A/N: I am moving all my NCIS stories together under one pen name.
Legends and Legacies is one of two stories (the other being 'Haunted') that were co-written by the wonderfully talented Laine3112. It was a WIP when events on the show turned it AU. I took it down because I didn't think I'd ever finish it. I was asked by readers to re-post it. I did, with a warning that it would most likely never be completed. After a while, I did post more but still didn't think I'd ever finish it. Because readers were so supportive, I didn't want to take it down again or leave it undone. So, I asked Laine if she would take it over. She did and made it great. I wrote chapters 1-4, Laine wrote chapters 5-15.
Since she wrote the majority of the story (including all plotting from chapter 5 till the end) this is much more Laine's story than mine and should rightfully be posted under her name. But, because I had the original idea, she insists it's more mine. Ideas are easy, writing isn't. You can access Laine's profile from my favorite authors list.
Thanks again, Laine, for all the support and encouragement and your excellent work!
Title: Legends and Legacies
Category: TV Shows » NCIS
Language: English, Rating: Rated: T
Published: 01-26-10, Updated: 07-28-11
Chapters: 15, Words: 58,947
Chapter 1: Chapter 1
As Gibbs exited the coffee shop, Fornell suddenly appeared at his side.
"Let's take a walk," Fornell said.
Tobias led him to the park across the street. He sat on a bench with no one nearby and Gibbs took a seat beside him. When Fornell remained silent, Gibbs prompted him.
"Our legend's about to have his last hurrah, Jethro. Soon to be caught dead in the act in an unnamed location in the middle east. They plan on being very thorough before they put this one to bed. They're going to cast a very wide net. A net that's about to land in your back yard."
"He's no part of it, he doesn't know anything."
"I agree with you. So do some others in much higher places than mine. That's why I was sent to give you a heads up."
"It's out of their hands, they've been over ruled by the spooks. Who are determined to wring every last possible drop out of it, leave no stone unturned or loose ends."
"Why drag Tony into it? He's been cleared for years."
"Cleared by you, maybe. I don't even know if they ever stopped surveillance. You know I was the agent assigned to look for money laundering. But, I came across signs of something very different. Once they realized what I'd stumbled across, they made it need-to-know and decided I didn't. Since then, I've just been used as a diversion through the years.
Fornell shook his head. "Only you and Morrow were read in at the beginning and no one from NCIS has been read in since. Excepting any possible plants in the agency. I'm sure every sensitive case he worked was scrutinized for years, may still be. That was the idea, after all. To keep tabs, dangle temptations in front of him to see if he'd bite. Then reel him in and follow where he led. He never took the bait, though. He may be one of the most annoying men on earth. But, I won't deny he's a good agent." He sighed.
"The bastard washed his hands of him over twenty years ago. I guess it was obvious by the time he was twelve years old he wasn't cut out to follow in his father's footsteps. Your friend tried to plead his case, Jethro. They could quietly neutralize his father without involving Tony at all. He never had to know."
"But, they're still going to question him. And, afterwards, I'm sure he'll have questions of his own. For you. I don't see how he'll come out of this without finding out or figuring out why you took him on to begin with."
This was the first time in a long time Gibbs had dwelled on how Tony had come to work for NCIS. He tried to keep that set of circumstances sealed away from conscious thought, one of the more troublesome skeletons in a crowded closet.
Gibbs had recruited DiNozzo under orders and under protest. He'd been summoned to the director's office three days after he had met Tony, the Baltimore PD detective who'd first caught the case of a murdered Petty Officer.
Nothing in the extensive dossier they had compiled suggested espionage. Two years seemed to be his limit for staying at any job and no job he'd held offered access to classified information. He'd waited tables during college then headed straight into law enforcement after graduation. The dossier writers had noted that the actual job, he did well. Dealing with his superiors, not so well. Off the job, his only notable pursuits were drinking and skirt chasing. They had watched him almost a year with no evidence whatsoever he was anything but what he appeared.
Although it had felt wrong from the get-go, Gibbs had reluctantly followed orders. The longer it went on, the wronger it felt. He had observed, subtly questioned and reported. He'd wasted the team's time on the set ups meant to test Tony. Each test he had passed with flying colors. And, he was shaping up to be one of the best agents Gibbs had ever worked with. His gut told him Tony was innocent and there was absolutely no evidence to the contrary. Gibbs had a necessarily calloused conscience compared to the average person. But, the duplicity had begun to eat at him early on. A little over four months in, he'd had enough.
DiNozzo had been injured in the line of duty, deliberately putting himself between Gibbs and a perp with a knife. Gibbs had gone straight from the crime scene to his superior's office. He had demanded that Morrow choose-Gibbs would, at the Director's preference, either fire DiNozzo or treat him as any other agent. But, he refused to participate or cooperate any longer in undue surveillance or suspicion. Gibbs had wondered then how much longer they watched Tony. He wondered now if they had ever stopped.
Much as he dreaded it, he had to talk to Tony before they did. He wouldn't break classified confidence past just the one fact-he had hired him to spy on him. He couldn't spare Tony from being blindsided by the rest, but that particular piece of truth, Tony deserved to hear from him.
When he entered the squad room, he saw McGee talking to one of two men in black suits.
"Boss," McGee said on seeing him enter, "These gentlemen are FBI. They say they need to talk to Tony." He nervously glanced up the staircase.
What good was a heads up that gave him no time to act? Gibbs thought. And, why the hell were they were involving Vance? The whole thing was spiraling out of control before it even began.
"If Tony gets back before me, tell him stay put until I get back," Gibbs told McGee. He glared at the two FBI agents. "He says nothing, goes nowhere. Understood?"
Gibbs entered Vance's office, ignoring Cynthia's protest. One seat before the director's desk was occupied.
"Gibbs! What the-" Vance's anger waned as he studied Gibbs' face. "You know."
"I know this whole thing is unnecessary bull-"
"Agent Gibbs," Vance interrupted. "While I understand your personal interest and concern, I'll have you removed if you don't conduct yourself in a professional manner."
Gibbs glared but was silent.
"Special Agent Philip Capelli, FBI; Special Agent Jethro Gibbs." Gibbs didn't acknowledge the introduction.
"Agent Capelli is here to take Agent DiNozzo into custody under a material witness warrant."
"Custody?" Gibbs said, disbelieving. "You're not taking him anywhere."
Capelli stood to face Gibbs.
"The warrant gives him the benefit of the doubt, Gibbs. We haven't laid charges yet although we have cause. You don't know the circumstances."
"I know DiNozzo!" He turned to Vance.
"If you let them take and ruin him over nothing, you'll have my badge and they'll have a helluva fight on their hands."
Vance pressed a phone button.
"Cynthia, get me FBI Director Reese, please, for an urgent matter."
He spoke to the two men.
"You two go out and assume neutral corners until I call you back."
They left to stand in the outer office. Gibbs didn't speak, didn't even risk his temper's control by making eye contact with Capelli. It had been bad enough when he knew they planned to drag Tony into it with questioning. How the hell they managed to get a warrant for custody was beyond him. The threat of charges had to be a bluff.
Five minutes later, Cynthia was asked to send them back in.
"Director Reese and I," Vance said, "Have agreed that Agent Gibbs' abilities and resources are better channeled assisting rather than interfering with the investigation. We have also agreed he may be present during interrogations but will not interfere with said interrogations. Agent Gibbs, you are on loan to the FBI. Agent Capelli, your Director is standing by to take your call confirming our agreement."
Gibbs left the director's office and made it back to the squad room just as Tony returned from lunch. Tony noticed the two men by his desk as soon as the elevator doors opened, eying them warily and hesitating before he stepped into the room. When they spotted him, both moved his way, maneuvering themselves with one agent in front of him and one behind.
"Anthony DiNozzo?" The agent to the front asked.
Tony glanced over his shoulder at the agent at his back then looked to Gibbs.
"You gotta be kidding me. Again? Who am I supposed to have killed this time?"
Gibbs heard the edge under the flippant tone. He went and grabbed Tony's sleeve, pulling him from between the two men. He saw the agents' hands go to their weapons but ignored them and led Tony out of his team member's hearing behind the staircase wall. The FBI agents followed.
"Listen to me DiNozzo," Gibbs said, "Because there are two things you need to know and never forget. About me. Are you listening?"
"The first thing is, always, duty first. I do my job. The second thing is, I trust you as much as I've ever trusted any man. You got that? You got both those things?"
"What the hell is going on?"
"Answer me. You got it?"
"I got it, Boss. Now, please, will you tell me-"
Capelli appeared with a document in his hand, his agents moving to flank Tony. "Agent DiNozzo, please surrender your weapon."
"Secure," Gibbs corrected, grabbing Tony's bicep to halt his response.
"He'll secure his weapon like he always does. And, it'll be waiting when he gets back."
"Not here, Tony. Go." Gibbs ordered, motioning towards Tony's desk. The two junior FBI agents looked to Capelli who nodded. They stepped aside and Tony went to his desk and locked his SIG in a drawer.
McGee was watching, perplexed and anxious, looking to Gibbs.
Gibbs avoided eye contact when he answered.
"Talk to Vance." They left the building.
Capelli officially served the warrant in the parking lot. Tony had a minor explosion, demanding answers. Gibbs calmed him with a reassuring hand on his shoulder and orders to hold on and wait, everything would be explained, it would be fine. It worked because DiNozzo listened and trusted him as he lied. He doubted either of them would be anywhere close to fine when Tony knew the truth. Gibbs tried to tell himself they could be, eventually. That Tony could get past how they started and realize where they were now was what mattered. He wasn't buying it, though, and he knew the calming lie would be just one more nail in the coffin. But, a scene in the parking lot could have led to Tony being cuffed. Gibbs lied to keep a bad situation turning worse than it already was.
When Gibbs went to follow Tony and his two escorts into the FBI sedan, Capelli stopped him.
"You drive me," he said. "We need to talk."
Gibbs saw the heightened distress flash briefly on Tony's face when he heard they would be separated. He covered it quickly, though, and went into the car without comment, holding onto eye contact with Gibbs as long as possible. Gibbs steadily returned the gaze, hiding the gut churning guilt and dread as he manipulated Tony's trust and imagined the moment he'd see it shattered.
Gibbs led the way to his car. Once they were moving, Capelli spoke.
"That's quite a deductive leap, Gibbs. Straight from seeing my men downstairs to storming the director's office."
Gibbs didn't respond.
"If there's a leak on my team-"
"As far as I know, there isn't."
"Higher up?" Capelli asked.
"You said you wanted to talk. So, talk."
"We had no choice but to bring him in. For his own protection, if nothing else."
"You didn't give him a choice. If it was for his protection, why the warrant?"
"Yeah, and it's hit a very big fan. Daddy DiNozzo played us, Gibbs. They underestimated him, from the beginning."
"So, start there and tell me what the hell's going on."
"I'm authorized to give you a sketch without details. You have questions or a problem with that, you take it up with somebody higher up than me, understood?" Capelli waited for Gibbs' nod before he continued.
"They'd been watching Senior before you took on Junior. Nothing major, so they let him go on a while and took names and notes and did damage control afterwards. Until he got his hands on some prime intel. They busted him and turned him. He didn't have much choice-either play along or spend the rest of his life in federal prison. Or, be fried for treason."
"If it's any consolation, they came to the same conclusion about Junior not long after you did. They were wasting their time shadowing him, especially once they had Senior in their pocket. We used him and he did a good job for us. "
"They didn't realize, as good a job as he was doing for us, he was doing himself a better job on the side. One he apparently started thirty years ago and kept up under our noses. Information gathered over decades and all collected together and put on one computer chip and sold for seventy five million dollars."
Gibbs glanced over at him, his eyebrows raised.
"Yeah," Capelli said. "Helluva retirement package, a lot different than the one we had in store for him. I just came on board six months ago when they started planning the last sting. He'd done good for us, but there was no way to keep him low profile on this one. He'd be outed in a big way and we'd be putting him out to pasture afterwards."
"So, we'd spent six months setting this one up. Had a big fish hooked, all we had to do was show up and reel it in. It was a joint op, inter-agency from here, locals from over there. We were going to come out looking very good on this one and some so called friends were going to have a lot of explaining to do. We had advance men in place and DiNozzo and escorts flew over three days ago. Tomorrow was supposed to the big day. But, last night was when all hell broke loose." He shook his head.
"In hindsight, somebody, somewhere in the chain of supposed intelligence should have connected the dots. They intercepted chatter, they got bits and pieces from a lot of different sources but nothing specific they could latch on. Our buddies at Langley didn't choose to include us in that particular loop until after the fact. If they had, we might not have lost five men and might still have DiNozzo."
"You lost him?"
"One way or another. As near as we can tell, he got away. We'll have to confirm it with DNA because a lot of the casualties aren't identifiable. DiNozzo got the drop on us, but somebody got the drop on him. Whether it was an under bidder who decided if they couldn't buy it, they'd take it or somebody with a vested interest in keeping what was on the chip secret, we don't know. It turned into a firefight between our people and DiNozzo's people and the buyers and the mystery guests, who came to the party with RPGs. The only good news is that the exchange had been made and the chip got incinerated along with a vehicle and its occupants."
"Tony?" Gibbs couldn't see any way possible his DiNozzo could be connected with the story Capelli was telling. If Capelli couldn't make his case before they reached the Hoover Building, Gibbs would head straight to the director's office once they got there.
"I'm getting to that. So, the merchandise is toast and the buyers are pissed. The only thing they do have is DiNozzo's negotiator who was to be held until the goods were delivered then, I guess, join DiNozzo and head for some hills that didn't have extradition treaties with Uncle Sam."
"Ron DeAngelis had worked for Senior for twenty-five years, but we never tied him to any of the extracurricular activities. Five years ago, he retired to Florida to fish and screw around with girls half his age. He and Senior kept in touch like you'd expect old friends to. Phone calls, Christmas gifts, get together once or twice a year. We know now that, over a week ago, he left the country under a false passport in the name of Sam Arghetti. We know it's him because his body, even though it was a lot the worse for wear, still had fingerprints. The body was part of package deal we made with a member of the buyer's camp looking to sell the information."
"So, like I said, and as you can well imagine, the buyers were pissed and they only had DeAngelis to take it out on. Which they proceed to do. DeAngelis, in what you could call a dying declaration, says DiNozzo told him his son, Anthony DiNozzo, was holding a backup copy of the chip. Senior hadn't told him how or where, only that his son had it."
"That's it?" Gibbs asked, anger mounting. "How the hell do you get a warrant for custody out of that? Hearsay under torture, once removed. What was he supposed to have witnessed from the other side of the world."
"Do you think he's safe out of protective custody, Gibbs? Whether you believe it or not, chances are the bad guys are going to come looking.'"
"I can protect him, my people can protect him. You have nothing to hold him on. How'd you get a judge to sign off?"
"Primarily, because we believe he is at risk and because we believe he has information pertinent to the case. Even if you disregard what DeAngelis said, Junior's still Senior's son and, as such, a source of information. Also, he could be considered a hostile witness and a flight risk considering that relationship."
"You know damn well he has no relationship with the bastard. Did you mention to the judge, before he granted the warrant, that Tony hasn't had any contact with his father in over twenty years?" Gibbs asked.
"Maybe you don't know him as well as you think," Capelli answered. "He called his father six days ago."
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
"I know him," Gibbs said. "And, I know there's no way he's involved with any of this."
"I guess you believe in coincidences, then. He suddenly gets the urge to call up dear old dad, for the first time in twenty years, a few days before it all goes down. Why? That call is the one and only record we can find of him ever contacting him."
"If you're asking, I'm guessing it wasn't a tapped line."
"No, it was rerouted. The man runs a big business, has a lot of phone lines. We couldn't show cause to tap them all, even if we wanted to. We waste enough man hours as it is monitoring all the lines we do have covered. His PA's personal calls are a real soap opera, juggling her husband and her boyfriend. The whole thing's a waste of time. DiNozzo's too smart to incriminate himself over a company phone line."
"I always knew he was smart, just never realized how smart. Just a record of all the deals he turned for us would be a valuable list. Who knows how many contacts he made, what he knew, what he saw working it for thirty years. That chip could be open season on moles all over the world. If there is a second chip, we need to get it before anybody else gets their hands on it."
"DiNozzo could be after it himself. It's not like the good old days where you made a deal and walked off with a pile of cash in a suitcase. Now, you can move around millions just punching computer keys. That's definitely not my area of expertise. But, the geeks say, most likely, the buyers wouldn't have sent the payoff before they had the goods. They did have it, but for just a few minutes before it got blown away. We're thinking he didn't get the payoff. Hoping, because , if he did, we'll never find him again. And, we do want to find him again."
"There could be another chip. There could be fifty copies or there could be no more copies. But, at least some of what's on there is also in Senior's head. Maybe he couldn't have memorized thirty years worth of names and intel, but I know he knows a lot more than he ever shared with us."
Capelli paused a few seconds before glancing to Gibbs.
"Tony ever talk to you about his father?"
Gibbs remembered offhand comments dropped, like clues, through the years. And, the few times during the last couple of years that Tony had told more. His voice slurred by alcohol, every word spoken with a dismissive, sarcastic edge. Scathing remembrances told with a bitter smile as if they were nothing more than a little dark humor shared with a friend. The haunted look in his eyes, though, told a different story. As if somehow Tony, against all logic, were the guilty party and Gibbs his confessor.
Gibbs didn't answer Capelli's question, only kept his eyes on the road as if he hadn't heard.
"I know this puts you in a difficult position. But, remember, Gibbs, we're on the same side here."
"I," Gibbs said emphasizing each word, "Am on Tony's side."
"Absolute faith, right? It's a nice feeling, huh? I remember." Capellis' tone was bitter. "There is a leak on my team. Somebody warned our target off and tipped the buyers. DiNozzo couldn't have done it, he didn't know. He didn't know the location until he stepped off the plane. Somebody I trusted as much as you trust Tony sold us out. And, until I know who, I can't trust anybody. Untouchables are TV crap, Gibbs. Money trumps everything and nobody's above suspicion."
"You included?" Gibbs asked.
Capelli shrugged. "I'd have to be on the suspect list, but pretty far down the line. I'm still on the case and like it or not, I'm running the show."
When they reached the Hoover complex, Capelli directed him through the parking garage to a restricted access section. The FBI agent left the car to speak to the attendant, then returned. The gate was lifted and Gibbs drove in and parked. Looking around as he stepped out of the car he caught sight of Tony's back as he was ushered into a brown van.
"Hey!" He yelled as the van's door closed. He began to run towards it, but the van pulled away and Capelli called out to him.
Gibbs stalked back to the FBI agent, enraged.
"What the hell-"
"Calm down!" Capelli ordered, unfazed by Gibbs' anger. "We're right behind them."
"With him! I'm supposed to be with him, not behind him!"
"And, you will be. You should be thanking me, Gibbs. He could be headed for lockup instead of a safe house. The sooner you get in the car," he indicated a blue sedan with tinted windows he'd come to stand by, "The sooner the reunion."
Gibbs glared a few seconds longer before he yanked the car door open and sat in the passenger seat. Capelli got behind the wheel and turned the key.
"You can stop fuming, Gibbs. You'd have done the same thing. There was no way I was letting you in that van without a muzzle. You don't get a chance to talk to him before I do."
One minute, Gibbs thought. At this point, if he could have just one minute to try to soften the blow he'd take it and be grateful. But, it was a minute he wouldn't get and he knew Capelli was right. No interrogator wanted a forewarned suspect and Gibbs wouldn't have allowed the contact , either. Tony wasn't a suspect, though, not to Gibbs. He'd have to find a way to convince Tony of that fact.
Fifteen minutes into the drive, Capelli turned off a main drag into a suburban neighborhood. He pulled into the driveway of a brick duplex, used a remote to raise the garage door and drove inside then lowered the door. They walked from the garage into the home's kitchen. The two agents who'd escorted Tony away sat at the kitchen table.
"Where's Tony?" Gibbs asked.
Capelli took a manila folder from the table and motioned for Gibbs to follow him down the hallway. He stopped and opened a door and led Gibbs in then shut the door behind them.
The small, windowless room was furnished with only a table set with three chairs on either side. As they entered, Tony shot up from one of the chairs and rushed to Gibbs' side.
"Finally!" he said. "What the hell is going on?" He asked the question of Gibbs, but it was Capelli that answered.
"Agent DiNozzo, will you return to your seat please?"
"Boss?" Tony ignored the FBI agent, looking still to Gibbs for answers. Once again, Capelli spoke instead.
"Agent Gibbs has been assigned to assist in our investigation. But, as he's chosen to cast himself as your advocate, he's going to be restricted to observation only during interrogations. "
Capelli glanced to Gibbs who, with a hand on Tony's shoulder, guided him back to the table. "Sit."
Tony followed his order and Gibbs sat in the chair beside him. Capelli took a seat opposite them and placed the file unopened on the table.
"What's your primary allegiance, Tony?"
Tony glanced to Gibbs before looking back to Capelli to answer. "What?"
"Where do your loyalties lie? If you had to choose between family and country, which would you choose?"
"That's what I'd expect a federal agent to say. In theory, it's what we'd all say. In practice though, not so easy."
"Believe me, a lot easier than you'd think."
"When was the last time you spoke to your father, Tony?"
"Is that what this is about? My father?" He seemed to relax a bit. "I don't know anything about any of that. I didn't even understand the stuff I overheard way back when, much less have any idea about what's going on now."
"What kind of stuff did you overhear?"
"Money stuff. Offshore accounts, hidden assets, I don't know. Like I said, it was a long time ago and I don't remember anything specific."
"When did you last talk to your father?"
"Twenty-two years ago. I'm telling you, I don't know anything. You need to serve the warrants on his accountants or lawyers or somebody that has a clue because I don't."
"Twenty-two years is a long time. Are you sure you haven't-"
"Yeah, I'm sure," Tony interrupted, anger in his voice. "Are we done here? Because if we're not, I want a lawyer."
Capelli opened the folder, removed a sheet and placed it on the table before DiNozzo.
"These are your cell LUDs. See that number highlighted, dialed six days ago? You recognize it?"
Tony looked down at the sheet and clenched his jaw.
"You want to change your story?" Capelli asked.
"You asked me how long it had been since I talked to him, not since I called him."
"You're saying you didn't talk to him?"
"I'm done saying anything."
"DiNozzo...," Gibbs prompted.
"Boss, you know this is bullshit. I don't know anything and they're not going to be able to get to him through me. It's a waste of time and it's a trumped up warrant and I want out of here."
"I know," Gibbs said. "But, you still need to answer him."
Tony hesitated, took a deep breath, calmed some then spoke.
"I called him. But, he declined the call."
"You never actually spoke to him, but he knew you'd called?"
"I knew he used to have a pow-wow every Wednesday night in the corporate private dining room with department heads. I called hoping he still did and Charlie the waiter would still be there. He did, Charlie was. Charlie remembered me and told him I was calling. He told Charlie to tell me not to call again. That's it."
"Why did you call him?"
"None of your damn business."
"Whose side are you on?" Tony cut Gibbs off. "You do realize they're trying to lock me up? Again! Over nothing! They're not turning the key on me this time without a fight. I'm not real up on the constitutional rights of a material witness. But, I'm pretty sure right to counsel's in there somewhere." He turned back to face Capelli. "Lawyer. Now."
Tony leaned back into his chair and crossed his arms, defiantly glaring across at Capelli.
If a lawyer would help, Gibbs would have already had one secured. No lawyer could stop the threat to Tony. He was trapped into the mess and there was no simple or easy way out. He was, once again, an innocent victim of his father.
"We're not investigating your father's business, Tony," Capelli said. The charges are treason and the murder of five federal agents."
Tony looked dumbfounded. He shook his head. "No."
"I'm afraid so."
"Treason as in Benedict Arnold treason?"
"And you're saying he killed five agents?"
"He was responsible for their deaths."
"There's a difference between supposedly being responsible and killing. What are you trying to pull here? You expect me to believe any of this? Are you trying to set us both up?"
"It's true, Tony." Capelli said.
"No, it is not true! This is crazy. I don't know what your game is, but I'm not playing."
"As I said, easy in theory, harder in practice. I thought you said country first, Tony."
When Tony put his palms on the table and stood and began to lean across towards Capelli, Gibbs quickly rose to grab his arm and stop him before he could speak.
Tony didn't follow Gibbs' order this time. He remained standing, facing him to argue.
"Boss, you can't believe this! Why? Why would he? He's all about the money and the power and he has plenty of both. He's had the business almost forty years. Why would he suddenly turn spy?"
"It's not sudden, Tony," Capelli said. "We can't know for sure exactly when or how he started. There's a chance he's been at it forty years. We know for a fact he was at it eight years ago, because that's when we started monitoring him. And you."
Tony's eyes widened as he gaped at Capelli.
Bastard! Gibbs thought even though he knew the drill himself-rattle, sever alliances, isolate. Interrogation techniques, throw the suspect off balance, break them down. No more.
"That's enough!" Gibbs ordered Capelli.
"Gibbs, you're only authorized to observe, not intervene. If you-"
"Shut the hell up!"
Capelli seemed unaffected by Gibbs' words and anger. But, he remained silent.
Tony stared into Gibbs' face a few seconds before he spoke.
"And, you knew?"
He nodded again.
"The day before I offered you the job."
Tony held eye contact for only a second after Gibbs' confession, looking more wounded than if it had been an actual knife thrust and twisted in his back. Then, he turned away and jerked his arm out of Gibbs' grasp.
"I need the head," he said and bolted towards the door. As Tony exited, one of the two agents from the kitchen appeared in the open doorway.
"It's okay," Capelli told him. The agent nodded and shut the door.
Gibbs grasped the back of a chair with both hands, afraid if he let go he might give in to the fury. Capelli might have been the primary target of his violence, but he was just as furious at Tony's father and himself.
"I got five dead agents and God knows what at stake if that chip gets into the wrong hands, Gibbs," Capelli said. "I'm sorry Tony got caught in the crossfire but I got a job to do that has to be done. If some bastard had taken your team out, what would you have done different than me?"
Nothing, Gibbs thought. Collateral damage was an unfortunate and unavoidable byproduct of battle. But, this time the victim was Tony. He pushed off the chair and walked out the door to the bathroom.
Gibbs rapped on the door and, after a few seconds, Tony opened it and stepped out into the hallway, smiling.
"A lot of people have wondered why you put up with me. I've wondered it myself a time or two. Mystery solved, huh?"
Gibbs recognized the look in his eyes and the tone of his voice. But, this was the first time he'd used them sober.
"Listen to me-" Gibbs tried to talk to him.
"You already explained. Duty called, job first. I get it. I'm just surprised you didn't share your secret weapon, tell them bourbon works pretty good getting me to talk about my father. You got a tape recorder hidden in the basement?"
"Dammit, Tony, you know I'd never-"
Tony cut him off as he shouldered past him.
"I don't know anything anymore."
Gibbs followed him down the hallway. Capelli was standing just outside the interrogation room doorway. Tony walked over to him.
"Unless you're ready to let me get a lawyer, I'm ready to crash. You got a bedroom picked out for me?"
"Just a couple more questions, Tony," Capelli said.
"It should be painfully obvious by now that I am absolutely clueless about just about everything. I don't know anything. There's nothing I can tell you."
"I have five dead men and who knows how many more at risk if we don't stop your father. Please, for your fallen fellow agents, just a few more questions."
Tony sighed. "Fine, ask away for all the good it'll do."
They returned to the room and to the table. This time though, Tony took a seat beside Capelli, turning his chair to face the FBI agent.
"Okay, Tony, I'm gonna ask again-why did you call your father?"
"Because I thought maybe he had changed or maybe he was dying or maybe he was sorry. Maybe he..." He shrugged. "I don't know why I called. It was a stupid thing to do."
"But, what made you think that, what made you call?"
"My mother's picture. It was one he kept on his desk before things went south."
"A picture? He sent you a picture?" Capelli lost the cool interrogator's tone, anxious hope sounding in his voice.
"Somebody did. It wasn't mailed. There was no name, just the delivery company's address out of New York."
"Where is it?"
"Why?" Tony asked. Capelli hesitated answering.
"Tell him," Gibbs said. "Tell him everything. It's his life on the line."
"My life on the line?" Tony smiled. "This just gets better and better."
"Tell him," Gibbs repeated.
"You know I can't do that. It's classified, top secret and he's a suspect."
"He's only a suspect so you could pull him in. You know he's not part of it. If he was, he'd know it all anyway. You can't leave him blind."
"You should listen to him," Tony said to Capelli. "That's how he got to be a legend. Lone-wolfing it, doing things his way, ignoring orders. Mike Franks, Colonel Ryan. He'd break every rule in the book for a friend he believed in."
"You can't compare them to this." Gibbs said. "They're two totally different-"
"Yeah, I know," Tony cut into Gibbs' excuse. "Big difference between friends and suspects."
"You know better than that! You think I'd put up with somebody I didn't trust this long? I hired you for one reason, but I kept you for a lot of different ones. Why do you think I'm here now?"
"I know why you're here. You wouldn't work an op for seven years and miss out on the gotcha."
"I'm here for you, not against you! It was only four months out of seven years. If you'd-"
"Tony!" Capelli said loudly, interrupting Gibbs. "The picture?"
Tony shook his head. "Tell me everything, or I'm done. You'll find the picture without my help. You want anything else from me, either read me in or I am out. As in not another word without a lawyer present."
Capelli hesitated. "Tell him," Gibbs prompted, "Or I will."
Tony gave a soft, derisive chuckle. "You guys really need to work on your good cop/bad cop routine. It's not very-"
Gibbs slammed a palm into the table top then leaned over it, his face inches from Tony's.
"Are you that dense that you can believe, after all these years, that I don't care about you?"
Tony had startled when Gibbs' hand hit the table. But, he didn't flinch at Gibbs' angry question, only glared back in answer.
"Please," Capelli said. "Can we get back to the national security crisis?"
The close quarters stare down continued a couple more seconds before Gibbs dropped back into his chair. Tony squared his shoulders and looked back to Capelli.
"I'm gonna take a chance on you, Tony," Capelli said. "Only because I don't have much choice. Nothing I tell you leaves this room, it's just between the three of us. Especially, the picture. Never admit to anybody you ever mentioned that picture."
"Why are you so interested in a picture of my mother?"
"Your father put 75 million dollars worth of classified intel on a computer chip that would fit twice inside a dime. He told an associate that you were holding a copy. The only other known copy was destroyed. The buyers were told you had a duplicate. But, your father's the only one who knows where it is."
"You don't know for sure it's there," Tony said.
"I'd say odds are good, wouldn't you? A picture from your father's desk shows up out of the blue right before it all goes down. I'd say odds are damn good there is a copy and it's hidden in the picture. We're about to find out."
"Before all what went down?" Tony asked.
"We'll get into all that later. Right now, we need to get that chip. Before we leave this room, I want to make sure you understand-nobody outside us three can know we found the chip."
"I got it."
"Good. As far as anybody else is concerned, we're taking you to your apartment to pick up some clothes. Where's the picture?"
"In my computer desk. Top right hand drawer."
Capelli smiled and pulled out his cell and dialed a number.
"Harry, it's Phil. I just wanted to give you a heads up we're headed your way. We're bringing DiNozzo by to pick up some clothes." He listened a while before speaking again. "Not yet. I don't think he knows anything. I haven't given up, but he's looking like a dead end. I'll see you soon."
"You always lie like that to your own men?" Tony asked after Capelli ended the call.
"When one of them's a mole, yeah, I do."
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
"A mole? You mean-"
"We need to get moving. We can talk in the car."
They got in the the blue sedan, Tony taking shotgun and leaving Gibbs alone in the back seat. Once they were moving, Tony resumed his line of questioning.
"So, you know you have a mole. Are you sure it's one of the guys you have on my place?"
"But, you are sure it isn't one of the men back at the safe house?"
"Bunking in with the bad guys sorta takes the safe out of safe house, don't you think?"
"It can't be helped. The only way we can flush him out is if he makes a move."
"A move like, say, pulling out my fingernails or taking a cattle prod to my-"
"We won't leave you alone."
"Which only means my privacy is out the window along with everything else. 75 million dollars worth of motivation can buy a bad guy a lot of backup. I'll be a sitting duck there. Once you have the chip, you don't need me anymore. I can take care of myself. You can drop the warrant and cut me loose."
"I can't do that, Tony. Simply for your own protection."
"Bait," Gibbs said from the back seat. "They want to use you as bait to catch your father."
"We will protect him from his father," Capelli corrected, "Hoping that, in the process of protecting him, we might also apprehend his father."
"What do you expect him to do," Tony asked. "Knock on my door and ask for his picture back? There's no way he's coming anywhere near me. He's a lot of things, but stupid isn't one of them."
"He'll find a way. It could be as simple as hiring somebody to steal the picture from your place. But, when the picture's not there, then things get more complicated."
"If he has a guy on the inside, why didn't he already just tell him to grab the picture?"
"I have two men in your place and one outside it. The men inside have orders not to touch anything, they're just there in case somebody showed up. It'd be hard to toss the place, especially for something so small, with a partner watching. Plus, my men haven't left since we got word and headed straight for you. Unless an unknown third party made it to your place before we did, the picture's still there. If it's in an agent's pocket, then we have our mole. But, I don't think it'll be that easy."
"On the plus side, though, our turncoat's a freelancer, in it for the money. It's not like he has a big network to fall back on for help or communication. Maybe DeAngelis was his contact, not your father. We kept a close eye on DiNozzo, not our agents. It would have been a lot easier to-"
"You know what?" Tony interrupted. "You don't need me to catch my father. I'm sure you can do a fine job of it without me. And, I don't need your protection, I can take care of myself. I just want to get as far away from here as I can and start over somewhere else."
