Disclaimer: We do not own the characters mentioned herein and any copyright infringement is unintentional.
A/N We hope you enjoy this extra long final chapter of The Insider. Thanks for reading. L & L
The clearing became a hive of activity as the NCIS agents took the Botha's and Sorensen into custody and read them their rights. Standing off to the side Fornell looked at Sorenson in disbelief. He'd known of Sorenson's involvement from the moment the Navy crew chief told him the State Troopers had found his car but part of him had refused to believe it. He thought he knew this kid, he'd worked him, he'd trained him – hell, he had even travelled in the ambulance when the kid had been shot in the shoulder last month. Learning that Sorenson was actually Jacques Botha's son was like being kicked in the guts. He averted his gaze, suddenly sickened by the sight of the young man and looked around the clearing.
The Navy medics had set up a makeshift triage area and were treating the two injured agents. DiNozzo hissed loudly as a sterile dressing was applied to his arm, his ribcage had been strapped firmly. The dark smudges under his eyes and the bruises on his cheek and jaw stood out in gruesome contrast on the too pale skin and Fornell realised that only the younger man's considerable will was holding him together. Sensing he was being watched, Tony turned his weary gaze toward Fornell and smiled grimly, a ghost of his usual good humour.
"Still making friends with that winning personality, DiNozzo," Fornell said casually, giving the younger man's uninjured shoulder a quick squeeze as he walked by.
Several feet away, another medic was applying a temporary splint to Gibbs' injured leg. The lead agent's face was a mixed pallet of colours and his eyes shone with the effects of a slight concussion. Misplaced guilt over the FBI's involvement disturbed Fornell to the point of nausea. Van Borough was dead and these two NCIS agents had barely escaped with their lives – an FBI agent, his agent, was at the heart of it all.
"Tobias?" Gibbs asked, noticing the other man looked unusually rattled. "You okay?"
"Fine," his friend lied. "It's been a hell of a week."
Balboa approached holding Tony's backpack aloft.
"Found it, Gibbs, just where you said it would be," he said, handing the pack to Fornell. "Miller's team is ready to escort the prisoners back to the road where the State Troopers are waiting to transport them back to the Navy yard. The rangers will accompany my team to retrieve the bodies of de Beers, Kruger and van Borough. We'll see you back in DC."
As Miller's team assisted the handcuffed prisoners to their feet and directed them toward the trail, Tony pushed aside his exhaustion and moved to block Morne's path.
"Looks like the yo-yo turned out to be lucky after all." Tony said, "but not for you." His lips pulled back in a forced smile, exposing an impressive row of perfect white teeth. "Never, ever, mess with a 1982 limited edition Scooby Doo junior champ yo-yo."
Fornell and the medics walked back slowly with Tony and Gibbs trailing behind. While both men had washed down a couple of painkillers, they had steadfastly refused to be winched out of the forest by helicopter or carried out by stretcher. Stubbornly, they set off on the quarter mile walk to a overrun trail where rangers had managed to drive an all-terrain 4x4 that would take them to the Navy Sea Knight. Tobias looked back and shook his head as Gibbs and Tony followed slowly behind, leaning on each other in a way that made Fornell wonder who was supporting whom...
Once safely aboard the Sea Knight, obstinacy had given way to exhaustion and, under the watchful supervision of his boss and the medics, Tony had slept soundly until their arrival at Bethesda Naval Hospital. X-rays, CT's and surgeries were hastily scheduled for both agents – arthroscopic knee surgery to repair Gibbs' torn cartilage, while Tony underwent surgery to repair the muscle and bicep tendon torn up by the bullet.
Gibbs had also suffered a painful but superficial stab wound to his right side that required stitches, a broken finger, a slight concussion and bruising to his face. He was still trying to shake off the residual fuzziness from the anaesthesia when the gurney transporting his agent from the recovery room was wheeled back into their shared room. After being reassured by the doctors that the surgery went well and Tony would most likely sleep until morning, the former Marine settled down for the night.
The following day, the extent of the younger man's exhaustion became even more apparent when Tony slept through morning rounds, breakfast and lunch. Keen to leave the hospital, Gibbs showered, dressed, secured the leg brace and reluctantly used the despised cane to hobble down the corridor to sign his discharge papers and collect his aftercare instructions. He was making his way slowly back to his room when he spotted Ducky and Abby waiting outside the closed door.
