“Just go, DiNozzo!” Gibbs growled, even after his third cup of coffee this morning.
“Like it would matter.” Tony murmured under his breath. He readjusted his NCIS cap, zipped up his jacket, and slung his backpack over his shoulder.
“Did you say something, DiNozzo?” Gibbs stuck his head out from behind the open doors of the NCIS truck, where he, McGee and Kate were also getting supplies and getting ready to enter the house.
“No, Boss.” Tony said as he walked from the NCIS truck. He moved up the stairs and opened the front door. He stepped in seconds later and went to work.
The ground shook as the house exploded. Gibbs, Kate and Tim stopped in their tracks and dropped to the ground as remnants of the roof and house fell on and around them.
Kate was the first on her feet. “TONY!!” She screamed, she bounded up the front stairs. She paused only briefly looking in each window on the front porch, disregarding the broken glass from the windows which now littered it. She also ignored the fire and smoke which bellowed out of each gapping hole. She saw him when she looked in the second window. He was laying on his side his back to a wall, a wall, which lucky for him, was not on fire. “I FOUND HIM.” Kate yelled, not realizing Tim and Gibbs had jumped to their feet seconds after she did and were now on either side of the house looking for Tony. She waited a few seconds, when neither showed up she ran back off the porch, surprised it was still standing and back to the truck. She climbed into the back of the truck and took a heavy blanket of the rack. She jumped down out of the truck; the blanket pressed to her chest, and looked around for a water source. It had been raining heavily the whole week, but she passed up the puddle in the driveway. There was a small brook that ran in front of the house. She got the blanket as wet as she could. She then sprinted to the house. She paused briefly on the porch to unfold the blanket and throw it over herself making sure it was big enough to cover Tony also. She found Tony easily enough and knelt down beside him, quickly feeling for a pulse. His head was bleeding and so was his chest. It looked as though his clothes had been blown off his chest. His white dress shirt was in rips and tatters, stained red and clinging to his chest.
“Tony!” She knelt down beside him and brushed his cheek.
Tony opened his eyes and looked up at her. “Ka... .“ He began to cough, a harsh hacking cough that she could picture in her mind ripping his insides apart.
“Tony.” Kate moved her hand to his back. It was then she noticed that the back of his head was bleeding. She saw a trail of blood on the wall and followed it up to large dark spot that had to be where his head made contact with the wall. There was also an impression in the wall of his body, made by the force of the blast. “Tony, we have got to get out of here. I need you to stand up if you can.” Kate looked around then at the fire. It had gotten closer and the smoke seemed to have gotten a lot thicker. She stayed as low to the ground as she could.
The coughing had subsided and Tony just looked at her as if she had asked him to raise the Titanic. “Kate.”
“I know you’re hurting, Tony.” Kate let her eyes move briefly to the indention of his body in the wall above them. “I can’t imagine how much, but we have got to get out of here.”
Tony slowly got to his feet, keeping as low to the ground as he could. Kate threw the blanket over his shoulders and covered his head. After what seemed like an hour, though it was really only about 3 minutes, they were back out on the porch. Tony fell to his knees as another round of violent coughing began. “Can’t breathe, chest hurts.” He barked out between coughs. Tony put his hands down to steady himself, so that he was now down on all fours, mindless of the shards of glass cutting into his hands and his knees. Kate knelt down beside him and rubbed his back.
Kate let him rest only a moment. “We have got to move, Tony. This porch or the roof could collapse any minute.” Kate stood up. “Just a few more steps and then we’re out in the yard. You can rest when I get you down these steps.
Tony didn’t move immediately, but nodded his understanding. He then slowly stood up. Miraculously, Kate got him down the stairs with only a stumble or two. He made it a couple more steps before he fell to his knees and collapsed on the front lawn.
Tim and Gibbs were back in the front yard just in time to see Kate and Tony struggle down the front steps and to see Tony collapse.
Gibbs ran to Tony’s side. He knelt down beside Tony’s unconscious form and put his fingers to Tony’s neck, grateful to feel a pulse.
Tim stood, looking down at Gibbs and Tony. “It wasn’t cleared! Tony went in and it wasn’t cleared.” Tim paused, staring at Gibbs, who had looked up when Tim had started speaking. “You told him to go in, Gibbs.”
Gibbs stood up, looked hard at McGee, but didn’t say anything.
“Tony TOLD you it hadn’t been cleared. You made him go in anyway. Were you TRYING to get him killed?”
“I had no idea it HADN’T been cleared. I had no idea.” Gibbs said, dumbfounded. “I thought Tony was messing around, like he always does. The local PD was here and left, how could they not have cleared it?”
Kate, who had pulled out her cell phone and called 9-1-1, caught the last of the conversation. She knelt down beside Tony and turned him over and positioned him on his side, remembering the injuries to his chest. “Look, Tony’s hurt. It doesn’t matter right now who did what. He needs help.” She checked his pulse again.