Like hell you will, Gibbs thought to himself. Tony was pissed now and ready to cut and run and burn any bridges behind him. Once he calmed down, once he realized what he'd be throwing away, he'd reconsider. Gibbs may have lost Tony, but he wouldn't let Tony lose himself by walking away from NCIS. He'd worked too hard and come too far, had more sense than to revert back to the aimless life he'd lived before. Tony could transfer if he had to, but Gibbs would not allow him to run away and self destruct.
"It's not just your father, Tony," Capelli said. "There's the other bad guys to consider. They're the bigger threat. They don't know the location of the chip. And, they think you do and that's bad news for you."
Capelli tapped a coded knock on Tony's apartment door, it opened and the three of them stepped inside.
"You two take a break, get some fresh air or coffee or something. I'll let you know when we're done." Capelli told the two agents.
After they'd left, he headed straight for the computer desk, pulling on one latex glove before he opened the top right hand drawer. The picture was there just as Tony had said it was, a 5"x7" black and white photograph of a beautiful woman's face in an onyx and ivory frame. Capelli pulled an evidence bag from inside his coat pocket, put the photo inside and placed it back into his pocket. He closed the drawer then turned to Tony.
"Let's get you some clothes and get out of here."
Gibbs stayed in the front room while Capelli followed Tony to his bedroom. Tony pulled a suitcase from the closet and began grabbing and tossing clothes inside. He transferred the case to the bed and pulled socks and underwear from a chest of drawers and threw them on top of the clothes then walked to the master bath and filled a travel kit with a razor and toiletries. After he set the kit inside the suitcase he sat on his bed and reached to open the small door of the nightstand. He pulled out a bottle of tequila and tossed it into the suitcase before zipping it closed. Capelli raised an eyebrow but didn't comment. Tony sat on the bed, ran his hand through his hair, looked around the room then was still. After a few seconds, Capelli spoke.
"He went to bat for you, threatened to turn in his badge. That's why he's here. The only reason he's here-for you. We knew he'd be a problem and tried to sneak you out but he was tipped. I know all this is a shot in the gut right now. But, right now, he's the only one you can trust."
"If that's true," Tony said, "You're doing a lousy job of working me. You got the wedge handed to you on a silver platter. You should be hammering it home, not making excuses for him. Getting me to trust you, not him."
"Yeah," Capelli said. "If I thought you'd fall for it, maybe I would."
He took a seat beside Tony on the bed.
"Lou Wilkinson, he was my partner for the last five years. If Lou was here, I wouldn't be lying to him. He was a lot like you; a young, good looking smart ass. That mouth of his pissed me off on a regular basis. But, he did the job. He did it very well, in spite of himself."
"And, that's what matters most, the job's first. But, it was more than just the job with Lou. I trusted him, like Gibbs trusts you. All I have left are cousins in Albuquerque and three ex-wives. Lou was family."
"Yeah, was. He'll be coming home in a body bag. What's left of him. There's not much left after a close call with an RPG. I'll probably never know who fired that RPG. But, I do know it was your old man and his helper on the inside that set the stage. And, I will do whatever it takes to bring them in and bring them down. Including using you any way I can."
"Then why warn me?"
"I don't know." He shrugged. "Maybe it'll ease my conscience when I have to throw you under under the bus."
"Or maybe you're just working me from a different angle. Maybe he's waiting outside to come in and-"
"Give it up, Tony! You got every right to be mad at the world right now. But, hey, life's not fair and your hurt feelings don't matter. You need to cowboy up and get over it. You have to know he's on your side, you're not stupid. You're acting like a kid pissed at his old man, threatening to run away from home. Where are you gonna go, who would you go to? It's your life on the line and he's all you got."
"That doesn't say much for my life, does it?" Tony said then shook his head.
"I don't need him, I don't need anybody. The only thing I need is out of this mess."
He stood and grabbed the suitcase and headed out of the room.
Gibbs waited in the front room, sitting on the couch facing the door. He'd turned his phone off while he'd been chauffeuring Capelli in his car, silencing it in mid-ring. He pulled it out now and turned it on to check and see four missed calls. One from Ducky, three from Abby. He quickly turned it back off and put it back in his pocket. Both of them would have to be told and their reactions dealt with. But, not now, not over the phone.
Tony entered the room and stalked quickly past the couch, a suitcase in one hand. Capelli jogged to catch up with him and hooked a hand over his shoulder to stop him.
"Whoa, Tony," Capelli said. "You don't walk out unescorted."
Gibbs, seeing Capelli's hand resting on Tony's shoulder, remembered Tony jerking his arm from his grasp in the safe house. He watched as the FBI agent, a stranger to Tony out to use him any way he could, gave a couple of reassuring pats before removing his hand.
Tony wouldn't even look at Gibbs, much less let him close enough to touch or reassure him. Something close to grief tried to twist through Gibbs but he shut it down. He wasn't giving up, it wasn't over yet.
Tony remained still and waited as Capelli called his agents back to the apartment. When his men were back inside, the three of them headed back to the car.
Once they were on the road, Gibbs spoke.
"You should let my forensics handle the chip."
"Yeah, right."Capelli dismissed the suggestion.
"You can't trust your team."
"The leak isn't from our forensics team."
"Maybe the first one wasn't. How do you know there's only one leak? Are you sure you can keep it quiet the chip was found? Say your mole goes down to the lab, makes small talk, fishing for information. Does your forensic team know that there's a leak?"
"They've worked with these guys for years," Gibbs continued to plead his case. " And if you tell them now, they'll give it away without meaning to. They're lab rats, not actors or undercover aces . They'd be too easy to read. Can you even be sure there's not somebody watching your lab, waiting?"
"Not too much I can be sure of right now."
"Then let Abby handle it. She's worked with the FBI, you know her rep. You know she's the best at what she does and, the main thing, she can be trusted."
"Reese would never approve it."
"Then don't ask for approval."
"I'd be violating classified security, chain of command, protocol; I'd have to go rogue, working with no backup. Not only would I be out of a job, if I tried to keep the Director out of the loop, I'd probably be up on charges."
Gibbs was waiting for Tony to make a snide remark, compare his urging Capelli to break ranks with Gibbs failure to do the same and tell Tony. But, Tony was silent. Gibbs could see half his face in the rear view mirror, his eyes staring straight forward and not reacting at all to their conversation as if he wasn't even listening.
That detachment was harder to bear than his hurt and anger. As long as Tony was talking to him, no matter how angry the words, there was still a connection between them, a chance to get through to him. More than that, his passive silence worried Gibbs beyond their fractured bond. Tony wasn't passive and heaven knew Tony wasn't the silent type. He worried that, no matter the outcome of the case, Tony wouldn't walk away still himself.
Worry was wasted, he told himself. Worry wouldn't keep Tony safe. Gibbs would find a way to reach him but, right now, keeping him safe was top priority. He had to set aside the personal and focus on the practical.
"Then, let him, and only him, in," Gibbs answered Capelli. "After. After Abby is the one to pull the chip. After we've come up with a plan."
Capelli didn't respond, only drove silently for a minute. Then he snorted and shook his head.
"If I was to do that, Reese," Capelli said, "Would be spitting bullets; armor-piercing bullets that could take me out from ten miles away. If I was fool enough to pull the decision making out from underneath the Director and take it upon myself to re-route a highly, highest, highest-of-the-high, classified FBI investigation over to a single NCIS agent, going rogue, I'd be a damn fool, about the stupidest sonuvabitch ever to carry a badge."
Gibbs smiled a little as Capelli's recitation of the fallout went on, knowing he had him. Although he loathed that the man had dragged Tony into the mess, he understood why he'd done it. Had Gibbs lost his own team, he doubted he could have shown the same restraint and concern the FBI agent was handling Tony.
It burned, a mighty pain with a twist of envy, that, right now, when he needed Gibbs most, Tony trusted a man admittedly out to use him more than he trusted Gibbs.
"What the hell," Capelli said. "You talked me into it. First things first. We get the chip out, and be sure she can do it without damaging it, and replace it with a fake. We'll take it from there when that's done. Say we're still investigating Tony but not holding him. He goes in with you, play it by ear."
Capelli glanced into the rear view mirror to make reflected eye contact with Gibbs.
"You can't cut him loose, Gibbs. For his sake as well as the case's. I go this route, you give me your word you won't let him bolt. Or, all bets are off. I go straight to Reese and Tony's a wanted fugitive and your career is instant burnt toast along with mine. Your word, before this goes any further, that you won't let him out of your sight and you won't let him go."
"Done," Gibbs said, "For now."
Capelli scowled but let it go. The FBI agent knew better than to expect Gibbs' to give any absolute, blanket oath.
Gibbs glanced at Tony's half-face visible in the rear view mirror. DiNozzo stared out the window, as if the passing scenery was more important and interesting than the conversation in the car.
They drove into the NCIS parking lot and stopped. Capelli pulled the evidence bag holding the photo from his jacket pocket and hesitated a second before handing it over to Gibbs. The FBI agent turned to face DiNozzo.
"Okay, Tony, showtime. I know you're good undercover. Just act like your regular self and-"
"No." Tony interrupted, his gaze still out the window.
"No!" Tony's voice raised, as he twisted in his seat to face Capelli, suddenly animated after ignoring all other talk.
"You don't need, you want! You have what you need, the chip. I don't give a damn what you want. I'm not part of this and no way am I stepping foot back in there. No way am I going to cooperate with you taking over my life, leading me around like a dog on a leash following commands. I'm not playing along and, first chance I get, I'm gone!"
Capelli glanced back to Gibbs for help. Gibbs was the last person Tony would listen to now. He tried to use his affection for Abby as leverage.
"Abby's worried sick. You come in, let her see you're okay."
"Does she know? What about Ducky, McGee? Did everybody know but me?"
"Nobody knows, DiNozzo. Only Morrow and me. Even Vance didn't know until now."
"She will now," Tony said, as if stricken by the realization. "You'll have to tell her, she's seen a picture of my mother before, she'll know who it is. You'll have to tell her the whole story."
"Tell her goodbye for me, while you're at it."
"She had nothing to do with this. You can't run off and hurt her that way."
"I'm leaving the hurting her part up to you. I'll shoot her a note from wherever I end up. But, I am not walking back through those doors again. Ever."
Gibbs knew it was no use arguing with him. Tony wouldn't enter as the cocky agent he was yesterday, only as the betrayed and humiliated man he felt himself now.
Capelli sighed and pulled cuffs from his pocket and motioned for Tony's hands. For a moment, DiNozzo looked at them, tensed, and Gibbs feared Tony would resist. But, after a few seconds, he extended his hands. As the teeth inside ratcheted then clicked to lock around his wrists, Tony turned to make eye contact with Gibbs, glaring in a rage that didn't hide the pain. It took everything Gibbs had not to turn away from that look in Tony's eyes.
It was after normal working hours when Gibbs stepped out of the sedan and walked towards the NCIS entrance. He pulled out his phone and hit speed dial #3. The call was answered during the first ring.
"Gibbs!" Abby's frantic voice said. "What's happened to-"
"Where are you?" Gibbs cut her off.
"Stay there," he said then snapped the phone closed.
He stepped through the lab's doorway confronted by three pairs of concerned eyes converging on him as their owners rushed towards him.
"Where's Tony?" Abby demanded.
Gibbs hesitated. He had expected to find Abby alone. The presence of McGee and Ducky complicated everything.
Gibbs ignored Abby and turned to Tim, to hear what company line the director had given McGee.
"What did Vance say?"
"Only that they were taking Tony in on a material witness warrant and it was classified."
Abby leaned in to grab his forearm. "You let them take him away? You let them lock him up again? How could you-"
"I didn't let them do anything!" Gibbs' angry frustration came through in his outburst and action as he yanked his arm from Abbys' grasp.
Abby's hand flew to her mouth, eyes wide and overly bright. The three of them stared at him, waiting to hear what had happened to their team mate and friend. There wasn't time to reason out a response. His team was the best and wouldn't settle for stonewalling or half cocked answers. If Gibbs didn't tell them the truth, they would look themselves for the explanation. He could trust them. There were too few trustworthy people on DiNozzo's side in this mess and he could use all the help he could get.
"None of this leaves this room, it stays just to the people in this room. Not Vance, not the director of the FBI, not the damn SecNav himself—without my okay, you can't answer any questions and if you don't answer questions, you could take the heat for it later. You not only keep your mouths shut, you lie if necessary. Your careers are the least of what's on the line. If you're not good with that, leave. Now."
"Boss," Tim began "What's this-"
"Now!" Gibbs reiterated. "No answers to anybody not in. You're not good with the terms, walk away now; no hard feelings."
It was a lie and he was sure they all knew it; just thrown in there to be sure there was no coercion outside their own loyalties and conscience. He would harshly judge any of them that chose to walk away. It was unfair to ask them to follow him blindly at such a high risk but he was doing it and he expected them to follow his lead, for Tony's sake.
"I can't claim to be good, forced to make the decision ignorant of any facts, " Ducky replied. "But, I accept your terms."
"Yes, fine, okay, I accept, my lips are sealed," Abby nodded, impatient to find out what had happened to Tony.
He looked to Tim. While DiNozzo was solely Gibbs' protegee, McGee was also Vance's, favored by the director and the one with the most to lose if he were caught blatantly siding with Gibbs against Vance.
"Agreed, Boss," Tim said. "Where's Tony?"
"Tony's safe," Gibbs said. "For now."
Three mouths opened, about to inundate him with questions. He raised a palm against them. "No!"
"But, Gibbs," Abby said with a stomp of her platform boot, "You promised answers! We all swore our oaths and-"
"Back off and you'll get them."
He pulled the framed photograph from one pocket, a pen from another and scribbled across the front of the bag, then held it up before them.
"It's DiNozzo's mother; got delivered to him a few days ago. There's a chip in there somewhere that's a duplicate of one Tony's father had up for sale with $75 million dollars worth of classified intel. The FBI and the spooks were working Senior for years, didn't know he was working them the whole time. They set up a sting, Senior set up the buy. The original got incinerated, Senior got away and five agents died."
"Somebody on the team helped Senior set the whole thing up. Which is why Capelli agreed to you handling this; there's a leak and no idea who. Word is out that Tony has a copy. We don't know if Senior was able to get his money before it all went down. If not, he'll be after it, along with all the bad guys that know it exists."
"I want the chip out and replaced with a lookalike. Just make damn sure you can do that with no chance of any damage to the original."
The three were stunned by the brisk recitation. Tim spoke first.
"Intel? Like spy, like-"
"Like the worst, McGee," Gibbs answered. "Operatives, ops, going way back. He had a buyer for $75 million, that tell you anything?"
"Poor Tony," Abby said. "Is he okay? Is he locked up? Can we see him? Can we-"
Gibbs reached to take her hand and pressed the evidence bag into it. "The best thing you can do for Tony now is to do this."
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Two and a half hours later, Gibbs and Ducky were alone in the lab. Their tasks accomplished, he had just sent McGee and Abby home with assurances he'd pass on their concern and best wishes and would help them contact Tony as soon as it was possible. In his pocket, along with the computer chip, he carried an envelope with a note inside to Tony from Abby.
He'd continued to answer their questions as they worked; told them that, once they had a firm plan in place and Capelli had spoken to Reese, he'd go to Vance. He'd take the fall for any repercussions, say he'd ordered them to process the evidence without explaining how he came to have it. Their insistence that they would stand by him through the fallout was gratifying, but not something he would allow.
That Tony refused to see them and why, he kept to himself. They'd most likely eventually find out. But, he was hoping their present ignorance would be an incentive to convince Tony to at least talk to them, at least Abby.
That would make it harder for him to cut and run. He couldn't imagine Tony telling Abby he never wanted to see her again. McGee, either, for that matter. If he could only maneuver an in-person reunion between Tony and his team mates, there was a good chance the pull of their friendships would keep Tony from running. There was a remote possibility that DiNozzo's one absent team mate already knew.
He doubted such a fiasco could have gone down without capturing Mossad's attention. Taking place so close to his country's borders, Director David, at the very least, should have heard there had been an incident involving American agents. It was doubtful he knew of the DiNozzo connection. Even less likely, if he did know, that he would choose to share that knowledge with his daughter Ziva, home now on a visit. That was a bit of information more likely to be secretly known, stored away and saved for possible later use.
Gibbs was pulled from his thoughts by Ducky's voice.
"It had to have been an awful shock to Tony. I know he wasn't close to his father. From what little I've gathered over the years, the man was never much of a father at all. Still, to have one's identity perverted that way, discover he's the son of a traitor, shares his very name as well as his blood, know that his own father deliberately put him in a situation where he's under threat of death..."
"Yeah," Gibbs said, not wanting to discuss it further with Ducky. Safely alone in the company of his old friend, it was too tempting to drop his guard to lean on Mallard as confessor and support.
"How's he holding up?"
Ducky hmmphed at the understatement and shook his head.
"I know that the task, extricating Anthony from this awful, tangled mess, is foremost. But, remember he needs more from you. He needs to know that the sins of the father are not visited upon the son. He'll feel shame. Wrongly so, but still. He needs to know nothing has changed, that you don't see him any differently today than you saw him yesterday. I know you're a man of action, not words. But, he needs to know, you have to convince him. Your support is crucial."
Gibbs clenched and unclenched a hand into a white knuckled fist as Mallard went on about how much DiNozzo needed him, magnifying his frustration that Tony refused his help.
"He doesn't want my support, doesn't want anything to do with me right now."
"Don't take his initial reaction to heart, Jethro. He's shattered now by the revelations and loss of freedom and control. He'll realize soon enough that he can't blame you for his own unrealistic expectations. You may be a legend, but even you can't contravene warrants and multiple federal agencies" He smiled.
"Although, you are making a considerable effort. Have you looked into his rights for representation? Is there a chance you can get him released from custody?"
"He could be out now if he'd cooperate."
"Just go back to his daily life, wait for them to come to him."
"That's risky for Tony, using him as bait. But, I've never known him to be risk averse in his duties. Quite the opposite, in fact. Is he refusing out of a misguided loyalty to his father?"
"No." Gibbs eyes were focused on the floor. But, he could feel his friend's gaze studying him in the seconds of silence that followed his curt answer before Ducky spoke again.
"Jethro, what aren't you telling me?"
"I knew," he answered, pacing to stride several steps before turning back to face Ducky. "I knew before I hired him. That's why I hired him, orders from higher up. I only hired him to set him up and watch him and report back on him."
Ducky's shocked expression amplified Gibbs' guilt-driven anger.
"I didn't know him then! For all I knew, he was in with his father. As soon as I realized, as soon as I got to know him, I refused. I went to Morrow and I refused to play along anymore."
"He found out and, as far as he's concerned, it's over and done with. He's ready to leave and never look back. It was only four months, just four months out of seven years. He won't believe it. Says he won't anyway. But, he's just being pigheaded."
"You can't blame him for being devastated, enraged." Ducky said. "On top of being thrust into the whole sordid affair, taken and locked away, he feels betrayed by both his father and his surrogate. Do you expect him to put all emotion aside and react on a purely rational level?"
"I expect him to pull his head out of his ass and admit he knows and let me help him! He knows, Duck, he has to know! He knows me too well and he's too damn smart to really believe I played him this long, to think I don't trust him, don't care about him."
"If you're truly angry with Tony for reacting the way he has," Ducky said, "It's you in need of an immediate cranial extraction. But, that's not the case, is it?"
Gibbs left the morgue leaving Ducky's question unanswered. Mallard was mostly, but not entirely, right. The majority of his rage was directed towards Senior and himself with some to spare for Capelli and Tony and fate in general. He hated that his actions had hurt Tony the way they had. But, even enduring the present fallout, he didn't see a better way he could have handled it back then.
If a better way had existed, it was too late to matter now. He wasn't angered by DiNozzo's reaction to the truth. He was angered by Tony's refusal of his help and obstinate insistence he could only believe the absolute worst of Gibbs. He wouldn't blame Tony if he hated him. But, Tony knew him too well not to be held to account for refusing to admit that he knew Gibbs still cared for him.
Gibbs rapped on the safe house door and was let in.
Capelli sat at the kitchen table with coffee. Gibbs admired his cool as he looked up as if only acknowledging Gibbs' arrival, searching for an answer and finding it in that one brief glance.
"How's he doing?" Gibbs asked.
Capelli scowled. "Being the same stubborn sonuvabitch. Time's running out. You can't get your boy to cooperate, it's out of my hands and into the spooks'. You need to convince him he's better off in mine."
Gibbs immediately caught and went with the FBI lead's cue, mimicking his angry tone.
"What do you expect? He doesn't know anything. You've got a federal agent locked up like a criminal. Considering how the rest of your team ended up, maybe he'd be better off with them. Couldn't get any worse than dead."
Capelli shot up from his chair and Hall and Dawson, the two agents assigned to the house, moved closer. After a few glaring seconds, Capelli jerked his head in the direction of the interrogation room in a mute order for Gibbs to follow as he stalked that way.
Once they were inside and the door closed, Capelli went to a laptop open on the table and began tapping keys. If he was pissed that Gibbs had carried the charade for his agents' benefit too far, he didn't show it. Capelli angled the laptop Gibbs' way and motioned him to look. A split screen of eight various areas of the safe house showed on the monitor. Hall and Dawson were visible standing, conversing and shooting glances towards the soundproofed room. One of the surveillance squares was dark.
Capelli pointed to the blank space. "He made the camera in his room."
"You were watching him?" The thought sickened Gibbs that Tony was not only locked away but on display like a zoo animal.
"This is to keep an eye on them, not him. I tried, once, just to check on him. About an hour in, I heard him try the knob. The door's bolted from the outside. He didn't bang on the door or try again. After that, he was too damn quiet, wouldn't answer when I knocked. The mood he's in, it's safer to zoom in than open the door to check on a pissed off drunk with nothing to lose. Plus, he's got a bottle of tequila in there and his world's shot to hell and the room's not suicide secured."
Gibbs shook his head. "He wouldn't."
"You wouldn't think so, but nothing's for sure. Anyway, he'd already made the camera and covered it. So, I had to open the door, flanked by both guys. He just sat there, ignoring me."
He looked away from the screen to Gibbs.
"You got it." It was a statement rather than a question with no note of celebration in the tone.
Gibbs pulled a notepad from his inside breast pocket. He flipped the cover to show a small evidence bag taped inside and set it on the table between them.
Capelli stared down at it a few seconds before picking it up and placing it in his own pocket.
Gibbs understood his hesitance, the crushing weight of its possession. The FBI agent had the added burden of responsibility for what had happened and what would happen next.
"I can't go to Reese now," Capelli said. "Running to the director's house this time of night'd be a tipoff. I need something to take to him, Gibbs, by early tomorrow morning. I wasn't kidding about it being taken out of my hands. Even if we have a great plan, I'll have trouble holding on pissed as he'll be. Hell, I might not be coming back from talking to Reese. If he'd be safe here alone with them, I'd be advising you to make yourself scarce till the smoke cleared."
"There's a way," Gibbs said. "Set a time limit. Then it's leaked, just enough chatter to get back to whoever's looking for it that it's been found. That lets Tony off the hook. Set a time limit and he'll cooperate. A week."
"No can do."
"You can't expect him to cooperate knowing you could keep him on a leash forever. You let that go on too long, there'll be at least one more agent down on your watch, one way or another. He's biding his time now, waiting for a chance to get away. When he makes his move, somebody's gonna get hurt."
"That's not enough time. Reese might, big might, go for a month.
"Two weeks," Gibbs countered. "I know him and two weeks is the outside edge of what he'll take. And, whoever's after the chip will make their move before then. You know that. They're not gonna wait to try to get their hands on it. I'll give you the chance to take Senior down. But, I won't stand by and let you destroy Tony. If they do make him the deal and then back out, I will get a lawyer for him and leak it myself if I have to."
"For your sake, I'll leave that out of the sitrep." Capelli said. He drummed his fingertips on the table for a moment than nodded.
"Okay; two weeks. If he cooperates, I think I can sell it. I've been setting the stage, playing up the estrangement to my guys-you too were very close, Tony's pissed, you're wracked with guilt. I've been warning them to keep an eye on you as well as Tony. We found nothing, Tony knows nothing, it's all a dead end, he's just gonna be used as bait. I'll sell it to Reese if you can sell it to Tony."
Gibbs rapped once before unbolting the lock and stepping inside the room, pulling the door shut behind him.
Tony was sprawled on the bed, sitting slouched with his back against the head board. He held the tequila bottle grasped in one hand resting on his thigh. The tv set atop the chest of drawers opposite the foot of the bed was off. DiNozzo lay stone still, eyes straight ahead, not reacting at all to his entrance.
Gibbs pulled the envelope from his pocket and tossed it to land by Tony's empty hand.
"That's from Abby. They want to talk to you, want to see you. They don't know about how you got hired. They just know the case and they want to help you. And see you."
He told himself that omitting the fact that Ducky knew wasn't really another lie. 'They' was plural, not all encompassing. One more lie wouldn't matter, anyway, and he'd do whatever it took to get him to see the people who cared for him. Even if his and Tony's bond was shot, there was still hope for the others.
Tony ignored the envelope and took a swig from the bottle then resumed the unnerving, atypical stillness, his gaze focused on the television's blank screen. Gibbs saw that the bottle was still more than two thirds full. Going by Tony's rare but very conspicuous bourbon consumption during late nights in his basement, the booze now was more likely calculated misdirection than crutch or solace. Underestimating a slurring and stumbling DiNozzo or a trip to the hospital for an apparent alcohol poisoning—either scenario could give Tony a split second diversion he'd make the most of to escape.
Gibbs knew his agent well enough to know that this too still and shattered DiNozzo was more volatile than a drunk DiNozzo would ever be. He had to tread lightly. Find a way to break through the stonewalling without provoking him to the point of risking a physical alteration. Yesterday, he'd have never worried that Tony would raise a hand to him in anger. But, today, all bets were of. He turned to Mallard's advice in an attempt to reach him.
"They don't know. But, even if they did know, it wouldn't matter to them, wouldn't change anything." Silence greeted his clumsy attempt to echo Ducky's words and sentiment. He continued, awkwardly struggling to sound more like Ducky and less like himself. "You're still-"
"I want a lawyer," Tony interrupted, still looking towards the black screen. "I think I made that clear already. That's all I want from you, just that one thing. You on that?"
"Not yet," Tony repeated with a bitter chuckle and shook his head. "But, you're on my side, right? You're only here for me? You know, just for the good work I did the past seven years, you could get me a lawyer. Just for saving your life, you owe me at least that."
"A lawyer can't get you out of this."
"Oh, but you will? You dragged me into it!"
"Your father dragged you into it. I'm trying to help you."
"Use, not help!" Tony finally turned his way. "Use me! Just like him, but even worse! At least, as far as me, he never pretended to be anything but what he was, he never pretended to care!"
Gibbs forced himself not to let Tony see him reacting to the accusation. He hid the knee jerk anger and every other emotion churning inside. He had to appear detached and calm or Tony would be unrelenting and single minded in his attack, exploiting any reaction to twist the knife to retaliate and hurt him in kind. Right now, for Tony's sake, he needed Tony to let go of the emotion and listen with a rational mind.
"There's a way out; the best way out for you. I'm here to make you a deal."
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Keeping a tight rein on his own emotions, Gibbs proceeded to explain the proposal he and Capelli had discussed and he hoped like hell that his agent wasn't too headstrong to see reason.
The younger man considered the offer silently for several long minutes, stubborn determination written all over his face. The air between them sparked with tension and the expression 'be careful what you wish for' resonated in Gibbs' mind as his previous hope for an end to Tony's passive aggression came to fruition.
"You call that a deal?" Tony yelled, uncharacteristically. "Here's an idea, why not just paint a huge red bull's-eye on my ass and parade me around town?"
"It's that or you stay in this room indefinitely? Your choice," Gibbs responded calmly, swallowing his anger and frustration
"My choice?" Tony's bark of sarcastic laughter echoed in the small room. "You know what my choice would be but that's never gonna happen, is it?"
"Not on my watch," Gibbs stated plainly. "These people want the microchip and they will kill you to get it."
"Then why would you agree to leave me twisting in the wind so the men in black can get to my father? This case has already had more than its share of collateral damage, Gibbs, you looking to add to the tally?"
"You don't believe that." Gibbs replied barely keeping his temper in check.
"I don't know what I believe anymore!" Tony bellowed.
Gibbs drew a deep breath and regained his composure with its slow expulsion.
"I agreed to you being released into my custody," he said between tightly clenched teeth. "I agreed to getting you out of this damn room and back to your own apartment…I agreed to our people watching your back."
"Come on, Gibbs, give me some credit. You said yourself that these people will kill me to get the microchip. I'm a damn good agent and you know it. I could disappear without a trace and no-one would find me."
"You'd do that? Cut and run – leave people who care about you? People like Abby?" the former marine asked, once again using DiNozzo's closeness with Abby to get through to him. "This isn't about the microchip, you're still pissed about why you were hired."
Tony took a long pull from the tequila bottle and stared with mutinous anger, into Gibbs' eyes.
"You're damn right I am!" Tony hissed. "This job means everything to me, Gibbs, and after seven years I find out that it's all been a damn lie."
"That's bullshit, DiNozzo, and you know it."
"Do I?" he challenged. "Then tell me straight up, did you or did you not hire me hoping to find enough evidence to link me to my father's illegal activities."
"The truth Gibbs!" Tony's voice was so full of anger that it was almost unrecognizable.
"Yes, that's why you were hired. But you're a damn fool if you think that I'd keep you around for seven years if I suspected you of anything illegal or if you weren't one hell of an agent."
After a long moment's silent duel, Tony stood abruptly, body stiff with fury and took another long shot of tequila.
"You should have told me," he whispered, trying to swallow the emotion that threatened to choke him.
"Why didn't you?"
"I thought," Gibbs cleared his throat while he searched for the right words. "I thought you'd leave…I knew you'd leave."
Tony's shoulders slumped at the rare admission and he dropped heavily onto the bed. With an audible sigh his expression closed-down, a clear indication that he was not prepared to discuss the matter any further and one that brought a silent curse of frustration to Gibbs' lips.
He had often marveled at Tony's continuing faith in him. He had felt both honored and burdened by it. It didn't seem to matter what he did: Tony's trust had become a constant in his life…until now.
"DiNozzo, listen to me…you have every right to be pissed. But never, ever doubt yourself."
Tony remained silent as Gibbs repeated the plan that Capelli would propose to the FBI Director the next morning.
He watched the anger dissipate from Tony's slightly glazed eyes and the tiny ripple of pain that flickered and was quickly suppressed. The younger man pulled back on his emotions with a visibly painful effort and he nodded almost imperceptibly.
"You'll do it?" Gibbs asked.
The muscles along Tony's jaw line contracted as he reluctantly nodded his head again in silent agreement.
"This is still an FBI operation. Capelli will be here tonight, I'll be back for you in the morning," he said, taking the tequila bottle from unresisting fingers, capping the half full bottle and placing it on the table. "Get some rest."
Gibbs walked to the door and looked over his shoulder as Tony lay back on the bed, his hands clasped behind his head as he stared vacantly at the ceiling. In a rare unsettling moment, Gibbs realized that he couldn't read the younger man's face. There was plenty of expression but he couldn't comprehend the meaning. He felt a stirring in his gut as he left the room.
A heavy silence shrouded the safe house and Capelli was forced to lean closer to the closed bedroom door to confirm that the NCIS agents hadn't killed each other. The shouting that had emanated from DiNozzo's room had been so intense that FBI agents Hall and Dawson had left their positions outside and entered the house with their side arms drawn. With a helpless shrug, Capelli waved off his agents and flicked his eyes toward the screen of his laptop to ensure they'd returned to their posts.
Though the words mutated through the walls and the sturdy wooden door, Capelli could hear Gibbs trying desperately to state his position while DiNozzo steadfastly refused to see his point of view.
Capelli was relieved to hear the agents conversing more civilly now. Gibbs' voice was calm; his succinct, clipped sentences were occasionally interspersed by comments from DiNozzo in a louder, more churlish tone
'He sure is one stubborn SOB,' the FBI agent thought.
A short time later, the bedroom door opened with enough force to threaten its hinges. Gibbs' steely expression spoke volumes of the recent conversation with his charge. He closed the door behind him and wearily carded his fingers through his silver hair.
"Two weeks," he stated summarily.
"He agreed?" Capelli asked, rising to his feet and throwing the bolt on the bedroom door.
Gibbs replied with a curt nod of his head. "What time are you seeing Reese tomorrow?"
"I'll be here by zero eight hundred. Something changes or you need to leave, call me. Until you plug that leak, one of us stays with DiNozzo around the clock."
Gibbs looked back at the sealed bedroom door, a mixture of concern and guilt flickering across his face.
"Make sure he eats," he said. "And see if you can get some coffee into him."
"Coffee? Is he hammered?" Capelli asked.
"He's working on it," Gibbs replied as he reluctantly strode from the house.
Eagerly paying the pizza delivery guy, FBI Special Agent Dawson took possession of four large pizzas. He lifted the lid of the large meat lover's pie, his stomach growling loudly as he inhaled the mouth-watering aroma. He levered a large slice from the box and handed to Special Agent Hall who had positioned himself just outside the front door of the safe house.
"Give me fifteen minutes," he said. "I'll be back to relieve you."
"Make sure you leave me more than the crust this time," Hall complained.
"It's all part of being the junior agent," Dawson chuckled.
