Gibbs stood at the foot of Tony's hospital bed, his arms folded and his sternest expression in place. He had accompanied Dr. Peterson back to Tony's room so that he could hear first hand what the doctor had to say, but now he had to wait until the man had finished scribbling notes on Tony's chart. Abby had still been with Tony when Peterson and Gibbs had entered the room, but she had quickly left soon after, mumbling something about the mass spectrometer needing a service. Gibbs had watched her leave before narrowing his eyes at his senior field agent. For his part, Tony had looked the picture of innocence – something that had instantly aroused Gibbs' suspicions.
The doctor began asking Tony some questions. Despite his papery thin voice and labored breathing, it seemed to Gibbs that Tony was doing a bit better. Of course he still had the 'happy juice', as Abby called it, being fed to him through the drip, but he definitely looked more relaxed than he had earlier.
'We're keeping you in for at least another five days,' said Peterson. 'You'll continue with the intravenous antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and morphine, but we'll ease off the morphine as we get closer to discharging you. Once you've been discharged, you will need to have at least two weeks of rest at home. Your lungs need time to recover properly. You'll need to have someone to look after you; a family member perhaps.'
'But…' began Tony.
'No buts,' said Peterson, sternly, even before Gibbs had time to jump in and say anything. 'Dr. Mallard absolutely agrees with me that someone with your unusual case history must rest completely. You do not want to suffer a relapse.'
'He would agree with you,' muttered Tony, clearly annoyed.
In a move that clearly impressed Gibbs, Peterson took his lecture to the next level. The doctor walked around to the other side of the bed and held the drip bag in his hand.
'Tony, without this stuff, you would have died. If you had not been found for another twenty four hours, you would have been too far gone for us to do anything for you. If you leave here and fail to allow yourself to heal properly, you will fall gravely ill again. And if you have so little regard for yourself that you're already planning to ignore what I'm saying, have some regard for your friends and your family. I'm sure they're not in a hurry to attend your funeral.'
Gibbs watched Tony's face intently as the doctor spoke. The expression on the younger man's face had morphed from defiance to resignation and then to discomfort. Gibbs knew the doctor had struck a chord with his last sentence. There was no way Tony would want to put the team – Abby in particular – through anyone's funeral. Kate's had been quite enough.
'Doctor, your instructions will be followed to the letter,' Gibbs said, breaking the silence.
'Glad to hear it,' said Peterson as he hung the chart at the end of the bed. 'Tony, I'll see you in the morning,' he added before leaving the two men alone. Gibbs dragged a chair closer to the bed and sat down.
'You do your time here, Dinozzo, and then you can go home,' he told Tony. 'Once you're home, you'll spend two weeks resting before you'll be allowed to come back to work.'
'I guess I'll arrange something through the home nursing service,' grumbled Tony, recognizing Gibbs' definite tone. There was no way he was going to get out of this.
He was startled to feel the light tap of Gibbs' hand as it connected with the side of his head.
'What was that for?' he protested.
'Tony, when are you going to really HEAR what people say to you?' Gibbs asked in an exasperated tone. 'You don't need a damn nursing service. I'll be moving in to make sure you don't end up back in here. I'm sure you'll have other visitors, but your health is gonna be my responsibility.'
Tony opened his mouth to speak but then closed it again. His usual involuntary response would have been to protest and to claim that he didn't need help, but he really did feel like crap. And Gibbs had really challenged Tony to prove that he didn't have a death wish. The idea of having Gibbs watching Tony's six in his own house was at once terrifying and appealing. Gibbs would make a really tough nurse, but he couldn't remember a time when he had slept at home knowing there was someone there to look out for him.
'What about you?' asked Tony, suddenly remembering that Gibbs was still recovering from his own injury.
Gibbs was about to brush Tony's concerns off with a terse order for his agent to mind his own business, but then he remembered Ducky's words about Gibbs being something of a role model for Tony.
