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Title: Help, I Need Somebody
Pairing: Tony/Gibbs Ziva/Shepard & Ducky/Jackson
Disclaimer: Don't own them, never will, not making money. If he *was* mine to care for, I would have had Tony in counseling long ago.
Summary: My version of where Tony might have ended up after the crappy treatment he received in Boxed In. This is a bit dark, but I have to go with the muse and this is what she provided.
FOLLOWING MORNING: NCIS: 10:00 A.M.
"Anybody seen or heard from Dinozzo?" Gibbs asked for the tenth time that morning, his brow furrowed with irritation and frustration.
"No. Believe me, I would have told you, Gibbs." Ziva responded casually.
Mcgee stayed quiet, head bowed over his work, as he had every other time Gibbs had mentioned Tony. Finally, the older man rose and moved close enough to his young agent to tower over him.
"McGee. Talk to me. Now."
"About what, sir?"
The unaccustomed formality registered instantly with Gibbs and his anger flared.
"Don't push me, McGee. You get busted down from probationary agent, noone in D.C.'s gonna hire you."
"I haven't heard from him, boss. After last night, I'm not surprised."
"And that means..."
"Ask her." He replied darkly, inclining his head toward Ziva. "She's the one who lied to all of us."
"Pardon me?" Ziva shot back, sitting forward.
"Not if you held a gun to my head."
"That can be arranged." Ziva said, color and tension evident in her face. Gibbs halted the potential confrontation.
"Enough, both of you! What are you talking about, McGee?"
"Did you ask her why Tony wasn't at the dinner party?"
"I never thought about it. Why?"
"I did. She said he turned down the invitation. Last night, seeing his face when we were all talking about the fun we had... he just looked so upset. You never invited him, did you, Ziva?"
The young woman flushed a deeper red, responded tightly then returned to her work.
"No. Why would I? He's a child and children don't belong at adult gatherings."
Before Gibbs could turn and rip into her the way he desperately wanted to, his phone rang. Jaw tense, he moved to answer it, vowing she'd get the reaming out of her life the minute he finished the conversation.
"Is this Agent Jethro Gibbs?"
"It is." He replied, his stomach sinking even before he knew who was on the other end of the line.
"This is Bethesda Naval Hospital. You're listed as the emergency contact for Agent Anthony Dinozzo. Is this correct?"
"Yes. What's happened?"
"He voluntarily checked himself into our mental health wing late last night. All he was really able to give us was his name and a request to call you and let you know he's safe."
"God... checked in for what? What is he... What's wrong with him?"
"You'll have to come down and discuss that with the doctor, I'm afraid. You should be aware that Agent Dinozzo isn't allowed visitors."
"His stipulation, sir."
"I'll be there in an hour."
"I'll let the doctor know to expect you."
Gibbs hung up slowly and turned to find McGee had risen to his feet. His body language said he was ready for anything, but his expression was anxious and fearful.
"Tony's in the pysch ward at Bethesda. He checked himself in last night."
"No... he wouldn't..."
"He did. You pass the word to Abby, Palmer and Ducky. I'm gonna go talk to the doctor." Gibbs responded gruffly as he grabbed his coat and headed for the elevators.
"Boss... tell him the rest of us didn't know... and that we're sorry."
"Would if I could, McGee, but Tony doesn't wanna see anyone right now."
"Can you blame him?" Tim retorted, glaring daggers at Ziva.
"I only put blame where it belongs, McGee." Gibbs said quietly as the doors to the elevator cab closed in front of him. As he headed out himself, Tim felt slightly better seeing Ziva blanch in anticipation of what Gibbs would do when he returned.
45 MINUTES LATER:
"Agent Gibbs? I'm Doctor Lewiston. Good to meet you."
Gibbs shook the doctor's hand brusquely, but wasted no time trying to get information.
Lewiston waved at the rows of waiting room chairs.
"Let's both sit down, alright?"
"I'm not here to sit. Talk to me."
"This could take a few minutes, Special Agent. I have some questions to ask you as well, so if you wouldn't mind..."
Gibbs drew and expelled a slow breath, forced his hands to uncurl and acceded to the doctor's request. Once both men were seated, the doctor studied Gibbs' face carefully for a moment before he began to speak. "I can't tell you everything, obviously. There are issues of confidentiality to consider..."
"I also didn't come here to listen to what you can't tell me! Why can't you damn doctors just get to the point instead of doing a square dance around the damn truth!" Gibbs growled, standing once again and stalking a step or two away from the chairs.
"You're very upset. That's understandable. This would be a difficult situation for anyone to face."
