Disclaimer: I do not own or profit from NCIS.
Author's Note: We are at the end! I really hope you enjoy the conclusion!
Hearing from and replying to all of you has been wonderful! I'm overwhelmed at the response to my little story, especially when I look at the breakdown and see readers from all over the world (Myanmar? Latvia? It's amazing!). It's been incredible to connect to this global community.
As always, if you enjoyed, please let me know. I do have another idea brewing and I'm trying to sift through the details. So, trust me, your comments give me inspiration to keep trudging along!
Thanks for all your help and support! Bye for now!
A small but effective band of marines leveled an efficient attack on the terrorist training camp. From the returned gunfire and arsenal of weapons employed by the terrorists, there was no doubt the camp had been a significant cell located in Washington DC's back yard. Despite the intense level of combat being waged, Vance let out a sigh of relief that he hadn't just attacked an actual retreat of religious zealots.
Vance followed behind Gibbs, McGee, and Ziva as they cleared buildings in their search for DiNozzo. Scattered gunfire could be heard throughout the camp. So far they had discovered a variety of terrorists and weaponry, but no sign of the missing agent. "I guess it's true that some people do grow on you like a fungus," Vance considered, hoping they were not too late to help Tony. A sound from between two buildings caught his attention and he slowed, glancing down the darkened pathway. Crunching footsteps alerted him that he wasn't alone; by the time he turned a gun was already resting between his shoulder blades.
"Your weapon, please," a quiet voice no other option, Vance handed over his rifle as ordered. A lone terrorist dressed in black signaled for him to walk. "Come with me," he said, "Hazim and your friend are waiting for you."
Tony grabbed the bottom of the chair and forced himself to not make a sound as agony once again tore through his throat and chest. His dying act would be to give this sadistic criminal as little satisfaction as possible. Hazim continued to laugh at Tony's obvious misery. Iman could feel the young man tense and stiffen, as her hands—seemingly with a will of their own--continued to tighten the leather cord. He tilted his head back and clenched his jaw, neck veins standing out in what she knew had to be intense pain.
She did not love this man, she had only known him a few short hours, but somehow he represented to her all that could have been in her life; the happiness and smiles, the joy and laughter that she would never have. Her family, her father, prevented that from ever happening. All she had experienced was murder and death; she recalled seeing her own mother die at his hands when she was very small. Iman was more than aware of what the man was capable of doing. But did she have to go on being like him? Did she want to?
Quickly, without allowing herself another moment's thought, she dropped the garrote and turned to face her father. "I will not kill him," she said.
Tony leaned forward and took great, gulping gasps of air. He was barely aware of anything happening around him, focused only on the act of forcing oxygen into his starving lungs.
Hazim stopped laughing. He looked at his daughter with awe and wonder. "What?" he asked. "You will not kill him? The man responsible for the deaths of your brothers? For disgracing our family?"
"No, I will not," she said flatly. "He is right. His death will change nothing; it is only another senseless killing. I want no more part in it."
Tony's chest heaved painfully; he didn't even have enough air to cough. The excruciating pain in his throat had returned. Still, he tilted his head to the side trying to follow Iman's words. He was coherent enough to realize that she had refused to kill him; that she was now confronting her deranged father.
The next image that caught his eyes was nearly beyond his comprehension.
Hazim stepped toward Iman and raised his gun. Without a single word, the man emptied a bullet into her skull. The beautiful woman gasped for a moment, blood trickling from the small hole in her forehead, before toppling to the side and landing face down. Tony could see the larger opening in the back of her head where the bullet exited, a bloody mess of bone and brain.
For a moment, the only vision in his mind was Kate, her own head blown apart by Ari's gun. The two images collided, Kate on the rooftop and Iman dead at his feet, and he was vomiting, watery bile spilling onto the floor beside him. His insides twisted and tightened, his entire body unable to process the scene he had just witnessed. The terrorist laughed again, the soulless sound reminding Tony of Ahmed's laughter from over a week ago. "I would think a federal agent would have a stronger stomach. Perhaps your injuries have made you weaker than I realized," he said. "Or perhaps you have just been weak all along."
