This was written for the 2011 NCIS ficathon for Water_Soter, who wrote a lovely story for me three years ago. I hope she likes this half as much as I loved "And the Band Kept Playing On."

After 136 days afloat, he thinks he has finally found a reason for the position to exist.

"This is more than just some petty officers trying to make a couple extra bucks. This is an international drug ring. Not just small stuff—we're talking cocaine, heroin—this is a big deal."

He can almost hear the wood splintering. "We have no evidence of this—what makes you so sure?"

"My gut. I can get you the evidence."

"Three days, DiNozzo. That's how long you have on shore. There are some crew members that need to make a run anyways."

"I know. I won't need more than that."

"You'd best hope not. You've got three more months on that ship. Wouldn't want to anger them by not showing up on time."

Vance disconnects first, and he feels a familiar flutter in his stomach: anticipation. He has heard Ziva and Tim are back in D.C., but he has not heard from Gibbs. Vance offers no explanation but the reality that his time at sea is far from over. Ninety more days is cruel, but he can't help but wonder if it is what he deserves for Jenny.

If he gets this done, perhaps Gibbs will demand him back, truly believe he is an irreplaceable member of the MCRT. He wonders if his (former) boss wants him there at all.

He shrugs off the doubt and grabs some T-shirts and jeans to shove in a bag. No Armani or Dolce and Gabbana for him on the Seahawk; he feels strange in these clothes, though they used to be his dress of choice. He thinks back to Baltimore Tony, the determined young detective, and how his partner and his fiancé betrayed him. NCIS Tony is harder, wearing his persona like a shield. The shield has too many cracks, now, from Kate, Paula, Jeanne and Jenny, and it has left him floating alone (alone with 1500 men, he thinks with a sigh) on the open sea.

"It's just clothes, DiNozzo," he says out loud, as if hearing the words will make him believe it. He grabs some toiletries and a pen, tossing them in before heading to the deck toward what he hopes will be redemption.

"What do you got, Abs?"

"It's been..."

"I know exactly how many days. You can't avoid it when you come in the lab."

"You have to do something about it. Tony deserves better than this."

"Agent Afloat is generally considered a promotion."

"Tony thinks it's a punishment."

"Vance said it's not."

"So why can't he come back?"

"I'm trying."

"Are you really? Because if you were, he would..."

"Vance said he went to shore yesterday, and maybe we could check in with him when he's back in two days, but he's still saying three months. Gave me some folders."

"And you..."

"Sitting on my desk"

"Gibbs! We have to get him back. I can't stand this. You saw him before he left. He was only like that after Jeanne, after what happened with Wendy..."

"And he bounced back."

"It's not enough. I could have helped him if he was here. He's all alone out there."

"He's on a ship with 1500 people. He's never alone."

"You know what I mean. When he gets back, you get on that videoconference and tell him you're going to get him back. He needs to hear it. You know what? I'll get on the video conference, because I have a lot to tell him anyways, he doesn't send stuff as much as I would like and..."


"I miss him."

"I know."

"I bet you miss him too, you just won't say it."

"Told you I was working on it."


"What about the case?"

"You need to promise me if you want me to tell you anything."

"I can't do that. I'm trying."

"You better have a Caf-Pow, then."

He decides to play tourist first. He changes out of the clothes he flew in with in case any of the crew would see, switching to a polo, khaki shorts, hat and sunglasses. Nondescript, and camouflaging. He buys a disposable camera and spends that first day taking photographs of all the locals he suspects are involved, numbering the pictures and writing down their names and what he knows.

The next day, dressed similarly, he begins to try and get them to talk to him, starting with the ones on the periphery of the scheme that are easy to scare into providing him with names. He gets more information than he anticipates, including confirmation of all the crew members he believed had ties to the drug ring, and finds out there is another person involved from the ship, but no one knows exactly who it is.

There are still two people to interview when he becomes certain he is being followed, and he makes a detour to the post office, talking loudly about sending a gift for his girlfriend that has to get there ASAP to be there in time for her birthday. He goes outside, planning to head to the hotel and get started on typing up his report while everything is still fresh in his mind. He thinks about how he has enough evidence, and Vance will be pleased, and he will likely get to go back to DC with the arrested crew members. Perhaps it will be enough to get him back on land even if Gibbs doesn't want him back.

He does not make it back to the hotel, though. He feels something hit his head, blurring his vision and making the ground shake; he feels his the ribs on his left side cracking and he wants to scream but everything is black and quiet.

"Gibbs! My office." Vance doesn't stand there long; Gibbs can tell in his gut that something has happened to Tony. He's out of his seat and heading up the stairs when McGee and Ziva enter.

"What's going on, boss?"