"What situation?" Gibbs sighed, whirling back around to face the doctor. "Will you just tell me that? What the hell is going on with Tony?"
"According to the records, he walked up to the admitting desk just after 1 a.m., told the nurse that he was afraid he might hurt himself and asked for help."
Stunned, Gibbs moved back to his seat and slowly dropped down into it.
"He what? I don't understand. That's not... You checked him out? You talked to him?"
"For over thirty minutes."
"Half an hour? That's nothing! You can't find out squat in half an hour!"
"He couldn't have handled any more than that. Your colleague is suffering from fairly severe depression, Agent Gibbs. That short amount of time was more than enough for me to diagnose that."
"Depression? Tony? No. No way. Tony's always up, he's always making jokes... you've got it wrong, doc."
"Always a possibility. That's why I need to ask you a few questions. Has Agent Dinozzo been under an unusual amount of stress in the past few months?"
Gibbs' mind drifted back, recalling all that Tony had been through, but still not wanting to believe what he was being told.
"Maybe... but Tony's one of the strongest people I know. He's a survivor..."
"Of how many disasters? In what time frame?"
"He kept comin' right back... I should have seen something. Why didn't I know?"
"It's not your fault. Some people are so good at hiding and hoarding their pain that even those closest to them can't see how much they're struggling."
"His car got stolen and wrecked... he had to watch it happen on the news. The car was a classic. He loved that thing. God, it could have started that long ago..."
"What about more recent problems?"
"He... he got sick... pneumonic plague. He barely made it through that. Then one of our team was killed in the line of duty. He was beaten up pretty bad himself a few weeks back. Last night..."
"I didn't think so at the time. Look, what can I do, here? How can I help him?"
"Right now, all you can do is let him rest. I'll be talking to him over the next day or two. I'll try to keep you updated, but..."
"Confidentiality, I know. If he changes his mind... wants to see us or talk to us..."
"You'll be notified, I promise."
"Can you at least give him a message?"
"I can try. What is it?"
"Tell him the rest of us didn't know... that we were lied to."
Sensing Gibbs was holding back, Lewiston prompted him gently.
"Is that all?"
"Yeah. That's it."
Gibbs rose slowly to his feet, praying his suddenly shaky knees would hold. Lewiston stood as well and the two grasped hands once again before they went their separate ways.
NCIS: FORENSICS LAB
"Abby, calm down..."
"Calm down! Don't tell me to calm down McGee!" the young woman bellowed, punctuating her words with occasional thumps to Tim's chest. "How can you defend her!"
Tim tightened his hold on Abby and tried to explain, despite how hard his effort was forcing him to breathe.
"I'm not, I'm protecting you! If you so much as... mess up Ziva's hair, the director will be... down on you so fast you won't... know what happened. Please, baby, don't give Sheppard... an excuse to suspend you."
At last, Tim's words seemed to get through to Abby and she went still, laying her head on his shoulder and relaxing in his embrace.
"Can't believe I hugged her. I wanna splatter her face. I wanna send her back home in teeny-tiny pieces." Abby told him sadly.
"I know. Me too, but we can't."
When Gibbs walked in a few minutes later, Abby left Tim and rushed into the older man's open arms.
"Is Tony okay?"
"He will be, Abs. It'll take a little time and a boatload of makin' up... but he will be."
"Yeah... yeah, I promise."
Standing outside the door of Tony Dinozzo's room, Dr. Lewiston watched his new patient carefully for a few minutes, planning his initial approach. After his conversation with Gibbs, he had decided his usual opening gambit might be too harsh and forthright for the obviously fragile young man, so he was now working out how to tone it down a bit. Once he had his path clear in his mind, he entered and closed the door quietly, not surprised to see the lunch tray sitting by the bed untouched.
"Tony. If you're here to convince me not to off myself... we should be on a first name basis." The young man curled up on the bed replied, his voice strained and weary.
"Alright. Tony it is. My name is Dennis Lewiston. Are you feeling a bit better today. Tony?"
"Okay... let's try this. Do you still feel you want to hurt yourself?"
Tony sighed quietly and rolled away from the wall, turning onto his back.
"I wish I could say no..."
"So do I. I talked to your boss this morning. He told me you've been through a lot these last few months."
"Understatement of the century."
"So what tipped it over? What made you decide you'd had enough?"
Tony produced a strained laugh, smiled tensely and threw one arm over his eyes.
"You'll never believe it."
"I barely believe it myself. It just sounds so... sixth grade now. The newest member of our team threw a party. Everyone one else knew... and nobody told me. See? Strictly junior high."
