AN: Let me just say that I know I've misquoted the Scottish Play... it may be a Briticism, but I like it.
Last chapter, including epilogue; I've had fun with this marathon, but I'm relieved to be nearing the end.
Prime Real Estate
He floated slowly to the surface, recognising the feeling as damn good painkillers, but not remembering too much of why...
His nose twitched, seeking out and not finding the familiar medical smell. Hmm... there was a soft murmur of voices, a very soft background vibration, and the faint hum of machinery, but it didn't say hospital. He took stock; he lay on his left side, and although he was under a blanket, he was clothed... ah, the sweet sensation of his ass not hanging out of a nightie... and his right arm felt as if it were stuck to his chest. He tried to move it away, and the attempt sent a small stab of pain through his back, in the region of his right shoulder. Well, he thought, guess that'd be worse if they hadn't given me something.
He'd landed on it... and his backside, and banged the back of his head, and knocked all the breath out of him – but it hadn't seemed so bad, had it? And Lucy had been smiling at him, so that was OK... But what then? He cracked one eye open, then the other, and grinned. His distance vision cleared a little, while his close up focus remained elusive, and he recognised the long, receding shape of an aircraft fuselage. Well, not that long – and no ordinary aircraft...
He remembered a ride on another executive jet, (conveniently filtered out of his very selective memory when he'd moaned to Tim about Gibbs' good luck – it's not a very satisfying grumble if you have to qualify it - ) and knew that somehow, he knew not how, he'd hitched a lift on the Boss's ride.
At the back two very unhappy looking people sat glaring at each other; an elderly man and a young blonde woman, both cuffed and both looking ready to kill. The judge and his popsie, wannabee international idle rich... Opposite them a large young Military Policeman sat, completely at his ease in spite of the atmosphere.
Closer up... ah yes, the murmur of voices that had been in the back of his mind resolved into words.
"...that we know so far, Jethro. There are the half built houses... do they use some of the money from client1 to finish them? Knock them down? Jinny says tracing all the people that that nearly-a-million belongs to is going to be a challenge... who's going to oversee it? Who's going to see that the ones who need justice get it?"
"And who's going to keep sharks away from it who recognise a grey area when they see one, and know how to exploit it..."
" Had an idea on that... for Jinny; but I'll keep it under my hat until I've asked her. Whatever - reckon we'll be watching it every step of the way."
The conversation was unhurried, he decided... his slowly clearing sight revealed Kath's hand held loosely in Gibbs' – there was no underlying tension, so he thought all must be well; but things were still tugging at his mind; he needed to fill the gaps before he could relax. Patch had been shot... but Polly had been angry not scared... Lucy was safe; his heart beat a little faster: Lucy was safe – and Anne hadn't been dragged up into that loft with her... Probie! Where the hell was he? He'd been up there... hadn't he taken Hastings down? Why wasn't he on the plane with them? Forgetting all his calm rationalisation of a moment ago, he sat up with a cry of alarm. "McGee!"
Everything hurt, he couldn't help the gasp he let out, and two astonishingly gentle pairs of hands laid him down again.
Gibbs' grin was amused, and even fond... nah, it had to be the painkillers making him imagine things. "McGee is fine, DiNozzo. Although he refused to go to hospital. So did Patch Hastings... how the hell is it that your worst habits rub off on people?"
Tony tried for wounded. "Boss..." he said reproachfully.
"Yeah, well, so did you," Gibbs growled unrepentantly. "Although when we touch down at Hampton Roads, Ducky will be waiting, and you will go to Bethesda."
Tony latched on to the first remarks, to the exclusion of all else. "So... why did he need to go... where is he?"
"Ya don't remember?"
"Dammit, DiNozzo... ya don't remember?"
"Why am I not surprised. I've got a five year old on my hands here -"
Tony was grinning through an analgesic haze, and Kath decided to intervene; these two could keep this up indefinitely. She eased out of her seat and sat on the floor to bring herself to his eye level. "I could sit up," he protested.
"I wouldn't advise it. We sat you up to strap you in for take off, and you were muttering about your backside – something about your father being angry – it's black and blue..." he couldn't resist raising his eyebrows - "And no, I haven't looked. But so's the right side of your back, and your right leg... What's the last thing you do remember, DiNozzo?"
"Landing," he said promptly. It was only Gibbs he enjoyed winding up. "It bloody hurt. I mean, really, it was only twelve feet... Lucy was OK. She laughed. McGee had his gun in Arthur's ear... the old bas -"
"Ssh. Tim told us what happened. Hastings had a severe stroke." She watched the grin vanish, and saw something intensify in his eyes. She took his hand, and looked at him steadily. "A very nasty life ended with a whimper, not a bang. He died in the ambulance; the one everyone else refused to get in and travel with him."
"Even Patch?" Tony's voice was a hollow whisper.
"Even Patch. He didn't actually say that he wouldn't ride with his father, he just said it was a flesh wound, he was a doctor, and he was staying with his family. Tim had popped three stitches climbing up the same way you did into the hayloft – he said Patch could fix it and he was staying with his friend."
Tony was silent. He managed a nod, and finally told them, "He offered to be the one to shoot Hastings. So it wouldn't be me."
