‘Cholent. Slow cooked beef with potatoes and beans. It wasn’t bad.’ Tony rubbed at his chest as Gibbs’ words repeated in his head. He still couldn’t believe it. She’d misled him. No, she had lied to him. She had given him the impression that it was only Tim and Palmer whom she had made dinner for. She had intentionally not told him that the rest of the team had been invited as well. None of them had said a word. He knew what cholent was. It was slow cooked for at least twelve hours. It was not a spur of the moment invitation. She’d invited all of them at least a day before. They all knew. None of them had said a word to him. His hands tightened around the steering wheel, his knuckles white from the pressure. He wanted to close his eyes, but driving made it impossible, instead he tried to concentrate on the traffic around him.
Tony groaned and grabbed his chest. He leaned over the steering wheel and was grateful that the traffic light was red. Something was wrong and it had nothing to do with the fact that he had spent almost an entire day locked in a shipping container, or how cold it was for his lungs, or the volume of smoke he had inhaled due to the fake money they had burned. Neither did it have to do with the fact that he had a deep bullet graze on his upper arm due to Ziva’s erratic shooting. No, it felt like an elephant took a seat on his chest, but the elephant was still not quite comfortable. It used its large body to trample on him in an attempt to get comfy. Tony found it more difficult to breathe by the second. His heart thumped in his chest. His face was covered in a thin sheen of sweat and he knew, should he remove his hand from the steering wheel, it would not be steady.
A car honked behind him and it made Tony realize that the light had changed over. He pressed down on the gas and the car moved forward. Another stabbing pain made him gasp for air and without even using an indicator, he pulled off to the side of the road. His hands trembled as he reached for his phone. Tony was dimly aware of the fact that the call got answered. He struggled to loosen his tie around his neck as he continued to gasp for air. His left arm felt heavy and the one elephant on his chest became ten.
Tony wasn’t sure if he ended the call. His eyes felt heavy and even with the stabbing pain over his heart, he didn’t want to do anything else, except let the darkness take him away. He closed his eyes and everything faded.
“BP is 90/60 and dropping.”
“Come on, Tony. It’s time to open those eyes of yours. You’ve been ignoring us now for far too long.”
Tony scrunched up his face and groaned as the voice continued taunting him, but he didn’t want to listen to it. He felt sort of floaty and just wanted to sleep a bit longer. He tried to snuggle deeper into his pillow and frowned. It didn’t smell like his pillow, it smelled like bleach, not the light lavender scent he used on his bedding. The sheet around him felt scratchy and the mattress beneath him lumpy. Tony groaned. He really didn’t want to wake up, but it seemed he had no choice, not if he wanted to find out what was wrong with his bed and get that annoying voice to stop. Finally, he opened his eyes. He had to blink a few times before things around him moved into focus. “Brad?” he asked with a gruff voice.
“You with us?” Brad took his friend’s wrist between his fingers to check his pulse.
“Brad?” Tony asked, still confused.
“That’s me. Can you remember what happened?” Brad asked as he kept an eye on the different monitors that surrounded Tony’s bed.
Tony shook his head. He closed his eyes and tried to remember what (HAD) happened, but his mind remained blank. He couldn’t help but to panic slightly. A sound next to his ear made him turn his head. A monitor started beeping at an increasing volume.
“Easy there, Buckeye. Calm down.” Brad moved closer. “Look at me, Tony,” he ordered quietly. Brad waited for Tony to open his eyes. “You’re doing all right. Take some deep breaths for me, Tony. Follow my lead.” He didn’t want to sedate Tony again, but his friend needed to calm down. He kept on taking deep breaths and released his own breath in relief as the monitor stopped blaring out its alarm. “Feeling better?” He asked with a smile.
Tony nodded. “What’s going on, Brad? What happened?” Tony’s eyes grew large and he pushed himself upright. “My team, Gibbs!” Even as he said the name out loud, his memories assaulted him from what transpired earlier. His breathing hitched and he gasped for air. Numerous monitors started going off around him. Tony flinched at the harsh sound. His head pounded and the feeling he experienced of not being able to breathe returned in full force.
Brad cursed and even as the nurse rushed into the room he barked out orders. He didn’t hesitate as he plunged the syringe into the IV port. It had an immediate effect as it evened out Tony’s breathing, but unfortunately also sent him back into the sleeping world. He helped the nurse settle his friend properly in bed. “Any luck in getting hold of Agent Gibbs?”
“No, Doctor. I’ve tried several times, but no success,” the nurse replied with a sigh. She hated it when they couldn’t get hold of a family member of a patient or even the medical proxy of a patient.
