A/N: here it is and you all waited so patiently for it and I am grateful. This goes out to all of you as a Merry Christmas present! I know it's not much and I think all my loyal readers, alerters, favouriters and silent nighters ( ;) ) out there in FFnet-land deserve so much more but seeing as I do not know real names in a lot of cases let alone addresses, this is what you will get XD
I hope you enjoy!
Chapter 12: Epilogue
Tony had been released into the real world almost three months after he had woken up from his coma. The scars on his body had healed except for the bandages on his wrists; the gash in his back a distant memory as well as the gun shot wound to his leg. As for the near-drowning and electrocution, that was another matter. It had been just over a year since he had been initially been taken hostage by Kort. The nightmares still lingered, even causing a physical reaction in sleep apnea.
The automatic doors slid open as the nurse pushed his protocol placed wheelchair. He wasn't a cripple. He wanted to walk but unfortunately for Tony, Gibbs had been present in his room when he was told all the recommendations and provisions he had to take in being allowed to go home. Tony nodded, albeit absently, as the nurse informed him that he had to have someone with him at all times for the next month or so. Tony had started to open his mouth in protest , only to be met with a stare that suggested that if he didn't follow the orders, Gibbs would bring him right back to the hospital.
Tony didn't want to push his luck.
So here he was, getting released into the care of the team. Tony couldn't believe how often he had to rely on them but there never seemed to be any words of protest at the effort.
Tony had expected to see Gibbs on the other side of the automatic doors as they slid open. The sun hit his face in a gentle hug. It had been too long since the outside world had seen his face and he thought to himself, he forgot to shave. That thought brought a smile to his face as he gently rubbed the stubble lazing across his chin. Tony glanced around looking for the familiar silver haired man, knowing that Gibbs would be nearing the end of his tether as it had taken longer than expected to sign all the paraphernalia to get him out of the bleached walls of Bethesda. After his pile of pills was brought to his room, Tony had grabbed his gear and steamrolled down the hall into freedom. Making Gibbs wait was not a good idea on a good day and Tony was dreading the look of hatred he would get from his Team Leader. It would almost be bad enough to want to be back with Kort – almost.
Tony breathed a sigh of relief when instead of finding the perfect-postured, pissed-off Marine, he found instead the flapping pig-tails of his favorite Forensic Scientist.
"Have you even got room in the hot rod for all my junk, Abs?"
Tony's voice carried across the crowded car park, causing a few heads to turn in his direction at the uncouth act of the wheelchair bound man. Tony didn't care as his eyes were met with the one's he had aimed for, the lines at the side matching the true nature of the beaming smile that sat on her lips. God it was good to be going home!
Tony had thanked McGee the first night he had stayed with him. Tony had confessed to the man the one thing he always promised himself he never would. He had dreams of Tim while he was in captivity, not in a messed up way, but he had told Tim he had helped him stay focused on the task at hand. Tim had helped him survive just as Tony had helped Tim to find the clues that would lead them to him. They both smiled at each other with the confessions they had begrudgingly set free. The moments silence was quickly followed by Tony telling McGee to take his pick of whatever movie he wanted to watch from his collection. Tony hadn't even minutely responded as Tim had thoughtfully skipped past A Clockwork Orange to land on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a classic tale of two mental asylum patients that escape the clutches of their institution to be free in a world they had forgotten how to live in. The parallel of choice was not lost on Tony. In fact, he embraced the man quickly, displaying the gratitude he felt in that one gesture. Tony had heard Tim had found the first two leads into his disappearance. He was eternally grateful for Tim never having given up hope. Tim smiled distantly and distractedly at the statement. Tony was never going to know that the image of him, all bloody and bruised, had seeped into his being, shattering any thoughts of finding his friend alive. Tony didn't need to know that he had nearly lost his hope.
Forgetting the heaviness of the previous thought, Tim placed the DVD in its player and sat back only to be disturbed by the doorbell. Tony's eyes lit up at the sound. Even though he had been home from Bethesda for almost a week, he hadn't had much of an appetite, his stomach probably having shrunk due to the months he had gone without food.
Tim got up, happy to accommodate his friends need to take it easy. Hell, he was just happy he was able to have this moment with Tony.
After the Pizza guy had been paid (and tipped extremely well) Tim sat down as the opening scene rolled across the screen, Tony engrossed in the start of it even though he had seen it many times before. It was a classic. Classics were meant to be watched over and over and over…
Drifting away with the story and munching slowly on his piece of pizza, Tony nearly missed the words that came out of Tim's mouth.
