They had been on the case, working non-stop for almost three days. None of them had gone home during that time, and they had been subsisting on coffee and cat naps. And when Tony had had the breakthrough that led to the team seriously looking at the Petty Officer’s wife as a suspect, despite the supposed alibi and McGee and Ziva griping about how Tony always thought it was the wife, all Gibbs had felt was relief and some annoyance that it had taken Tony two days to get to that point. From then onwards, things had moved quickly. In the past twenty four hours, they’d apprehended the Petty Officer’s wife and her lover who’d been an accomplice in the murder before they could flee the area, interrogated them, and gathered enough evidence to put them both away.
The team was working on finalizing their reports, banter starting to turn irritable on Tony’s part and cruel on Ziva’s part when Tony’s phone rang. Gibbs’ ears automatically tracked the call without paying full attention to it. The work was almost done and he was going to dismiss the team and let them go home early and be off for a couple of days after all the work they’d done.
“DiNozzo,” Tony answered, his usual joie the vivre a little muted due to exhaustion. “Uh-huh. Yeah. What? What?? Which hospital?”
Tony’s expressive green eyes were wide and full of fear and he’d stood up, phone to his ear, other hand fisted and pressed to his mouth and then the fist moved down to press on his heart. He nodded urgently. “Yeah. OK. I’m on my way. Right now.”
He grabbed his gun and badge and his jacket, and without even looking at the team or saying a word to Gibbs, sprinted down the hallway to the stairwell, disappearing down the stairs, gun, badge and jacket still in his hands. He’d left so quickly that not only had he not put the jacket on, or holstered his weapon, but neither McGee nor Ziva had been able to say a word before he left.
Gibbs frowned at his team. “What the hell…?” he asked.
McGee looked puzzled and slightly concerned, and Ziva rolled her eyes. “Who knows,” she scoffed. “Tony probably just wanted to get out of here without finishing his reports.”
“He emailed his reports to me an hour ago,” Gibbs told them. “He was just waiting to review yours, make sure you did them right, before he left.”
“He was done?” McGee asked, surprised.
Gibbs resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Of course, McGee,” Gibbs growled. Tony always finished his work and then he played. Tony was playing to fill the time, waiting for his teammates to be done. Technically, he didn’t even have to review McGee and Ziva’s reports, but he’d gotten into the habit of doing it when Kate had joined the team and Gibbs kept returning Kate’s reports to her. Tony began reviewing Kate’s reports and ensuring that they were up to Gibbs’ standards before allowing them to be filed with Gibbs himself when he got tired of Gibbs’ complaints about the low standards of report writing in the whole of the Secret Service. And he’d continued to do that when McGee joined the team, and again when Ziva had been assigned to them. The team lead was grateful because it meant his work went much more smoothly.
“Are you both done with your reports?” Gibbs snapped.
“Almost, Gibbs,” Ziva turned back to her computer.
“We usually send these to Tony first,” McGee said.
“Send them to me today, then track that last call Tony received,” Gibbs told him.
“On it, Boss.” It took McGee another twenty minutes or so to finish the last details of his report. Then he saved it and sent it to Gibbs, although he cc-ed Tony out of habit. Next he hacked into Tony’s cell provider to check to see who last called Tony. “Um, Boss? The call came from George Washington University Hospital. Why would the hospital call Tony?”
“Perhaps he is dating another doctor from there,” Ziva sneered. “You know how he was the last time he was seeing a doctor.”
“He was undercover for Director Shepard,” Gibbs interrupted. “McGee, which department called him? Can you tell?”
“Looks like their ER?” McGee answered, now looking concerned.
“Check to see if his father’s there.”
McGee nodded and his fingers flew over the keyboard. Meanwhile, Gibbs clicked McGee’s report open and sighed. He could already see the edits he would need McGee to make. He would have to print it and scrawl out his edits in long hand since he was old school. Goddammit. Things were so much easier when DiNozzo did the editing. By the time Gibbs received their reports all he needed to do was review and sign off on them. Very rarely did DiNozzo ever let a report get to him that even had a typo.
“No, Boss. Doesn’t look like Tony’s father is anywhere close to DC,” McGee informed him.
Gibbs gave an inward sigh of relief. Good. Tony had been a mess when Senior had been there that one time and he was glad that it wasn’t Senior in the hospital calling for Tony.
“Perhaps it was one of his infernal fraternity brothers?” Ziva suggested.
“Maybe,” McGee shrugged. “I know one guy. Steve something. That Kate used to date. You remember that guy, Boss?”
“Adler,” Gibbs supplied the last name.
“Right. I’ll check on his whereabouts…” McGee’s fingers did their thing, and it didn’t take long before he had an answer. “Oh no, it’s not him. Adler’s living in LA now and he’s there. His Starbucks card was used there this morning.”