Gibbs looked carefully at Tony and for the first time saw the seriousness of his injuries. He touched the back of Tony’s head and came up with bloody fingers.
“Tony must have been next to the bomb.” Kate explained, they all looked up when the ambulance arrived and Kate continued her stow. “His body made an imprint in the wall above where he was laying. There was a smear of blood where his head would have come in contact with the wall. He has shrapnel in his chest. He has burns on his face and chest. His back is bruised. He was coughing, but nothing came up.”
Kate and Gibbs stood up and moved away so that the EMTs could get to Tony. They gave him oxygen. They cut off his jacket and shirt and checked his back for wounds. They palpated his ribs, checking for broken and cracked ones. They shined a penlight in his eyes. They then loaded him on a stretcher and put him in the back of the ambulance. Gibbs, Kate and McGee left him at the back of the ambulance as the head EMT and driver closed the doors. “He has a couple of broken ribs and a concussion. He may have more broken ribs and some cracked ones. He will need to be x-rayed. He needs an MRI to see how severe the concussion is. I would guess, given the nature if his injuries, he also has a skull fracture. He is very lucky to be alive.”
Kate, Gibbs, and McGee all went to the hospital. The crime scene, or what was left of it, would wait. What evidence there was burned up in the fire or blown to bits in the explosion, including the body. The yard was covered with debris from the house blowing up. If there was evidence there it was burned when the smoldering debris fell on it or it was buried under the debris itself.
Gibbs’ world seemed to move in slow motion when McGee asked him if he was trying to kill Tony. Gibbs had been arguing with Tony all morning. Usually Tony’s comments didn’t bother Gibbs and he paid little attention to them. But this morning, this morning, he had really been irritated. Tony had told him the building was not cleared. Tony had told him the locals saw no reason to check for anything lethal. It was abandoned, they said, it had been for a year and since it was out in the country the only visitors were likely to be teenagers looking for a place to ‘make out.’ Tony had wanted Gibbs to call out the bomb squad to check out the place. It was obvious Tony was nervous about going in. He expressed that sentiment to Gibbs a couple of times.
Gibbs went home after spending 5 hours at the hospital. Tony was in surgery for two. He did have more broken ribs then the EMT said, 5 all together. He had 3 that were cracked. He did have a skull fracture, a severe one. He had a severe concussion. If that wasn’t bad enough, he had lapsed into a coma during surgery. Gibbs had left Kate there. He had asked her to call him if anything changed. McGee stayed for a couple of hours. He had a previous commitment he couldn’t miss. He said he would be back later.
Gibbs didn’t go to the basement when he got home. He undressed. He stepped into a hot shower. He felt a flood of tears falling from his eyes. He made no effort to wipe them away. When the crying turned to sobs he leaned back against the wall unable to support himself and the weight of the guilt he was feeling. Images of Tony keep bombarding his mind. Gibbs’ last words to Tony. Tony walking into the house. Tony stumbling down the steps. Tony collapsing on the front lawn. Tony unconscious and being loaded into the ambulance. “I’m sorry, Tony. I’m so sorry.” He apologized to the images profusely, banging his fists against the wall. He punched the wall until his knuckles were bloody and the blood was running down his wrists and arms. He stood in the shower until the water got cold. He stepped out drained and exhausted. He considered calling the hospital, but he was just too tired. Plus, he wasn’t sure if he could take it if Tony’s condition had gotten any worse. He dried himself off, bandaged his hands, as best he could, and fell into bed.
Gibbs woke up at 7 a.m. the next morning. Kate had not called during the night, which was good. It meant Tony was still alive. The events of the last evening came back to him when he reached for the phone to call the hospital. He saw the bandages on his hand. Blood had started to seep through the bandages and his hands ached like hell. He managed to get up and dress. He went to the ER and by the time he arrived at work it was 9:30 a.m. Gibbs headed straight for his desk, coffee in hand.
“Where is Kate?” Gibbs asked McGee, who was sitting at his desk working on one of the week’s field reports.
“She is in the restroom, Boss.” McGee said, not looking up.
Kate returned to her desk about that time.
“Tony... .“ Gibbs began.
“No change. He is holding his own. The burns on his face and chest were the mildest, first degree. He... . What happened to your hands?” Kate asked, noticing Gibbs’ hands for the first time. The question caused Tim to lookup form his keyboard. He too then noticed the white bandages on both of Gibbs hands.
“Yesterday, I burned them and didn’t realize it.”
“I saw your hands yesterday Gibbs, when you bent down to check Tony’s pulse. They weren’t burned.” Kate replied. “What happened?”
“I told you Kate. It happened yesterday.” Gibbs sat down and picked up the phone, effectively ending the discussion.