"Not really. It doesn't matter whether you're twelve or forty; callous, thoughtless behavior from people you consider friends hurts just as much."
"Yeah... well, it wasn't all their fault. They had no way of knowing."
"How close I was to the edge. See... I'm a world-class, champion suppressor. I put on this "I'm fine, nothing wrong here, don't ask questions." mask... and I'm so good everybody believes it. Once at work... I let it slip, deliberately of course, that my college nick-name was "Sex Machine". Truth is, my best friend was the only one who really called me anything but Tony."
"And what was that?"
"The Man in the Iron Smiley Face."
"You've been using that mask a long time, I'm guessing."
"Oh yeah, but we're not going there."
"Not for me. Not anymore. Look, can we... cut this short? I'm really tired. I haven't been sleeping much lately."
"I can tell. I'll be back in a few hours and we'll talk again."
"I was afraid of that."
Lewiston smiled and picked up the tray.
"If you just wanted a place to get some rest you'd have booked a room in a hotel. Instead you came here and asked for help. That was an incredibly difficult and courageous thing to do. Obviously, the desire to stick around was stronger than the hurt and the urge to give up. Hold onto that desire, Tony. With that, and a little help from me, you'll get through this."
"Confidence and optimism. Just what I was hoping for." Tony murmured, bitterness coloring his tone.
"Sarcasm is a good sign. It's one step away from humor. One last thing... you're sure there's nobody you want to see? Friends can be a big help when you're feeling like this."
"I'm not sure if I have any friends left." Tony replied, turning back to face the wall. Lewiston smiled sadly at the young man and started to leave. "Wait. There's one person. Dr. Donald Mallard. Only him, though. Don't even bother to ask about the others."
"Alright. I'll let the nursing staff know."
"Thanks. And you can skip the dinner tray, too."
"I understand. Maybe tomorrow."
"Maybe... but I wouldn't put money on it."
Sitting quietly at her desk, Ziva rotated her shoulders subtly, trying to relieve the tension that had built up in them. Ever since the revelation of her trickery earlier that day, she'd been waiting for Gibbs to exact retribution, but he'd done nothing. He'd even spoken civilly to her several times. Trying to stave off whatever might be headed her way, she'd been exceedingly polite and professional and spoken only when asked a question or expected to provide information, but the strain was starting to show and not knowing what he planned was driving her crazy. When he'd brought her a sandwich at lunchtime, she'd hesitated, certain he'd done something diabolical to it, but had eventually given in and eaten, brushing aside Gibbs' inquiry as to what was wrong.
Tim had avoided conversation whenever possible, but for that she was glad. He was obviously still angry and she didn't have the energy to deal with it. When McGee strode off to another section of the office and Gibbs followed a few minutes later, she released a deep sigh and dropped her head to her desk.
"So what's the plan, Boss?"
"What plan, McGee?"
"Ziva. Aren't you going to... do something?"
"Nope. Not yet, anyway."
"But... oh. I get it. The longer you make her wait, the more you mess with her head."
"I'll keep her stress level up for a while, keep her on edge. By the time she realizes what I'm doing behind the scenes, it'll be too late."
"So you do have a plan." Tim responded, his voice and expression clearly saying he was eager for details.
"Sorry, need to know, McGee. What you haven't heard you can't get your ass chewed for being involved in."
"I need to help, boss, please. What she did to Tony is just..."
"No, Tim. When the fallout happens, this has to be my play... nobody else's. Why don't you go check in with Abby, see if her end of the Marquez case is ready for court."
"Okay... " the younger agent replied, disappointed.
"Maybe she'll let you in on the revenge scheme she, Ducky and Palmer are putting together."
Tim's smile returned threefold.
NCIS: 4:45 P.M.
"You're sure? That's the only name? Okay. No, I understand. Thank you. Good-night."
Gibbs hung up the phone and resumed shutting down his computer and preparing to head home. His jacket already on and backpack over his shoulder, Tim approached cautiously.
"Boss... has Tony changed his mind?"
"Only on one count. He wants to see Ducky." Gibbs replied, rising and gathering his own things.
"Ducky. That makes sense, I guess. He was the only one who wasn't there... the only one of us who didn't betray Tony."
"You need to quit that, McGee. Most of the time, guilt is a useless emotion. It blinds you and keeps you from doing what you need to do to fix a mistake. Go home, get some sleep... then come back tomorrow ready to do something productive to help clean up the mess Ziva made."
"Abby and I are already working on that." Tim responded, smiling grimly.
"Just the two of you?"
