DISCLAIMER:- I do not own NCIS or its characters and no copyright infringement is intended.
A/N:- The premise and early chapters of this story were written pre- Judgement Day so Jenny Shepard appears as Director.
Also, this story has a colossal geographical error in later chapters, concerning the type of island and vegetation Gibbs and DiNozzo encounter off the New England coast. The error was made quite innocently and should be easy to overlook in favour of the story – but if you're an absolute stickler for perfection – consider yourself warned. L
Two Agents Afloat
The cool temperature of the Autopsy room turned Tony's skin to gooseflesh as he sat, bare-chested, on one of the tables. He sat quietly as Dr Donald Mallard performed a thorough examination.
Ducky had already established that Tony's vitals were fine and was now gently prodding Tony's right cheekbone and around his right eye. The swelling had gone and only slight bruising remained.
"Tell me, Anthony," Ducky said. "How's the pain? I don't suppose you bothered to take your pain medication?"
"Pain's fine, Ducky," Tony answered in an unusually subdued tone. "Stopped taking the pain meds because I didn't need them."
Ducky was not pleased. "Seriously, Anthony, you're as bad as Jethro," he scolded gently. "It is not a sign of weakness to admit to pain! A broken cheekbone and fractured orbital are very painful injuries."
"I know, Ducky."
"Any more problems with the vision or headaches?" the doctor enquired.
The effects of a serious concussion that had lingered much longer than usual had troubled Tony.
"Vision's fine now," Tony replied. "Still get the occasional headache."
Ducky began pushing and probing his gentle hands over Tony's ribcage and stomach.
The vivid purple and black bruising Tony's body had sustained a few weeks ago had faded to a yellow – brown colour.
"Ducky," Tony protested. "I'm telling you, I'm fi…!"
He flinched as Ducky's fingers located a still painful area around his collarbone. The medic eyed him sceptically.
"You don't look fine to me, my boy!" he admonished. "These bruises haven't even healed yet and your clavicle is still quite tender! I think you should have another weeks medical leave."
"Ducky, please!" Tony pleaded, "I've been on sick leave for six weeks! I'm going crazy at home."
"Very well then, but you're on light duties only," Tony opened his mouth to complain but Ducky continued. "Anthony, I will not clear you for field duty until that clavicle is properly healed. I want to see you here, same time next week and we'll review your situation."
"Okay, Doc," Tony answered, resigned to the fact that he would be deskbound and paperwork laden for a week or two.
Gibbs had been standing by the door, unnoticed by Tony and Ducky and determined to ensure that his senior field agent did not attempt to return to work before he was fully healed. Watching the easy interaction between the two men, his famous gut was telling him that something wasn't quite right but he couldn't put his finger on it. As Gibbs walked further into the room, Tony grimaced.
"Looks like I'll have the chance to clear that backlog of paperwork you've been nagging me about, Boss!"
"I wouldn't have to nag you, DiNozzo, if you spent more time working and less time torturing McGee," Gibbs replied with the barest hint of a grin. "You're on research and cold cases for the rest of week! Thanks, Duck!"
Gibbs turned on his heel and headed for the elevator. "You coming, DiNozzo?"
"On your six, Boss," Tony replied struggling back into his shirt as he ran to catch up with Gibbs.
Once in the elevator, both men looked straight ahead at the closed doors. Tony shifted his weight nervously from one foot to the other before opening his mouth to speak.
"Don't say it, Tony," Gibbs said gruffly. "Ducky said another week and that's that!"
"Gotcha, Boss, another week," Tony agreed.
That's when it hit him! Tony had readily, almost eagerly accepted his decision not to return to field duty. Normally, he had to fight Tony tooth and nail to keep him from active duty. The elevator doors opened and both men stepped out into the bullpen.
"Tony!" Abby squealed with delight as she charged across the room to pull him into a tight hug. "I've missed you!"
A small high-pitched whimper escaped his lips at the force of the impact on his not quite healed collarbone. Abby stepped back quickly
"Are you alright?" she said worriedly. "Did I hurt you?"
"I'm fine, Abs," Tony gasped through clenched teeth, "and I missed you, too!"
"Hey, Tony, good to have you back," greeted McGee
"Thanks, Probie," Tony said attempting his usual megawatt grin but not quite getting it right, "it's good to be back!"
He walked to his desk then looked around the office. "Where's Ziva?" he asked.
"I am here," the soft voice answered directly into his ear as she appeared, suddenly, very close behind him.
He jumped a little before hissing. "I thought I told you not to do that!"
"Do what?" she said innocently.
"That sneaky, ninja, stealth…stuff," he replied. "Creeps me out!"
She smiled flirtatiously as her eyes slowly traversed his body from head to toe, enjoying his obvious discomfort.
"It is good to have you back, Tony," she said while returning to her desk.
"If you're all finished ass-grabbing over there," Gibbs grumbled, "maybe we could get to work!"
He allowed himself a tiny grin as the younger agents scurried to their desks to resume working. Several minutes later, Gibbs glanced quickly at Tony. Despite his efforts to maintain his normally cheerful persona, Gibbs noticed dullness in the younger man's expressive green eyes. Something definitely wasn't right.