"There you are, Jethro," Ducky said cordially as Abby quickly closed in to wrap Gibbs in a gentle embrace. "Should you be up and around so soon?"
"Why is the door closed? What's wrong?" Gibbs asked with thinly disguised concern.
"Everything is fine," Ducky assured him. "It appears our young man has finally awoken and his doctor is checking him for signs of post-surgical complications. I'm sure they'll be out directly."
Gibbs breathed a sigh of relief.
"Look at you!" Abby exclaimed, placing her hand gently on his still tender jaw. "You're all bruised and beaten and…and…"
"I'm fine, Abs," he said reassuringly, kissing her cheek. "We're both fine."
"I must say you do look exhausted," Ducky continued, taking hold of Gibbs' elbow and leading him to the nearby row of plastic chairs. "Come…sit down. I'm quite sure your doctor would not want you on your feet for too long!"
"I've been discharged, Duck," Gibbs said. "Could use a lift back to the office though."
"Discharged? Already?" the doctor's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Jethro, please tell me that you did not sign yourself out AMA again!"
"Just came back to check on Tony before I called a cab."
"Really, Jethro, this kind of stubborn, foolish behaviour is not setting a good example for Anthony," Ducky admonished. "It will be hard enough keeping him here without you waltzing out the door."
Gibbs tapped his leg brace with his cane. "I'm not waltzing, Duck."
"You know very well what I mean! That young man would walk through fire if he thought that's what you expected of him."
"That mean you won't give me a lift?"
"I can take you," Abby said, still clinging to his arm like a limpet. "I have my hearse parked right outside."
"Not my preferred mode of transport, Abs, but I'll take it, thanks."
"You can sit upfront with me," Abby said. "That is, unless you think you'd be more comfortable in the coffin."
"Front seat's fine, Abs."
The door opened and Tony's doctor and a nurse stepped out, reassuring them that Tony was going to be fine. Gibbs watched as Ducky and Abby both fussed over his young partner. Although he squirmed and duly protested, Gibbs could tell that Tony enjoyed the added attention and the show of genuine affection. He realized, not for the first time, that he wasn't the only one whose protective instincts came to the fore where Tony was concerned.
"Boss?" Tony said with a confused frown. "You're dressed?"
"There are laws against walking around town without any clothes, DiNozzo."
"Yep, just signed my papers. Abby's giving me a ride back to the office," he said. "There's reports and paperwork to be done and Ab's is still trying to access van Borough's records."
"What about me?" Tony asked.
"What about you?"
"I'm coming too!"
"Out of the question," Ducky interjected. "Jethro may have chosen to ignore sound medical advice but your doctor wants you in here for two more days!"
"Two days?" Tony repeated. "Come on, Ducky, I'm fine!"
"Poppycock!" Ducky blustered as Tony and Abby exchanged surprised glances and both silently mouthed the odd expression.
"Anthony, one only has to look at you to know that you certainly are not fine. You have three broken ribs, a bullet wound in your left bicep that required surgery to repair the muscle, your body is a mess of bruises and contusions, and you have a chest infection and a slight fever!"
"Well, yeah…it sounds bad when you say it like that," Tony admitted reluctantly.
"It sounds bad, my boy, because it is bad. Your body's exhausted, Anthony, it needs to heal. Why, I'd be very surprised if you could manage to drag yourself out of that bed."
Gibbs grimaced. For a brief moment he thought Ducky was getting the upper hand in this argument…that was until he unwittingly set Tony a challenge that the younger man was far too obstinate and bloody-minded to ignore.
He watched as Tony set his jaw and tentatively climbed out of bed. One hand firmly supporting broken ribs swathed in heavy bandages, while his left arm was secured firmly to his body to prevent unnecessary movement. Almost every visible point of his long arms and legs was mottled with angry red abrasions or purple and black bruises and his throat bore the ghastly reminders of how close de Beers had come to choking him. Gritting his teeth, he slowly raised himself to his full height. The effort produced a thin sheen of perspiration on the young man's face but, wearing a thin hospital gown and a smug "I told you so" smile, he looked the exasperated doctor in the eye.
