Disclaimer:- I do not own NCIS or its characters and any copyright infringement is unintentional
A/N:- As we enter the final chapter, please accept my grateful thanks for your amazing support of this story. L
Jackson placed his fly-fishing magazine on the coffee table and removed his reading glasses. He rose to his feet and casually inched toward the closed bedroom door.
Without looking up from his crossword, Gibbs spoke to his father.
"Don't go in there."
Jackson looked up innocently. "I wasn't going in there. I was just stretching my legs." He looked across at the closed bedroom door.
"He's fine," Gibbs said, before his father thought of yet another reason to check on Tony.
"How long has it been?"
"Since you last asked me that - ten minutes. Since he went to sleep – four hours," Gibbs replied.
"The boy needs nourishment, Leroy. He hasn't had more than a few spoonfuls of soup and a bite of toast all day."
"He needs sleep more," Gibbs replied. "He's due for his meds in an hour, he can eat then."
Tony's frantic shouts from the bedroom caused both men to hurry for the door. They shouldered each other through the narrow doorway like a pair of bumper cars and found Tony sitting up in the dishevelled bed. The linen was damp and twisted beneath him and his eyes were wide, his chest heaving and his t-shirt stained in sweat.
"DiNozzo?" Gibbs said quietly.
Tony's eyes were looking right at him but didn't appear to see him and Gibbs wondered whether his agent was even awake. He placed his hand on Tony's shoulder, feeling the tremors coursing through his body.
"Hey...Tony, you with me?" Gibbs asked.
"Boss… it was…I was…I think…" Tony stammered still sleep muddled.
"Was just a dream...you were dreaming," Gibbs said gruffly, hoping the younger man would focus on his voice.
Jackson appeared with a glass of water and Tony's pain meds. He handed the glass and tablets to Gibbs.
"Here, son, it won't hurt him to have these a little early tonight."
"No!" Tony replied emphatically. "He left the office, Boss. He took a phone call from his father and he left me in the office."
"Grayson?" Gibbs asked.
Tony nodded his head.
"He left me in the office with the computer."
Gibbs felt his own heart race as he realised that Tony had started to remember what had happened during those missing hours.
"And the memory stick?"
Tony closed his eyes and frowned in concentration.
"I downloaded the files. There were details of drug shipments and supplies; payments; contacts and decryption codes. Everything, Boss, everything we needed to make a case against both Graysons."
"Then what happened?" Gibbs asked.
With his eyes still closed, he rubbed his temples to stop the painful throbbing.
"I…I had it in my pocket," he said. "The shipment was about an hour away and Evan and I walked into the warehouse to make sure everything was ready and… he was there."
"CWO Louis Farrell."
"I don't think he recognised me at first and I thought I could hold out until the drug bust but he remembered me and… things got a little hairy after that."
"They found the memory stick?" Gibbs coaxed.
"Found it in my pocket…then Evan called his father. Took great pleasure in putting the call on speaker so I could hear his old man tell him to kill me."
The memories came back in a rush and Tony desperately tried to avoid the pain and fear that came with them.
"So…it's gone? The memory stick?" Gibbs prompted trying to help Tony push the raw feelings away and focus on the facts.
Tony started to nod again and then suddenly sat stock-still. Any colour he had in his face drained quickly away and his jaw dropped open. Gibbs feared for a moment that the younger man was about to pass out.
"Boss…I emailed it," he spoke in a whisper. "The files from the memory stick…I…emailed them in case I got caught. I heard Evan coming back and my NCIS email account was the first one I thought of. I...I emailed it and then deleted it from the sent file on the laptop. "
They stared at each other, not breathing and ten seconds of complete silence passed before the realisation of Tony's statement struck them. It was Gibbs who broke the silence.
"DiNozzo, you crafty sonofabitch," Gibbs growled with a hint of a smile, "how'd you get so cunning?"
Tony's face lit up with his first real smile in weeks.
"I learned from the master."