Kath nodded, and squeezed his hand before releasing it. "He didn't tell us that."
"Didn't think he would."
Gibbs joined Kath on the executive carpet, and Tony noticed as he did so that there was a laptop in a solid, protective case beside his seat. Knowing the Boss's likelihood of taking a PC onto a plane, he knew this must be the infamous client1.
"And as for you," the Marine said in a peeved voice that Tony thought was affected but couldn't be sure, "You volunteered to ride in the same bus, to, I quote, 'make sure the bugger is actually dead'. Nobody was sure at the time."
"He dropped Lucy, Boss!"
The peeve had disappeared, and Gibbs' voice was soft. "I know, Tony. Needless to say the medics wouldn't allow it after that, and you said fine, and not to send for another ambulance, if nobody else was going, neither would you."
"At which point," Kath took up the story, "They changed their tune and started saying that you didn't know what you were saying and they should restrain you and take you for your own good. Which was when McGee threatened to arrest them, and told them to go and deal with the patient they'd got. They left thinking NCIS is staffed by lunatics."
By now Tony's spirits had, not surprisingly, lifted again, at least a little. He smiled slowly, and Gibbs went on, " You wouldn't let them look at you, you said you belonged in DC and you weren't staying here, and tried to stop Patch from taking a look at you. He guilted you out by reminding you that he was hurt too, and that if you fought him you were making him worse."
"I did?" He honestly didn't recall any of that.
"Polly told you you weren't seven years old." He finally took pity on his bewildered SFA. "You were concussed, DiNozzo. Apparently you all trooped back to Anne's house – Lucy didn't want to let go of you, apparently – and they strapped your arm up because Patch was pretty certain your shoulder-blade had a fracture, and he still wants you to get your ribs checked out for further damage. He repaired McGee's stitches and fixed his own leg and Anne's wrist, and then I'm told the ladies kept a devoted concussion watch over you for the rest of the night."
He folded his arms and looked accusingly at DiNozzo, which was difficult, even for Gibbs, while sitting on the floor. "McGee let Jinny know, and told her that your instructions were not to tell me, right?"
Tony was unfazed; he hadn't doubted for a moment that it was the right thing to do, and he didn't doubt now. He looked the Marine in the eyes with that same lazy smile, and said, "Didn't you enjoy your down time, Boss?"
Gibbs huffed softly. "Tony... I didn't even know you'd been hurt – again – until we were in the air and a crewman told me we were making a stop at Lexington. Polly brought you onto the plane, doped up to the eyeballs."
"Which was the first time you could have actually done anything, Boss."
Gibbs shook his head wryly. "I guess... "
Tenacious D returned to the beginning of the story. "Boss... where's McGee? Why didn't he come? He did good, Gibbs... What aren't you telling me?"
Gibbs was definitely holding out... McGee had been fine last time he'd seen him, taking down Hastings, why would the Boss hold out?
Kath took Tony's hand again, which should have been calming, but it made him feel ten times more alarmed, until she said, "He's fine, Tony. He stayed with the Hastings family to help them with statements, and fending off the press... They're all taking a couple of days to rest, then the family's flying back, and Tim's going to drive your car back to DC."
Gibbs found he'd tensed in anticipation of an outburst, and got ready to hold the injured man down again.
Tony leaned forwards. "McGee's going to drive my Princess?" Gibbs opened his mouth to say that it was better than leaving her in Kentucky, but the other man smiled beatifically. "Good..." he muttered, and burrowed his head into his pillow.
Gibbs' gast looked just about as flabbered as it was possible for a retired Gunnery Sergeant to be. Kath breathed on her nails and polished them. "Told you," she said.
McGee and the Mustang returned safely to DC two days later, the Princess less the worse for wear than her driver, who nevertheless insisted that he'd return to work as soon as he'd reunited Tony with his beloved. He found his friend at home, comfortable in light grey sweats that proved he had some colour to his face, right arm strapped up outside his top but still clearly too painful to move much, loading the dishwasher one-handed, and bursting with energy and frustration.
"Calm down, Tony... you want to load the stuff, not smash it."
"They won't let me go back! Ziva called by last night 'to make sure that you are behaving yourself, Tony'," he grumbled, in a perfect take off of Ziva's accent. "I've slept for two days solid! She said the paperwork, 'although satisfying', is threatening to bury them. I said I'd go in. She said Gibbs said no. There's nothing wrong with my brain!" He stiffened. "You needn't bother to reply, McSmartanswer-"
Tim grinned. "I thought you were going to say something else."
"You brought my motor back. Deserves a reduced level of insult. What are you doing?"
"Calling a taxi. My car's still at the Yard." He glanced at his watch. "It's 3 pm – I started out bright and early, told them I'd be in after I'd seen you. They can't object to a late afternoon visit. Don't change your clothes, and it'll look like you're not stopping. I'll protect you – come on."
He saw the corners of Tony's mouth twitch as he struggled to look insulted. He straightened up slowly, with more respect for his ribs than he wanted to give them, and kneed the dishwasher door shut. He looked Tim over carefully, studying the lines of weariness that still hadn't quite left his face.
