A/N: Firstly, thanks to all of you who reviewed the last chapter! That was quite a response! :D
Secondly, I feel I should warn you that this final chapter is probably not what you expected... to be honest, it's not what I expected either!
Tony limped into Gibbs' room, trying to be as quiet as possible by avoiding all obstacles that could possibly catch his crutches, then dropped heavily into the chair at Gibbs' side. Even to Gibbs, who was lying half-asleep in bed, DiNozzo looked anxious, tense, angry even – although it was well masked. After closing his eyes momentarily, Gibbs opened them again and scrutinised Tony's injuries. There was a cut with stitches above his eyebrow, nearly identical to Gibbs', where his forehead had met the steering wheel, but aside from that and the slight protrusions where a bandage wrapped his arm and knee, Tony looked pretty healthy considering their adventure. He continued observing his agent, waiting for Tony to reveal what had him so preoccupied.
After a few minutes, however, the silence stretching between the two agents was beginning to become uncomfortable for both parties, but Tony was damned if he would break the silence. Gibbs shuffled cautiously, weakly back on the bed and studied his agent's weary posture. "You OK, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, already anticipating the response.
"Fine, boss, better than you," the younger agent replied flatly. Tony's voice was strained, as if he was barely managing to hold back a torrent of angry words, and Gibbs shifted to look at his agent properly, concealing a wince as he put pressure on his injured knee. There was something wrong, and Gibbs' gut was telling him Tony was inches away from revealing all, all he needed was a little prodding – that could wait for a few more minutes. "Ziva and McGee were here yesterday but they had a crime scene to process and then Vance ordered them home. Abby and Ducky were here too, but you were completely out of it," Tony informed Gibbs, keeping his report to the barest minimum so that he would have to spend as little time in a room with Gibbs as possible. Gibbs nodded, happy to accept Tony's explanation as to why there was only him and his father in an Arizona hospital, still watching his agent with concern as he tried to figure out what was wrong.
Lightly, intending it be a gentle enquiry, Gibbs asked, "So... You going to take that early retirement, DiNozzo?" Tony's head shot up and he glared at Gibbs, his expressionless mask slipping and his face contorting in anger and pain. "That what you think I should do, boss? Just up and quit while your case-closing reputation is still intact?" Gibbs opened his mouth to speak, completely surprised by Tony's outburst and the path it had followed, but the younger agent carried on, his voice getting louder all the while, "While you still have some agents that aren't complete screw-ups?" Automatically responding to DiNozzo's obvious anger, Gibbs raised his hands to stem the flow of words, ignoring the pain in his shoulder. His initial shock had been replaced by anger, and, too tired to shut away his emotions, Gibbs let it show on his face.
"What the hell are you on about, DiNozzo?" The chair DiNozzo was sitting in was flung back as Tony launched to his feet, his face turning a deep shade of red and his eyes hardening.
"You know damn well what I'm talking about! The first few months on the Seahawk gave me a little time to think things through, to work out why the hell you let the team be split up, why I had to spend four months of my life on a ship. I mean, OK, the first few weeks I thought you just needed time to... grieve, but by the end of the first month I realised what was going on—"
"DiNozzo..." Feeling his own heart racing, Gibbs again tried to stall Tony's tirade but had no luck. He could see the reddening skin of Tony's face and neck even in the half-light.
"—You blamed me for Jenny's death. The trouble was, boss, I started to believe that I was responsible; that it was my fault! When I got back, I assumed that you had come to terms with it; that you had realised I wasn't to blame, but nothing had changed. I was grateful that you'd fought Vance to get me returned to D.C. but I'm not sure it was worth it after all." Despite his assurance that he was fine, the outburst had left him more tired and out of breath than he had expected and Tony had to stop to take a deep, shuddering breath, allowing Gibbs to speak.
"Firstly, I'd have done it for anyone, DiNozzo," the Marine explained quickly, but as soon as the words were out of his mouth, Gibbs realised what he had said – what he had implied – and so did Tony.
Jesus, I just can't say anything right to DiNozzo!
