DISCLAIMER:- I do not own NCIS or its characters and no copyright infringement is intended.
A/N Well, at last, we've arrived at the final chapter. Thank you for the enormous support and encouragement I have received by way of reviews and PMs. Especially those of you who took the time to review every single chapter to provide me with your valuable feedback. I'm overwhelmed and very thankful, L
The process of reaching Lieutenant Cortez aboard the USS Princeton had taken longer than Tony anticipated, so by the time he'd called Pete and Helen with the news of Niven's arrest and returned to his desk, it was after 2100, the bullpen was deserted and his team-mates had gone. Tony was somewhat relieved that he would not have to make small talk about a Thanksgiving he had no intention of celebrating. He gathered his things and left for home.
When he arrived at his apartment, he showered and changed into a faded OSU t-shirt and a favourite pair of old jeans with holes at both knees. He grabbed a beer from the fridge, selected his favourite jazz CD and then lay on the couch in the dim light, emotionally and physically spent.
He cursed silently when he heard a knock at his door as he was in no mood for company. He wanted to ignore it and pretend he had gone out but the sound of Miles Davis coming from his stereo was a strong indication that he was home. Reluctantly, he climbed to his feet and opened the door where Gibbs stood holding a pizza box.
"Boss?" Tony said, the surprise evident in his voice. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm moonlighting for Pizza Hut, DiNozzo, what do you think I'm doing here?"
Although the question was rhetorical, Tony appeared to be considering the answer until Gibbs brushed past him and placed the pizza on the coffee table.
"Figured you wouldn't have eaten yet," Gibbs said, and then he nodded his head towards the beer in Tony's hand. "You got another one of those?"
Tony grabbed a beer for Gibbs and they sat on the couch and each took a slice of pizza.
"I spoke to the Director tonight," Gibbs said. "Niven has accused you of threatening to shoot him."
"I did threaten to shoot him," Tony said quietly.
"That's what I told the Director."
Tony's head turned sharply in Gibbs' direction. "Is there going to be an inquiry?"
"No. Ziva, McGee and my reports confirm your account of what happened. It's the word of a psychotic killer against four federal agents."
"I didn't want anyone to lie for me, Boss," Tony said emphatically.
"No-one lied, Tony, every word in our reports was truthful," Gibbs said and then shrugged his shoulders. "We just didn't go into as much detail as we could have."
"And the Director bought that?" Tony asked.
"Officially, she backed us 100 percent."
"There's no way in hell she bought that," Gibbs replied.
Tony sighed loudly and slumped against the back of the couch. "I screwed up, Boss! I let my personal feelings override my professional judgement every step of the way."
"You needed to catch this guy and you did everything you could to make it happen," Gibbs replied. "Whether it's jail or a high security ward in a mental institution, Niven will never hurt anyone else. In that regard, you did good, Tony."
Gibbs took another long draught from his beer before adding. "If you did anything wrong, it was trying to do this alone. You've got a team of people who badly wanted to help you through this and watch your six but you shut us all out."
Tony leant his head back and closed his eyes for a moment.
"I nearly killed a man, Boss, I wanted to kill him and even now a big part of me wishes I had."
"You'll get through this, Tony, but you need to be clear in your own mind that the next time you're faced with a similar situation, you'll make the right choice. I think you should talk to someone."
"Like a shrink?" Tony asked. "You think I need a shrink, Boss?"
"I think now the case is finalised and Niven is locked up, there'll be some closure for you," Gibbs explained, carefully choosing his words. "But right now you're so filled with anger and grief that you came within a hair's breadth of killing a man in cold blood today. You need to talk to someone, Tony. If you won't talk to a shrink then find someone you will talk to. Ducky, Abby, hell, you know my door's never locked, right?"
They both reached for another slice of pizza and ate in silence for a few moments.
"Did you, Boss? Find someone to talk to after…you know."
Gibbs nodded. "I talked to Mike. He handled the investigation and he knew what I did. Talking things through helped. Probably led me to becoming an agent."
"I wanna talk to you, Boss, but not now…I need some time."
Gibbs reached across and gave Tony's shoulder a quick squeeze.