He entered the house and poked his head into the living room, where Capelli was seated on the couch playing a game of solitaire.
"Chow's on," he said, continuing down the corridor to the kitchen and placing Hall's pizza in the oven to keep warm.
By the time he'd returned to the living room, Capelli had cleared the coffee table and was eying the pizza boxes hungrily. He pointed with his chin towards the front door.
"Quiet as a mouse peeing on cotton," Dawson replied around a mouthful of pizza. "What about our guest?"
"Last time I checked on him, he was working his way through a bottle of tequila," Capelli replied.
"NCIS' finest," Dawson said with a disapproving shake of his head.
"Give him a break, I'd like to see you cope better under the circumstances."
The muted sound of breaking glass and a colorful expletive sounded from the bedroom.
Dawson immediately reached for his side arm but Capelli grabbed his wrist and sighed in exasperation.
"Take it easy, he's probably just knocked over another glass. Pass me that pizza and go make a pot of coffee."
Capelli made his way to the bedroom door, threw the bolt and peered into the darkness, immediately aware of the overwhelming smell of alcohol. He flicked the light switch on, finding the NCIS agent still sitting on the bed staring absently at a broken glass as blood flowed from a cut to the fleshy part of his left thumb.
"Owe you another glass," Tony slurred, squinting up at Capelli. "Send the bill to Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs."
"What the hell…" Capelli exclaimed moving quickly to the younger man's side.
Sliding the pizza onto the bedside table, he removed a clean handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it firmly against the wound to stem the bleeding. He cursed silently at the almost empty bottle of tequila and noted the way Tony swayed even while sitting.
"What are you doing, DiNozzo?" Capelli said sadly.
"I was looking for the worm," Tony mumbled while listing to the left.
Capelli wrapped his hand around his bicep and helped him to sit upright.
"In the tequila bottle," Tony slurred. "I kept looking and looking but I couldn't find him. Guess, that proves that…sometimes, no matter how hard you look…there's nothing to find."
Capelli looked at Tony's face, sensing his desolation. He lifted the handkerchief and found the wound was still bleeding badly.
"That cut's pretty deep," he said, pulling Tony to his feet and holding on as the younger man swayed dangerously. "Come on, there's a first aid kit in the bathroom."
Tony took several staggering steps, leaning heavily against the FBI agent. He wrapped a supporting arm around Capelli's waist, to stop from face-planting the carpet. Capelli's breath caught as he felt his Glock removed from his hip holster and pressed firmly into the small of his back.
"Don't say a word," Tony said flicking off the safety and showing no sign of inebriation. "Where's your spare?"
"Get it…very carefully," he added as a warning.
Capelli removed his spare handgun from his ankle holster and slowly passed it to Tony.
"You don't need to do this, Tony," he said calmly. "Put the gun down and we'll talk about it."
"I'm done talking," Tony replied, with an implacable expression. "And I'm done being used as bait for my old man. Give me the microchip."
When Capelli made no move to comply Tony added threatening.
"Give me the microchip or I'll take it…your choice."
Reluctantly, Capelli withdrew the small evidence bag from his pocket and handed it to Tony.
"Don't be stupid, DiNozzo," the FBI agent warned. "If you take that microchip with you, not only will your father's associates be on your ass but you'll be on the most wanted list of every federal agency in the country. Is that what you want?"
"I didn't want any of this," Tony seethed. "But I didn't get a choice. I'm in it now but I'm gonna do things my way."
Holding the gun on Capelli, Tony pressed against the wall trying to see into the living room.
"Who's out there?"
"Dawson's getting coffee and Hall is standing guard outside the front door."
"Move," Tony said waving the Glock toward the door and following on the heels on the FBI agent.
He directed Capelli to the far wall and caught a glimpse of Hall's shadowy outline through the opaque glass window in the front door. The sound of someone whistling while fussing in the kitchen was followed by footsteps in the hallway as Dawson made his way back into the living room with a steaming mug of coffee in each hand. The tune died on his lips and he stopped in his tracks, cursing as a wave of hot coffee spilled onto his onto his hands. His gaze flicked from Tony to Capelli as he contemplated his chances of dropping the mugs and drawing his weapon.
"You'll never make it," Tony said evenly.
Relieving Dawson of his weapons, cell phone and the keys to the FBI sedan, Tony directed both agents into the soundproofed, windowless interrogation room. He removed the laptop and backed through the door, locking it behind him. Grabbing a pizza box from the coffee table, he walked quietly to the small foyer, opened the front door and thrust the pizza outside. Agent Hall eagerly took the box with both hands.
"It's about time," he groused. "I'm starving!"
His brow creased in confusion as he looked up to see Tony pointing the Glock in his direction.
With the three FBI agents now safely ensconced in the locked interrogation room, Tony deposited the cells, and the handguns on the living room coffee table. He located his mother's photo in Capelli's brief case and tucked it into the inside pocket of his jacket.
A sudden wave of guilt swept over him and he unlocked the door to the interrogation room, waving the barrel of the gun to persuade the agents to back up and give him room. Toeing the door open wider, he slid the pizza boxes onto the table.
"Bon appetit," he said, closing the door behind him and throwing the lock.
Arriving at his home, Gibbs walked through to the kitchen, grabbed a glass from the overhead cupboard and slammed it onto the counter. He poured a generous shot of Bourbon, wincing as the alcohol warmed his throat and trailed a comforting fire down deep in his gut.
"Dammit, DiNozzo," he cursed softly recalling their last volatile encounter.
Tony brought out both ends of the emotional spectrum in Gibbs. He could irritate him to the ends of his patience but he could also generate the most protective instincts the former marine possessed.
The younger man didn't make a habit of putting his emotions on display, but long acquaintance had taught Gibbs to recognize the signs. His agent was caught up in a seething mass of emotion in which betrayal was the predominant sentiment. The hardest part of seeing the hurt in Tony's eyes was knowing that he had put it there.
For seven years he'd agonized over whether to tell Tony the truth behind his recruitment. Two years at Peoria, two at Philly and another two at Baltimore seemed to support the younger man's propensity to cut and run. In four short months this brash, smart-mouthed, former street cop who had been forced upon him, had shown himself to be intuitive, likeable and one hell of a crime scene investigator. Rule number five kept nagging at him – "Don't waste good."
With Director Morrow's support, any reference to the real reason behind his recruitment was erased from Tony's file and Morrow had strongly urged their sister agencies to do the likewise. Gibbs should have known that, one day, this would come back to bite him on the ass.
The lead agent had spent years trying to breach the nearly impenetrable wall his senior field agent used to keep the people in his life at an emotional arm's length. Little by little Gibbs would discover a small chink and continued to chip away at the defect with a clever mix of hard earned praise and unquestionable trust until Tony was ready to let him in. Whatever it took, Gibbs was determined to win back that trust.
He threw back the last of the shot of Bourbon and shook his head, teetering between guilt, frustration and self-recrimination. What was he doing? Guilt and regret was a useless game, one he didn't have the luxury or the inclination of immersing himself in. He couldn't change the past, however much he longed to, and he couldn't count on the future, because it changed with the wind - but he could do something about the present.
He made a silent vow to smooth things over with DiNozzo even if he had to tie him to a chair and beat him about the head with a wet fish.
Gibbs sat bolt upright and his thoughts came to a halt as a sudden recollection forced its way from his subconscious. Closing his eyes he recalled his agent sprawled on the bed with a bottle of tequila dangling from inattentive fingers while Gibbs explained the proposed plan. Tony had closed his eyes for a brief moment and sighed. As the sorrowful exhalation exuded from him so did the tension in his body and he sagged with painfully apparent resignation and reluctantly agreed to the FBI plan for a two-week period.
When Tony's eyes re-opened, Gibbs saw the anger had gone, displaced by something he now realized was defiance. With growing horror he realized that DiNozzo had played him…he was going to run. His gut tightened and a faint sensation of emptiness shadowed the thought.
Gibbs snatched up his keys and his cell, loped from the house to the car and sped toward the safe house. With one hand on the wheel he squinted at the dimly lit display until he located the number for FBI Agent Capelli. He willed the agent to answer and cursed loudly when the cell switched to voice mail.
Thumping both fists on the steering wheel he made another promise. He was not going to lose Tony, damn it. Somehow, some way, he was going to fix this.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
"McGee," Gibbs yelled into his cell as the two passenger-side wheels of the sedan lifted precariously from the ground on the sharp curve.
"We got trouble at the safe house. Capelli's not answering."
McGee launched to his feet, grabbing his side arm and keys and locking his apartment door behind him.
"I'm on my way! Should I call MetroPD?" he asked, taking the stairs at break neck speed rather than waiting for the elevator.
"No point. I'll be there in five," Gibbs replied, knowing that if there had been gun play, MetroPD would have already been alerted. "The address is-"
"I got it, Boss," McGee said, grimacing as he realized he'd just admitted knowledge of classified information. "I…ah…traced your cell when the FBI took Tony this afternoon…in case of emergency...er...sorry, Boss."
In the short silence that followed, McGee sprinted to his car frowning at the loud screech of tires echoing through his cell as Gibbs' vehicle protested another sharp turn. Climbing into his car he gunned the Porsche's powerful engine and roared from the parking lot.
"I'm en route, Boss, ETA nine minutes."
"Watch yourself," Gibbs ordered. "And McGee…good work with the trace."
McGee sighed in relief but had a strong feeling that, should he ever trace the boss' cell without permission again, he'd be on the wrong end of a Gibbs ass-kicking.
Parked in a vehicle down the block from the small nondescript duplex, Douglas twisted the lid of his thermos, releasing the vacuum, steam and the aroma of still hot coffee. Pouring himself a cup, he swore vehemently when startled by his ringing cell and the hot beverage spilled on his thigh.
He kept his sitrep short and sweet - with the exception of a pizza delivery guy no one had come or gone since Gibbs, several hours ago.
"It's confirmed? The microchip is inside?" Douglas asked hopefully.
"Hand delivered by NCIS' finest," came the smug reply.
"Maybe I should just go get it," Douglas suggested.
"There're three FBI agents in there and DiNozzo Junior. You go in there and you'll blow our man's cover. He'll do his job; you do yours. Have you dumped the old man's belongings yet?"
"Not yet. I was planning to do that on my way home but the-"
A light appeared under the garage door, the illumination expanding as the door opened and a car reversed down the drive. Douglas reached for his night vision goggles, a small gasp sounded as he recognized the driver.
"You're not going to believe this," Douglas said. "Junior's on the run. He's leaving the safe house unescorted."
"How the hell did that happen?"
"I have no idea, there were no gunshots and no yelling," Douglas replied. "Should I check the house?"
"No! Stay with Junior."
"You want me to take him out?"
"Negative. We don't even know that he has the chip."
"It's unlikely he'd leave without it."
"It's even more unlikely that he could overpower three armed FBI agents to get it. If you kill him and he doesn't have the chip, he's no good to us."
"If our source is right, Junior might be getting ready to skip town."
"Stay on Junior and don't lose him. The FBI may have under-estimated him but this might work to our advantage."
"Roger that," Douglas said, snapping his cell shut and keeping an even distance behind the tail lights ahead.
An ear-piercing screech of tires on asphalt accompanied Gibbs' return to the safe house. Launching himself from the car he held his Sig in the familiar two-handed grip and was approaching the small duplex when the loud roar of McGee's Porsche signaled the young agent's arrival.
He crossed the lawn quickly and joined Gibbs near the front of the building.
"Made good time," Gibbs noted.
"I was motivated," McGee replied.
The team leader's blue eyes continued to dart around, skillfully checking the area for signs of danger.
"I don't like it," Gibbs muttered.
"They've got to be in trouble or we would have been approached long ago," McGee added.
"I'll take the back. Wait for my signal."
As Gibbs rounded the corner of the duplex he realized that, like him, the younger man had driven his own car and was without a bulletproof vest.
"McGee!" he whispered loudly. "Watch your six."
Moments later the relative quiet was shattered by the sound of the back door being kicked in and McGee did likewise at the front entrance.
"NCIS, throw down your weapons!" both men yelled as they entered the building and then began clearing each room.
As Gibbs joined McGee in the living room, the younger agent pointed to a small pile of blood-smeared guns and cell phones on the coffee table. Gibbs pointed with his chin to the room where Tony was being held; the door was now slightly ajar. The agents approached stealthily from either side of the door before Gibbs entered quickly and found the room empty. His heart lurched at the sight of blood on the bedclothes and a blood-soaked handkerchief lying on the floor. Gibbs quickly pocketed the crumpled envelope on the bedside table that Tony had addressed to Abby.
They moved quietly to the last room. On Gibbs' signal, McGee swung the door wide open as three stunned FBI agents closed the pizza boxes and hurriedly climbed to their feet.
"Where the hell is DiNozzo?" Gibbs growled.
Angry and humiliated, Capelli told the NCIS agents how Tony had managed to get the drop on them and take the microchip. As worried and as furious as Gibbs was, he couldn't help but feel a modicum of pride that Tony had duped three FBI agents and escaped without injuring any of them. First he'd find him and kill him, and then he'd deliver the "atta boy."
"How bad is he hurt?" Gibbs asked.
"Cut was deep, could probably use a stitch or two, nothing serious," Capelli replied before ordering Dawson to put a BOLO on the FBI vehicle. As Dawson grabbed his cell, part of the back cover fell to the floor and the agent realized that his cell battery had been taken.
"Why would he take my battery and not my cell?" Dawson asked.
Gibbs was suddenly struck with the answer to that question and he knew where Tony was heading. He just hoped that he could intercept him.
Tony drove downtown and pulled to the side of the road where he abandoned the FBI vehicle about a mile from his destination. He jogged the last mile and made pretty good time considering how tired he was. He arrived at a twenty-four hour self-storage facility and entered the office. The night manager, who was mildly irritated by the interruption to the Gunsmoke re-runs, checked Tony's details in the sign-in book and half-heartedly waved him into the main storage area.
Locating his storage unit, Tony keyed the four-digit security access code and the door clicked open, allowing him access to a room about half the size of a single garage. Flicking on the light switch, he entered the room and closed the door behind him. He placed the same four-digit code into a strongbox mounted on the far wall. The thick metal door unlocked and opened revealing a quantity of cash, a cell, handgun and ammo, as well as passports and ID in various names and all with Tony's photo. To his right there was a small chest of drawers with clothing, shoes and a bathroom kit - but the largest item by far was the sleek looking Ducati motorcycle.
A few years ago, an undercover mission had gone very wrong, leaving Tony badly injured and dangerously exposed. Gibbs had vowed that the situation would not happen again and immediately after Tony had been released from the hospital, they had set up this room as a contingency plan.
Changing quickly into a fresh shirt and a pair of jeans, Tony tucked the loaded handgun into the waistband of his jeans and placed the other items into a backpack. He cracked open the back of the cell and exchanged the flat battery with the fully charged one he'd taken from Agent Dawson's cell. After checking that it was working, he turned it off knowing that Gibbs knew the number and would try to trace his whereabouts. With the microchip safely in his pocket, he carefully placed his mother's photo on the chest of drawers and donned his leather jacket.
Absently, he ran one hand over the sleek lines of the Ducati as he recalled the day he and Gibbs had purchased it. Tony had been torn between two Kawasaki models unable to choose between the Ninja and the Vulcan, as he thought it would be like choosing one of his junior partners over the other. Having stretched the former marine's patience past its very low limit, Gibbs head slapped the younger man and yelled at him to make up his damn mind. With an innocent expression but a sparkle of humor in his green eyes, he subsequently decided on a Ducati Monster 695.
Tony cast off his musings knowing that Gibbs would quickly figure out that he would need the items from the storage unit. He grabbed his helmet and gloves and wheeled the bike outside, locking the doors behind him as he left.
He hurried to the office to sign out. The night manager wandered over and handed him a folded piece of paper - a message from a man who'd arrived several minutes before. The vague description was of a tall man with silver hair and blue eyes – which just happened to fit Gibbs, Tony's father and a large number of men aged fifty years or over.
He discounted Gibbs immediately, knowing the older man would have kicked his ass rather than leave a message - but who else knew where to find him? He dismissed a fleeting memory of Abby threatening to fit him with a subcutaneous tracking device. He was almost certain that she hadn't got him roaring drunk and made good on her threat. He swore when he realized that he had been so wrapped up in his emotions that he hadn't noticed he had been followed from the safe house. Suddenly feeling very exposed, he looked at the empty parking lot and up and down the almost deserted street.
Unfolding the paper he read the scrawled message: -
You get one chance. Call the number below, between 11:00PM and 11:05PM tonight. Too early or too late and your father dies.
Attached to the note, a small photograph caused Tony's chest to tighten and his breath to catch. He closed his eyes until his heart stopped pounding painfully against his sternum and then he mounted his bike and rode off into the night.
"What the hell happened?" the gruff voice roared down the phone line.
"Junior got the drop on us," the FBI agent stated. "He took the chip and the photo frame."
"You idiot! NCIS delivered the damn chip into our hands. It doesn't get any easier than that."
"Look, I want out," the agent said quickly. "This is getting way out of control."
"And you've been paid handsomely for your part in it," the voice told him. "We have Junior under surveillance - just do your job and keep me informed of any further developments. If Junior's anything like his old man, we should be hearing from him in a few hours."
"From what I've seen, he's nothing like his father," the agent replied.
McGee cracked one eye open and breathed a sigh of relief as Gibbs negotiated the corner without wrapping them around a light pole. The young man had been surprised to learn about the existence of the storage unit as neither of his senior agents had ever referred to it. Still, it made sense for them to have a contingency in place for whenever Tony worked undercover.
He called Abby and was not surprised to find her still at work. Gibbs had programmed the number of Tony's emergency cell into his own and McGee read the number to Abby and asked her to trace it. Although the cell was switched off, rendering a trace useless, Abby was able to determine that it had been switched on and then off again approximately twenty minutes ago, presumably when Tony had swapped batteries. She would continue to monitor the cell and call Gibbs the moment the cell was turned on again. Pinky swearing to call their frantic forensic scientist the moment they had any news, McGee snapped his cell closed.
"He's got a damn twenty minute head start on us," Gibbs growled.
"Boss, if you know the registration of Tony's bike we could put out a BOLO," McGee suggested.
"No BOLO's on Tony until the FBI plug that leak," he said.
"You think they'd be monitoring our BOLO's?"
"S'what I'd do."
They arrived at the storage facility and signed in, Gibbs noting that Tony had signed out 24 minutes before. He entered the four-digit security code and opened the door to the near empty room. He re-opened the strongbox and quickly determined the absence of the weapon, ammo and cash but not the passports. Wherever Tony was headed, he was not leaving the country. He turned as McGee called his name and pointed to the framed photo of Tony's mother.
"Maybe Tony switched the chips?" McGee suggested hopefully. "Maybe he took the phoney and left the real one."
"You don't think Tony would take the real chip do you Boss?"
Gibbs left the question unanswered and began to lock up the unit. As they returned to the office to sign out, the night manager dragged himself away from re-runs of Laredo.
"This place is like Union Station tonight, doesn't anybody sleep?"
Gibbs looked back at the sign-in book but only Tony's signature appeared.
"You call two unit accesses Union Station?"
"Maybe not," the man replied with a shrug. " But it's two more access visits than I usually get this time of night. Plus there was that other guy."
The manager told them of the man who gave him a fifty-dollar bill to leave a written note for Tony. He described the man as tall, with silver hair and blue eyes.
"Tony's father?" McGee guessed.
"Maybe. Whoever it was knew where to find him," Gibbs said cursing the uncontained leak at the FBI.
Gibbs looked to the corner of the room and saw the CCTV camera perched near the ceiling.
"That thing work?" he asked.
"Nah," the night manager replied. "It stopped working a few months and the owner hasn't replaced it yet."
Gibbs and McGee turned toward the door as the manager added as an afterthought.
"The one out front in the parking lot works."
"On it, Boss," the young man said as he returned to speak with the night manager about surrendering the tapes.
Gibbs took a moment to step into the late night air and take a few deep breaths. For the last seven years, whenever Tony was in trouble he turned to Gibbs. Now, for the first time since they met, the younger man was turning away and the thought sickened him.
Startled by his ringing cell, he checked the display hopefully but the name brought no relief.
"Director," he answered impassively.
"What the hell's going on, Gibbs? I've got the Director of the FBI on his way over here to try to rip me a new one. Drop whatever you're doing and get in here, I need a sitrep now!"
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
McGee walked into the lab to find Abby pacing the length of her work counter. At each turn she stopped and glared at her computer monitor, urging Tony to switch his cell on and call them.
"Come on Tony, please, please, please, call us!" she whispered over and over.
"McGee, you're back!" she exclaimed, pulling him in for a hug she needed to give as much as receive. She looked expectantly and the door. "You found him? Please tell me you found him!"
"I'm sorry, Abs," he said with genuine regret. "But the good news is that we have a few leads to follow and we're not going to stop looking until we find him."
Smiling bravely Abby watched as McGee carefully removed the chip from the photo frame and replaced it on the counter. Gazing at the photo, Abby was struck once again by the classic beauty of Tony's mother.
"Tony has his mother's eyes," she said sadly and moved to McGee's side.
"What can I do to help?"
"Well, how about you check that tape and see if you can get a clear view of the guy who arrives right after Tony," McGee said as he continued to examine the microchip.
She rewound the tape and started to watch frame after frame of the empty parking lot at the storage facility. She leaned forward as Tony jogged into the lot and then entered the office.
"Tony was on foot?" she asked.
"FBI car," McGee replied. "They found it dumped about a mile from the facility."
"He looks so sad and un-Tony-ish…he needs to be here with us not out there somewhere all alone."
"Come on, Abs, Tony can take care of himself, you'll see." McGee said as much for his sake as for Abby's.
Abby closed her eyes, stood tall and took a few deep calming breaths allowing the power of positive thought to encompass her.
"You're right, Timmy," she said. "Tony can totally look after himself – oh, wait…there he is!"
"No silly, the guy following Tony," she replied, frowning as the camera captured only the rear and partial profile of the man. "Come on, mister, turn around, let's see your face. Turn around…a little more…a little more…and...gotcha! Resolutions a bit fuzzy but I'm sure I can clean it up enough for the facial recognition."
"Oh this is not good," McGee stated flatly.
"Well, it's not as clear as I would have liked, Timmy, but it's not the end of the world."
"Not the tape, Abs, the microchip. This is the fake; Tony must still have the original. I hope he's not planning something stupid."
Gibbs could hear the raised voices as he approached the director's office. Not bothering to knock he entered purposefully.
"You wanted to see me, Director?" he asked nodding to Capelli and eying the other man warily.
Vance introduced Gibbs to the Director of the FBI, Simon Reese, who returned Gibbs' glare with disdain.
"As I was saying, Director," Reese seethed, unaccustomed to being interrupted. "I was against the involvement of your agency from the very start. This is the kind of unprofessional screw-up I was hoping to avoid. "
"My agency was involved the minute your people took one of my agents into custody," Vance said evenly. "And while I do not condone Special Agent DiNozzo's behavior in this matter, might I remind you, Director, that this entire situation is the result of a leak in your own agency!"
Reese and Capelli exchanged an unreadable look that set Gibbs' gut churning.
"This situation as you call it, is now a hell of a lot worse because of your damn agent!" Reese fumed.
"We could have successfully applied for an injunction and held things up until we were read in to this operation and you know it," Vance stated. "Against our better judgment, we allowed you to take DiNozzo into custody in the spirit of inter-agency cooperation."
"You call this cooperation, Leon? Your agent held three of mine at gunpoint, locked them in a room and escaped in an FBI vehicle!"
"He left the pizza," Gibbs shrugged.
Reese pinned the former marine with a look that could start an ice age before turning his attention back to Vance.
"We placed DiNozzo under protective custody for his own safety."
"You really expect him to put his life into FBI hands when there's a mole in your ranks? Your agents couldn't keep him in, you expect him to believe they could keep someone out?"
"Gibbs," Vance said with a warning tone.
Unable to bite back his anger, Gibbs stepped into Reese's personal space.
"You placed him under protective custody so that you could hang him on a hook and see who took a bite! He's not involved in this – you know it, we know it and his father knows it."
Reese huffed out a bitter laugh.
"And he was so keen to prove his innocence that he decided to steal the microchip?" he snarled. "Tell me, Gibbs, just how stupid is he?"
"Smart enough to grab the chip and leave while your agents were stuffing themselves with the meat lover's special," Gibbs replied, his calm voice belying his fury.
Reese threw another icy look at Capelli who suddenly found his shoes fascinating, while Vance bit back a smile.
"If you find, DiNozzo, I want your word he will be immediately handed over to the FBI," Reese fumed.
"Like hell!" Gibbs spat.
"Agent Gibbs!" Vance warned again before turning back to Reese. "As we speak senior prosecutors from the JAG and District Attorney's office are going over your warrant with a fine tooth comb. If they confirm my suspicions that the warrant was issued illegally then you get squat from us. Should the FBI locate my agent first, I expect all care to be taken regarding his safety and I'm to be notified immediately."
Vance's ringing desk phone broke the impasse between the two agency heads. The call was brief and as Vance replaced the handset he eyed the others carefully.
"That was McGee," he said. "The microchip in the photo frame is definitely the fake – looks like DiNozzo still has the real one."
Reese snorted scornfully.
"Maybe the apple didn't fall far from the tree after all," he said before stalking from the room with Capelli following behind like a remora stuck to Reese's ass.
With the slam of the door still echoing in the room, Vance sighed deeply and met his lead agent's gaze.
"Reese is a horse's ass but he's right. If DiNozzo was looking to disassociate himself from his father he went about it the wrong way. You'd better hope that they don't get their hands on him first."
"If he doesn't want to be found, they won't find him," Gibbs stated definitively.
"When this is over, we need to talk about you sharing classified information with Doctor Mallard, McGee and Ms Scuito."
Gibbs nodded determinedly. "I take full responsibility."
"That's where you're wrong Gibbs, as director, I take full responsibility. That was not your decision to make and to be clear - there will be consequences."
An uncomfortable pause filled the air between them until Vance exhaled noisily.
"This is not a pissing contest, Gibbs. For the record, had you come to me, I would have agreed to read them in. But next time, you come to me first. You got that?"
As reluctant as he was to acknowledge it, he knew Vance was right. He'd disregarded protocol and in doing so, he's placed his team and his friends in a vulnerable situation.
"Agreed," he replied gruffly.
Vance nodded, finding no satisfaction in the small victory over the hard-assed former marine.
"If anyone can find DiNozzo, it's you. Like you keep telling me – you know the man," Vance quoted. "I don't know exactly what kind of information is on that microchip but with national security at risk this is a whole new ballgame. Find him Gibbs…Reese is looking for a scapegoat and by taking that microchip, DiNozzo just volunteered for the position."
Capelli could feel the waves of white-hot anger exuding from his director's every pore and he braced himself for an onslaught as the elevator arrived and the doors slid silently closed behind them.
"You told them there was a leak in our agency!" he hissed through tightly clenched teeth.
"How else was I going to explain the loss of our men in the Middle East?" Capelli shot back. "Besides, it won me some points with Gibbs, he agreed to replace the chip in the photo frame with a fake and give me the original if I agreed to NCIS taking over Junior's protection detail."
"That was never a part of the original plan! Your orders were to get that microchip, not to concern yourself with the welfare of DiNozzo Junior!"
"If things had gone well, we'd have the microchip and NCIS would have Junior safely stowed somewhere out of harms way."
"But things didn't go well!" Reese seethed. "You lost possession of the microchip and Junior! We were double-crossed in the Middle East and five of our agents paid the price. Now you've got Vance and Gibbs expecting us to investigate a damn non-existent leak."
"What do you want me to do?" Capelli asked.
"Just do your job, follow orders and hope to God that Gibbs doesn't start his own investigation into that leak."
"Gibbs will be too busy looking for Junior."
"Maybe Junior will come to him."
Capelli shook his head.
"From what I saw at the safe house, right now, Gibbs is the last person in the world DiNozzo would turn to for help."
The muted light from the autopsy room swayed Gibbs from his route to Abby's lab. As the glass doors slid open, he entered, seeing Ducky attending to paperwork in his office.
"Working late, Duck," he remarked.
"Ah, Jethro!" Ducky greeted cordially. "I thought I'd conquer this dreaded mountain of paperwork while waiting for word on Anthony. Is there any news?"
"Oh dear," the ME said softly, removing his glasses and rubbing tired eyes. "Abigail told me that Anthony had outwitted the FBI and escaped custody…this is not your fault, you know."
"I should have told him Duck," Gibbs stated, his expression wrought with self-recrimination.
"The young man recruited from Baltimore PD is very different from the Anthony we know today," Ducky counseled. "If I were to hazard an educated guess, I would venture that the reason you didn't tell Anthony the truth was because you knew he would pack up and leave."
"Seven years later we got the same result. He's running, Duck."
"Is he, Jethro? Is our young man running or is he fighting back the only way he knows how? For what it's worth, I believe you made the correct decision seven years ago," Ducky added, his words taking Gibbs by surprise.
"Yes, he needed to know the truth, but what that boy needed more was to put down roots in one place for longer than two years and to be surrounded by people who cared for him. Your decision gave him that…and to regret the choice you made then, my friend, is to regret the relationship you've shared since." Ducky shrugged and smiled sadly. "For what's it's worth," he repeated.
For the first time in many hours, Gibbs felt a small modicum of hope and in a rare show of emotion. He forced the words past the lump in his throat and squeezed his old friend's shoulder.
"S'worth a lot, Duck," he managed before turning for the door.
"You'll find him, Jethro," Ducky call after him.
The ME gazed at the door long after Gibbs' departure. It was true the lead agent was occasionally more tolerant with the young ex-cop but in many ways he was harder on Anthony than any other team member. Gibbs drove the younger man far beyond his own expectations and over time that mix of tolerance and hard work grew into respect and affection. Theirs was a friendship and partnership that grew on a level that no one else really understood.
Shaking free of his musings, Ducky returned his attention to his paperwork, whispering once more…
"You'll find him, Jethro."
Gibbs had an armful of forensic scientist before he'd cleared the doorway. Holding her firmly he felt the shudder of over-tense muscles in her shoulders and back and steered her to a stool so she could sit. Keeping one arm around slender shoulders, he removed a crushed envelope from his jacket pocket and handled it to her.
Large green eyes swam behind a curtain of tears as she recognized Tony's handwriting. Using the same envelope she had given him, he'd crossed out his own name and written hers. Gibbs leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on her temple before moving away to give her some privacy.
"McGee, talk to me."
"The microchip in the photo frame is definitely the fake which means-"
"Tony's got the original."
"You don't think Tony's going to do anything crazy, do you?"
"The whole thing's crazy, McGee," Gibbs said his gruffness hiding his concern. "DiNozzo's the only one acting sane."
"Then, why hasn't he contacted us? He has to know we'd help him, he knows he can trust us, right?"
Gibbs felt his gut twist painfully. If McGee and Abby were to learn the truth about DiNozzo's recruitment, it was Tony's place to tell them.
"He knows," Gibbs said emphatically and hoped with everything he had that it was true. "Long as he's got that chip he's wanted by both sides of the law. He'd know we were being watched. "
McGee looked over both shoulders as if expecting to see someone standing there watching him.
"You really think we're being watched, Boss?" McGee asked, unnerved by the thought.
"Count on it. Whatcha got?"
"Well, apart from a sudden onset of paranoia, it looks like you were right, Boss. The FBI, CIA and local LEO's all have BOLO's out on Tony. Even Homeland Security and ICE have been alerted in case he tries to leave the country. We've been monitoring Tony's emergency cell but it's still switched off."
"And the CCTV footage from the storage facility?" Gibbs asked glancing back to check on Abby.
McGee clicked the remote activating the large plasma and the face of a man appeared.
"Footage was kind of fuzzy but Abby managed to clean it up. It's definitely not Tony's father. If I zoom in on him when he was walking into the office, all he had in his hand was a piece of paper. What do you think was on that?"
"Contact details, phone number, directions to a drop?" Gibbs replied.
"Tony wouldn't agree to a drop," McGee said with certainty. "He'd die before he'd let that chip fall into the wrong hands."
"That's why we've gotta find him," Gibbs replied tersely. "This guy followed Tony from the safe house, either tipped off by the damn FBI leak or he was watching the place from the start. You get a name?"
"We got a good frontal shot of him, here, and ran the facial recognition program simultaneously…the program checking DMV photos is still running but when we ran the image through all known US federal law enforcement agencies – someone blocked us."
"We couldn't tell but whoever it is has some pretty sophisticated technology," McGee shrugged apologetically. "We narrowed the parameters of our search to the FBI and the CIA as they appear to be the major players – each time our facial recognition program was blocked, Boss."
A quiet gasp drew their attention and they turned to see Abby holding the letter with trembling hands, she chewed anxiously on her lower lip. She removed something else from the envelope and made a sound between a choked sob and a laugh.
"I can't believe he kept this," she said, unable to hold back the tears that spilled down her pale cheeks.
"Abs?" Gibbs said quietly.
Abby stared at the object in her hand before smiling bravely and handing the photo strip to Gibbs. Obviously taken at a photo booth, the strip contained four small photos of Abby and Tony. In the first, Tony had placed his hand in front of Abby's face, blocking it completely from view as he smiled innocently for the camera. The second was a reversal of the first, with Tony's face blocked by Abby's hand. The third had clearly caught them unprepared as both were laughing uncontrollably while the fourth image captured them perfectly – arms around each other, their heads touching and both wearing deliriously happy smiles.
