It's done! I want to thank everyone who has stuck with me and with this story. I hope that the conclusion satisfies and that the long journey has been well worth it. So, now on to updating my other stories and I have a new one in the works. So, don't worry, I'm still around! Again, my heart felt thanks for your loyalty and kind words! Your support encourages me to keep writing!
Tony couldn't stand to be in his bed any longer. The walls were beginning to close in on him, further aggravating the anxiety he was experiencing over the decision that he had just made. Throwing back the covers, he sat up slowly, allowing his legs to dangle over the side for a few seconds so he could make sure that he wasn't going to pass out from the exertion. Careful of the IV wires that were still attached to his hand, he cautiously maneuvered himself into the chair beside his bed.
An almost inaudible moan escaped from his lips as he scooted back in the seat. It felt good to be upright, despite the residual pain from his surgery; however, the pain wasn't unbearable and the occasional twinge kept him focused. He glanced down at his bare legs, wishing for a pair of sweats instead of the paper thin hospital gowns that he had been sporting ever since his surgery. He hated hospitals and was determined that he was not going to stay any longer than necessary.
Slowly reaching over to the bed, he pulled the blanket off and covered his legs. Shaking his head in disgust, he blew out a frustrated breath as he tucked the blanket around him. He despised feeling like an invalid, and his attempt at modesty had left him feeling like an old man in a nursing home, waiting for his buddy to come play checkers with him.
Of course, Gibbs chose that time to walk through the door. "DiNozzo?" he growled. "What the hell are you doing?"
It was obvious from the team leader's gruff tone that he wasn't here to play checkers. "Uh, hey, Boss," Tony stammered.
"What are you doing out of bed?" Gibbs demanded to know.
Tony met the former Marine's hardened gaze. "I was tired of being in bed. Besides, I'm ready to get out of here."
"That's not for you to decide. That's up to your doctor."
"I'm not really sure that I have a lot of faith in doctors right now. I know what I can handle and what I can't."
He could tell that Gibbs wasn't happy about his decision and was about to more than likely, order him back to bed. It was then that something changed in the team leader's demeanor. The older man's expression softened a bit as he sat down on the edge of the bed.
"I think you've proven that more than once, Tony," he conceded. "You doing okay?"
Tony shrugged, uncertain how to answer. Part of him felt renewed since he had reached a decision, but there was another part of him that resembled a hurting little boy, who wanted nothing more than to be loved and cared for. "I'm okay," he finally replied, not knowing what else to say.
"Holderman's going to be back in about 15 minutes. Have you got an answer for him?"
Leave it to Gibbs to get to the heart of matter. Tony wondered if Gibbs could ever beat around the bush about anything; he quickly came to the conculsion that the former Marine was more than likely just to chop the bush down.
"I've got an answer. It may not be what he's expecting, but it's an answer. Hell, it's probably not the answer that you're expecting."
Tony raked his hand through his hair. "God, I can't wait to take a shower."
Undeterred by his attempt at changing the subject, Gibbs leaned forward and braced his arms on the chair, his face mere inches from Tony's. "Is it a solution that you can live with, Tony?" he asked, his voice lacking the normal brusqueness that it usually possessed.
For a few seconds, Tony longed for Gibbs to hold him like a father would a son and tell him that everything was going to be all right. He could almost hear Vincent DiNozzo chastising him for having such vulnerable thoughts that left him exposed to unwanted emotions, but thankfully, there was another voice that reminded him that it was all right to be scared as long as it didn't control you.
Gibbs had told him once that a good dose of fear kept you alive and he had been right. Tony swallowed hard. "I guess we're going to find out. I'm not sure it's what I truly wanted, but its what has to be done."
Tony flinched as Gibbs reached behind him. Prepared for a head slap, he was surprised when his mentor gave his neck a gentle squeeze. "You've made me proud, Tony. I know that whatever you've decided to do, it's what you feel is right. You have a strong sense of integrity and don't let anyone make you doubt that, including me."