Kate made eye contact with Tim, confirming to Kate what she had said.
After making his phone call, Gibbs stood up and grabbed his coat. Tim and Kate took the cue and began to grab their gear. “I will be at the hospital for the rest of the day. Kate, Tim finish your reports for the week. I’ll see you there.”
“Gibbs.” McGee said, stopping Gibbs in his tracks. “What about the crime scene? That is still OUR crime scene. Why aren’t we out there investigating?”
Gibbs turned and looked at Tim. “The FBI has this one. There is a suspected meth lab.”
“AND.” McGee said, waiting for a response.
“And we are not going to interfere.” Gibbs said.
“Since when?” Kate asked speaking up.
“I’ll be at the hospital.” Gibbs said, turning and walking to the elevator.
Tim waited until Gibbs got on the elevator. He looked at Kate. “There were NO burns on his hands yesterday.”
Kate nodded. “I knew it. I knew that his hands weren’t burned.”
“What happened then?” Tim asked confused. “What happened to him? He would never let the FBI take over an investigation, ESPECIALLY one that involved one of his agents being hurt.”
“Gibbs blames himself.” Kate stated.
“Tony could have died.” McGee insisted. “He might die. All Tony was doing was being Tony.”
Kate nodded but didn’t’ say anything.
Gibbs slipped quietly into Tony’s room in the ICU. He sat his coffee on the windowsill and pulled the only chair in the room up to the bed. He sat quietly listening to the sounds various machines hooked up to Tony’s body. There was the beeping of the heart monitor and the whoosh-type sound of the respirator. He was also hooked to a morphine pump which made a low beep when it dispensed its dose. The left side of Tony’s face was burned and bandaged. A white bandage covered Tony’s entire chest. Smaller bandages covered his neck and his hands .
Gibbs slipped his hand into Tony’s bandaged one. With his other hand he touched the top of Tony’s head, smoothing down the spikes that had formed. Gibbs looked down at the young man he considered to be his family. The son he never had, and he wept. Gibbs squeezed Tony’s hand gently as tears rolled down his cheeks. “I am so sorry, Tony. They say people can still hear when they are in a coma. I hope that that is true. I want you to know how deeply sorry I am. I’m loosing it, Tony. I’m loosing my touch. I messed up big and it could cost you your life. I don’t know how to correct that. I can only make sure it NEVER happens again.” Gibbs paused, just long enough to sit down in the chair. “I have decided to tender my resignation to Director Shepard. I will recommend you for my position, of course. I think you are ready. You have been for awhile.” Gibbs sighed. “I didn’t want to tell you. I didn’t want to loose you. I KNOW you will do a great job. I have no doubt of that. Director Shepard will name a temporary replacement for me, of course, but just until you are ready to take over, however long that will take. I know you will have a long road to recovery.” Gibbs paused. “Jenny said you did a great job in the 4 months I was gone. She was really impressed with you. She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. But she said you thought she had called you up there to fire you.” Gibbs squeezed his hand gently. “I should have told you how impressed I was with you, with your work. You are a really good agent. I am hard on you because I do see that in you.”
Gibbs slipped his hand out of Tony’s and went over to the window and looked out. He took a long swig of coffee. He resumed, speaking loud enough for Tony to hear. “I think after I lost my memory in that explosion. I should have just stayed away. I should have just stayed in Mexico. But that case brought me back in. It felt right, at first, being back getting back into the old routine. It felt good. I had missed you guys so much.” Gibbs sighed again. He turned back to Tony. “Anyway, I have not talked to Director Shepard.” Gibbs smiled. “I don’t know if Jenny will refuse to take my resignation or if she will accept it with a big smile on her face.”
Gibbs looked up when he heard a noise outside Tony’s door. Jenny, Kate, Tim and Abby were standing there with looks of shock on their faces.
Jenny spoke first. “Did we hear you correctly?” She entered the room, Kate, Tim and Abby following.
Gibbs sighed. “Depends on where you started listening.”
“Mexico.” Tim said, moving to Tony’s beside.
“You heard right.” Gibbs said moving the chair away from the bed so that they all could stand around Tony’s bed.
No one said anything for a moment or two. Jenny slipped her hand into Tony’s.
Kate held his other hand. Tim stood holding the bed rail, looking down at Tony.
Abby went to Gibbs and gave him a big hug.
“You can’t leave.” Abby said, stepping away from Gibbs. “Tony wouldn’t want that.” Abby turned to Jenny. “You won’t accept his resignation, will you?”
Jenny shook her head. “No, Abby. I won’t.”
“Good.” Abby said, smiling. “You can’t leave then.”