“Thank you, Nurse Gamble. I will try myself as well.” Brad looked on as the nurse exited the room and then reached for his own phone. He didn’t know Agent Gibbs very well, but he knew the man had a thing about always being available. Tony had told him more than once in their three-year friendship about that being one of the major rules. He was going to give Gibbs a piece of his mind when he got through to the man.
10 Hours later
Brad looked on as his friend and patient slept on. He frowned. Something was wrong and he had no idea what it was. Tony experienced all the symptoms of a heart attack, but now hours later it was clear that he didn’t have a heart problem. All his arteries were in good condition, there were no problem with the heart valves, and although the heart muscle itself was weak, that was merely because of the heart attack Tony suffered. The cardiologist on call had diagnosed Tony with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also referred to as TCM. With rest and some Beta blockers, Tony would be as right as rain again.
Brad closed the medical journal he had on his lap. Tony was going to go crazy when he explained to him what happened. He himself had heard about the condition before, but never seen a case in all of his years as a medical practitioner. Brad got to his feet as Tony started to get restless. It had been a long night, and Brad knew that getting Tony to talk about what happened was going to make it an even longer day.
“You are all right.” Brad spoke up the moment Tony opened his eyes and focused on him. “You know where you are?”
Tony frowned and looked around. “Hospital.” He swallowed and licked his lips.
Brad reached for the small glass of water and helped Tony to take a few sips. “You remember what happened?” He placed the glass on the night stand and kept an eye on the monitors that still surrounded Tony’s bed.
Tony nodded. “Unfortunately.” He tried not to think about it too hard. Already he could feel his chest tighten up. He pinched his nose and hissed as his arm throbbed at the motion.
“How did you get that bullet graze on your arm?” Brad decided to take the long road, if there was one.
“My partner decided it was a good idea to start shooting while we were in a closed container. Ricocheting bullets and wooden crates do not make for a good combination.”
“And you made it out to be a mere scratch.” Brad looked intently at his friend. He knew that Tony would milk something like a paper cut for hours on end, but the moment it was something more serious, he had the tendency to ignore it. As if the injury would heal on its own. “Well, we did have a look at it. You got yourself a few stitches, luckily no infection. It shouldn’t scar.”
“I don’t care about scars.” Tony sighed. “Thanks.”
“Mm,” Brad got to his feet. “You’re not going to ask me what’s wrong with you?” Tony was avoiding the issue and Brad knew he would have to push.
“Stress. Nothing I can’t handle. It’s been a busy few months.” Tony responded sourly. He hated to talk about his life and Brad knew it very well.
“Tony, don’t do this. Not to me, but more specifically, not to yourself. What happened yesterday?”
“How do you know it happened yesterday?”
“Not everything happened yesterday, but I would say that yesterday was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.” Brad stepped closer to the bed. “Talk to me, Tony.”
Tony closed his eyes. He felt extra tired. “Let’s just say I thought I was part of a family, but it turned out it was only real in my mind, and leave it at that. It’s behind me, I’m moving on.” Tony turned on his side, away from Brad’s gaze. “I’m tired.”
Brad pressed his lips together. “This is about more than you thinking that you were part of a family.” Brad placed his hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Talk to me, buddy. You know I will always listen.”
Tony kept his eyes closed. “They lied to me.” He opened his eyes and turned his head to face the man right next to his bed. “I’m supposed to be trained investigator, but I didn’t pick up on this. I know I play too many jokes, but hell, Brad, in our line of work, if we don’t joke, we’ll go mad. We deal with so many bad characters on a daily basis that I only wanted my teammates to experience a bit of laughter.” He shrugged. “Maybe I am just the fool and nothing else.” He closed his eyes again. “I can’t help but to wonder how many other times they’ve lied to me. Times where we discussed our weekend plans, while they did something together as a team and left me out in the cold.” Tony took a deep breath. “I’m really tired.”
Brad squeezed Tony’s shoulder. “Get some rest. I’m still trying to get hold of Gibbs. I’ll inform you when I do.”
Tony groaned and shook his head. “Stop. Don’t... don’t call him.” His breathing sped up and one of the monitors whined above his head.
“Tony, calm down.” Brad pressed a button on the monitor so that the wailing noise died down. “You know the drill, some deep breaths.” He took one himself and smiled in encouragement. “There you go, just like that. Keep on taking some deep breaths.” He continued to breathe with Tony until his friend had his breathing under control. “Feeling better?” he asked as he took Tony’s wrist between his fingers. His eyes scanned the readouts behind Tony’s head.
“Fuck.” Tony squeezed his eyes shut and dragged his hand across his face. “What’s wrong with me?”