"Since we have our own specialties, we split into teams. Ducky and Palmer have their own ideas about the best way to wreak havoc. Jimmy said something about a goal of making her throw up or scream at least once a day for a whole week, but beyond that he wouldn't elaborate."
"Sounds like that's a good thing. Now obey orders, McGee."
"Home, sleep. Got it, boss. Do I even need to ask..."
"No... but the worry-wart treatment is appreciated. Go."
Tim nodded, lowered his head a little and headed for the elevator, Gibbs right behind him. They rode together as far as the parking level then parted ways with quiet good-nights.
"Ducky? You still here?"
The cultured, lightly amused voice of the NCIS coroner drifted out into the autopsy bay from somewhere out of sight.
"A moment, Jethro. I'll be right with you."
Ducky emerged a few minutes later, carrying an address book and wearing a knowing smile. "My apologies for the delay. I was arranging a particularly unpleasant surprise for Miss David."
"Do I need to know?"
"Meaning is it likely to be fatal? Unfortunately, no. I have a friend who works in crime scene investigation out in Las Vegas who also happens to be one of the foremost entomologists in the country. He's loaning me one or two of his more... disturbing exhibits."
"I'm well aware of your preferences, Jethro. I will be absolutely sure you are well away from the area when I... do the dirty deed, so to speak. Was that all you wanted? I have a few bits and pieces of actual work to finish before I can go home, and I'd like to be shed of them as quickly as possible."
"I came down to update you on DiNozzo. I got a call from the hospital. He's decided you can visit."
"That's a great relief. I was hoping, since I was absent from that wretched party..."
"We all wish we could have had the foresight, Duck. Tell him the truth. Try an' make sure he understands." Gibbs requested, turning to leave.
"I'll do my best. Jethro... if I asked you not to go through with whatever it is you're planning..."
THE HOSPITAL: TWENTY MINUTES LATER
Lewiston's latest patient rolled over and sat up, bracing his back against the wall.
"Here we are again."
"I said I'd be back. I keep my promises. How's the appetite?"
"Hopefully that will change. We need to talk about your time here. Since you checked in voluntarily, it's pretty much up to you how long you stay. I'd like to get your thoughts on that."
Tony grimaced and pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapping one arm around them.
"I don't know. Two weeks at least, but it may not take that long. I want this to work... so there isn't much I'll be holding back."
"Yes, we've already defined those boundaries. Apparently discussing childhood trauma, and any connection it may have to your present issues, is over the line."
"You learn fast. Like I said... not going there." Tony replied, his good hand coming up to briefly scrub at his face. The doctor smiled lightly, but as his patient's left hand turned inward, something caught Lewiston's eye and the doctor's expression became sober and intent.
"When you were admitted, I warned you I needed to know everything you could tell me related to the reason you were asking for help. Do you remember that, Tony?"
"Vaguely. I was so low right then... my mind wasn't running on all eight cylinders, you know?"
"Then why didn't you disclose that you've attempted suicide before?"
Tony's slumped posture suddenly shifted and he sat ramrod straight. His expression blanked and he showed none of his volatile emotions to the man seated before him.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"When you moved your hand, the overhead light picked up a streak... a spot where the skin shines. You've obviously had work done to remove the scars, but even the best plastic surgery can leave traces."
"I know you're still brittle and raw, Tony. I wouldn't push if it weren't important. I need to know about this if I'm going to help you. You've been so willing to open up... don't back off now."
"You don't understand. It was so long ago... it can't have any meaning now..."
"How long ago? How old were you, Tony?"
Tony's eyes slid shut. His mask slipped for a moment, revealing the barest suggestion of what he was feeling, but he fought to hold onto his shield and the emotional void slid back into place. His voice, however, he didn't have as much control over. When he finally answered, the single word was nearly choked off.
"Not really. I'd lived more than eight years... felt like twenty, at least."
"Can you tell me what was going on back then? What was happening that made you feel like you wanted to die?"
"I'm not sure I even remember anymore. I know my aunt had just passed away. Breast cancer they said... that wasn't the whole story, though. At the funeral, I heard the other relatives talking. The doctors couldn't do anything else for her... she was in pain every minute of every day... so when she couldn't take it anymore she broke the water glass on her nightstand and slashed her wrists. By the time they found her it was too late. I ran back and asked my mother if it was true... if Aunt Cassie had killed herself. First... first my loving mother slapped me across the face and told me never to say that again, that it would be a black mark on our name if anyone outside the family ever found out the truth. Then she said that sometimes, when people are in unendurable pain, they choose to take the decision out of the hands of others and end it themselves."
"I've counseled cancer patients at that point. It's a no-win situation. All the terminal person can see is that they want the hurt to stop. All the family can see is that time is being stolen from them."