Returning to work after an extended medical leave could be a little difficult for some but, in the past, DiNozzo had been jumping out of his skin to return as quickly as possible. The slow and steady DiNozzo was not what Gibbs was expecting. He decided to watch him for a day before broaching the subject with him.
Gibbs hung up the phone and looked up at Tony.
"DiNozzo, with me," he called, "the Director wants to see us!"
McGee looked quizzically at Ziva.
'Surely the Director couldn't be sending Tony on another undercover assignment so soon? He's barely recovered from the last one!' he thought.
"Probably just wants to thank me personally for a job well done on the Burgess case." Tony gloated. "Or maybe she wants to discuss some kind of performance award. Maybe a commendation….or to pass on the thanks of a grateful nation."
"Today, DiNozzo!" came Gibbs' annoyed voice from the landing, rousing Tony from his rambling.
"Coming, Boss!" Tony said, rushing after Gibbs.
As Gibbs entered the office, Cynthia, the Director's secretary, looked up from her desk.
"Good morning, Special Agent Gibbs," she said in a crisp and professional manner.
When Tony approached, her professional pleasantries immediately bloomed into a beaming, genuine smile.
"Hey Tony!" she gushed. "Welcome back! How are you feeling?"
Gibbs couldn't help rolling his eyes. "Can we go in?" he asked, slightly irritated.
"Oh, of course," Cynthia said. "They're expecting you."
Gibbs and Tony exchanged a silent glance acknowledging the same thought.
'They're expecting us?'
Opening the door and striding into the Director's office, Gibbs was only mildly surprised to see FBI Senior Agent, Tobias Fornell and another Agent, seated with the Director at the conference table. The Director introduced FBI Agent, Robert Jeffries to Gibbs and Tony. Gibbs immediately felt the tension in the room, which could mean only one thing – trouble.
"You better not be here asking for another joint op, Fornell, cause he's still recovering from the last fiasco," Gibbs said nodding his head in Tony's direction.
"Relax, Gibbs," Fornell replied, "That's not why we're here."
Tobias Fornell turned his attention to Tony.
"Good to see you, DiNozzo!" he said, pronouncing Tony's surname with the correct Italian inflection.
Tony didn't speak, only giving a brief nod in reply.
Gibbs looked to Jenny Shepard for answers and saw her grim expression as she gestured towards the empty chairs.
"Please sit down, gentlemen."
For the second time in less than a minute, Gibbs and Tony communicated silently with a look that told them more trouble was brewing. They took their places at the conference table and looked expectantly at the others, waiting for someone to speak.
After a short, uncomfortable moment, Jenny broke the silence.
"As you know, FBI Agent, Paul Monroe, was DiNozzo's undercover partner on the recent joint operation. At a critical moment in the operation, their covers were compromised."
Gibbs interjected looking accusingly at Fornell.
"We only agreed to this op because you assured me Monroe was one of your best undercover operatives. Then, after weeks of lead up work and a month deep undercover, he panics, blows the whole op and Tony was nearly beaten to death!" Gibbs said, barely containing his anger.
Fornell looked Gibbs directly in the eyes, stating calmly. "I told you before Gibbs, nobody was more sorry than me about what happened to DiNozzo!" he said. "I worked with Paul Monroe for 15 years. I don't know what happened to make him react the way he did but I can assure you, Paul Monroe was one of the best!"
Tony had remained uncharacteristically quiet to this point. His head snapped up at Fornell's last words.
"Was?" Tony asked.
"Yes, Tony," Jenny said gently. "Agent Paul Monroe took his own life yesterday morning."
What little colour Tony had, leeched from his face and he turned to Fornell and Jeffries.
"I'm sorry," he said genuinely. "I got to know Paul pretty well during the op. I liked him." He paused thoughtfully for a moment before continuing. "All the evidence we collected, the documents and the transcripts – there was enough there to put Burgess away for 30 years, right? Hopefully, Paul will be remembered for his part in getting Burgess off the streets."
The silence was almost deafening before Jeffries cleared his throat and spoke.
"That's why we asked for this meeting." He took a deep breath before adding. "It seems there was a procedural error made while issuing the warrant. The warrant was made out to the incorrect address. It has been voided and all evidence obtained is now inadmissible."
"Burgess' lawyer had him out of jail and on a plane to The Maldives within an hour of the Judge's ruling," Fornell continued
"The Maldives has diplomatic relations with the USA but no extradition treaty," Jenny explained.
Fornell nodded his head and looked at Tony. "I'm sorry, DiNozzo, I know the work you put into this case and what it cost you, personally."
Tony felt like he'd been kicked in the solar plexus, he drew in a ragged breath and rose to his feet.
"DiNozzo?" Jenny said.
"Excuse me, Director," Tony replied softly. "I…I need some air!"
He left the office and headed back to the bullpen in a daze - his mind was spinning.
'Is that it?' he asked himself 'Weeks of preparation, a month working undercover, the constant fear of discovery, the pain, the death of Paul Monroe – all for nothing!'