"What was that Probie?" Tony's mouth was filled with food. Tim ignored it.
"I said," after swallowing his piece, "Melissa Bainbridge."
"You had a date with her before, well, you know…"
"Yeeeeaaaaah." Tony drawled the word, turning a monosyllabic word into two. His eyes widened as it clicked that Tim thought he had been out with a pretty young thing the night he had gone missing. He had to play this up to set his persona back into place. He was the stud of the team. He had a reputation to uphold. Tony turned to Tim, a megawatt grin placed neatly across his face, about to explain what a night he had before, well, you know…
Tim interrupted him before he could start.
"You've known her since she was three?"
Tony gagged on his slice of sausage, pepperoni and extra cheese.
Into the third week of staying with his team mates, Ziva had drawn the short straw, or little stick, as she had explained it to Tony. He just smiled slightly at her mistake not wanting to ruin the rest of the week by correcting her English on the first night that he was staying with her. He failed to see the look of disappointment that fell into the depth of her deep brown eyes.
There had been uneasiness between the two of them since he had woken up. Tony had a feeling what the problem was but was not at a place where he was ready to discuss it. That would be a weakness he wouldn't allow Ziva, seeing as she had already seen him in a compromising and unfavourable manor about nine months earlier. Tony shut his eyes trying to force the image of her looking up at him as he was strung up like a piece of meat dangling from a hook. He had caught her slight glimpses in his direction over the course of the day and knew that she wanted to talk about it but she was also aware that he was not ready.
"We do not need to discuss it, you know?"
Tony's ears pricked in her direction as he wondered when Gibbs super powers had been passed onto his super-ninja. He had been absent for over a year. It was to be expected that she would have some new tricks that Tony was not privy to.
He turned his head and watched as she made her way around the kitchenette of her new apartment. The smell of her bolognaise was filtering into the lounge as he smelt the air hungrily. His stomach growled in appreciation.
Ziva smiled as she heard the compliment, knowing full well that Tony was getting his appetite back and being able to cook for him gave her goose-bumps, as only weeks before she had been thinking she would never get the chance again. She smiled even wider as she brought the simple dish over and placed a bowl in Tony's lap with a knife and fork.
Tony looked at her and then at his lap, glancing back up in her direction again with a frown on his face.
"Do you not like spaghetti bolognaise?"
"A knife, Ziva?"
"Oh, Tony I am so sorry. I did not realize and that was incredibly insensitive of me. I should have realized that you would be upset by the presence of a knife. I'll…"
Ziva jumped up quickly from her place, her dinner plate falling from her lap and on to the rug on the floor. She moaned as she saw the mess seep into the expensive carpet.
Tony got up and carefully made his way across to her kitchen, grabbing the dish cloth and some white vinegar as Ziva kneeled on the rug and placed her ruined food back into the bowl, cursing in several languages as she did so. The one that Tony heard though was Ziva calling herself stupid for not having grasped that Tony would not want to be around knives for a while.
Tony used the arm of Ziva's couch to steady him as he crouched down and started rubbing at the stain with the vinegar laden cloth. Ziva wrinkled her nose at the smell. She watched as Tony gently rubbed away at the red pool on the ground, stopping suddenly at the motion. Memories flooded back of the dark pool he had hung above. He shut his eyes tight, trying to force the memory away into the recess of his mind. That didn't stop the shaking that had commenced nor the panicked breathing that had started.
Ziva saw Tony's reaction and gently placed her hands on Tony's, helping him rub at the stain on the carpet, making sure that her motions tied in with the steady breaths she was taking. Tony felt the anguish die away as he focused on the motion of the cloth cleaning the mess. Eventually, both of them looked into each other's eyes and acknowledged the metaphor that was displayed in front of them.
"I am sorry, Tony."
"For what, Ziva?"
"Well, I knew that you, you…"
Tony tilted his head so that he was in Ziva's line of sight. She held tightly to the cloth, absently wringing it with her hands. Tony caught her eye, giving her the confidence to carry on with her line of thought.
"…I knew that Kort, um, attacked you with a knife…"
Tony was confused by where this was going.
"And, well, I… I placed a knife with your dinner…"
Tony held his head back and laughed. Ziva's eyes nearly popped out of her head in shock. Maybe he was losing it. Maybe they had been premature in bringing him home. Maybe he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Maybe…
Ziva's thought's were interrupted by the easing of Tony's breathing and him trying to construct a sentence in between breaths.
"You think… I was… the knife…?"