"Jethro, please, you talk to him!" Ducky pleaded.
Gibbs looked at Ducky and shrugged, the gesture clearly saying, 'you try and stop him!'
The ME started to protest again when he noticed something pass between the two younger men. It was a look, a silent communication that spoke of pride and a mutual need to see this case through to completion. These two men shared something intangible that even the well-educated and well-travelled doctor failed to fully understand. As Tony raised his eyebrows in question, Gibbs nodded as if the thought had been spoken aloud and Ducky knew his cause was lost.
"You're not going anywhere with your ass hanging out," Gibbs said, holding back a grin. "I'll go get your discharge papers, Ducky and Abs will help you get dressed."
The elderly doctor sighed in resignation then he and Abby stepped forward obligingly as Gibbs hobbled toward the door.
"Ah...no offence, guys, but I think I can manage this by myself," Tony stated.
"Nonsense, my boy, your doctor was very clear that he did not want you moving that arm for several more days. If you're determined to leave this facility against his advice, the very least you can do is to allow us to assist you."
"Er…then, maybe I should just call for a nurse," Tony said squirming uncharacteristically.
"There's no need to trouble the nursing staff," Ducky insisted. "I am more than qualified to assist you without exacerbating your injuries and with Abigail's help, we'll have you ready in no time. Come on, let's get you out of this dreadfully unflattering gown."
"NO!" Tony exclaimed, startling the ME with his unexpected reaction and stopping Abby in her tracks.
"DiNozzo?" Gibbs called from the doorway, his voice laced with concern.
"Whatever's the matter, Anthony?" Ducky queried.
"Is something wrong, Tony? Are you in pain?" Abby asked anxiously.
Clearly uncomfortable with the situation, Tony shuffled his feet as a rare blush stained his cheeks.
"I...ah...I," he stammered nervously before rolling his eyes and blurting in one quick breath. "I'm not wearing any shorts under here, okay? I'm buck naked, full blown commando, dangling in the wind, wearing the emperor's new clothes, going the full monty, au naturel!"
This time, Gibbs didn't bother holding back his grin at his partner's dilemma and surprising modesty.
"Is that all that's worrying you? Come now, Anthony, I have been the chief medical examiner for NCIS for a number of years now. I can assure you that I've seen more than my fair share of privates," Ducky chuckled at his own joke.
After a moment's thought and with a reluctant nod of his head, Tony acquiesced and Ducky moved to untie the back of the hospital gown when the young man baulked again!
"Boss!" he pleaded as he nodded his head pointedly in Abby's direction.
Gibbs took pity on his agent and turned to the forensic scientist. "Abs?"
"Yes, Gibbs?" Abby said with wide-eyed innocence.
"You wanna help me with the paperwork?"
"No, I'm good...I'll just wait here," she replied, taking a seat in the corner of the room.
"Abs?" Gibbs said more insistently.
Abby sighed dramatically, reluctantly got to her feet and preceded Gibbs out the door. Her words of protest floated back to the room.
"Sheesh, who would have thought Tony would be so bashful?"
Morrow's secretary ducked quickly into the director's office when she saw Gibbs hobble from the elevator. Holding the door open, she smiled sympathetically.
"Glad to have you back, Agent Gibbs. The director is expecting you."
The senior agent nodded his thanks and entered the office as the door closed behind him.
"Gibbs, I heard you and DiNozzo were back," Morrow said gesturing for his agent to sit down. "I was led to believe you'd be in the hospital for another few days."
"Still work to be done, Sir, the case isn't closed yet."
"The reports can wait a few days. I would have arranged for Balboa to take your statements at the hospital," Morrow stated. "We have the Bothas and Sorensen on a slew of charges including the attempted murder of two federal agents. They'll be going away for a long time."
"We still need to know who Botha was selling the weapons to. Whether the buyers were domestic or international? What about Alvaretti? He's due for parole in a few months. Van Borough said he had enough on him to put him away for Pattison's murder."
"The Alvaretti case is an FBI matter," Morrow stated. "As far as I'm aware, Ms Scuito is still attempting to access van Borough's records. We don't know for certain, whether he was telling the truth."
