AN: Apologies for the rash of typo mistakes in the last 2 chapters. I did check back, but still managed to miss a lot. Also, apols for not translating the Italian. I don't like to patronise, you're not daft, and most of it spoke for itself anyway, but maybe I should have mentioned the one unusual bit. Probably too late now, but il alba di s ancora simply means it's not daybreak yet. Actually, nobody's complained…

The Woman in Black

Chapter 8

He was alone when he woke up. His chest felt utterly heavy, and there was an oxygen tube under his nose, but, oh joy, he wasn't on a ventilator. There were no voices, and no sensation of his hand being held; but, he realised, that was OK. He knew why Gibbs - and Ria - weren't around; McGee would have gone too, and he hoped, oh, he hoped they were enjoying what they were doing. "Wish you could take pictures for me," he'd told Tim, before they'd loaded him into the helicopter.

Ziva would be somewhere about; in sending her with him, Gibbs had ensured she'd get treatment for her own injuries… As he prised his eyes open, the first thing he focussed on was her jacket on the bedside chair. He smiled… it no longer felt terrible to wake up alone in a hospital bed. The sense of abandonment that had been laid down in his childhood was no longer there; driven away by the knowledge that he'd been chosen, irrevocably, by an eccentric family that had created itself with love, that was never far away.

Hospitals no longer held that fear for Tony DiNozzo, and when Ziva returned a few moments later, although his eyes were closed, he was smiling.

"Hmm… Tony… Are you dreaming about the beautiful Signorina Del Giudice?"

He opened his eyes slowly, and the lazy smile didn't fade. "Hey… I plan to, but no. How long have I been out?"

"You were injured before seven o'clock this morning; it is now eight o'clock in the evening. The surgery was successful, and you will make a complete recovery. If you are co-operative, of course."

"I'm always co-operative. I am the definitive poster boy for co-operation."

She put a finger on his lips. "You talk too much. I have been told not to allow you to."

He lifted a hand with an effort, and pointed to the dressings, under the corner of her jaw and on her temple. "You OK?"

Ziva smiled now. "I am fine, Tony. Dealing with incompetent would-be squatters –"

'Squatters? Oh…SWATters…'

"Was no problem at all, compared with fighting off young Officer Archer."

"Cole?" Tony's grin broadened.

"Oh, yes. They are keeping him overnight for observation, and I do believe he wanted me to lie there and cuddle him all night. I told him I must come back to be with you. He wanted to know what you had that he hadn't, to have 'two gorgeous women making a fuss over you'. He says I saved his life, and he intends to thank me. Ah, the fine enthusiasm of a younger man… Drew is with him, and sends his best wishes." It was the wrong thing to say. Damn. She observed how his grin dissolved, and his determination to bring it back.

"So… Ziva has a willing young stud…" He was trying, but she could see his heart wasn't in it. Gibbs had warned her that this would be Tony's reaction, and she was not surprised. They all knew his capacity for self blame, and for a moment she found herself back on the Seahawk, seeing him for the first time in three months. She didn't want him to go to that dark place again.

"Tony, I do not think anything I can say will change how you feel, I will leave that to Gibbs and Director Vance; but I was there, you recall, and I saw what happened. Drew has told his uncle that you saved his life, even though it meant admitting that he froze for a moment. Enough, already." She knew that expression amused him, although in all honesty she had never heard a Jewish person use it.

It worked; enough to distract him, or at least to give him something to distract himself with. "He's all right, then? Drew?"

"He is fine, Tony. He will be allowed to go home tomorrow, as will Cole, providing they behave. His father is making a great show of being more angry about the destruction of his car, but I have caught good feelings, not just from the LaSalle family, but also from everyone I have spoken to."

She paused, and took his hand in both of hers, leaning in towards him a little as she warmed to her subject. "Gibbs called Ducky, and Ducky called Brad Pitt, who saw to it that a very senior thoracic surgeon was called in to repair your lung, which he has apparently done impeccably. I was speaking to the great man while you were in recovery," she went on excitedly, "and he was using splendid metaphors… He talked of lancing the city's boils, and excising its gangrene, cutting out its many cancers…"

"Ecch. I think I feel sick!" Tony said with feeling. "Zi, can I have a drink of water?"

"You making the patient worse, Agent David?" Tony looked up from the cup Ziva was holding for him, with a welcoming smile for his Boss and Tim, which faded somewhat when he saw Vance, Fornell, another black man whose tall, rangy elegance marked him as Drew's father, and no Ria. He put a brave face on it.

"Hey, Boss… is the Slug dead then?"

"Oh, yeah. And lots of little baby slugs too."

Fornell spoke in that gravely way of his. "All over the city you can hear the deafening whine of shredders overheating. The ramifications will go on for years. There's already talk of a Congressional Committee, the president wants to be updated twice daily, a multi-agency task force will be set up… all basically because of what you guys did today."

Tony was stung. "What about what Oriana Del Giudice's been doing, alone, for the past four years? The trigger for what we – and she – did today?"