Tony laughed harder. Ziva worried about the mental state of her friend, slapped the man in anguish.
"OW! What was that for?"
"You were going crazy!"
"Ziva, I was laughing."
Rubbing his cheek, where the slap had connected, Tony smiled as he tried to explain himself.
"Ziva, when you placed a knife on my lap and I asked about it, it wasn't to do with what I went through with Kort."
"Well, you looked at me in such a hurt manner, what else was I meant to think?"
"Ziva, you don't eat pasta with a knife!"
Ziva smiled and let out a gentle laugh.
Tony just grinned right back at her.
Tony had not missed the gesture made by Jake Maloney. From what he had heard from Ziva and Tim, he was going to make a fantastic agent one day.
Tony had walked into the office to an array of handshakes and pats on the back. He had noticed that his desk was tidy and clean, not a speck of dust to be found. He eyed the junior agent, the man that had cut his hands free from the ropes bound around his wrists. He rubbed the tender skin still present there, the bandages long gone but the scars still remained. Tony sat down at his desk, his desk. Boy it felt good to be back. It was like riding a bike. You never forgot how to do it or what it felt like. Tony sat down and smiled as he rubbed the palms of his hands across the shiny, polished flat surface. All of his things were still in their place, his letter opener, his mighty mouse stapler, his American Pie coffee mug – all were where he left them, cleaner and somehow, newer. Maybe it was his imagination, the image of a new start on Team Gibbs. God it was good to be back!
Jake looked sideways in Tony's direction, watching with awe as the man that had survived months of torture, dying twice on an operating table, having been nearly blown up and rumour had it, he had also survived the plague, sat down at his desk. Once Agent DiNozzo had been admitted to hospital, Jake had left his colleagues in the waiting room and snuck back to restore the natural order of things.
It was a good thing he had a photographic memory otherwise the desk would be noticeable to the Senior Field Agent once he returned to work, if he knew anything had been moved.
Jake heard a lot of stories about DiNozzo. He was almost a phantom if Jake hadn't actually been there when they rescued him. He seemed like the figment of someone else's imagination.
The reality was though, Anthony DiNozzo was as real as the rest of team Gibbs. As for himself, he was leaving for a recruitment job in Rota, Spain. His transfer was effective as soon as Agent DiNozzo was back on duty. That order had come through this morning with his papers being sent off with a glorified reference from Agent Gibbs.
Jake couldn't help but smile.
The gesture was not missed by Tony.
It had all come to a head, one night about six months after he had awoken from his coma. Gibbs had insisted that Tony come and help him with the boat.
Tony had been getting frustrated with desk work. The psychiatrist would not sign off on him doing field work although she had felt that he was definitely competent enough to be a desk jockey for a while. The case they were working had hit a little too close to home. The parents of a young female Petty Officer had received pictures of their tortured daughter, bruising and cuts evident across her entire body. Gibbs had noticed Tony flinch with every introduction that Ducky made of each torture technique. Tony had assured them that he was up to it. Gibbs just figured that he eventually had to face what Kort had done to him so that he could move on with his life.
Tony had explained in great detail some of the scarring he had across his body. The huge gash that had been displayed across his back had healed but badly. The skin that was there was coarse and even though the width was not big, the scar was imbedded below the normal level of skin on the rest of his back, illustrating the depth the weapon had been dragged across his back, time and time again.
The bullet wound to his left leg was hardly noticeable. It hadn't been infected like the gash on his back. Tony had explained that that scar, although a reminder of a painful memory, didn't worry him so much.
Gibbs listened to Tony's almost report-like manner as he watched the younger man absently rub his wrists, unaware of the habit. Gibbs was not buying any of it. He had to get through to the younger man otherwise this would never be solved and Tony would never be anything besides being tied to a desk. Gibbs knew that Tony would not be able to cope with that, so the silver-haired gentleman put his own feelings of comfort to one side, hoping to help the younger man across from him.
The night was plundering into the early hours of the following morning. The two men had sat in silence for close to two hours, neither acknowledging the other save for the motion of saw dust falling to the floor, or movement from the third step to refill the glass in their hand. Both were lost in thought. Gibbs tried to figure out what had kept Tony alive. Tony was lost in his own thoughts of darker days and pain-filled nights.
Images filled Tony's head of that last day. He remembered most of what happened; waking up in the pool, being unable to breathe. Tony's lungs were constricting with the memory, as if he were back there, fighting for his life and wishing it were over.