“I messed up, Abby. Tony might not survive this. It’s my fault if he doesn’t. He didn’t want to go in there. He wasn’t feeling right about it. He told me, a couple of times. I made him go anyway. It should have been cleared. I should have walked through myself. I didn’t.” Gibbs paused. “We suspected a meth lab. Why didn’t the place get cleared?”
“It was a mistake.” Kate stated.
“It was a HUGE mistake, Kate.” Gibbs gestured to Tony. “It is my responsibility to take care of my team. Part of that responsibility is to keep you as safe as possible. It we were going after a suspect. That means you don’t go alone. In this case, I should have made absolutely sure that building was dear before any of us entered it. I didn’t do that.”
“Tim, you have been silent so far.” Gibbs stated, giving him his full attention.
Tim, looked up at Gibbs choosing his words carefully. “Tony was just being Tony, Gibbs. He TOLD you he didn’t feel good about going in.” McGee sighed. “He was just acting like he always does. Why was this time different?”
Gibbs just shook his head.
“You didn’t answer the question we asked you at the office. Why aren’t we investigating the crime scene? Why did you turn this over to the FBI?” Tim asked.
“I know I am to blame here. I don’t need to find evidence to support what I already know.” Gibbs said.
“Jethro.” Jenny said, wanting to provide a little comfort.
“Don’t Jenny. I messed up. I will give my notice.” Gibbs paused, looking Jenny in the eye. “I will stay as long as it takes you to find a temporary replacement. I am going to recommend Tony to take my place when he gets well enough, if he wants it.” Gibbs said. He left the room before anyone could respond.
Usually working on his boat cleared his mind and calmed his nerves. Tonight all he saw was an ugly boat skeleton, wooden ribs with no skin to cover them, looking anemic and ghostly in the dim lights of his basement. He found the bottle of whiskey he kept in his workbench and took a big swig. The liquid burned his throat and warmed his belly.
“Gibbs.” A very familiar voice said, far away.
Gibbs looked at the bottle which was now almost half empty. He then looked around at the empty basement. “Damn, this stuff must be old.”
“Gibbs.” The voice said again.
“Tony?” Gibbs looked up the stairs, fully expecting to see Tony coming down. “When did you get here?” The room was still empty. “WHERE are you?”
“I am flat on my back in a coma at Washington Memorial Hospital. Why are you here?”
Gibbs finally saw Tony standing on the other side of his boat, kind of faded and wispy. Tony was in the same clothes he had been in the morning before. “Oh, god. I know this stuff is old now.” Gibbs paused. “You’re not here, right. I mean, I am too young to be going senile and I am not drunk enough yet to be imaging things.”
Imaginary Tony smiled. “Senile, no. Drunk..., the jury is still out on that one.”
Gibbs sat down on the bottom stair, his bottle still in his hand. “Then I’m just plain crazy.” He took another swallow. “That’s it. Jenny had told me I needed to have my regular psych evaluation. I keep putting it off. I’ll go make an appointment Monday.”
“I’m here NOW Gibbs. Not Monday, NOW.” Imaginary Tony paused. “You have to deal with me.”
“You’re not really here, right. I mean, the explosion happened and you got hurt. That happened. Right?”
“I conjured you up?”
Imaginary Tony shrugged his shoulders.
“I know what it is.” Gibbs said, still holding on to his bottle. “I’m dead. I was working on my boat. I had a heart attack or a stroke and I’m dead.” He paused. “That would mean you’re dead too. I’m sorry.”
“I’m not dead, I’m unconscious. Never say you’re... .“
“Never say you’re sorry. It’s a sign of weakness.” Gibbs leaned back against the wall. “I am being to think there is a serious flaw in that logic.”
“YOU THINK.” Imaginary Tony said very Gibbs-like. “Who taught you that? I met your dad. It didn’t come from him.”
“Really! He doesn’t seem like he would be such a hard-ass.”
“Huh.” Gibbs said. He sat the bottle down and stood up walking over to the boat. Imaginary Tony didn’t move from his location, but he didn’t get any clearer when Gibbs moved closer. “He wasn’t your boss. I’m nice compared to him.”
“That’s hard to believe.” Imaginary Tony said, looking thoughtful.
“Why are you here?” Gibbs asked simply.
“Your guilt.” Imaginary Tony paused. “It does strange things to a man.” He gestured to himself. “Exhibit A.”
“I messed up, Tony.”
“Yes, you did.” Imaginary Tony agreed.
“I mean I really messed up.”
“Yes, you really, really messed up.” Imaginary Tony agreed again.
“So, ‘Imaginary Tony’ is here to add to my guilt. Thanks.” Gibbs said.
“No.” Imaginary Tony said simply.
“Well, you’re certainly not here to alleviate any of it.” Gibbs paused, as he sat on the stool at his workbench. “Again, why are you here?”
“I can’t make you feel any way you don’t want to feel. I am here to help you work thought your guilt. Not add to it or take away from it.”