Taking a step back from the bed, Tony balled his hands into fists and continued to glare angrily at Gibbs. "DiNozzo, I didn't mean—" Gibbs started, becoming increasingly agitated by his agent's worrying behaviour, only to be cut off abruptly by his senior field agent. "Oh no? I've never known you – Leroy Jethro 'Second B's for Bastard' Gibbs – to ever say something you didn't mean," Tony yelled back, picking up his crutches and limping determinedly towards the door. When he reached it, Tony turned back, his eyes red and glistening – even though he was already chastising himself for this rash show of emotion, and trying to rein his anger back in – and to see his agent in such a mess almost broke Gibbs there and then. "Thanks for reinforcing my father's belief that I'm nothing but a worthless screw-up who'll never accomplish anything in their life!" He slammed the glass door forcefully as he stormed from the room (as fast as he could on crutches) and along the corridor, almost knocking down Doctor Rogers as he went.
I should have known! It was just too good to last! Anthony, you're nothing but a fucking mistake – a stupid, gullible, useless mistake!
Gibbs sat stunned for a moment, cursing the renewed throbbing in his skull and his stubbornness over revealing emotions, and then came to a decision. He did not know why Tony had snapped, although he had a sneaking suspicion that it had to do with painkillers and one too many manipulations by his superiors. But what Gibbs did know was that he had to fix his mistakes. Now.
"DiNozzo!" he yelled from his bed, leaning over to look further down the corridor, grimacing as it pulled at his stitches. When there was no response, he gingerly swept the thin covers from his legs and shuffled to the edge of the bed, cautiously planting his right foot on the ground and then his left. With one hand, he clumsily disconnected his IV – an action that had become ingrained in his memory after numerous previous escape attempts from hospitals – and put all his weight on his good leg then slowly spread it over both, wincing at the twinges in his knee. He was already feeling dizzy and nauseous, and he had not even started walking yet. Gibbs took one shuffled step forward and immediately regretted getting up. Pain flared in his knee and for a moment all Gibbs could see were black dots swimming in his vision. Then he felt strong hands grip his arms and everything went black.
Jack Gibbs had taken his time freshening up at the hotel, where he and DiNozzo were staying now that the younger man had been released, but now, walking purposefully down the hall towards Gibbs' room and catching sight of Tony steam-rolling his way towards the exit, eyes red and cheeks flush, he was regretting making that decision. Angry was not really a strong enough word to describe the look on his face – pissed; enraged; furious, they were all reasonable, powerful enough and accurate descriptions.
As Tony brushed past him, Jack tried to get the young man's attention but Tony was either too absorbed in his own thoughts or did not want to know and carried on down the hall.
What has Leroy done now?
Deciding that the younger agent would need some time to calm down before being spoken to, Jackson continued towards his son's room, raised voices from inside making him move faster.
When he reached the doorway, Jack could see his son thrashing furiously as doctors and nurses attempted to sedate him – something that was not helped by Leroy's removal of his IV. As one of the nurses cried out triumphantly, Jack pushed his way into the room and wormed through the hospital staff to the agitated man's side. "Leroy!" he called, trying to get his son's attention as he continued to fight the medication, "Leroy, calm down!" Gibbs did not answer, moaning softly as the sedative began to take effect.
Jack turned to the doctor and asked worriedly, "What happened?" Taking the opportunity to usher Jackson Gibbs out of the way of the nurses as they settled his son, Doctor Rogers gently led Jack to the other side of the room – where the concerned father could still see his son but was not in the way. "He was having a... word with Agent DiNozzo, got pretty heated I can tell you. Gi— your son's blood pressure and heart rate were rocketing so I came to investigate. Almost got floored by Agent DiNozzo on his way out." Jackson nodded, remembering his own brief encounter with Tony in the hall. Slowly the room emptied of nurses and Jackson started to pull a chair up to the side of Leroy's bed, watching him in concern as the doctor continued. "Your son was trying to follow his agent and almost collapsed not two steps from his bed."
Earning a small smile from the young doctor, Jack muttered, "He always was a stubborn child, hated hospitals and staying still." Then the elder Gibbs pulled the chair closer to his son's side and sat down, settling in for the long haul.
It was cold outside, freezing even, but DiNozzo did not care. Dressed in his own clothing which Abby had brought for him from his apartment, Tony sat stiffly on a hard bench outside the hospital, thumbing the keycard for his hotel room. It was a five minute cab drive from the hospital and he had some change kicking around in his wallet, but still Tony sat motionless on the bench, preferring the outdoors to the stale air of the room. Meticulously, he went over everything that had happened to the team, to him, in the last few years, thinking through each confrontation, each betrayal, each manipulation and working out what it was that made him the so angry.
Just thinking about it made Tony so furious that he wanted to march back into Gibbs' room and punch him as hard as he could. Deciding that was not a good idea, Tony slowly stood up, his injured knee protesting, and walked over to a waiting taxi and asked the driver to take him to his hotel. He would have a shower and then sleep. For a long time. Maybe after that he would be a little calmer and be able to face Gibbs again.
