The Road Less Traveled

"Gibbs."

Special Agent Jethro Gibbs was standing outside Starbucks, waiting for his second in command to arrive. Tony was late, and the annoyance mounting inside Gibbs seeped into his voice as he answered the call.

"Boss…" Tony croaked. He mumbled something that was drowned out by a passing bus. Gibbs turned around and walked into a nearby alley in search of something resembling quiet.

"Speak up, DiNozzo! Where the hell are you? If you're out chasing women on my time again, I swear I'll have your balls for dinner."

Tony had been coming in late a few times the past couple of weeks, mumbling something about a Candy or Cindy or whatever the flavor of the month was called.

Silence ensued, broken only by some muffled sounds Gibbs couldn't quite decipher. His patience was wearing thin as images of a busty blonde forced their way into his mind.

"Tony, will you just get your ass over here, we're running late as it is."

"They got me, Boss. Don't know where I am, or who they are." Tony was talking intently, his voice barely over a whisper. Gibbs held a hand over his other ear to drown out the traffic. His heart rate was picking up as he tried to catch every word Tony was saying.

"I'm in a car, an Explorer or a van, I'm not…."

The rest of the sentence was cut off by a piercing scream of pain before the line went dead.

Tony noticed the cold first, seeping into his very bones. He couldn't quite understand why he'd be so cold. His bed was usually much warmer than this, and more comfortable, not anything like this hard unyielding surface his face was pressed against. He wondered where his pillow had gone. He slowly realized he was not in bed. Had he fallen asleep on the floor? He couldn't remember being that tired last night. His head ached, yet he couldn't remember drinking. "Shit, Anthony, not good….not good at all," he mumbled.

An unfamiliar scraping sound near his head had him awake and aware in a split second.

"Get the fuck up," a voice hissed. Tony pried open one eye as he tried to get an idea of the mess he was in. "Who sent you?"

Tony was dragged to his feet and plopped onto a chair. His arms were secured behind his back and his feet tied to the legs of the chair. Tony shook his head trying to clear his mind. Things were still fuzzy. A car. He'd been thrown into the back of a Ford, an Explorer of some kind. He looked around. A room. He tried to get an idea of where he was. No room, a warehouse. He was in a warehouse. That was why he was cold. Or was it shock? His confused mind kept firing questions, searching for answers. Three men. Armed. Information steadily trickled in and he attempted to process it all, but his brain wouldn't cooperate quickly enough right now. He shot furtive glances around the large space as he slowly assessed the shit he was in.

A hard slap across his face brought his attention back to his captor. Tony looked at him warily. He hated not having all the answers, hated being out of the loop. The man in front of him was tall and muscular. He was white, in his 40s. A dark cap cast a shadow across his face, blurring his features. Tony's brain registered the flood of details, even if he wasn't able to take it all in. The man kept looking at him, eyes hidden behind mirror lens sunglasses. Tony could see his own reflection in them; making the situation he was in even more real. This was no cool movie where the hero – Tony - would kick loose from his restraints and disarm them all with a couple of well-placed uppercuts. He was in deep shit. 'You don't need Gibbs' gut to tell you that,' he thought wryly. He'd been so focused on making sure Henderson wouldn't spot him, thereby overlooking other gangs operating in the area. He looked down on his red Ohio State jacket, grimacing as he realized it was dirty and torn.

"So, pretty boy, which motherfucker sent you? Huhn? Was it…"

"Hey, shut up," a gruff voice bellowed. "No need to give him more than he already knows, is there?" The man moved into Tony's line of vision. "Is there, sweetie?" he smiled maliciously. "What do you want?"

Yeah, good question. Why was he here? Why? Because he was an idiot who couldn't let go, that's why. It had been a Team Gibbs: 0 - Bad Guys: 10 kind of month. He didn't know why he couldn't let this particular case go. It wasn't the first time an arrogant, ruthless drug dealer got away, and it wouldn't be the last. He and Gibbs had spent what seemed like endless hours in the interrogation room with the suspect; Lewis Henderson, smirking at them. The cocaine baron had that confident, invincible look about him that reminded Tony of his father. As a result, he'd spent the last couple of weeks staking out the various locations they'd established Henderson worked out of. Nothing. He'd even been late for work a few times, trying to track him down.

Tony wasn't sure Gibbs actually bought his cover stories, and he knew he was walking a fine line here. Mentally headslapping himself, he tried to get his act together, knowing Gibbs would want him to try to gather as much intel as possible. And stay alive. He didn't have permission to die, not today. His right hand still throbbed from being stepped on. He'd barely had time to speak to Gibbs before he was found out. McGee, Tony smiled inwardly. McGee would be able to trace the call.