“OK, I think I understand. So now what?” Gibbs asked, feeling a little less inebriated.
“You answer my original question. Why are you here? Why is Abby in her lab crying right now because of that bombshell you dropped?” Imaginary Tony paused, seeming to wait for an answer, when he got none he continued. “Why are Kate and Tim walking around at work like ‘little girl lost’ because they are about to lose their leader and they don’t understand why? Except for the fact he feels guilty.”
Gibbs shook his head.
“They don’t need your guilt, Gibbs. It’s not fair. They need to understand what is going on with you. They need to know why your hands are bandaged. They need to know why you didn’t investigate the crime scene.”
Gibbs didn’t say anything.
“Don’t use your guilt as a weapon.”
“I don’t do that.” Gibbs stated.
“You don’t use it like most people do.” Imaginary Tony challenged him. “You hone it. You make to so sharp it cuts the people who dare try to get close to you.”
“I... .“ Gibbs started.
“How long had we worked together before I knew you had a real family? How long?” Imaginary Tony glared at him. “I’ll tell you Gibbs, 5 years. Five years before I found out about Shannon and Kelly.” Imaginary Tony paused, fuming. “Hell, I didn’t even find it out from you. Director Shepard dropped that particular bombshell, when she found out while you were in the hospital.”
Gibbs picked up the whiskey bottle from the bottom of the stairs and hurled it at Imaginary Tony. It passed right through him, never distorting the image. Gibbs heard it smash in the shadows that covered the far wall. “That was my life.” Gibbs retorted angrily. “It was my story to tell in my own time.”
“Gibbs.” Imaginary Tony threw his head back, laughing. “That’s bad. That is really bad. That even a figment of your imagination can piss you off THAT much. You’re pathetic.”
“Don’t you EVER talk to me that way, Tony! Don’t ever speak to me that way, again!!” A vein in Gibbs forehead was throbbing.
Imaginary Tony pushed a little more. “What? Don’t call you pathetic? Or don’t challenge your authority?”
“BOTH!” Gibbs said agitated. He began tearing his basement apart looking for more liquor.
Imaginary Tony laughed sarcastically. “So, is the liquor you’re looking for now for throwing or for drinking?”
Gibbs suddenly stopped looking. He collapsed on the bottom step and put his head in his hands. “She had no right... .“
”No right to what, Gibbs?” Imaginary Tony asked again. “She had no right to
Gibbs just shook his head.
“Do you think you have cornered the market on pain, Gibbs? My dad disapproved of every decision I ever made in my life. He disliked every girl I brought home in high school. He disliked my prom date, because he dad was just a construction worker. He didn’t live in the RIGHT neighborhood or have the RIGHT occupation. I went to Ohio State. He wanted me to go to Princeton or Harvard. I couldn’t get into Princeton or Harvard, my grades were not even in the top 30 percentile. But that didn’t matter, I disappointed him. I didn’t get in.” Imaginary Tony’s voice began to rise, with his anger. “Oh, and my choice of major thrilled him to no end. Can you imagine, the son of a wealthy successful fortune 500 company owner, choosing physical education as a major. He was BESIDE himself with joy. I wanted to play in the NBA, maybe make the Olympic team.” Tony paused. “I was good, Gibbs. I was so good. I injured my leg. Well, then he said I was so pathetic. I couldn’t even make my own sorry, stupid dreams come true. He calls me his ‘mistake.’ He divorced my mother. He blamed her for breeding a loser. So he abandoned me and moved on to greener pastures. There are now 4 more DiNozzo offspring who, to my knowledge, have NOT disappointed dear, old dad.” Imaginary Tony paused, the pain evident in his face. “My father wished me dead long ago. He would have loved to have been able to start all over again.”
“That’s my pain, Gibbs. Your wife and daughter died loving you and knowing you loved them. If I died tomorrow my father wouldn’t cross the street to come to my funeral. He banned me from coming to his. He has shown my picture around to people so that they know me so that they will stop me from entering the building when the time comes. He is too ashamed to have me at his funeral. My name will not be listed on the memorial brochure and he has cut me out of the will.”
Imaginary Tony paused, when Gibbs said nothing he continued.
“I’m surprised Shannon could stand to live with you, if you were the way you are now.”
Gibbs stood up, flying into a rage. “YOU don’t talk about Shannon!” He picked up the first thing his hand touched and hurled it at Imaginary Tony, again he heard the item, in this case, one of his hand tools hit the wall behind Tony. “You don’t talk about my family!”
Imaginary Tony continued, unperturbed. “Kelly was such a beautiful little girl.” He smirked. “Hard to believe she was your child.”
Gibbs wiped tears away from his eyes with the back of his hands. “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?” Gibbs sobbed. “I dealt with this pain long ago.”