"Whatever's on that microchip, Botha was damn keen to get his hands on it."
"I've given Ms Scuito until the end of business today to work on the microchip, after that, it will be sent to our Cyber Specialist unit."
"Understood," Gibbs said, struggling to his feet.
"One more thing," the director said, stopping his agent's departure. "I think it's time you had a new partner."
"I've got a partner!" Gibbs replied indignantly.
"Take it easy, what I meant to say was when you come back from medical leave, you and DiNozzo are going to need more help."
Morrow slid a file across his desk and watched as Gibbs picked it up and scanned the summary page.
"Her name's Vivian Blackadder. She's former FBI, comes highly recommended," Morrow said.
"If it's all the same to you, Sir, I think we've had about all the contact with the FBI we can stand. Why the transfer to NCIS?"
"Her brother was killed serving on board the Cole. She wants to help prevent that type of thing from happening again. We've spoken before about increasing the size of your team. DiNozzo's a good man but there's more work than you can handle. You need the help."
"Get those reports done and get yourselves home before I have to answer to an irate medical examiner. I've been avoiding his calls and he's likely to come pounding on my door any minute," Morrow said with the hint of a smile. "And Gibbs….well done."
"Thank you, Sir."
Having hunted and pecked his report with his one good hand, Tony signed the printed document and left it in Gibbs' in box. He was exhausted and the return of the throbbing pain in his arm and ribs told him his next dose of meds was due. He took the elevator to the forensics lab and looked longingly at the futon the scientist kept under her work counter - he wanted nothing more than to go home and sleep for a week but there was still work to be done. Stubbornly pushing his exhaustion aside, he watched as Abby desperately tried to access van Borough's records on the microchip. Her brilliant mind worked furiously behind her green eyes and she was determined to show those stuck up guys from the Cyber Unit that you didn't need a degree from MIT to know your way around computers.
With Abby focussed intently on her work, Tony attempted to stave off the tedium by looking at the intricate equipment – the uses of which were all totally foreign to him. He looked furtively over both shoulders like a spy in a bad movie then he tentatively reached a long finger toward the enticing blue button on the gas chromatograph.
"Don't touch that!" Abby said from the other side of the lab as Tony whipped his hand behind his back.
"I didn't!" he replied, frowning as he wondered how she'd seen him.
The flashing lights on the mass spectrometer caught his eye and he moved in that direction. Making sure Abby's attention was elsewhere he cautiously reached out another curious finger.
"Or that!" Abby said, as Tony looked at his guilty fingers as if they had acted of their own accord.
Sighing in frustration and boredom, Tony spied the Scanning Electron Microscope on the opposite side of the room.
"And especially not that!" Abby said, still without turning her head in his direction.
"You been taking Gibbs lessons, Abs, 'cause one Gibbs is about all I can handle."
"That right, DiNozzo?" Gibbs said as he hobbled into the lab.
"That's right, Boss," Tony sprouted fervently. "Because everyone knows there could only ever be one Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Did I mention you look great with the cane? The chicks will go nuts for the cane."
Noting his agent's pallor and the return of the fine pain lines, Gibbs placed a stool in front of the younger man.
"Sit down and shut up," he said without any heat.
"Sitting down and shutting up, Boss," Tony replied, grateful to be off his feet.
Gibbs' eyebrows arched when Abby placed another stool in front of him.
"You too, Bossman," she ordered. "Er…I mean the sit down part, not the...er...shut up…part."
"Any luck with the microchip, Abs?"
Abby's eyes sparkled with enthusiasm and a new-found respect for the recently deceased owner of the microchip.
"I'm telling you, Gibbs, this van Borough guy was brilliant. He was like the guru of geeks, the dean of dorks, top of the techies."
"No wonder that condom never saw any action," Tony quipped then gave a startled yelp as Gibbs landed a glancing head slap.
"Did I hurt you?" the team leader asked.
"As a matter of fact, you did," Tony replied rubbing his head.
"Good!" Gibbs said with a satisfied nod of his head.
Rushing to his side, Abby gently wrapped her arms around Tony and pulled him protectively to her.
"Gibbs how could you? Tony has been injured in the line of duty," she scolded before adding in Pig Latin. "Topsay with the eadslapshay!"