Fourteen Hours Later
Walking stiffly – the manner he had become accustomed to more and more frequently during cold days and after sitting still for too long – Jackson Gibbs exited the hospital through the automatic sliding doors and started along the concrete path, pulling his thick overcoat close to his body and stuffing his hands in his pockets. Jethro was still sleeping, and – according to his doctor – would hopefully stay that way for the next few hours. Having sat in the uncomfortable chair at his son's side for almost seventeen hours straight – dozing for minutes at a time and eating even less – one of the nurses had turfed the elder Gibbs from the room, insisting that he go home, or at least to the families' accommodation, and get some rest, a shower and something to eat. Jackson had flatly refused until the nurse had taken his cell number and promised to have someone call if there was any change.
Five strides past a wrought-iron bench, Jackson Gibbs stopped and turned around, staring in disbelief at the young man sitting there, hunched over with his elbows leaning heavily on his knees, tension and anger radiating steadily from him. Slowly, Jack lowered himself onto the metal bench beside the man and waited a beat before speaking. "Tony?"
Aside from the slight deepening of his frown, Tony did not respond; did not expose any of his weaknesses or failures to this kindly old man; did not look up and allow the man to see how damaged and worthless he was. "It's cold out, Tony. What're you doing sitting here?" Wordlessly, resolutely, Tony sat back, his back stiff and straight as he gazed straight ahead, avoiding Gibbs' father's eyes. Jackson let Tony gaze off into the distance for a few more minutes and then placed a hand gently on his shoulder, fully expecting to have the gesture shrugged off. He was surprised when Tony turned to face him. "I can't talk to you about it," Tony said simply, knowing he sounded childish but not caring at that moment, concentrating instead on keeping his anger in check. A small, sad smile flickered across Jack's face as he thought of a response, knowing exactly where the, so far, relatively one-sided conversation was headed. "What's Leroy done this time?" he sighed, leaning back against the chilly metal slats. Tony's eyes screwed up and he tried to stand, really not wanting to listen to Gibbs' father defend his son's actions, only to find the hand on his shoulder pressing down firmly.
"Leroy's my son, and as such, I am expected to defend him, Tony—" Tony was about to interrupt when Jackson raised a hand to stop him, silently asking the young man to let him say his piece. "—I've spoken to Leroy maybe twice since you came to Stillwater, and both times, he's told me – in that round-about way he's adopted – how proud he is of you and what you've become." Again, Tony went to speak, but Jackson kept going, ignoring Tony's tense and frustrated body language that told him DiNozzo was just about fed up of Jethro's indirect praise. "I know, from personal experience with the man, that Leroy is less than open with his emotions, but the pride, happiness and trust he has now is something I haven't seen since he lost his first wife," Jackson finished confidently, watching Tony's face for a reaction. Tony's eyes screwed up and he pinched the bridge of his nose with the fingers of his right hand. "Right now, I don't think Gibbs trusts me with an empty coffee cup," he muttered sullenly. "I'm not sure I trust him anymore. Hell..." Tony growled, unintentionally sounding very Gibbs-like, "I'm not sure I trust myself, Jack!"
Frowning wearily, Jackson Gibbs realised that it was going to be a long and slow process getting his son and Tony back on track. He stayed silent as he waited for DiNozzo to elaborate. "...Did he tell you about the time he sent me and Ziva to infiltrate a heavily guarded facility as part of a security test? I bet he didn't tell you the guards were using live ammunition, or that they didn't know we were agents. He certainly didn't tell me that!" Tony yelled, his anger at the man he had thought of as a father-figure for the past eight years boiling over for the second time.
"And I ended up with a rifle butt in my face without so much as a 'How d'you do? Would you like a drink?'. Then it turned out to be part of an even broader scheme concocted by Gibbs to rat out a traitor! And do you know what your son did?" Tony asked bitterly, glaring accusingly at the elder Gibbs – as if he would know everything the boss had said that day in autopsy. "He said he knew I could handle it! As if that would make up for it!" Tony puffed out a short, angry breath and pushed himself up from the bench, shrugging of Jackson's firm hand, before pacing furiously back and forth in front of the bench – his injured leg making little difference to the harried movement. "Well, I guess he was wrong!" Tony yelled, startling a passer-by, who gave him an odd look and hurried on her way.
