Title: The Long
Spoilers: Through Season 6
Disclaimer: NCIS is owned by CBS. I'm just dinking with the characters.
Summary: Post-ep fic for Aliyah.
Author's Note: I want to thank SeattleCSIFan for all her wonderful beta work. You rock!
X X X
Late summer heat swamped the Washington, D.C. area, making everything feel sticky. It was the kind of heat NCIS agent Tony DiNozzo despised. And being under cover for the last few months, he couldn't even be comfortable in his pleasant air-conditioned apartment. Instead, he'd been living in a crappy rent-by-the-week room with no air; which explained why he spent almost no time there.
Like at the moment, he had to check in with his handler.
Grunting as he crossed the dingy street about a mile from his apartment, he spied a phone booth and slipped inside. Picking up the receiver, Tony dialed in a number he'd memorized, and then waited. With his head bent forward, he darted his gaze out, viewing the street in front of him. Paranoia kept most who lived in this area alive – a lesson Tony understood.
"DiNozzo," Special Agent Marler grunted. "Whaddya have?"
"Twelve kilos, being transported from Norfolk to Logan Circle. Watch the warehouse tonight," Tony stated just a split second before he caught sight of that weasel Marcus strutting his way. "Nine o'clock," he murmured, before slamming the phone down.
Stepping out of the Plexiglas booth, he plastered the expected smile on his face, even though he felt his skin crawling. Between hanging out with low-life scum and not showering for a few days, any happy expression was forced. Who the hell lived like this? He'd rather be in his comfy apartment, kicked back on the couch, and watching Bond. James Bond.
"What are you so happy about, Tony?" Marcus asked, swaggering up onto the sidewalk. The nineteen-year-old's irritating grin almost had Tony rolling his eyes.
Instead, he answered, "A little of this. A little of that."
"Yeah? Well, the boss man wants ya," Marcus said, finally coming to the point of why he'd tracked Tony down in the first place.
Separating from the young messenger, Tony peeled off down through a series of alleyways. Weaving through the dim streets, he came upon the back door of the bar owned by his 'boss'. Slipping inside, he came across a thug named Bear. That's it – just Bear.
The name fit.
"He's in there," the massively built man stated, nodding toward the office. "Don't keep him waiting."
X X X
"Gibbs," NCIS Director Leon Vance barked into the phone. "Do you have the package?"
"Yeah, Leon. I got her," senior field agent Gibbs replied. In fact, their flight from the middle east had barely landed.
Watching the gurney slowly wheel away from the carrier and deposit Ziva David into a waiting ambulance, he sighed into the phone before asking, "How are my boys?"
"McGee just about has everything wrapped up in Los Angeles," Vance confirmed.
"And Tony?" Gibbs prompted when nothing was offered about his most senior field agent.
"It's complicated," Vance stated.
"What do you mean it's complicated?" Gibbs asked, his voice icy and his eyes going hard. "It's not a hard question. How's DiNozzo?"
"I'll talk to you about him when you get back to the office," Vance smoothly stated.
"I'll be there in thirty minutes," Gibbs replied, snapping his cell phone shut.
X X X
Hanging from a hook in the center of the room by his arms, Tony tried to get his bearings through two swollen eyes. His chest hurt from where he'd been sliced repeatedly with a bowie knife. Hell, he'd stopped counting at ten, and they'd kept going until he'd passed out.
"Awake, are you agent?" a short, balding man asked from where he sat on a hard wooden chair. When he smiled, Tony felt almost sick, but he plastered on a smile anyway.
"Yeah. Wide awake," Tony replied. With a smart-ass grin, he asked, "Doesn't this remind you of an action flick?"
His grin almost fell when the short man signaled to someone behind Tony. In fact, he made sure he was smiling when he asked, "So, are you a Die Hard fan? Because I'm pretty sure law enforcement kicked the bad guys' asses."
He kept smiling as he felt the strap of leather slice through his back. Time after time, the whip cut into him. When his head fell forward, Tony got a good glimpse of the floor.
Didn't know I had that much blood, Tony mused as it dripped rapidly from his heels, right before everything went dark.
X X X
"Explain," Gibbs shouted when he strode into Vance's office.