"Tell you when I know something." He's around the corner and in the office and doesn't even wait for Vance to turn around. "What happened to DiNozzo?"

If Vance was surprised, he didn't show it. "He never showed up to get the plane back to the Seahawk. Their commander says he's AWOL, hated it, must have just left."


"I'm with you, Gibbs. He was investigating crew members in an international drug ring. Something must have happened."

"You think, Leon? Why the hell would you let him investigate something like that by himself? He has no goddamn back up out there!"

"He didn't have much to go on- some rumors and a gut feeling. He was supposed to put out feelers, get some information. Nothing that risky."

"You know why I want him back? He's a good investigator. You give him some rumors and he'll get the whole damn story."

"Your team will fly out to the Seahawk to investigate his disappearance. Keep the drug ring quiet until you get some actual information to go off of. The LEOs are looking for him on shore. You've got 30 minutes before the plane leaves."

"When I find him, he's not going back to the Seahawk. My team."

"Just find him and we can talk. You better get a move on."

Gibbs slams the door, wishing there was glass on it so something would break. There is McGee and Ziva, and Abby, with tears in her eyes, waiting for him below. He takes a deep breath before heading down the stairs.

The first time he wakes up he finds he is alone. The room is cold and grey, concrete, with one door and no windows. He pulls himself toward the door, which has no knobs and does not budge when he pushes and has no gaps where he could pull. He looks and sees a trail of blood has followed him, there is blood on his hands, but he does not know where it comes from. All he can think of is Kate, and he couldn't save her and he didn't save Jenny and he never got to really talk to Gibbs and now she is dead and he is alone.

Abby sobbed and begged to come along, but Gibbs knew he needed her to stay.

"He was working a case, Abs, and we're probably going to need you to handle the evidence."

"Probably, not certainly, and you wouldn't be able to send it fast enough, I should be there..."

"I mean the computer stuff."

"You'll have McGee, and I really think..."

"I have a gut feeling. You need to be here."

"You promise to call if you find anything? That you'll keep me updated and you won't lie about what he looks like or anything?"

"I promise, okay? We have to go."

"You better bring him back, Gibbs."

"Are you Abby Sciuto? Gibbs sent me…"

"I already know all about you, you know?"

"You do?"

"Homicide cop, cocky attitude, killer smile. You've got everyone's attention."

"Apparently so. Gibbs wants me to…"

"I am not so easily won over, Mister. I don't care how many people you charmed to get this position—you had better be good enough to watch Gibbs's six."

"Actually, he…"

"This is the Major Case Response Team, the big leagues. Nothing like your little pow-wows by the Baltimore Harbor. You need some brains to back up that beauty, and…"

"You think I'm pretty?"

"I think a lot of things, so don't even…"

"I think Gibbs would really like it if you could fill me in on the evidence you processed earlier. "

"Gibbs has already been here, and knows all about it, and I know he didn't send you just to annoy me because he loves me and…"

"Oh. Yeah. He gave me this."

"You were withholding Caf-Pow from me this entire time? You aren't going to last here long."

"That may be true, but I'm still going to give it a shot. I have a scenario to run on your little machine."

"My little machine? My…"

"He said to give you this, too. He rolled it all up and smacked my head, told me not to read it."

Rule #5, Abs. He's going to need some breaking in, though. Play nice.

"This is a computer, not a little machine. I have a sophisticated program that recreates scenarios. Sophisticated program thingy is acceptable."

"All right. I have a scenario for your sophisticated program thingy."

"Tell Gibbs that wasn't fair. And he owes me something from his next trip."

"I'm not sure he'll..."

"He'll do it if it's for me."

He's thinking about Abby, and how she hated him, but Gibbs wanted him on the team and so he stayed. Abby always thought Gibbs would do anything for her, but he knows that Abby would want him back and he was still on this ship. At least, he thinks he's on this ship, but it's not moving, and it feels too cold. But if Gibbs did whatever Abby wanted he wouldn't be here right now, so it is all about what Gibbs wants and it's not Tony DiNozzo in DC.

McGee figures out that someone was on the computer after Tony departed and deleted his files. He's saying technical things and typing furiously and Ziva is ripping Tony's room apart trying to find something, and Gibbs is interviewing the crew members that Tony flew out with.

They all say the same thing: Agent DiNozzo seemed depressed, he wanted off the ship, he had a bag with him and he must have taken off. No, they didn't know anything about why he was leaving. They didn't see him on the island.

Gibbs knows it is too rehearsed. At least one of them knows what happened to Tony. He needs to figure out which one to break.

"Hey Abs."

"It's Abby. You can't call me Abs yet, Detective DiNozzo."

"All right. But you can call me Tony."

"I barely know you, Detective."

"So ask me. Five questions. Whatever you want."