"I loved Cassie. She saw me for who I was... treated me as if I was worth something. If I'd been there, though... I don't know if I would've stopped her or helped her."
"When it got to be too much, you didn't have anyone there for you either, did you?"
"No... not unless you count the housekeeper who found me and yelled for help."
"Found you where?"
"On my parents bathroom floor. They were in one of their streaks... it could last for days or months, I never could predict which it'd be. He'd drink, she'd scream, he'd scream back. That phrase my mother had used kept running through my head... unendurable pain. It sounds so stupid now, but I knew if I broke the Waterford crystal tumbler in my bathroom and I didn't die, I'd be in more trouble for the glass than I ever would for trying to kill myself. I snuck into their suite looking for... something, anything sharp. I finally remembered his razor. It was one of the old kind that held a blade. I went and got one from the medicine cabinet... had to pull myself up on the sink, but I was always a strong kid. As I did it, I remember thinking that it only hurt for a second... that was nothing compared to surviving in that house when the two of them got going..."
Slowly, Tony's face crumpled and he fell onto his side, curled up in a ball and began to sob. "Damn... I can't believe I just did that... nobody's supposed to know... I'm not supposed to tell... I promised..."
Lewiston left his chair and knelt by the bed, gently holding Tony's good hand.
"Your parents were wrong to make you do that. I'm really glad you told me. It'll all be easier from now on..."
Tony grasped Lewiston's hand tightly and fell silent, though the tears continued to run down his cheeks and his breathing took a long time to calm down.
A PARK SOMEWHERE IN VIRGINIA
"I'm not in a mood to hear your problems, Mr. Webb. Can you do what I asked?"
"It shouldn't be a problem. Are we still using the same liaison?"
"Yeah. When it's set up you get in touch with Fornell. He'll contact me."
"Alright. You do realize how much this is going to piss Jen Sheppard off."
"I can handle her."
"I hope so. Not many men have been able to say that and back it up."
"I'm not them. I'm me."
"Right. I'll be in contact soon, Gibbs."
"I'll be waiting."
When Lewiston arrived to see Tony the next day, it was unplanned and he had a physician, pulled away from the ER, at his side. In the early morning, during one of her quarter-hour checks on Tony, the on-duty nurse had noticed that the young man was trembling and nearly buried, head and all, under his blankets. Fearing something was seriously wrong, she'd contacted Lewiston, who had come running, dragging a friend from the emergency department along just in case the problem was physical.
"Tony? What's wrong?"
"Nothing... I'm fine."
"You're shaking... and you have a slight fever. What happened last night?"
"Nothing happened... just go away..."
Lewiston motioned his companion over.
"Tony, this is Dr. Harris. He works in the ER. He's going to check you out, alright? Try not to fight him." He joked. Tony smiled, with more than a touch of anger and fear behind it, and finally told them the truth.
"My arm... I was grazed... just a scratch. I was supposed to keep it in a sling... take pills... but I didn't much care. When I came here... I left everything at home..."
Harris carefully examined the stitches, trying his best not to cause additional pain.
"It's a little red. The wound is just starting to become infected. It could have been much worse. You were taking anti-biotics?"
"And pain meds..."
"I should hope so. This isn't a scratch, it's more like a knife slash."
"Bullet. I'm a Fed. Occupational hazard..."
"Ah. That explains the wound and the macho routine. I'll write him the scrips you need, Dennis." He said, turning to Lewiston and preparing to leave.
"Thanks so much, Scott."
Once the other doctor was gone, Lewiston moved back and took his chair beside Tony's bed.
"Okay, what was that about?"
"It wasn't a routine... had nothing to do with thinking I was a tough guy. I just hate the stupid meds that come with getting hurt. The pain pills make you sleep half the day and the anti-biotics keep you in the bathroom the rest of the time. Life already sucked. I didn't feel like dealing with the fallout from the meds too."
"I'm afraid you'll have to, at least until that arm is healed. Do you think you can get back to sleep or should we talk?"
"Once I'm up, that's usually it for the day."
"Alright. Let's pick up where we left off, shall we?"
"No. I won't break my promise again. I've done enough damage."
"What about the damage that's been done to you?"
"It doesn't matter. Look, ninety-nine percent of the time my mother was cold and manipulative and distant... but she had a little shred of humanity in her. I saw it... and because I did I have to shut up about the past. I need to not hurt her anymore..."
"Can you tell me about that? About realizing she wasn't always the person you knew?"
"She wouldn't want me to... but she never realized I was watching."
"If she had you would have been sworn to secrecy on that as well?"