“NO!” Imaginary Tony challenged. “No, you didn’t. Ducky said you used to be a lot like me. I find that hard to believe.” He paused. “But that is what he said. What changed?”
Gibbs stood up; fists clinched and challenged Imaginary Tony. “My life changed, that’s what changed. In a matter of seconds, EVERYTHING I loved most in the world was gone.”
“And everybody since then has had to pay because your life didn’t turn out the way you wanted it too.” Imaginary Tony laughed sarcastically. “That makes you selfish AND pathetic.”
Gibbs started rummaging around the basement, looking for something to throw. He spotted the bottle of whiskey he had hidden. Gibbs paused for a second. He considered throwing the bottle. But instead he unscrewed the cap and took a long swig. The warmth hit his belly and seemed to calm him a little.
“What could Shannon and Kelly POSSIBLY have to do with me and Tony?” Gibbs took another swig. “I mean, I know I’m drunk. But that is what you are driving at here, what connection?”
“Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs. Frankly, I like you better when you’re pissed. I know what to expect.” Imaginary Tony paused. ‘Do you what to know what I said before I went inside?”
Gibbs nodded, but didn’t speak.
“I said ‘Like it would matter.’ You don’t listen to me. I give an opinion all I get back is a sarcastic ‘YOU THINK.’ Do you want my opinion, my input or not?” Imaginary Tony paused. “You left, gone for 4 months. No word, nothing. You decide you want to come back and I get shafted.”
Gibbs opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again.
“It took us a LONG time to gel together as a team, Gibbs. Everyone, including me, was still recovering from that bombshell you dropped.” Imaginary Tony sat down on the frame of the boat, between the ribs. “I realize that when you came back you would not be a member on my team. I did and do understand that. I would just have liked the respect due me as team leader to be notified of such things. I got nothing. I woke up one morning, team leader. The next morning I was demoted to team member.”
Gibbs returned to the bottom step and sat still mute.
“You still don’t get it. You just don’t get it.” Imaginary Tony sighed.
“I do get it, Tony. That’s why I’m here. I know I should have listened to you this time.” Gibbs put down the bottle and held up his bandaged hands. “Why do you think this happened?” He put his hands down. “I DO listen to you. I know it may not seem that way. But I do listen. You’ve been with me six years. Do you think I would have kept you around as long as I have if I didn’t trust you?” Gibbs paused. “The truth is I don’t trust a lot of people. I have found everyone has an agenda. I used to not think that, before Shannon and Kelly died. I WAS a trusting person. I WAS a lot like you. It just seemed after that happened that most people were after what they were after, without regard to who it would affect or what the outcome would be. My counter was to not trust what I was told and to look for ways to protect myself.”
“You do that with me.”
“I don’t mean to Tony. I really don’t mean to.”
Gibbs looked at his hands. He then looked at Imaginary Tony. “I owe you... um, Tony a big apology.”
Imaginary Tony smiled. He was beginning to fade. “Tell him when he wakes up.”
Gibbs looked around at his empty basement. He smiled. He did feel a little better. He knew what he needed to do.
Gibbs stepped off the elevator to Abby’s lab precisely at 7 a.m. a Caf Pow in hand. He entered the lab to find her hard at work, typing on the computer.
Abby looked up at him, accepted the Caf Pow, but didn’t smile. “I am doing some work for Agents Andrews and Powell. I have been putting it off for about a week, but since I had nothing from you... .“
“I’m not here about that.” Gibbs said. “I don’t care about that. I want to apologize to you. I shouldn’t have dropped that bomb on you. I always talk to you about the important stuff. I didn’t this time. I felt so guilty. I still feel guilty, but at least now I know how to deal with it.” Gibbs pulled Abby into a big hug and kissed her cheek.
Abby pulled away from him. “So, you’re NOT leaving?”
Gibbs shook his head. Abby threw her arms around his neck, overjoyed.
Gibbs next stop was Director Shepard’s office. He bypassed the 3rd floor completely and got off the elevator on the 4th. He proceeded through Cynthia’s office and went immediately into the director’s.
“Agent Gibbs.” Jenny said, sitting at her desk with her arms crossed, as if she was expecting him.
“Jenny.” Gibbs said and sat down without being invited.
Jenny studied for face for a second. “What happened?”
“What do you mean?” Gibbs asked, knowing full well what she was talking about.
“You look like you have made a decision.”
“I have.” Gibbs stated. “I owe it to myself and I owe it to my team, especially Tony, to see this through.”
“You’re investigating the crime scene?” Jenny asked, smiling.
“They are not going to like this.”
“When have I ever cared about what the FBI liked?” Gibbs said, getting up.
“Jethro, what happened to you hands?” Jenny asked. “Tim and Kate said you said you burned them out at the house. They don’t believe it and neither do I.”
