When he was finally done with the tapes, Gibbs needed a few minutes to compose himself before he could consider stepping out of the room. And if he had found them that difficult to watch, how hard must it have been for DiNozzo to live through? Coming to a decision, he rose to his feet and plucked a couple of glasses and the corkscrew out of the Director's wet bar. Failing to find the other item he needed, he cursed softly and detoured to drop the glasses and corkscrew on his desk, before ducking out of the building to run his errand. It took a bit of time and cost considerably more money than he was used to, but he figured the gesture would be well worth the trouble in the end.
DiNozzo had promised he wouldn't leave the building, so when he wasn't in the bullpen, the gym or even Abby's lab, Gibbs figured autopsy was a pretty safe bet. As he entered, the room itself was in darkness, but a small pool of light from the lamp on Ducky's desk showed DiNozzo tipped back in the metal chair, with his eyes closed and his expression shuttered. Putting both glasses down on the table with a soft click, Gibbs proceeded to open the bottle, watching as the younger man cracked a single eye open at the unexpected sounds and a raised a brow, not attempting to disguise his surprise.
"Wine, Boss?" Tony questioned. Gibbs was more of a beer or bourbon kind of guy. He didn't think he had ever been served wine in his home. "Is this a date? Are we on a date?"
"Chardonnay," Was Gibbs only response, as he filled one of the glasses before meeting Tony's eyes, watching as the significance of the gesture sunk in. "I watched the tapes."
Listen, can I get a glass of chardonnay or something?
"Right," Tony wasn't at all sure how he felt about that. He knew that he had done a good job, deflecting Saleem. He had done whatever it took to keep himself, McGee and then Ziva alive. But the experience had stripped him right back to the bare mettle of his wits. It was a side of him he usually worked very hard to keep hidden. "Um, maybe a drink isn't the best idea right now. Who knows how much of that truth stuff Saleem gave me is still sloshing around in my veins."
Gibbs gave him an unreadable look, but his only response was to fill the other glass and nudge it closer to his senior field Agent. Tony was smart enough to know that they weren't getting out of here until they had talked about what his Boss had seen on those tapes. Resigning himself to the inevitable, Tony decided he might as well take advantage of Gibbs' hospitality. Picking up the glass, he swirled the pale liquid around and leant in to take an exaggerated sniff of the bouquet, partly as a further stalling tactic and partly because he knew the pretentious behaviour would draw an eye roll from the no-nonsense former marine, only to stop short in genuine shock as he breathed in the unexpectedly mellow bouquet.
"Wow that's ..," Casting a swift look at Gibbs, Tony took a cautious sip letting the layers of flavour confirm what his nose had already told him. "That's the good stuff."
Curious now, he turned the bottle around, reading the renowned label and impressive vintage with a low, long, whistle, a wine that good, didn't come cheap. Coming from a practical man like Gibbs, it was an extravagant gesture that went way beyond a simple 'good job'. The former marine might not be good with words but as a symbol of support, affection even, it was almost poetic. Taking another sip to really savour the nuances of the high end vintage he met Gibbs gaze with a soft smile.
"I always knew there was more than one reason that you married four times. You're a romantic at heart."
"Told you before, DiNozzo," Gibbs drew up another chair and sat so that the two men both had their backs to the wall, with the desk between them. "You're not my type."
"That's cute, Boss," Tony let his thoughts roam free. "And that's a good move, sitting over there, so I don't feel like this is an interrogation. I can even avoid eye contact with you if I want too. Although, the walls in here are really dull. Ducky needs to brighten the place up a little, a few pictures, maybe a nicer lamp or something ..."
"Don't suppose he get many complaints about the decor from his usual clientele." Gibbs observed dryly.
"Guess, not," Tony focused on his wine glass, turning the stem in his hand a few times before he spoke again "Sooooo, Ziva's not dead after all."
"No, she isn't." Gibbs allowed.
"But she's not our Ziva either," Tony spoke quietly. "She'd given up, Boss. She wasn't even trying to escape anymore. She'd accepted that she was going to die there."
"You have to twist her arm to get her to come with you?"
Tony blinked slightly as he reflected on that. Ziva had seemed disillusioned and defeated, and frankly not particularly happy to see him there, she had asked how McGee was doing after all. But then as soon as they had given her a window, it had been almost just like old times. Maybe, Ziva hadn't felt able to fight back anymore but she had allowed them to carry her.
In Ziva-speak that was a big deal.
"Anyone can be broken, Tony, given enough time" Gibbs spoke with the quiet certainty that said he had been there. "That's nothing to be ashamed of. Its how you put yourself back together afterwards that counts."
"I knew you'd come for us," Tony tried to avoid the elephant in the room. "All the time Saleem held us I knew all I had to do was keep us all alive long enough not to get dead and you would do the rest. That was one hell of a shot, Boss."
"Rule 32." Gibbs shrugged. "I was just following your lead."