Tony nuzzled against her and smiled smugly at his boss.
Gibbs rolled his eyes and asked again. "Abs, the microchip?"
"Oh, right…the contents of the microchip are, like, totally protected by a sophisticated security protocol. It changes its own access password every ten minutes. If you key in the wrong password twice, the program locks you out for 4 hours."
"Van Borough said that the microchip contained enough evidence to put the Botha's and Alvaretti away for life," Gibbs stated.
"I'm sure he's right, I just haven't been able to get past the security protocol yet. Watch this…" she said pointing to the plasma screen.
Placing the chip in a standard flash drive and using the USB port in her computer the microchip generated a page of numbers.
"Looks like random numbers," Tony said. "Any idea what they are, Abs?"
"Yes…they're random numbers," Abby replied.
"And people say I don't know computers," Tony deadpanned as Gibbs positioned himself to take another swat.
"Gibbs!" Abby admonished, waving a slender finger in his direction. "No head slaps."
Gibbs dropped his arm to his side, impaling his agent with a glare and receiving a mega-watt smile in return as Abby continued with her explanation.
"I've been running code breaker applications and looking for patterns but I haven't found anything to suggest that this is anything but random numbers. To make things more difficult, the security protocol kicks in and provides a whole new set of numbers every ten minutes. Believe me…spending almost twenty-four hours trying to make sense of a bunch of numbers can cause serious eyestrain."
"That's it!" Tony exclaimed.
"What's it?" Abby asked.
"Okay, Tony, I know you're probably not feeling too well at the moment but you've only been looking at that screen for like, two minutes. It's way too early for you to have eyestrain." She turned quickly to Gibbs. "This is why you really should stop hitting him in the head."
"You got something, Tony?" the lead agent asked, reading the younger man's tense body language.
Tony cast his mind back to the mountain cabin when he'd mistakenly picked up van Borough's glasses case, only to have the accountant snatch it from his grasp. Then, later at the car wreck, van Borough insisted he needed his glasses.
"DiNozzo!" Gibbs snapped, the concern not quite hidden by the gruffness.
"The glasses, Boss, van Borough insisted that he needed his glasses."
"So…did you actually see him wear them?"
Gibbs' eyes narrowed in thought then widened as realisation occurred and he and Tony exchanged a hopeful glance.
"Abs, you find van Borough's glasses when you catalogued the evidence in the backpack?" Gibbs asked.
"I did," Abby replied with a frown. "But what…?"
Gibbs hobbled toward the back of the lab and found the glasses securely fastened in an evidence bag. Mindful of maintaining the chain of evidence, he dutifully signed the appropriate document attached to the nearby clipboard and re-joined the others.
"Your idea…wanna do the honours?" he asked Tony.
"Nah…ladies first," he said handing the case to Abby.
Abby looked from one to the other before slowly placing the glasses on her face. Her eyes sprung open in astonishment, as a series of non-sequential numbers appeared to change colour and stand out prominently from the others.
"Oh my God! This is, like, totally amazing!" she squealed as she quickly jotted the numbers down and then keyed them into her computer.
"It's very James Bond," Tony said in his best Sean Connery impression.
They watched as the password accepted and allowed access to Horst van Borough's meticulously maintained files where there was enough incriminating evidence to ensure the Botha's, Sorenson and Alvaretti were jailed for a very long time. The names and financial details of one domestic and four international terrorist organizations Botha had been dealing with, were provided to Homeland Security while a prominent CIA operative was about to having his career abruptly cut short and his mail re-routed to a federal penitentiary.
Gibbs placed a gentle kiss on Abby's pale cheek.
"Good job, Abs," he whispered.
"Hey!" Tony exclaimed. "You know I take great pride in my reputation as a team player but that was my idea!"
The young man flinched as Gibbs postured to take another swipe at the back of his head and stopped just inches from impact. The grimace transformed to a look of surprise and then a nervous smile as Gibbs stroked the back of his head.
As he turned to leave the lab, Gibbs didn't miss the tired smile as his agent preened with the compliment.
"Really, Jethro, your doctor specifically told you that you were supposed to be using a cane to take some of the weight off your leg," Ducky admonished as Gibbs limped into the autopsy room.