He suddenly found himself lying on the floor, dazed after the hard impact of his head against the concrete.

"Answer me, you little shit. Who are you?"

"I'm Special Agent Tony DiNozzo, NCIS," Tony muttered, still a little woozy from the blow to his head. 'Hell…just what ya need, DiNozzo, another concussion. Not like you haven't gotten your fair share of those through the years.' He made a conscious effort to pull himself together.

Tony noticed the surprised look flickering across the face of the man closest to him. He bent down and rooted through Tony's pockets, pulling out his ID. He flicked it open impatiently.

"Navy cops? What the fuck does NCIS want with us?" One of the men standing behind them sounded puzzled.

Tony turned his head to get a better look at the guy. No one knew NCIS. He was barely half way there before a savage blow to his head sent him spiraling into darkness again.

Gibbs felt himself go cold. "No," he muttered, "not Tony. Not happening." He pressed speed dial 3 and waited impatiently for McGee to pick up.

"Get a fix on Tony's phone. Have Ziva meet me where he made his last call," he barked, as soon as the call was answered.

"What's happened, Boss," McGee began, "is Tony in…"

"Just get the damn trace, McGee!" Gibbs yelled, before killing the connection. Taking a deep breath, Gibbs ran out of the ally in search of his car. He got in, turned the key to the ignition and sat there, staring into space a moment before he pulled out. Where to? He had no idea where Tony was. Turning around, he headed back towards the Navy Yard, planning to gather the team, get as many men as possible on the search.

His phone rang. He snapped it open, listening impatiently to McGee give him the location to Tony's phone.

"He's in Brentwood," McGee began, rattling off an address.

"Stay on him, McGee, let me know if he moves. Tony's kidnapped, probably injured." He ignored McGee's startled response. "I need as much man power as you can muster on this, McGee. Call Ducky and have him meet me there."

"What…" the younger agent interrupted.

"Now, McGee!" Gibbs ended the call and turned north again, hurtling towards the location McGee had given him. He refused to consider what he could find there. There was just no way Tony would not come out of this ok. "I did not give you permission to die," he shouted, pounding his fist into the steering wheel, cursing as he cut in front of a slow moving station wagon. "God damn Volvos," he muttered, ignoring the startled faces peering at him from the other car. A loud blaring horn clearly signaled what the other driver thought of him. Gibbs took no notice of it. All that mattered was to get to Tony in time.

Tony regained consciousness, his head protesting loudly as he pried one eye open. He bit back a groan, not wanting to alert his captors that he was awake. He was inside a car and they were on the move. He could hear two male voices from the front of the vehicle, but wasn't able to make out what was said. Ignoring the throbbing pain that had taken up residence behind his right eye, he tried to move his hands, only to find they were not tied together. 'Sloppy,' he thought. Tony searched the immediate area around his body, a wave of relief washing over him as he found what felt like his cell phone wedged behind a bag. 'Very sloppy.' He felt like cheering, but settled for pressing speed dial one.

Gibbs' phone rang and he flipped it open as he skidded around a corner, tires screeching as they fought to keep the car going forward.

"He's on the move, Bossman," Abby said. "Tony's going southeast on Eastern Ave."

"Where's McGee?"

"He and Ziva are on their way. You find Tony, Gibbs, and bring him home. Ok?"

"I promise, Abby," Gibbs said before hanging up again. Traffic was picking up, as rush hour approached. He was heading north on New York Ave. when Abby called again.

"The signal's moving right onto Bladensburg Rd., Gibbs, going south. Turn left, a couple of miles from your current location."

Gibbs' mind raced through possible scenarios as his eyes scanned the road, moving as fast as humanly possible. Who could have grabbed him? The list of possible suspects was too long. There was no way of knowing who could be responsible for this. He began to mentally cross off the most likely candidates, needing to do something. His phone rang again a couple of minutes later, interrupting his chain of thought. Gibbs' heart skipped a beat as he glanced at the caller ID. DiNozzo. It was Tony. He was alive.

"Tony," he said. Silence. No reply. "Tony, if you can't talk, press a button."

He heard a faint beep and went on. "I'm coming to get you, Tony. You will be alright, you hear?" Another faint beep. "I've gotta hang up, Tony, Abby's giving me directions."

He could hear Tony sigh, and then the phone went dead.

A few seconds later it rang again. "Gibbs," he said tersely.

"The car's stopped, Gibbs, Pleasant Hill Cemetery. Turn right on Bladensburg Rd., they just passed New York Ave."

He was only a few minutes behind Tony; he would make it in time.

