have to rest. Brad told the surgeon –"
"That you'd get out of bed and do the tango," Commander Pitt's voice said from the doorway. "Good morning, Tony. Can't say I ever wanted to see you anywhere but the barbeque on our back deck... how are you feeling?"
"Hi, Brad. Fine." Brad just gave him a look. "OK, sore. Really sore. And weak as a pot of Earl Gray." Brad grinned unkindly. "Happy now?"
Brad shook his head, and his smile softened. "Course not, but it might make you believe what Agent McGee's trying to tell you. The fastest way back into the field is rest until I say otherwise. Not the tango."
Tony pouted, but it was a pretty weary excuse for his usual effort. "All right, all right, no tango."
"Glad that's settled. Now, I'm going to send Special Agent McGee out and Nurse Siversen in to check your dressing and make sure you're comfortable, and then he can come back in while you try a bit of breakfast if you want to. I'll scrounge some for him as well, then he goes home for some sleep, while you get some here. Understood?"
"Yes, Doctor," they chorused meekly.
Nurse Siversen, who preferred to be called Karin, was tall, Nordic looking, and cheerful. "If you want to sit up more, or lie down more, call me. I'm strong enough to heave you about, you don't do it yourself. If you don't call me, I'll get mad."
"That's told me..."
"Too right." When she was done with checking him over, including changing the dressing, she sat the bed up more. "Breakfast?"
Over toast, which Tim buttered and Tony made a good job of, left handed, 'I'll try one, you eat the rest', he wasn't that hungry that he wanted to make himself sick, a few unanswered questions were disposed of, while the injured man carefully avoided the elephant that he thought only he knew was sitting on the end of his bed.
"Gibbs arrested Jack Fulford, and Ned made him very miserable, apparently," Tim grinned. "The barman at the Army Navy Club told Dorny they'd loved the free floorshow. Ned took him back while everyone else came here... The things the guy had done..."
Fulford had admitted to reading Cass's final message to his wife to see if there was anything in it he could use to make her feel worse. Gibbs, Dorneget (who'd threatened Fulford with unthinkable consequences if he ever said anything), Abby, and now Tim and Tony were all agreed that that was never going to be mentioned in any report anywhere. Abby was making the letter look untouched, and it would be quietly put back with the rest of the Lieutenant's effects. Susie would never know.
"You'd have been proud of young Neddy, Tony." The SFA grinned at the idea of his not-yet-forty friend referring to anyone else as young. "He got him to admit he'd bribed and threatened mid-ranking officials at the DVA so that word of the widows' evidence never got as far as their superiors, who'd never heard of it until NCIS told them."
"What was Carver's hold over him?"
"Blackmail over some info he stole years ago – Carver had a large stake in the company that wanted it. Fulford never knew until the blackmail began that it was Carver who paid him for the information, and had him by the nuts from that day on. Told Ned how much he hated the guy – smooth as slug-trail on the phone, he said, but borderline nut-case face to face. When he was told he was dead, he laughed."
Tony shook his head. "Did Gibbs speak to him?"
"No. He told me he wasn't going to either." Tony was tiring, but he saw something in Tim's expression that told him he could see the elephant too. "He said he had better things to do."
"You said... you said he brought Susie Childs here. D'you know why?"
Tim looked down at his hands, then looked his friend in the eyes. "Yes, I do. I shouldn't, but I do..."
He'd gone down to the vending machine for coffee, but it was being re-stocked, so he turned back, thinking he'd doze in the waiting area. The two nurses on duty had looked at his blood-stained shirt and tired eyes, and taken pity on him. He'd sat with them conversing quietly for a while, as they'd made him a cup from their own supply, but hadn't wanted to stay too long as they were on duty. So was he in a way.
He'd heard what Gibbs and Susie were saying as he approached; he hadn't wanted to eavesdrop, but, "Tony, I could no more have stopped myself than eat my laptop. He told her she shouldn't die for her husband, but live for him, and for you, and all the people who try to do good in the world. She cried for a while, and I think maybe he persuaded her... and I waited out there not knowing whether to go in or not, so I stood where Gibbs could see me. So I wasn't eavesdropping any longer..."