'Thanks to you ending up in here, I'll be going to Ducky's for a couple of nights,' he told Tony. 'And you'll be keeping that bit of information to yourself,' he added as he saw the corners of Tony's mouth turn upwards. He couldn't help but return the slight smile. It was good to see Tony in better spirits. He'd seen Tony in trouble, sick, in danger or in hospital too many times. And right then and there, Gibbs had a kind of epiphany. While it upset and irked him to see a friend or colleague suffer, nothing churned his insides as much as when Dinozzo was hurt. There was something about the man, or what was between them, that tugged at his heart.
'Be sure to give my best wishes to the corgis, Boss,' Tony was saying.
'You be sure to do as you're told and stay in this bed or I'll have doctor Peterson keep you in an extra week to save us all the bother of looking after you,' retorted Gibbs gruffly as he stood up. He reached his hand out towards Tony and the younger man braced himself for the familiar slap. Instead, Gibbs fondly ruffled Tony's hair before taking his leave.
'Heading to Ducky's?' asked Tony. He hoped that Gibbs would put the quiver in his voice down to his illness.
'Right after I've seen our friendly neighborhood psychic,' Gibbs called back. And then he was gone.
Tony slowly reached up and felt where Gibb's hand had fallen before shutting his eyes, a contented smile spreading across his features.
Miranda Vay sat by herself in the interrogation room, waiting for Agent Gibbs to arrive. She hadn't been the least surprised when Agent David had told her that Gibbs was coming to speak to her. It had been, after all, Agent Dinozzo who had been put most at risk at the hands of her nephew. Even though she knew that Gibbs was officially still on medical leave, he was a man who made his people his responsibility – particularly his senior field agent. Vay felt some apprehension, but only because she didn't know just how angry he was going to be with her. During the night Vay had spent in custody, David had come to tell her that Tony's life was no longer on the line. Brogan was also out of danger, but Vay's relief had been all for Agent Dinozzo.
The door suddenly opened, and Gibbs entered the room. His face was stony and he was giving nothing away. Without greeting, he pulled out the chair and sat opposite her. He withdrew a pad from his jacket pocket, opened it, and sat with a pen poised. Only then did he look her in the eye.
'Agent Dinozzo is still doing well?' Vay asked.
'I want to know every detail about your involvement in the Partington kidnapping case and with Brogan himself,' said Gibbs, ignoring her enquiry.
Not wanting to antagonize Gibbs any further, Vay proceeded to give her side of the story. She had been aware that Brogan was out of jail, but was surprised when he turned up to see her. His life of crime had left him pretty much estranged from the family. When Brogan told her that he had kidnapped a young woman, her immediate plan of action had been to call the police.
'I feel no family loyalty towards Matthew,' Vay told Gibbs. 'But he had already gained access to my cellar and taken the woman down there. He wanted me to stay quiet until her family had paid the ransom. He threatened that if I told anyone about her, he'd kill her. Agent Gibbs, I know Matthew well enough to believe he was serious.'
Gibbs' mind wandered to the moment he had seen Brogan grab Tony by the hair as his agent struggled for breath. Vay had been right to believe what Brogan had threatened.
'I managed to make a deal with him, however,' continued Vay. 'I insisted that she be kept humanely and that I would supply her with food. He agreed – probably because that meant he wouldn't have to do very much about keeping her alive. His main motive was money; it always has been.'
'Why come to us?' asked Gibbs. His attitude towards the woman was softening a little. Dianne had been well looked after while in captivity. It seems she had Vay to thank for that.
'Because you kept investigating her disappearance,' explained Vay. 'Matthew didn't want the authorities sniffing around. Once the search had been called off, he could return Dianne and collect the money. Coming to NCIS was actually my suggestion. I have a history of offering my talents to the police. I told Matthew that if I could convince you that Diane had chosen to disappear, you'd back right off. He made Diane write a letter to her parents to add weight to the story. Once she had been returned to her family, I intended to contact the police immediately.'
'But we kept digging,' said Gibbs, quietly.
'Perhaps other agents wouldn't have,' said Vay. 'But you were very skeptical. And then there was the unhappy coincidence that Matthew saw and recognized Agent Dinozzo as the officer who had arrested him some years ago. I was disgusted when I found out he had shot at your car as you left the Partington house. He justified his actions by saying that it would keep your team busy with something besides finding Dianne, but it was purely an act of revenge. I'm so glad you both survived.'
