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Nightmare's End

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The first thing he did when he got home was strip and triple bag everything. The sewer had been bad enough but the cell had the nauseating combination of human waste and decay thrown in and Tony didn’t think he’d ever get it out of his clothes, let alone off his skin. It was a shame too because he’d really loved those pants, not to mention his belt knife. It had saved his life but it was a leather belt and there was no way to get rid of the smell. As much as it bothered him, he’d just have to buy a new one.

After wrapping his lower body in his least favorite towel, Tony put the garbage bag on his balcony to deal with after a shower. Hot water sounded like a great idea, not to mention soap and shampoo. He just wanted to be clean again. To get rid of the clinging smells of death.
********************

The first thing he noticed was that Tony’s door was unlocked. It wasn’t like the agent; himself yes, Tony no. Gibbs closed the door and locked it, quickly sweeping the front rooms before putting the pizza box he was carrying on the kitchen counter. He could hear water running and figured Tony was in the shower. Gibbs wasn’t sure what was going through his agent’s mind but he knew the younger man had to be hungry and wouldn’t eat unless someone forced him to; hence the pizza.

“Gibbs.” Tony’s voice was flat and so different from when he had left NCIS. The younger agent was standing in his hall wearing gray sweats and a defeated look. His shoulders were slumped and his eyes deadened. “How’d you get in?”

“You forgot to lock your door, DiNozzo,” Gibbs replied. “There’s pizza in the kitchen.”

Tony shrugged and made his way into the living room. He flopped down on his sofa with a small sigh and covered his eyes with his arm. Gibbs frowned as he watched his lead agent. His behavior was all wrong and something was obviously bugging him. Unless, of course, the annoying teenager persona was an act that he put on at work and DiNozzo really was depressed most of the time.

“Talk to me, Tony,” Gibbs said. He sat down in the chair to the left of the sofa. “What’s going on?”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why talk to you?” Tony asked. “It’s not like you care or anything.”

“Do you really believe that?”

“Why not?”

“God damn it, DiNozzo, quit going in circles and tell me what’s wrong,” Gibbs snapped, leaning forward in his chair. “Because if this is going to turn into a pity party then I’m leaving.”

The younger man uncovered his eyes with a bitter laugh and sat up. “Why not, everyone else has,” he said. Tony stood up. “I’m going to bed, Gibbs; you can let yourself out.”

“You need to eat something.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Gibbs almost jumped as a door slammed. Something was seriously wrong and he felt a little out of his depth trying to deal with it. He’d been married three times and each of his wives had tried to pull this stunt on him of making him guess what they were thinking when they were upset and he’d never been able to get the answer right and they just got angrier.

One thing stood out in his mind though, Tony was calling him Gibbs and not boss. He only called his boss by his last name when he was unsure of what was going on or how the older man would react. For the most part ‘boss’ was Gibbs’ name while at work and everyone picked up on it after Tony started using it. He’d said that his boss deserved more respect than simply using the last name would give. So if he’d reverted back to calling his boss by his last name did that mean that he didn’t respect him any more?

With a sigh Gibbs pulled out his cell phone and hit one of the auto-dials. “Ducky, I need your help.”

“Jethro, what’s wrong?”

“I’m at Tony’s place and he’s acting weird. You checked him out once he was out of the sewer, did you see anything odd?”

“No, I didn’t,” Ducky replied.

“Then what’s changed his behavior?” Gibbs asked.

“No, Jethro, I mean I didn’t examine him,” Ducky said. “Tony insisted he was perfectly fine and wanted to find you and Kate. I was rather tied up with the bodies and our injured marine and must admit I’d forgotten all about Tony until you called. It rather reminds me of the time when you…”

“Ducky,” Gibbs sighed. “Let’s focus on DiNozzo for a minute. Can you come to his place and check him over? I’m telling you he’s not acting right and I want to make sure that he’s fit for duty.”

The ME chuckled. “Oh very well, Jethro, but I can tell you right now that if Tony says he’s fine, he’s generally in good health. I’ve never met anyone who is so in tune with their bodies before. It’s quite remarkable.”

“Well he’s not acting like he’s fine, Duck,” Gibbs said. “Just get over here as soon as you can.”
********************

It took some searching but Gibbs finally managed to find a book that would interest him in Tony’s small collection. It was obvious that his agent preferred movies and television to the far more relaxing pastime of reading, but the care shown the small book collection spoke of some old friends.