"Including me," Gibbs repeated. "Do you understand me?"
Unable to speak, Tony simply nodded.
He could feel Gibbs' steely gaze upon him as he fought back tears that threatened to fall. Tony couldn't lose control now; there would be time for tears later when this nightmare was over. Pressing his palms against his eyes, he forbade the tears to come. He could not show any weakness or hesitation. Not now; not when so much was at stake.
Gibbs sat back on the bed and Tony was grateful that the team leader could sense his need for a few moments to regain that tenuous control he had over his emotions. He allowed his hands to fall onto his lap, certain that for now, the tears were subdued. "Sorry about that," he apologized.
"You don't have to apologize," Gibbs assured him. "I think you're entitled."
Tony nervously licked his lips. "Before Holderman gets here, I want to tell you what I've decided."
Gibbs nodded. "I'm listening."
Tony opened his mouth to speak and then shut it. This was harder than he thought it was going to be. "God, Gibbs. I never thought I would have such a hard time discerning right from wrong. It should be black and white but it's not."
"No, it's not."
"I want Vance and Davenport to pay for what they did; I even want my dad to pay, but this decision effects more than just me."
Gibbs remained silent, giving Tony the time that he needed to sort out his thoughts.
"Jack told me to trust my gut," Tony continued. "Something I haven't done in a long time. Guess I felt like I couldn't trust my instincts anymore and you know that my cop instincts, well, I kind of always prided myself on them."
"You've still got those instincts," Gibbs stated.
"I hope so and I hope they don't lead me wrong in what I'm about to do."
Taking a deep breath, Tony pressed on. "I'm agreeing to the terms that will indict and send Davenport to prison."
Tony never got to finish his conversation with Gibbs. Secretary Holderman entered the room, his purpose clearly written on his face. "Agent DiNozzo, it's been two hours and I need an answer."
He looked at Gibbs, who was clearly perturbed by the interruption. "Whatever happened to people exchanging pleasantries when they walk into a room?" Tony wondered aloud. "Do you know, Boss? I mean, what does it hurt to walk into a room and ask someone how they are or if they're enjoying the weather?"
"I'm not here for pleasantries, Agent DiNozzo. I'm here to get this issue resolved," Holderman declared.
"You mean you're here to get this issue swept under the rug," Tony challenged.
"I'm not here to listen to your smart ass comebacks. Now, you've had your time and I need an answer. Do you agree to the terms we've discussed and that are written in the document?"
Tony glared at the Secretary of Defense. "I have a few…corrections to make."
"Corrections? I don't think so, Agent DiNozzo. You see, it's like this…"
He shook his head. "No sir. It's like this. You want to buy my silence, then you're going to have to be willing to pay the price."
"What are your terms, Agent DiNozzo?" Holderman seethed.
"Davenport is removed from office and goes to prison," he began.
"That's already part of the deal."
"I'm not finished," Tony snapped. "Vance is indicted on a lesser charge, removed from office, given a suspended jail sentence, and placed under house arrest."
"What?" Holderman exploded. "Vance is just as guilty as Davenport and you want him to get a slap on the wrist?"
"Those children need their father; I'm not going to be the one to take him away from them."
He could see the disbelief in Gibbs' features slowly fade to understanding. Tony knew what it was like to grow up without a father and he would not let that happen to Kayla and Jared. Despite Vance's faults, he loved his family.
"I suppose that could be arranged," Holderman consented.
"I want it in writing."
Tony watched as Holderman made an addendum page on the last page of the document, noting the change that he wanted. "Anything else?" the Secretary asked.
"No charges can be brought up against my team mates for any of their actions during this mess. They were trying to help me; I'm the one who drug them into this and so it's my responsibility to get them out of it. No reprimands in their file, no suspension of pay, nothing! Got it?"
"I'm sure that can be arranged without a problem."
