Disclaimer: NCIS and its characters do not belong to me and this story is not intended as an infringement of copyright. It has been written solely for entertainment and no profit has been made from its creation.
A/N: - This story took almost a year to complete and was both a Godsend and a burden during a difficult year. It is a case file, (as are most of my stories) but, in order for me to grow as a writer, it contains a lot more detail than I usually add and required a considerable amount of research on my part. It is a long story with plenty of forensic, military and medical details that I have tried to depict as accurately as possible. If there are any inconsistencies or irregularities, I hope you will overlook them for the sake of the story. As with my other stories, I have tried to combine plenty of team and character interaction, lots of hurt Tony/protective Gibbs moments, drama, angst, action, humour and hopefully an interesting and plausible plot.
If that's not your "thing" or if you don't think you have the time or patience to take a long ride with me and allow me time to weave the story, please feel free to bail out now and, hopefully, you'll join me for the next story. Forewarned, okay?
Thank you to LG for your unwavering support in life and fanfic and to my LINDY's for their encouragement.
I hope you enjoy this story, L
Another heavy sigh of frustration and a muttered obscenity from across the bullpen drew Gibbs' attention from his reports. He looked over the top of his glasses and studied the dishevelled form of his senior field agent.
Four days ago, Tony had completed an undercover assignment that had taken a month to reach culmination. Although a successful outcome had been achieved, the assignment had taken its toll on the younger man who had lived and breathed every minute as his sleazebag, drug and gunrunning, alter ego, Gus Bricker.
In preparation for this assignment, Tony had spent a gruelling two weeks at the NCIS Contingency Response Field Office in Georgia. There, he had been engaged in highly specialised training - primarily in the handling and operation of an assortment of weapons and field explosives, from pistols to light machine guns and from hand grenades to C-4 and RPG's. By the time he was finished his training, what he didn't know about the range, calibre, and operation of these weapons was not worth knowing.
He was beyond exhausted and considerably pissed that one of their main suspects, Petty Officer Jay Forello, had escaped custody when the bust was made. It was the thought of the "one that got away" that caused Tony's dark mood and frustration.
The team had spent the best part of the past four days processing and interrogating Forello's known associates and running down a dozen leads on the whereabouts of the missing petty officer – all to no avail.
With his hair mussed and wearing faded jeans torn at the knees, a t-shirt and a week's growth, Tony looked more like Bricker than his usual clean-shaven, well-groomed self and Gibbs noted with concern that the transition from sleazebag to federal agent seemed to be taking a little longer than usual.
Although Tony loved undercover work and was an experienced operative, one look at his pallor and his drawn appearance was all it took to realise just how punishing a month long assignment could be and how much it had cost him mentally and physically. The dark smudges under his eyes told Gibbs that his senior field agent was in desperate need of few days R & R.
Rising to his feet, Gibbs walked across the bullpen to Tony's desk where he placed a document in front of the younger man.
"Sign it," Gibbs said, indicating the bottom of the page.
Tony dutifully signed the form without bothering to read it and frowned as Gibbs co-signed the document and walked back to his own desk, without explanation.
"Ah…Boss?" Tony asked. "Did I just sign away my car? Make you sole beneficiary of my will? Donate a kidney?"
"Nope. I just approved your vacation request."
"I didn't request a vacation."
"This your signature?" Gibbs asked, holding the freshly signed document out for him to see.
"But nothing, your four day weekend starts tonight. I don't want to see you back here until Tuesday at zero seven hundred."
"Come on, Boss, I'm fine…and besides, the job's not done until we find Forello, right?"
"Wrong. You've spent the last month undercover and two weeks before that with the Contingency Response Team," Gibbs stated. "Take the leave and let us worry about Forello. You got someplace to go?"
"Who's going where?" Abby asked, walking into the bullpen with Ducky and Palmer trailing close behind.
"Tony is taking four days vacation," Ziva replied. "We are about to help him choose his destination."
"What about Panama City?" Palmer piped up. "He loves it there!"
"No!" Gibbs vetoed immediately. "I don't want him back here smelling like a brewery and looking worse than he already does."
"So…some place quiet…where he can get lots of rest," Abby suggested.
"How about my apartment?" Tony offered.
"No!" the others replied simultaneously.
"Don't you have an old college buddy who owns a cabin in the mountains in Connecticut?" McGee asked.
"That's right!" Abby replied before Tony could answer. "Steve Hayes. He's always inviting you to stay."
"What a wonderful idea!" Ducky enthused. "The rest and mountain air will do you the world of good, my boy. You are looking a trifle piqued."
"Book his flight, McGee," Gibbs instructed, tossing his credit card on the junior agent's desk. "First flight out of Dulles tonight."
"Tonight! Look, it's not that I don't appreciate this…" Tony said trying to force a smile, "but I haven't spoken to Steve in months. He may not even want me at his cabin let alone…."