"When you're ready, you know where to find me," he said getting to his feet and walking towards the door. "Thought you might wanna watch the game with me tomorrow. I'll throw your steak on the grill at 1400. With the price of meat today, you make me waste a steak, I'll kick your ass into next week."
Gibbs left the apartment, closing the door behind him.
Tony smiled to himself. 'Only Gibbs could make an invitation sound like a threat."
The door suddenly opened again.
"DiNozzo….you bring the beer." He left again without waiting for Tony to reply.
Tony knew the invitation was Gibbs way of ensuring that he didn't spend Thanksgiving alone, wallowing in misery or finishing the rest of Ducky's malt scotch. Not that Gibbs would ever admit to that, of course.
The tension and grief of the last few weeks had left him feeling exhausted - craving sleep, yet reluctant to succumb to it in case the nightmares returned. For the next few hours, Tony lay on the couch in the silence of his apartment, and replayed the events of the past few weeks in his mind. His stomach lurched violently when he thought how close he'd come to pulling the trigger and killing Niven.
'What if Gibbs hadn't been there? What would have happened? Would I have killed Niven?'
Beyond exhaustion, he contemplated these questions until sleep finally took him. Disturbing dreams and images caused him to wake disoriented and breathless.
'This is getting old,' he thought.
He gave up trying to get back to sleep at about 0400 and went for a run to clear his head. It was still dark outside as he ran his familiar route, his breath visible in the frigid early morning air.
He busied himself for a few hours, cleaning his apartment and doing his laundry before getting into his car and stopping at a roadside flower vendor. He purchased a bouquet of daisies then drove to the cemetery and stood by Becky's grave. He put the daisies in a vase and placed it beside the newly erected headstone.
"We got him, Becks," he said quietly. "I miss you."
He went to three liquor stores before finding one that opened on the holiday and bought some beer before heading to Gibbs' house. The afternoon and evening went better than he expected – no talk about Thanksgiving, or the case or work or how he was feeling or whether he was sleeping. Just two men, eating steaks, watching the game, arguing about game plays and point spreads and having a few beers. Uncomplicated and relaxed – just how Tony needed things to be.
After the game, Gibbs walked to the fridge for more beer but by the time he'd returned Tony was asleep, head back and mouth slightly open. Gibbs looked with concern at Tony's pale complexion and the dark smudges under both eyes. He lowered the volume on the TV, rescued the half empty can of beer that was tilting precariously in Tony's lax fingers, and gently shook the younger man awake.
"Hey," he said quietly.
Tony's eyes sprung open and he sat up straight. "Sorry, Boss, must've dozed off," he said stretching the kinks out of his long limbs. "Thanks for the company but I better head off."
"Spare room's made up," Gibbs told him.
Holding the beer can higher, Gibbs replied. "You're over the limit, Tony, and you can barely keep your eyes open. Take the spare room, I'll see you in the morning."
Far too tired to argue, Tony nodded his head, mumbled goodnight and disappeared into the spare room. Knowing that Gibbs was an early riser, he set the alarm clock on the bedside table to 0600.
The muted sounds of movement in the kitchen nudged Tony awake. He checked the time on the alarm clock and noticed that it had been unplugged. Tony grinned at Gibbs' subtle method of telling him to sleep in. He walked to the connecting bathroom and found that, while he slept, Gibbs had laid out fresh towels and lent him a clean shirt. He took a shower, got dressed and was about to join Gibbs in the kitchen when the door opened and a pair of bright eyes and ponytails greeted him.
"Yay! You're awake!" she said before wrapping him in a huge hug.
"Hey Abs," he said. "What are you doing here?"
"I'll show you," she answered mischievously.
She took him by the hand and dragged him into the living room that was alive with activity.
"We're all here!" she announced.
Tony's eyes widened in surprise to see McGee and Palmer setting the dining table and Ducky and Ziva flitting around in the kitchen. The aromas emanating from the kitchen set Tony's stomach growling instantly. Gibbs entered the room from the basement carrying two extra dining chairs.
"Don't look at me," he said. "It was their idea."