"What about Tony's record?" Gibbs interjected. "Vance placed a reprimand in his file claiming he was negligent in his duties resulting in Director Shepard's death. It needs to be removed."
"Done," Holderman agreed. "Anything else, Agent DiNozzo?"
"Yeah." Tony knew that this next part would truly be the deciding factor as to whether he called the deal off or not. "I know from experience that sometimes things can happen to a guy when he turns the table on a crooked cop or agent. Bad things start happening and people start getting hurt. I want it in writing that the team will be safe. If I find out that someone on the street gave a dirty look to any member of Gibbs' team, the whole deal will be off. I will be on the phone so fast it will make your head spin."
"Are you asking for round the clock protection?" the Secretary asked.
"No. I'm asking that you curb any notions that some of your friends in high places have about coming after us. I've lived having to look over my shoulder long enough and I'm not going to subject my friends and my family, to that kind of life."
He watched as Holderman made yet another note. "Is it doable?" Tony wanted to know.
"I will discuss it with the President," Holderman mumbled, obviously not pleased with the turn of events. "What about your father?"
"Do whatever the hell you want with him." Tony glanced at Gibbs and then back to Holderman. He was fully aware that Vincent DiNozzo was probably already out of the country. "He's not my father."
"I'll get back to you in a couple of hours," the Secretary informed him.
Tony shook his head and held out his hand as Gibbs placed his cell phone in the agent's palm. He was grateful that the team leader knew exactly what he wanted; it truly added to the intimidation factor that he was trying to project. "No, I've already put my life on hold by this entire mess, you've got fifteen minutes to get his okay or I'll call ZNN and any other news station I can think of."
"Agent DiNozzo, I…"
"Fourteen minutes. Time's a-wastin'."
"I'll be back shortly."
As soon as Holderman left the room, Tony slumped in his chair. Gibbs was kneeling beside him in an instant, concern emanating from his expressive eyes. "You okay?"
"Tired," was the only word Tony could utter at the moment.
"You covered all your bases," Gibbs said. "Good job, Tony."
"We'll see. If it doesn't go through, I'm going to have to resign from NCIS and go public with this thing. Guess I could write a book like McGee and live off the royalties for awhile or it could be made into a movie. I wonder who would play me."
A firm but gentle slap to the back of the head brought him out of his musings. "Sorry, Boss."
"Got it, Boss."
He visibly relaxed as Gibbs placed his hand on his shoulder. "You've decided to stay with NCIS?"
"That's what my gut's telling me to do. If you still want me," he added.
"Don't make me head slap you again, DiNozzo," Gibbs warned.
He returned Gibbs' smile and for the first time in months, he felt as if the weight he was carrying was slowly disappearing. Jack had been right. He just needed to trust his gut; it always worked for Gibbs, so there wasn't a reason it couldn't work for him.
"Uh, Gibbs? There is one thing that I want to ask you about."
As if reading his mind, Gibbs replied, "Take all the time you need, DiNozzo. You're not coming back until Ducky clears you anyway."
Tony smiled at the mention of the Scotsman's name. Ducky was truly the only doctor he ever trusted, except for Brad Pitt, but since he didn't have the plague again, the ME would be more than adequate to attend to his medical needs. "How'd you know what I was going to ask?"
"Because I started listening, Tony."
"If you haven't got it figured out by the time you get home, I'll explain it to you over a steak dinner."
"I may just figure it out and still show up for that steak dinner."
"You're always welcome, DiNozzo."
"I know, Boss."
"Are you staying in Stillwater?"
Tony nodded. "For a couple of weeks. I know it sounds crazy, but I didn't know my own grandparents and well, Jack, he…" He wished that his brain would catch up with his mouth so he wouldn't further embarrass himself or Gibbs. "Yeah, thought I'd help Jack out for a couple of weeks."
"DiNozzo, it's okay," Gibbs assured him.
"I can share."
Tony closed his eyes and swallowed. "Thanks."
"You know something?"
"What's that, Boss?"
"I don't think that Kelly would've minded sharing either."