Patiently, Jack waited until DiNozzo had slowed his pacing before shaking his head solemnly and saying, "No, he did not."
Deciding Tony was calm and receptive enough to accept reason and to honestly think through the information he was about to divulge, Jackson placed a hand comfortingly on DiNozzo's shoulder. His and Gibbs' relationship had suffered from one too many incidences of breaches of trust and lead to their severance of communication, and having experienced that, Jack felt pretty certain that letting the men settle it on their own was not going to solve the problem or even balance it precariously on the side of cool anger, rather than hanging perilously close to destructively-powerful fury. Jack took a deep breath and looked Tony right in the eye – trying to assure the man he was being completely truthful. "What Leroy did was a breach of the fundamental bond of trust that has formed between you two. You feel betrayed, cast aside, but I think you underestimate the loyalty Leroy has for his team and for you, but for you most of all. Do you think it was easy for him to lie to his senior agent? To lie to a young man he has grown so close to that he is practically family?" Mutely, reluctantly, Tony shook his head and sighed.
Jackson rubbed his hands together to dispel the cold that had settled in them and then continued. "That last night you spent in Stillwater, Leroy asked me if I had worried about him getting injured or killed while overseas on operations. Of course, there was only one answer to that – yes." Jack nodded as he remembered that late night during which the only way to get Leroy to talk had been to ply him with copious volumes of Bourbon. "He told me about one time he'd been terrified of losing his son, and at first I was a little confused, then he began talking about some Y-pestis and lung-scarring and, from giving you a sweater to keep you warm at my house, I realised he was talking about you. My son may play his feelings and emotions close to his chest, but when it comes to you, Tony, he's as easy to read as a child's picture book."
Jack had been watching DiNozzo, but now the younger man broke his gaze and stared into the middle distance, his mind churning. "I don't think he feels that way anymore, if he ever did," Tony muttered, already lowering his expectations to prevent disappointment and ultimately the painful rejection that would inevitably come. "Oh, you don't? Then who do you think the first person he asked about was when he woke up?" It was Jack's turn to glare at Tony. "Who the hell do you think he climbed out of bed to find out if they were OK, only to pass out without taking more than a step? He thinks of you as his son, Tony, and I think... deep down, he's the father to you that you never had."
The elder Gibbs took one last pause, making sure with absolute certainty that he knew what he was going to say and how he was going to phrase it, then drew Tony's attention with a hand on his arm. "He trusts you. With his coffee, his damn boats, his life and everything in between, he trusts you, Tony! You. I'm not sure Leroy even trusts me with all of that, Tony."
Jack fell silent, letting the dust settle and Tony come to terms with everything that had been said, then pulled his hand from the younger man's arm. Tony immediately missed the warm, silent comfort that the elder Gibbs had been providing, but he needed time to think and reflect so he stood up, clapped his hands together and then turned to Jackson Gibbs. "Thanks, Jack." He lingered a moment later and then turned on his heel and walked away, limping again as his injured knee twisted uncomfortably, leaving Jack to sit alone on the bench.
Jack glanced at his watch and sucked in a surprised gasp. Almost a whole hour had passed and Leroy would soon be waking from the effects of the sedatives. He stood, stretching his back laboriously and then walked quickly towards the separate block that was used by patients' families for long term or sudden stays in the hospital, deciding that he would shower and eat something with more consistency than the watery Jello the hospital had on offer.
A silhouetted form standing in the doorway to his room attracted Gibbs' attention as he lay on the hospital bed in the semi-darkness. "DiNozzo..." Gibbs sighed softly, closing his eyes as another wave of fatigue washed over him. "Sorry, boss, one of the nurses said you were asleep, but I didn't mean to wake you. I'll just go now and come back in the morning... I think Abby was going to do escape prevention duty tomorrow... but Vance called her and McGee back to D.C. Not that they were too happy about it, though. McGee said she threatened to make clones of Bert and—"
"Hey," Gibbs called quietly to his agent, intentionally interrupting Tony's nervous ramblings as he opened his eyes again. His voice was soft, layered with fatigue and undoubtedly trying to catch the younger agent's attention. He squinted at the dull, white ceiling tiles, trying to come up with the words to say how he felt. "We need to talk, Tony..."
"Look, boss, if it's about the inheritance and that retirement thing... and me going off all half-cocked, I'm sorry. I should have known you'd have my six..." DiNozzo trailed off, realising Gibbs was smiling knowingly at him. Although Gibbs could not see his eyes, Tony still would not look the Marine in the face.
