When Tony gets abducted he doesn't know his assailants or why they took him. His main goal - staying alive. Gibbs pulls out all the stops to find him but in the middle of the search his team is called out to a murder…
Don't worry - I don't kill him! However, I'm not very nice to Tony in this fic. This is a Tony/Gibbs story but all the team make an appearance. Hope you enjoy the ride!
Disclaimer: - I don't own the show or the characters, but I do like to play with them occasionally.
Warnings: - There is a little bad language but mainly this is a dark story with a lot of violence. If that's not your thing you have been warned...
Many thanks to my pal and beta Sterenyk Strey for all her hard work and great suggestions. You're a star pet!
End of the Line.
Tony did his best to keep still but the reflex was automatic. As Ducky shone the bright light into his eyes spiking his headache, he blinked.
"Anthony…I appreciate this may be a little uncomfortable, but could you at least try not to blink."
Ducky's sigh of frustration brought him up short. Combined with the unspoken warning on Gibbs' face as his boss looked on with his arms crossed, Tony sat up straight and forced his lids to stay open for the remainder of the exam. "Sorry, Ducky."
Like a good special agent he did as he was told, but by the time Ducky finished torturing him his eyes were streaming and the man banging the drum in his brain was building up to a big finish. His headache aside, nothing compared to the damage to his ego. He was sure McGoo had filmed the whole thing. His spectacular tumble from the top of the stairs into the squad room was classic slapstick. It was a given that by tonight he would have a starring role on YouTube. Charlie Chaplin did his own stunts. Tony wondered if it had hurt this much...
He tried not to squirm as the ME probed the back of his head, but he hissed and flinched away when the medic hit pay dirt. "Ow!"
Ducky winced in sympathy. "That's quite a bump you have there. However, you will be pleased to learn it's only a shallow cut and doesn't require stitches. As there isn't any obvious sign of a concussion I see no reason why you cannot return to work, but if you start to feel sick or dizzy let either myself or Gibbs know at once."
"I'm fine. Gibbs has hit me harder." Tony waited for a comeback from the man himself, but when none came and Gibbs stoic expression remained unchanged, he sighed. "Don't worry I know the drill, Ducky. If I start seeing two of McGeek, I'll call. Come to think of it if that happened I'll call Ghostbusters instead." He pretended to shudder and gave the medic a small smile, but Ducky just shook his head at the bad joke. He stole another glance at the boss. Gibbs wasn't amused either. Damn. He'd really screwed up this time.
"Thanks, Ducky." Tony gingerly eased rather than jumped off the table. He might not have a concussion but the pounding in his skull was making him a little light-headed, and the last thing he wanted was to draw any more attention than he'd done already. Palmer handed him an ice pack. He took it gratefully, wincing as it made contact with the growing bump. It took a minute but the simple cure soon began to do its work and the discomfort started to ease.
Ducky was tiding up, but suddenly he stopped and turned round. "I know you hit your head falling down the stairs, but may I ask what caused the accident in the first place?"
Tony could feel the flush rise in his cheeks. There was never a hole when you needed one…
"Well, DiNozzo…tell the man."
His boss looked pissed, and Tony's voice cracked slightly as he mumbled a reply. "I…err…got distracted and well…I sort of missed my footing."
"Distracted! Sort of missed your footing - you were flirting!" Ziva snorted with fake laughter as she came over to join Gibbs, matching his stance. "I saw the whole performance. You were so busy trying to impress the director's new secretary you didn't watch where you were going! While I agree she is quite pretty, I have since found out she is also very married." Tony's face fell, but undaunted by his misery Ziva continued her rant. "Tell me, Tony…was she really worth nearly breaking your neck for?"
"I've heard of falling head over heels in love, but this is a first." Jimmy quipped, grinning, but his smile faded and he made himself scarce when Ducky drew him a reproachful look.
"Regardless of why it happened, Tony has taken a nasty fall." Ducky gave his patient a pat on the shoulder. "I suggest you stick to desk duty for the rest of the day and soak in a nice warm bath when you get home. A bath rather than a shower if you have one as I dare say your headache will be joined by a few bruises later on."
Tony could tell Ziva was getting ready for another verbal onslaught, but his head was bursting and he wasn't in the mood for a sparring match. Surprising, it was Gibbs who let him off the hook. "Why are you down here, Ziva?"
Caught off guard the Israeli hesitated for a moment. "The director wants to see you."
"Sure hope it wasn't urgent." Gibbs drawled, not trying to hide his sarcasm.
"I am sorry, Gibbs…" Ziva went scarlet.
Gibbs ignored her apology and his glare look took in the pair of them. "The show is over. Get back to work...both of you." Tony didn't need telling twice and nodded to Ziva to follow his lead. For once she didn't protest his seniority.