Tony smiled and nodded. He wanted to tell Tim he was too honest for his own good, but it wouldn't do for everyone to be as devious as him.
"After a while, he told her that she'd given her husband the best life he could have had – I guess Ducky had told him his autopsy conclusions – and she cried again and said that she couldn't put him in residential care, but that if she had done, maybe her father would still be alive. Gibbs said that was second guessing, and if we all did it, there'd be so much inertia around that the world would slow down and stop, which was good for Gibbs, I thought, and she managed a smile. He said that her Dad could have died next time he lifted the shopping, or mowed the lawn. 'Deal with what you know, Susie. Come on, you need a good night's sleep, got a big day tomorrow.' They started to come out of the room, and he actually patted my shoulder. 'Get some sleep if you can, Tim. I'll bring your spare clothes in the morning.' And he did. You were still asleep, and like I said, he said to make sure you knew he'd be back."
Tim took a deep breath. Elephant time. "He's been kind of anxious about you ever since you and he went your separate ways yesterday. When he phoned, and when he got back. Kept asking how you were. I don't..."
"You don't want to be nosy, but you're wondering how bad the disagreement was. Bad. I'm glad he did the right thing for Susie, because he did the wrong thing yesterday, steaming in there and accusing her of murder on Jack Fulford's say-so." His voice went almost to a whisper. "And refusing to listen to me..."
"Tony... I'm sure he regrets it... he was worried about you."
"Tim, he used the s word! But he keeps doing it, shutting me out, I mean, and I really don't think I can deal if he does it again."
"I think he's not been coping as well as he thinks, with Ziva going... and you haven't had the... I don't know... the heart to absorb his temper the way you usually do. You know... when you weren't sleeping..."
Tony grimaced. "Yeah, you and Delilah started talking about hallucinations, and the next thing I knew I thought I was having them. Sent me haring off to Baltimore..."
"Maybe..." Tim said carefully, "he thought if it was OK for you to go off doing something independently, it was all right for him too?" He waited for the explosion, realizing too late that he wasn't supposed to cause them, and getting ready to calm his friend or call that nice nurse. "I'm sorry, Tony... I didn't mean –"
"Hey, I know. But you're a rotten devil's advocate! I'd never done it before... Gibbs knew when I said I was fine, that I wasn't, and he was never far away. He was waiting for me to tell him, and I just wanted to know I wasn't going crazy before I did tell him. Besides, McUpright, I knew, and he knew, that you'd tell him. It's understood. You don't lie."
"Oh." There was silence for a moment. "What will you do?"
"Depends on him." Another, longer silence. "I... won't leave the team... leave you... like Ziva did, Tim. I'll always be around..."
"You're not saying always be on the team though."
"I don't know what I'm saying... You look beat, Tim."
"So do you."
"I've got an excuse. Look, don't worry. Go home, get some rest. I'll sleep until he gets here."
Tim nodded. There wasn't anything more to be said. He heard his friend mutter "Thanks, Tim..." sleepily; a brief hand-clasp, and he left, his heart somewhere in his boots.
He came awake slowly again. Somebody had lowered the bed as he slept. Not wood shavings, or bourbon, or bengay liniment, but... Some time in the past, Shannon had lined Gibbs' hanging closet with sandalwood paper, and although Tony wasn't mean – or foolish – enough to suggest that Gibbs still wore the same suits, when one came out, there was that light, pleasant smell. It would be the black one today. He felt a sharp, unpleasant stab at his heart as he recalled smelling it once before, standing in the new Director's office as he tore the team apart. He wasn't even aware of the small frown that furrowed up the bridge of his nose, but Gibbs was.
"DiNozzo? Tony? You awake? Are you in pain?"
Well yes, he was now he was conscious, and not just the physical one in his chest. "It's not too bad, Boss..." He groped around for the analgesic pump with his left hand.
"I'll get it. Nurse Karin said I wasn't to let you do anything."