Jumped the gun again, Anthony... I've really got to stop doing that!
With one shoulder, Gibbs shrugged nonchalantly before glancing out at the shadowy trees in the parking lot before looking back at his agent. "It's not about that, DiNozzo. It's... ah... it's about that case last year..." Rolling his eyes up, Tony dredged through his memories, searching for unusual cases that bore the slightest resemblance to this one. None came to mind. Gibbs supplied the answer, "...Maddie..." Tony's mouthed form an 'o' as he remembered. Gibbs gazed intently out of the window despite the darkness outside.
"When we got to the hospital after you... resuscitated us, the only thing on my mind was Maddie..."
"Boss... Gibbs, I understand. You were worried about her. You didn't think you could... trust us to stay out of your past." Tony wished Gibbs would turn and face him, at least then he would be able to almost tell what the Marine was thinking. "But you could have asked," he added, a faint smile pulling at his lips. For a long moment, Gibbs was silent, then he took a deep breath and took the plunge. "I do trust you, DiNozzo, more than anyone, but I still couldn't ask. I knew I was risking my life and my career, but I couldn't do that to you..." Gibbs paused, turning to face his agent, taking in the gratified smile. "I was so intent on saving her... from everyone and everything, that I forgot you, DiNozzo." He stopped, taking as deep a breath as his wounds would allow. "It was like... like saving her would be saving Kelly as well." Gibbs' pale blue eyes pinned Tony to his chair, daring him to interrupt. "I didn't even thank you, Tony. Just went back to normal: as if you hadn't found us; hadn't shot two men while running; hadn't dived into freezing, polluted water; hadn't dragged us both out onto the pontoon... as if you hadn't saved our lives."
Tony interrupted then, uncomfortable with all the praise coming his way. "Boss, I was just doing my job. Anyone else would have done the same." Gibbs raised his left hand, a slight tremble to the motion, and brought Tony to a halt.
"No. What you did, Tony, was more than that. If you had caught pneumonia or some other God-awful disease from that harbour, you could have died! But still you did it, and all for some grumpy, old Marine bastard with a dodgy knee, three ex-wives and an unfinished boat in their basement." Tony opened his mouth again to protest Gibbs' blatant self-depreciation but Gibbs carried on regardless, "I let you down then, DiNozzo, and I'm not going to do it again this time... Thank you." Gibbs pinned Tony with an intense look, as if daring the younger agent to detract from the gravity of his sentiment.
Tony waited a beat, squirming under Gibbs' gaze, slightly embarrassed that his boss thought he was worth so much. "Guess that means you owe me, Gibbs," Tony added, grinning, a mischievous glint in his eye. "Twice!" They both laughed this time, the final tendrils of tension in Tony's body drifting away as Gibbs smiled back at him – in that fatherly, encouraging way he had.
"I guess I do. And when you want to collect, Tony, my door's always open." The two men might not have covered everything that had plagued DiNozzo since returning from being an Agent Afloat, but some things could not just change overnight, and a little of their trust in each other had already been restored.
All I have is one last chance
I won't turn my back on you
Take my hand, drag me down
If you fall then I will too
A/N: There you go. The final chapter in what I consider one of my better stories to date. I hope you've all enjoyed the read, and I can say with absolute certainty that I have. Any final comments you have, I would be grateful to hear. As if you hadn't guessed already, I have some unresolved issues with quite a few of the episode of seasons 5 and 6 and I felt that this was a pretty good place for me to resolve them, if not for other fans, then just for myself. Hopfully, it wasn't too much of a crazy way to end this, but Gibbs doesn't believe in happy endings and up to a point neither do I.
Anyway... huge, huge, huge, huge, huge, HUGE thank you to inkpen1 for giving me this idea and allowing me to play around with it as much as I see fit.
Thanks also to all the loyal reviewers: SnowFox3, SherryGabs, diana teo, laoisbabe, angeleyes46, twomoms, movieholic, CD57, inkpen1, Silverfox2159, Gloworm41, Aqua Mage, Meabh, knightie, BnBfanatic, Moonlight83, Kateri1, fred/cymraes, louise1717 and louise, as well as all the others that reviewed as well during the course of my story.
One final thing! There will be a short sequel coming to your screen sometime in the near future - probably after Christmas - and I hope you enjoy it!
A/N+1: The lyrics at the end are from Without You by Breaking Benjamin.
Merry Christmas to everyone celebrating Christmas, and a happy New Year!