Once they were in the sanctity of the elevator Tony gave her a nudge. "C'mon, admit it. You were worried about me, weren't you?"
"Me…of course not!" Ziva huffed, but didn't look at him. "You have a hard head. Perhaps the fall knocked some sense into it. Although I very much doubt if that is even possible."
Tony smirked as she stormed into the bullpen. It was fun yanking her chain, almost worth the headache…
Gibbs waited until they were gone before he took Ducky aside. "Tony was out for a couple of minutes. Are you sure he's okay, Ducky?"
The elderly man smiled. "I have no doubt young Anthony will have quite a headache, but so far I can see nothing to cause any alarm. Still, it may be prudent to keep an eye on him for the rest of the day and, it wouldn't do any harm to give him a call later this evening. One can never be too cautious with head injuries."
"Got it, Duck." Gibbs nodded storing the information, then left as abruptly as he came.
Ducky watched him leave, shook his head and spoke out loud to the empty room. "One day, Jethro, you'll admit just how much the people in your team mean to you. I just hope I'll still be alive to hear it..."
It had been the day from hell so when Gibbs suggested he leave early, for once Tony didn't object. Granted, five-thirty wasn't what most folks considered early but by now every bruise in his body was making themselves felt, and getting stiffer by the minute he didn't want to chance being stuck in his chair all night.
Abby's concern was touching, but her less than gentle hug had nearly been his undoing when it forced out a reluctant squeak of pain. On the bright side at least it got a smile from Gibbs. The boss was normally a closed book, but Tony could tell his fall had worried him. He'd been stunned by the unguarded flash of anxiety as he'd started to come round. Felt like a heel as Gibbs half carried, half dragged his dumb ass down to Ducky.
Surprisingly McGee had been more concerned than amused – at first. As the day wore on it became clear his sympathy had disappeared around the same time as he heard sporadic laughter around the building. He couldn't prove it was his geeky team mate who'd downloaded the video feed of his first unaided flight, but his smug expression said it all.
In a way Tony couldn't blame them, under different circumstances he'd have found it funny too. He was sure that one day he could watch it and laugh…Gibbs on the other hand went ballistic. The boss didn't raise his voice then again, he didn't need to. His cold, hard stare and icy tone was enough to leave no one in any doubt the fate of anybody who dared broadcast it outside. A stony silence followed. For a long time it was only punctuated by the sound of fingers thumping keyboards as people kept their heads down and their mouths shut. When Gibbs angry gaze landed on McGee last, Tim's face was a picture. He'd wanted to laugh but thought better of it. His literal fall from grace had already put him in Gibbs bad books and it didn't pay to push his luck. Besides, his stomach muscles were sore.
As he carefully hauled himself out the chair he was aware of Gibbs watching him. From his expression Tony wasn't sure if his boss was concerned, or pissed at him for being so stupid. When he limped past his desk Gibbs spoke without looking up. "Arnica gel is good for bruises. And, Tony - keep your phone on."
"I will. Thanks for the tip, Boss…see you tomorrow."
Ziva and McGee wished him goodnight, but he was too beat to reply. He settled for a careless wave in their general direction as he dragged his aching body towards the lift.
Only when he reached the privacy of his car did he lean back, close his eyes and give way to the groan he'd been holding in all day. What a mess. He'd made a fool of himself in front of Gibbs and even if the lovely Melissa had been single, after that humiliating performance it was a given she wouldn't be interested in a numb chuck like him. On a positive note at least there was nothing broken and he'd managed to avoid the emergency room. Also, tomorrow his tumble would be old news. Folks would have forgotten all about it. Yeah, Right…
His stomach was growling but neither dizzy nor nauseous Tony knew it was just hunger. He'd just been about to eat his beef on rye when he'd spotted Melissa going up the stairs. During the melee afterwards food had been the last thing on his mind, now he was starving. Pizza sounded good except his usual place kept screwing up his order. His neighbour raved about an Italian restaurant not far from his apartment. Tony knew of it but didn't like taking his dates so close to home so hadn't checked it out yet. Now seemed like a good time.
From the outside it looked like a Trattoria straight from the Godfather. The thought made him smile. He was still smiling when he went inside and saw the theme continued, right down to the red chequered cotton table covers and used Chianti bottles serving as candle holders on every table. Clichéd or not, all thoughts of ordering take-out vanished as the delicious aroma of garlic made him hanker for something else.
Normally he wouldn't have considered eating out alone but with a long night stretching ahead and the place virtually empty, he found himself asking for a table. The pretty waitress had an Audrey Hepburn look going on, and her beaming smile did wonders for his wounded ego.
It was the usual Italian fare and after scanning the menu he looked up. "What do you recommend?"