He walked back into the bullpen and barely heard his partners as they gently jibed him.
"Let me guess," McGee began. "They want to hold a parade in your honour."
"Oh no, McGee," Ziva joined in. "Something a little more permanent. When I think DiNozzo, I think erection. Maybe they will erect a monument, yes?" she said, purposely using the double entendre.
Tony walked right past his desk and headed for the elevator.
"Tony?" McGee called worriedly.
"Tell Gibbs I've gone for coffee," Tony said as the elevator doors closed and he was gone.
Gibbs was livid as he rose to his feet, the veins in his neck distended as he struggled to keep his voice level.
"What the hell are you guys from the Hoover Building running, Fornell?"
Fornell's faced flushed with colour as he fought to control his own embarrassment and anger.
"In case it escaped your notice, Gibbs, I don't run the Bureau!" he said matching Gibbs menacing tone. "It was a stupid, unforgivable mistake and I'd fix it if I could but it's done!"
"You mean two stupid, unforgivable mistakes, don't you Tobias?" Gibbs continued "The one that put a low-life like Burgess in a first class seat to The Maldives and the one that nearly cost the life of my agent!"
Fornell was on his feet now, his battle with his anger lost, as he and Gibbs stood almost nose-to-nose. "It did, indirectly, cost the life of my agent or have you forgotten?" he hissed.
"Since this is a joint operation, I want Ducky to do the autopsy!" Gibbs continued.
"Not a chance in hell, Gibbs," Fornell snapped back. "Monroe was an FBI Agent. His autopsy is being conducted by his own agency. Right now as a matter of fact."
Gibbs opened his mouth to object further but Fornell continued.
"I'll agree to your people getting a copy of the autopsy and forensic reports, but that's it!" Fornell said.
"What about the physical evidence?" Gibbs pushed his luck.
"Maybe," Fornell said, "but only when we're done with it. Tell me Gibbs, if this was one of your agents, would you turn his autopsy over to another agency?"
"Not if I was hiding something," Gibbs taunted.
Fornell's face flushed with anger. "You know, you really are a bastard!"
"So I've been told!" Gibbs answered.
"That's enough, both of you!" Jenny said brusquely then looked at Gibbs.
"Agents Fornell and Jeffries did not have to come here and advise us of this personally."
Gibbs scoffed, not breaking his staring contest with Fornell. "They did if they ever want co-operation from this agency again," he said.
Jenny ignored the comment and turned to Fornell with and outstretched hand.
"Thank you for coming, and please accept my condolences on the loss of Agent Monroe."
"Thank you, Director," Fornell said, shaking Jenny's hand, he and Jeffries moved towards the door. Fornell threw a final look over his shoulder. "Gibbs," he said in goodbye as he left the office.
Gibbs called after him. "We'll need those reports by this afternoon, Fornell."
Fornell slammed the door behind him.
Jenny stood with her hands on her hips. "Always the diplomat, Jethro."
"Really perfected that inter-departmental ass-kissing, Jen," he said sarcastically.
"On the contrary, Jethro," she said with the hint of a smile, "just covering our bases in case it's us that needs their agency's co-operation in the future. We don't want to burn all of our bridges."
Her expression turned to one of concern as she changed topic. "I'm worried about Tony? Did Ducky clear him for active duty?"
Gibbs shook his head. "Another week. Put him on light duties!" he told her "He sure as hell didn't need this, though!"
Jenny nodded in agreement as Gibbs left her office.
Gibbs strode purposefully into the bullpen, stopping suddenly as he noticed Tony's vacant desk.
"Where's DiNozzo?" he asked
McGee looked up from his computer. "He, ah, said to tell you he went for coffee, Boss," he answered.
"Damn it!" Gibbs muttered before heading out to look for him.
"Boss?" McGee called after him. "Is there something wrong?"
The elevator doors were closed and Gibbs was gone before McGee got an answer. He exchanged another concerned look with Ziva, who voiced her frustration.
"I think we have been let out of the coop!"
"Loop, Ziva," McGee corrected. "Left out of the loop."
Gibbs walked quickly around the corner to the coffee shop. He spotted Tony sitting alone at one of the sidewalk tables and silently joined him. Without speaking, Tony gave a nod to the waitress who brought two fresh coffees to the table. He gave Gibbs a small grin.
"Thought you could use a hit of caffeine."
In the bright sunshine, the bruising on Tony's pale face was more noticeable. He looked tired and drawn but there was something else that Gibbs had never seen on his face before. Tony looked defeated.
"You alright?" Gibbs asked
Tony shrugged his shoulders. "I'm tired, Boss!" he replied flatly. His eyes locked on to the rim of his coffee cup as he continued "I'm tired of the days, weeks, hell, the months we put in to get these guys off the streets, only to see them walk away. I'm sick of pretending to be one of them so I can infiltrate their organizations. I'm sick of the pain, the fear and the death. I'm sick of it all, Boss."
He lifted his gaze to meet Gibbs' "I don't think I can do this anymore – I don't think I want to do this anymore."