Tony opened his eyes as the device was placed into his left hand, much as McGee had done earlier, but this time, he didn't use it. It might be better to know what it was like without it, or how would he know how well he was healing?
Gibbs said carefully, "You know they say use it before you need it. It's easier to knock the pain on the head before it gets too strong."
Tony didn't want to start right out arguing, so he nodded wryly and clicked the pad. Gibbs the mother hen was difficult to resist.
"Ya want to sit up a bit?"
"Yeah... difficult to talk lying down."
"No – don't try to do it yourself, Nurse Karin's gonna kill me. Here..." Gibbs pushed the button until the bed head had come up to forty-five degrees, while Tony just lay there and tried to enjoy the ride, then stopped. "There. That's as high as I was told I should put it."
"Thanks." Tony felt he ought to say something. This was awful; his Boss talking in stilted, awkward sentences, about nothing much, while he forced himself to say anything at all, because once he started, what the hell was going to come out? "You need coffee, Boss."
"Just had some. I'll get more later. Tony..."
His SFA just watched him mournfully, and waited.
"Tony... I tried to apologise. Couldn't really find the words, and maybe it wasn't the right time... you didn't want the apology, but you did want some other things. Can we talk about that? Are you all right to talk?"
"Yeah... yeah, I'm good, Boss." He sounded anything but.
"Did a lot of talking to Susie Childs in the official car... We made a good cortege for the Lieutenant, humvees as well as limousines; escorted him to the funeral director's chapel in Annandale. SecNav was with us in her official car... She says his promotion was going through when he was invalided out, so she's pushed it. He'll be remembered as Captain Childs. Susie says she's glad of the recognition for him, although the extra pension doesn't matter, nothing could buy him back. The funeral's in ten days time; Colonel Guthrie's coming back from Bosnia for it. She also said his ashes would be buried in Annandale beside her father. After the way he was treated she was screwed if Arlington was getting him. Susie asked me to say she's sorry she can't wait until you're better, she'd have liked to."
"That's OK," Tony said. What he thought was, I'll be there. "So, what did you talk to Susie about?"
"You know damn well, Tony. You. I did more listening than talking anyway. Told her what you'd said; told her about a few of the times I... broke rule one before... she said you were pretty forgiving. She asked me why this time was different. The last straw. And... I knew, Tony. Told her I didn't, maybe it was just you'd had enough, we'd lost another member of the team we all cared for, and things were more difficult, and all that, and although it was the truth, it wasn't what made it different. I just couldn't bring myself to say it, and I knew I'd have to be saying it to you."
Tony lay back against his pillows and frowned. "It's been worse lately, sure. But Ziva leaving wasn't the cause of all this. We were dealing with that."
"I know. The cause was Jack Fulford. He keeps asking for me, wants to talk. I sent word I'd got something more important to do." He sighed from the bottom of his boots. "I listened to him; he knew which buttons to push from our tours together, and he pushed them without conscience. I'll tell you some time if you're interested, but they're not important right now, and in the end they're no excuse."
Tony looked at him in astonishment; he hadn't been expecting this degree of frankness, and he really didn't like to see Gibbs twisting himself up and suffering like this. He almost wanted to blurt out, 'It's OK, Boss, everything's fine, don't go on beating yourself up, I understand, we'll get there.' But how would that help? He'd simply be sitting at his desk, when he got back there, waiting for the sword of Damocles to crash down. Hopefully it'd only get his computer, but he didn't have that kind of luck. He'd be the one skewered if – when – it all went south again, not Gibbs. He clamped his jaws together.
"I took his word. I listened to him when I hadn't seen or heard from him since I retired from the Corps. I took his word. I accused an innocent woman of murder... and when you called me out on it, I still took his word over yours. That's what I couldn't tell Mrs Childs... that's the difference, not losing Ziva. I took his word. And you deserve better. Dammit, you deserve better."
The long, calm look Tony gave him told him that was all fine and dandy, but he wasn't impressed.
AN: And I thought this was going to be the last chapter.