Gibbs watched Tony being taken away by the doctors for emergency surgery on his leg at the French army base with a cold, sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. Although both the doctors and Tony himself had assured him that Tony would recover, Gibbs wouldn't relax until he had seen hard evidence of that. He had left Howard in the custody of Kate and McGee, who were driving the spy back to the Hotel Royal, while he had accompanied DiNozzo to the hospital. The younger man hadn't said anything, but Gibbs had seen the soft smile and the almost undetectable relaxation of Tony's shoulders.
Colonel Vache was waiting outside the hospital for him. "I thought you would like a lift back to your hotel, Agent Gibbs."
Gibbs nodded his gratitude and climbed into the passenger seat. "So where were you really, while Kate and I were doing all the hard work?"
Vache smiled to himself as he drove, not looking at Gibbs. He gave a very Gallic shrug. "You needed to rescue your people yourself, my friend. I saw how hard you took their capture, and I know how you feel. I have lost men myself. It is never easy."
"So you were just going to watch us?"
"No, we had you surrounded. Howard could not have escaped, nor could he have hurt anyone. There were three rifles trained on him at any one time from the second you stepped into the clearing." Gibbs thought about arguing, but settled for an annoyed grunt. After all, he admitted sourly to himself, Vache was right. He had needed to get Tony and McGee back himself. He was their boss – they were his responsibility.
Kate was on the phone to Abby when he got back to the hotel, reporting back on the rescue mission. From the sounds of it, and by the looks of the notes Kate was taking, Abby was listing every possible thing Tony might want to help him feel better. Kate waved at him, and gestured down into the basement. Gibbs went back to where they had briefly imprisoned Ardien Dragan and where Lumni Castirovic was still patiently waiting for them all to return.
Howard was handcuffed to a chair with McGee watching him carefully. Gibbs pointedly ignored the spy and instead went to chat to Castirovic. "How are you keeping Lumni?"
"I've been better," the man snapped.
"Well, I'm making an executive decision here," Gibbs said, smiling. "And you'll be feeling a lot better. You gave us the information that led to us catching that sonofabitch, and I'm going to reward you for that. You were going to be charged with organised crime and gunrunning, but I think you should just be handed over to the KPS to be charged with misdemeanour offences. Always providing, of course, that you're prepared to give evidence at that idiot's trial."
Castirovic, hardly daring to believe his luck, promised enthusiastically to give whatever evidence Gibbs wanted. Then he turned to Howard. "So, Paul, I don't have to talk to you after all. I've already got everything I need. You're going down for a very long time." He turned away from the spy, leaving him mouthing silently in shock, and walked to the door. Then he turned back. "One question though. Did you kill Jed Franklin and Caleb Smithson?"
"I'm not dumb enough to admit to anything," Howard said wearily.
"Just dumb enough to keep the murder weapon," McGee retorted. "There was a hunting knife in the log cabin, boss, and I bet that would match the wounds of our two corporals." Howard went a shade paler.
"Nice work McGee."
Tony came around from the surgery slowly, blissfully aware that the pain had faded. That was just the morphine, but it still felt good. The bed felt luxuriously soft as well, after the hard floor of the log cabin. All in all, he was feeling pretty damn good about life. That feeling only increased when an extremely pretty nurse came in, her blonde hair cropped short in an elegant French bob.
"Hi," he smiled. "Did anyone ever confuse you with an angel and think they'd died and gone to Heaven?"
The nurse bent over and fluffed up his pillow for him and checked his vital signs, smiling at him. "Pardon, monsieur, mais je ne comprends pas." Tony ground his teeth, his perfect wake-up getting a little bit worse. His French wasn't good enough to flirt properly, all he could do was order food and drink.
The nurse smiled again, and left his room. Outside she shook her head and laughed. Kate and McGee were waiting. "He is always like that?" the nurse asked in perfect English.
"When he's feeling OK," Kate replied wryly. The nurse shook her head again, and continued on her rounds. Kate and McGee knocked on the door, and went inside. "How are you doing?" she asked, seating down next to the bed.
"Way better," he chirped. "I'm practically perfect again. Like Mary Poppins," he added. At their bemused smiles, he grinned. "Morphine is a wonderful drug you know. What's happening with Howard?"
"Gibbs yelled at him," McGee said, somewhat smugly. "We've got him for the murders of our two corporals and kidnapping and treason and everything else. Colonel Hunter came down from the American base and yelled at him too. I think Howard preferred Hunter yelling at him though."
Tony nodded absently, feeling the drugs kicking in as he fought to stay awake. He yawned loudly and the visitors stood to go. "We'll come back in a bit," Kate assured him.
The next time he woke up, Gibbs was sitting there, watching him. "Jeez, boss! You shouldn't sneak up on people."
"I didn't sneak. You were asleep." Gibbs paused and bit his lip. "You OK?"
"Yeah," Tony replied easily. Both men knew he was lying, neither chose to mention it. "Everything going well with you?"
"Yeah." Again, neither mentioned the obvious lie.
"Hunter's mad we didn't tell him what we knew?"
"Hunter's mad we involved the French army before the Americans," Gibbs rejoined, a slight smile lighting his features. "Another successful mission for NCIS – we've irritated another branch of the government."
"Good for us." Tony shifted to a more comfortable position. "So when do I get out of here, and when do we get back to the good ol' US of A?"
"You've been shot, you're suffering from shock and you recently underwent emergency surgery," Gibbs reminded him.
"And I'll get better faster at home."
Gibbs grinned and nodded. "We're busting you out of here tomorrow, assuming you're OK. There's a private jet waiting for us at Pristina International. Apparently the CIA wants to thank us."
"Oh, and DiNozzo?"
Gibbs stood and lightly hit Tony on the head. "Don't ever suggest staying behind to die heroically again. You're far more use to me alive."
Tony smiled widely, a delighted flush on his cheeks. "Will you repeat that when Kate can hear?"
"Not for a million bucks." Both men laughed. Gibbs left Tony to get some more rest. He was looking forward to getting out of Kosovo, not least because he was missing working on his boat. It was good to know he was bringing his whole team home with him. He made a mental note not to let DiNozzo watch any more heroic war movies. They obviously had a bad influence on him.
He chuckled to himself as he left the French base. He still had a couple of last jobs to do. One of them was take Isak and Edvina out for a thank-you meal. The other was to go and get royally drunk with Colonel Vache. He grinned: Kosovo wouldn't know what hit it.
Whew - that got a little more exciting at the end than I had originally planned! Thanks to everyone who has already reviewed, every comment is appreciated. If you have already reviewed, why not leave me your final thoughts? If you haven't reviewed, why not let me know what you think of the whole thing? Come on, give it a go. And as Clement Clark Moore wrote, in his famous poem 'Twas the Night before Christmas': Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!