"In a heartbeat. I... I was just about to walk into the room when she got the call about my aunt. All the color just drained out of her hands and face and she... she just slid out of her chair... like she'd melted. She screamed and the servants came running. My father strolled in five, maybe six minutes later. He pried the phone out of her hand, listened for a little while, then he hung it up. He dragged her back up to her feet, handed her to the maid and told her to take "the silly bitch" upstairs and put her to bed. That was his favorite name for my mother. He considered it affectionate."
"How did it feel to hear that all the time?"
Tony laughed, but his face held no real happiness.
"I've been through this before. I know my father wasn't exactly a role model for how a man should behave. As a captive audience to their so-called marriage I could have gone two ways; marry and become an abuser like he was, or decide that if that's love I want no part of it and become one-night-stand guy. I picked the second one, fortunately."
"Or not. The second option may seem safe and relatively pain free, but it's got to be incredibly lonely."
"Yeah, well, no wife and kids to permanently screw up. That's all that's counts. Lonely... I can deal with."
"I can see that. When did the final separation happen?"
"From your parents. To be as self-sufficient as you are, it must have come pretty early. If you'd stayed in that environment through high school, it's likely you'd either be extremely protective and defend your parents actions, or you'd be much more bitter and angry than you are. My yardstick puts you somewhere in the middle, so maybe thirteen or fourteen."
Tony stared at the doctor wide-eyed. The accuracy of the man's comments was shocking and Tony's emotions were all over the map. Unable to straighten them out, he tried to shut down, closing his eyes and curling into a ball, but Lewiston wouldn't allow the retreat.
"I told you... I won't. She wasn't the greatest mother but she at least deserves not to have our family compost pile aired out, damn it..."
"Why doesn't she deserve it? Why aren't your needs as important as hers?"
Tony sat up and opened his mouth, ready to tell Lewiston where to get off, but he couldn't make the words come out. In the end he replied simply and honestly.
"I don't know. I... I'm not even sure what my needs are."
"Do you want that to change?"
"That's why I'm here... I think. God, this is... why is it so hard? I didn't think I was still so stuck back there. I was so sure I didn't give a damn about either of them anymore... not 'till I just heard myself."
"Abused kids who don't get rescued grow up to be confused, hurting, self-sabotaging, rigid people. The child was powerless to stop the abuse, so the adult fights for clearly defined boundaries in every area, especially emotion. Controlling what you feel, or convincing yourself you don't feel anything at all, is the ultimate form of protection."
"Abused? No. No way. I wouldn't call it that."
"C'mon, Tony. You've been in law-enforcement long enough to know what I'm talking about. Verbal and emotional violence, neglect... they can do more lasting damage than a physical beating. You understand that."
"I understand... but that's not me. I get over, I move on. I don't do long-term grudges."
"Maybe the mask doesn't, but the mask isn't you either. Inside, behind that facade, I'd bet there's a whole toxic waste dump of things you haven't come to terms with. Think about those hours and days after you were found on that bathroom floor. When your parents came to you in the hospital and forced you to make that promise, what did you think? Honestly, what was your visceral, gut reaction?"
Tony closed his eyes again, hating how right Lewiston was about his control issues and, seemingly, about everything. Images floated through Tony's head and he winced, not wanting to exhume the memories the other man wanted to hear about. Of all the past traumas that occasionally gave him screaming nightmares, the days after his attempted suicide clung to him with the most tenacity. He suddenly knew that giving this up could either raze or restore him, but he wasn't sure it was worth the risk he'd have to take to find out.
Taking as deep a breath as he could, he held it in his lungs briefly, reminding himself that he was here because he'd finally admitted all was not right with his world. Recognizing that first and toughest barrier was already behind him, Tony released the air slowly, drew breath again and spoke.
"Wasn't what? Forced?"
"No... I wasn't in the hospital."
"I'm not sure I understand what you're saying."
"I told you... they'd do anything to hide what I did. A public hospital... forget it, out of the question. The family doctor came to the house that night. He stitched me up... bandaged my wrists. They kept me home for a week... told the school I had a virus. It wasn't both of them, by the way, just my father. He walked into my room the morning of my first day back in class. He told me that a promise was a verbal contract... and that people who break contracts pay penalties. That's when he made me swear never to tell anyone what I'd tried to do. If I did... I wouldn't be his son anymore and I wouldn't be able to live in his house."
"That must have terrified you."
"Way beyond. I knew he meant it. When it came to business, he was never anything less than dead serious. He actually made me shake hands... to seal the deal, he said... and he deliberately squeezed my wrist. I yelled, cried a little... that was the first and only time he ever hit me. When I got to gym class that day, I found out he'd sent a note to the school telling them that because of the "virus" I wouldn't be able to participate for the rest of the year."