The implication of those words warmed Tony's heart. Gibbs was letting him know that the team leader truly thought of him as a son. Tony had strived for years to be the best so Gibbs would keep him around. His own father had never wanted him around and he had always believed that there was something wrong with him. He had always known where he stood with Gibbs as an agent, but now he knew where he stood as a son.
"Thanks again," he whispered.
This time a knock at the door interrupted their heartfelt conversation. The two men looked up to see Secretary Holderman enter the room. "I knocked this time," he announced.
Clearing his throat, Tony answered, "That wasn't too hard, was it?"
Gibbs stood up beside him. "I told you that he had manners underneath that three piece suit," the team leader taunted.
Ignoring the jibe, Holderman continued. "I spoke with the President and he was agreeable to the changes. The agreement will be revised and should be ready for your signature in a few hours. He also wants you to know how impressed he is with your ability to get what you want; he's thinking of creating a position for you."
"Yeah? What position would that be?"
"I'd rather not say," Holderman said.
"Probably something like Chief of Bullsh…"
Holderman cut him off. "Agent DiNozzo, please. Once you sign the agreement, the wheels will be set into motion. We are currently detaining Secretary Davenport, Director Vance, and Vincent DiNozzo, as persons of interest in the attempted murder of a federal agent as well as the murder of Dr. Katherine Marshall. Once the deal is finalized, charges will be brought up against them."
Satisfied, DiNozzo nodded. "I'll either be here or at Jackson Gibbs' place."
"Planning on checking out?"
"As soon as I can."
Secretary Holderman extended his hand. "Agent DiNozzo, may I say, off the record, that I truly admire your courage and your desire to right a serious wrong. On the record, I would have to say that you are probably one of the most infuriating men I have ever met, but we need more men like you; we need men who are willing to take a stand no matter what. I hope our paths can cross again sometime under more amiable conditions."
Tony shook his hand. "Thank you, sir."
Holderman left Gibbs and Tony alone once more. "If he thinks I'm infuriating, he ought to try and reason with you," DiNozzo muttered.
He felt a sharp sting on the back of his head. "Ow! Boss, I'm trying to get out of here. If you keep slapping me upside the head, you're going to give me a concussion and I'll never get out of here."
"Just making sure you know I'm still around, DiNozzo."
Tony rubbed the back of his head. "Not a doubt in my mind, Boss."
"You okay with all this?" Gibbs asked.
"It was the only way I could see to do what I thought was right. Still had to compromise, but at least everyone I care about will be all right."
"What about Vance?"
"I just can't take their father away from them. He loves his family and maybe he will realize that he almost lost it all."
"You're a good man, Tony."
"I had a good teacher."
Gibbs patted him on the shoulder. "Let's see about getting you out of here. Personally, I'm tired of coming to the hospital to see you."
Tony laughed. "Not as tired as I am of being in the hospital."
"I'm going to see if dad had any luck in finding your doctor."
"I'll be right here."
Exhausted, Tony slid down in his chair and rested his head against the back of the seat. It was finally coming to an end. The nightmare of the past few months was going to be extinguished with a stroke of a pen, but he would still carry the seeds of doubt in his mind that maybe he could have done more. Had he taken an easy out? He didn't think so; he bore the scars both physically and emotionally to testify to the difficulty of the road he had traveled. Had the pain and frustration been worth it? That remained to be seen; only time would tell if the deal he made with the devil was worth his soul.
Epilogue-Three days later
Jethro Gibbs watched out the window as Abby, Ziva, and McGee said their goodbyes to Tony. He was still amazed at how quickly DiNozzo was bouncing back from his ordeal, but he knew that the young man still had a long road ahead of him. The resignation and subsequent arrests of Davenport and Vance had created a lot of speculation and questions from the media. The fact that Vincent DiNozzo was also facing charges on the attempted murder of his own son had not escaped the attention of the press, but thankfully, Holderman had been able to keep DiNozzo away from them. It would probably only be a matter of time before someone made a connection between Tony, his father, and the forced resignations of such two powerful men, but for now, Gibbs was happy to see him laughing and enjoying life again.