Gibbs had become aware of a slight snoring coming from the bottom of his steps. He smiled into his jar filled with bourbon as he let the young man sleep. He needed the sleep. It had been nearly a month since the nightmares had left Tony in peace, allowing the younger man some moments of rest that he so desperately needed.
Tony coughed and inhaled sharply. He felt the pain ravage his body as he shook with a force as the electrical current pierced through his core, his heart and soul. It attacked every limb, every organ, every desire of being kept alive was lost with that force. The pain was unbearable. The shaking was as strong as an earthquake except he was the only one suffering. Tony didn't want to live anymore. It just wasn't worth it.
Gibbs had not missed the sharp intake of breath, nor the beads of sweat that lay across Tony's brow. Gibbs knew the signs. Tony was having a nightmare, the same one that he had every night since he had woken up. Tony never spoke about it, mainly because he never remembered having had it the next day. Gibbs had always managed to calm him down before it became too much.
Gibbs shook Tony, trying to pull him out of his nightmare.
"Tony? Tony, c'mon. You've got to wake up son. It's only a nightmare."
Tony was lost in imagery of sore, red wrists, convulsing in pools of water and massive amounts of pain that wracked his body. His face held defeat, reflected fear and oozed pain. His mask had disappeared with the months of torture. He wanted to die. Gibbs be damned, he couldn't do this anymore. It had been weeks, months probably since his team had probably given up on finding him. Tony knew the stats, hell he was sure everyone on his team knew the stats. They had probably held a vigil for him and have all moved on with their lives, moving on and forgetting all about their work-colleague.
Gibbs could not get Tony to wake up. He shook the living daylights out of him, trying to get him to wake up and try to forget what had happened to him.
Gibbs voice was more forceful.
"Tony! Wake up NOW!"
Tony struggled for breath. He was going under the water level again. He could feel his heart beating, almost having it break through his chest. He couldn't breathe. There was no air. The Oxygen was gone. His life was disappearing into the night.
Gibbs watched as Tony's breathing stopped.
Gibbs dragged Tony's motionless body down the steps. The doctors had warned him that Tony was suffering from acute sleep apnea but they had told him it would resolve itself.
They had said that the stress of what had happened was probably causing the switch in his brain that tells him to breathe to malfunction, sort of like a light switch that the bulb needs replacing. Usually, though, Tony started breathing again after a few seconds.
They were well past a few seconds.
Tony and Gibbs were in the realm of about thirty seconds.
Gibbs checked Tony's pulse. It was still there and firing away like an automatic firearm into the body of another human being.
Gibbs placed his lips over Tony's, not even giving the gesture another thought. Gibbs breathed the stale air into Tony's malfunctioning lungs, ignoring the blue tinge that covered his lips and the pale complexion of his skin.
"Dammit DiNozzo! Don't you dare quit on me now!"
Gibbs re-checked Tony's pulse, relieved to find it was still there.
Gibbs knelt back down, breathing more air into the still frame of his surrogate son.
Tony sucked in with immense force, the air he had been striving for. He gulped and coughed like a hungry baby looking for milk. The problem though with all the effort of craning for air, the shock of what was occurring became too overwhelming. He couldn't figure out where he was. It was dark and familiar but it was all wrong. There was a boat. The beads of sweat fell into his eyes but the inability of his brain to put two and two together was all too much. It all caved in and imploded in a way he hadn't shown for many years. He cried. He sucked the air in and the tears fell. It was all too much.
It was over. It was finally over. Gibbs had come for him after all.
Gibbs felt the first breath come through with the pressure he had been applying to Tony's neck. The air that attacked Tony's lungs brought through waves of emotion, emotion that Gibbs didn't know how to deal with.
His second in command had gone through hell and he had lived. He was still reliving that hell but he was still fighting.
He had been missing for months and he was alive. He was in recovery for months but he still fought.
No wonder sobs were wracking his body. Tony was strong in character, strong in stubbornness and strong in morals so to see Tony like this, so vulnerable, Gibbs had no idea what to do. This was Abby's area of expertise. He had no idea how to deal with this. So Gibbs did all he could think of doing – he took a leaf out of Abby's book and hugged the man. Neither found it uncomfortable or awkward. It almost felt natural, like a father would hug a young son that had scraped his knee. The elder man whispered reassuring words into the younger man's ear, making sure, all the while, that Tony knew that it was real and it was over. Gibbs had him. Kort couldn't hurt him anymore, not in real life nor in his dreams. Gibbs had done his duty to his agent. He had found him alive and he had kept him alive. Together, Gibbs and the team would help to keep it that way.
A/N Love to you all