"Hello to you too, Agent Gibbs," the director smoothly replied.
"Explain," Gibbs ground out, leaning across the desk. "Now."
Heaving a heartfelt sigh, Vance leaned back in his chair and said, "We lost track of DiNozzo last night. A supply of heroine was being smuggled in by a naval officer. Tony set up the sting. We had a dozen kilos coming in and he just disappeared off the radar."
The fact that Vance showed little or no concern for the agent had Gibbs going hot. With dead calm, Gibbs asked, "What are you doing about it?"
"He's your agent. I figured you'd want it," Vance replied with a shrug. "We got the sailors. Tony's yours."
"Get McGee back here. Now," Gibbs ground out before swinging toward the door. How the hell Vance could even breathe in that room was beyond him.
Making his way down to the bullpen, he passed by Tony's untouched desk. The agent had barely gotten back before Vance shipped McGee off to California to help track down the terrorist cell eluding them. Then the call had come in that Ziva could be in trouble and Gibbs had taken off, stranding Tony in the home office with no one to manage him.
Sitting in his seat, he left a message for Senior Field Agent Marler. It wasn't that he was putting off seeing Abby and Ducky, but he knew once things got rolling down in the lab, he'd have a hard time extricating himself. He'd been gone for over a month, after all; and Abby would require a great deal of pampering after the emotional turmoil that team had put her through.
Stepping into the elevator, Gibbs punched the button and watched the doors slide closed.
At least he had good news. Ziva was home.
X X X
The scream ripped from Tony unexpectedly, pulling him from his unconscious state. Everything burned. His back and chest felt like someone was dragging a hot poker over them, cutting away the flesh bit by bit. Just as soon as it calmed, something cool dripped over his skin once again and another scream erupted.
"Good morning," the short, bald man said with a cheery smile. "I trust you slept well."
Groaning, Tony realized he couldn't open his eyes anymore. But at least he wasn't hanging like a piece of meat in a packing plant. His shoulders ached, particularly the right one, which had been dislocated. Breathing hurt like hell, too, Tony noted as he took stock.
The cold concrete floor felt good, but not for long, when someone suddenly kicked him in the back.
"You're going to get a lot of time for kidnapping a federal agent," Tony mumbled, unable to open his mouth fully. Crap, his jaw hurt.
"Yes," the man replied, almost gleefully. "I'm quite aware. But considering I plan on killing you, why not have fun?"
And there it was. Tony's fate.
As someone began kicking him repeatedly in the back, as blackness crept in again, and Tony wondered over his lack of fear – or caring. No one was coming. With the only people he trusted thousands of miles away, he was on his own.
Then why wasn't he afraid?
X X X
Groaning, Ziva sat up in her hospital bed, not really caring where she was anymore. She'd gotten out of that damned terrorist camp, but not after first securing her goal. Her father, the director of Israel's Mossad, had ordered her to finish her dead lover's goal. Michal Rivkin had been attempting to infiltrate a highly organized cell operating inside and outside of the United State.
It hadn't been hard to find. Michael had left a few subtle clues.
The first three days had consisted of a beating to end all beatings. Just showing up and joining in didn't mean anything, so she'd done the only reasonable thing – offered to trade inside information about NCIS to garner some trust. Sure, she'd held back. No amount of torture could have gotten some of the more detailed data from her.
She'd played it well, though.
Within two weeks, Ziva had a firm understanding of the targets, goals, and mission of the terrorist cell. In fact, she'd been about to extricate herself when all hell broke loose. Apparently, her hidden communications with the Mossad had been detected. So she'd ended up back in a tent, waiting to be shot execution-style.
That's how Gibbs had found her: Tortured, bleeding to death inside a tent after the fire fight that wiped out the training camp.
Then he'd brought her home.
"You're awake," Abby's cheery voice resounded in the room.
Huh. She had not seen the dark haired lab tech sitting there. Then again, Abby was more than just a lab tech. Ziva had missed her friend.
"Yes. I am awake, Abby," Ziva stated, earning a smile from the Goth woman dressed in black and red, wearing pigtails in her hair.
"I'm glad you're back," Abby stated, bending over the bed to give a hug.