"They were taken on my first birthday after Tony joined NCIS," she explained quietly, brushing tears from her cheeks and frustrated at her inability to stop them. "He gave me tickets to see one of my favorite bands in the world, Decomposing Cane Toads."
"Oh, hey, I've heard of them," McGee added.
"Really?" Abby asked forcing a smile.
"No," he confessed, matching her sad smile with one of his own.
"I really didn't like Tony much back then," she admitted. "I thought he was, like, just another pretty boy who wouldn't last five minutes. But he gave me the tickets and we went to the concert and we got, like, totally drunk and had the best time ever."
Her eyes pooled with tears as she looked at the photo and tried to memorize Tony's million-dollar smile.
"That the concert that left DiNozzo deaf as a post for two days?" Gibbs asked.
Despite her tears, Abby giggled and nodded her head.
"I didn't know he kept this, Gibbs," she whispered again.
"Keeps it in his wallet," Gibbs replied quietly. "Abs, he say anything that could help us find him?"
"Nothing," she said passing the short, hastily written letter to Gibbs.
Thanks for your letter, means a lot to me.
Hell of a situation, huh? May take a while for me to sort this one out but in the meantime, when they put my photo on the Most Wanted Wall, make sure they use one that highlights my eyes. Maybe you could use the photo you took of me for your cell phone? You know, the one I said was the best yet? That'd shake up that old wall, huh?
You know I've never been good at this kind of stuff, Abs, but in case I never told you – thanks for loving me for me.
See you soon,
Gibbs' gentle touch on her cheek was her undoing and she turned her face into the crook of his neck to muffle her sobs, giving into the misery that she'd held at bay since the FBI had marched Tony from the building.
"You've gotta find him, Gibbs, you've gotta bring him back."
Watching helplessly, McGee moved closer, resting his hand on Abby's back in a show of support.
'If ever there was a time for an inappropriately funny DiNozzo tension-breaker it's now,' he thought.
He realized, not for the first time, how much the team needed Tony's wise-ass comments and jokes, to stop them getting so twisted up inside with the pain and horror of their jobs that they couldn't function. His peripheral vision caught movement at the door and he turned quickly, half expecting to see Tony standing there ready to repeat his now famous quote – 'What, no balloons?' McGee couldn't hide his disappointment that it was Vance not Tony, observing from the doorway.
'Let him wait,' McGee thought, uncharacteristically. 'We need this.'
Director Vance faltered slightly at the door, anxious for an update but reluctant to intrude on a private moment. His MCRT defied logic and their personalities were as diverse as their backgrounds and specialties. The marine, the cop, the assassin and the computer specialist - it was a mix that shouldn't work – and yet, it did.
He cleared his throat quietly to announce his presence and strode into the room.
"What's the situation with the photo recognition?" he asked.
"It's being blocked, Sir," McGee responded.
"My money's on the spooks," Gibbs replied, not bothering to hide his frustration.
Vance picked up a copy of the photo from the counter and took a long hard look.
"You think the FBI might also be holding out on us?" he asked.
"Or someone's holding out on them," the lead agent replied, taking the photo from Vance and heading for the door.
"Where are you going?" Vance asked.
"To find out," Gibbs called over his shoulder as he left the lab. "McGee, call me if you get something."
"Gibbs," the director called. "Watch yourself…I've already got one agent in over his head I don't need another."
Gibbs nodded briefly, exchanging a quick glance with Abby and McGee before walking from the room. As Vance took a few steps toward the door McGee spoke up.
"Er…Director?" he said tentatively. "Sir…there's…er…another way that we can find out who the guy in the photo is?"
Vance narrowed his eyes suspiciously, not liking where this discussion was leading but willing to hear the younger man out.
"Go on," he said.
"Sir, we've been playing catch up since Tony was taken into custody. Being fed scraps of information - we need to know who's blocking us and why."
"You know what you're asking, Special Agent McGee?" Vance asked in a deadly serious tone.
McGee nodded soberly.
"Yes, Sir, I do."
He flinched as Abby punched him in the shoulder and glared meaningfully at him.
"Sorry, Abs…I mean…yes, Sir, we do."
"And you know the ramifications if you get caught?"
"Yes, I do," McGee repeated as a second punch made painful contact. "Sorry, Abs. I mean, yes Sir, we do."
Vance's intense gaze passed from one determined young face to the other and once again he marveled at the closeness of this team. Without speaking the words, he knew McGee and Abby were planning to attempt to hack into the FBI and CIA databases – an offense that would not only end their careers but would carry a prison term if they were caught. If that were to happen, whoever wanted them would have to get by him first.
"Do it," he said, certain that with the utterance of those two words, the onus of their actions was right where it should be – on him.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Tony stopped his motorcycle near a telephone booth on the banks of the Potomac, removed his helmet and finger-combed his sweaty hair. He remained seated on the bike, gazing at the river and trying to gather his thoughts. The moon was high in the sky, suffusing everything with soft silver light and just enough luster for him to see the movement of the tidal waters.
The tranquility of the surrounding area was in complete contrast to his emotional turmoil. He watched the tide go out, knowing without doubt that it would return by morning and he envied the certainty. Right now, the only thing in his life of which he was sure was that nothing was certain - not the past, not the present and definitely not the future.
He removed the photo from his pocket and in the dim light he examined the beaming face of the eight-year-old boy standing with his father on the dock just fifty feet away from where he now sat at Fleming's Cove. The image was taken before his mother's death and was one of very few happy childhood memories. It ripped open the still-raw pain of the loss of his mother and the less tragic but equally painful departure of his father.
He re-read the message on the accompanying note:-
You get one chance. Call the number below, between 11:00PM and 11:05PM tonight. Too early or too late and your father dies.
He glanced at his watch – 2250 – ten minutes.
The photo drew his attention again – the man and the boy smiling proudly after reeling in an 8lb striped bass. It was a rare father/son moment with no sign of the rapid deterioration that began with his mother's death and continued its painful erosion to this day. But, despite the pain, the anger and resentment of a relationship that had never been allowed to evolve, the man was his father and Tony couldn't allow him to be harmed or murdered.
His thoughts traveled to Gibbs. The former marine had never declared himself perfect and, though some would argue, Tony thought himself enough of a realist that he never expected it. But somehow in the past, whenever Gibbs fell short of Tony's expectations the younger man felt wounded and disappointed.
What he was feeling now, though, wasn't simple disappointment - he was reeling from the perpetuation of a lie that rocked the very foundation of his friendship with the older man. He was conflicted between his feelings of betrayal and the knowledge deep in his gut that Gibbs would move heaven and earth to help him. Right now, he couldn't bring himself to ask.
'Get a grip, DiNozzo,' he thought, realizing that if he was going to pull this off, he had to remain calm.
From the time he was a small boy Tony had hidden his feelings and he had just about perfected the act. The grief, loss and depression that could so easily have consumed him were locked away in a corner of his heart and he rarely indulged them.
He returned his gaze to the serenity of the river and the moonlight, casting thoughts of his father and Gibbs far from his mind as he attempted to hold his emotions at bay.
Fornell secured a table at the sidewalk cafe and placed an order of coffee and club sandwiches as he waited for Gibbs to arrive. As his friend of many years approached and took a seat opposite, the FBI agent signaled the waitress to bring their order. The men remained silent as the waitress returned, placing their coffee and sandwiches on the table with a distracted smile.
"What can you tell me about Simon Reese?" Gibbs asked around a mouthful of food.
"I heard you went head to head with our esteemed director," Fornell replied.
"Didn't take to my winning personality," the former marine quipped.
"Go figure," Fornell replied, a small smile ghosting across his lips. "I can tell you that Reese was the agent who replaced me on DiNozzo Senior's case seven years ago. Once I was removed from the case it became 'need to know' and it was deemed that I didn't."
Gibbs raised a skeptical eyebrow.
"You just lost five colleagues…really expect me to believe you're sitting back waiting to be read back in?" he asked knowing, without doubt, that his counterpart would do whatever it took to exact justice for his fallen colleagues.
Fornell smiled wryly in confirmation.
"From all accounts, Reese did a great job while he was on the DiNozzo case. His arrest and case closure record went through the roof. Those in the know believe that was the primary reason why he was offered the position of director when it became available six months ago. 'Course…it doesn't hurt to know the right people."
"You trust him?"
"Never had much to do with him before he became director but he came out of the confirmation process smelling like a rose," Fornell responded. "He may have been a good agent but he's a better politician. He comes from a wealthy family, silver spoon, ivy-league schools, has a lot of connections on the Hill. He can kiss ass with the best of them - makes him a natural for the top job."
"I hear that," Gibbs agreed. "Capelli was Reese's replacement on DiNozzo Senior's case?"
Fornell nodded. "He took over as lead agent six months ago when Reese was appointed director."
"And Senior never put a foot wrong in seven years?"
"He made several mistakes along the way – all small ones that earned him a slap on the wrist. He was far more valuable to the Bureau as an informant. The man has more contacts here and abroad than you've made alimony payments. Politicians, kings, tribal leaders, rebel factions, arms dealers, double agents, you name it. He's not the first informant to turn on his handlers."
"Except in this case his handlers gave him access to classified intel and didn't once stop to think that he may be getting ready to bite them on the ass!" Gibbs growled, picking the bacon from his club sandwich and wolfing it down. "You ever find out why were you removed from that case?"
"The official reason was so they could bring in a guy with specialist computer training to track the electronic transmission of information. Reese has IT and business degrees."
"Bet he has," Gibbs said, unimpressed. "And unofficially?"
Fornell dropped his gaze to his coffee cup, obviously reluctant to answer.
"Tobias?" Gibbs prompted.
"The unofficial reason was that the Bureau hierarchy were concerned about our association and, by default, my association with DiNozzo's son. They felt keeping me on the case may have raised some…ethical problems."
"Didn't see any ethical problems when you arrested him for murder - twice!" Gibbs growled.
"Yeah, thanks for bringing that up…again," Fornell smiled wanly.
"Our friendship has never interfered with our jobs - before or after I hired Tony!"
"You think they took me off the DiNozzo case because they were afraid of what I was going to find?"
"Or because you wouldn't agree with what they were about to do," Gibbs said.
"How do we prove it?"
Gibbs placed a photo on the table between them.
"You know this guy?"
"He's been tailing Tony since he left the safe house," Gibbs told him.
"You heard from DiNozzo?" Fornell asked.
Gibbs explained Tony's visit to the storage unit and how the image was taken from the CCTV at the storage facility.
"Only two ways this guy finds Tony - the FBI leaked the address of the safe house or the CIA didn't trust the FBI to handle it and had one of their guys watching. Either way I don't like it," Gibbs said taking a large gulp of strong coffee. "Who at the Bureau would know where Tony was being held?"
Fornell wiped his mouth with a paper napkin before screwing it into a ball and tossing it on his empty plate.
"SOP dictates that only the director and the protection detail are told the address of the safe house being used. But the Bureau's a big place, Gibbs, and we don't have an infinite number of properties. It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out."
"Capelli thought the mole might be on his team. That's why he agreed not to let Tony out of his sight. Had his own people under surveillance."
"Capelli's a good agent, has good instincts. If he suspects someone on his team is the leak, that's as good a place as any to start looking. You need a hand?"
"Wouldn't wanna compromise your ethics," Gibbs goaded with a small grin.
"The bodies of five good agents are currently being returned to Dover Air Force Base. I'd consider it time well spent."
Fornell picked up the photo again, squinting as if the gesture would jog his memory.
"I presume you ran a facial recognition," he stated.
"Figures. I don't know what to tell you, Gibbs. I don't know every agent in the Bureau but I've never seen this guy before. If it'll help, I'll run the photo through our personnel records when I go back to the office."
"If I know McGee, he's already doing it," Gibbs said, throwing a twenty-dollar bill on the table to cover the check.
"I'm gonna forget you said that," Fornell grimaced.
"Could use your help to find the mole, Tobias."
Fornell pursed his lips. "I take it you're not going back to the office?"
"Not yet," Gibbs replied, leaving his friend in no doubt that he intended to continue his search for his missing agent.
"Let McGee know I'm on my way," Fornell said.
"If you get anything…"
"You'll be the first to know," Fornell said rising to his feet.
"Tobias…" Gibbs winced at his inability to find the words.
"Like I keep telling you, he may be one of the most annoying men on earth but he's a good agent," Fornell shrugged, trying to ease the awkwardness.
As the senior FBI agent watched his friend walk quickly toward his car, he took in the rigid posture - the sign of a man trying to hold himself together while guilt and worry were tearing his insides apart.
Leaning back against the plush leather seat of the dark limousine, FBI Agent Philip Capelli closed his eyes and sighed deeply. The heartbreaking image of five coffins, draped in American flags, being escorted from a large transport plane had etched itself into his mind and replayed in vivid detail against the backs of his eyelids.
He felt the car dip as FBI Director Simon Reese took his place beside him for the return trip from Dover Air Force Base to Washington. As the car moved off, Capelli heard the quiet hum of the soundproof privacy shield rising to separate them from the driver. Moments later, a glass of brandy was placed into his hand.
"Drink it," Reese directed, watching until his agent complied.
"How did this happen?" Capelli asked in a voice just above a whisper. "How did turning a blind eye to some of DiNozzo's illegal transactions end in the loss of five agents. Please, Simon, tell me you didn't have advance warning about that RPG attack."
He turned desperate eyes to Reese waiting for an answer.
"Of course I didn't know! You think I'd agree to something like that?" Reese snapped, burying his own guilt deep into his subconscious. "It was an accident, a tragic miscommunication."
"You said it would be over!" Capelli almost sobbed. "You said with the new guy calling the shots, DiNozzo Sr. would be dead; the microchip destroyed and we could move on with our lives. But that didn't happen and now you want me to sit back and do nothing while another federal agent's life is in danger."
"For God's sake, keep it together!" Reese hissed. "Junior brought this on himself. All he had to do is stay put for 24 hours and this thing would have been over."
"I want out! Right now!" Capelli stressed. "You don't need me to get the chip! I can go home and pack a bag and be gone by morning. I won't be responsible for the death of another innocent man."
"Settle down," Reese ordered. "I'll talk to the boss. Just give me until morning, okay?"
Long moments passed before Capelli nodded reluctantly and as Reese watched his agent turn his head to gaze blankly out of the window, he realized that Capella was now a liability they couldn't afford.
Watching from his car parked in the shadow of the trees, Douglas reached for his cell and pressed the speed dial.
"You better not be calling to tell me that you lost him," the terse voice stated.
"Relax, I'm watching him right now staring off into space like he hasn't got a friend in the world. The old man was right, the photo led him straight to Fleming's Cove."
"So far, Senior's been right on the money," came the reply. "Not bad for a man who's had nothing to do with his kid for over twenty years."
"Say the word and I'll take Junior right now, secure the chip and throw his body in the river."
"That itchy trigger-finger of yours will be our undoing! I told you before…what if he doesn't have the chip on him?"
"The only other place he's been is the storage facility. If he hasn't got it on him it has to be there, right?"
"Unless it never left the safe house at all. Everyone assumed he took it with him but for all we know he could have hidden it in plain sight. Look, DiNozzo's resourceful enough to escape the custody of three FBI agents without laying a finger on any of them - if we kill him before we know where the chip is, we may never find it. We need to do this right; there have been enough mistakes. Sit tight. When Junior calls, we'll set up a meeting to get the chip and make it look like he got caught in the crossfire of a buy gone bad."
"And if Junior doesn't call," Douglas asked.
Gibbs climbed back behind the wheel of his car and rubbed at his weary eyes. Since leaving Fornell, he had driven to a few of Tony's lesser known haunts in the faint hope that he would find the younger man drowning his sorrows at a bar or pounding the stuffing out of a heavy bag at the gym.
"Dammit, DiNozzo," he muttered. "Where the hell are you?"
Seven years ago, with a cloud of impropriety hovering above DiNozzo's head, Gibbs had been firmly focused on keeping their acquaintance strictly professional. Four months later, as far as Gibbs was concerned, Tony's name and reputation were beyond reproach and the brash, irreverent young man had smashed his way into his life with the grace and finesse of a wrecking ball.
Initially, Gibbs put it down to an eagerness to learn and a passion and for the job. But he soon came to realize that the younger man had seen something in him that the former marine thought long dead. For whatever reason, DiNozzo invoked a mile-wide protective streak in him that went far deeper than watching his partner's back.
Without conscious thought from either of them Gibbs became the talisman that Tony turned to for advice, perspective and balance. His gruff tough-love approach filled a void in Tony's life while their commonality of spirit made them one hell of an investigative team.
The FBI had taken Tony into custody this morning and left a gaping DiNozzo-size hole in Gibbs' life. And, he was determined to get him back.
Sighing deeply, Tony checked his watch one more time, walked to the nearby phone booth and dialed the number he'd been given. It answered on the second ring.
"Dad! What the hell's going on?" Tony demanded.
The phone line crackled and a different voice sounded down the phone.
"Do you have the chip?" the gruff, raspy voice asked.
"That depends who's asking," Tony replied.
"The man who holds your father's life in his hands - now answer the question. Do you have the chip?"
"Not on me. I can get it."
"The deal is simple; we get the chip you get your father."
Tony laughed bitterly.
"If you're basing your strategy on my allegiance to a man I haven't seen for 22 years, you may want to re-think that. I owe my father nothing."
A long pause followed before the voice spoke again.
"If that were true, you wouldn't have called."
"Maybe I called because I'm sick of the bullshit," Tony seethed. "Maybe I called because I decided that it was time to follow in my father's muddy footsteps. Yeah, I have the chip but if you want it, it's gonna cost you."
"This is your lucky day. This chip has turned into a hot potato and it's burning my fingers. By now, I'm sure I've got all the acronyms on my ass and the sooner I get rid of it the better. It'll cost you five million…in cash."
"Five million – you didn't inherit your father's business acumen," the voice replied sarcastically.
"I also didn't inherit his blue eyes, his love of caviar and his double-jointed thumbs but I have the microchip and you don't. Now do we have a deal?"
"You have ten seconds before I hang up this phone and mail the microchip to the Attorney General's office."
"You'd let your father die?"
"Can't miss what you never had," Tony answered bitterly. "May cost me my job but I'm betting it'll cost you a helluva lot more. Seven seconds…six…"
"Okay, okay. But it's going to take some time to get that kind of money together."
"You have until 0700 tomorrow," Tony said in a voice that left no room for negotiation. "My father makes the drop alone."
"Then you better bring a snorkel, 'cause if I see anyone else within 300 yards, I'll pitch the chip into the river and it's gone."
"Okay, calm down, we'll do it your way," the gruff voice agreed reluctantly. "How will I find you?"
Tony laughed derisively again.
"Don't play me, man" he said. "I'm sure the guy in the dark car that you have following me around will give you directions."
"That's a lot of cash to put together in such a short time."
"Your choice. As I said, I'm sure the Attorney General would love to get his hands on the microchip," Tony said. "Tell my old man it's been a blast."
"Wait! Okay, tomorrow – 7AM."
Tony hung up the phone and took a few deep breaths. Emotion and exhaustion were starting to take its toll but there was still much work to be done. He pulled his helmet on, climbed back on his bike and headed back into town. Checking his side mirror, he spotted the dark sedan several cars behind – time to lose the tail.
He arrived at the corner of Pennsylvania Ave and 6th Street, stopping for the red light. Another quick check confirmed the dark sedan two cars back and one lane over. With the light still red and the cross traffic at the busy intersection flowing, Tony pulled the clutch in and built the rpm's to the torque peak, biding his time. Seeing a small break in the traffic, he dropped the clutch and opened the throttle. The sudden acceleration caused the front wheel to lift as the bike launched forward and ran the red light. Adjusting his weight from side to side he weaved his way through the cross traffic, ignoring the cacophony of blaring car horns and the curses from startled drivers. With a smug smile he accelerated out of sight leaving the dark sedan still stationary at the red light.
"You got something, Leon?"
"McGee and Ms. Scuito got a positive ID of the man trailing DiNozzo - a CIA operative by the name of Gregory Richard Douglas."
"What do we know about him?"
"So far, just his name – when we tried to access his personnel file we triggered some kind of anti-hacking program and had to sever the connection fast. I've placed several priority calls to the director of the CIA but so far he hasn't responded," Vance replied with frustration coloring his tone.
"Get the feeling we've been left out of the huddle, Leon?"
"Aren't we always?" the director replied.
"Have McGee and Abby help Fornell check the financial records of FBI agents Hall and Dawson. The sooner we find the FBI mole, the sooner we can end this."
"Already on it. Where will you be?"
"Selling my soul," Gibbs replied cryptically before ending the connection.
"You know what to do," the gruff voice threatened. "And Douglas? My patience is wearing thin…no more mistakes."
Giving in to his fury he slammed the receiver back into its cradle. He ran his wrinkly, gnarled fingers through his white hair that was stark against over-tanned and leathery skin. Turning his dark eyes to the room across the hall, he stalked the few steps to unlock the door and shoved it open as he flicked the light switch and flooded the room with light.
Anthony DiNozzo, Senior lay on the large double bed, his designer shirt and pants crumpled and sweat-stained and his left wrist handcuffed to the headboard. Momentarily blinded by the light from the naked globe, he squinted before raising cold blue eyes to the man in the doorway.
"That was Douglas," the gruff voice said. "Junior has evaded our surveillance. For your sake, he better show up at the drop tomorrow."
DiNozzo smiled contemptuously.
"He'll show," he replied.
"You've ruined his life twice. What makes you think that he gives a damn about yours?"
"The same way I knew where he'd go when he saw that photo," DiNozzo answered smugly. "The boy's too much like his mother, he always was. Besides, where else is he going to go? Every law enforcement agency in the tri-county area is looking for him and we've destroyed the most important relationship in his life."
"Are you certain he won't go to Gibbs?"
"Positive…he has his old man's hard-headed stubbornness," DiNozzo replied with misplaced pride.
"You are a cold-hearted sonofabitch, Anthony," the man said. "You know that we can't leave Junior alive to tell the authorities what he knows and yet you act like this was just another business transaction."
"That's precisely what this is," DiNozzo answered. "I promised to get you the chip if you let me live. As far as I'm concerned, it's Junior's life or mine - no contest."
"But he's your son."
"He was my son, many years ago. Now, he's my ticket to freedom."
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Overflowing trashcans waiting for the garbage truck to arrive, lined the graffiti-riddled alleyway. Illuminated by a dim light at the street end, Gibbs stood with a coffee in each hand as he watched the casual approach of CIA operative Trent Kort.
"When I suggested we meet at an out of the way location, this was not what I had in mind," Kort drawled.
"First the Frog, now DiNozzo Senior, you guys keep losing your arms dealers," Gibbs replied, dispensing with pleasantries.
"Anthony DiNozzo Senior is more than an arms dealer," Kort shot back pointedly. "Besides, whenever we do misplace one, it seems your agent is always involved."
"Tony's not involved in any of this," Gibbs stated emphatically. "Hasn't seen his father in years."
"He may not have been involved before this evening but he's up to his neck in it now," Kort said, eyeing the hot coffee in Gibbs' left hand. "That for me?"
"Nope," Gibbs said moving it out of Kort's reach. "It's mine."
As Kort reached for the cup in Gibbs' right hand the former marine pulled it out of reach as well.
"That's mine, too," he said.
Kort huffed out a long-suffering sigh.
"What do you want, Gibbs?"
"Information on what?" Kort asked calmly.
"Not what, who? Tell me about Gregory Richard Douglas."
Kort steeled his expression but not before Gibbs noticed his surprise at hearing the name.
"Douglas is a CIA operative and none of your business," he said plainly.
"As of two hours ago, Douglas was following my agent, which makes it my business." Gibbs' voice remained even, belying the anger that was simmering just below the surface.
Kort shivered and adjusted the collar of his coat as the wind shifted direction bringing the pungent stench of trash with it.
"Let's walk," he said.
As the agents walked briskly to ward off the cold, Kort described Douglas as a highly trained, well-respected operative - the best of the best. An elite force commando, Douglas was skilled in special reconnaissance, military intelligence, unconventional warfare and counter-insurgency.
Approximately ten years ago, a CIA operation in South America failed badly and Douglas was captured and tortured by a Colombian drug cartel. His release was eventually secured but not before he had sustained near fatal injuries. After a long and painful recovery period, Douglas was cleared for duty but was never really the same man. He became reckless, unpredictable and borderline suicidal.
"Why not pension him off?" Gibbs asked.
"Because there are times when the CIA needs agents with those…attributes," Kort replied matter-of-factly. "Between assignments Douglas was appointed as DiNozzo's CIA liaison, a position that was deemed less physically and emotionally demanding. It was essentially a baby-sitting job. Once DiNozzo began providing valuable intel, Douglas was assigned full-time."
Gibbs shook his head in disgust as he listened to Kort's explanation. The initials had changed from FBI to CIA but the story was the same – both agencies had seriously underestimated their adversary and had completely misread the play while DiNozzo Senior had raced away for the game-winning touchdown.
"DiNozzo was collecting classified information right under your noses, and no-one noticed?" Gibbs asked incredulously. "Someone lose the I in CIA?"
Unflappable as ever, Kort bit back a sarcastic retort and continued his explanation.
"First we knew about the microchip was after the buy had gone wrong," he said. "Initially, we were led to believe that DiNozzo had tried one shakedown too many. The chatter was that one of the under-bidders with a vested interest in keeping the chip out of rival hands had resorted to destroying it and took out the FBI agents and the buyers with it."
"We have intel from an MI6 listening post set up in the region that confirms earlier whispers that while DiNozzo certainly orchestrated the whole operation to date, someone within his own ranks set up the RPG attack and DiNozzo was not supposed to survive it."
"Any idea who the new player is?" Gibbs asked.
"None. Douglas was well paid to keep the CIA in the dark." Kort paused for a moment before meeting Gibbs' gaze. "That's not all…"
When the CIA operative dropped his eyes again Gibbs ventured a guess and hoped like hell that he was wrong.
"Douglas fired the RPG," Gibbs stated, suppressing his rage.
"You didn't hear that from me," Kort replied. "Douglas is a rogue agent and my assignment is to find him and to deal with the situation."
"You're telling me this now!" Gibbs barked. "Why the hell didn't you contact us the minute you heard Douglas was after Tony and the second microchip?"
"I told you, Douglas was well paid to keep the CIA in the dark – took us a while to find out about the second chip and track them back here to Washington."
"This was supposed to be a joint operation between the CIA and FBI. How did they know about the second chip when you didn't?"
"Seems our friends at the FBI weren't completely forthcoming with that information."
"By the time we found out, your boy was already in FBI custody. And by the time I arrived back in Washington, Junior had taken matters into his own hands." Kort met Gibbs' gaze directly. "I'm no fan of Junior's but he'd be a lot better off if you found him before Douglas does– the man's a killing machine and he's out of control. If he hasn't killed him yet it's only because he's not sure whether Junior has the chip on him, but once he knows for sure..."
Gibbs handed Kort a coffee before nodding his understanding and turning back to his car.
"That's going to cost you more than coffee, Gibbs," Kort called after him. "Now you owe me one."
Gibbs didn't outwardly acknowledge the comment but his gut clenched with the certainty that sometime in the future Trent Kort would be back to collect.
It was almost zero one hundred by the time Gibbs arrived back at the Navy yard and he leaned wearily against the wall of the elevator. Since his meeting with Kort the tension and fatigue in his body had increased tenfold and he ran a hand over his face, feeling the stubble rasp against his palm. Had it only been six hours since Tony went off grid? He slammed the side of his fist against the elevator wall and couldn't decide what injured him more, the sharp pain now radiating up his arm or the fact that Tony was in trouble and hadn't come to him for help.
Exiting on a lower level, he stopped in the doorway of the forensics lab and observed the activity. McGee and Fornell were working together, checking the financial records of FBI agents Hall and Dawson and hoping to locate the FBI mole. If their somber expressions were anything to go by, they weren't having much success.
Abby sat watching a computer monitor and politely refusing Ducky's attempts to persuade her to take a short break.
"I can't Ducky," she said, her pigtails flailing as her shook her head vigorously. "Tony could switch on his cell any minute and he'll need our help. I have to be here! I have to be here for Tony!"
"Abigail, you are exhausted," Ducky said. "Please, my dear, just a short break and something to eat and you can come straight back here afterwards."
"He's right, Abs," Gibbs said quietly.
"Gibbs!" she exclaimed, wrapping her arms around him, desperately needing to hug and be hugged. "Did you find him? Did you find Tony?"
"Not yet," he said watching as her brief hope collapsed, replaced by disappointment.
"Something is really wrong, Gibbs!" she stressed. "Even if we were all under 24 hour surveillance – which is totally creepy by the way - Tony would find a way to contact us, to contact you!"
"I mean, if there was one person on this planet that Tony would, like, trust with his life, it's you Gibbs! You're partners! You're Batman and he's Robin, you're Frodo Baggins and he's Samwise Gamgee. Tony always turns to you when he's in trouble! Something else must have happened...something that we don't know about."
Abby's brilliant mind worked behind furiously blinking eyes. She wanted to figure this out; there was a piece of the puzzle missing and she needed answers. Although not meant as an accusation, her words pierced Gibbs' guilt-ridden conscience like a sharp knife. He drew back from her questioning eyes; unable to provide the explanation she sought. He was carrying too much heartache of his own to handle anyone else's. He picked up a plastic-wrapped sandwich and handed it to her.
"Eat and take a break or go home," he said more abruptly than he intended.
Abby's hand flew to her mouth and her over-bright eyes filled with concern. Gibbs was aware of Ducky's disapproving look and returned a pointed look of his own hoping the ME understood that if Abby or McGee were to learn the truth about Tony's recruitment, it had to come from Tony.
He turned away from her stunned expression and left her in Ducky's care as he walked through the sliding glass doors at the far end of the lab. Fornell and McGee looked up from their work and greeted his arrival with hopeful expressions.
"Nothing," he said, anticipating the question. "Whatcha got?"
"We're still checking bank records, Boss," McGee said. "As far as we can see, Agents Hall and Dawson are both living within their means. There are no unusual deposits or purchases that can't be explained and their kids go to regular public schools. So far, there's nothing to indicate that either of them are receiving any kind of financial kickback."
"What about Capelli?" Gibbs asked, feeling his gut clench painfully at the sickening realization that he may have been duped.
"Capelli?" McGee repeated, looking from Gibbs to Fornell with a confused expression. "He was the one who told you about the leak. Why would he tell you that if he was mole?"
"Redirect suspicion. Make me believe that he was watching Tony's six. Hell, I delivered the damn chip and handed it to him myself!" he finished with a yell.
Checking his pockets for keys to the agency sedan, he called to McGee over his shoulder as he headed quickly for the door,
"Stay here, check Capelli's bank accounts and get me his address."
"Sending it to your cell, Boss," McGee replied crisply.
"You waiting for an invitation, Tobias?" he called to Fornell.
"On your six…Boss," his old friend replied with his tongue firmly entrenched in his cheek.
The former marine winced internally at the choice of words as they strode quickly through the main chamber of the laboratory. Movement in his peripheral vision alerted him to Abby and Ducky and he changed direction to stand before them. He took in her puffy eyes and red nose and realized he'd taken his frustration out on her.
"Abs," he began.
"S'kay, Gibbs," she sniffed attempting a brave smile. "Just find him. Bring him home."
He matched her sad smile and placed a chaste kiss on her forehead before joining Fornell in the waiting elevator.
Philip Capelli rented a small one-bedroom apartment in a building on New York Ave NW, walking distance from the Hoover Building. Gibbs and Fornell flashed their respective badges at the rather irritated doorman and took the elevator to the eighth floor. As they arrived at the door to Capelli's apartment, Fornell pressed the doorbell and then knocked loudly.
"Capelli! It's Tobias Fornell!"
A long moment passed without response. Giving in to his impatience, Gibbs leaned back ready to give the door an almighty kick when Fornell shook his head and tried knocking again.
"Capelli! Open the door, it's Tobias Fornell!"
The sound of breaking glass was heard from within the apartment and after exchanging a glance the agents drew their weapons. Nodding his consent, Fornell watched as Gibbs kicked the door and it burst inwards. The living room was in darkness, lit only by the moonlight shining through the open curtains. Capelli was slumped against the back of the couch with a near-empty bottle of whisky in one hand and his Glock held loosely in his lap. A photo frame lay at his feet, the glass shattered.
Gibbs remained at the door, his Sig trained on Capelli watching for any false move.
"Phil," Fornell said approaching cautiously. "Phil it's me, Tobias. Give me the gun, nice and slow."
Capelli looked up with eyes filled with a desolation and misery so deep that it took Fornell's breath away. He reached to take the weapon from the other man's grasp before removing the empty bottle and placing the broken photo frame on the coffee table. He noticed the photo was of Capelli and his young partner, Lou Wilkinson, killed two days ago by an RPG attack in the Middle East.
"I couldn't do it, Tobias," he said with an eerie calmness. "I loaded it, released the safety and held the barrel to my head…but I just couldn't squeeze the damn trigger."
With Capelli's weapon secured, Gibbs relaxed his stance and holstered his sidearm. Taking a cursory look around he noted that if Capelli was receiving kickbacks he certainly wasn't spending it here – fridge, television, laptop, coffee table and a couch that had seen better days were all the furnishings evident.
"Talk to me Phil," Fornell said quietly sitting across from the man. "What's going on?"
"He was my partner," Capelli said, his anguish almost palpable. "He was my partner and he looked up to me. I lied to him, Tobias…I deceived him and now he's dead and I'll never get the chance to tell him how sorry I am."