"Of course. They didn't want you taking off your shirt in front of the other boys."
"On the nose, doc. A year after that they told me I was going to a doctor's appointment... pulled me out of school and everything. I didn't find out 'till I got there that it was really a plastic surgeon. Another week out of school and poof... no more scars for little Anthony."
"Ah. The skin in those spots wasn't as elastic and since you hadn't finished growing yet..."
"The marks still show. Faintly, but they still show."
"How much longer were you able to hold all this inside?"
"Three more years. We were at a buddy's house... his parents were gone for the weekend and being your typical oblivious, super-rich mummy and daddy they left him by himself with a phone and an unlocked liquor cabinet. Needless to say the minute they pulled out of the driveway the party was on. It was just a few of us guys though. The girls we were drooling over wanted nothing to do with us. We each picked our poisons and proceeded to get blasted beyond all recognition. Some idiot decided we should play the testosterone-laced version of truth or dare..."
"Gotcha. I remember it well. One person asks the question and the rest of the group all have to answer it before the next person can ask. Anyone who refuses has to perform the chosen dare."
"That's the one." Tony confirmed, his voice now beginning to tremble. "The minute I heard the question I should have walked out... probably would have if I'd been anywhere close to sober, but I wasn't. You know what? To this day I have no idea why I did it. Maybe I was just sick of hiding and lying, but when he asked what was the stupidest thing we'd ever done to ourselves... I told the truth."
"And it got back to your father."
"Through the school grapevine, yeah. I got home the Friday after that party... and my clothes were packed and waiting for me by the front door. He wouldn't look at me... all he'd say is that my mother was upstairs and didn't wanna see me. I.. I moved into a dorm at school... I had to take a test, but luckily I'm smart and I always studied really hard... so I got to stay in school after my father stopped paying my tuition. I had to... you know, work to pay for my books and food... but I didn't mind. It was better that way..."
Lewiston realized that not only was Tony crying once again, he was also sweating profusely and swaying in place, struggling to remain sitting up. He ended the session by calling in a nurse to give Tony the pills Dr. Harris had sent over. As the pain medication relaxed his patient, Lewiston gently slipped Tony's arm into the new sling, covered him with the blankets again and left quietly.
"Officer David. Where are Gibbs and McGee?"
"Director Sheppard. Uh... I really don't know, ma'mm. They left for lunch about twelve-thirty and haven't come back yet."
"They didn't tell you where they'd be?"
"They don't tell me much of anything lately. Not since DiNozzo..."
"Since Agent DiNozzo what? I notice he's also missing, by the way. What is going on around here?"
"Gibbs didn't... you don't know about Tony?"
"Why do I have the feeling I'm really not going to like this?"
A CAFE: SOMEWHERE IN D.C.
"Make it quick, Fornell. We need to get back to the office before Jen gets her nose in the wind."
"You trained her, Jethro. It's probably already too late."
"Probably. You have something for me, Tobias, or are we all wasting our time?"
"Be in MTAC tomorrow night at ten. You and McGee only. You'll have fifteen minutes. I hope that's enough."
"It should be. Thanks. Let's go, McGee. I have a feeling a storm may be brewin' back at the office..."
Gibbs and McGee strode back into the office to find Jen Sheppard waiting for them. She was standing by Gibbs' desk, arms crossed and tapping one foot.
The tone of her voice didn't bode anything pleasant, so her former paramour did everything he could to avoid the confrontation she clearly had her teeth and temper set for.
"Jen. What can I do for you?"
"We need to talk... in my office."
"I have work to do. It can wait, can't it?"
"Then tell me here and now. I need to get going on this case file."
"It's about DiNozzo."
"What about him?"
"Jethro, please. I'd really rather not do this in public..."
"McGee and Ziva aren't the public, Jen. Besides they're aware of what's going on."
"It was need to know. You didn't." Gibbs replied coldly, moving away from the others. Jen followed.
"For God's sake, Jethro..."
"He's taking some personal time. You know what he's been through the last six or seven months. When he asked for a few days to rest I wasn't about to deny him."
"I should have been informed. Protocol says I have to process any request..."
"Would you have approved it?"
Jen hesitated then looked down at the floor as she responded.
"Eventually. We can't spare anyone at the moment..."
"Well he needed the break now, Jen, not three months from now! That's why I didn't bother to go to you and beg your permission. Tony deserved consideration, not a pile of bureaucratic manure dumped on his head."