They were slowing down, and Tony could hear the noise from the traffic fading away. A few moments later the car stopped completely. Before he could react, the rear door was yanked open and suddenly Tony's hand was pulled out, still clutching the cell. The door was slammed shut, crushing his fingers. The pain was excruciating and ripped a scream from him, his phone clattering as it fell onto the ground. A couple of guys appeared and he was hauled out by the scruff of his neck and pushed onto a lawn. A stone angel was gazing solemnly down on him and he looked around, confusion and fear mounting. Were they going to kill him? In the distance he could here a car approaching. Before he could call for help, a savage kick to his gut had him doubled over on the ground. He saw the man lift his foot, ready to plant that big, steel capped boot in Tony's face when he suddenly disappeared from his line of vision. Tony suffered another blow to his head, before they were all gone.

The ground felt surprisingly soft beneath his cheek, and he struggled to hold onto consciousness a little bit longer. Gibbs. He had to call Gibbs…had…why…

He dimly registered the car revving its engine, the sound getting louder and louder. A searing pain ripped through his leg, before the car sped away. Darkness swept him up and he let it, relieved the agony was gone.

Gibbs turned into the cemetery, his eyes sweeping the grounds as he forced himself to drive slowly. The place was nearly deserted; he could see a group of nuns dressed in vivid blue robes walking off in the distance. He was driving up a small hill, turning around a bend in the road when a glimpse of red caught his eye amongst all the green grass and stone monuments. As he got closer, Gibbs could see it was a man, unmoving and pale. Tony. The red Ohio State jacket was unmistakable, even though he hadn't seen him wear it in a while. He cut across the lawn and got out his phone, quickly giving his location to Ducky. There was no time to waste, they needed to get Tony to the hospital. In the distance he could hear a car speeding away, but he didn't care. All that mattered was Tony.

Tony looked pale and lifeless, not the animated, vibrant picture he normally presented. His face was covered in several blooming bruises, and dried blood had stained his shirt. The front of his jacket was torn and Gibbs could see that his right hand was swollen; a couple of fingers looked broken.

Trying not to jostle Tony too much, he looked him over carefully, as the full extent of his injuries became clear. A nearly uncontrollable rage rose in him when he realized that the marks on Tony's pants were tire marks and his leg was broken.

Gibbs gently brushed the hair away from Tony's forehead as he said his name, trying to get his attention.

"You came," Tony croaked, looking at Gibbs through his good eye. Gibbs let his hand rest on his cheek for a moment. Tony's fingers closed around his wrist, holding on when Gibbs tried to let go.

"Can't have you goofing off on my time, DiNozzo. Gotta haul your ass back into the office, you still have all those folders to file," Gibbs replied, in a feeble attempt to crack a joke.

"Yeah, love you too, boss," Tony smiled, before closing his eyes again, going very still.

"Tony, you with me?" Gibbs asked, his fingers gently stroking Tony's face. There was no reaction. Cradling Tony's head in his lap, he flipped open his phone again, wondering where the hell Ducky was. Before he got that far, the NCIS van pulled up, closely followed by an ambulance. The quiet cemetery was soon a beehive of activity, as Tony was stabilized and driven off.

Gibbs was ready to follow the ambulance when McGee and Ziva pulled up. "What the hell took you so long?" Gibbs demanded, as they walked over to him. McGee appeared unfazed by his terse tone; he even looked strangely satisfied.

"We arrested the guys that had Tony," McGee declared to Gibbs' surprise. "Abby told us where Tony was located, and Metro assisted us, blocking the entrances to the cemetery. As soon as the car exited, we had them." He paused. "How's Tony doing?" he asked, worry bleeding into his voice.

"How the hell did you manage to get there in time?" Gibbs wanted to know, ignoring the question. He refused to dwell on the memory of a battered Tony right now.

"We got lucky," McGee conceded. "Metro had a couple of cruisers in the area, and one entrance was already blocked due to maintenance on the gate."

"Good work, McGee," Gibbs nodded; pleased they'd managed to find the bastards. "You and Ziva head back to the Yard, I'll be at Bethesda if you need me." He'd turned around when Ziva grabbed his arm. "How is Tony, Gibbs? Will he be alright?" Her eyes were large and worried, and she was uncharacteristically subdued.

"I don't know, Ziva. He was conscious when I got to him, but he was out by the time the paramedics arrived. I'll let you know as soon as I have any news."

"You don't want to interrogate them?" Ziva asked, looking surprised.

"No, you and McGee can handle it. I have somewhere else I need to be." With that he left them, jogging over to his abandoned car as he was mentally mapping out the quickest route to the hospital.