It was a sad looking group that met in Tony's room two days later to debrief.
Sitting at the foot of Tony's bed, Kate's head was bandaged where she had required several stitches to close the gash she had received. Gibbs, leaning against the wall sipping coffee, had sustained myriad small cuts and bruises on his face and hands from the explosion in the cafeteria. McGee sat quietly in a chair, a folder open on his lap, reporting in a raspy voice. His throat was still mottled with bruises and he only talked when absolutely necessary. Tony, the only one still officially in the care of the hospital, had a tendency to fall asleep in the middle of his sentences.
All in all it had probably been the world's shortest debriefing. They were all too aware of what might have happened if the team hadn't been at the absolute top of their game.
"I guess Morgan must have had some conscious left after all," Kate continued with her report. "The bomb was placed to cause damage and to disrupt services, but there were no fatalities in the bombing of the cafeteria." She flipped her notebook shut as she concluded her report.
"I don't think that was conscious, Kate, I think it was blind dumb luck." Gibbs commented dryly. "Don't forget there are still several patients in ICU. No, he wanted us alive, that's the only reason this wing of the hospital isn't so much rubble right now."
Tony yawned widely and blinked around the room, seeming surprised to see them all there still. He shifted slightly, wincing, "So, this guy, he was a prisoner of war for fourteen years and no one knew? Part of me feels really sorry for the guy."
All eyes turned to him in disbelief.
"DiNozzo, he tried to kill you." Gibbs spoke slowly, in the tone you would use if you were speaking to a child. "He did kill McGee, Abby has a broken collarbone, Agent Balboa has a concussion for the trouble of standing outside your door trying to protect your sorry ass, and you feel sorry for him?"
Kate winced as Gibbs voice rose in tenor. It was a good thing Tony still looked so fragile or Gibbs would have hit him, she was sure of it.
Tony looked abashed, "I know, boss. Hey, I'm not saying I condone what he did, I just meant… well he lost everything. Poor bastard."
There was an uncomfortable silence as they all thought of the price they had paid for Leo's Morgan's loss.
Kate cleared her throat and tried to change the subject, "What I want to know is how did Morgan even know what road Tony and McGee were going to be on Friday night? There were, I don't know," she waved her hand vaguely, "a half-a-dozen routes they could have used to get where they were going. How did he know they were going to be on that one?"
Tony shifted again, this time he looked distinctly embarrassed. "I.. uh… I think I know the answer to that one."
Gibbs fixed Tony with his unrelenting stare, "Yes, DiNozzo?"
They all waited as Tony picked at the blanket, "Well, early on I thought this car might have been following us. But then when we turned off, it passed us up and I didn't see it again. I just didn't think…. " he shrugged. "In hindsight, I can see that it was Morgan and he just got far enough ahead of us that he could shoot out our tires." He shut his eyes and Kate thought he'd gone to sleep again. But then he opened them and glanced guiltily at McGee, "I messed up, boss, and I almost got us all killed."
Kate had to hide her smile, somehow Tony always seemed to take on the guilt when things went wrong. There was no way this was his fault.
For once Gibbs agreed with her. "No, DiNozzo, you did good. You kept your head and you kept yourself, and McGee, and Ben alive. Some days that's all you can do."
Tony's mouth was a round O of surprise.
"Come on, Kate, McGee, we need to get out of here, and let DiNozzo get his beauty sleep."
Kate patted his good leg as she left. McGee hung back, gesturing he'd catch up with a wave of his hand. Kate nodded, following Gibbs to the door. This meant she'd get the front seat.
Alone with McGee Tony waited expectantly, trying not to yawn.
"So, Tony, do you really think my detective is too naïve?"
The question took Tony a little off-guard, it wasn't where he thought the conversation was going. He thought a moment before replying thoughtfully, "I think he's learning, Probie, I think he's learning."
McGee smiled shyly, pleased. "Maybe, you'll uhm… read some of my stuff sometimes?"
Tony couldn't keep the yawn from escaping, "Sure, I'd like that," he answered around the yawn. Despite himself he found his eyelids drooping. He rallied long enough to add, "You really should ask Abby to see her new tat."
McGee paused with his hand on the door. He turned back and smiled at Tony, "In your dreams, Tony. In your dreams."
Tony smiled to himself as the door closed behind McGee. Probie was definitely learning.
Tony sat in the wheelchair fidgeting with the file in his lap. The hospital was finally setting him loose, and he was psyched. He wasn't going home, his apartment wasn't really set up to cater to a man in a wheelchair and Tony would still be off his feet for a few more days.