"She was your daughter!" Tony gasped, trying to control the tremors that were threatening to race through his body. He forced himself to look anywhere than at the once beautiful girl lying in the floor. Somewhere in his mind he guessed that all these events were leading to a nice case of shock. He was breathing rapidly now, short, shallow gasps that he couldn't stop, but made him light-headed and dizzy. It was as if a part of him had detached and was watching the scene from afar, no longer connected to the events playing out around him.
"I have no use for a daughter who will not follow my commands! She was willful and filled with fantasies," he spat. "I am better off to have no daughter!"
Tony stared at Hazim with as much hatred and animosity that he had ever felt for another human being in his life. He prayed for some miracle that would allow him to kill this man and rid the world of him forever.
Instead, Hazim moved next to Tony and raised his gun.
"It seems, Agent DiNozzo, that to get rid of you I am just going to have to shoot you myself," the terrorist hissed with venom in his voice.
Tony felt the barrel of the weapon as it rested on the back of his neck, just behind his ear.
As Vance was roughly shoved into the dimly lit room, he noticed three figures in the center. But the events unfolding before him were unbelievable. Iman Aziz stood behind Tony, who was slumped forward in a chair. Hazim stepped toward his daughter, shooting her, the young woman's body falling limply to the ground. Vance gasped involuntarily. He had known Hazim was a vicious man, but this was beyond any cruelty the Director could imagine. He just shot his own daughter.
Pulling himself back to the moment, Vance realized Hazim had walked over to Tony and was raising his weapon to the back of the Senior Field Agent's head. Without thinking, the Director kicked back violently at the knee of the terrorist escorting him, hearing a bone-splitting crack as the man cried out in pain and stumbled. Reaching out to grab the rifle, Vance turned the weapon to the side and smashed the butt of the gun into the terrorist's chin, dropping the man like a rock.
Vance raced forward, intent on killing Hazim Aziz before he had a chance to hurt Tony or anyone else for that matter. It took several seconds for the Director's brain to register that his forward movement had stopped and pain radiated from his right arm. The gun he had been aiming clattered to the floor as he himself fell backward. Looking down, Vance saw bright red blood pouring from a bullet hole in his upper right bicep.
The next thing he was aware of was Hazim's laughter.
The assassin, seeing the Director advancing toward him, had turned away from Tony to shoot his enemy instead. Tony blinked rapidly at Vance, his increasingly hazy mind noting the gunshot rip into the other man's arm, as the coughs he had been suppressing tore from his lungs. Hazim stared down at the struggling man. "Your death can wait, Agent DiNozzo, I will finish with you later," he commented, cruelly kicking the chair from beneath Tony, sending him crashing in a heap to the floor. The agent did not move.
Leaving behind the injured younger man, Hazim slowly sauntered over to where Vance was struggling to sit up, clutching his now useless arm.
Hazim raised his weapon and aimed between Vance's eyes. The Director had always known he could die in the line of duty, but now the moment was here, he struggled to accept the fate. He wondered who would tell his wife about his death? Who would play baseball with Jared? Who would listen to Kayla practice piano for her recitals? He didn't want to miss those things. He didn't want to leave his family behind. But staring up at Hazim, he knew there would be no reprieve.
"I have waited many long years for this moment," Hazim said coldly, finger applying pressure to the trigger. Vance closed his eyes and braced himself for the inevitable.
But instead of a gunshot ringing through the warehouse, there was a loud groan. Vance opened his eyes to see Aziz stiffen and jerk backwards, crying out in unexpected pain. "What….." the bearded man said in confusion, dropping the gun he had been aiming at Vance and reaching toward his back.
Hazim turned away from his victim and faced the other side of the room. "You!" he cried out and fell to his knees. It was then the Director noticed the knife.