Three hours had past since Tony had remembered emailing Grayson's files to his NCIS email account. Gibbs immediately phoned McGee who quickly confirmed that a large file had been sitting in Tony's 'in box' for 10 days. Now armed with the decryption codes for the files, McGee was anxious to sift through the information, to ensure they contained the evidence needed to obtain a warrant for Thomas Grayson's arrest. He assured Gibbs he would call back as soon as they had what they needed.
Tony delayed taking his meds, insisting on waiting up for the call and he gingerly moved his lanky frame to the couch. The prospect of an end to this particular nightmare had lifted his spirits and despite the obvious presence of tremors and muscle spasms, Gibbs could practically see some of the weight lifting from Tony's shoulders.
"…anyway, he tells M that she was right about Vesper. M then tells Bond that MI6 needs him and…"
"She reinstates him as an agent," Gibbs finished.
"You been holding out on me, Boss?" Tony asked, his tired red-rimmed eyes wide in surprise.
"Nope. Lucky guess."
Tony's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Could it be that you have already seen Quantum of Solace and you know all about Bond's struggle to reveal the truth about the sexy and extremely hot, Vespa?"
"Nope. But it's entirely possible I already know all I want to know about it," Gibbs replied bringing the conversation to an abrupt halt but relieved to see the occasional glimpse of normality from the younger man.
Jackson appeared from the kitchen.
"Dinner's ready," he said walking to the couch to help Tony stand up. "Think you can eat something?"
"I'm not really hungry," Tony replied. A look from his boss had him hastily adding. "But I'll do my best."
They ate in companionable silence, all anxiously waiting for McGee to call with news of the case. Tony's lack of appetite was obvious from the moment he sat at the table but he managed a small portion of Jackson's famous beef stew before the nausea returned to steal his appetite. He reached for the satellite phone for the fifth time in as many minutes.
"Leave it alone, he'll call when he's got something," Gibbs said fighting his own impatience.
Dinner was over; the kitchen was clean and still there was no call. Tony was becoming agitated and edgy, the good mood from earlier was quickly disappearing the longer he delayed taking his meds. Jackson excused himself and went to shower leaving Tony and Gibbs to their nervous tension. Gibbs thought a distraction was in order.
"You wanna play checkers?" he asked.
Tony shook his head.
"What about poker? You got a deck?"
"Nope, just checkers," Gibbs replied already setting up the board.
"You always beat me at checkers," Tony groaned.
"You gotta problem with that?"
"No, Boss… no problem."
"Come on...you get first move," Gibbs said.
The first game finished in record time and it was more than obvious that Tony's mind was elsewhere and his concentration non-existent.
"Sorry, Boss, guess I'm a little distracted," Tony said rubbing his hands over sunken green eyes and grimacing as his stomach cramped painfully.
"Take your meds and hit the rack," Gibbs told him. "I'll let you know when he calls."
Tony opened his mouth to protest but Gibbs silenced him with a glare that froze the words on his lips.
"Go!" he said gruffly.
Rising to his feet cautiously, Tony was almost to the bedroom when the shrill of the Sat phone fractured the silence.
Gibbs flicked the phone to speaker and Jackson joined them in the living room as they listened to McGee's report. The files contained a huge amount of information through which they were still sifting. However, based on the information they had seen so far, they now had enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant for Thomas Grayson on charges ranging from drug-importation, conspiracy to murder and bribing customs officials. It was expected that more charges were to be laid once the information in the files had been more thoroughly investigated.
"Gotta go, Boss," McGee said. "Director Vance is personally accompanying Ziva and me to arrest Thomas Grayson."
"Say hi from me," Tony said quietly.
"I can't…you're dead, remember?" McGee replied dryly. "Talk to you tomorrow, Boss."
They sat quietly for a few moments after the call disconnected, then Tony climbed wearily to his feet.
"I'm gonna hit the rack."
"You okay?" Gibbs asked.
"Sure, Boss, just glad it's finally over," Tony replied as he edged his way slowly into the bedroom.