"Lent it to DiNozzo. He said something about needing to deliver a report to the secretarial pool."
"Well, that is quite perculiar! Anthony suffered some bruising and lacerations to his legs but nothing serious enough to require the assistance of a cane," Ducky puzzled.
"He's testing his 'chicks go nuts for canes' theory," Gibbs replied with a wry grin. "Told me he's collecting information for science."
"Collecting phone numbers for his already over populated little black book is more likely!" Ducky muttered, shaking his head in mock disgust. "Perhaps his contribution to science would have been better served by staying in the hospital. And don't think you're off the hook for encouraging him to discharge himself! At the very least you should both be resting at home."
"We're headed home as soon as we can hitch a ride," Gibbs stated looking at Horst van Borough's body lying on the autopsy table. "What's the verdict?"
"Well, I'm not quite finished but it appears our Mr van Borough died from severe internal bleeding. I found a large tear in his spleen and his liver," Ducky told him. "There really was nothing you could have done to save him."
Gibbs nodded his head wearily.
"There's something else," Ducky said, gesturing toward the row of x-ray light boxes. "Something that may explain why van Borough had a change of heart and decided to assist you."
Gibbs looked at the image on the light box. "That his liver?"
"Yes, grotesquely enlarged, I'm afraid, due to what's known as hepatocellular carcinoma."
"Yes, and while he wasn't quite end stage, the tumour was almost certainly inoperable."
"Van Borough was dying," Gibbs stated.
"Yes, Jethro. By my estimate he had, at best, six months to live. Perhaps he wanted a clean slate before he went to meet his maker," Ducky speculated. "Now, why don't you leave me to take care of my patient and go take care of yourself? I presume your young protégé will be staying with you?"
"For a few days. We're both on med leave, may as well keep an eye on him."
"And who will be keeping an eye on you, my friend, hmm?" Ducky chuckled. "Off you go, you both have a lot of healing to do. In fact, I can spare Gerald for an hour or so - I'm sure he won't mind driving you home, will you Gerald? Gerald?"
Looking around casually, Gerald startled when he noticed both Ducky and Gibbs looking in his direction. He quickly pulled the ear buds of his radio from his ears.
"Sorry doctor, did you say something?" the ME assistant Asked. "The Redskins are playing the Lions in overtime."
Ducky turned to Gibbs and rolled his eyes.
"Do you think it's too late for me to start head slapping?"
Gibbs was bored. He was never one for watching television and despite Tony's enthusiastic recommendation, his running commentary and wealth of movie trivia, Gibbs decided that an evening with Spencer Tracey and Katharine Hepburn just wasn't his thing. He'd switched the TV off the moment Tony's soft snores began.
'Thank God for strong painkillers,' he thought, looking at the lanky body draped boneless over his couch.
The young man's bruised face was finally relaxed, the pain lines not so evident. Even as he slept he held his left arm protectively across his damaged ribcage. His head was canted at an angle guaranteed to result in a stiff neck but Gibbs would rather bear the griping than disturb the healing sleep.
He'd promised Ducky that he'd wait a few days before subjecting his injured knee to the stairs to his basement. Cut off from the calming effect of his boat building Gibbs was agitated and found it difficult to wind down. He flicked absently through his woodworking and boating magazines before his own painkillers kicked in and he dozed lightly in the comfortable, over stuffed armchair.
He woke to the sound of a car entering his driveway. Struggling to his feet and grimacing as the stitches in his side pulled painfully, he hobbled to the door to intercept his visitor before they woke Tony. He was not surprised to see Fornell at his door, looking old and tired. With a nod toward his agent, still sleeping soundly on the couch, he gestured for Fornell to enter the living room.
"He looks uncomfortable. You should wake him," Fornell whispered.
"You ever spent time with DiNozzo on painkillers?" Gibbs replied. "Believe me, this is better for all of us."
"He's gonna have a crick in his neck from sleeping like that," Fornell stated.
"Sounds like the voice of experience," Gibbs looked at his old friend. "You join the couch club, Tobias?"
"Is it that obvious?"
"I've got three ex-wives – I've slept on my share of couches."