His father's hunting knife protruded from between Hazim's shoulder blades, buried to the hilt. He witnessed the maniacal assassin fall over on his side. Shakily Vance stood and walked to where Hazim lay. Blood seeped from the terrorist's mouth and his eyes were barely open. Vance kneeled beside the dying man. "It didn't have to be like this, Hazim. You could have stopped this long ago," he said sadly. The terrorist coughed up blood, let out a large sigh, and his eyes fixed on nothing.
Looking up, the Director saw Tony, who was standing by the chair but swaying dangerously, very close to passing out again. The Senior Field Agent had used his last reserves of strength to hurl the knife Iman had given him at Hazim. Vance rushed across the room, just in time to use his one good arm to slow the agent's limp descent to the floor. "Knew all those years at summer camp were worth something," Tony coughed out, trying to keep his eyes open. He couldn't understand why they refused to stay focused. Another racking cough tore through him, finally forcing his eyes wide at the exertion.
Vance let Tony lean against him, the Director's own bullet wound coursing agony with every pump of his heart. "Well, we're quite a pair, aren't we," Vance stated sarcastically. Between coughs, Tony managed a mangled chuckle, "Bet you never thought you'd be saying that, huh? Kind of like Butch and Sundance."
The Director rolled his eyes. Even on the edge of death, DiNozzo couldn't stop himself.
The two agent's reprieve was short-lived as a shout in Arabic echoed across the room. Vance looked up sharply as several armed terrorists ran through the door, pointing weapons at them and shouting. The Director attempted to raise his hands above his head and show he was unarmed, but the intruders continued to press toward them.
Without warning, the sound of automatic gunfire ripped through the space. The terrorists changed course to avoid their NCIS pursuers and headed for cover in the darkened corners. One lone gunman continued to race forward, screaming with the wild edge of a madman as he closed in on Tony and Vance. Just as he was in point blank range of the unarmed men, a shot pierced through the side of his skull, forcing him to stumble and fall grotesquely in front of the NCIS agents.
Vance immediately reached out and snatched the gunman's abandoned weapon, balancing the gun awkwardly with his left hand. Looking around he saw that during the chaos Tony had once again slumped to the ground unconscious. As bullets flew past him, Vance found himself leaning forward to cover DiNozzo, shielding the younger man as best he could while they lay unprotected in the center of the building. "I'll be damned if I let DiNozzo die now," the Director vowed silently.
From all sides, bullets whizzed through the air and glanced off the floor. Several times Vance aimed and took a shot of his own, careful to identify targets he knew were terrorists. More shouting could be heard, including a cry of, "Drop your weapons," that sounded remarkably like a pissed off Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Stealing a quick glance at Tony, Vance noted the young man's complete lack of movement.
After several tense minutes, the shooting finally ceased. Gibbs ran from the shadows, automatic weapon cradled in his arms, crossing the floor to where the injured agents lay. He slowed as he passed the body of Hazim, noticing the hunting knife lodged in the man's back. His eyes then glanced over the gruesome body of Iman, still facing down to display the damage inflicted by the exiting bullet.
Tony remained unconscious; Vance was trying to wake him but was getting no response. "You ok?" Gibbs asked, noticing the Director's bloody arm.
"I'm fine. But Tony isn't," the Director replied with concern. Gibbs reached out to find a weak and thready pulse in his younger friend. He could feel heat radiating from the agent's skin. Blood once again seeped from the wound on his neck and his chest shuddered pitifully with each difficult breath. The Lead Agent looked up at the sound of Ziva and McGee approaching.
"McGee, go find some medics. And you better make it fast!" Gibbs directed, his face creased with worry at the unresponsive agent.
"On it, Boss," McGee replied, running out the door to find assistance for his friend.
Ziva knelt beside Gibbs, helping ease Tony's weight off the Director so he could better arrange his injured arm. She cradled Tony's head in her lap and took his hand in her own. She brushed his hair back with her other hand and softly told him that he was safe. Tearing his troubled gaze away from the young man, Gibbs glanced over at Hazim's body. "Who did that?" the silver-haired agent asked.
Vance stared back at the blue eyes, silent understanding passing between the two men. "Don't ever underestimate DiNozzo," the Director said with a shake of his head the Lead Agent understood completely.