Jackson watched as the door closed.
"The boy did good," he said.
"Yep," Gibbs replied.
"You should try telling him that."
"How could he know if you don't tell him?" Jackson persisted.
"He's senior field agent on my team, Dad...he knows."
"All I'm saying, Leroy, is that it wouldn't hurt you once in a while…"
"Dad…trust me…he knows."
Gibbs looked towards the closed bedroom door, content in the knowledge that the relationship he had built with his senior field agent over the past eight years meant that words weren't always necessary between them.
Less than 24 hours after news broke of Grayson's arrest, his political and business associates couldn't distance themselves fast enough from Thomas Grayson or Grayson Industries. A new pre-trial hearing date had been set for four weeks, giving Tony more time to regain some of his strength before having to give evidence. This time, JAG Prosecutor, Commander Peter Barnes had successfully argued that Thomas Grayson was a flight risk and Grayson had been remanded in custody until the pre-trial hearing.
The repercussions of the information in Grayson's file reached far beyond the Navy personnel involved in the distribution of illicit drugs. Although they had been the initial reason for the undercover assignment, the agents could never have imagined the enormity of the result.
With customs officials, police officers and politicians all implicated and allegedly involved in various crimes, the case was drawing national media coverage and was a very big feather in the NCIS cap - despite most television networks incorrectly awarding credit to the FBI.
Tony had continued to recover slowly. The Naltrexone stopped the craving for heroin but it brought it's own set of unpleasant and ongoing side effects. With the exception of a bout of pneumonic plague Tony had spent the majority of his life as a healthy, athletic man and was finding the chronic effects of the Naltrexone treatment particularly difficult to handle. He was irritable, moody and impatient with the slow progress and the expected long duration of his recovery. The ongoing nausea and vomiting caused him to lose more weight while severe headaches meant he couldn't focus or concentrate for more than ten minutes at a time. Despite Ducky's assurances that Tony's recovery was right on schedule, the younger man began to doubt that his life would ever be the same. Tony needed something to lift his spirits and Gibbs knew just the thing.
Gibbs and Jackson assisted Tony to the front porch when the car horn sounded. Abby was out of the car in a flash and zeroing in on Tony like a gothic Exocet missile. Knowing he was still weak enough to be blown over by a strong wind, Gibbs positioned himself behind Tony ready to shore him up, if necessary.
"Tony! I've missed you!" Abby exclaimed, sprinting across the front yard as fast as her platform boots would carry her. She stopped abruptly, just two feet in front of him and could not hide the worry in her eyes as she gently reached out and pulled him into a hug.
"I've missed you too, Abs," he said softly, closing his eyes and relishing the closeness they shared.
By the time they'd finished their hug, the others had gathered around and Jackson invited everyone into the backyard where lunch was to be held.
Jackson and Ducky manned the grill, discussing their various barbecuing techniques and the primordial origin of barbequing. Gibbs handed out drinks from the icebox and joined the others sitting on the chairs under the large oak tree.
Ziva sat quietly appraising her partner while the other team members engaged in friendly banter. His face was pale and still bore the fading mottled bruising from the brutal beatings. He was too thin for her liking and although he was trying hard, his eyes lacked their usual sparkle and his handsome face contorted with each painful protest from his rebellious muscles. Ziva's face betrayed her concern when Tony caught her staring.
"Something wrong, Ziva?" he asked.
"No…nothing is wrong," Ziva replied, her face flushing with colour. "I am just admiring your ensemble."
"Oh, this little number," he said with a grin. "It's another sweater from the Jackson Gibbs collection."
Gibbs pressed a bottle of water into Tony's hands.
"Drink," he said succinctly.
Ignoring his agent's indignant huff and the roll of his eyes, Gibbs stood right beside him until he'd taken a few mouthfuls then, satisfied, he walked to the barbeque to offer his own barbequing tips.