"You were?" Tony blinked as he considered that. "That's pretty big, Boss. In fact, that's huge."
Tony knew that there were very few people to whom Gibbs would surrender total control of an operation, especially, over something as close to his own heart as rescuing one of his own. When Kate had been murdered, Gibbs had been single-minded in his desire for revenge. This time he had stood aside. Belatedly, Tony realised that not only had Gibbs had his six in his campaign to bring Saleem down. But he had actually waited on him, doing nothing and he gave him the time and space he needed until he was ready to step up.
"You've always been a good Boss, Boss." He stalled now.
"Not too bad yourself, DiNozzo."
From the moment Tony had surged to his feet in the bullpen and issued an unequivocal "no" this had been his show. Gibbs had supported him, guided him, and run interference between him and Vance when some muscle about DiNozzo's pay grade was required. But Gibbs had known this was something Tony needed to be the one to do, before it ate him up inside.
And seeing his people, dehydrated and exhausted, as they limped from captivity, he knew he had made the right decision. Reaching down he offered DiNozzo his spare canteen. If they needed to move fast, then he wanted them in the best possible shape. He had watched with no small degree of pride, as DiNozzo had held the canteen first to Ziva's lips and supported her head as she drank, and then passed it to McGee, before taking a drink himself. In Gibbs' book that said everything that needed to be said about Tony's leadership right there.
"The tapes Vance showed me only covered the first day you were taken," Gibbs spoke quietly, taking a sip of his wine and carefully not looking at DiNozzo as he asked. "It was another two days before we located you. What happened the rest of the time?"
"That's a question, Boss, that's a real question," Tony squinted as he avoided looking at Gibbs. "My first nanny, she always said honestly was the best policy. She would have been no good under-cover. Not supposed to tell, right?
"You can tell me." Gibbs prompted quietly.
Tony blinked. The words were an invitation, rather than an order. The soft spoken support cut through his defences, like no demand had ever been able to. And he knew that Gibbs meant it. Knew that the soldier in his Boss, understood what it was to be raw and exposed, struggling to hold on to a sense of self, during a process designed to strip away dignity and humanity and leave nothing but a shell behind.
"Spent most of the last few days not telling, of course, that was before I got to try my own little chemical cocktail," Tony reflected. "Really gotta try and get a handle on that. Williams in Human Resources asked me what I thought of his new car and I told him it was a great car – if you were a teenage girl. He was pretty ticked off I guess he couldn't handle the truth."
Gibbs gave him a look that said very clearly that whatever it was, he was damned sure he could handle it.
"Gibbs, I swear, nothing happened."
That answer came back too quickly to be anything but totally honest and it was exactly what Gibbs had been dreading.
"Nothing happened? You mean, he just left you in there for almost three days?"
"I didn't say that," Tony protested, before his eyes narrowed as he replayed the conversation in his head. "But I can see how you could draw that totally accurate conclusion from what I did say. I feel like I'm channelling Jim Carey as Fletcher Reede here. Have you seen that movie, Boss?"
"How did you end up in the hole, DiNozzo?" Gibbs refused to be defleted.
"Saleem got pretty mad pretty quick when I wouldn't give him the answers he needed. When he went to untie me I actually thought he was going to take me out and shoot me. Imagine my surprise when we took a little detour. The place was hewn out of the ground its sides were as smooth as glass. It was like a well or something, except there was no water and it was hot and dark and the trap door was at least three body lengths above my head. I might have thought I was never getting out of there if I hadn't known you were coming," He gave a hollow laugh. "Then, I heard sounds like them moving crates or sacks or something across to hide the trap door."
"I would have found you."
Gibbs swiftly addressed the un-voiced fear. It was almost ironic. Saleem had no way of knowing that he was exposing the younger man to one of his greatest fears. Thanks to his father's benign neglect there was nothing Tony hated more than being forgotten, or overlooked. Being dumped in that hole would have scared him more than any torture.
"I know you would," Tony's eyes met his, letting him see the truth of that. "You've always come for me. But Saleem's camp was a big place. It got really hot in there. I passed out a few times and it was pretty difficult to keep track of the time. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to hold on long enough for you to do your thing."
His voice faltered slightly at the memory and Gibbs looked on in sympathy, recalling the moment he'd witnesses in the infra red feed when his young agent had realised he was sharing his tiny prison with a collection of human bones. In a clinically calculating move Saleem had fixed up a live feed so he could watch his prisoners suffer and know the exact moment their spirit was broken. Gibbs almost wished the bastard wasn't dead so he could kill him all over again.
"And there were rats." He nudged.
"Yeah," Tony paused. "Rats, lots and lots of rats."
That had been the hardest thing of all to watch. Knowing that Tony was as good as blind in the darkness, seeing him strain to hear the scratching of the rats, holding himself still and tense, then as the animals realised his helplessness, his increasingly desperate struggles to fend them off and avoid being bitten, despite the fact that there was absolutely nowhere for him to go.