Gibbs looked at his hands. “That’s because it’s not true.” He said, choosing his words carefully. “I took out my guilt about Tony on my bathroom wall. I broke two knuckles on my left hand.”
“Why the sudden change?” Jenny asked confused.
Gibbs just looked at her and smiled. “You would never believe me if I told you.”
Gibbs’ next stop was the third floor. He needed to talk to Kate and Tim. Gibbs came down the stairs and he could tell by the look on Kate’s face she was surprised to see him. Gibbs felt a twinge of guilt and could almost see Imaginary Tony sitting at Tony’s desk, smiling at him. “We need to talk, privately.” Gibbs turned and they both followed him to the elevator and they all stepped in. “You were right, Kate. I didn’t burn my hands at the crime scene. I broke my knuckles and bashed up both my hands at home, on my bathroom wall. I was angry I sent him in. I didn’t listen to him. I risked his life and yours, Kate, because you had to go in and get him out.
“I risk MY life, Gibbs. Tony is my partner and my friend. I wasn’t going to let him die if I could have prevented it.” Kate said. “I ran into the house knowing it could fall in on me. I knew I might not come back out. But I had to try, to save Tony.”
Gibbs nodded his understanding. He then turned to Tim. “I should have listened to him, Tim. And you were right, ‘Tony was right.”
Gibbs flipped the switch to resume operation. “Go get your gear. We have a crime scene to investigate.”
Kate and Tim smiled as they left the elevator.
‘”Boss.” Tim Spoke up. “The FBI already has a day’s head start on us.”
“Will they even let us on the scene at all?” Kate asked, grabbing her gear and heading for the elevator Gibbs ahead of her. Tim ran to catch up.
“I have a call in to Fornell. I owe him big for this one.” Gibbs said as the doors closed and they descended to the parking garage.
By the end of the day Abby was up to her ears in evidence and happy as a lark. She processed it all in record time and found traces of all most every common chemical found in a meth lab. She found bit and pieces, bone fragments, of Seaman Eric Holland. Who was the reason they had been at the house in the first place. An abandoned house, out in the boonies, with a dead body; reported by the landlord who hadn’t rented the house to anyone in about 10 months. There was no trace of any bomb. If it had existed, it would have incinerated in the blast. But in fact items in a meth lab are themselves, highly flammable. If they are mixed incorrectly or the environment is not controlled they could ignite. She found Tony’s blood, bits of his clothing and bits and pieces of the house, wood, glass, and metal. Abby sent the bone fragments to Ducky for analysis.
Abby and Kate felt their hands being squeezed. They had been standing at Tony’s bedside for about an hour. They had all gathered in his room: Abby, Kate, Tim, Ducky, Gibbs and Jenny, thinking today would be the day. The respirator had been removed. He was still on the morphine, but the dosages had been adjusted to accommodate the rate his body was healing. The heart monitor was remain until he woke and got his strength back.
“Tony?” Kate asked, looked down at him.
Tony’s eyes were open. He gave her a weak smile. “Thank.. .you.”
Kate smiled at him and gently squeezed his hand. She pressed the button to alert the nurse with the other.
Tony turned his head in Abby’s direction. “Hey.” He whispered.
Abby bent and kissed his cheek. “I’m so glad you’re awake.”
By this time the nurse and Tony’s doctor had arrived. They ushered everyone out the door so that they could evaluate him, now that he was awake. “Give us about 20 minutes.” The doctor said. “Then we will let you back in.”
The doctor emerged 25 minutes later. She entered the ICU waiting room and gathered Gibbs team together. Agent DiNozzo, knows where he is, who he is, and what happened to him. I was concerned about that because of the skull fracture and the injury to the back of his head. He knows he was in a coma. He thought it was only about 3 days. He was shocked when I told him he had been unconscious for a week. His burns have healed really well. He won’t have any scars. The wounds on his chest have healed too, no scars. He could get out of here a couple weeks from now, as long as he eats and gets stronger.”
A week later Tony showed marked improvement. He was sitting up in bed on his own. He was strong enough to feed himself and he was taking short walks down the hail with the nurses and with physical therapy.
The next day Gibbs finally found a moment to be alone with Tony. Things at work had gotten somewhat back to normal. It turned out that there was no connection between the Seaman and the meth lab. Two teenagers were arrested for running the lab in the basement. One of which turned out to be the landlord’s nephew, unbeknownst to the landlord, and one of his high school friends. The Seaman was dumped there because the house looked abandoned and because of its remote location. That case was now listed officially unsolved by NCIS. The FBI case for the meth lab was closed and tied up with a neat little bow, thanks to Abby Scuito. She got one of the boys’ fingerprints off a piece of glass from a partially intact basement door. Upon interrogation both boys broke down and admitted their parts in the creation of the meth lab. They were sentenced accordingly.