Gibbs nodded, leaning over to whisper in his agent's ear. "You hang in there, Tony," he said quietly to the unconscious man. "You did good, today, you did real good."
As McGee re-entered the room with a team of medics trailing behind him, the Lead Agent stood and allowed them to tend to his protege. Silently he prayed these latest injuries wouldn't be more than the younger man could bear.
The next few hours and days were remembered by Tony in only bits and pieces.
He recalled waking in a helicopter on the way back to DC, confused and disoriented until he noticed Vance on an adjacent gurney. The Director was talking to him, and even though he couldn't understand the words, seeing Vance there made him feel a little bit safer.
He next woke to find himself once again attached to a ventilator, the frightening sensation overwhelming until Gibbs moved into his field of vision and talked him through the anxiety. The look of calm in the blue eyes was enough to keep the panic at bay.
As tormenting chills passed through his body, he opened his eyes to find Abby sitting on the bed next to him, explaining that he had a fever as she pulled a sheet over his chest. He fell back asleep feeling her warm arms wrapped around him as he shivered.
When a coughing fit shook him to awareness with its unrelenting grip on his lungs, Ducky and Palmer were there holding him up and patting his back until the nurses arrived. And even though he was too tired to open his eyes, Tony knew they would be there to see him through the next time.
Late at night, in the grip of a feverish nightmare about Kate and Iman, McGee was the one shaking him awake and assuring him none of it was real. McGee wouldn't lie to him, so he believed his friend and closed his eyes again.
And one morning when he blinked the sleep from his eyes he found Ziva, talking quietly in Hebrew and wiping his face with a cool cloth. When she realized the green eyes were clear and he was fully aware of her presence, she smiled broadly and said, "Welcome back, my little hairy butt."
She was pleased when he offered her a weak smile in return.
Tony lay in the hospital bed with a big decision to make. Palmer had challenged him to decide which GSM centerfold from the previous year was the hottest. He even brought Tony all of last year's magazines so he could do "research". Flipping back and forth between May and December, DiNozzo knew this was going to be an impossible choice.
The door opened and Ally, the cutest nurse on the floor, walked in with his dinner tray. "Hey, Tony, what's up?" she asked a little flirtatiously. Tony quickly stuffed the magazines under the blanket.
"Hey, Ally. What you got there?" he asked curiously, giving a skeptical eye to the various jiggling masses on the plate and in small bowls.
"A delicious array of pudding, jello, mashed potatoes, and soup," she giggled. "Some of your favorites."
Tony groaned. The soft diet was killing him. After another fun week in ICU and several more days on a step-down floor, he was finally feeling good. There were no more breathing issues and his back was healing well, it just itched like hell. Even the cut on his throat had started to scab over nicely and his voice was pretty much back to normal. The only problem now was the doctor refused to release him until he was eating all his meals. The staff was watching his food intake like a group of nursing mothers. He would have been glad to comply, but the food they were trying to make him eat had no taste and looked like various small mounds of glop.
"Oh come on, Ally, couldn't you manage a steak or a burger? Even a baked potato would be better than this," he moaned.
"Yeah, I know it's bad. But I also know you won't get out of here until you eat it. You do want to get out of here, don't you?" she asked innocently.
"Of course I do," he replied. "Especially since you've agreed to accompany me to a movie once they set me free." The federal agent smiled charmingly.
"Right," she said, smiling back and playing with her hair. "So eat."
Tony picked up a spoon and tried to decide which mound he should start with. "Try the green one," came the voice from the door.
"Hi, Boss," Tony said as Gibbs walked in. "Maybe you could eat some of this for me?" DiNozzo asked hopefully.
Gibbs observed the way Tony's shirt and sweats still hung loosely across his frame. "No chance, DiNozzo. You better eat it all up or I bet this pretty nurse here will spoon feed it to you," the silver-haired man teased. Ally giggled again.
"I'll leave and let you two visit. Remember, Tony. Eat. It. All," her tone was a little more severe.
Gibbs cocked an eyebrow. "Got a new admirer?"