OK. Not Senior, or the frat brother they knew about. But who would Tony know that would have called him to the hospital in such a state? Gibbs printed McGee’s report, stuck it in a folder and went down to Autopsy to talk to Ducky. Ducky might know what the hell was going on with DiNozzo. Gibbs wondered when things had changed. There was a time when he, Gibbs, would have known exactly what was going on with his second, and if he didn’t know it then he knew he would be able to get the truth out of Abby. But now, he knew nothing, and he knew that Abby knew even less than he did. There was an off chance that Ducky might have some information because Tony did still speak to the elderly ME. But the question remained: when did DiNozzo stop talking to him?
Probably when he bugged out for Mexico and came back all gangbusters, needing to prove that he was whole and sane and not consumed by grief, happily busting Tony down from team lead and being so stupidly unsupportive for the last couple of years? the little voice in his head supplied. He brushed it away.
But Ducky didn’t have any information either. Worry slammed into him. If Tony wasn’t speaking to him, or Abby, or Ducky, he knew that Tony was definitely not going to be confiding in McGee or Ziva, given team dynamics of the previous couple of years, then who was Tony even talking to these days? He knew well enough that Tony didn’t exactly have too many people he could depend on.
“My dear Jethro, I do not know who would be in the hospital that would have caused Anthony to run off like that,” Ducky said, his soft brogue comforting. His whole demeanor was comforting. “But we do know that Anthony himself is healthy and well, so that is something to be thankful about, given his tendencies.”
Gibbs nodded his agreement. Ducky had a good point there.
Palmer walked in then, handing Ducky some papers that he started flicking through.
“I’m sure everything is all right, Jethro,” Ducky continued. “Anthony would call if he needed help.”
“What happened to Tony?” Palmer asked.
“Jethro says that the George Washington University Hospital ER called him, and he ran off without a word of explanation,” Ducky summarized. “Would you by any chance know who might need Anthony at the hospital, Mr Palmer?”
“Oh,” Palmer frowned and looked hesitant. “Oh. I hope Evan’s OK.”
“Who’s Evan?” Gibbs asked.
“Ummmm…” Palmer blinked and began stuttering and panicking. “A-agent G-gibbs, I-I-I don’t th-th-think…”
“Spit it out,” Gibbs barked at him.
Palmer paled, picked up his phone and turned his back to Gibbs and Ducky. He held it to his ear and waited a moment before he began speaking, less stuttery and more normal, although he was still awkward as hell. “Um, Tony? Heard you had to leave. Is everything OK? Um. Call me. It’s um. Gremlin. Autopsy Gremlin? Jimmy Palmer. Please call me back.”
Palmer ended the call and turned back to Gibbs and Ducky, the former glaring angrily at him, the latter watching him with quiet interest. Palmer pursed his lips. “I c-can’t say anything unless Tony says I can,” he said, his voice faint but his tone firm.
And even though Gibbs gave him the patented death glare, and even turned it up a notch, Palmer stood strong. Luckily their stalemate was broken by the sound of Palmer’s phone ringing. He grabbed it and answered.
“Put it on speaker, Palmer,” Gibbs ordered.
“Um, Tony. Gibbs is here. He wants me to put you on speaker?” Palmer asked. He nodded. “You sure? OK. Hang on.” Palmer pressed a button. “You’re on speaker, Tony. Doctor Mallard and Agent Gibbs are here as well.”
They heard Tony blow out a soft breath. The bustling sounds of a hospital could be heard in the background – people milling around, muted voices, the odd announcement over the PA.
“Anthony? Are you all right?” Ducky started.
They heard Tony’s breath catch. “I-I’m gonna need some time off,” he finally said, and they heard him swallowing, his breath hitching. “Evan’s dead, Jimmy. He died.”
Palmer gasped. “How?”
“Who the fuck is Evan?” Gibbs thundered.
“Drunk driver hit him when he was driving to work today,” Tony sniffled. “Fuck! Who’s drunk at fucking eleven in the morning anyway? Besides my father, that is. Goddamnit. Fuck. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go.”
“Tony?” Palmer gave Ducky a look. The older man nodded, understanding Palmer’s request. “I’m on my way, OK. Stay right where you are. I’m coming to you.”
“N-no, Jimmy. I have to call his mom. I have… have to… oh fuck, Jimmy. This isn’t how this is supposed to turn out!” Tony was obviously trying to hang on. He took a few deep breaths. “Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck!”
“I’m getting my stuff and leaving now. Doctor Mallard…”
“Go, Mr Palmer,” Ducky said. “Anthony, do you need anything else?”
“He’s dead,” Tony repeated. “I-I… I just… fuck…” Tony tried to take a breath but it was hitched and shuddery.
“Who’s Evan?” Gibbs softened his tone.
Tony was quiet for a moment before they heard him sobbing. “My husband,” Tony sobbed into the phone, “Evan’s my husband. My husband just died. Oh fuck. This isn’t supposed to happen. This is not how this is supposed to happen.” He dissolved into deep-chested sobs. Palmer hastily took him off speaker and began speaking soothingly.
“I’ll drive,” Gibbs said.
Ducky grabbed his coat, and the three men left.