"The seafood risotto is good, but Chef's just made a fresh batch of lasagne. They say it's to die for."
"Well, who am I to go against public opinion," he grinned, "I'll have the lasagne." He closed the menu and handed it back with a flourish.
"Would you like some wine with that?" She asked with her pen poised over the pad.
"That's tempting, but I'm driving. Make it a mineral water, grazie mille - con gas." Tony didn't have a chance to practice Italian often and was pleased the small burst brought another smile to her face.
Just as she went to leave the waitress turned round. "Will anyone be joining you?"
His shake of the head made her blush. Her eyes sparking as she took away the extra setting. This spur of the moment decision was turning out to be one of his best. Maybe the day wasn't going to be a complete bust after all.
Mario Vicente savoured the last of his cigar, ground it out on the rough cast wall and threw the butt into the trash.
Discussions were going well, but he'd learned from experience it was unwise to give away your hand. Just like poker it was essential to keep the other players guessing. Even if you had poor cards, with nerve and patience it was possible to turn things your way.
He needed the two men inside, needed them badly. Their connections and skill set were essential if he was to expand his business but, if they found out just how much their price would go up. So he was playing it cool. In making them wait, he was showing them who was in charge. He smiled at the memory of his beloved father. His papa taught him everything he knew - the old man would have been proud.
It was starting to get dark and in the early evening air he shivered. A glance at his watch told him he'd left his visitors nearly ten minutes ago to take an important call. It was nothing more than his daughter dialling then hanging up but the ruse worked the way he'd intended, their expressions as he started discussing business with another prospective partner, priceless. Mario guessed in another couple of minutes they would be like putty in his hands. He was already the main supplier of party drugs in the city, but he had much bigger plans. If all went well he would soon be expanding his business throughout the rest of the US and if this meeting panned out, overseas.
Before he returned inside Mario schooled his expression into one of indifference but his gut tightened as confused and alarmed, he saw his guests preparing to leave. "What is wrong, gentlemen? If you don't like the food, I can instruct Chef to make something else." He smiled and kept his tone light, but his attempt at humor fell flat as the men glared at him while continuing to hastily button up their coats.
Red-faced, one of the men motioned him over to the side while the other scanned the restaurant. "How dumb do you think we are? If I find out you've tried to set us up… Let's just say you aren't the only one with contacts – capiche?"
The implied threat combined with the disparaging use of his native language made him see red, but slitting the sarcastic American's throat wouldn't achieve anything. Something had happened in the short time he'd left them alone and a quick look around the restaurant revealed the answer. There was a man, a stranger, sitting alone in the corner. Mario didn't need to see his badge or gun to know what he did for a living. All cops had an air about them. He'd spent a lot of time, effort and money keeping his business under wraps, not to mention the local PD off his back. If this man was police, there shouldn't be any problems. Question was, why was he here?
He watched the stranger smile at Carla when she brought over his meal and heard her laugh at something he'd said. A man flirting with his daughter annoyed him at any time, but Mario used the distraction to guide the men out the restaurant and into his office. Away from prying eyes, he tried to rescue the situation.
"Look…I too can tell the man is police but there is no need for alarm. He has probably heard Chef's pasta is the best in the city." Mario forced a smile on his face, but the two men stared at him in stony silence. "In any event it does not matter. You have my word, the police will not be a problem."
"And NCIS? Are they in your pocket too?" The shorter of the two men growled though gritted teeth.
The two men exchanged a glance and after an unspoken exchange seemed to relax a little. It was the older of the two, a stocky man with dark hair who explained. "NCIS is naval intelligence – Navy cops. That man out there is one of them. I can't remember his name, but he came into my department a couple of months ago to question my boss about a case."
Comprehension dawned on him, along with the knowledge this business deal was going down the tubes. "I understand your concern, but I can assure you I have never seen this man before…I tell you what, gentlemen. Why don't I show you out the back way, and we can continue this meeting another time?" With no answer immediately forthcoming, Mario didn't waste any more time. "Fine. Follow me."
As he walked them into the alley Mario hid his disappointment. "If you wish to arrange another meeting, call me. If I do not hear from you by tomorrow evening, I will assume our business has concluded." While he was talking the men barely acknowledged his presence. He understood their concerns but his patience was wearing thin as they melted into the shadows without giving him the simple courtesy of a spoken reply.
Mario dismissed their rudeness as bad breeding. He also hated waste. The uneaten food not only offended him but it also gave the other patrons a bad impression. On his way to the bar he signalled to Carla. She was still chatting to the cop and was visibly disappointed to be called away.
"Before you say anything, Tony is very nice, and he's Italian."