Gibbs replayed in his mind the events of the shooting. He remembered the pain in his chest, but more vivid was the memory of Tony despairing. He swallowed uncomfortably, knowing that Tony would eventually hear confirmation that Gibbs had taken the bullet meant for him. That would not go down well.
'But then Matthew ended up bringing Agent Dinozzo here,' continued Vay, frowning at the thought of the way her nephew had behaved. 'I told him I was not going to stand for it and I was restrained as well.'
Gibbs made a few notes on the pad. It bought him a few moments to digest what Vay had told him. It would read like a bad movie script – Tony would probably tell him that there was some obscure movie with a similar plot – but Gibbs could not detect any deception in Vay's voice.
'NCIS will not be pressing any charges against you regarding the kidnapping of a federal agent,' Gibbs told her. 'Tony's already made a statement that includes how you tried to argue for his release. As for the Partingtons, it's up to them and their lawyers.'
'They will not press charges against me,' said Vay, her voice calm and assured. 'I have not yet spoken them, but I am confident they will not.'
Silence fell upon the room for a few moments as Gibbs wondered what to make of her, before Vay spoke again.
'Agent Dinozzo was convinced that no-one would pay the ransom,' she said, her eyes gazing into Gibbs'.
Gibbs said nothing.
'He was delirious but he spoke about hearing someone say they would never pay it,' persisted Vay. 'I felt confident he was not referring to you.'
Gibbs felt a surge of anger flow through him as his gut told him who may have made that comment to Tony. He didn't need to know the details. It simply provided another little piece of the picture that would explain why Tony was heedless of his own personal safety; he had grown up believing people had a low estimation of his worth. Vay watched the emotion flicker across Gibbs' face before continuing.
'You already are, but you are going to be an even more important part of Agent Dinozzo's life. He trusts you. You are the only person who has set boundaries that he has respected.'
'Cut the bull,' snapped Gibbs, suddenly. 'You're not a psychic. You made up all the crap about Dianne Partington being happy and safe. And you probably knew all about Tony nearly drowning in the stream. Were you watching all of that, or did Brogan tell you about it?'
'I was never there,' said Vay, her face impassive. 'Matthew was never there, except for when he kidnapped Dianne in the first place. Neither of us was there when the tree fell. But I felt the panic you both felt, Agent Gibbs.'
Gibbs opened his mouth to speak but closed it again when he realized he had nothing to say.
'You are so alike,' said Vay, 'but there is one major difference between you. You once lost what Tony never had to begin with. Now you are in a unique position to help each other. While you are at work, you watch each other's backs, but you will find that your lives outside of work will become evermore entwined.'
Gibbs found his curiosity piqued but there was no way he was going to ask her for details about a prediction he didn't believe she could make. Vay, of course, realized this and pointed to the pen and notepad.
'May I?' she asked, and nodded her thanks as Gibbs pushed them towards her. Vay took the pen and turned to a fresh page. With the pen she carefully drew the number 12. She then looked up at him pointedly. Gibbs shrugged, unwilling to show a shred of interest.
'You and Tony already figure prominently in each other's lives', Vay told him, 'but this number is already crumbling, and you will be very happy for both of them.'
Gibbs stared at the number as she drew a cross through it. He recalled the gift Tony had bought for Abby, her uncharacteristic, hasty departure from Tony's hospital room earlier that day, and the innocent look Tony had tried to pull off once she had left. Gibbs pursed his lips together tightly to prevent the smile that was trying to form. He pocketed the pad and pen and stood up.
'Okay, that's enough mumbo jumbo for me,' he told her. 'Agent David will be here shortly to do your paperwork and escort you home.'
And with that he was gone, leaving Miranda Vay to reflect that at least some good had come from an ugly business after all. And she was already looking forward to the next time she would encounter Agent Gibbs and his team.
So there you go! Another story finished. Thank you very, very much to all the readers and reviewers of this story. I'm thrilled I finished it despite a hectic work schedule, two young kids, and the bushfires! Stay tuned for a few more Moments and Fragments. Take care. Love, Zan.