He took a sip of coffee and then nodded a silent greeting as his dad joined him. "It's good to see all the kids together again," Jack said.
"I wonder how many times Abby has hugged Tony?"
Gibbs took another drink. "At least twenty two."
"You've been counting?"
"Stopped counting at twenty two."
There was something about his father's laughter that brought a grin to his face. He had gone so many years without hearing that sound; now, he had learned to cherish every word and smile. The team leader vowed to make sure that he and his dad didn't lose any more precious time over the mistakes of the past.
Finishing his coffee, he glanced at his watch. "Guess we better head back," he announced. "You'll keep an eye on him?"
Jack smiled at his son. "You asking or telling?"
"Don't worry, Leroy. I'll talk care of your boy."
His boy. He wasn't sure when Tony became his boy, but he was honored to have a son like Anthony DiNozzo. Gibbs would never understand how anyone could hate their own child, especially one who wanted nothing more out of life than to be accepted for who he was. He wondered if Vincent DiNozzo would ever realize that he had lost the most precious gift that could ever be given; the love of a child.
He pulled his father into a fierce hug. "Thanks, Dad," he whispered in his ear. "I love you."
"I love you too, son," Jack rasped, obviously touched by the display of affection that had just been demonstrated by his normally aloof offspring.
"I'll be in touch," he promised, as he released the hold he had on his father.
"I'm sure I'll hear more from you in these two weeks than I have all year," Jackson teased.
"Things are going to be different. Tony's not the only one that learned a thing or two about trust and family."
"It's about time, Leroy."
"No dad. It's past time."
The two men walked outside to join the others. For the first time in a long time, Gibbs was beginning to feel that everything was right with the world. When he returned to work, things would be different. He no longer had to play Vance's games and he could concentrate on healing his team. Tony had endured a lot for the sake of the team and now, it would be their turn to help him come to terms with everything that had happened. He would never take his family forgranted ever again, especially his son.
"So, when are you coming back to work?" McGee wanted to know.
Tony shrugged. "It's going to be a few weeks. I'm taking a couple weeks of vacation and then probably another week or two of sick leave. I'm…uh…going to be …seeing a therapist." He could feel his cheeks flush with embarrassment as he admitted that he was seeking professional counseling. The interim Director had insisted that he receive a psychological evaluation before returning to work and Gibbs had managed to convince him that it wouldn't hurt to talk with someone that had an objective viewpoint on the situation.
He had seen enough therapists and shrinks as a child that he had learned how to manipulate them into believing anything that he wanted them to believe; an ability that he still had as an adult. But this time, it would be different, because he was different. His trust had been shattered, not only in himself but in others; he had to regain that somehow. Saying you trust somebody was a lot easier than actually trusting them.
"But don't worry," Tony added, quickly changing the somber mood of the group. "I'll be by now and then just to make sure that you're doing your job, Probie. As acting senior field agent, you have a certain standard to hold to."
"Yeah, right," McGee retorted. Tim held out his hand. "I'll be counting the days, Tony."
"Hey, I've got an idea for your next book. Agent Tommy has to go undercover and…"
Tony was silenced by yet another hug from Abby. He had lost count of how many times she had hugged him, but the last number he remembered was twenty two.
"God, Tony…I miss you already," she pouted. "Will you call me everyday?"
"I already said I would, Abs."
"Will you email me everyday?"
"I already said I would do that too," he reminded her.
"Will you let me know the minute you're back in town?" she pressed.
"The very second," he promised. "We have a date the night I get back, remember?"
"How could I forget?" she grinned, hugging him one more time.
"When you get back, I expect you to call me as well," Ziva chimed in. "We never finished that one movie; what was it called?"
"Yes, that's it!"
Tony kissed Ziva on the cheek. "You got it."