The man wept openly and his words tore at Gibbs' beleaguered conscience.
At Fornell's urging, Capelli explained how his divorce seven months ago had taken its toll and he'd begun to drink heavily. During that time, he'd been involved in the fatal shooting of a suspect. He had shot in self-defense but his blood alcohol level from the previous night's drinking would have meant the end of his career.
Newly appointed FBI Director Simon Reese had arranged for his blood tests to be swapped and the inquiry returned a righteous shoot verdict. Although his career and reputation remained intact and Capelli was spared the possibility of facing possible criminal charges, the deal saddled him with a debt that he couldn't possibly repay.
One week later, Capelli was assigned as FBI Liaison for Anthony DiNozzo Senior and was directed to continue the 'mutually beneficial' relationship that his predecessor, Simon Reese, had successfully established. Reluctantly, he agreed to withhold evidence and divert investigations away from DiNozzo's private negotiations while DiNozzo provided enough information on other criminal organizations to keep the FBI happy.
"I had to do it, Tobias," Capelli slurred. "The job was the only thing I had left in the world. If I lost that…I had nothing."
Capelli's silence and co-operation had been rewarded handsomely by funds paid into an untraceable private account that had been set-up for him under a fictitious name. Until tonight, he had never accessed the funds.
Capelli had always believed the information being privately gathered by Senior was used to keep some distance between DiNozzo and some highly placed powerful businessmen and politicians. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that the information contained matters of national security that would be sold and used against the US or their allies. The loss of his partner and four other agents in the RPG attack was a cross his conscience couldn't bear.
As Fornell read him his rights, Capelli nodded his understanding and allowed them to help him to his feet. Snapping the handcuff around Capelli's left wrist, Fornell felt a pang of sympathy for this man who had fallen into a cesspool of deceit, corruption and murder from which no amount of struggling could free him. Although far from innocent, Capelli was another victim of DiNozzo's treacherous plan.
The window behind them exploded into a million tiny crystals and the three men dived for cover. Regaining his feet and running at a crouch, Gibbs pulled the curtains closed, lessening the chance of a second shot.
"Tobias?" Gibbs called anxiously.
"I'm okay," Fornell replied flatly. "But we've got trouble."
Gibbs turned to look at his friend then shifted his focus to where Capelli laid unmoving with blood flowing from a gaping wound at the back of his head and a rictus of horror still etched on his face. Fornell cursed silently as he reached forward and gently closed the lids of Capelli's vacant eyes.
Risking a look at the buildings opposite, Gibbs scanned the rooftops and windows for movement. The bullet had traveled at least 200 feet; adjusting for wind shift and the slight distortion of the glass window it had found its mark at the base of Capelli's skull for an instant kill shot.
As a former marine sniper, Gunnery-Sergeant LJ Gibbs admired the skill of the shooter and his gut screamed that it had to be Douglas. But as a Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, partner and friend of Anthony DiNozzo Junior, he was worried out of his mind and desperate to find Tony before the rogue CIA agent did.
Parking his motorcycle out of sight, Tony switched off the engine and propped his bike on the kickstand. He took a few stilted steps before attempting to flex the stiffness and cold from over-tense muscles.
Removing his helmet, he checked his surroundings. The recreation area at Fleming's Cove didn't open for another two hours but he had picked the heavy padlock on the gate and let himself in. The sun was just beginning to make an appearance, brightening the sky over the river with a glowing pink and orange horizon.
He had chosen this spot for a reason. With the river at his back, anyone who wanted to flank him would have to do so by boat, which wasn't likely to happen. He had the added advantage of the river being to the east, which meant that anyone attacking from the front would be looking directly into the rising sun. There was a huge clearing about the size of two football fields, edged with a heavily wooded area. A large kiosk and undercover area were to the west and picnic tables and children's playgrounds dotted the clearing. The gates would open at zero seven hundred. But, apart from a few keen fishermen, he was reasonably sure he had a few hours before the picnickers arrived and the area filled with families and children.
He withdrew his weapon and cursed as the Beretta felt a little strange in his hand. He should have stuck with the Sig. Although he was accomplished with all handguns, a microsecond could make all the difference. He checked the spare clips in the pocket of his leather jacket and practiced reloading until he was satisfied with the fluidity and speed of the movement.
Leaving nothing to chance, he cautiously walked a circuit of the area, double checking the kiosk and the undercover shelter and ensuring he was alone. Finally satisfied with his preparation, he took a seat on a park bench, removed the photo from his pocket and examined his father's image once again. He had no illusions about Anthony DiNozzo Senior, he knew him to be a ruthless businessman and a man whose last ounce of compassion and decency was buried with his wife many years ago. But something in Tony's heart told him that he had to reach out to this man. Despite what he had become…he was still Tony's father.
He felt a shiver down his back as the exchange drew nearer and he realized that, despite his preparations, he was totally exposed. For the last seven years Gibbs had watched his back; his gruff personality and stinging head slaps camouflaging the depth of caring that went way beyond words. Tony had found a leader, a mentor and a partner he could respect - someone Tony would risk his life to protect and someone who, without hesitation, would do the same for Tony.
With enormous effort, he shoved his stubborn pride and feelings of betrayal aside to deal with at another time. He took a few cleansing breaths to clear his mind and flipped open his cell.
The hours following Capelli's murder were a blur of activity, investigation and clandestine negotiations with high-ranking government officials. Due to Reese's suspected complicity, Vance reported Capelli's death directly to the Attorney General who flatly denied his request to have Reese brought in for questioning.
The appointment and confirmation of the Director of the FBI was a long and arduous process involving the Senate, the Justice Committee and the President. The nominee was subjected to extensive background checks and financial disclosure and nothing had been found to indicate impropriety of any kind.
As suspicion of Reese's involvement was based primarily on the unsubstantiated allegations of a dead man, now proven to have been a dirty agent, the AG ordered that strict protocol was to be followed and irrefutable evidence obtained before Reese was approached. It was small consolation that Vance sought and received permission for NCIS to process the crime scene and conduct the investigation without officially informing the FBI. As Fornell was already up to speed with the case, he was appointed as FBI liaison and seconded to NCIS.
It was times like this that Vance hated the politics of his job and he tried hard to convince himself that the AG cared less about sparing the senate from embarrassment than possibly saving the life of his agent.
Convening in the forensics lab where they continued to monitor Tony's cell, the agents, Ducky and Abby reviewed the facts of the investigation.
Ducky's preliminary autopsy findings revealed that the bullet that had killed Capelli struck him on an upward trajectory. It pierced the medulla oblongata, located at the base of the skull, and severed his brain stem from his spinal cord before lodging in his skull. There was no doubt in Ducky's mind that Capelli would have died instantly.
Abby's ballistic analysis identified the bullet as a .338 Lapua Magnum. From the unique and distinct markings on the bullet, she was able to determine that it was fired from a Barrett Model 98B rifle. Although her babies were still working hard, so far there was no match on IBIS.
Capelli's laptop had been taken from his apartment as evidence and McGee had analysed the data. He found that Capelli had transferred one hundred thousand dollars into his savings account just prior to his death but had on forwarded the funds into five different accounts that were domiciled in Washington DC.
His attempts to trace the source of the funds were re-routed several times and bounced around the global banking network before coming up empty. Whoever set up the account certainly knew what they were doing. However, he had been able to successfully trace the five DC based accounts and confirmed that each had received a twenty thousand dollar payment from Capelli. As he read aloud from the list of names Fornell's heart skipped a beat - Kennedy, Reynolds, Menzies, Farrell and Wilkinson.
"Those are the names of the five agents killed in the RPG attack in the Middle East," Fornell said.
"Why would Capelli transfer money into their accounts?" McGee asked.
"Posthumous apology," Gibbs replied flatly.
As they pondered that thought for a moment, they realized, to their utter frustration, that they were no closer to locating Tony.
One of Abby's babies began to beep insistently and she returned to her workstation to attend to it. Almost simultaneously, Gibbs' cell gave a few short bleeps, signaling an incoming text message.
Holding the cell at arm's length, Gibbs squinted at the display with tired eyes and his breath caught when he saw the sender's name - "DiNozzo."
"Gibbs!" Abby called after checking her computer. "It's-"
"Tony. I got him, Abs!" Gibbs replied. Suppressing his anxiousness he tossed his cell to McGee. "What's it say?"
McGee accessed the inbox and read from the screen. "Fleming's Cove. Code 2."
"Gear up!" Gibbs said already heading for the elevator.
"Er…Boss," McGee asked catching up to the lead agent. "What's a Code 2?"
"Police radio code," Gibbs replied giving the elevator call button a thump and then sighing in relief when the doors slid open immediately. "Means 'urgent – no lights or sirens.' We go in fast and quiet."
"I didn't realize that you knew police codes, Boss," McGee said.
"Learned 'em from an ex-cop," Gibbs stated matter-of-factly as the doors closed and they began their journey to Fleming's Cove and to Tony.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
The park ranger gave a cordial nod of the head as he opened the gate at Fleming's Cove recreational park and waved-in the only car waiting. DiNozzo Senior guided the vehicle along the road toward the main picnic area beside the river. From across the clearing the car momentarily disappeared from Tony's view as the road curved behind the kiosk. The car slowed without stopping, the passenger door opened and, from his crouched position, CIA operative Gregory Douglas rolled from the vehicle and sought a location on the edge of the woods. Tony watched warily as the car came back into view, rounded the bend and stopped in the adjacent parking area.
The driver climbed from the car carrying a brief case in one hand and a laptop in the other. Though it had been over twenty years, Tony recognized the commanding posture of his father as he strode confidently toward him. As the older man drew closer, Tony noted the brown hair had turned to silver and his usual impeccable designer clothing looked disheveled and crushed. Despite the physical changes, his father wore the same formidable expression that had filled his only child with a nervous apprehension and insecurity that took many years to overcome.
In an attempt to assert his dominance, Anthony DiNozzo Senior stepped arrogantly into his son's personal space forcing Tony to take a step back. He assessed the younger man with an obvious detachment.
"Dad," Tony greeted solemnly.
"Junior," his father replied in the dismissive tone that Tony remembered all too well. "Did you bring the microchip?"
Tony lips drew back in a derisive smile. He hadn't been expecting a joyful reunion by any stretch of the imagination but he couldn't deny the stab of pain inflicted by his father's cold indifference. Drawing on years of practice, the hurt was quickly suppressed as Tony hardened his features and met his father glare for glare.
"Let's see the cash," he said, pleased that his voice remained even.
Senior shook his head as he handed Tony the briefcase.
"I'm disappointed, Junior."
Tony laughed bitterly as he unclipped the case and did a quick check of the money.
"You know, Dad, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that…oh wait," he said indicating the five million dollars. "I have!"
"You should have held out for more money," Senior said. "They would have paid four times that amount."
"I was trying to save your life," Tony argued.
"You gave up too easily. You may look like a DiNozzo but you have the heart of a Paddington. There's a lot of your mother in you."
"Is that what it was, Dad? Why you couldn't bear to look at me after she died? I reminded you too much of Mom?"
Senior took another menacing step forward but this time Tony held his ground. After a long moment's duel, Senior stepped back, his body stiff with indignation.
"Give me the microchip, Anthony," he demanded through tightly clenched teeth.
The muscles along Tony's jaw line contracted as he bit down on his anger. Reluctantly, he placed his hand into his pocket and handed his father the microchip. Senior inserted it into the laptop, quickly scanned the listed files, opening others at random to ensure the microchip was authentic.
"Don't do this, Dad," Tony said, quietly. "I'll do everything I can to help you…please don't do this."
Senior huffed out a laugh.
"Just what could you do Anthony?" he said. "The last time I checked, you were a wanted fugitive."
"Come on, Dad, you have to know that the minute you hand over the microchip, your life is worthless," Tony said.
Satisfied that the files were intact, Senior closed the laptop, waved a hand in the air and smiled smugly.
"I could say the same."
Gibbs brought the agency sedan to a halt well back from the large clearing and behind the shelter. He, Fornell and McGee spilled from the car and pulled on the bulletproof vests they removed from the trunk. Fitting their earwigs and com-links they took cover behind the large shelter and studied their surroundings cautiously.
At that hour of the morning, it wasn't difficult to spot Tony, standing in the clearing with another man and Gibbs allowed himself a moment of relief when he saw him. Had he not seen photos of DiNozzo Senior, he'd still have recognized the man even from this distance. Heavier set and slightly shorter than Tony, there was a similarity in their stance that he couldn't put his finger on.
He surveyed the area with trained eyes and internally approved Tony's choice of location, with the exception of the wooded area at the far end of the clearing. He turned to Fornell and McGee, sending them in that direction and telling them to keep their eyes peeled for any sign of Douglas.
Looking back to Tony he frowned as Senior raised his arm as if giving a signal. In that split second Gibbs could see what was going to happen but was powerless to stop it. His eyes flicked to the edge of the woods at the far end of the clearing in time to see twin muzzle flashes. Almost instantly, the flashes were followed by the loud cracking sound of two shots being fired. His heart stopped as he saw Tony's body jerk violently and fall to the ground. As the nightmare unfolded before him, it took a few seconds for his mind to register the reality of the situation – Senior had given the signal to kill his own son.
Tony's shock was supplanted by fear and confusion as he was struck hard by a force that knocked the breath out of him sent him sprawling to the dirt. White-hot pain exploded in his chest and viciously pulled the air from his lungs leaving him gasping for breath. Roils of nausea immediately assailed him and his heart was pounding so hard that his vision started to gray.
From what seemed a great distance, he heard shouting and more gunfire. He tried to get up but his body refused and his world narrowed and contracted in violent pain. Tony gasped frantically for breath but no matter how much air he drew in, it wasn't enough. An awareness of another person broke through the agony and his father's face appeared before him.
Relief that he wasn't alone washed over him. He tried to slow his breathing and watched as his father unfastened his leather jacket and gazed stolidly at Tony's chest. With considerable effort, the younger man raised his head and looked down to see the rapidly expanding bloodstain on his light colored t-shirt. Green eyes went wide with panic and he swallowed convulsively to keep his emotions in check. Placing his left hand to his chest he felt the sticky warmth of his own blood flowing freely and knew he was in desperate trouble.
"Dad…" Tony panted barely above a whisper.
"Lie still," Senior said gruffly.
Senior reached inside his son's jacket but rather than attempt to stem the bleeding he removed Tony's Beretta and began to search his pockets for the spare clips. A different kind of pain exploded in Tony's chest as his father raised his head and met his gaze with cold, impervious eyes. He was unable to stifle a cry of pain as his father shoved his hand into the inside pocket of his jacket and removed the photo of the fishing trip. Tony clung to the faint hope that the image would stir feelings of a happier time between father and son.
"Dad…" he rasped, raising a trembling hand to grasp his father's forearm.
Senior studied the photo and for a brief moment Tony thought he saw the cold, blue eyes soften. Hope faded when his father crushed the photo in his hand and tossed it aside. Locating the spare clips, he easily broke free of Tony's hold and rose to his feet. Glancing coolly at his son, he juggled the brief case and the laptop and walked calmly toward the car without looking back.
"Shooter!" Gibbs shouted through his com-link. "Edge of the woods, your three o'clock!"
"Boss, we've got fifty yards of clearing before we get to the woods," McGee said. "We'll need some cover."
Gibbs shot a look across the clearing and saw Senior kneeling by Tony's side. He knew that with the sniper still at large neither he, McGee or Fornell stood a chance of making it across the open expanse. With every ounce of strength he possessed he shoved his emotions aside and allowed his marine training to kick in.
"Get ready to go when I draw his fire!"
"Ready, Boss," McGee replied crisply.
Taking a deep breath, Gibbs burst from behind the shelter, emptied a clip in the sniper's general direction and then sprinted for the small utilities block twenty yards away. Without slowing his pace, he ejected and reloaded a new clip with expert precision. He flinched as a hail of bullets kicked at the dirt around him. With a strength and speed borne of desperation he dived for safety and looked up in time to see McGee and Fornell make the cover of the woods a hundred yards from the sniper's position.
Another look across the clearing showed Senior still kneeling beside Tony and relief swamped him when he saw the younger man move his hands. Tony was alive. His desperate need to get to his agent was locked in a fierce battle with his training and the knowledge that the shooter had to be neutralized before they could attempt a rescue. Knowing that every second counted he grabbed his cell from his pocket and placed an 'agent down' emergency call.
"McGee, sit rep," Gibbs said impatiently.
McGee's whispered reply was barely audible through his earwig.
"We have a definite ID on Douglas, Boss. Fornell's almost in position. We've almost got him flanked and -"
The sound of yelling and more gunfire had Gibbs' heart leaping into his mouth.
"He made us, Boss and he's running," the young agent advised.
"Away from…the clearing," came the breathless reply. "You're…good to go!"
Not waiting for confirmation, Gibbs urged his bad knee beyond its limitations as he sprinted across the open field toward his injured agent. Closing in from the rear, he was still one hundred yards away when a stab of fear shot through him. Senior rose to his feet holding a handgun and for a paralyzing moment Gibbs thought the man was about to finish the job and kill Tony. He raised his Sig, ready to take the shot when Senior turned, collected a brief case and laptop and then he started for the parking lot, leaving Tony lying unmoving in the dirt.
Expending his last reserves of energy, Gibbs put on a final burst of speed. Another exchange of gunfire from the woods drew Senior's attention and he remained unaware of Gibbs closing in from behind.
Reaching Tony's side, Gibbs dropped to one knee and with trembling fingers he fumbled for the pulse point below the younger man's jaw line. His thoughts came to a halt as he stared in growing horror at the blood that was quickly saturating Tony's shirt. The former marine's heart hammered as if it was about to burst from his chest until he felt the weak but rapid pulse beneath his fingers.
"Atta boy, Tony," he gasped.
Tony's neck veins were distended and he was breathing in weak, shallow gasps. Ripping his thin NCIS windbreaker from his body, Gibbs balled it up and pressed it firmly with one hand against the free-flowing wounds.
Gibbs looked again at Senior's departing back and felt a rage surge through him. Steadying his weapon in a one-handed grip, he shouted.
"DiNozzo! Drop the weapon and stay where you are!"
Still holding the gun, Senior stood still and then slowly started to turn.
"Drop the weapon or I'll take it from your dead body. Your choice," Gibbs ground out between gnashed teeth.
Senior chanced a look over his shoulder at the silver haired agent kneeling beside his son. At that moment, looking into the burning fury in those eyes, he had no doubt that the lead agent would do what he threatened. He let the Beretta slip from his fingers and it landed with a soft thud on the ground.
"Kick it over here. Easy!" Gibbs ordered.
A soft choking sound drew his attention as Tony's respiration turned to short, sharp pants. With each breath Gibbs heard a hissing sound and realized to his horror that it was coming from Tony's chest. Suppressing his panic, he reapplied pressure on the wounds by pressing down with the heel of his hand. The hissing sound stopped and Gibbs ignored the bile burning at the back of his throat as the younger man's blood pumped out from beneath his hand.
"That's a sucking chest wound," Senior said from his position a few yards away. "You're going to need both hands to stop that bleeding or he'll drown in his own blood."
The impassive tone of Senior's voice fueled the burn in Gibbs' chest and he tightened his grip on the trigger.
"You have a choice, Agent Gibbs," Senior announced. "Keep that gun trained on me and let Anthony die or save his life and let me walk out of here."
"There's a third option - shoot you and save him."
"Could you do that, Gibbs?"
"In a heartbeat," Gibbs hissed.
"I'm still his father and he's my son...we may not be close but what do you think it will do to him if you kill me?"
"What kind of father leaves his son in the dirt to die?" Gibbs spat. "Don't flatter yourself; you stopped being his father a long time ago."
"I may have stopped being his father but tell me this - do you really think he'd have come here if he had stopped being my son?"
Senior smiled at Gibbs' hesitation and for a fleeting moment the former marine was struck by the similarity of father and son. But while Tony's smile was filled with warmth and humor, Senior's was cold and downright rapacious.
"You think Anthony wants me dead, Agent Gibbs? Why don't you ask him?"
The spark of all-consuming fury flared inside him but was doused immediately when Gibbs saw that Tony had regained consciousness. Green eyes, normally so clear and vivid, were now overwhelmed by pain and tormented emotions. The younger man gave a barely perceptible shake of his head and his lips formed the words he was too weak to put voice to – 'no, Boss.'
"You have Anthony's answer," Senior smiled smugly. "Now, what's yours? Will you do as he asks or will you betray him again?"
Renewed guilt and self-recrimination surfaced as Gibbs recalled the look of betrayal on Tony's face less than 24 hours before. It was a look he would never forget – one he hoped never to see again. Tony's ice-cold fingers wrapped around Gibbs' wrist with diminishing strength and green eyes connected with his on their usual deep level. But the former marine read a desperate plea for trust weaved among the pain and confusion in Tony's eyes.
He looked at the injured man, pale and gasping for each new breath. His partner was bleeding out and every second Gibbs delayed nudged Tony closer to death. Gibbs was a natural protector and when his attempts at protection failed and the people he cared for were killed or injured, he became an accomplished avenger. Every fiber of his existence screamed for him to squeeze the trigger and finish Senior right there…but Tony had asked for his trust and there was no way in hell that Gibbs would deny him.
With an almost primal growl of frustration, the former marine lowered his weapon and turned his full attention to Tony. Laughing contemptuously, Senior walked quickly toward the parking lot when more shooting sounded from the woods. Startled by the proximity of the gunfire, Senior stumbled and lost his grip on the briefcase. As it hit the ground the catch sprung open and the cash spilled onto the ground. Scrambling on hands and knees, the man grabbed as much cash as he could, hugging it to his chest. Regretfully, he eyed the case and the remainder of the cash still spread on the ground before quickly returning to his car and racing away.
Through eyes he could barely keep open Tony watched his father go and in a distant part of his mind, an eight-year-old boy wept tears of heartbreak and confusion. An ache, greater than any physical pain, swelled in his heart and swept him away.
McGee and Fornell had Douglas boxed-in on two occasions, only to have the former commando slip through their fingers. During their last exchange, McGee had put a round into Douglas' thigh while Fornell's bullet hit the man high in the shoulder slowing him considerably but amazingly not stopping him. As they closed in on their quarry for the third time, they separated in an effort to flank the rogue CIA operative. McGee winced as a twig snapped under his foot, echoing loudly in the quiet woods. He stilled, listening for any sound of movement and then continued his cautious approach. Fornell's voice whispered in his earwig.
"You in position?"
"Roger that," McGee said quietly.
"Let's do it," Fornell stated.
Moving almost soundlessly, Fornell adjusted his two-handed grip on his weapon as he moved in from one side of the thicket. Nothing - Douglas had eluded them again. Fornell's brow furrowed in concern when McGee did not appear from the other side as expected.
"McGee!" he whispered into the com-link. "McGee, do you read?"
His blood chilled as the cold muzzle of a gun was shoved cruelly into his back.
"Drop your weapon and put your hands behind your head," Douglas hissed. "Do it now!"
"Take it easy," Fornell said calmly as his weapon dropped to the ground and laced his fingers behind his head.
"Where's the other one?" Douglas asked.
"Right here," McGee replied with his Sig trained fixedly at Douglas' head. "Put the gun down, Douglas."
The CIA operative laughed bitterly.
"If I pull this trigger, your friend here is dead."
"He's not my friend, he's FBI," McGee replied calmly. "Kill him and you'll be dead before he hits the ground."
Douglas turned fierce eyes toward McGee, appearing to assess his chances of escape. The young agent steeled his features as Douglas searched his face for any hint of hesitation or weakness and found none. Another moment passed before Douglas' shoulders slumped in defeat and he surrendered his weapon.
The CIA operative grunted in pain as McGee cautiously patted him down for more weapons, Removing a spare handgun from an ankle holster and an Ek commando knife from its sheath on his belt, he secured the handcuffs and turned to face an irate Tobias Fornell.
"He's not my friend, he's FBI?" Fornell repeated with mock anger.
"Sorry," McGee said sheepishly. "It was the first thing that came to mind."
"That makes it worse!" Fornell said with a wry grin. "How'd you get the drop on him anyway? The guy's got two slugs in him but he's still ex-special ops!"
"I'm a Youth Ranger troop leader," McGee shrugged casually.
Rolling his eyes heavenward, Fornell took the rogue CIA agent's by the elbow and the two men began to lead him from the woods when a rifle shot rent the air and Douglas dropped like a stone. Diving for cover the two agents exchanged a horrified look when they saw the neat bullet hole above Douglas' right eye and the rapidly expanding pool of blood where the back of his skill once was.
"Come on, come on!" Gibbs growled impatiently at the too distant sound of sirens.
Using his knife, he cut Tony's blood soaked t-shirt away from the wounds, recoiling slightly at the gruesome sight. Both wounds were still bleeding profusely. Tony was still drawing rapid, shallow breaths that segued into wheezing and left an alarming blue tinge to his lips. Gibbs had seen this type of injury on the battlefield and knew the signs of a collapsed lung.
Reaching into his pocket he withdrew a latex glove. Holding it firmly to the wounds, he applied direct pressure and breathed a sigh of relief when the hissing noise ceased. The younger man's lungs heaved with the strain of drawing oxygen. Despite knowing his partner was unconscious, Gibbs spoke to him in a calm voice that belied his inner panic.
"Gonna turn you on your side so you can breathe better," he explained quietly.
Still holding the latex glove firmly in place, he rolled the younger man, placing his injured side closest to the ground to assist his breathing. Tony frowned, mumbling something unintelligible and moving his head back and forth. Pain-filled eyes fluttered open as he panted for air, but the harder he worked to pull oxygen into his lungs, the stronger the pain in his chest. When Tony crossed the line from distressed to panicked Gibbs moved in behind him and helped him into a sitting position. With Tony leaning heavily against him, the former marine sighed as his partner's fight for breath eased a little.
Tony started to shiver so violently that Gibbs could hear his teeth chatter and he knew the younger man was going into shock. The sirens were getting louder but Gibbs couldn't help but wonder whether they would arrive in time. He drew his partner closer for warmth but knew he needed the connection as much as Tony did.
Capelli's words came back to him in a rush of negativity – 'He was my partner and he looked up to me. I lied to him…I deceived him and now he's dead and I'll never get the chance to tell him how sorry I am.'
Tony's eyes flickered open again and Gibbs placed his hand on the younger man's cheek and turned his face toward his.
"Hey," he said, softly. "You back with me?"
His glassy and unfocussed gaze shifted to rest on Gibbs' face.
"Hold on, Tony…EMTs are nearly here."
As heavy lids drifted shut, Gibbs gave him a gentle shake.
"Stay with me, Tony. Open your eyes," he coaxed, frowning at the lack of response.
"Hey, DiNozzo!" Gibbs barked, knowing the younger man responded best to his firm command voice. He grinned tightly as Tony's eyes snapped open.
"Stay with me, you hear me? This does not end here. Not like this, Tony," he said with all the conviction he could summon. "Not…like this!"
There was a flicker of recognition and Tony opened and closed his mouth, encompassing everything in one silent word – 'Boss.'
His head fell limply against the former marine's shoulder and Gibbs' gut clenched painfully as he repeated firmly.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
The EMT's arrived at Fleming's Cove and immediately called for a medivac. Gibbs didn't know what strings Vance had to pull but he released a huge sigh of relief when, moments later, a Navy Seahawk hovered overhead.
Leaving McGee and Fornell to call in a team to help process the crime scene, Gibbs climbed aboard the chopper and directed the young pilot to Bethesda Naval Hospital.
"What have we got?" a loud male voice called calmly as a medical team met the elevator in the emergency ward.
"Male, mid-30's, two GSW's to the left upper chest, pneumothorax and profuse blood loss. Blood type A+. He's not currently taking medication. Three years ago he contracted the pneumonic plague."
"Did you say-?"
"You heard right," the EMT confirmed, "the pneumonic plague. Patient is unconscious and non-responsive to stimuli. Evidence of hypovolemic shock. His vitals are…"
The voice faded out as Tony's gurney was rushed through the swinging doors separating the trauma rooms from the public waiting area.
Straining for a last glimpse of his agent, the doors swung shut and blocked his view. Gibbs turned away, closing his eyes as if the act could somehow shut out the truth.
"This can't be happening," he whispered, startled from his thoughts by a young female voice.
"Sir, are you hurt?" a concerned nurse asked as Gibbs stared in momentary confusion. "Sir, the blood, where are you hurt?"
Gibbs looked at the blood on his hands and shirt and felt his stomach lurch nauseatingly.
"Not mine," he managed and then pointed to the trauma room with his chin.
"Why don't you go wash up in the men's room?" the nurse said compassionately. "I'll find you something to wear."
Nodding compliantly he started to leave and then stopped abruptly.
"If there's any news, I'll come and find you," she smiled sadly.
Nodding his thanks he walked quickly to the men's room, locked the door behind him and rushed to the sink fighting the bile burning the back of his throat. He turned the faucet on and plunged his arms under the cold, clear water. Repeatedly pressing the button on the liquid soap dispenser, he scrubbed at his skin frantically. Raising his hands to inspect them, he saw the faint stains of Tony's life-force still evident in the creases of his hands and fingers. The blood had been warm and nauseatingly slick as he'd tried to stem the bleeding from his partner's chest. Visual echoes of the twin muzzle-flashes were still playing in front of Gibbs' eyes while the image of Tony bleeding out in his arms was etched indelibly into his mind. Having washed the blood from his hands he scrubbed his face with cold water, trying to banish all negative thoughts from his mind.
'Get it together,' he told himself.
A soft knock sounded at the door and, as promised, the nurse delivered a scrub top. By the time Gibbs had changed and returned to the waiting room, Ducky had arrived and was speaking with a doctor at the entrance to the trauma room. The look of despair on the ME's face nearly sent Gibbs to his knees.
"Duck?" he said anxiously.
Ducky introduced the two men and Commander Jamison repeated what he had told the ME.
"We've just taken Agent DiNozzo to surgery," Jamison said.
"How bad is it?"
"His condition is listed as critical. Both bullets punctured his left lung very close to his heart causing a severe pneumothorax that will require surgery to repair. He's lost a lot of blood and we are currently trying to get his volumes up. Due to the scarring already present in Agent DiNozzo's lungs, the surgeon may not be able to repair the damage. If that happens, they'll have no choice but to remove the lung."
Gibbs' paled knowing that the removal of the lung would bring an end to Tony's career as a field agent.
"We'll know more after the surgery, Jethro," Ducky said. "Our young man is no stranger to beating the odds - he'll put up a good fight, you'll see."
Jamison escorted the men to the surgical waiting room on the next floor, assuring that someone would speak with them as soon as Tony was out of surgery. He excused himself and hurried back to the elevator while Ducky eyed the limited selection of packaged sandwiches and hot beverages. Assessing his friend with a trained eye, he placed a sandwich and a cup of coffee on the nearby coffee table.
"Do try to eat something, Jethro," he said kindly. "It's quite likely that we have a long wait ahead of us."
He nodded distractedly and mumbled his thanks. Reaction had finally set in and the former marine was careful to keep his hands resting on his knees so the slight tremors running through them weren't visible. The hollow timbre of his voice and the rare vulnerability did not escape Ducky's notice.
Gibbs couldn't remember the definitive moment when the protective pyre had been lit inside him, but it burned as hot as a second sun whenever Tony was missing or injured.
"Where's Abby?" Gibbs asked softly.
"She's waiting for some test results," Ducky replied. "Timothy will bring her in shortly. I thought you might appreciate some time to yourself before they arrived."
Gibbs nodded and ran trembling fingers through his hair. Ducky had known his friend long enough to sense when the man was deeply troubled and as a heavy silence fell over them, the ME allowed Gibbs to be the one to break it.
"He gave the signal to shoot his own son, Duck," the team leader said, barely above a whisper. "Then he left him to die in the dirt."
"Oh my," Ducky replied, feeling his blood run cold.
As a former marine, Gibbs had experienced first-hand the horrors of war and man's inhumanity to man. But beneath the gruff voice and the steely expression was a man with the heart of father. If the revulsion and loathing reflected in his eyes were any indication, he was also a man who would never come close to comprehending DiNozzo Senior's treatment of his own son.
"Tony wasn't even wearing a damn vest!" he said, his shock giving way to anger. "What the hell was he thinking?"
"Perhaps our young man was blinded by loyalty," Ducky suggested.
"Loyalty? To a man he hasn't seen or heard from in over twenty years?" Gibbs snapped.
"Loyalty to his father, Jethro," Ducky replied patiently. "No matter what their relationship, Anthony would not have expected such an unconscionable act from his own father. You know better than most just how loyal that boy is."
Gibbs closed his eyes as his own words came back to him. 'Loyal as a St Bernard.'
"Where, may I ask, is DiNozzo Senior now?" Ducky's words were frosted with contempt.
"I let him walk," Gibbs replied flatly. Unable to meet Ducky's eyes, he allowed his head to drop into his hands.
"I had no choice, Duck. Could've held him at gunpoint while Tony bled out or helped Tony and let him go."
"Then you did what you had to do...you kept Anthony alive," Ducky said soothingly.
"I should've killed the bastard, Duck. Hell, he practically dared me! All I had to do was squeeze the damn trigger."
"May I ask what stopped you?"
Gibbs rubbed a hand over his stubbled jaw and sighed deeply as he recalled the moment.
"Tony woke up," he said. "Asked me not to do it. Damn it, Ducky why didn't he call me sooner?"
"The way things were between you and Anthony, let's be grateful the dear boy called you at all."