"McGee will be home in a few hours," Abby mumbled into Ziva's hair. "Ducky just went for a bite to eat."
And Tony? Ziva wondered. So far, everyone had been very careful not to mention him in her presence. After all, he was responsible for Michael's death. But was he really?
Michael had been self-destruct for a very long time. If it hadn't been Tony who'd stepped in Michael's way, could it have been Gibbs? Would she feel the same if Gibbs had killed Michael?
Question after question had egged on her self-doubt ever since they'd left Tel Aviv. Finally, she said, "You did not mention Tony."
Weight settled heavily on Ziva, when Abby's smile dropped and the young woman sat back in the chair she'd occupied earlier. When Abby didn't answer, Ziva finally asked, "What is wrong?"
The answer, when finally given, poured from the lab tech in a garbled mess. Fatigue settled over Ziva to the point she simply couldn't follow; and before she could ask her friend to clarify, she drifted asleep.
X X X
"Whaddya got McGee?" Gibbs asked, striding to his desk.
"I think I've got a possible location," McGee responded. Punching a button, he sent a map up to the big screen. "I narrowed it down to seven spots where they might have taken him, based on ties to the cartel."
When McGee hesitated, Gibbs barked, "Which one is it?"
Wincing, McGee finally pointed to a red dot on the screen and said, "Here. I think he's here." Quietly, he added, "That's my gut feeling."
Smiling grimly, Gibbs stated, "That's good enough for me. Gear up."
X X X
I wonder if I'm dead, Tony mused, drifting in and out of consciousness through the noise. The pain had stopped long ago – not that it had stopped being inflicted. Rather, he simply ceased feeling it after awhile. He heard some ribs crack awhile ago. Kind of a crunching sound in the dark that encompassed him.
Then someone was touching him, rolling him over. What now? he asked himself.
"Tony," someone said, and he could have sworn it was Gibbs' voice. But Gibbs was off saving Ziva, so Tony figured he must be hallucinating. After all, he was already a dead man. He knew it. His captors knew. Even Tony's mind knew it.
It'd be nice to die hearing his boss's voice last. Before he drifted off once again, Tony wondered, How many people do you think will come to my funeral?
X X X
Stepping into Ziva's room, Gibbs didn't offer a smile. There was nothing to smile about. Instead, he noted the sleeping figure in the hospital bed and signaled to Abby who had already jumped out of her chair.
Following him out of the room, she didn't wait for the door to close before asking, "Where is he? Where's Tony?"
Gibbs had shot two men before gaining access to his senior agent. The man had been beaten to such a bloody pulp, he was hardly recognizable. Then the medics had arrived hot on Gibbs' heels, but by then Tony was on teetering on the edge. As they'd hooked him up to machines in the ambulance, he'd flat-lined.
"He's here, but… he's barely alive, Abs," Gibbs stated, waiting for the lab tech's reaction. She never failed to surprise him.
"The hell he is," she vehemently replied. "He's fully alive or he's dead. And if he's dead, I'll kick his ass from here to Louisiana. Then I'll have a voodoo priestess I know put a curse on him like no other."
Then the expected reaction. She launched herself into Gibbs' arms and wept.
X X X
Ziva woke with a start. Sitting up, she noted the IV had been removed. Funny, she hadn't even woken up when that happened. Tentatively, she shifted her legs over the edge of the bed and eased off. All she needed was a few steps to get to the small bathroom. Surprisingly, she could hold herself upright with no problem. The concussion she'd received via gun butt had receded from pounding heading to a mild, occasional throbbing. The cracked ribs were bound, making it hard to breathe.
Overall, though, she felt pretty good.
By the time she finished relieving herself, Ziva stepped back out into the room to find Ducky waiting for her.
"Hello, Ducky," she said, offering up her cheek. Like an old-world gentleman, he gave her a peck and smiled. Having Ducky hold her hands and squeeze them in sympathy and support always made her feel better.
"I've come to check on you, my dear," he stated, his British accent clear and enunciated. "It's good to see you up and moving about."
"Thank you," she replied. It was true. Until she'd been away from NCIS and her team, she hadn't realized just how much she'd missed being around people she could trust inside and out. Albeit reluctantly, she admitted to herself that Tony belonged in that distinctive group. Hesitantly, she asked, "And how is Tony?"