He was relieved when he was joined by Gibbs and Jackson; Tony hated long drawn out goodbyes and the team leader's presence seemed to alleviate the awkwardness of saying farewell. Upon seeing Gibbs, Ziva, Tim, and Abby said their final goodbyes and got in the car.
Tony turned to face Gibbs, immediately noticing that there was something different about his Boss. The former Marine seemed relaxed, almost happy. "You okay, Gibbs?"
"I'm fine, Tony."
"Are you sure? I mean you seem almost…"
Tony glanced at Jack and noticed he was wearing the same smile that Gibbs was sporting. He allowed his own grin to escape his lips as Gibbs pulled him into a hug. "You take care of yourself, Tony."
Uncertain what to do, he tentatively returned the hug, patting the older man on the back. When he pulled back, Tony noticed Jackson had walked over to the car and was chatting with his friends. "You take care of yourself, too," was the first thing he could thing of to say.
Gibbs cupped his cheek with a calloused hand. "You did good, Tony. I'm proud of you."
Unable to speak, Tony merely nodded. Father and son stood face to face. There were no words uttered, but words weren't necessary. The bond between them had been shredded by the absence of communication and trust and now it was being strengthened by the love that a father and son had for each other.
Finally, Gibbs broke the silence. "You stay in touch and stay out of trouble," the team leader ordered. "Or I'll come up here and kick your ass."
"I hear you, Boss," Tony replied. "Besides, how much trouble can I get into with your dad around?"
"You don't want me to answer that, do you?"
"That's what I thought."
He watched Gibbs walk around to the driver's side of the car. Given the team leader's mood, it was undoubtedly going to be an interesting ride home. Tony joined Jackson and the two of them watched his friends head out of town. The young man waved until the car was out of sight. Part of him hated to see his friends leave, but he was truly looking forward to two weeks without the constant mothering that his team mates had excelled in the past few days.
Tony turned to follow Jackson back inside the store. He was grateful for the refuge that the elder Gibbs had been willing to provide for him before and after his crisis. He wasn't sure what the future held, but he knew without a doubt who he was and where he belonged. For a man who had doubted his purpose in life for the past year or so, it was a refreshing change.
"Ready for some lunch?" Jack asked, interrupting his thoughts.
"Yes sir," he cheerfully answered. "And for supper, I'm going to make you Pasta ala DiNozzo."
"That sounds mighty fine."
"And did I mention, we were going to have company?"
"We just got rid of company and we're having some more?"
Tony smiled. "Maude's coming over tonight. Somehow she found out I played basketball in college and wanted some pointers for when she works with the boys at the youth center. I thought it would be a perfect time to…"
"You're not playing matchmaker, are you?" Jack nervously inquired.
Putting his arm around Jack, Tony guided him in the store. "Not at all. I just thought it would be nice to have her over. I mean, all she's got is a cat who drinks moonshine and…"
"She's not bringing that blasted feline, is she?"
Tony shrugged. "I didn't ask."
"You didn't tell her not to, though."
Tony grabbed the broom and began to sweep. "Go ahead and fix lunch. I'll watch the store."
"You and I are going to have a serious talk over lunch," Jack warned.
Tony shooed Jack towards the kitchen, knowing that the older man was more than likely cursing him under his breath. He looked around the store; his trained eye taking in every nuance of the room. It felt right being here; it was as if he had always had his roots here and that he had come home again.
Brushing away a stray tear, Tony began to sweep the floor again. For the last few months, he had been searching for something; a place where he belonged. He had reached the point to where he could do nothing but cry out for help and Gibbs had been there, reaching out his hand in an effort to keep him from falling into that dark abyss that wanted to claim him. He had fought Gibbs at every turn, but the team leader had not given up on him. Just like a father wouldn't give up on his son, Gibbs had stood by him, supporting him when he needed it and letting him spread his wings when it was time.
No matter what the future held, there was one truth that Tony could not deny. It was good to be home.