"You all right? Really?"
"Oh yeah. You?"
"I will be." Pause. "You did good."
"You too." An unwary shrug from Tony in response, followed by a wince.
"Let's go, then."
"Lead on, McDuff..."
When Tim greeted Gibbs and Ziva, glad to be back, with the team off rotation while client1 continued to be unravelled, they both knew instantly that something was up. The air of innocence on the face of someone who couldn't dissemble to save his life put all their senses on alert, but neither of them could see any reason for it.
When Gibbs said "I'll be in Preeheck," McGee waited a few seconds before rising to his feet to follow him. After all, he'd said he'd protect Tony. He almost ran into Gibbs' back as he stood in the doorway.
"How the hell did you get here, DiNozzo?"
"In a taxi, Boss."
"Ha! With McGee, I suppose."
"Boss... I may, according to Ducky, not know my limitations – but I can do this." He indicated the pile of files beside him on the sofa. The first was already on his knee.
Jinny rose from her space-age desk and walked out round her desk, moving freely and hoping that was making a point. "I was working in here when I couldn't even stand up, Gibbs. And I'm really glad to have Tony's help."
Gibbs walked further into the room, and Tim and Ziva trooped after him. Tony stood up, hair slightly tousled, almost boyish in his sweats, and smiled – a huge, genuine smile. "It's really good to be back, Boss." Tim and Ziva went to stand beside him, and the sight drew Gibbs in. The whole team, together again.
They all smiled, although nobody spoke, until finally, "Going for coffee," Gibbs said.
Patch went to Arthur's funeral, out of a sense of duty, and was the only mourner. Maxwell Brock, the good man who'd unwillingly become bad, had three; Tony, Tim and Father Charlie Bingham. Charlie believed that he'd find forgiveness. The two agents simply felt sad for a ruined life.
Jinny's ambition was to get back into the field, (and although Ollie privately dreaded it, he'd fallen for a working detective, and already proved he could take whatever that brought,) so at first it was a bit of a blow when she was asked to transfer to the fraud squad and head up what was termed the Restitution Team. She pointed out that her rank wasn't high enough for her to have the clout for the job; they offered her promotion to Sergeant. She pointed out that she couldn't outrank her husband; well that was OK too, because Lieutenant Wigg was being promoted to Captain, Roy was being bumped to Lieutenant and taking over the team, with Ollie as his Sergeant. It had been in the pipeline, they said.
It was Ollie who reminded her that it was a temporary posting, and she'd be back in the field when it was over and she was really well again, and anyway, nobody knew as much about the case as she did, and who better was there to ensure that the innocent people who'd been cheated got as much justice as was possible?
Well, yes, she agreed, she could do that, and do it well... and on the first morning of the job she sat with her new team and told them it would likely take the best part of a year, but they'd get it right. And they did... they were doing so well at it that when, three months later, she walked down the aisle on her husband's arm, there were a few surprises.
She wore a full-length dress of sunshine yellow silk - "Well, not much point in virginal white, is there," she'd giggled to Ollie when she'd put it on. "I chose the colour because it's happy. I'm never going to be miserable again."
"If you ever are, you've still got me. You look wonderful, Hon..."
As they walked into the church, there were some faces amongst her friends that she hadn't expected to see.
Caroline Yorke had a new factory; Peter Wenham had a new canoe school; Vanessa Falconbridge had gone ahead and rebuilt her aviary anyway, and had been surprised to receive a cheque for compensation. She'd used it to help fund the hire of a first rate falconer. They were all there. And oh my... the surgeon from New York.
There were others too, whose faces weren't familiar, although she could see that Ollie recognised them; as she stood beside him to receive the blessing on their marriage, she felt blessed. Wow... yes... very blessed.
They took a picnic of lucullan proportions out to Holt Common; the Gibbswiggs, Fornell and his team, Polly, Patch and Lucy, a few other good friends – to be met by Treat Farrier. The former cop had declined Kath's offer to help him find work in security; he was now part of the team who were restoring the land to its former wilderness. As the sun went down, and they all sat out on the grass, full of good food, and talking softly, Farrier produced several pairs of night vision binoculars.
"There's a reason I wanted you to come to this spot," he said very quietly. "Look over there, under the tall bank with the hedgeline on top." He gave Jinny the glasses first, then passed the others out. Jinny caught her breath and whispered "Oh..."
"They're rare in this half of the continent," Farrier said . "That's why this site's so important. I never knew or cared before."
Those with the glasses watched entranced; Tony with his excellent long sight didn't need them anyway. He watched in silent delight as first one striped mask then another emerged from the hole at the foot of the bank, noses uplifted into the wind. The badgers had returned to Holt Common.
"They were always quite blasé about human smell," Treat whispered, "They've shared this space with us for a long time. It was diesel that they hated. That was the first thing we did; to rid the place of every trace of it."
"I'm so glad this place was saved," Jinny whispered thoughtfully. An impish grin spread across her face as she watched the badgers enjoying life. "It's prime real estate for them."
The groans were very quiet.
AN: Done. Thanks, as always, for coming along for the ride, and for all the kind things you said.