Ducky was right and Gibbs felt his stomach go into free-fall at the thought of what would have happened had Tony not made contact. As he fought against the thought of more loss and grief in his life, he realized that while his close relationship with his senior field agent was his strength – it was also his Achilles heel.
Several hours later the elevator sounded and McGee and Abby rushed into the room. The forensic specialist wrapped Gibbs in a tearful hug before pulling back to look at his face.
"How's Tony?" she asked tentatively.
"Still in surgery…it's not good, Abs."
Overwhelmed with fatigue and the emotion of the last two days, Abby closed her eyes against the swell of tears that, in spite of the barrier, tracked a trail of mascara down her pale cheeks.
Abby and McGee listened as Ducky relayed what they knew about Tony's condition and they all settled in to wait together.
"I called Tel Aviv and tried to get a message to Ziva," McGee said. "Apparently she's on Mossad training maneuvers. They promised to get a message to her as soon as they could."
Gibbs sat on the couch, his elbows resting on his knees as he rubbed his temples and continued to piece together what they knew. Waiting was always difficult and Gibbs decided to use the time constructively.
"What have ya got, McGee," he said wearily.
"We found the vehicle Tony's father had been driving. It was abandoned several miles from Fleming's Cove," he said. "We've alerted the airports in case he tries to leave the country."
"The rifle taken from Douglas was a Barrett Model 98B. I matched it to the bullet that killed FBI Agent Capelli," she replied in a subdued manner devoid of her usual effervescence.
"No surprises there," Gibbs stated.
"The briefcase contained just under four million dollars of untraceable, non-sequential bills. The prints I lifted from it were Tony's and his father's. The inside of the case had obviously been wiped clean but I managed to find a partial print… and you're not going to believe who it belonged to."
"Ron DeAngelis, DiNozzo Senior's old friend and accountant," Abby replied.
"DeAngelis?" Gibbs said. "Capelli told me DeAngelis had been tortured and killed."
"He got better," McGee quipped. "We had Fornell check FBI records, Boss, there was no official listing of the FBI having located DeAngelis' body. Fornell thinks Capelli told us DeAngelis was dead to divert attention from him."
"DeAngelis had a false passport in the name of Sam Arghetti. Check immigration, see if there has been any record of him re-entering the country in the last two days."
"Already did, Boss," McGee said. "Sam Arghetti arrived at Dulles on a flight from the Middle East approximately 30 hours ago. I checked airport security footage – Ron DeAngelis is definitely our deadman walking."
"I take it DeAngelis is the man now calling the shots?" Ducky asked.
"Near as we can figure, DeAngelis and Douglas must have wanted a bigger piece of the pie. They waited until Senior set up the seventy-five million dollar deal for the microchip and then tried to kill him and any witnesses…including the five FBI agents," McGee replied. "Only something went wrong and they killed the buyer and destroyed the chip before the money was transferred into DiNozzo's account."
"With the chip destroyed there was no need to keep DiNozzo Senior alive until he told them that there was a duplicate," Abby surmised.
"And dragged his own son into this sordid affair," Ducky said disgustedly.
"Now DiNozzo Senior has the microchip and we're back to square one," Gibbs growled.
"Fornell got a glimpse of a car leaving Fleming's Cove after Douglas was killed," McGee continued. "He didn't get much of a look at it - dark sedan with Virginia plates. We put a BOLO out but with thousands of vehicles fitting that description it's unlikely to lead to anything."
Gibbs looked up quickly, eyes wide with sudden realization.
"Damn it!" he cursed. "Vehicle fitting that description was behind us when we left the Navy yard this morning. I thought it was tailing us but it turned off. Check every traffic camera between the Navy yard and Fleming's Cove - see if you can get a license plate or an ID."
"On it, Boss," McGee said pleased to have something constructive to do. He climbed to his feet just as a weary looking surgeon appeared in the doorway.
Captain James Casey, head of cardiothoracic surgery, introduced himself to Tony's anxious friends. He advised that the operation had been successful and Tony was currently being moved into the SICU.
The surgical team had managed to repair the large lacerations in Tony's lung that had caused its collapse. A chest tube had been inserted to drain the chest cavity of any air or fluids. Due to the damage caused by Tony's bout with the pneumonic plague, they would need to monitor it closely over the next few days to ensure it re-inflated without any complications.
He handed Gibbs a plastic bag containing the two bullets removed from his agent's chest – one had traveled through the lung and lodged in his scapula, the other had been deflected into the lung by a rib that snapped on impact but would heal in a matter of weeks.
"All in all, he's a very lucky young man," Captain Casey summarized.
"Call that lucky, Doc?" Gibbs asked curtly.
"Yes, I do. You see, had that bullet not been deflected by Agent DiNozzo's rib, it would have pierced his aorta," Casey told them.
Abby gasped loudly and covered her mouth with her trembling fingers.
"We're managing his pain but he is still listed as critical. The next few hours are crucial but if he makes it through those his chances of a full recovery are very good."
"He'll make it," Gibbs said firmly.
Abby and McGee exchanged a relieved hug while Ducky gratefully shook hands with the surgeon. Gibbs turned away briefly, not wishing the others to see the strong emotions playing on his face. He released a long calming breath to recover his countenance and turned to face the doctor.
"Can we see him?" he asked.
"Just for a moment and only two of you, I'm afraid," Casey said apologetically. "Hospital policy."
"It's okay, Boss," McGee replied. "Abby and I will go back to the office and get started on the traffic cameras."
"I'm fine, Gibbs," Abby said unconvincingly. "You and Ducky go be with Tony."
Gibbs knew the closeness that existed between Abby and Tony and acknowledged her selflessness with a warm hug and a kiss on the temple.
"Tell him I love him," she said with a slight quiver of her lower lip. "I should've told him that more often, Gibbs. I mean, what if something, like, really, really bad was to happen and I never told him enough?"
"He knows, Abs," Gibbs whispered in her ear. "He knows."
The head of the bed was raised slightly and the incumbent was propped up on several pillows to assist his breathing. IV's replenished his lost life-force and administered much needed pain relief while an assortment of sounds were emitted from the machines positioned by his bed. Despite the oxygen mask that misted sporadically as Tony struggled to breathe, his respirations were still shallow and noisy. His skin was ashen and his long, dark lashes stood out starkly against pale cheeks. But it was the uncharacteristic stillness of the young man that filled Gibbs with fear.
Ducky watched from the doorway as Gibbs walked into the small room and stood by Tony's bed. The brusque former marine exhibited a rare gentle side as he folded his fingers around the younger man's wrist, squeezing lightly and rubbing the pad of his thumb back and forth over the too warm skin.
The medical examiner shook his head. Could two people be any more different and yet be more alike than Gibbs and Tony? He couldn't imagine it. A father tragically robbed of the love of his child and a child cruelly denied the love of his father yet, as the fates ordained, they had found each other and formed their own unique familial bond.
Quietly, Gibbs called the younger man's name, finally rewarded when Tony's brow creased in a frown and his eyes began to move under closed eyelids as he teased the edge of consciousness.
Almost as an echo, Tony heard a voice calling his name and tried to determine to whom it belonged. The fog engulfing his mind refused to lift but he knew one thing, the voice meant safety and friendship. With a tremendous effort, green eyes opened to slits and he stared as his boss' face coalesced before him. Unable to fight the pull of strong medication the flicker of green disappeared as Tony's eyes closed once more and he surrendered to a deep drug-induced sleep.
Frowning, Gibbs cupped a hand to the younger man's face and tapped his fingers against the stubbled cheek.
"Tony, open your eyes."
"Let him be, Jethro," Ducky said softly.
"I need to know what happened, Duck," Gibbs explained. "And I…I need to set things straight."
"He's very weak. Sleep is the best thing for him now," Ducky replied.
Watching Gibbs closely, Ducky realized that beneath the lead agent's professional demeanor, was a friend wrought with self-recrimination and desperately afraid of not getting another chance to put things right. The ME looked over Tony's chart and then fussed with the blankets.
"He's doing quite well, considering," he assured the other man. "Let him rest…there'll be plenty of time for you to talk when Anthony's stronger."
Gibbs hesitated before meeting his old friend's compassionate gaze.
"Duck, can you…"
"Of course, I'll stay with him."
"And…I'll pass on Abigail's message."
"Notify you immediately if there's any change?" Ducky anticipated. "Of course."
Gibbs dropped his eyes to take in Tony's face; his features were softened and looked younger in sleep. Gibbs' own hand was still taloned around Tony's wrist and the former marine found it ridiculously hard to break contact. He leaned forward until his lips were close to the younger man's ear.
"You can do this, Tony," he whispered. "Don't let go...don't let go."
Straightening, he nodded to the elderly ME and left the room to return to the Navy yard.
Ducky rounded the bed, checking the IV flow rate and placing his warm hand lightly on Tony's shoulder.
"I hope you were suitably impressed by my part of that conversation, young man," he spoke softly. "You're not the only one fluent in Gibbs-speak, hmm?"
Chuckling to himself he took a seat in the chair beside the bed and settled in for a long wait.
Arriving back at the Navy yard Gibbs cursed softly, remembering he had not switched on his cell after leaving the hospital. He scowled when the display showed eleven missed calls. Scrolling through the numbers he noticed three calls from Vance and eight from the same unknown number. Still wearing the scrub top, he passed through the security checkpoint and headed straight for the bullpen. He opened the filing cabinet behind Tony's desk and removed a shirt, stopping in the men's room to change. Deciding not to put off the inevitable, he took the stairs two at a time and proceeded to the director's office. Leon Vance appeared unusually rattled when Gibbs ignored the closed door and let himself into the office.
"You wanted to see me, Leon?"
"Yes I did, Gibbs, three hours ago," the director replied curtly.
"I was at the hospital. My agent's still critical," Gibbs shot back in response. The 'thanks for asking' was not spoken aloud but the implication was obvious in his tone.
Vance disregarded the harsh words and tried to remember his lead agent's emotions were hanging by a thread.
"The Attorney General is all over this thing," he said. "He's asking questions and I don't have the damn answers!"
"McGee already told you what-"
"McGee and Fornell were chasing down Douglas. You were there, Gibbs, I'm asking you, what happened with DiNozzo Senior?"
Vance waited as Gibbs forced his voice and his expression into a facade of professional detachment while he relayed the details of the disastrous encounter with DiNozzo Senior. The director pinched the bridge of his nose as his worst fears were confirmed.
"Let me get this straight," he said. "You were holding Senior at gunpoint and you not only let him get away but you failed to secure the microchip containing information that could compromise national security."
"And here's the kicker," Vance continued. "The reason you let him get away is because his son asked you! Do you have any idea how this looks, Gibbs?"
"I don't care how it looks, Director, I know how it is!"
"You better start caring how it looks because right now the finger of accusation that we've been pointing at Reese has turned 180 degrees! Without that chip, we have nothing on Reese and a hell of a lot of evidence against our own agent!"
"You think Tony would be fighting for his life if he was involved in this?" Gibbs defended.
"You know I don't!" Vance snapped. "But with the AG raising all kinds of hell, you tell me how I explain the briefcase full of cash found at the scene with Junior's prints all over it or why he'd hand over the damn microchip to his father?"
An invisible veil of uncomfortable silence settled over them both before Vance spoke again.
"I know DiNozzo and I know you. There had to be another reason that you didn't drop Senior right where he stood."
Mouth tight with mutinous anger, the former marine glared into Vance's unflinching eyes. After a long moment's duel, he responded.
"Tony was trying to tell me something."
"Any idea what?"
Gibbs shook his head. "He passed out before he could tell me."
"You're certain this wasn't just a case of a son trying to protect his father?"
Gibbs took another moment to recall the look in Tony's eyes. During the course of the last seven years he'd seen those eyes alive with happiness, dulled by pain and loss and flint-hard with anger – this was definitely a request for trust and Gibbs owed his partner at least that much.
"I'm sure," he said definitely. "Tony was on to something."
"Then you need to find out what it was – fast," Vance ordered.
The director's desk phone rang and he pointed to the door by way of dismissal. As Gibbs strode out of the office, he heard Vance answer the call with a succinct 'yes doctor.' He swiveled on his heels and stopped beside Cynthia's desk.
"That call about DiNozzo?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir," Cynthia replied. "The director left standing orders to receive an update on Agent DiNozzo's condition every 30 minutes."
"I'm sorry, there's no change," Cynthia replied, watching sadly as the lead agent nodded and descended the stairs.
All eyes turned to Gibbs as he strode purposefully into the forensics lab.
"Gibbs! Gibbs! Gibbs!" Abby exclaimed zeroing in on the lead agent like an exocet missile. Sensing his fatigue and frustration she aborted her sortie just before impact, coming to a halt two feet in front of him. With a look of trepidation she asked quietly.
"How is he, how's Tony?"
"No change," he replied. "Ducky's with him."
Placing an arm around her waist he hugged her lightly and guided her back to her workbench where Fornell and McGee were waiting. He threw his cell to McGee who juggled the catch before looking at his boss.
"Ringer thing turn off again, Boss?" he asked.
"Nope. Check the missed calls – find out who that number belongs to."
"On it, Boss," the younger man replied as he got to work on one of Abby's computers.
A photo in an evidence bag caught his eye. He picked it up and looked at it closely, feeling his gut clench painfully. The man in the photo was younger but it was the image of the small boy at his side that tore at Gibbs' heart. There was no mistaking Tony's infectious smile or the joy and pride shining in his green eyes as he looked at his father…the man who, hours ago, had given the signal that nearly ended Tony's life.
"McGee found that photo at the crime scene," Abby said. "Wasn't Tony the cutest little guy? I mean, look at that face!"
"You think the memories of better times may have caused Tony to drop his guard?" Fornell asked.
"I think Senior was counting on it!" Gibbs hissed.
Too furious to contemplate it further he tossed the photo back onto the workbench before turning to Abby.
"Anything on the car from this morning?"
"Step this way my silver fox," Abby replied, ignoring the snort that came from Fornell.
Using footage from various traffic cameras, they watched as a dark sedan with Virginia plates followed Gibbs' vehicle from the Navy yard. Traveling at the same speed, it trailed them for several miles, staying several car lengths behind before suddenly turning off. Abby fast-forwarded the footage by several minutes and they watched as the same vehicle turned back onto the main road and resumed its pursuit.
"How'd he know where to find us?" Gibbs asked.
Abby picked up another evidence bag, this one containing a small tracking device.
"I found this attached to the bumper of your car," she replied.
Gibbs squinted at the grainy image on the screen.
"Get a shot of the license plate or driver?"
"We thought you'd never ask," Abby grinned at Fornell as she put a large blurry image on the plasma screen.
Gibbs looked at his smirking friend.
"We?" he repeated as Fornell shrugged playfully.
"Agent Fornell's been helping me, Gibbs," Abby explained. "He's been my temporary lab assistant."
"More like lab monkey," Gibbs muttered looking back at the screen. "I can't see anything!"
"Patience, Gibbs, that was before my babies worked their magic."
Fornell tsked loudly, shook his head.
"He always forgets the baby magic."
Gibbs' level of irritation rose substantially as his FBI counterpart bit back a grin.
"You need something, Tobias?"
"No, no," Fornell said, feigning wide-eyed innocence.
Ignoring the by-play between the two men, Abby continued.
"Once I cleaned up the image, we got a positive ID of the driver."
The screen flicked over to the next image of a balding man with heavy five o'clock shadow.
"Trent Kort," Gibbs stated.
"Looks like Kort used you to lead him to DiNozzo and knew that Douglas wouldn't be far behind," Fornell said.
Gibbs' blood ran cold. Could it have been Kort, not Douglas, who shot Tony? There was a lot of bad feeling between them. Had he led Kort to his agent?
"Bullets didn't match Gibbs," Abby anticipated. "The bullets that hit Tony were fired from Douglas' rifle. There were definitely two different shooters."
Gibbs sighed heavily in relief.
"I don't get it, Gibbs," Abby said. "Why would Kort kill one of his own people?"
"Because that's how the CIA cleans up its own mess," Gibbs replied, pivoting on his heel and turning toward his IT specialist. "McGee!"
"Found him, Boss," he replied, reading from his computer screen. "Name's Marcus Reginald Peabody. 25 years old, lives and works here in DC."
"Don't know him. Why is he calling me?"
"Maybe he dialed the wrong number?"
"Eight times? Not likely," Gibbs stated. "Any connection to the military? He got a record?"
"Nothing, at least, nothing for the last nine years. There's a police record but it's a juvie file and it's sealed."
McGee glanced nervously at Fornell and cleared his throat.
"Ah, Boss," he said clearing his throat a second time. "To open a sealed file, er, I would have to, er, hack into the PD computer system…that would be against the law and, er, a felony."
He flicked his eyes nervously between Gibbs and Fornell, hoping his boss would get the message.
"You're kidding," Fornell replied with a laugh. "In the last 12 hours, you've done more hacking than last year's cold and flu season and you're worried about this?"
McGee grimaced anxiously.
"Just open the damn file!" Gibbs snapped.
McGee's fingers flew furiously over his keyboard; the monitor filling with a series of commands and gibberish that Gibbs and Fornell had no chance, or inclination, to understand.
"Okay, according to his file, Peabody was a fifteen years old computer whiz-kid. He became involved with a cyber-crime ring in Baltimore, hacking into various computer systems and perpetrating all kinds of electronic theft. Looks like someone went to bat for him, cut a deal with the prosecutor, kept the kid out of juvie. The kid kept his nose clean and the records were sealed."
"Arresting officer?" Gibbs asked, knowing the answer before McGee could confirm it.
"Detective Anthony DiNozzo," McGee replied. "Boss, this guy knows Tony!"
"Find him McGee!" Gibbs ordered as the younger man quickly input more commands into his computer. "Trace his cell, do whatever you have to. I don't believe in coincidences, this guy's got information on Tony. I want him here and I want him here now!"
"Um, Boss, according to the GPS in his cell, Peabody is already here…he's in the building."
Fornell bit back another smile as he looked at Gibbs in mock awe.
"Damn, Gibbs, you're good!"
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Pushing his horn-rimmed glasses higher on the bridge of his nose, Marcus Peabody eyed the bulky frame of the security guard escorting him to the forensics lab. Marcus was of slight build with flaming-red curly hair and an almost translucent skin that wouldn't look out of place on the set of Twilight. He fiddled anxiously with his suspenders and shifted his weight from foot to foot as the elevator descended to a sub-ground level.
When the doors opened he was hastily introduced to a silver-haired man with piercing blue eyes that seemed to look right through him.
"A-Agent Gibbs?" Marcus said, extending his hand and wincing at the firmness of the other man's grip.
Gibbs nodded to the guard. "I got him from here, Charlie."
As the security guard returned to the elevator, Marcus watched Gibbs move to the doorway of the lab and jerk a thumb inside.
"This way," he said leading the young man deeper into the laboratory where McGee, Abby and Fornell watched his arrival with interest.
"I've been trying to reach you for hours!" Marcus said trying to keep pace with the lead agent. "What's the point of having voice mail if you don't return your messages? This is a matter of life and death! I promised Tony that-"
"You spoke to Tony? When?" Abby asked anxiously.
Marcus' gaze flicked from one face to the next, suddenly unnerved to be the focus of such fervent attention.
"He…er…came to my apartment around midnight last night."
"Special Agent DiNozzo was seriously wounded this morning," Gibbs said, his eyes narrowing to gauge Peabody's reaction. "His condition's critical."
Blood drained from an already pale face as Marcus' knees buckled. Fornell and Gibbs each grabbed an arm to support his weight as they wrestled him into a nearby chair.
"Need some water here," Gibbs called as the younger man fumbled for his inhaler and took a few quick puffs.
"I knew this would happen, I knew it!" he rambled. "I told Tony this was too dangerous! I told him not to do it but he said everything would be fine."
He nodded as he accepted a glass of water from McGee.
"Thank you, Agent McGoo," he gasped.
"Er…that's Special Agent McGee," Tim replied.
"Not McGoo?" Marcus scrunched his face in confusion.
"No, not McGoo, McGee!" the agent said firmly.
"Sorry, dude, I was sure Tony said McGoo."
"I'm sure he did, too," McGee muttered under his breath as Abby giggled.
"McGoo's not so bad," Marcus continued. "My surname's Peabody. You wanna guess how many times Tony's asked me about the Wayback machine?"
"If you two are finished playing 'What's my name?' can we get back to DiNozzo?" Fornell asked trying to get the discussion back on track. "DiNozzo came to your apartment last night…."
"Yes. He said he was in trouble. I knew something bad was going to happen but he said I shouldn't worry because he had a plan."
"What plan?" McGee asked.
"He said if I hadn't heard from him by 9:00am this morning, I should call Agent Gibbs and arrange to meet at the Navy Yard."
"That's it! That's the plan?" Gibbs barked.
Marcus nodded expectantly.
"Tony told me you'd say that,"
"What kind of bonehead comes up with a plan like that?"
"He told me you'd say that, too."
Gibbs drew himself to his full height and glared menacingly at the young man.
"He tell you I'd shoot you if you didn't tell me what else you know?"
The grin on Marcus' face immediately disappeared and he stole another puff from his inhaler.
"Er…no, he…er…forgot to mention that," the young man said.
"Gibbs! Don't you dare!" Abby scolded, stepping forward and placing a protective arm around Marcus' shoulders. "Marcus is a friend of Tony's."
"Thank you, Abby," the young man said gratefully.
"You know my name?" Abby asked.
"Of course! Tony's talked about all of his teammates," Marcus said, eyeing Fornell suspiciously. "Although, if you are Officer David, Tony seriously overestimated how pretty you are!"
The affronted expression on the FBI agent's face almost caused Gibbs to spray a mouthful of coffee but he recovered his countenance quickly.
"Exactly what did DiNozzo need your help with?" Gibbs asked.
"Something about rebounds," Marcus said shrugging his shoulders and waving his hands around vaguely.
"Rebounds?" Gibbs repeated.
"Tony said, 'if you're gonna go for the high-risk three-pointer, you better be ready to take the rebound.' I have absolutely no idea what that means but you know Tony, if it's not movie quotes it's sporting analogies."
"So…DiNozzo needed your help with basketball?" Fornell asked.
Marcus turned to Fornell with an exasperated expression.
"In case it escaped your notice, I'm not exactly the jock-type," Marcus said as he pushed his glasses up again. "But in the connotation of the statement, I think I'm supposed to be the rebound."
"You're the contingency, the plan B," Gibbs stated.
Marcus nodded as he placed his hand into his back pocket and withdrew a microchip.
"And this is what Tony called the game-breaker!"
Tony had passed most of the day in a deep, drug-induced sleep, surfacing briefly when the intensity of the ache in his chest signaled the need for more pain medication. The sound of soft moaning and the increasingly rapid beat of the heart monitor drew Ducky's attention from his crossword puzzle and he was immediately at the younger man's side. After pressing the call button, the ME softly repeated the long form of Tony's name, trying to calm him as they waited for the nurse to arrive.
The oxygen mask had been replaced by a nasal cannula a short time ago and SICU nurses entered the room at regular intervals throughout the morning to monitor Tony's vitals, check equipment and record their notes on his chart. Green eyes opened, clouded in pain and confusion but Ducky could see no sign of recognition. He bent forward into Tony's eye line and gently cupped one stubbled cheek against his warm palm.
"Are you back with me, young man?"
He smiled sadly as Tony's eyes finally flittered in his direction but their dispirited, almost lifeless, aspect took him aback. This was a man whose tremendous pain was more than physical.
"Anthony, do you know where you are?" Ducky asked.
Tony blinked and squinted but remained silent.
"You are in the hospital, dear boy."
A nurse arrived, handing Ducky a cup of ice-chips as she rounded the bed to adjust the IV. She spoke soothingly as she went about her business.
"I'll just be a minute," she said, "I'll go get you something for the pain."
She smiled encouragingly at Ducky before leaving the room.
Ducky placed a spoonful of ice-chips against Tony's lips, pleased when the younger man accepted them, smacked his lips together and looked for more.
"Hospital?" Tony croaked.
"You were wounded this morning and you've had surgery but you are going to be just fine."
Tony's dark eyelashes were painfully vivid against the pallor of his face but when his eyes tracked around the room, Ducky immediately knew who the younger man had been expecting to see.
"Jethro was here, Anthony," Ducky told him. "He was right by your side in the helicopter and when you returned from surgery."
Tony frowned slightly but couldn't remember his boss' presence.
"He had to return to the office. He needs to apprehend those responsible for your injuries."
Tony closed his eyes and breathed through a painful spasm.
"You mean…you mean my father," he whispered, his voice barely audible over the rapid beeping of the heart monitor.
Ducky didn't reply but the flicker of loathing in his compassionate blue eyes responded loud and clear.
Tony's respirations accelerated, his short, sharp inhalations were followed by harsh puffs of expelled air. His gaze drifted to his heavily bandaged chest and Ducky could almost hear the inner battle raging within the young man.
"I really…read him wrong, Ducky. Saw the…the photo and I thought he…thought he needed me," he gasped, unable to make eye contact. "I just…wanted to help him."
Feelings of betrayal and misery overwhelmed him, hitting him like a punch to the solar plexus. He tried to breathe deeply, but only managed to reignite the agony in his chest. The monitors began to wail and the medical personnel descended on the room like a plague of locusts. Ducky stepped back and allowed them to work; watching as they deftly set up the morphine pump and immediately administered a measured dose of the powerful narcotic into the younger man's system. They cleared the room as quickly as they had appeared when, moments later, Tony's condition had stabilized once more.
Hooded green eyes flittered back to fasten with morbid dread on Ducky's face and the ME witnessed the expression of pain and confusion displaced by something dark and hurt and haunted. The pull of the medication reached out to reclaim him and his eyelids grew heavier.
As he'd seen Gibbs do on too many similar occasions, Ducky rubbed the younger man's forearm before wrapping warm fingers around his wrist reassuringly.
"Close your eyes, Anthony," he said gently, "I'll be right here with you."
Dark smudges marked the skin under Tony's eyes and obvious lines of pain were embedded in the corners of his mouth. Ducky watched the heavily bandaged chest rise and fall in a rhythm that was too fast and too shallow for normal sleep. As the morphine strengthened its hold, Tony lost a battle that even his infamous stubbornness could not win.
Not releasing his grip on Tony's wrist, Ducky resumed his seat and sighed in relief as the younger man's tortured expression eased to that of innocent sleep.
"You have the microchip?" McGee exclaimed.
"Well…I have a copy of the chip," Marcus Peabody explained. "Tony was supposed to give the real one back to his father this morning."
"Why not give Senior the copy and keep the original?" Gibbs asked.
"The original had some security protocols that we didn't have time to decrypt. Tony knew that his father would bring a laptop to the exchange to specifically check whether those protocols had been breached."
"Tony knew that?" McGee asked in surprise.
"Yes," Marcus replied.
"Our Tony? The man who can't set up his own home theater system without help?" McGee said suspiciously.
Marcus snorted a laugh.
"I know! Whenever he got a new system for his apartment, he used to ask me to come and install it but, a few years ago, he said he found some other schmuck to…never mind."
"Schmuck?" McGee growled.
"McGee!" Gibbs snapped. "You mind?"
"If Senior has the real chip he can make a new deal and sell the information," Gibbs said.
"Ah…yes and no," Marcus replied.
"I hate yes and no answers," Fornell muttered.
"Tony had me install a program of my own on the original chip," Marcus explained.
"Go on," Gibbs prompted impatiently.
"The real microchip now has an added security feature built in, that will show the data once only – presumably that was at the exchange. However, the next time it is accessed it will request a password. If the password isn't entered in 10 seconds it automatically scrambles the information and leaves only garbage."
"You saying that Senior's copy is useless?"
"Ah...yes and no," Marcus said.
Fornell rolled his eyes. "Again with the yes and no!"
"If Tony's father saved the file to a hard drive or emailed the file when he accessed it at the exchange, then he has it."
"Damn!" Gibbs cursed.
"But! It leaves a unique electronic signature that we should be able to trace anywhere in the world."
"That's state of the art technology that hasn't been released to the public," McGee said. "How'd you get your hands on it?"
"Who cares?" Gibbs replied as Marcus Peabody's face blushed to match the color of his hair.
"So, let me get this straight…" Abby said. "Senior was playing the CIA and FBI by gathering classified information and trying to sell it. Then DeAngelis and Douglas tried to play Senior and, like, take the money but Senior actually played them and got the microchip back. And in the end Tony totally played them all."
"And damn near got himself killed doing it!" Gibbs growled. "How sure are you that this copy has the same information as the original?"
Marcus scoffed and rolled his eyes.
"I have a Masters in Computer Science and a PhD in Computer and Information Security. It may take some time to decrypt the security protocols but I can assure you, Agent Gibbs, the information is definitely on this chip."
"Do it!" Gibbs said. "McGee?"
"On it, Boss, we'll let you know as soon as we have access to the information."
"I'll tell Vance," Gibbs said as he spun on his heels and headed for the director's office.
"PhD, huh?" McGee said. "Where'd you get your degrees?"
"Oh, well, long story short, I had some trouble when I was a kid – that's how I met Tony. He went to bat for me and I ended up with a partial scholarship to MIT."
"You went to MIT?" McGee enthused. "So did I! Well…er…a few years before you."
"Mens et Manus," Marcus replied as both men laughed.
"That's the MIT motto," McGee explained to Fornell and Abby. "It's Latin for Mind and Hands."
"If you two don't apply your minds to decrypting that chip by the time Gibbs gets back, I don't even want to think about what he will do with his hands," Abby warned.
"Hey!" Marcus exclaimed. "Are you the same Timothy McGee that was president of the MIT Glee Club and Choral Society?"
"Four years in a row," McGee stated proudly. "You?"
"Marching band, I play the sousaphone," Marcus replied before he and McGee launched into a rousing rendition of the MIT fight song.
e to the u, du dx, e to the x, dx;
cosine, secant, tangent, sine, 3 point 14159;
integral, radical, mu, dv;
slipstick, sliderule, MIT!
"Very stirring!" Fornell quipped before turning to Abby and whispering. "I feel like I walked into a scene from Revenge of the Nerds."
"Well?" DeAngelis snapped as he answered his cell. "What did you find out?"
"Not much," Reese replied. "MetroPD have confirmed there was an incident at Fleming's Cove this morning with multiple shots fired and casualties. But, they can't tell me anymore than that because NCIS claimed jurisdiction."
"Looks like Junior wasn't the dutiful son after all!" DeAngelis cursed. "Neither Douglas or Senior made it back here so we can assume they're either dead or in custody or in hiding. What else did you find out?"
"You need to listen to me!" Reese said, his voice laced in panic. "This has all gone to hell and it's no coincidence that I've been shut out of the communication loop. The director of NCIS is not returning my calls, one of my senior agents, who happens to have close ties to Gibbs, has mysteriously disappeared and my own damn boss is out of reach! We need to get the hell out of here – now!"
"I've got that covered," DeAngelis replied calmly. "I've chartered a private jet that leaves for Cape Verde in ninety minutes. I suggest you meet me at Bentley Air Field unless you'd prefer to spend the rest of your life in a federal penitentiary."
"I'll be there."
Lieutenant Jennifer Maine was a young SICU nurse from Bethesda's afternoon shift. She entered Tony's room to check his condition, just as she had been doing every fifteen minutes since her shift began.
She checked the rate flow of Tony's IV's, raised the headboard a little and increased the oxygen flow to the nasal cannula to assist his still labored breathing. Ducky chuckled softly as Jennifer kept up a running monologue, softly encouraging her unconscious patient as she checked his vitals and found a slight improvement. Tony was propped against the pillows with his lips slightly parted and his head canted awkwardly to the left.
"Ow, that looks awkward!" she said, gently easing Tony's head to a more comfortable position. "I'll get you a pillow roll to support your head. I'd hate to add a stiff neck to your already impressive list of injuries."
She continued to check Tony's vitals and record the readings of the monitors on his chart before turning to speak with Ducky again.
"He's doing a little better, much better than expected," she added. "We'll continue to monitor him closely due to his previous illness but his condition has been downgraded from critical to serious."
Ducky leaned forward and squeezed Tony's shoulder gently.
"Well done, my boy," he said proudly. "That's very good news, indeed."
The lieutenant gave Ducky an appraising look.
"You look like you could use a break and a nice strong cup of tea."
"Thank you, my dear," Ducky replied. "But my place is here with Anthony."
She smiled kindly and checked her watch.
"I'm overdue for my meal break," she said. "There's a great coffee shop just down the block. What say I bring you back something?"
"Please don't go to and trouble on my account, Lieutenant."
"It's no trouble at all. And please…call me Jennifer," she replied with a shy smile. "I know how awful the waiting can be for family members."
Ducky leaned back in the comfortable armchair as he watched the nurse exit the room. Tony's shallow, raspy breaths and the beeps and buzzes of the hospital equipment had an almost hypnotic effect.
"Family," he uttered softly with a shake of his head.
Tony mumbled and his breath hitched and caught, causing the heart monitor to stutter off-tempo, before dropping back into its regular rhythm. The ME sighed audibly, knowing that even in a drug-induced sleep the young man received no respite from the maelstrom of his emotions. He watched helplessly as Tony struggled in his own private purgatory, his forehead wrinkling and his long fingers clenching and unclenching.
Since joining NCIS seven years ago, the young man had worked hard to leave the perdition of his family-life behind him – after today, Ducky had to wonder whether his young friend would ever truly find solace.
'Judge not lest ye not be judged,' was a moral code that Doctor Donald Mallard had always tried to apply to his life. Yet try as he might, he could find not one redeemable quality in Anthony DiNozzo Senior. Tony muttered in his sleep and Ducky chuckled softly.