"Tony is it? And an Italian. That explains why he's such a quick worker." Mario snorted. Carla was glaring at him, but he ignored her red cheeks and glanced at the man as he poured himself a large brandy. "Did he say why he came here?"
She rolled her eyes. "This is a restaurant, why do you think he's here!" Her irritation fled as a flash of anger flew across her father's face. "I am sorry, Papa, I meant no disrespect. But if you keep chasing away all the customers who flirt with me, you will have no business left and…I will end up an old maid."
He could never stay angry with his daughter for long. Mario took her hands and gently pulled her to him. "There is no chance of that, my love, you are far too beautiful for your own good." His heart ached and he sighed as he remembered his beloved wife who'd died of cancer just two years before. "If your mother were alive things would be different but she isn't...so it's my job to protect you." He kissed the top of her head. "Now go and clear up that table while I speak to this…Tony."
"Papa…" Carla groaned, and with a long sigh she went to do as she was told.
The man's cell rang as he walked over. Tony looked up as he approached the table. "Excuse me, I need to take this."
Mario stood slightly to the side but was still within earshot as the conversation unfolded. From the exasperated tone of Tony's responses, it was clear the person on the other end was a parent. He was quietly amused as Tony made the same faces to the unseen caller that Carla gave him when she was irritated by something he said. Within minutes, he'd snapped the phone shut and smiled. "Sorry about that. Is this your place? Because the food is to die for…"
"Yes it is, and the girl who served you is my daughter."
Tony flinched. "Sorry…I know how it must have looked, but I meant no disrespect to you or your daughter. Carla is a beautiful girl, you must be very proud of her."
Mario wanted to dislike him but his manners were impeccable. He could understand why Carla was attracted to him but apart from the obvious age gap between them, there was another matter to consider. "You were not to know, and yes I am very proud, protective parent. That is why I don't want her dating a policeman."
The humor fled from Tony's face and he went quiet for a moment. "What gave it away? Was it the suit?"
Mario shook his head and smiled. "Partly…although it is a very nice suit. No, I have many friends on the force and…"
"And we all give out the same vibe." Tony put his napkin down on the table. "Think it's time I got the bill."
By the time Mario brought it over, Tony had his coat on. Mario watched him pay not only the bill, but lay down a generous tip. "It was nice meeting you, Mr…"
Tony smiled but didn't answer the question. "Give the chef my compliments. It was the best lasagne I've had in a long time."
Mario watched him leave then went into his office and closed the door. Only then did he pick up his cell. "It's me…I have a job for you."
Tony knew he'd had a lucky escape. Protective fathers were one thing, but Italian papa's were another deal altogether. Carla was a nice girl, but her dad gave him the chills. He wasn't afraid of the guy, but he couldn't rule out the possibility he might be connected.
It was cold out, and he pulled up the collar of his jacket. The hot meal had filled a hole, but on the move again he could feel every aching muscle of his sore, stiff body. A young couple passed by. The man's arm round her waist pulled her in until they walked as one, and she was smiling, laughing at something he said. An image of Jeannie came to mind, catching him off guard. He missed having someone, missed her, but Ziva was right. The man she'd fallen in love with was a teacher, not an NCIS agent. Lies were not a good foundation for a lasting relationship, no matter how good she'd felt in his arms.
A guy was leaning, slumped against a street light holding on as if his life depended on it. Tony smiled trying to remember if he'd ever got that hammered when the drunk staggered and lunged against him. He managed to keep his footing, just, but swore as the man's bony knee collided with his already painful thigh. Tony grimaced as he none too gently dragged the heavy guy to his feet and steadied him. He was on the verge of reaching for his cell to call him a cab when the man mumbled something that sounded like an apology and resumed his shambling path down the street.
He didn't know if it was the unwelcome memory, the cold, or the collision, but the headache which had all but disappeared was back with a vengeance. He remembered Ducky's warning, but home was only a few minutes away and he was sure all he needed was a good night's sleep.
Tony fumbled for his car keys but as he went to put them in the lock, a wave of dizziness sent him sprawling against the car, and the keys falling to the ground. Suddenly the world was spinning, his stomach heaving as he clung against the cold metal waiting for the roller-coaster ride to end. Trembling, his hand found his cell but as he brought it up to make a call he yelped as something hard slammed against his fingers forcing it out his grasp.
In agony Tony fell to his knees cradling his broken hand against his chest, and a kaleidoscope of colors flashed in front of his eyes but the dry, rancid taste told him drugs, not concussion was responsible.
His vision was greying out and it took all his remaining strength to pull his head up to see his attacker. Too late he heard a laugh as an iron-like fist connected with his jaw banging his skull against the unforgiving side walk, and sending him into oblivion...
I hope you enjoyed the first chapter and please review - I love to know what you think!