“Ducky, I’m glad you’re here,” Gibbs said when he opened the door in response to his friend’s knock. “I don’t know what to think about all of this and it’s kinda scaring me.”

“Jethro, did you happen to see the room in which Tony was imprisoned?” Ducky asked, putting his bag down and slipping off his coat.

“Nope, I met up with him in the sewer system,” Gibbs said. “But I did see the pictures of the crime scene from a few years ago.”

“It rather reminded me of when I toured the concentration camps in Germany and Poland in my youth,” Ducky said. “I asked the marine who had been captive with Tony how they had managed to escape and he muttered something about rule nine, which I well know is don’t go anywhere without a knife. But I will say Tony showed remarkable foresight to not only be able to release the victim from the wall but to keep him conscious long enough to get him medical attention. He showed real dedication to not only the victim but you as well from what I understand. Now if you would show me where Tony is hiding I’ll take a look at him but I think we’ll find that he’s just tired and stressed from his long ordeal in the sewer.”
********************

Tony heard his bedroom door open but didn’t react. He thought that Gibbs hadn’t taken the hint and was coming back to yell at him some more.

“Well now, Tony, let’s take a look at you,” Ducky’s soft voice startled the young man.

“What are you doing here, Ducky?”

“Jethro called and told me you were behaving in a most peculiar manner and he was concerned for you,” Ducky replied, sitting on the edge of the bed. “His exact words were that he wants to be sure you’re fit for duty.”

“Sure he does,” Tony snorted, rolling so his back was to the ME. “That’s all he cares about is NCIS. Not his people or what happens to them in the field. We’re just like cups of coffee to him; we help keep him going until we’re drained and then we’re tossed away and he finds someone else.”

Ducky frowned. “Tony, tell me what happened to you,” he said. “Because this certainly isn’t like you.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m concerned, lad, and want to make sure you’re healthy and not only because I’m concerned about your ability to work on Monday.”

Tony snorted. “You know they brought in McGee to help out while I was missing,” he said. “I got back to NCIS with Gibbs and Kate and goaded Gibbs into telling me I was irreplaceable and I almost believed him too, but then he walked into the bullpen and told McGee sorry and that I was back.”

“Oh my,” Ducky said. “My dear Tony, you know how insensitive Jethro can be.”

“And I’m sure he’s expecting me to just bounce back and be my normal happy, annoying self,” Tony said. “But it hurt, Ducky. To hear him say those words like he was tired of having me around. Maybe he should have just left me in the sewer with that woman and she could have taken care of it for him. Then he wouldn’t have to deal with the paperwork to fire me.”

“Tony, it’s infinitely more paperwork if an agent is killed in the field,” Ducky said. “And honestly my dear boy, I think you’re reading too much into this. You were placed in a bad situation and came through it admirably, I know I’m impressed and the director will be too when he sees the reports. Don’t let Jethro get you down or stop you from doing something you love merely because he’s too pig-headed to realize how his actions and words can hurt others.”

“I don’t know if I can, Ducky,” Tony admitted. “I’ve been with Gibbs for over two years, longer than I’ve stayed with anyone because I love NCIS, but for all of that time all I’ve gotten from him are smacks on the back of the head, insults, and threats. He tells other people good job, why not me?”

“I seriously doubt that I can speak for Jethro or his motivations,” Ducky replied. “But is it possible he believes you don’t need to hear the praise because you are already aware that you do a fine job?”

“But would it hurt to tell me that once in a while?” Tony asked. “Without me having to beg for it?”

Ducky sighed. “You rest, young man,” he said. “I saw a pizza in your kitchen that should be consumed soon as I know you need sustenance after what occurred these past twenty-four hours. Let me deal with our stubborn friend out there and I promise that he shall not leave this apartment ignorant of your feelings.”

“I guess it doesn’t matter at this point,” Tony muttered. “I’ve got some money saved up so I can find a new job if I have to.”

“I promise you it won’t come to that,” Ducky said, patting Tony’s shoulder. “Do you need something to help you sleep?”

“No, I want to be able to wake up if I have a nightmare,” Tony muttered, burrowing down into his pillows. “Thanks, Ducky.”

“You’re more than welcome.”