"It is about time you woke up, Tony," Ziva called from the kitchen. "This is the first time I have cooked a Thanksgiving dinner. If you had slept any longer my turkey would have been ruined and I would be forced to use this carving knife on you instead."
"Dinner?" Tony frowned. "It may be dinner time in Tel Aviv, Zee-vah, but here it's only…1930? I slept 20 hours?"
"Like a log," Gibbs confirmed.
"We were beginning to wonder whether we'd have to come back tomorrow," McGee said.
"Your body obviously needed the rest, my boy," Ducky advised. "Timothy, if you'd be so kind as to get Anthony a drink, dinner will be served in a few moments time."
Tony was still a little shell-shocked as he took a seat on the couch next to Abby.
'What was everyone doing here?' he thought. He knew they had all made plans for the holiday weekend.
Abby had invited Ziva to spend Thanksgiving with her family. She knew that although Ziva had been living in America for several years now, she had never experienced a traditional Thanksgiving holiday. Ziva gratefully accepted the kind invitation and Tony secretly wondered whether the words "Abby" and "traditional" had ever been used in the same sentence before.
Thanksgiving was big on the McGee family calendar and Tim always spent the day with his parents and his sister Sarah. They would enjoy a huge Thanksgiving lunch with all the trimmings, eat too much and spend the rest of the day playing chess, interactive computer games and watching their Star Trek box set DVD's while practising their Klingon – just your average McGee family Thanksgiving.
Jimmy and his mother had joined Ducky and Mrs Mallard for Thanksgiving lunch. Ducky was still apologising for Mrs Mallard thinking Jimmy was Leonard the houseboy and insisting he bring her drink after drink. The final humiliation for Ducky was when Mrs Mallard thought Mrs Palmer was Irene the housekeeper and made her do the dishes and turn down the beds before they went home. Both Palmers had been very good sports about the whole thing.
Ducky's cultured voice rang out. "Take your places everyone." He instructed as he carried the succulent looking turkey to the table and positioned it for Gibbs to carve. "Dinner is served."
After dinner, they adjourned to the living room for coffee.
Ducky had changed the dressing on Tony's arm and stood steadfastly by his side until he'd taken his meds. Now, he and Gibbs sat together chatting quietly about sailboats, woodwork and old times.
McGee and Abby sat side by side on the floor while Abby chatted excitedly about helping her assistant Prue's choose her first tattoo and McGee bemoaned how much he ate and how much extra time he was going to have to put in at the gym to work it off.
Ziva and Palmer argued playfully over whom had won the wish from the turkey's wishbone. Palmer conceded victory and admitted defeat when Ziva reminded him that she could snap him like a wishbone without mussing a hair.
Tony was quiet at dinner and his usually voracious appetite had still not returned. Somehow, it felt wrong to be here, chatting with his friends and pretending to smile at their well-intentioned jibes and jokes. As Tony sat on the couch his thoughts wandered to Pete and Helen. He wondered how they could ever rebuild and move on with their lives after losing their gorgeous little girl.
"You okay?" Gibbs said as he sat down beside him.
"Sure, Boss….I was just thinking."
"And Pete and Helen." Tony was quiet for a moment then he looked at Gibbs and asked. "How did you do it, Boss? How did you leave the grief behind and move on?"
"Didn't," Gibbs answered succinctly. "No-one who has ever lost a child ever leaves the grief behind, they carry it with them forever. But you surround yourselves with people you care about and people who care about you and you thank God that child was a part of your life and for every precious minute you spent with her."
He nodded his understanding and Gibbs slapped a hand on Tony's knee and returned to Ducky, smiling and listening intently to another of Ducky's stories.
Tony looked around the room and listened to the odd conversations going on around him. He still looked pale and even after 20 hours sleep, was still thoroughly exhausted but he started to relax for the first time in weeks. He knew that each of his friends had changed their plans at the last moment to help him through a difficult Thanksgiving holiday.
He quietly wondered how this group of vastly different personalities could feel so comfortable and so at ease in each other's company and he found a small grin as the thought suddenly occurred to him.
'Maybe I have reason to celebrate Thanksgiving after all.'
A/N Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed my story. L