"Yeah, why not. I'll regret it later."

"That your natural hair color?"

"It's a bit lighter than this, but brown. Did an undercover stint, and it didn't wash out."

"You work anywhere besides Baltimore?"

"Peoria, Philadelphia."

"How long did you stay, and why did you go?"

"Two-year stints each; found something better."

"You going to leave NCIS after two years?"
"Not planning on it, but wasn't planning the other ones either."

"You like that with women too?"

"Maybe in the past, but I have a fiancé now, and I wouldn't do that to her."

"A fiancé? Tell me about her."

"You had your five questions, and I better get back upstairs before Gibbs gets back with his coffee."

"You're probably already late, Detective."

"Still Detective?"

"I've got more questions. Five more and I'll call you your name."

"You drive a hard bargain, Ms. Sciuto."

"And now you're definitely late."

He would go back if he could, but the door isn't opening and he can't go anywhere he wants to go. He knows Gibbs is going to be so upset when he sees him again, and he wishes he could take it all back but it's done and he's here and he's waiting.

When she finds the package on her doorstep, she calls Vance even though it's late.

"Tony sent me something."

"What is it, Ms. Sciuto?"

"A camera, and some notes. Names. I think it's about the case."

"Meet me in 20 minutes at headquarters."

"I'll be there in 10."

He comes into her lab as she's developing photos and labeling them with numbers, tears leaving dark stains on her cheeks.

"He has names of all but one person. He thought he was being followed."

"What's the postmark?"

"The day before he was due back."

"So he's probably been missing since then. That's longer than we thought."

"We need to get this information to Gibbs."

"I'll set up the videoconference. You bring those pictures and..."

"I'm already scanning everything in so we can send it."

"Okay." He is gone, and she frantically continues her work, whispering prayers under her breath.

The stab wound was bad enough to require surgery, but the damage to his spleen was actually superficial and he got to keep the organ. The first time he awoke Wendy was there, eyes red and swollen, her hand holding his tightly. She did not look at him, and he wondered if there was damage to his face that he couldn't see, but the nurse came in and shooed her out and before he knew it he was awake in a different room, met by Abby. Her eyes were red and swollen too, but she had a note from Wendy.

"Gibbs just found out there's another new team member, someone named Vivian, and Morrow said he had to go back and talk to her or else he'd be here right now and he's sorry that..."

"Abby. What's that note? I recognize Wendy's handwriting."

"Tony, I'm sorry. It says she can't stay...that she can't see you like this."

"Can I see it?"


"Huh." His eyes tear up a bit, but he grins at her all the same.

"Why are you smiling?"

"You called me Tony."

"I figured a stab wound was the equivalent of five questions."

"I'll have to keep that in mind." He crumples the note in his hand and turns his head away. Abby sits next to him and gently pries it from his hand, and stays with him until the nurse chases her away.

He wondered what he could get from Abby for... something was wrong with his head and it hurt to breathe, and there was the blood on the floor. Maybe a movie marathon and pizza, those chocolate cupcakes she likes. They watched a lot of movies after Kate died; McGee was there too and sometimes he brought food and they didn't talk a lot at first. She tried to do that when Jenny died but she mostly tried to get him to put down the bottle, and later she just tried to get him to eat a little bit more. He didn't want to eat anything now. He just wanted to go home and he didn't understand why... he wasn't sure what was going on anymore.

Tony was really the one who got the confession. In his notes, he'd drawn an arrow to the kid's name and wrote "the weakest link" next to it. Gibbs laid out everything he knew and the kid broke in a second; the problem was that he had no idea what had happened to Tony, just that he was supposed to say he'd run off. However, he did provide the missing name.

The pilot was pretty cocky: he had no idea why DiNozzo or anyone else would give up his name, he's innocent, fake offer to help. Gibbs wanted to jam his fist down the guy's throat, but he was pretty sure that he was the only way to actually find Tony.

Thankfully, McGee's computer skills had proved that the pilot was doctoring flight records and that he had been flying to the locations Tony had guessed were drug spots due to the postcards he saw guys sending out. Faced with his dismissal, he began to crack; once Gibbs outlined what murder of a federal agent could get him life in prison, he admitted that Tony was alive when he last saw him.

Gibbs didn't let his excitement show on his face; he merely grabbed a map of the island and suggested the pilot show him where to find his agent before it was too late.

His head hurt, his stomach ached. And all he knew was that Gibbs is not coming. Jenny, Jennyanydots, and why does he keep thinking about Cats and what did he do so wrong that he cannot fix this, that he cannot be forgiven. He wants to go to the labby and Abby and hippos but hippos don't swim and he knows he is near water and maybe he was even on a boat. Not a boat, a ship, with thousands of people but no one. Now he is on land, but he is all alone and no one is coming, so he will just close his eyes and sleep.