Tony smiled, "Can't help it, Boss. The DiNozzo charm is like a narcotic. Besides, I think a little flirtation is good for the recuperative process. That's exactly what I told Ziva when she was here this morning." The agent's green eyes twinkled teasingly.
Gibbs huffed. The door opened again and Vance entered the room, arm strapped tightly to his chest in a sling.
"Are you ever getting out of here, DiNozzo? Or are you trying to figure out how to lay flat on your ass and not go back to work?" the Director demanded.
Now it was Tony's turn to huff. "What is it with you two? I'm the tragic hero here, saving lives, nearly dying, kidnapped by a family of crazy assassins, and instead of thanks I get harassment!" he said with mock indignation. "And to top it all off, they tell me I have to eat this crap just to get a pass out of here!"
Vance and Gibbs looked at the unappealing fare on the tray. Gibbs tilted his head. "That is pretty cruel," he agreed. "I'd rather have an MRE."
"Thanks for the support," Tony said, folding his arms. He turned toward Vance. "How are the kids?" he asked more seriously.
"They're good, Tony," the Director replied. "They both had nightmares for a while, but they seem to be getting along fine now. Jackie says you are to come to dinner as soon as you're released from here so she can say a proper thank you."
Tony thought about the offer. Dinner with Vance. At his new house. He wasn't sure if he was ready for that, but he also couldn't say no to Jackie and the kids. "Sounds nice," he replied. Gibbs smiled as he sensed Tony's unease.
"Boss," Tony asked. "Could you hand me that box over there?" The agent was pointing to a medium sized box on the table by the bed. Gibbs retrieved it for the young man.
Tony cleared his throat. "Do you think you could give this to Kayla for me?" he asked the Director. Tony removed a little-girl sized Ohio State cheerleading uniform from the box. "I thought she might like it."
Vance smiled at the dress, "She'll love it. I can see why you're her Very Special Agent Tony," the Director joked. Tony smiled at the teasing.
"And these are for Jared," he added, handing an envelope to the Director.
Vance looked inside and let out a low whistle. "Four fifty-yard line tickets to Ohio State versus Michigan? How did you manage to swing these, DiNozzo? Are you dating a cheerleader?"
Tony smiled even bigger, "I still have some connections. Besides, I made a promise to Jared and I wanted to keep it."
The Director looked puzzled. "Why four?" he asked.
Tony appeared a little uncomfortable. "Well, me and Jared, of course. Then I had to get one for ole Gibbs here—everyone knows what a football fan he is and I just couldn't go without him, and," he paused and looked at Vance, "I thought you might like to go, too."
Vance knew a peace offering when he saw one. Narrowing his eyes at the young man in the hospital bed, who still looked pale and thin despite the fact he was getting better, Vance noticed just the tiniest bit of insecurity as Tony waited for his answer. The Director wasn't about to turn down the unconventional olive branch.
"Of course I'll go," Vance replied. Tony let out a small breath he didn't know he had been holding. Vance shifted awkwardly, "I have something for you, too," he said, pulling a small box out of his coat pocket.
Taking the gift nervously, Tony opened the lid to reveal the hunting knife that had played such a prominent role in their latest adventure. "Wow," he said, "this was your Dad's, you should keep it, I mean I already have a really good knife," he looked at Gibbs uncertainly. The older man smiled slightly and nodded, giving silent approval of the exchange. "But," continued Tony, "I guess a guy can't have too many of these, especially considering the number of crazy psychos we run into," he stopped, knowing he was on the verge of babbling.
Vance grinned at the agent's discomfort. "I've got to get back to the office," he said, checking his watch and heading for the door. Before he walked out, the Director paused and looked back over his shoulder.
"Oh, DiNozzo," he said, "I forgot to warn you." Tony looked up expectantly. "I will be rooting for the Wolverines!"
Vance pulled out a toothpick and laughed before putting it between his teeth. He could still hear Tony yelling to Gibbs about "damn Michigan fans" as he headed for the elevator.
The Director smiled. He might never be in the starting line-up with those two, but it was good to at least finally be on the team.