Brad countered Tony’s question with his own. “Why don’t you want me to contact Gibbs? He part of this whole mess?”
Tony snorted and turned his head so that he didn’t have to look at Brad. He remained quiet.
“Tony?” Brad dragged the chair he occupied earlier closer and sat down. “Why not Gibbs?”
“He was supposed to have my six. I thought we were friends.” Tony didn’t add the fact that he was still head over heels in love with the older man. Brad knew that he was the only one that knew Tony’s secret.
Brad could feel his own heart aching with Tony’s words. The way Tony spoke made him realize that the man in the bed would not be talking about what happened between him and the team he’s been with for the past five years. “About fourteen hours ago you phoned me and complained about a severe pain in your chest. You remember that?”
When Tony nodded, Brad continued, “You presented all the classic signs of a heart attack.” He pushed Tony down when he tried to rise from the bed. “Take it easy. It wasn’t a heart attack per se.”
“Then what?” Tony asked with a frown.
“According to Doctor Falco, the attending cardiologist, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.”
“Cardiologist? Is there something wrong with my heart? Is it a result of the plague?” Tony inquired with trepidation.
Brad shook his head. “No, it’s not as a result of the plague. Have you ever heard about the broken heart syndrome?”
Tony nodded. “It’s not real. What does it have to do with me?” He frowned. “Is it real? Do I have it? How is my heart broken? Then it was a heart attack.”
“Easy, Tony. Let me explain.” Brad sat down on the edge of Tony’s bed. “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is when the patient suffers from such an emotional upheaval that it causes the heart muscle to become stunned and the left ventricle changes shape. It mimics all the signs of a heart attack. But, the moment we run tests, it’s only the heart muscle that’s contracting, while the arteries, valves and the heart itself is in a healthy condition.”
“So it’s treatable?”
“Totally. You’ll be on some beta blockers for a few weeks, and at the same time you need to take it easy. We’ll keep you here for tonight and release you tomorrow. You need to take off from work for the next week, and after that, another week on desk duty.”
“I resigned.” Tony’s voice had a note of finality to it.
Brad sat up straighter. “Okay.” He never thought that Tony would do something like that. He wanted to explain more to Tony about his condition, when Tony spoke up again.
“I’ve had enough. just had enough.”
By the tone of Tony’s voice, Brad knew Tony had reached his end. “Okay, Tony. Get some rest. We’ll talk later.” Brad clapped Tony on the knee. “You’re not alone, Tony. I’ve got your back.”
Tony looked on as his friend exited the room. He had thought his team had his back, he had thought Gibbs had his back. But he was wrong. So wrong. Tony closed his eyes as he rubbed his hand over his aching chest. There was nothing he could do about it now. Later he would make plans. Plans to start over – again.
Brad’s apartment: Following afternoon
“This all right?” Brad asked as he handed Tony a cheap cell phone. He still didn’t agree with what Tony had done, but his friend had been adamant. He’d looked on as Tony got rid of his phone and tossed it away. Tony wanted to go and buy a cheap phone himself, but Brad drew the line. Tony gave him the last cash he had in his wallet and he quickly went to buy the phone.
“Thanks.” Tony took the phone and switched it on. It needed to be charged, but with the battery power available he’d still be able to phone. He pulled the sheet of paper closer on which he jotted certain numbers down and entered the first number written on it.
Brad frowned when he heard who Tony called. He’d never thought Tony would be calling a realtor first. He remained quiet until Tony ended the call. “You’re really going to disappear into thin air.”
“I need a clean break, Brad. I can’t do it here.” Tony came to his feet and walked towards Brad’s tiny kitchen.
“Where will you go?”
Tony shrugged. “That’s the one thing I haven’t worked out yet. “Maybe I’ll get myself a hotel room for the next week and then head out.”
“You will not stay in a hotel. My spare bedroom has always been available to you, Tony. You can stay here for as long as you need. But, I do have to ask again. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“It’s time, Brad.” Tony straightened his shoulders and stood up straight. “I was stupid to think I can stay here for so long. I never had the ability to stay in one place for more than a few years. Maybe this time I’ll be lucky enough to find what I need.” He didn’t add that he had been stupid to think that there might have been a chance to get Gibbs to love him, as well.
Brad sighed. He could see that nothing he’d say or do would make Tony change his mind. “I’m off for the next three days. Since I don’t want you to drive, I’ll act as your chauffeur. And don’t argue with me, Buckeye. It’s me driving you around, or your ass in my spare bedroom, going nowhere.”
“Thank you again.” Tony replied solemnly. He stared down at his hands. The life he built for himself here in Washington D.C. had just come to an end.