His words trailed off as Abby shoved a cell phone in his face – his own cell phone.
"It's for you," she said smiling smugly.
"Who is it?"
"It's your old college buddy, Steve Hayes," Abby said. "He said you're more than welcome to stay at the cabin and he needs to tell you where to find the keys and how to light the gas heater."
"You called him?" Tony asked in astonishment.
"Yep," Abby replied handing Tony his phone and whispering loudly. "I took a chance that his number was in your cell - don't keep him waiting."
Tony begrudgingly made arrangements with Steve to stay at the cabin for his enforced long weekend but when he ended the call, he was still reluctant to go.
"Okay…you are booked on the 2015 from Dulles to Hartford, Connecticut. You arrive approx. 2100 and I've booked a rental for you to get to the cabin," McGee advised.
Feeling like he'd been backed against a wall, Tony protested again.
"Come on, Boss, this really isn't necessary. I can rest at my own apartment," he said, feeling like he'd lost the war without even waging a battle.
"You heard McGee, you're already booked," Gibbs said.
"I can't just up and leave, I have responsibilities here!" he argued.
Gibbs raised a quizzical eyebrow and Tony answered the non-verbal question.
"Well…what about my fish and my plant thingies?" Tony said desperately grasping at straws. "I can't leave Zeus and Apollo unattended for four days."
"I will be happy to feed your fish and attend to your plants, Tony," Ziva offered.
"Ah, but you can't…because you don't have a key and I don't have another spare and…Wait, what am I saying? You don't need a key to get into my apartment."
Ziva smiled and nodded in confirmation. Despite Tony's elaborate double deadlocks, with her "ninja" skills, she would have his door open in seconds.
"Okay…well…I'm not packed!" he said, pleased that he'd thought of another reason to cancel the trip. "By the time we finish work tonight, I won't have time to drive my car back to my apartment, pack a bag and get a cab to Dulles."
"I'd be happy to follow you to your apartment during our lunch break, Tony," Palmer said. "Then you can pack a bag, leave your car in your garage and I'll bring you back."
Tony's icy glare was lost on the ever-obliging assistant ME.
"I'm sure Ducky has plenty for you to do, Palmer," he said through gritted teeth.
"Nonsense, my boy!" Ducky chirped. "Mr Palmer is entitled to his lunch hour, as are you."
"Abby and I can pick you up at the airport when you return at 1945 on Monday evening," McGee added.
Tony looked stunned. "You know, if this was the Wild West, I'd think I'd just been run out of town."
"If everyone doesn't get back to work, there'll be a few more people being run out of town," Gibbs said, scattering agents, forensic scientists and medical examiners in all directions.
His cool blue eyes met Tony's confused green ones across the room and his lips twitched in a slight smile as he heard him wonder aloud.
"What just happened?"
"It's called vacation intervention, DiNozzo, you're going to Connecticut!" he answered definitively. "And DiNozzo?"
"Lose the whiskers."
As unhappy as he had initially been about the compulsory downtime, Tony realised that as the trail for the petty officer became colder, he began to feel more exhausted and frustrated. As the end of the working day approached, he started to look forward to hopping a plane to Connecticut for his extra long weekend. The thought of switching off his cell and surrounding himself with his jazz CD's and a selection of his much loved DVD's was becoming more and more appealing.
McGee and Ziva had long since completed their reports, handed them to Gibbs and been excused for the evening. They said goodnight, wished Tony a nice vacation and left the office.
"Pack it up, DiNozzo," Gibbs said. "Your flight's in an hour."
"Almost ready, Boss," Tony said. "I'll finish these reimbursement request forms and grab a cab to the airport. No problem."
Both men returned their attention to the reports on their desks when the shrill tone of Gibbs' cell fractured the silence. Although his words were calmly spoken, Tony recognised the barely perceptible change in his tone and was already reaching for his weapon and ID by the time Gibbs disconnected the call.
"Forello?" Tony asked.
"Gotta tip off, Forello is heading for a bar called Malone's, you know it?" Gibbs asked, reaching for his own weapon.
"Malone's? Sure, it's over on G Street, about a mile from here," Tony replied.
"You've got a flight to catch, I'll call McGee."
"I'll catch a later flight," Tony said. "Come on, Boss, I spent a month undercover trying to nail that little weasel! By the time McGee gets here, Forello could be gone."
Gibbs thought for a moment before nodding his approval.
"Who phoned it in?" Tony asked.
"Ah…nothing like a woman scorned or a bitter ex-wife to bring a man back to earth with a thud. 'Cause you'd know more about that than me, right, Boss? The bitter ex-wife part I mean…not the woman scorned…I think I could give you a run for your money there…"
Tony grimaced as Gibbs impaled him with a look that would freeze hell.
"I'll get the car, meet you out front," he said hurrying to the sanctuary of the stairwell.