When Ducky's face fell, her stomach clenched and her mind screamed, No!
It was almost a relief when Ducky said, "I give him a ten percent chance of surviving the next twenty four hours." All she could think was that ten percent was higher than zero.
X X X
He couldn't feel anything. Nothing hurt, nothing felt broken, he simply existed in this blissful state of nothingness, wondering if he was in heaven or hell.
Actually, it was like laying on a cloud, Tony thought. Or maybe a big marshmallow. Like in Ghostbusters. Now that was a great movie. Really, what could beat a good Bill Murray movie?
"Tony?" he thought he heard someone whisper. Doubtful, though. He was dead, after all. Then someone pinched his hand.
The voice spoke again, only this time he recognized it.
"I haven't given you permission to die," Gibbs whispered into Tony's ear, right before lightly smacking him on the top of his head.
X X X
"How's he doing?" Gibbs asked Dr. Pitt when he emerged from Tony's room.
"I think he'll live, but he's going to need time," Dr. Pitt replied. "With the extent of the injuries, on top of weakened lungs…"
"What do you need from us, doctor?" Ducky asked, taking charge.
"He'll need to remain here at Bethesda in ICU for awhile. I'm concerned about what the high humidity can do to his lungs, considering the damage from the Y Pestis scare he had a few years ago. The plague nearly killed him, but we pulled him back," Dr. Pitt stated.
"And we'll do it again," Gibbs added. Shifting to face the larger group gathered behind him, Gibbs stated, "He'll be fine."
X X X
"Figured I was dead," Tony wheezed out, staring into his boss's steel-blue eyes.
"You figured wrong," Gibbs retorted.
"Okay," the younger NCIS agent replied, and then drifted off to sleep.
"How is he?" Ziva asked from the doorway. She had heard a few hushed voices talking about Tony, but no one would tell her anything. And Gibbs hadn't been around much the last day and a half.
"Better," Gibbs grunted, turning his gaze back to Tony. He still looked like hell, although ice packs placed strategically around his body had reduced some of the swelling. Gibbs doubted Tony felt much pain, considering the amount of morphine being pumped into his system. That said, though, Tony still didn't look even close to human.
With swollen eyes that barely opened and lacerations covering over half of Tony's body, the risk of infection was still high.
"If… When he wakes up, can you tell him I stopped by?" Ziva quietly asked, receiving only a sharp nod in response.
She was halfway to the door when she heard Gibbs quietly respond, "He'll appreciate it."
X X X
It didn't hurt to open his eyes, Tony noted. A pleasant change.
Apparently, he wasn't dead, because he could hear people shuffling about him. Then he recognized his doctor's voice and smiled as best he could.
"Play any drinking games?" Tony asked, receiving a chuckle in response.
The dark haired doctor bent over the bed a little and felt the pulse in Tony's neck before saying, "No, but why don't we give it a try when you get out of here?"
"I thought you'd be hitting up the nurses, not the doctors," Abby said, swinging into the room. As the doctor retreated with a smile and wave, the lab tech advanced on the bed and sat gingerly on the mattress. Her face fell and tears filled her eyes when she continued, "Don't ever do that again, Tony. You scared me." Her voice never reached above a harsh whisper.
"Okay," he replied. He didn't relish the idea of enduring days of torture ever again, either.
X X X
Rehabilitation stands for torture, Tony thought as he finished the last round of upper body workouts designed by the sadist most called a therapist. After three and a half weeks in the hospital, he'd been released with limited abilities. His physician had even released him to work part-time and light duties. Unfortunately, that translated to doing the grunt work. And no going out in the field.
"You're doing well," the therapist said. "In fact, I think you might be able to go back on active duty as soon as next week."
"Really?" Tony asked, excited by the prospect. Sure, he loved movies. But watching one right after another, day after day, got to be a little much. "Next week?"
Happy, he slipped into his jacket, noting that it didn't hurt to raise his arms anymore. In fact, his upper body strength was better than it had ever been, although he felt a twinge every now and again on the shoulder that been dislocated. Surgery had been required to repair the damage.