Fornell allowed a small smile and changed the topic.
"Shouldn't he still be in the hospital?"
"He'll get more rest here - no pretty nurses to distract him. Besides, when he wakes up, I'm gonna kick his ass."
The FBI agent followed Gibbs into the kitchen.
"The way I heard it, the kid did a great job," Fornell added.
"It's not what he did, it's how he did it – he still has a lot to learn," Gibbs reached for the coffee pot and then stopped to ask. "You want something stronger than coffee?"
"Nothing's stronger than your coffee, Gibbs."
Taking a seat on the back deck, Fornell explained that he had been to the NCIS lock up and spoken with Sorenson.
"Barely recognised him," he said on reflection. "He was withdrawn, broken…"
"He tell you anything?"
"From what we can gather, when the CIA arranged new identities and travel docs for Jacques and Morne' Botha, a senior CIA operative was paid a substantial amount of money to arrange a different identity and US citizenship for Sorenson."
"You think they planned to have Sorenson infiltrate a federal agency from the start?"
"Nobody's admitting to it but it wouldn't surprise me," Fornell replied. "The kid spent years in a boarding school in Vermont, without any family interaction. Studied hard, graduated college and then, at his father's bidding, successfully applied for a position in the FBI. Botha had planned the kid's entire life. He made sure he had everything he needed - the only thing he didn't give him was the security and support of a family."
"The kid could've told his old man to take a hike," Gibbs noted.
"Do you know what kind of guts it takes for a kid to stand up to his father and then have to make his own way in the world?"
Gibbs glanced back into the living room, where his agent was still sleeping.
"Yep, I think I do," he said softly. "You talk to Warren yet?"
Fornell nodded wearily.
"What a mess! His wife left him - took the kids and went to live with her mother in Chicago. He's been suspended for two weeks pending an official investigation into his misconduct with a former FBI witness. I just don't understand why he didn't come to me! I could've helped him, Jethro, I would've helped him."
Gibbs shrugged a shoulder. "He values your opinion of him. Didn't want to disappoint you."
Fornell scrubbed his hands across tired eyes. "And now his life's a damn mess all because of some crazy woman who wouldn't take no for an answer."
"We've both been there," Gibbs joked.
"If you're talking about Diane, I'm still there!" Fornell said with a quick grin.
"Then maybe next time you'll listen to me!"
The FBI agent's expression sobered again. "You know…you think you're a good agent, a good boss and something like this happens right under your nose."
"Maybe Warren needs a friend right now, more than he needs a boss," Gibbs suggested.
Fornell studied his friend for a moment. "Is that why sleeping beauty's passed out on your couch?" he asked.
Gibbs' small smile was his only reply.
Rising to his feet, Fornell returned the empty coffee mugs to the kitchen while Gibbs followed along at a more comfortable pace.
"Want me to thaw another steak," Gibbs asked.
"Nah," Fornell said. "Think I'll pick up some take-out and a six-pack and swing by Warren's house."
Reaching to open the front door Fornell stopped suddenly and cocked a thumb in Tony's direction.
"He's a pain in the ass," he said with a wry grin. "But he's a keeper."
After a simple dinner, they carried their coffee out on the back deck to enjoy the cool of the evening. Gibbs bided his time, waiting for Tony's evening meds to kick in. He wanted the younger man mellow enough to talk but alert enough not to be at a disadvantage. He'd seen, too many times, the affect pain medication had on his agent and knew his timing had to be perfect – too soon and DiNozzo would clam up tight – wait too long and he'd fall asleep or take you on a journey to the cuckoo's nest.
Despite their eighteen-month partnership, there was still much he didn't know about his agent. Tony showed the world only what he wanted it to see but Gibbs knew right from the start that there was so much more. He had always respected the barriers that the younger man had placed around certain areas of his life, just as Tony had always respected his. Rare fleeting glimpses of private feelings and past pain had been revealed when alcohol flowed too freely or pain medication wrong-footed the sentinel protecting them from unwanted intruders.
But this was different – this was a work related matter – this was life and death. Gibbs was desperate to understand Tony's motivation. Was it recklessness or blind heroics? There'd been other times when the younger man had put his life on the line to save a colleague or an innocent party, but yesterday, with no clear means of escape or rescue available, his seriously injured junior partner had purposely placed himself in the firing line. Gibbs needed to know why…he needed to understand what prompted the younger man's decision. Never one for wasting words, he decided to dive right in.