It was approaching 2000 hours and the Thursday night revellers were headed to the many nightclubs, restaurants and bars in the area to spend their paychecks. As Gibbs carefully weaved the sedan through the slow moving traffic, Tony changed his flight to the 2330 from Dulles and was busy fidgeting with his com-link and earwig when he saw a familiar face and reached for the door handle.
"Boss, across the street, your ten o'clock."
Gibbs turned his trained eyes in that direction and immediately noticed Forello standing on the sidewalk, in a deep and animated discussion with an unknown man who was heavily tattooed and wearing gang colours.
"Gang banger's wearing 18th Street colours," Tony said. "He's taking a big chance meeting with Forello this far from his home turf."
Gibbs confirmed with a nod and wheeled the vehicle into the first available parking spot. "Take it slow, if Forello spots you he'll run and he'll be damned hard to catch in this crowd."
"Gotcha, Boss," the younger man replied before climbing from the car and jogging casually across the busy street.
Tony was just fifty feet from Forello when a loud altercation between two inebriated men caused most heads to turn in that direction. Gibbs saw Forello's startled expression as he noticed Tony heading his way. The "deer in the headlights" pose vanished instantly as the petty officer sprinted from the scene with Tony in hot pursuit, calling for Forello to stop and for people to get out of the way.
"Damn it!" Gibbs muttered under his breath as he veered back into the traffic intending to cut off Forello's escape route.
By the time the men had sprinted two city blocks, Tony was starting to reel in the petty officer's head start but was still 30 feet behind. Gibbs cursed again as the traffic ahead came to a standstill and blocked his path. Abandoning the vehicle he joined the pursuit, reluctantly acknowledging that, with his bad knee, he would not be able to maintain the pace for too long.
The pedestrian traffic was thinning and Gibbs spoke to Tony via the com-link.
"I'm on foot, fifty feet to your six."
Tony could hear Gibbs' footfalls pounding the pavement behind him but didn't look back as he breathlessly replied.
Tony heard the unspoken warning loud and clear. He had been Gibbs' partner for over nine years now and there had been many a heated debate when Tony had out distanced his teammates and faced his quarry without back up. He was a natural athlete who, even in his late thirties, was still deceptively fast and loved to run down a suspect.
The lactic acid was burning through his muscles as the chase continued down a less busy cross street. Although both agents had drawn their weapons according to regs, in such a populated area, the safeties were on and the barrels were pointed downward.
With another city block behind them, Forello was now only fifteen feet ahead of Tony and showed no intention of yielding despite Tony's repeated calls.
"Nearly got him, Boss," Tony panted. "I've nearly got him."
Mindful of keeping his back up in sight, he chanced a quick look over his shoulder at Gibbs, who was now about forty feet behind. He was equally reassured and impressed by the older man's dogged determination not to let the pain of his bad knee, prevent him from watching his partner's six. He was about to turn his attention back to Forello, when he heard Gibbs' shouted warning through the earwig.
"Tony! Look out!"
The blood-chilling screech of tyres was a short precursor to the sickening sound of flesh and bone colliding with metal. Gibbs watched helplessly as Tony's body careened into the windshield before landing with a nauseating thud on the street in front of the vehicle.
With a burst of speed he didn't know he had left in him, Gibbs sprinted to the accident site and skidded to a halt beside the unconscious form of his senior field agent. Ignoring the complaints of his painful knee, he immediately felt for Tony's pulse, relieved when he found a strong beat.
A small crowd of on-lookers began to gather as Gibbs hit the speed dial on his cell and advised the NCIS dispatcher that he had an agent down and required urgent medical assistance. A look further down the street told that Forello was long gone.
He barely acknowledged the distraught driver's desperate claims that Tony "ran right in front of him," even though he knew that the driver was not at fault. As he carefully checked the younger man for obvious signs of critical injury or bleeding, an elderly woman appeared beside him, offering an emergency blanket that Gibbs gratefully accepted and placed over Tony's still body.
Gibbs urgently looked around for Tony's weapon, recalling that he'd seen it propelled from his grasp upon impact with the vehicle. He spotted it laying in a nearby gutter, retrieved it quickly and made his way back to Tony's side. The sound of a distant siren drawing closer brought its own relief.
"Tony? Can you hear me?" Gibbs said softly to the unconscious man. "Ah, dammit DiNozzo!"
The next twenty minutes were a blur as the EMT's arrived and examined a still unconscious Tony.
Gibbs handed his business card to a responding Metro PD officer, gave him the keys to his abandoned vehicle and told him to contact him tomorrow for a full statement.
His first and only priority for the moment was the condition of his agent.
The EMT's carefully placed Tony in a cervical collar, onto a backboard and loaded him into an ambulance. Gibbs was at his side as they rushed him to Bethesda.
Thank you for reading and and special thanks to those of you who, during the past few months, filled my "inbox" with kind wishes and prayers. L