"Present company excluded, my dear boy."
An unhappy childhood and the lack of parental influence in Tony's formative years had left an indelible mark of mistrust and commitment issues on his personality – traits well hidden behind an almost insurmountable wall of indifference and humor. One man – Leroy Jethro Gibbs - had breached that wall and, in doing so, the man had announced himself as mentor, role model and surrogate father. Although neither man would willingly admit it, they had each become the cornerstone in the other's life - so very different, yet in many ways, so much alike.
The man that Anthony DiNozzo Junior had become was due, in no small part, to the support, guidance and tough-love dished out by Gibbs. Tony had found a new family and while it wasn't the one he was born to it was one in which he was cared about and accepted unconditionally.
As the pain medication loosened its grip, Tony murmured restlessly and continued his journey toward consciousness.
"Are you waking up, young man? I could certainly use your help with this crossword puzzle," Ducky said with a hint of humor in his voice. "Come on now, Anthony, open your eyes for me."
The late afternoon sun burst rudely into the room, its light bleeding through Tony's closed eyelids and he turned his face from it. Ducky placed his hand on the younger man's shoulder to still his movements and walked to the window, pulling the blinds until the sun was blocked from Tony's bed.
"There now, let's try this again, shall we? Open your eyes, Anthony."
It took a few attempts but slowly, Tony opened his eyes, blinking rapidly as he tried to focus them. Ducky reached for the call button, stilling his hand when Lieutenant Maine entered the room with his tea and a sandwich.
"Well, hello there!" she greeted Tony happily. "It looks like I'm just in time."
Placing Ducky's meal on the bedside table, she introduced herself to her patient as she busied herself checking his pain levels and the dressings on his wounds.
Tony licked his dry lips and Ducky was immediately by his side spooning ice chips into his mouth. They were refreshing and wet, but not enough to soothe his thirst.
"More?" Tony croaked.
Dutifully Ducky spooned some more until Tony's thirst was slaked.
"Thanks," he whispered, closing his eyes.
"Let's see if we can make you a little more comfortable?" suggested Lieutenant Maine.
"I'll leave you in Jennifer's capable hands while I step outside to make a call," Ducky said. "I'm sure Jethro will be on his way as soon as-"
"No!" Tony said sharply. His attempt to sit up was quickly aborted and he gasped loudly as new pain erupted in his chest.
He scrunched his eyes tightly closed as he tried to count his breathing to a slower rate – a technique he remembered from his days in the blue isolation chamber. When the pain subsided slightly, he opened weary eyes and met Ducky's gaze with an expression the ME didn't recognize.
"Please, Ducky," he whispered. "Don't call him…don't call Gibbs."
Gibbs was in hell…or at least his version of it. Stuck in a room surrounded by politicians and law-makers when all he wanted was to do his job and find those responsible for his agent's life and death struggle.
It had taken several hours but the newly-formed team of Scuito, McGee and Peabody had disabled the security protocol protecting the data on the microchip and had gained access to the highly sensitive and extremely incriminating information contained therein.
As the intelligence was classified and related to national security, a meeting was hastily convened in Vance's office with the Attorney General, SecNav and a representative of the Joint Chiefs all present. As the senior investigators on the case, Gibbs and Fornell had been ordered to attend.
The case was certain to draw significant attention from the White House, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill and there was a heavy emphasis on ensuring that all possible legal loopholes were closed prior to the arrests.
Gibbs sighed audibly and Vance shot his agent a warning glare when the AG suggested the legal team look over the arrest warrants one more time to ensure they were in order.
The former marine was a man of action, more than happy to leave all the legal mumbo-jumbo and the political BS to someone else. Right now, all he wanted was the authorization to action those warrants and bring in those responsible for the attempted treason. Once that was done, he could take his place at the hospital bedside of his injured agent and attempt to rebuild a badly damaged friendship.
Surreptitiously, he checked his cell for missed calls, expecting an update from Ducky on Tony's condition. His chest clenched tightly when he found no calls had been logged and he tried to convince himself that no news was good news.
'Come on, DiNozzo,' he thought. 'Fight like I know you can.'
His musings were fractured abruptly when several documents were slapped onto the table in front of him – arrest warrants for Ron DeAngelis, Simon Reese and Anthony DiNozzo Senior. He raised hopeful eyes to meet those of his agency director.
"You have a go," Vance stated plainly. "Find them, bring them in."
A/N The computer technology used in this chapter is loosely based on actual technology used recently by an international law enforcement agency in a real-life cyber crime operation. We hope you enjoyed this penultimate chapter of Legends and Legacies. Hope to see you for the final chapter!
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
Ducky moved his chair to the corner of the small room as Lieutenant Maine continued her ministrations. His eyes never left his young friend who appeared to be doing all he could to avoid returning the eye contact.
Tony lay quietly as his dressings were changed but the lines of pain were etched deeply into the corners of his mouth and eyes. The latest readouts were recorded from the various machines monitoring his respiratory and cardiac function and the heating pad he held firmly against him, had helped reduce the burning pain in his chest to a throbbing ache. By the time the lieutenant left the room, Tony's eyes were closed in feigned sleep.
"Don't even think about it, young man," Ducky scolded mildly. "I believe you have some explaining to do."
"I'm tired, Ducky," Tony's voice was a monotone and the rhythm of his speech was punctuated with stuttering breaths.
The ME wrestled with his own feelings of guilt and frustration. As much as he disliked pushing Tony at this time, he had grown to know this young man very well. He knew that, given the chance, Tony would close the shutters on his feelings, denying the raw pain of betrayal and abandonment. Worse still, he could allow these feelings to drive him away from those who cared for him most.
"I did as you asked, Anthony, I refrained from calling Jethro," Ducky said frankly. "Now, I'd like to know why."
Tony inhaled as deeply as he could and his words floated on his released breath.
"They say everyone suffers at least one bad betrayal in their lifetime." He cleared his throat and continued softly. "Lucky me, Doc, I got two in two days."
"Anthony, what your father did was-"
"He never wanted me in his life after my Mom died," Tony said his voice as lifeless as the expression in his dull green eyes. "I thought he really needed my help…I had to try help him, Ducky!"
Closing his eyes, he swallowed audibly and slipped his precarious control back into place – when he spoke again his voice was noticeably stronger.
"I should've known. He used me and he used that freakin' photo to get the microchip," he said with a bitter laugh. "Thing is, he's my father, I would have tried to help him anyway, even without the photo."
"I know you would have, my boy," Ducky said, his own emotion catching in his throat.
"Guess if a man can sell out his country, selling out his son would be a breeze."
Saying it aloud hurt and ripped open the still-raw pain of betrayal. Eventually the memories would subside to a less painful level - they always did - this one would just take longer than most. With a tremendous effort, Tony turned away from the aching memories and gave Ducky a poor attempt at a grin as he tried to make light of the situation. The ME's outer calm masked a rare fury that stirred within him – how could any man treat his own son in such a loathsome and unconscionable manner?
Tony opened his mouth to say something else when his breath caught. His eyes widened in panic and he held the heat pad tightly to his chest as a round of agonizing coughing began.
The cacophony of sound from the monitors beside the bed had Lieutenant Maine arriving on the double. She immediately reached for the oxygen mask and replaced the nasal cannula before pressing the morphine pump for another measured dose.
The coughing finally subsided, leaving Tony flushed and exhausted. With Lieutenant Maine's assistance, they lowered him back against the pillows and removed the oxygen mask in favor of the cannula. The lieutenant spoke softly to him, advising him to relax and allow the morphine to provide the much-needed pain relief. Tony nodded in agreement as she left to page the doctor for a consult.
Worn out by the pain and emotions coursing through him, Tony rubbed his face wearily, fingernails scraping over two-day-old stubble. The lack of expression on the younger man's face told Ducky so much more than words ever could about Tony's state of mind.
It was rare for him to be caught so completely vulnerable and the ME felt a pang of remorse for continuing to exploit the situation. But he desperately needed this young man to see reason before he shoved his feelings into that dark hole in his soul where he kept his most painful memories and shut the rest of the world out.
"Anthony, you said you were betrayed twice…please tell me that you are not comparing your father's betrayal to what Jethro did seven years ago."
"You knew about that?" Tony asked hoarsely.
"Not at the time, no," Ducky replied. "Jethro told me yesterday after the FBI took you into custody."
Tony was silent for so long that Ducky thought the morphine had reclaimed him but when he finally spoke his voice was laced with pain.
"All this time, I thought he saw something in me – something no one else ever took the time to notice," Tony rasped raggedly. "The whole thing was a lie. He didn't choose me, Ducky, he got stuck with me and then he spent seven years pretending it didn't happen. Our partnership, our friendship was based on a damn lie."
"Now you listen to me young man," Ducky berated, taking Tony's chin in his hand to ensure eye contact. "Jethro may have kept the truth of your recruitment from you but he never lied to you about your ability as an investigator or how much your friendship means to him. He gave you a career and a family - a family by choice if not by blood. After this morning, you can't possibly doubt that."
Tony jerked his head free of the ME's grip and frowned.
"What are you ta-" The words came out as a croak and he stopped to clear his throat before trying again. "What are you talking about?"
"Leroy Jethro Gibbs has served this country his entire adult life, first as a Marine and now as a federal agent. He has lived his life by the doctrine of 'country first and everything else second'."
Ducky paused to ensure he had Tony's full attention. "This morning, he was given the choice of saving your life or securing the microchip. For the first time in this man's life, Leroy Jethro Gibbs placed something before his country – he chose you, Anthony."
His mind dulled by the effects of the morphine, Tony frowned as he tried to make sense of Ducky's words. Slowly, understanding reflected in the young man's glazed eyes. With a quick, contracted breath, the tension fled from his body and he slumped inelegantly against the pillows.
Ducky let the quiet settle around them for a moment as Tony struggled to remain awake.
"I understand your anger and grief at what you've lost, my boy, but never forget what you still have," Ducky said softly. "It is not flesh and blood but what's in our hearts that make us fathers and sons."
He watched as Tony's eyelids drooped, opening less and less after each blink until, finally, they stayed closed and his body relaxed. It had been a valiant attempt but the pull of the medication won another round and Tony sunk deeper into a healing sleep.
Gibbs strode back into the lab with Fornell following behind at a more leisurely pace, speaking on his cell.
"What have you got?" he said.
"Ah…not much I'm afraid, Boss," McGee replied. "Marcus is monitoring his tracking program in case Senior accesses the microchip and Abby and I have been checking the banking records of DeAngelis and Senior. So far we've hit a labyrinth of impenetrable firewalls and security protocols."
"What about the BOLOs?"
"No hits yet, Bossman," Abby replied. "We alerted the entire tri-state area."
"You can add Reese to the BOLOs," Fornell advised. "I just made a few calls. Reese left the office almost an hour ago, claiming he wasn't feeling well. I called his wife; she said he was heading to the airport on a business trip but he didn't say where he was going or what airport."
"He's running. Upgrade the BOLO to national! Check airline reservations for any bookings for Reese, DiNozzo or DeAngelis. And I want recent photos of all three at every airport terminal."
"You think they'd make plane reservations using their real names, Boss?" McGee asked receiving a return glare that was pure exasperation. "Checking airline reservations, on it, Boss!"
"International and domestic," Fornell added. "They may fly to another city before boarding an international flight."
"Let me know when you get something," Gibbs replied, frustrated at the lack of leads to follow.
"Where will you be?"
"Coffee," he called over his shoulder as he headed for the elevators.
"Wait, Gibbs!" Abby called chasing after the lead agent.
He turned back to face her, recognizing the look of concern on her face.
"How's Tony?" she asked tentatively.
"Still in ICU," Gibbs replied gently. "Ducky's with him."
"When can we see him?"
"Maybe tomorrow," he said placing a chaste kiss on her cheek. "Best thing we can do right now is to find those responsible."
"Including Tony's dad?"
The former Marine's voice dropped to a sub-zero temperature.
Abby and McGee upgraded the BOLOs nationwide and distributed recent photos of Senior, Reese and DeAngelis to the heads of security at all major airports. Now there was nothing else to do but wait.
With a mischievous glint in her eyes, Abby ensured Marcus was busy monitoring his computer before she sidled up to McGee.
"I can't believe we've met a computer geek smarter than you!" she teased.
"Actually, Abs, at MIT the emphasis is placed on the process of learning rather than on the grades, so we really don't know if he's smarter than me or not."
Abby's eyes narrowed in suspicion and McGee felt the heat of a blush climb from his neck to his face.
"Nice try, McGee, but if you're telling me that you haven't compared your GPA to Marcus' I am so not buying it!"
McGee sighed loudly.
"Okay, okay…his GPA was 4.0 and mine was 3.9," he confessed. "I really should've finished that fencing class."
"Poor Timmy - foiled again," Abby quipped, wrapping her arms around McGee and placing a kiss on his cheek. "Don't worry; you'll always be my favorite geek."
"Thanks, Abs," he said giving her shoulders a quick squeeze. "We've got nothing here; let's go see if Mister 4.0 has got a hit."
Walking back into the main laboratory they watched as Marcus shook his head and gathered the empty coffee cups and Caf-Pow containers littered around the lab.
"I always say that a tidy desk is the sign of a tidy mind," he told Abby as he dropped an armful of empty cups into the trash. "A cluttered or disorganized environment will affect your clarity of thought. And another thing…you people drink way too much caffeine."
"Well…it's been a stressful few days," McGee replied.
"Caffeine is a drug that, in large amounts, especially over an extended period of time, can lead to a condition termed 'caffeinism'. Caffeinism usually combines physical addiction with a wide range of unpleasant physical and mental conditions including nervousness, irritability, anxiety, tremulousness, muscle twitching, insomnia, and heart palpitations."
Marcus' head jerked forward and he released a girlish squeak as Gibbs' head slap found its mark.
"Did I mention irritability?" Marcus asked rubbing the back of his head.
"You got something?" Gibbs asked.
"Yes, Sir, I was just telling Abby and McGee that caffeinism usually combines the-"
"He meant have you had a hit on the trace," Abby whispered.
"Oh…right…no, not yet. The Trojan-like virus that I programmed into the microchip hasn't been activated yet but as soon as it is, we can begin to trace the electronic signature."
"What about you two," Gibbs asked Abby and McGee.
"Somebody has to have something!" Gibbs yelled.
"That might be me," Vance said walking into the lab and handing Abby a CD.
"Put it on speaker," he told her.
"Director?" Gibbs asked.
"This just came through on the tip-off line. Could be the break we've been looking for," Vance said as a muffled male voice began to speak.
"Tell Gibbs the men he's looking for are currently at Bentley Air Field. They have chartered a flight to Cape Verde. It leaves at six fifteen PM." The call disconnected.
"Already on it, Boss," he answered as his fingers flashed across his keyboard.
"Air Route Traffic Control Center, Washington, confirms a flight plan has been logged from Bentley Air Field to Cape Verde at 1815. That's thirty minutes, Boss."
"Three passengers, David Frasier, Paul Dunlop and…Sam Arghetti," McGee confirmed.
"That's them. Arghetti is DeAngelis' alias!" Fornell said.
"Gear up," Gibbs ordered, double-timing it to the elevator as Fornell, McGee and Vance fell in behind.
"Bentley Air Field's a forty minute drive, you'll never make it," Vance said. "I'll call in some back up."
"No back up!" Gibbs argued. "If they see anyone, they'll take off early and we'll lose them."
"If you don't make it in thirty minutes, we'll lose them anyway."
"We'll make it," Gibbs said with certainty as the elevator doors opened and he, Fornell and McGee boarded.
"Good luck," Vance said as the doors closed and the agents were gone.
"This time of night the 295 will be a parking lot, Boss," McGee said from the back seat as he opened his laptop and looked for a faster route. "Still, the alternate route will be just as choked and their speed limits are much lower. You could always try-"
"Belt up, McGee," Gibbs said as the agency car executed another controlled skid.
"Sorry, Boss, just trying to help," the younger man explained.
"McGee? Selt beat?"
"Oh…I thought you were…never mind."
Gibbs rocketed down Dahlgren Ave, continuing on to 8th St before turning right over the Officer Kevin Welsh Memorial Bridge. They continued on, entering Maryland and grateful that the traffic was not grid locked. Gibbs cursed loudly as the car in front braked hard for no apparent reason almost causing a rear-ender. He pulled the wheel hard to the right and blasted the horn. Fornell effected a comical double take at the eighty-year-old female driver who flipped them the bird.
"You think the tip-off was from Kort, Boss?" McGee asked from the back, rubbing his shoulder as the g-force threw him against the door.
"Accent was wrong," Gibbs said as they ducked and weaved along the highway, swerving in and out between slow moving vehicles.
"Why Cape Verde?" he gasped as Gibbs maneuvered the car between two others with barely an inch on either side.
"Cape Verde has diplomatic relations with the US but no extradition treaty," Fornell explained, looking a little green around the gills. "If they make it there, we'll have a hell of a time getting them back."
The traffic ahead had slowed to a stop and Gibbs pulled the wheel swiftly to the right. With two wheels mounting the shoulder, he stole along the outside of the road ignoring the cacophony of car horns from indignant drivers and gaining precious minutes. The gap between the vehicles and the fast approaching road sign closed fast and Fornell flinched as the passenger side mirror was violently displaced. He raised a disapproving eyebrow at his friend.
"Cut that a little fine, don't ya think?"
Gibbs didn't respond, his focus completely on cutting through the traffic. He had to get to Bentley Air Field before the chartered jet left the country taking DiNozzo Senior and his associates with him. His mind flashed back to Fleming's Cove and the older man's dispassionate attitude as his son lay dying in the dirt. He clenched his jaw so tightly he was in danger of breaking a few teeth. He had another chance at DiNozzo Senior and, this time, he intended to take it.
A small break in the traffic appeared and he forced his way across three lanes to take the MD-202 exit. The air horn of a semi-truck blared furiously as the driver stamped hard on the brake to avoid a collision. Fornell and McGee released twin sighs of relief at the near miss.
"Ten minutes, Boss," McGee said as his cell rang.
He placed the call on speaker and they listened as Abby explained that her calls to the control tower at Bentley Air Field had gone unanswered. The agency sedan surged forward as Gibbs realized that the task of preventing the jet from taking off now fell to them.
The traffic thinned and they made good time. Bright lights in the distance, stark against a darkening sky, bathed the airfield. As they neared, Gibbs cursed realizing that their approach placed them on the opposite side of the entrance. A 12-foot razor wire fence and a moat-like trench that skirted the outside perimeter provided security. They scanned the illuminated airfield and saw the Gulfstream G650 still sitting stationary on the tarmac.
"Three minutes, Boss. We won't make it," McGee said.
"The hell we won't," Gibbs replied.
He pulled the wheel hard to the right and stamped down on the gas pedal as the odometer needle jumped violently. Ignoring the startled yells from his passengers, he left the road and steered the car directly toward the trench. Fornell's hands shot out reflexively to grab the console as Gibbs eked every ounce of horsepower from the sedan. Momentum carried them across the trench and the screech of metal upon metal sounded as the car exploded through the fence.
The three men jerked forward against the restraints of their seat belts as the car landed with enough impact to bend the chassis and ruin the suspension. It fishtailed wildly, the tires churning up the soft turf searching for traction before Gibbs regained control. The rear view mirror reflected McGee's wide eyes and gaping jaw but a sideways glance at his FBI counterpart showed him scowling disapprovingly.
"We're not in Hazzard County, you know!" Fornell quipped. "How 'bout a little warning next time?"
Gibbs wrenched the wheel in the direction of the Gulfstream when McGee's voice sounded from the back.
"I see it," he replied grimly as a dark Ford Edge SUV appeared from the farside of the jet, intent on intercepting them.
The beleaguered sedan shuddered ominously but the powerful engine responded to Gibbs' demand for more speed. The three agents drew their weapons and readied themselves for what was likely to be a hostile reception. In the distance, the Gulfstream began to slowly taxi down the runway.
For the moment, Gibbs' attention focused on the Ford that hurtled toward them - three hundred yards away and closing fast. Through the darkened windshield, he could barely discern the outline of the driver and passenger. The two vehicles continued on a collision course, the distance between them rapidly diminishing. Time slowed as the side window of the SUV lowered and the passenger produced an Uzi.
"Get down!" Gibbs yelled ducking low and jerking the wheel to avoid taking the spray of bullets head on.
Fornell and McGee flattened themselves against the seats as multiple bullets peppered the side of the sedan, imploding the windows and showering them with glass. Gibbs steered the sedan in a wide zigzagging arc before resuming the original head-on course.
Fornell and McGee clambered into position, took aim and squeezed off a few rounds at the fast-approaching vehicle. The windshield exploded in an eruption of tiny prisms but the SUV kept coming.
The Uzi responded with another rapid burst that shattered the headlights, perforated the radiator and shredded the front right tire. The sudden loss of pressure caused the steering wheel to spin out of Gibbs' hands as the Ford bore down upon them.
The sedan lurched frighteningly, the two right wheels lifting off the ground. Taking advantage of the instability, the driver of the SUV rammed the heavier vehicle into the sedan. A sickening sound of metal crushing metal followed Gibbs' call to hold on as the sedan rolled onto its roof and skidded sixty feet before coming to a shuddering halt.
Inside, precious seconds passed as the agents hung upside down in their seat belts, breathing heavily and doing a quick self-assessment.
"I'm fine, Boss," he gasped, already freeing himself from his restraints.
"A few bruises," the FBI agent replied. "But the General Lee ain't gonna make it."
The screech of tires on asphalt and the roar of the powerful engine signaled that the SUV had turned and was on its way back. They scrambled from the vehicle and took cover behind the wreck.
"On my mark," Gibbs said calmly, listening to the approach of the other vehicle.
The Ford was coming fast, obviously intent on finishing the job they'd started. As it drew nearer Gibbs called loudly and the three agents stood, firing a rapid salvo of bullets into the oncoming vehicle. They ejected their spent clips and reloaded with expert precision and continued the onslaught as the SUV passed them and suddenly exploded into a fiery ball, the driver and passenger caught within.
The agents had barely time to draw breath before their attention was drawn to the Gulfstream that had reached the end of the runway and readied itself for take off.
The pitch of the powerful engines rose to a deafening crescendo as the pilots released the brakes and began the 6,000 feet run required to launch the aircraft into the sky.
McGee's heart dropped knowing they could do nothing but watch. He pounded his fist on the side of the upturned car in frustration.
"We're too late, Boss," he yelled over the deafening noise.
"Maybe," Gibbs yelled in reply. "But they're not."
He motioned with his chin to the end of the runway as two Navy AH-1Z Viper helicopters appeared, blocking the flight path, each equipped with two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.
Immediately the sound of the jet engines began to drop as it slowed and then aborted its take off.
"Looks like Vance arranged that back-up after all," Fornell commented as two camo-colored Humvees rounded the tower, crossed the tarmac and stopped either side of the Gulfstream.
Four armed Marines spilled from each vehicle and took up positions, their weapons trained on the cockpit as they gesticulated for the pilots to switch off the engines and open the door.
The agents arrived just as the Marines hustled the last of the passengers onto the tarmac and forced him to lay face down. Gibbs did a head count – two pilots, Reese, DeAngelis and an unknown man.
"Where's DiNozzo?" he yelled.
"There's no-one else aboard, Sir," a sergeant replied.
"Check it again!" Gibbs ordered before dragging DeAngelis to his feet by his shirt collar. "Where's DiNozzo?"
"I haven't seen him since he left for Fleming's Cove," DeAngelis scowled. "But if I know Anthony, he's long gone."
By the time the agents had returned to the Navy yard, the Attorney General, SecNav and the best and brightest that the DOJ had to offer, were on hand to interrogate Ron DeAngelis and Simon Reese and charge them with treason according to Article III, Section 3, of the Constitution.
Gibbs had taken everyone by surprise by not putting up an argument. He had his sights set firmly on locating Anthony DiNozzo Senior. He, McGee and Fornell were finishing up their preliminary reports when Abby requested their presence in the forensics lab.
"Got something, Abs?" he asked, placing a Caf-Pow beside her.
"You betcha," she replied, taking a long drink and coming up for air with a satisfied aaahhh! "I've been working on the message left on the tip-off line…you know, our very own deep throat?"
"And I had a hunch. I called Senior's office and asked to be put through to his voice mail and I made a copy. Listen," she said as she played both messages.
"Tell Gibbs the men he's looking for are currently at Bentley Air Field. They have chartered a flight to Cape Verde. It leaves at six fifteen PM."
"This is Anthony DiNozzo. I'm not currently available. Leave a message at the tone or dial extension fifteen to speak my personal assistant."
"Okay, taking into account the usual distortions from a telephone line there are several words used in both messages. The words 'the, currently, at, leave and fifteen.' I isolated these words and used the speaker identification software and I got a 92.4 percent match. Our deep throat was definitely Tony's father."
"What would Senior have to gain by telling us where to find the others?" McGee asked.
"Revenge," Gibbs answered. "DeAngelis and Reese both tried to double-cross him."
"And with them out of the picture, he doesn't have to keep looking over his shoulder for anyone," Fornell added.
"Except me," Gibbs hissed. "Anything on the BOLOs or on the trace?"
"Nothing yet, Bossman," Abby said. "Marcus was falling asleep with his eyes open and it was, like, super creepy, so he redirected the alert to my cell and I sent him home."
"There's nothing more we can do tonight," Gibbs said. "Go home. Get some rest."
Due to the late hour, the lights in the ICU ward were dimmed. After checking in with the nurse at the duty desk, Gibbs walked quietly to the door of Tony's room and leaned wearily against the door jam.
Despite having seen his agent when Tony had first returned from surgery, Gibbs' heart clenched at the sight of him. Still and pale and tethered to various IV's, monitors and a nasal cannula, he was a shadow of the larger than life character Gibbs knew so well. Tony was out like a light, propped up on pillows and slack-jawed; his labored breathing was shallow and noisy. Even in sleep, the occasional grimace appeared on his face as a muscle spasm bit painfully.
Gibbs' eyes flicked to Ducky, who was fighting sleep in the chair beside the bed. The puzzle book he'd been working on had slipped from his lap while the pen was held by lax fingers. His old friend's head nodded slowly forward only to jerk up quickly when his own snoring disturbed him.
"Duck?" Gibbs called quietly, lips twitching in a half-grin as Ducky blindly reached out to pat Tony's forearm.
"I'm right here, my boy," he mumbled without opening his eyes.
"Everything's going to be fine. Go back to sleep."
Gibbs' second call was more insistent and caused Ducky to wake with a start.
"Jethro!" he exclaimed in surprise.
"Didn't mean to wake you, Duck."
"Nonsense, I was just resting my eyes," the doctor said, his glasses sitting comically askew on his face.
Gibbs handed his friend a hot cup of tea and motioned toward Tony with his chin.
"How's he doing?"
"His condition has stablized," Ducky said with an undeniably pleased tone. "He's been a little restless but his doctor prescribed stronger pain relief and I expect he will sleep through the night."
Gibbs nodded absently, watching as his agent slept deeply and peacefully.
"He say anything, Duck?"
"We spoke briefly, Jethro," Ducky sighed. "He's hurt and confused. You know better than I how stubborn this young man can be when he sets his mind to it."
"I believe, I may have gotten through to him. Although we both know that it's you he needs to hear from, Jethro. Only you can resolve this."
"Working on it," Gibbs said.
"Am I to assume by your presence here that all those responsible for Anthony's injuries have been apprehended?"
"Not all, Duck."
"Still looking," Gibbs said through gritted teeth as his face contorted into an angry mask. "I'll find him, Duck, so help me, if I have to chase him into hell, I'll find him."
**The quote "It is not flesh and blood but what's in our hearts that makes us fathers and sons," is attributed to Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, German poet, philosopher, historian and playwright…but it's very Ducky, don't you think? We hope you enjoyed this chapter! More soon.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
After insisting that Ducky go home and rest, Gibbs all but fell into the armchair next to Tony's bed, watching over the younger man as he'd done on too many occasions. Tony struggled weakly against the confines of the heavy blankets, his breath stuttering in staccato bursts, his eyelids twitching furiously as a dream tormented him. Gibbs wrapped his fingers around Tony's wrist, marveling at how the simple gesture had an immediate calming effect on the younger man.
The former marine had long ago ceased being surprised at the physical resilience of his agent and knew that Tony's propensity for beating the odds was due, in no small part, to an inner strength and will to live that was second to none. It was the heavy emotional cost of the past few days that caused Gibbs to wonder what lasting effect it would have on his agent. Could Tony put this behind him and return to work as his senior field agent or would this drive him away forever?
He shuddered as a fear that possessed no voice threatened to pull him irretrievably into its depths. He cast off the dark thoughts, knowing negativity wouldn't help anything. He fought the temptation to reach over and wake the younger man, desperately needing to clear the air between them.
When Shannon and Kelly died, he'd been overwhelmed by grief and guilt that he hadn't been there to protect them. Burdened by the weight of his pain, he continued to exist but had stopped living until, one by one, an eclectic group of people entered his life. Since then, the job and these people had become his raison d'être but none more so than Anthony DiNozzo, Junior.
Gibbs knew better than anyone the big and the small hells that Tony had endured, before and since joining NCIS. 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. There were, after all, some things men needed to keep to themselves.
Pulling in a shaky lungful of air, he let it out in a slow, calming stream and pulled long fingers across tired eyes. He checked his watch and sighed when he saw it was zero two hundred. Tony mumbled incoherently but settled quickly and continued to sleep on peacefully. It had been a hard few days and Gibbs finally allowed his eyes to close, determined that when morning arrived he and his senior field agent would be having a serious and long overdue discussion.
Tony woke incrementally as each restricted breath caused a stabbing pain in his chest and shoulder and dragged him unwillingly back from oblivion. He licked dry lips, grimacing at the pasty feel of his mouth. It took several attempts to open his eyes and a moment or two before his vision sharpened and he recognized the silver-haired man sleeping in the armchair beside him.
There had been so many times during the past seven years when he had turned to this man for guidance, thinly disguised as a casual discussion over a steak and a few beers. Tony resigned himself to the fact that there would be nothing casual about the conversation that was brewing between them.
He shouldn't have been surprised to see Gibbs' eyes flash open. He knew the former Marine's training was so deeply ingrained that he could sense someone watching him – even from the realm of slumber. But the quick gasp of air caught in his throat and triggered the pressure building in his chest. Gibbs was immediately out of his chair, reaching behind the heaving shoulders and pulling Tony into a sitting position as the monitors began to wail. He supported his agent's weight as the younger man fought to fill his lungs with precious oxygen, coughing so hard that he thought his chest was being torn apart.
The nurse arrived in time to see Gibbs reach one-handed for the oxygen mask and place it over Tony's nose and mouth. He pressed the heating pad against the younger man's chest while keeping up a steady stream of comforting words.
"Easy, DiNozzo, slow breaths," Gibbs encouraged as his agent scrunched his eyes tightly closed and tried to concentrate on his boss' voice. "Slow it down…slower…that's it…you got it."
He listened to the ragged, painful coughing until, finally, it subsided. Completely exhausted, Tony's head hung forward until his chin rested on his heaving chest and he leaned heavily against Gibbs knowing his boss wouldn't let him fall.
Using a stethoscope, the nurse listened to Tony's chest, unhappy with the minimal breath sounds coming from his damaged left lung. She injected more pain relief and looked up at Gibbs.
"I can see you've done this before," she said.
"Once or twice," Gibbs replied, remembering too many similar incidents while Tony was recovering from the plague.
Together they eased the stricken man back against the support of the pillows while the nurse wiped the sweat from his face and neck and checked that Tony hadn't torn his sutures.
"The meds will take the edge off the pain but they'll make him sleepy," she said, straightening the blankets. "I'll be back shortly to check on him."
Gibbs nodded and resumed his seat, his eyes never leaving his agent's pale and fatigued face. Just as he thought Tony had drifted off, the younger man slowly opened his eyes and licked his lips. With gentleness that many would not have believed the gruff man capable of, he removed the oxygen mask from Tony's face. Slipping his hand behind his agent's head, Gibbs lifted it to allow Tony to sip from a glass of water before easing him back against the pillows.
An awkward discomfort reasserted itself as glazed green eyes met blue and silently agreed it was time for answers, time for honesty…in fact, it was long past time.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Tony asked, his words punctuated by stuttering breaths as he continued to calm his breathing.
"Would you have stayed?" Gibbs asked.
"You lied to me and denied me the choice!"
Gibbs paused, as if searching for the right words.
"You left Baltimore because your last partner lied to you."
"That was different and you know it," Tony shot back, pulling in a shaky lungful of air. "Price was a dirty cop."
"You saying you would've stayed if I'd told you?" Gibbs asked.
"Told me what? That you drew the short straw and got stuck with me! You bet your ass I'd have left town!" he hissed.
Tony coughed several more times and then waved away the concerned nurse who quickly appeared at the doorway. Once she was gone, Gibbs continued quietly.
"That's why I didn't tell you. I knew you'd see it that way."
"It is that way!" Tony said angrily, his lips tightening as his chin took on a stubborn tilt.
"No it's not…not to me!" Gibbs replied just as determined. "I hoped that when you finally found out, years of trust, watching each others back, would count for more."
Tony huffed out a humorless laugh. "Funny, Danny Price thought the same thing."
He gasped loudly and closed his eyes tightly as pain erupted from a vicious muscle spasm in his chest. Gibbs reached out a hand to steady him and quickly withdrew it, knowing Tony was not yet ready to accept his help. When the pain subsided, the younger man opened his eyes and met Gibbs' concerned gaze.