"Palmer, I'm surprised to see you here," Tony said. "Last I heard you were about to be trussed like a turkey and fed your own ears. Could it be that our crazy ninja chick is getting soft?"
"Ziva very graciously decided to forgive me," Jimmy explained with obvious relief.
"Yes, Jimmy and I decided to bury the ratchet," Ziva said.
Tony squinted suspiciously, his eyes flicking from Jimmy to Ziva and back.
"Firstly, it's bury the hatchet not ratchet," Tony replied. "And secondly, when you bury the hatchet my little Israeli assassin, it's usually in somebody's back!"
"I decided to make an exception in this case," Ziva said coyly.
While the others turned their attention to the aroma of the barbeque, Tony drew Jimmy aside.
"Come on, Palmer, give – what did it cost you…your first born, a months worth of ass-kicking, what?"
Jimmy looked a little embarrassed and then answered.
"Shoes. I had to take her shoe shopping."
"Nasty. I'd rather get my ass kicked for a month."
"It wasn't so bad, I like shoes and she has very good taste!"
"Good as in expensive?"
"Exorbitant, I'll be paying off my credit card for months," Jimmy winced.
When the meat and salads were ready they filled their plates and walked back to their chairs to eat in the shade of the tree.
"I still can't believe it," McGee said shaking his head as he walked back from the barbeque. "Who would have thought that Tony's computer skills would crack this case?"
Tony smiled at the normality of the jibe.
"Don't worry, McAppleMac – you're still top Geek around here."
Gibbs listened with interest to the conversations happening around him as the younger agents relaxed and revelled in the almost familial atmosphere. It wasn't long after lunch had been eaten that he noticed the tremors in Tony's limbs had returned while his squinting, red-rimmed eyes and the perspiration glistening on his face clearly spoke of his agent's need to rest.
A glance at his father was all it took for Jackson to rise to his feet and offer to show Abby and Ziva the panoramic view from the nearby hill. Begrudgingly, he allowed McGee and Palmer to come along, once they had given their word not to cramp his style with the ladies. Then, with a young lady on each arm the charming Jackson Gibbs led the way to the most picturesque spot on the property.
Once the others had set off on their walk, Gibbs and Ducky helped Tony into the house to allow the ME to check him over. Ducky advised them that some of Tony's test results had returned. Hepatitis – negative; endocarditis – negative; HIV/Aids preliminary tests – negative, although it would be two months before the final results were received.
Ducky changed Tony's medication from Naltrexone to Subutex, which he could take sublingually rather than by injection, and he removed Tony's picc line. Unfortunately, the unpleasant side effects of the new drug were very similar to what he was already experiencing.
By the time the others had returned, Tony was nowhere to be seen, having fallen asleep in the middle of Ducky's examination. They let him sleep for a few hours and when he woke the others were preparing to leave. Tony, Gibbs and Jackson walked them to their car.
"So, Tony, when are you coming home?" McGee asked.
"We're driving to Stillwater tomorrow. I'll be staying with Jackson until the hearing," Tony replied.
"Oh, that reminds me," Abby said removing a backpack from the car. "We brought some of your DVD's to help pass the time and don't worry about Zeus and Apollo, 'cause I'm taking really, really good care of them."
"Thanks Abs," he said, pulling her in for a one-armed hug.
"Oh, and Commander Barnes said to tell you that his wife Helen insists on cooking all of your favourite meals when you come home, so we can fatten you up!"
"Maybe then you will get your little hairy butt back, yes?" Ziva said, as she uncharacteristically moved in to hug Tony from his other side and winced at the tremors running through his too thin body.
"You been watching my tushie, Zee-vah?" he asked.
"No…maybe…okay, yes!" she said, enjoying the smile her admission brought to his face.
"We miss you so much!" Abby said. "When can you come back to work?"
"Ducky said I can start light duties in about five months, maybe less if I'm a good boy."
"So, at least five months, then," Jimmy said with a grin, knowing that when it came to his health, Tony didn't always have the patience to be "good" and had often tried to do too much too soon.