"Did you know that in 2001 large rodents believed to be suffering from rabies terrorised central Somalia?" Tony asked, as if it was no big deal. "Most people were attacked when they fell asleep at night. Brad wrote something about it in one of the papers he had published on me. And in July 2009 at least 4 people were killed and almost 70 others landed up in Intensive Care because of a disease which was thought to be spread by rat urine in the water supply. I looked that one up before we went. "
Gibbs blinked. He hadn't known that. And even though DiNozzo had, he hadn't said a single word about it as they had made their preparations, despite his almost phobic dislike of rats. He supposed it explained why his agent hadn't even tried to sleep.
"You're a brave man, DiNozzo." He spoke with quiet certainly.
"What?" Tony looked at him, his eyes wide with disbelief and when his words came his tone was bitter. "You sure you watched those tapes Boss? Maybe, you're eyesight is finally shot. Because the way I remember it by the time they finally pulled me out of that hell hole my throat was raw with screaming and my eyes were red and itching from bawling like a little girl."
"And then you pulled yourself together and got the job done." Gibbs pointed out. "Courage is never about not being afraid."
"You going to start quoting George S Patton to me, Boss? Courage is fear holding on a minute longer?" Tony mocked himself quietly.
"Tony," Gibbs sighed. He knew there were no words that would make his agent feel better about the way he had wigged out. In DiNozzo's eyes he had let himself down and not even his Boss was going to be able to make him feel better about that. But he would offer what comfort he could. Reaching across the table he laid his hand on the younger man's neck, squeezing gently and feeling Tony relax slightly under his grip as he let the familiar touch ground him. "Don't need to tell you things you already know. You just need to let yourself believe 'em. What would you say if Saleem had targeted McGee?"
Tony glanced sideways at him, as he considered his Boss' words. Pressing his lips together he tried to give the question the objective consideration that it demanded.
"We survived. We got the job done. Saleem didn't break me. He gave it his best shot. Gave me a hell of a time, but I came out fighting and kept the team safe and got the bad guy in the process." A thin smile crossed his haggard features. "I suppose that's not such a bad few days work."
"Ya think?" Gibbs reached out and tousled his hair gently, before rising to his feet and offering a hand to help his agent up. He knew they still had a long road to travel and it would be hard on both of them before things were anything like back to normal but bringing DiNozzo to that realisation was a good enough start for now. "C'mon, you're bunking at my place tonight."
"I don't know, Boss," Tony looked awkward. "I'm probably not going to be the best of company."
"All the more reason for you to stay at my place," Gibbs pointed out. "My walls are thicker and my neighbours are further away. Besides, can you honestly say you want to be alone tonight?"
"Ha, funny, Boss," Tony scowled at him. "You know, it's not nice to pick on the afflicted. But seriously, it might just be best all round if I went back to my own .."
"Wasn't a request, DiNozzo."
"Of course it wasn't," Tony acknowledged. "Do I at least get to pick the movie? Because, I think I'm starting a Black List, Bad Day at Black Rock. Total Recall, come to that. The Rats, obviously, even though Madchen Amick was really quite hot in that."
"I'm picking," Gibbs cut him off. "It's my turn. You can chose the take out."
They both paused as Gibbs cell rang, looking at the caller ID the senior agent frowned slightly.
"I need to take this, you go get your gear together, I'll meet you by my car in fifteen."
"On it, Boss."
Already thumbing the button to accept the call, Gibbs lifted the cell to his ear, hoping that all was well with Ziva and it wasn't going to be any more bad news. He didn't think he could handle much more tonight.
"Ah Jethro," The ME's cultured tones came clearly through the speakers. "I just thought you would like to know that Abigail and I have dear Ziva settled for the present. She is quite exhausted and physically in rather poor shape, although things there are not nearly as bad as they might have been if you get my drift. I get the impression that Saleem was more one for psychological torture than actual physical abuse."
"Yeah, I already worked that one out for myself." Gibbs sighed.
"Oh dear," Mallard realised. "And how is Tony doing?"
Briefly, Gibbs outlined the key events of the evening, knowing that Mallard's care would be as important as his own support in getting DiNozzo back on track. When he finished there was a brief, slightly perplexed silence.
"You know, Jethro," He could almost hear Mallard frowning. "The effects of sodium pentothal are usually quite short lasting, even allowing for the cocktail of other drugs employed by Saleem, plus the dehydration, lack of sleep and malnutrition, Tony should have fully recovered from its effects quite some hours ago."
"Is that so, Duck?" Gibbs didn't react.
"Except, you clearly knew this already," Mallard realised. "So, why did you allow Tony to continue with his little subterfuge that he was still acting under its influence? It's not like you to let the wool be pulled over your eyes."
"You're a smart man, Duck," Gibbs allowed. "I'm sure you'll figure it out."