"You lied to me," he said, his words barely audible to his own ears. "For seven years, I believed you hired me because you saw something in me."
Gibbs chest tightened at the hurt reflected in his agent's eyes, knowing that he was responsible for it. Words were not his forte but he took a deep breath and he hoped like hell that he could make this man understand. At this moment in time, nothing was more important.
"I saw…a bright young detective who I thought…would make a hell of an investigator," the former marine stated, pausing often to choose his words carefully. "Wasn't my decision to hire you…but I fought like hell to keep you. Rule number five."
Tony squirmed slightly as Gibbs' voice reflected an emotion he had never before heard from the man.
"Don't waste good," Tony whispered then cleared the emotion from his voice. "Did you…you ever regret it?"
"Regret not telling you? Sometimes," Gibbs said with a shrug. "Regret hiring you? Well, there was that time when you spilled my coffee three times in one week."
Tony grimaced at the memory of his livid caffeine-deprived boss, storming around the crime scene and screaming at everyone from Ducky to the corpse.
"Or the time you fell out of the damn airplane," Gibbs said, swallowing the smile that wanted to escape. "The time you flirted with the barmaid and got drugged and kidnapped for your trouble or the time-"
"Okay!" Tony said, raising his hands in mock surrender and offering the first real smile Gibbs had seen from him in days. "I get it…I get it."
Gibbs matched Tony's smile with one of his one and clasped a hand to his agent's shoulder, squeezing lightly in a way that said more than words ever could. A quiet moment passed before he pinned the younger man with a steady gaze.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Tony froze, taken by surprise and manifestly uncomfortable with the rare apology.
"What happened to rule number six?" he asked softly. "Never apologize."
"Not between friends…not between us."
Tony held his boss' gaze a moment and nodded, satisfied at the sincerity he saw and then allowed his body to slump deeper into the pillows as the tension left him and the pain meds made their presence felt.
"Did you find him," Tony asked, forcing his eyes open. "My father."
Steeling his features into an expression of professional detachment, Gibbs told Tony that they had arrested Reese and DeAngelis but his father was still at large. The look in Tony's eyes was unreadable.
"Get some rest," Gibbs said, watching his agent's fight to stay awake.
The younger man allowed his eyes to close but surprised his boss by opening them a few moments later.
"Ducky told me…about the…" he cursed softly, frustrated by his inability to articulate. "He said at Fleming's Cove…you chose…"
Tony was more asleep than awake but Gibbs looked at his agent with a quiet understanding; that way of telling him, without saying a word, he knew exactly what Tony was trying to say.
"Go to sleep, DiNozzo" Gibbs ordered softly, allowing a small smile as Tony's eyes closed immediately.
He watched as the lines of tension and pain smoothed away from the man's face, struck again by the marvel of seeing the years drop from his friend's countenance as he relaxed more deeply into a peaceful, painless, sleep.
They would talk again later. For now, he felt the overwhelming burden of seven years of guilt and deception lift from his shoulders. But, he knew his agent. Despite the appearance that all was forgiven, Tony's trust had taken a hammering and would not be easy to win back. As Gibbs settled back into the armchair, he knew that was one battle he was determined to win.
With Tony sleeping deeply once more Gibbs returned to the Navy Yard to check in with Vance and receive an update on the ongoing investigation into the whereabouts of Anthony DiNozzo, Senior.
The agency director was just completing a call when he looked up to see his lead agent standing before his desk. He signaled for Gibbs to take a seat as he said his goodbyes and ended the call. Sighing deeply, he shook his head and met the inquiring eyes of his agent.
"That was a conference call with the Attorney General, SecNav and the Secretary of State," he explained. "This thing has taken on a life of its own and the implications are much more wide-spread than we first anticipated. First the information contained on the microchip and now with DeAngelis and Reese's looking to cut a deal in return for naming more highly placed and very well paid co-conspirators. It's quite a coup for this agency and for Agent DiNozzo…how's he doing?"
"Still in ICU but stable," Gibbs replied. "Anything on Senior?"
"Peabody and McGee are in MTAC scanning for any sign that DiNozzo Senior has accessed the microchip but, so far, there's been no sign of the unique electronic signature," Vance said. "There's a lot riding on this. How sure are you of this Peabody character?"
"Tony trusts him. 'S good enough for me."
"I have Ms Scuito monitoring the airports but at this stage it looks like Senior is either laying low somewhere in the US or he's slipped through the net at the airports and already left the country."
"We find him, I want first shot."
"I understand how you feel, Gibbs, but I can't promise that. It was all I could do to get authorization to keep monitoring the trace. Right now, DiNozzo is one of this country's most wanted individuals and he's given every intelligence agency in the US reason to hunt him down," Vance said. "Depending on where and when Senior shows himself, his arrest may be taken completely out of our hands."
The words struck Gibbs like a blow to the solar plexus but he forced his expression into a facade of professional detachment. DiNozzo had played him once and he used his critically wounded son to do it. Fury and a desperate need for revenge still raged within him and the former marine would do whatever he could to exact it.
The abrupt shrill of his cell had Gibbs snatching it from his pocket.
He listened briefly then snapped the cell closed.
"Abby's got something on Senior," he said as Vance rounded his desk and followed him to the forensics lab.
Gibbs detoured to Abby's sound system, turning the deafening music down before he approached his Gothic scientist.
"What you got, Abs?" he asked.
"You first," she replied with a concerned expression.
"Still in ICU but doing better," Gibbs responded. "You?"
Abby turned back to her computer, keyed a few quick commands and turned back to address Gibbs and Vance.
"I've been monitoring the national airline reservations system for any international or domestic flights booked in the name of Anthony DiNozzo. But, as we agreed it was unlikely that Senior would book a flight in his real name, I've also been liaising with Immigration and performing facial recognitions on the passport photos of every person in Senior's demographic who left the country in the past 24 hours."
"There are over two thousand international flight every day," Vance said. "Did you narrow the search to departures from the east coast?"
"I did," Abby answered. "Although, realistically, it's still, like, a huge job considering that we don't even know for sure that Senior has left the country or that he left by plane. That's when I had an idea...drum roll please!"
"Abs," Gibbs sighed wearily.
"O-kay, ixnay on the drum ollray," Abby said sadly before her enthusiasm rallied again. "The information contained on the microchip was highly sensitive and extremely dangerous to the US if it fell into the wrong hands, correct?"
"Go on," Vance nodded.
"So I asked myself, where would Senior be most likely to find a market for this information? Then I realized, where he has established contacts…as in the Middle East or greater Middle East?"
Gibbs and Vance exchanged a hopeful look.
"Abs, narrow your search to flights leaving the US east coast for those regions," Gibbs said.
"Already did," Abby replied looking like the cat that swallowed the canary.
Abby reached for her remote and an image appeared on the large plasma screen. The man had dark brown hair and eyes and a mustache but as the screen split and an image of Senior appeared alongside, there was no mistaking the likeness.
"Meet Jonathon Charles Newman who you know as Anthony DiNozzo, Senior. He boarded a flight from O'Hare International airport and arrived in Islamabad, Pakistan six hours ago."
"Have you been able to trace his movements from there?" Vance said.
Abby grimaced and shook her head.
"I haven't been able to locate any hotel reservation, car rental or domestic flights under that name that could leave a paper trail but Senior had enough cash on him not to leave one," she explained.
"Send the photo and whatever else you have to our regional unit in Karachi," Vance said. "I'll have them send a team to Islamabad to see if they can find anything."
"Tell them I'll be on the next flight and will meet them in Islamabad," Gibbs said turning for the door.
"Just a minute, Gibbs," Vance called, stopping the team leader in his tracks. "We have no jurisdiction to make arrests over there and you know it."
"Not planning to arrest anyone," Gibbs said defiantly taking another few strides closer to the exit.
"Stand down, Gibbs!" Vance barked. "There are specific diplomatic protocols to be followed. Like it or not, we need permission from the Pakistani government and the co-operation of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. We can't just go charging into another country all guns blazing."
"Come on, Leon!" Gibbs argued. "You know as well as I do that ISI co-operation isn't worth squat!"
"Be that as it may, I cannot and will not sanction one of my agents taking the law into his own hands on some damn pursuit of vengeance. Never gonna happen, Gibbs, not on my watch! We do this right!"
Gibbs' mouth was tight with mutinous anger and his body stiff with fury as he and the director stood toe to toe, eyes blazing in a wordless duel.
As Abby looked on in concern, the heavy silence was broken by someone clearing their throat at the door to the laboratory.
"I do beg your pardon, Director," Ducky said. "However, I must concur that Agent Gibbs is needed here, particularly now."
The gravity in the ME's voice had all three heads turning quickly toward him.
"Tony?" Gibbs asked anxiously.
"I'm afraid so…Anthony has suffered a set-back," Ducky replied.
"I was just there an hour ago, he was sleeping! What the hell happened?"
"Anthony awoke in considerable pain and was unable to catch his breath. His doctors determined that his lung had collapsed again and now believe that a thoracotomy and a pleurectomy may lessen the chance of a recurrence in the future."
"More surgery, Ducky?" Abby asked.
"Unfortunately, that is correct, my dear," Ducky answered with a sad smile. "Doctors will attempt to adhere the outer lining of Anthony's lung to his chest wall, therefore reducing the possibility of another collapse. It's a very successful procedure…although, it must be said that there are not too many patients with added complications from the pneumonic plague."
"What time's surgery?" Gibbs asked.
"They were taking him to the theater when I spoke with the nurse ten minutes ago."
"Damn it!" Gibbs cursed under his breath. "Director?"
"Go," Vance said. "I'll call SecNav and start the diplomatic ball rolling."
With a curt nod, Gibbs walked quickly for the elevator when the loud plodding of platform boots echoed from behind him.
"Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs!"
As the lead agent turned, he found himself with an armful of forensic scientist. He kissed her gently on the cheek and spoke quietly into her ear.
"I'll tell him, Abs."
Then he boarded the elevator and headed back to the hospital.
The next week proved to be extremely frustrating. Despite the US Secretary of State requesting the co-operation of the Pakistani government and the ISI, Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, Senior was still at large. He had either made no attempt to access the microchip or had realized that it had been tampered with and had found a way to circumvent the virus.
In the wake of further surgery, Tony had spent the rest of the week in the ICU fighting a mild infection. He had gritted his teeth and endured his painful chest physiotherapy sessions and watched in despair as his progress on the incentive spirometer continued to be painstakingly slow. Finally, still wired, but almost tubeless, he had been moved to a real room and allowed more visitors.
Gibbs, McGee and Abby exited the elevator on the general ward, the forensic scientist chatting excitedly at finally being able to see her friend. Hearing their approach, the duty nurse looked up from her paperwork.
"Agent Gibbs," she greeted with a polite smile.
"How is he?" Gibbs asked.
"He had a respiratory therapy session about an hour ago and the therapist was very pleased," the nurse replied. "His lung appears to be healing well."
"Can we see him?" Abby asked hopefully.
"He's sleeping at the moment; the therapy took a lot out of him."
"We'll be quiet, we promise," Abby replied earnestly. "It's just, well; we haven't seen him since he was admitted and we really, really miss him."
"Are you relatives?"
"Yes," Abby said as McGee answered no.
They exchanged a surprised look and tried again, this time McGee answering in the positive and Abby in the negative.
The nurse shook her head but took pity on them.
"Okay, but please try not to disturb him, he needs his rest. Room 4B."
With a smile as bright as a second sun Abby turned toward Tony's room when the nurse's voice sounded again.
"Agent Gibbs? There are some papers in Tony's file that need to be completed, do you think you could…"
Gibbs turned back in time to see Abby's crestfallen expression.
"Go," he said. "I'll meet you in there."
The bright smile returned as Abby practically skipped down the corridor.
"Abs, don't wake him," Gibbs warned, rolling his eyes as Abby crossed her heart and quietly entered Tony's room.
A hybrid between a sob and a gasp escaped Abby's throat when she saw her friend. The light from the open window allowed her to see that his eyes were closed, his dark eyelashes resting on cheeks that were far too pale. Tony was propped against a mound of pillows; his head canted toward the door and his breathing, though raspy and filled with the occasional cough, was regular and still being aided by a nasal cannula.
Tears filled her eyes as she took several quiet steps toward the bed aching to throw her arms around him but not wishing to disturb the healing sleep. The temptation was too great and after checking the door for any sign of Gibbs, Abby reached out her hand, gently touching the backs of her long fingers to Tony's cheek. The touch startled him awake and the sudden movement caused a shot of agony in his chest. He gasped as the pain became unbearable and then pressed the heating pad down firmly on his chest. As the pain began to subside he worked hard to catch his breath.
"Tony, I'm so, so sorry!" Abby exclaimed, the tears tracking down her cheeks. "I was trying not to wake you – oh my God, are you okay? Do you want me to get the nurse?"
He smiled grimly, before offering a weak "I'm fine," that didn't fool anyone.
Reaching out his hand, he gently grabbed hers and raised it to his lips placing a tender kiss on the back of her hand before tucking it under his chin.
"I missed you so much!" she cooed, moving her fingers to gently stroke Tony's stubbled cheek. "I wanted to come sooner but they wouldn't let me in to see you and I had to finish running the tests on the evidence and then I was…"
"Abs…Abs, it's fine," Tony said, clearing his voice. "You're here now."
"It's really fine?"
McGee waited hesitantly by the door. The last time he'd seen Tony was at Fleming's Cove, unconscious and covered in his own blood as Gibbs and the EMT's fought desperately to keep him alive. Even now his senior field agent was ghostly pale and breathless, the dark smudges under both eyes stood out starkly against his pallor.
'This is ridiculous,' McGee chided himself. He was a federal agent; a crime scene investigator, specially trained and highly skilled to scour the bloodiest murder scenes for the tiniest clues. Yet, somehow, the sight of either of his senior agents injured or vulnerable turned his stomach.
Both men were larger than life and seemingly invincible in the younger man's eyes. On too many occasions, McGee had witnessed Gibbs and Tony take extraordinary chances with their lives and walk away without a scratch. Tony had almost died and Tim knew with an absolute certainty that had the unthinkable happened, both men would have been lost to them forever.
"Get over here, Probie," Tony rasped.
He watched as McGee found a spot near the end of the bed.
"You look better, er, that is, better than you did last time I saw you," McGee said, not quite making eye contact.
Noting McGee's pause, Tony tried to ease the tension with some normality.
"My spies tell me that our geek's been out-geeked," he said breathlessly.
McGee shrugged and added. "I still can't believe you and Marcus are friends."
"Okay, you got me, what can I say? I have a soft spot for wayward and homeless geeks," Tony replied. "Besides, Marcus is a good guy."
"He's a great guy but…well…he's kind of a dweeb, that's all."
Abby and Tony exchanged a knowing look
"Let me guess, Peabody has a higher GPA," Tony said.
"I really should have finished that fencing class," McGee grumbled again.
"So…what's the latest at work? You found my father yet?" he asked, his words punctuated by short shallow breaths.
Uncertain of how much he should tell Tony, McGee looked for an alternate topic of discussion.
"You know, Tony, when Marcus told us that placing a virus with a delayed scrambling program on the microchip was your idea, I was pretty impressed. You get that from a movie, too?"
"Nope, got it from listening to you," Tony replied, wincing as Abby helped him into a more comfortable position.
"Me?" McGee huffed. "When have you ever listened to me?"
"Come on, Probie, even though I may look like I'm not listening to your mind-numbing, rambling, technical explanations, doesn't mean that I'm not."
"Thanks, Tony, I'm sure there's a compliment in there somewhere."
Having completed the paperwork at the nurse's station, the lead agent entered the room, a steaming cup of coffee in hand. He glanced at the man in the bed who was definitely no longer sleeping and wondered whether Abby had given her friend a tiny nudge to wake him or whether the younger man had sensed someone in his room. He placed a sporting magazine on Tony's side table before taking his usual seat.
"You didn't answer my question, McGee. You found my father yet?"
McGee glanced quickly at Gibbs, seeking and receiving a nod of approval to answer the question.
"Not yet, Tony," McGee replied. "We know he flew to Islamabad, Pakistan and we're working with our regional unit in Karachi and Pakistan's ISI to help locate him but there're no leads so far."
Tony nodded and for a moment Gibbs spied the vulnerability behind the mask of detachment.
"It was a great idea, Tony," McGee continued. "Knowing your father would immediately check to see whether the security protocols had been tampered with and placing the delayed scrambling program on the microchip so he'd think he was in the clear. It worked perfectly ...oh God, Tony, I'm sorry."
McGee's face flushed as he recalled that seconds after securing the microchip, Tony's father had signaled for his son to be killed.
Tony's jaw clenched and his gaze dropped to the floor. He took a few stuttering breaths and raised his eyes back to McGee's unflinchingly.
"So…you found the flaw in my plan," he replied with a ghost of his usual good humor flickering across his face.
A moment of awkward silence followed before Gibbs caught Tony's eye and raised a quizzical eyebrow. The younger man nodded as if the thought had been spoken aloud – he was okay.
Abby continued to chat happily to Tony, bringing him up to date with the latest NCIS scuttlebutt while fussing over his blankets and pillows. McGee suggesting a few X-Box games that he could lend to his senior field agent while he was recovering.
"Not necessary, Probie," Tony said. "Once they spring me from here, I'll be back at work in no time."
"Fraid not, DiNozzo," Gibbs said. "You're on medical leave for a few weeks."
"Weeks? Like…how many weeks?"
Gibbs shrugged readying himself for the objection.
"Ten weeks? You've gotta be kidding me!" Tony rasped.
"No, Boss!" Tony objected, stopping to clear his throat and cough. "I'm fine! I don't need ten weeks, I'll go postal!"
"You're still healing and can't stay awake more than an hour – ten weeks, doctor's orders."
Tony slumped back against the pillows, rubbing the heel of his hand against his breastbone and counting his breaths to a slower rate. His eyelids grew heavy and he listened to his friends' light-hearted banter until their voices began to fade as oblivion reached for him again and gently drew him into slumber. Gibbs brought the visit to a close, herding Abby and McGee out the door and looking back at his soundly sleeping agent.
"Ten weeks, DiNozzo," he said and then, with a shake of his head and a wry grin, he followed Abby and McGee down the corridor.
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
Legends and Legacies
It was another seven days before Tony was released from the hospital and, by unspoken agreement, he took up residence in Gibbs' spare room until he could manage by himself at his apartment.
Each day Tony had asked for an update on the search for his father, only to determinedly slam the lid on his emotions when told there was no news. Despite the torrent of emotions the younger man was feeling, he steadfastly refused to give voice to his feelings. Undeterred by Ducky's insistence that Tony seek counseling, Gibbs was just as determined to allow his agent time to process the painful memories.
With the pre-trial hearing of DeAngelis and Reese approaching, Gibbs had spent the day giving his deposition at the Attorney General's office. Upon leaving the DOJ, he switched his cell back on and received an emergency call that had him speeding back to the Navy Yard. He strode back into the bullpen, his face implacable but anxiety showing in his blue eyes. McGee and Ziva stood immediately.
"Boss!" McGee said. "The director's waiting for you in MTAC."
Gibbs changed direction, ignoring the pain from his knee as he took the stairs two at a time. He leaned into the retinal scanner and heard the click as the door unlocked to allow his entry. He walked past the empty gallery of chairs and stood behind the director as he ended the transmission with their Karachi office and turned in his direction.
"Our people in Pakistan heard chatter of a deal being arranged this morning in Murree, about 36 miles northeast of Islamabad," Vance said. "Several of Pakistan's largest factions were forming a conglomerate and contributing a huge amount of cash in exchange for highly sensitive US information contained on a microchip."
"DiNozzo," Gibbs hissed. "Why didn't someone call me?"
"You were being deposed. Our people contacted Joint Special Operations Command who had a team of SEALS storming the compound within the hour but it was too late, the whole thing had gone to hell."
"Maybe. Or maybe it was in-fighting between the factions; we'll never know. Whatever caused it, there was quite a bit of firepower used in the compound and a hell of a lot of bodies."
"DiNozzo access the chip?" Gibbs asked.
"According to Peabody, the microchip was accessed minutes before the first explosions. If it did what it was supposed to and scrambled the data, it's more than likely the reason all hell broke loose."
"Dead." Vance replied calmly. "ISI teams arrived shortly before our guys and took over the crime scene. They refused us entry but reluctantly gave an undertaking to provide us with copies of all their reports. They found part of a left hand with three fingers and a wedding band still attached, near the charred remains of a body fitting DiNozzo's build. They were able to extract fingerprints from two of the fingers - they matched Anthony DiNozzo Senior."
"What about the body?" Gibbs said feeling a surge of disappointment that he would not get another chance at Senior.
"Pakistani's have refused to repatriate it but the Secretary of State is still negotiating. However, they have provided a tissue sample of the body and the partial hand to our people in Karachi for a familial DNA test. It was positive."
"Familial? You took a sample from Tony?" Gibbs asked angrily.
"Didn't have to," Vance explained. "His DNA profile is on file from an old case. I had Ms. Scuito send it to our people for confirmation - the prints and the DNA sample belong to his father."
"You tell Tony?"
"I drove to your house and told him myself."
"How'd he take it?" Gibbs asked, already knowing the answer.
"He seemed okay but he's not easy to read."
"If you don't need me, Director, I'd like to see for myself."
Vance nodded his approval and Gibbs left the secured room. Immediately reaching for his cell, he called Tony's number, cursing silently when it went directly to voice mail. He tried his home land line and waited impatiently until it rang out.
By the time he had returned to the bullpen, Tony's concerned friends had gathered. He briefed them then sent them home for the evening then set off for his home as fast as he could get there.
Thirty-five minutes later he screeched to a halt in his driveway and ran into the house.
"DiNozzo?" he called. "Tony!"
A quick search of every room confirmed the sick feeling in Gibbs' gut – the younger man was gone.
"Ah, dammit it, DiNozzo."
Having put in a full day's work, the blazing orange sun began to retreat beyond the horizon, its afterglow staining the sky and the scattered clouds in vibrant pink, violet and orange. Gibbs adjusted his collar as the late afternoon breeze chased away the remaining heat of the day.
He left his car in the parking lot and walked to the middle of the large open field, scanning the area for his agent and viciously suppressing nauseating memories of what had taken place here barely two weeks ago. He was almost ready to give up, to admit that his famous gut was wrong, when he looked past the boat shed and saw the familiar posture half-hidden by the pylon he was leaning against.
Sitting on the end of the wooden pier, long legs dangling over the edge, Tony was silhouetted by the setting sun as he stared out at the river looking lost. Gibbs walked the length of the pier and ignored his creaking knees as he sat beside his agent. He waited in an understanding silence, providing comfort in the familiarity, the unspoken, and knowing that Tony would speak when he was ready and not before.
His eyes flicked to the younger man's hands and Gibbs recognized the photo he held - the image of eight year-old Tony fishing with his father. The photo was one of Tony's few good childhood memories and it had been callously manipulated by Senior to lure his son to what could have been his death. Although the thought made Gibbs sick to his stomach, he realized that it wasn't the time to voice his opinion and he continued to provide his silent support. Ten minutes passed before Tony's face softened and his eyes had a faraway look.
"This was taken just before my mom died," he said softly as he examined the photo. "We were supposed to take a family vacation to DC but she got sick. She insisted Dad take me. It was my first ever trip, I was so excited…but mostly, I just wanted to be with my Dad."
Feeling Gibbs' eyes upon him, Tony cleared his voice of emotion and continued.
"We arrived at the airport and my father ran into a business associate. He spent almost the entire weekend in meetings while a well-paid guide dragged me through the Smithsonian and the other tourist attractions. I was gutted. To this day, I can't remember a thing about them."
"You've never been back?"
"Nope." Tony replied. "When the weekend was almost over Dad drove us here to Fleming's Cove. We hired a rowboat and some fishing gear and spent a few hours on the river together – even caught a fish. I had such a great time, Boss."
He closed his eyes for a moment and shuddered. This place that he'd always remembered so fondly was now and forever scorched into his memory as the place where his father had signaled for his death. He almost lost his tenuous grip on his control but pulled back on his emotions with a visibly painful effort.
"Over the years, whenever I looked at this photo, I told myself that my Dad really did love me in his own way," Tony laughed bitterly. "Guess two rounds to the chest pretty much disproved that theory."
A short burst of harsh coughing left him flushed and breathless. Absentmindedly, he rubbed the heel of his palm against his breastbone until his breathing slowed and was less shaky. Gibbs frowned at the wheezing sound but it stopped when Tony cleared his throat.
"Persempre,finoallafine," Tony said in Italian. "It means 'until my forever ends'. My Mom had the inscription engraved in both their wedding bands. Despite marrying another four times, he was still wearing her ring."
Tony's breathing began to quicken as he fought to control his emotions.
"God, Boss, I gave him the microchip and it led to his death."
"You gave him a choice…he made a bad one," Gibbs said. "He took the chip and he left you to die."
Unable to maintain eye contact, Tony looked away only to turn back when Gibbs took the photo from his hand. He watched his boss study the image before holding the photo in front of Tony's face.
"That…was his biggest mistake," Gibbs told him. "When he walked away from that little boy…he walked away from the best thing in his life."
Tony searched Gibbs' face with assessing eyes, looking for any hint of a lie but found nothing but sincerity.
"He gave the signal, Boss," Tony said, hating how pathetic his voice sounded. "My own father wanted me dead."
Distraught green eyes looked to Gibbs desperately seeking a palatable explanation. Gibbs' hand cupped the back of Tony's neck and gently squeezed the nape.
"Sometimes, there are no answers," Gibbs said, thinking of the senseless loss of his own family.
They sat in total silence. The need for support was not voiced nor was it verbally answered and yet the feeling was exchanged and brought comfort to them both.
The road to knowing and understanding the real Tony DiNozzo had been long and, at times, arduous but Gibbs realized long ago that it was a journey well-worth taking. He knew the younger man better than anyone, including the side of Tony that few people ever really saw.
He would have given anything to spare Tony from his painful upbringing and family life but it was that life that put the younger man on the road to NCIS. He wasn't sure whether Tony viewed him as a mentor, a friend, a surrogate father or all three. He really didn't care – as far as he was concerned, either way, he came out a winner.
They continued to watch in silence as the sun finally disappeared below the horizon taking with it the last breath of the day and they were comforted by the certainty that it would return again tomorrow.
Tony winced as his stomach growled loudly. Gibbs lowered his hand from where it still rested onTony's nape and dropped it to squeeze his shoulder.
"Ducky sent home a movie," Gibbs said. "You want pizza or steak?"
"Pizza's good," Tony replied. "What's the movie?"
"The Maltese Falcon."
"One of Bogie's finest," Tony said. "Sam Spade – what a great detective. Too bad he couldn't have puppies."
Gibbs lips quirked at the flippant remark, then he marveled at the durability of his senior field agent. The two men shared a deep and enduring loyalty, where words of affection were rarely spoken but felt just the same.
"Let's go," Gibbs said, climbing to his feet.
"Ah…about that. I've been sitting here a really long time and I don't think I can get up."
"You're telling me this now?" Gibbs yelled. "Are you crazy?"
"Maybe but that's a discussion for another time. Think I'm gonna need a hand here, Boss."
Tony was cold and stiff and sore from sitting in one position for too long and lack of his overdue pain meds caused his chest to throb painfully. Moving in behind him Gibbs realized that getting his agent to his feet was going to cause considerable discomfort to Tony's still healing chest.
"This is gonna hurt you more than it hurts me, DiNozzo," Gibbs chided.
"I gotcha, Boss," Tony replied.
Using both hands to support his chest, Tony took a deep breath but couldn't hold back the loud grunt of pain as Gibbs grabbed him under the arms, heaved him to his feet, and held on until the younger man regained his equilibrium.
"DiNozzo?" Gibbs said, still bearing most of Tony's weight. "You with me?"
"I'm good," Tony gasped, his face distorting as he tried to breathe through the pain.
Gibbs kept one hand on Tony's arm to stop him taking a header off the pier and then turned him toward the car.
"Wait!" Tony said, stopping suddenly.
Tony removed the photo from his pocket and studied it one last time before he tossed it into the water and watched it slowly submerge into the depths of the Potomac.
"Come on," Gibbs said, tightening his grip on the younger man's arm.
As they made their way slowly along the pier, the fact Tony allowed the support proved he was feeling a lot shakier than he was letting on.
"Mind telling me how you'd planned on getting home from here?" Gibbs asked.
"I knew you'd find me," Tony answered with absolute certainty.
"Of all the boneheaded…" Gibbs swallowed the rest of the sentence.
"Admit it, Boss, you wouldn't want me any other way," Tony replied with a cocky grin that earned a withering gaze. "Well, okay, maybe you would but we both know that's not gonna happen."
"Try another idiotic stunt like this and I won't come looking next time," Gibbs lied. "We clear?"
"Crystal, Boss," Tony replied, the shit-eating grin telling Gibbs loud and clear that he wasn't buying the boss' gruff protest.
Gibbs allowed a trace of a smile to tug at the corner of his lips and was both relieved and concerned to see Tony's humor coming to the fore. Despite the younger man's mighty attempt at nonchalance, Gibbs knew the events of the past few weeks would haunt his agent's dreams for a very long time.
Arriving back at Gibbs' home, he immediately sent Tony upstairs to take a hot shower while he ordered the pizzas.
Stepping out of the shower, Tony wrapped the towel low around his hips. Grabbing a comb he positioned himself in front of the mirror to tame his towel-dried hair. No matter how hard he tried to bury the memories, his physical resemblance to his father and the sight of still-healing, angry red scars on his chest would leave him with permanent reminders of his father's treachery.
How do you begin to reconcile the fact that your own father wanted you dead? Tony shuddered with the feeling of betrayal and abandonment that tightened its grip on his heart. If he lived to be a hundred it was a pain he'd never be able to escape.
"DiNozzo!" Gibbs bellowed from the living room. "Chow's on – get your ass down here, I'm not running a restaurant!"
Tony grinned at his reflection as the familiar voice reverberated around the tiled bathroom. Maybe that pain would never entirely go away but he was sure that as long as Gibbs was around, he'd never have to deal with it alone.
They ate their pizza at the dining table, their conversation casual and unforced. Tony was delighted at the news that Vance had arranged a job interview for Marcus with the NSA who was particularly interested in the Trojan-like virus the young man had installed on the microchip.
After dinner they moved to the living room and settled down to watch The Maltese Falcon. Tony sighed when a bottle of pain meds and a glass of juice appeared before him but he took the pills without argument.
Unable to get interested in the movie, he gazed around the room at the familiar surroundings. This was his haven - he was comfortable here. Whenever the pressures of the job or his personal life seemed insurmountable, he inevitably found himself here. Without a word about work being spoken, a steak cooked over an open fireplace, a few beers and a solid, comfortable presence was often all it took to remind him that – no matter what – some things in life were constant and someone always had his back.
A tickle at the back of his throat suddenly erupted into a harsh and painful sounding cough that bent Tony in two as he wrapped his arms around his chest. Before he realized what was happening, his arms were being forced apart and the heat pad placed against his chest.
"Hold it there!" Gibbs ordered, somehow, managing to sound harsh yet compassionate at the same time.
Finally, the coughing eased. Exhausted, he leaned against the back of the couch and waited until his breathing was closer to normal. Gibbs placed a bottle of water into his hands and with a quick flick of his wrist, covered the younger man's legs with the afghan that had been folded on the back of the couch.
Nodding his thanks, Tony continued to watch his boss as Gibbs' attention returned to the movie. Not for the first time, Gibbs had provided his spare room for Tony's initial recovery period. Since his release from the hospital, the former marine had driven him to various doctor's appointments, ensured he took his meds and did his respiratory therapy and growled if he overdid or wasn't resting. Tony recognized that actions and gestures like these said more about their relationship than any words Gibbs could articulate – and it was much less embarrassing for both of them.
Although raised in totally different environments, each man grew up believing that emotions weren't something you showed and concern wasn't something you admitted. So, they had developed their own silent means of communication. Lending support when it was needed but never asked for, sending and receiving wordless messages with just a glance, anticipating what the other one wanted before they had a chance to voice it.
Ducky's words came back to him – Itisnotfleshandblood,butwhat'sinourheartsthatmakeusfather sandsons.
"You okay?" Gibbs asked, startling the younger man from his thoughts.
He opened his mouth to reply but closed it again, embarrassed to give voice to what he was thinking.
"Tony?" Gibbs' voice became more insistent and an uncomfortable pause filled the air between them as Tony failed to find the words to express how he was feeling.
"Thanks, Boss," he eventually managed, hoping that the former Marine wouldn't ask for details.
Blue and green eyes connected and Gibbs gave a curt nod of his head.
"You're welcome," he replied.
Message sent, received and understood…there was no need to say more.
He woke again to a darkened room and a world of pain shooting down his left arm to his heavily bandaged wrist. His head pounded fiercely and the smell of antiseptic caused the bile to burn at the back of his throat. Full recovery was still quite a few weeks away. He turned his head, wincing at the dizziness as he looked around and remembered where he was.
The door opened and a familiar face peered around the door before entering.
"You're awake…I have news."
"Well?" he croaked.
"You were right. The Americans placed a virus on the microchip and sent a team to the compound. They were told you were killed in an explosion and demanded to take possession of your body. We refused - the Americans are powerful but they do not control us. As your hand was too badly damaged to re-attach, we gave it to them with a tissue sample reputedly taken from your dead body."
"They bought it?"
"They contacted their commanders and they left soon after. You are safe here my friend. As far as the Americans are concerned, Anthony DiNozzo, Senior is dead."