"You wanna tell me why you did that?"
"Boss?" Tony said, caught off guard by the unexpected question.
"I want to know why you baited Morne' Botha like that? You had to know he was gunning for you."
"He broke my yo-yo," Tony said, reverting to humour to avoid the uncomfortable line of questioning.
"Dammit, DiNozzo, I'm serious here!" Gibbs snapped. "What you did was reckless and dangerous. You and I both know that you're better than that. I need you to tell me what you were thinking?"
Tony squirmed uncomfortably in his seat for several long minutes. Obviously embarrassed, he averted his eyes and took several steadying breaths before he responded softly.
"I was thinking…" he stopped to clear his throat. "I was thinking that you'd just taken a hell of a beating. I was trying to…"
"You were trying to protect me," Gibbs growled, unsuccessfully suppressing his anger. "You pissed off Morne' so they'd leave me alone and focus on you! Of all the boneheaded…"
Tony's features hardened and his voice took on a rare heated edge. "Come on, Gibbs! Are you really trying to tell me that you wouldn't have done the same?"
"I'm the senior partner – it's my job to protect you not the other way around."
He watched as Tony's face ran through a gamut of emotions; irritation, anger, frustration.
"All due respect, Boss, but that's a crock of shit and you know it."
The team leader raised his eyebrows at the insubordination but inwardly admired Tony's willingness to speak candidly.
"I understand that you're the senior partner and I have never questioned that. But you and I have played enough ball to know that when the opposing team takes out your captain, someone else has to step up and call the plays."
Gibbs released a long-suffering sigh and replied calmly.
"This isn't football, Tony. They had a gun to your head and they would have used it. Did you even think about what would have happened if the others hadn't arrived when they did?"
A moment passed before the young man confidently replied.
"You'd have thought of something, Boss."
His words were jovial and his smile was wide but the belief in his eyes told of an unconditional trust that Gibbs had never before experienced.
"It's part of the job," Tony said with rare intent. "It's what you do for your partner."
Gibbs paused in thought then shook his head and allowed a small grin to play on his lips. He lifted his coffee mug into the air and Tony replied in kind, clinking the mugs together in a toast.
"You got that right," Gibbs said quietly.
They sat in companionable silence for several more minutes until Tony's yawns started to arrive one after the other in quick succession.
"Hit the rack," Gibbs told him. "See you in the morning."
Gibbs watched as the younger man climbed painfully to his feet and walked slowly back into the house. He carded callused fingers through his short hair and took another long draught of his coffee. Yes, he would have preferred that DiNozzo had gone for help. He could have made it to high ground and signalled the helicopter for assistance. Gibbs huffed out a laugh and doubted that the thought had even entered Tony's mind.
Injured and unarmed, his young agent had chosen to go back for him, regardless of the danger. Tony's response of 'it's what you do for your partner,' resonated in Gibbs' mind and sounded very like a cop's version of 'no one gets left behind.'
"Would have made a hell of a Marine," Gibbs muttered.
Although he'd smoothed off a lot of the rough edges, the younger man was still prone to moments of impulsive recklessness. Acting or reacting without heed to his own safety. As much as he had tried to break him of that particular habit, Gibbs knew that it was intrinsically DiNozzo.
Tony had undertaken a steep learning curve since joining NCIS and he had taken everything Gibbs had dished out to him – more often than not, coming back for more. The positives far outweighed the negatives despite the fact that Gibbs had no doubt DiNozzo was solely responsible for the rapidly increasing amount of silver in his hair. Gibbs had never made a habit of putting his emotions on display but he felt his chest fill with pride as he remembered Fornell's earlier endorsement of his young agent.
"Yep," he agreed softly. "He's a keeper."
A/N Sincere thanks for your wonderful support and encouragement. Every review and alert was most gratefully accepted. Although we tried to respond to everyone, there were many anonymous reviews that we were unable to answer personally and we thank you, too. We hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as we enjoyed writing it.
Until next time, with every good wish,
Lyn and Laine