Gibbs had volunteered to let Tony come home with him, but Tony had declined quickly. Working with Gibbs was one thing, living in his house was quite another. No way was Gibbs going to have the opportunity to smack Tony for leaving his underwear lying on the bathroom floor.
Nancy Morgan had asked Tony to come stay with her and Ben. Ben had been quiet and moody ever since their encounter with his father. She thought that Tony might be able to talk to him, and help him through whatever was bothering him.
He was all ready, the hospital had signed him out, he had all his prescriptions and Abby had brought him a bag from home. Now all he needed was Nancy and Ben to come pick him up and he was good to go.
The door of his room opened and Ben stood, a little uncertain, his mother right behind him.
She smiled brightly, "You ready to go, Tony?"
"You don't know how ready I am, Nancy. You sure it's not going to be too much trouble?" While he did appreciate the chance to spend some time with Ben, he didn't want to get in the way.
"No," she assured him, "I think it'll do Ben good to have you around for a while." Spying his bag setting on the floor at Tony's side, she picked it up. "Why don't I take this? And I'll bring the car to the front door. I'll meet you there?"
"It sounds like a plan." Tony nodded his agreement, watching Ben from the corner of his eye.
Ben stood awkwardly, watching his toes as his mother picked up Tony's bag and left the two of them alone.
"My mom's making me go see a counselor," he said forlornly when the door was shut.
"It's probably a good idea. I have to see one, too, you know," Tony told him.
"Really?" Ben looked up at him surprised.
Tony smiled, "Really, I'm hoping she's ho…" suddenly aware of the fourteen year old he was talking to, he amended his comment, "nice, I hope she's nice." Ben nodded agreement, and then went back to watching his toes.
Tony wasn't sure, but he thought he knew what was going on in the kid's head. He took a shot, "You know, Ben, what Leo Morgan did, it's not your fault."
It must have been a pretty close guess, because Ben's eyes widened and his cheeks flamed bright red, "But Tony, he was my father," Ben protested, "I just…"
"No, Ben," Tony was still getting used to the wheelchair. He cursed under his breath at it as it took him a minute to maneuver the thing until he was sitting beside Ben. "That guy who did all those things, that wasn't your father."
He picked up the folder that had been sitting in his lap. "This is your dad." He opened it and handed it to Ben.
Inside was a picture of a smiling man, Leo Morgan, in his marine uniform. "But, Tony…"
Earnestly, Tony over rid the boy's protests, "No, just listen to me, Ben. What happened to him in Iraq changed him. After what happened to him there, who knows what any of us would do. But this man," he tapped the folder, "this is your father. He was a hero. He saved a lot of people, including Gibbs. That's the man you need to remember as your father. Not the crazy guy who kidnapped you and terrorized you."
Ben's gaze moved uncertainly from Tony to the picture and back again. "You sure, Tony?"
"I'm sure, Ben. Oh, and I have something for you," he dug around in his pocket until he found the small object that Gibbs had given him. He pinned it on Ben's collar, "You are now officially an honorary NCIS agent."
"Wow." Ben's eyes were shining now. Tony felt like he'd done something good. "Thanks, Tony."
"You're welcome, Ben. You did good. You were pretty brave back at that cabin, getting the keys. And if you hadn't gone to find Gibbs, well…" Tony's voice trailed off. They were getting back into territory it was probably best not to explore right then.
But Ben didn't notice, "Do you suppose I could come to your office someday? I could help you with your work, and ride with you when you go arrest the bad guys."
Tony had to smile at the kid's enthusiasm, "Well, maybe not just yet, but someday…"
It was enough for Ben, who took hold of the wheelchair and navigated Tony out of the room and down the hall, talking the entire way about his new career in the NCIS.
Tony wondered wryly how he was going to break the news to Gibbs about their new junior agent. Hell, knowing Gibb, he already had an assignment for Ben.
Author's Notes: Wow! It's been a wild ride. I feel a little like I've been on a roller coaster, and just when I thought the ride had reached the end, we'd take another corner and the ride would go on.
Really this story was originally supposed to end back at chapter 12 when Tony and McGee where laying their little trap for Leo Morgan. No one was more surprised than I when it didn't. But your enthusiasm and your encouragement kept me going. Thanks so much to you all!
I had thought this would be my only NCIS story, but I'm already beginning to have a couple of new little plot bunnies starting to form, so I may be back to play sooner than I thought ;-)