Fornell held his hands out placatingly. "I hadn't forgotten that, DiNotzo," he said gently. "Rest easy. Get well, and watch the sparks." He left them to it.

A short, slightly portly man in an expensive pin-stripe suit entered the room at that moment, accompanied by two junior medics and a nurse. "Ah," he said. "You're awake, Special Agent DiNozzo. I am your surgeon, Professor Dunbar." He shook Tony's hand, and looked at the other occupants of the room. "Special Agent David warned me that this was how it would be. I need to examine Mr. DiNozzo, so if you please, gentlemen, and Miss David, I should like privacy. You may return for a while when I have finished, then the patient must get his rest."

Tony had to smile at the way the Director and the MCRT meekly headed towards the door. Evan LaSalle was made of sterner stuff. "I'll leave you in peace, Spe –"

"Tony."

"Tony." He grasped the agent's hand. "But my son got into deep water today, and you saved him."

"Your son was a hero, Mr. LaSalle."

"It took another hero to save him. Thank you." With a nod to the surgeon, he left.

When the Professor was done, as the nurse re-dressed the wounds in Tony's chest and back and helped him back into the gown, he said, "Everything is excellent. You may return to DC with your colleagues when they depart. But," he stressed before Tony could bounce too much, "You will travel in a wheelchair, and check in to Bethesda, where Bradley will take over your care. He tells me he knows you well. It will be his decision when to discharge you."

Tony smiled. "Not a problem, Prof. I'll just be glad not to be left behind."

When the four colleagues returned to the room, it was clear that Tony was fading.

"DiNozzo," the Director said without preamble, "They tell me you're trying to take the blame for my nephew's injury." Tony opened his mouth, but Vance didn't let him get a word in. "Don't want to hear it." The man in the bed was glad he wasn't standing up, he was sure his legs would have gone to jelly. Another screw-up, and the Director was clearly warming up to something.

"Drew's already told me what happened. He said he wouldn't have gone if his friend hadn't already charged off. I spoke to Officer Archer, and I quote: 'Well, I saw a beautiful woman in distress, so I dashed out. Didn't think. No way anyone would have expected me to do a fool thing like that, not even DiNozzo.'"

The Director paused, with a grimace. "'Although he'd go and rescue a pretty woman, woudn't he? I wanna be like him when I grow up.' He's got a lot of growing up to do, clearly. Anyway, I knew very well that it wasn't your fault well before I spoke to him, so I don't want to hear any more of this nonsense, is that clear?"

"Clear, Sir."

"Good job, DiNozzo." He left.

Ziva said, "I will leave you to rest, Tony." She kissed her partner's forehead and waited for Tim in the doorway.

The younger agent looked down at his colleague. "Always one of us with a bump or a bruise," he said.

Tony nodded cheerfully. "You did good, McGee."

"We did good, Tony." He joined Ziva and they went out quietly.

Gibbs had watched in silence. This letting go of the day was a vital catharsis for all of them, and he felt weary himself. There would be no basement, boat, or bourbon tonight, to help expunge the memory of his SFA dragging a bleeding young man to safety, or the sudden weight of his surrogate son falling into his arms.

"We do too much of this, Tony."

"It's what we do, Boss. How would we change it?"

"I know the deal. We're the ones who do it, so the others don't have to. Ya saying we should just suck it up?"

"It's usually you telling me this, Boss. Tim's right. We did good today. An unbelievable amount when you think about it." He tried a joke. "Even for modest superheroes like us."

"Yeah, we did."

"Where's Ria, Boss?"

"She was on the phone to her family for a while… they're pretty volatile from what I heard of it. It's a good job they didn't know she was in danger until she was safe! Then she got trapped by some big noises downstairs. She's on her way as soon as she can. Get some sleep; I'll sit with you until she comes."

Tony nodded, but he held his hand out, palm up. Gibbs put his hand in it firmly, and Tony gripped it. "G'night, Boss," he said softly.

Did he feel the hand being patted and tucked under the bedclothes? Did Gibbs actually say "Sleep, Son," or did he mis-hear as he began to doze?

When he woke again, the hospital lights weren't bright through his eyelids, and there was a hand in his. He opened his eyes; only the night lighting was on, and Ria sat with her eyes closed, her chin on her hand and her elbow on the bed. She was wearing an FBI jumpsuit. He squeezed her hand, and she opened her eyes and smiled.

"Hey…"

"Hey yourself."

"Did you get him?"

"Didn't Gibbs tell you?"

"He said the Slug was dead. But I think he left it for you to tell."

"Fornell made the arrest… Wilson tried to pull a gun. I got to stick mine in his guts. I was still covered in your blood. He thought I was going to kill him, but I told him Gray wouldn't have wanted me to descend to his level…and…he crapped his pants."

"You're kidding!"

"Oh, no. There's lots more to tell – I wish you could have seen it. But I'll be able to tell you…"

Her eyes glinted, and Tony said, "What??"

"The multi agency task force… they're putting me in charge of Intelligence."

His heart leapt. "Based where?"

She leaned over and kissed his lips very softly. "DC," she whispered.

The End

AN: Trish, that wasn't too much romance, was it?