"I hate to break this up but we really need to get going," McGee announced.
"Timmy has a date with a hot nurse," Abby whispered loudly to Tony.
"I told you Abs, it's not a date, we're just meeting for a late supper," McGee explained.
"You should have heard him in the car, Tony, it was Danielle this and Danielle that, in fact that's all we've heard since he met her in your hospital room."
Tony's face suddenly darkened.
"Let me get this straight, McGee. While I was laying in a hospital bed, on life support, you were hitting on a hot nurse?"
"No, Tony…I mean…not hitting on…exactly…okay, yes, I was hitting on her," he confessed reluctantly.
Tony's trademark grin lit up his features.
"Good work, Grasshopper, I've taught you well. Maybe when I get back I can meet this hot nurse and thank her for looking after me so well."
"NO!" McGee answered a little too quickly. "That is…no thanks are necessary…she was just doing her job and you were…er… just another patient she's already forgotten."
"Oh…okay then," Tony said failing to keep the hurt from his voice.
"Come along now everyone, we mustn't dally if we are to arrive home at a decent hour," Ducky said. "Anthony has had more than enough excitement for one day - he needs his rest."
With handshakes and hugs all round, Tony watched as McGee, Ziva, Abby, Ducky and Palmer started their trek back to DC. Once again, he was comforted by the thought that Gibbs and the rest of their Heinz variety group, was his touchstone. His friends and his job kept him centred and gave him something to hang on to, something to fight for.
Gibbs stayed another night, assisting Tony through another round of bad dreams, night sweats and stomach cramps and in the morning they closed up the house and prepared to leave. Jackson and Tony were headed for Stillwater and Gibbs back to DC.
Gibbs walked over to Tony who had been unusually quiet all morning.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Sure, Boss," Tony replied with his stock answer.
"You did good, Tony," Gibbs said with more than a modicum of genuine pride.
Tony held his gaze for a long moment.
And because they didn't always need words to communicate, Gibbs clearly heard the unspoken 'for everything.'
"I'll put your bag in the trunk," Tony said.
Gibbs and Jackson watched as Tony walked slowly to the car on still shaky legs.
"You'll call me if he needs anything?" Gibbs asked his father, while still watching Tony.
"I'll take care of him, son," Jackson said. "Looks like you were right though."
"The boy's gonna be fine."
"Yep," Gibbs answered.
"You never had any doubts?"
"He can be a stubborn, young cuss," Jackson grinned.
"You got that right."
"But he's a good man."
Gibbs took a moment to consider that before he nodded his head in agreement and replied.
"His father was never around long enough to teach him how to be a good man - but he learned anyway."
"I don't remember ever teaching you how to be a good man," Jackson stated.
"You didn't have to teach me, Dad…you just let me watch how you did it."
Father and son hugged tightly and then stepped apart.
"So, you'll be back in three weeks?" Jackson asked.
"Yeah, Dad. I'll be back," Gibbs replied and nodded his head towards Tony. "If he gives you any trouble, you kick his ass - and when he's in the store, keep him away from the candy or he'll eat his weight in chocolate bars."
Gibbs started to walk towards his car when he heard Tony say in a loud voice.
"So, Jackson, you never finished telling me about the boss and Annie Reynolds playing doctor behind the woodshed."
Annoyed, Gibbs wheeled around quickly to see the younger man with his arm around Jackson's shoulders, guiding him back into the house. As Jackson began to recall the incident, Tony turned his head towards Gibbs with a huge mega-watt smile and he raised his eyebrows teasingly. Despite his irritation Gibbs couldn't help but huff out a laugh.
Tony was coming back to them, it was going to take some time, but little by little he was on his way back.
A/N:- Thank you to all who reviewed and those who read quietly along in the background. Special thanks to those of you who reviewed each chapter and those who left unsigned reviews that I could not answer personally. I hope you enjoyed the story! L
Until next time, with every good wish, Laine