Whistling, he headed out the door. McGee usually dropped Tony off and picked him up again. But when he walked out the door, it was to find Ziva waiting for him.
"Hey," he said. For the life of him, no other words would come to him. Before Michael had died, banter would have been easy. Teasing and jokes had become common before he'd destroyed what trust she held in him. Finally, he asked, "Where's McGeek?"
"He's working with Abby in the lab. On the Spengler case," she explained, looking as unsure as he felt. "I'm here to take you home."
The statement – coming out more as a question – caught Tony off guard. Hesitantly, he stepped toward her and nodded. She'd extended the olive branch. He had taken it.
X X X
The case had been long, tedious, and hard. As the holidays approached, Tony found himself tired all the time. It hadn't taken Gibbs long to figure out how much his senior field agent could take, and Tony was grateful those times he could sneak away to Abby's lair and crash on her futon.
It didn't help that whenever he closed his eyes, he felt the whip slashing into his back again, or the sharp blade slicing across his chest. For some reason, sleeping with a farting hippo tucked into his arm made a difference.
"Tony," Ziva called, shaking his bare shoulder lightly. "Tony, we have a case."
Groggily he rolled over and sat up, tossing away the light covering. And heard her gasp.
Rummaging around, he quickly grabbed his button-up shirt and threw it on. He rarely removed it, but he was so hot sometimes when he slept…
"Pretty ugly," he said, giving her a crooked grin that didn't reach his eyes.
When she got that serious look on her face and sat down next to him, Tony withheld a cringe. This couldn't be good.
"I have been wishing to talk to you," she quietly said, not meeting his eyes. Rather, she stared at the floor when she admitted, "I blamed you when the blame was mine. I knew Michael was out of order and I did not stop him."
"Control," Tony corrected, primarily out of habit. "He was out of control."
"Yes," she affirmed. "He had a job to do, although some of that job did not become clear until after we arrived back in Israel. If I am going to be honest, I will also admit that if it had been anyone else, I would not have reacted so… severely."
Fascinated, Tony listened intently. Primarily because she was so wrong about so many things. Quietly, he said, "If it had been anyone but you, I might not have gone over there. If it had been anyone else, I would have gotten an arrest warrant and they'd be on their way to a holding cell."
"Why?" she asked. The question, although quiet, spoke loudly to the confusion between them.
"Because you're my partner," he replied, reaching his arm across to turn her face to his. Staring into her eyes, he added, "Because I care. Maybe more than I should."
X X X
Opening the door, Tony smiled at the brunette carrying the pizza box. He could smell the cheese, and nearly drooled right then. Standing back, he said, "Come on in, Ziva."
He had already poured two glasses of wine and popped a romantic comedy in the DVD player. Who knew his little ninja loved a good romantic comedy?
After the pizza, the wine, and the movie, the fun and laughter of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days had turned to a level of tenderness and trust they'd come to expect over the last few months. Eventually, Tony lay on his side, with his back pressed against the cushions and Ziva curled into him in front, snoring. Loudly.
Smiling, he thought of when she had begun to come over for movie night.
The first time she had shown up for pizza and a movie, he'd been surprised. The second, he'd been pleased. Then the third time, she had made him stand while she'd slowly stripped his shirt away.
He'd felt raw and exposed, until she'd kissed each and every puckered scar running across his chest, back, and abdomen. Then she'd left, leaving him feeling alive again. The fourth time, she'd slept with him and she'd had to deal with him waking up shaking. The fifth time, it was his turn to wake up with someone shaking.
He'd said, "We're a pair," as he held her and they drifted back to sleep.
Both of them knew the nightmares would go on and on. Arguments would happen. Hell, ghosts never just disappeared. And one day Gibbs would figure it out, if he hadn't already. Then there would be hell to pay for breaking Rule Twelve.
"Stop staring at me," Ziva murmured, grinning. How did she know he was staring? Her eyes were still closed. He wasn't surprised when she continued, "And please stop thinking. Your brain is growling in my ear."
Rolling his eyes, Tony muttered, "It's humming, Ziva. My brain is humming in your ear."
"See? You even admit it," she said, snuggling into him a little more.
Getting back here might not have been easy, but they'd made it… via the scenic route.