Tim and Kate, happy to have Gibbs back and Tony on the road to recovery, fell back into their comfortable routines. They were still a little puzzled by Gibbs sudden frankness about his feeling and actions that day in the elevator. But they had not asked him any questions.
Gibbs let himself quietly into Tony’s room. He placed his coffee on the windowsill and walked over to the bed. Tony had been moved out of the ICU days ago. Gibbs was glad his room was still a private one. He didn’t want any spectators when they talked.
“Tony.” Gibbs slipped his hand into Tony’s.
Tony opened his eyes almost immediately. “Hi, Boss.” Tony said, recognizing Gibbs as his visitor. “I just got finished physical therapy. It hurt like hell.” Tony groaned as he shifted position. “I thought I would just rest for a few minutes, but I guess I fell asleep.”
”We need to talk, Tony.” Gibbs let go of Tony’s hand and pulled a chair up to the bedside and sat down.
“Am I fired?” Tony asked warily.
“No.” Gibbs said, shaking his head.
Tony sighed, relieved.
“I’m sorry.” Gibbs paused.
Tony just looked at him, shocked and speechless.
“I’m sorry I sent you into that house. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you about not wanting to go in.” Gibbs got up and went to the window. “I’m sorry you were injured so badly.” Gibbs voice was beginning to get shaky. “I failed you.” Gibbs turned and walked quickly out of the room. “Ill be back.” He said as he exited the room.
Five minutes later Gibbs returned. His shift collar was wet and his eyes were red.
“Gibbs. Boss. I... .“ Tony began.
“I messed up, Tony. This is the only way I can make it right.”
“Let me see your hands.” Tony requested.
Gibbs immediately put his hands behind his back, his mind racing. Who told Tony about his hands? He knew he hadn’t, and he hadn’t heard anybody else say anything. “How do you know about my hands, Tony?”
Tony smiled, but didn’t say anything.
Gibbs felt like he was in the Twilight Zone, but he held his hands out anyway. The bandages had been off for about a week. The skin had healed with a few faint scar lines. The knuckles still hurt and were still healing.
“Damn.” Tony said, examining Gibbs hands closely. “Did the wall fight back?” Tony asked looking up at Gibbs.
How did you know... .?“ Gibbs asked, pulling his hands away. “That night in my basement.. .“
”I haven’t been in your basement for about a year.” Tony said.
Gibbs sat down. “I know but the other night.” He bowed his head.
“Guilt does strange things to a man.” Tony said.
Gibbs looked up at him, startled. “You said that to me...I mean.” Gibbs paused. “WHAT is going on here?”
“You were talking to me the other day.” Tony said, straightening the covers and pulling the blanket up over him. “You were talking about resigning and moving to Mexico.” He looked up at Gibbs. “What are you going to do?”
Gibbs didn’t answer immediately. “I’m staying.” Gibbs returned to the chair beside the bed.
Tony smiled and nodded. “I had this really weird dream. I dreamed I was in your basement. We talked. We talked about a lot of things. I had a lot I needed to say to you.” Tony paused. “It was weird though. I remember you throwing things at me. I would see them coming right at me. I didn’t move out of the way, but the things never hit me.”
“It wasn’t a dream.” Gibbs stated.
“It wasn’t a dream. You were there in my basement.” Gibbs paused, looking for the right words. “We talked. We talked about a lot of things.”
“I was here.” Tony said. “I can’t be two places at once.”
“No, but you were.”
“Boss, what I said to you in your basement…in my dream, wherever… .” Tony fumbled.
“It needed to be said, Tony.” Gibbs explained. “You did deserve to know I was coming back. Not me just showing up one morning and taking my desk back. You should not have found out about Shannon and Kelly the way you did. No matter how painful it would have been for me. I should have told you.” Gibbs paused. “And I do respect your opinion. I respect you. You need to know that. I was a lot like you, when Shannon and Kelly were alive. I really was a nice, easygoing guy. When they died, I didn’t feel like I had a lot left to live for.”
“It was…harsh what I said to you.” Tony said, struggling to find the right word to describe his words in his dream.
“It was necessary.” Gibbs explained. “I’m sorry for how I treated you.”
“How did…THIS happen?” Tony asked.
“I don’t know.” Gibbs said dumbfounded.
“Maybe I WAS there.” Tony said. “Look in my closet. That bag.” Tony said indicating the only bag in the closet.
Gibbs took the bag out and brought it over to the bed. He handed it to Tony.
Tony opened the bag and took out a pair of jeans. He held them up so that Gibbs could get a good look at the front of them. There were blood stains and tears at the knees where Tony had fallen to his knees on the porch. “They threw the shirt away. It was nothing but a bloody rag. But look at the back of my jeans.
Tony turned the jeans around and on the seat was a thick line of fine saw dust.