The door has about a thousand locks on it, and Gibbs does not have the patience for the ring of keys, but McGee and Ziva have split them up and are rushing through to get the door open before Gibbs starts shooting. Once they get it open they realize they do not need guns; all they can see is a trail of blood.

Tony is slumped against the wall by the door; his head wound is no longer bleeding and his skin is pale grey, but Gibbs can feel the sluggish heartbeat and thanks whoever is listening that he's not too late. Tony doesn't stir, not even when the medics come rushing in, and as the helicopter takes off, Gibbs tries to think of a way to explain this all to Abby.

When he calls her from the ER, he goes with honesty: there is head trauma and internal bleeding, and that no one is making any promises. She cries a lot and Gibbs tells her Tony is fighting, that he lasted over two days and that it is a promising fact. She begs to fly down but he tells her he needs her to be there when McGee and Ziva arrive with all the evidence and the prisoners, and that as soon as they can transfer Tony to Bethesda she can take a day no matter what and stay with him.

The doctors manage to stabilize Tony by performing a splenectomy and putting in a chest tube to reinflate his lung. They are still worried about head trauma and, in a move that both pleases and frightens Gibbs, want to move him to Bethesda as soon as possible so that tests can be run to determine if and what brain damage there may be and a plastic surgeon can work on closing the head wound properly. They are also concerned about his plague-damaged lung and the effect of the splenectomy on his health, especially since he'd been in a dirty basement for two days. A call to Ducky makes sure that Bethesda is ready for Tony's arrival, a call to Abby ensures that the nuns will be praying for safe travels, and a call to McGee finds that the case, for their part, is closed and that they will be off rotation for at least a week.

As the helicopter takes off, and Gibbs sees Tony still pale, breathing thanks to a ventilator and connected to various tubes and wires, all he can think of is this was not how he wanted to bring Tony home.

He feels hot, like he has been in the desert for weeks and hasn't had any water for days. His throat feels blocked but he is still breathing, and when he tries to reach a hand toward his throat he feels gentle pressure squeezing his fingers and a voice telling him that he just needed to relax. He doesn't know who it is, but squeezes back and lets himself go back to sleep, comforted by the presence.

Ducky, McGee, Ziva, and Abby take shifts, occasionally persuading Gibbs to go home to shower and change, though he only does so reluctantly. The staff takes pity on him and brings in a reclining chair for him to sleep in. The head trauma is not as severe as once thought- a concussion rather than a cracked skull-but he developed pneumonia after being stuck in the cold, damp room with broken ribs and a deflated lung. He occasionally opens his eyes or squeezes a hand, but he hasn't really woken up yet.

Abby is distraught but smiles as she tells him all the stories she has been saving; McGee talks about the new movies he thinks Tony would likes; Ziva talks about some blue dress she wore and a promise to teach him how to get out of a locked room; Ducky tells stories about... something. Gibbs usually falls asleep when he starts talking, which he doesn't think is a coincidence at all. He does not say much of anything to Tony, just soothes him when he gets restless and reminds him he doesn't have permission to go just yet. The things he has to say to Tony, he wants to say to his face.

A week passes, and the chest tube is gone, the ventilator is replaced with an oxygen mask, and the grey pallor of his face slowly fades into a healthier shade. The fever is still there so Tony isn't, but he mutters things about Wendy and Jenny and asks why no one came to get him. Gibbs wipes Tony's hair from his forehead and tells him they got him, he's back, but he knows it was too late.

It is the sun that wakes him up, warm on his face. He feels like he has been swimming and finally surfaced after a long period of time. He opens his eyes to a clean white hospital room, with machines softly beeping and an antiseptic smell pervading the air. He sees the bedside table piled with new movies and Bert, and a note taped to the side saying "Welcome Back!" signed by McGee, Ziva, Ducky, Palmer, and Abby, who apparently also wrote numerous post-it notes, if he had the scrawl right. He turned his head to the other side, and saw Gibbs, curled unnaturally on a recliner of some sort with a hospital-issued pillow and blanket. He can't help the tears that spring up on him, blaming the drugs and whatnot, and not the fact that just the sight of Gibbs was enough to remind him that Gibbs had not given up on him. He tries to take a deep breath and moans at the discomfort.

Gibbs startles awake, eyes searching and opening wide in surprise when he sees Tony looking back at him. He comes closer, and seems concerned enough that he starts for a nurse when Tony manages to grab his hand.

"Thank you," he croaks.

It is all he can say at the moment. He gets rewarded with a rare smile from Gibbs.

"You've got three weeks before I expect you to be back at that desk, DiNozzo. I better grab your doctor now so we can get you in shape."

It is exactly what Tony needs to hear.