"Consideration or preferential treatment? And damn it, how many times do we have to discuss not using my first name in the office, Jethro? It's disrespectful and even if there isn't anything between us anymore, I am the head of NCIS and I demand respect!"
Slowly, Gibbs turned from the filing cabinet he was searching in and faced the director, his eyes boring into hers and sending icy shivers down her spine. His words made the sensation worse, seeming to drive the frost into her core.
"I don't respect hypocrites."
"From now on, you call me Agent or Special Agent Gibbs, I'll call you Director Sheppard. That should solve the problem."
Her lips tightened and she looked like she badly wanted to slap Gibbs across the face, but she clamped down on her anger and abandoned a little more of the hope that he would ever again look at her with passion, adoration and trust, the way he once had.
"Good. Anything else you wanted to talk to me about?"
"Then I can get back to work... Director?"
Turning on her heel, Jen stalked back through the bullpen and up the stairs. Gibbs smiled to himself and resumed his search. When he found the folder he wanted, he removed it, closed the drawer and moved back to his desk. McGee had his head bowed close to his computer screen, sensibly avoiding eye contact. Ziva was looking at Gibbs cautiously, her brow lined with concern.
"I didn't tell her, Gibbs."
"Your judgment's improving. Doesn't mean I trust you."
The young woman opened her mouth to say something more, perhaps to apologize, but she wisely closed it again. Her position was tenuous enough without letting her ego tear out any more of the ground underneath her. If she wasn't very careful, she might end up out of NCIS and she could not afford to let that happen. In fact, whatever she had to do, whatever it cost her, she would fight to stay. The alternative didn't bear thinking about.
4:00 : BETHESDA
Lewiston quietly entered Tony's room, stopping just inside the door for a moment or two of solemn observation. According to the nurses, the young man had been sleeping most of the day, but had been awake for the past half hour or so. Shifting the food tray to his other hand, he closed the door and approached the bed. Hearing his footsteps, Tony slowly turned over and regarded the doctor with bleary eyes.
"How are you feeling? Besides tired, I mean."
"A little better. The arm doesn't hurt as much... but I've been asleep pretty much since you left."
"As you said, pain meds will do that. Unfortunately, you were also right about the antibiotics. You need to give your system something to work with."
"Ugh. No thanks..." Tony said, throwing a disgusted look at the tray.
"You have to try. The next step is nutrition shakes, and if that fails, an I.V. I don't want to resort to either one. I'm not saying you have to wolf down everything on here. Just make an attempt, alright?"
Tony threw another glare at the toast, milk and scrambled egg, but he slowly sat up and threw his legs over the edge of the bed. The first bite caused him to look as if he desperately wanted something to spit it into, but he managed to swallow. The next was smoothed on its way by a sip of milk and Tony's expression wasn't quite so grave. After a few more minutes and another three or four reluctant bites of food, Tony finally looked up at Lewiston, who was now sitting in his usual chair.
'You don't have to watch me. I promise, I'll choke it all down somehow."
"I'm not monitoring you. I just thought since you've been alone for several hours you might want company."
"Not if we go back to the same topic of conversation. You're not making me do... that anymore."
"That. What I was doing before I fell asleep this morning."
"Right. That." Tony replied, ripping a chunk of toast off angrily, as if the bread had offended him, chewing and swallowing before he tried to speak again. "And don't try telling me it's normal and everybody does it. I know better."
"You do? How?"
"My... I just do."
"Your father told you that didn't he?"
"Have you ever heard the term "parent tapes" ?"
Tony's face now showed mild curiosity amid the frustration and fury, and Lewiston mentally cheered, knowing he hadn't lost the connection they'd started to build.
"It refers to phrases and lectures that pop up in our brains in certain situations. When I'm about to go out without a heavy enough jacket, even though I know perfectly well the temperature is close to freezing, I swear I hear my mother saying ' You're not going out like that, young man! If you catch a cold and end up sick in bed, don't think I'm going to nurse you! You can just fetch your own tissues and juice!' "
Tony laughed briefly, then finished off the last of the small amount of egg he'd been provided and took a long drink of milk.
"Mine couldn't have cared less what I had on. I could have run around naked as long as the neighbors didn't see me. I get what you're saying, though."
"That was a positive example of course. Those tapes aren't always a good thing. Adults who suffered emotional abuse in childhood can have horrible things running through their heads. The slightest mistake and suddenly it's like twenty years never happened. They're right back there, hearing someone scream that they're stupid or worthless or they'll never amount to anything..."
"Stop! Damn it, just... stop." Tony demanded, pushing the food away from him. "It wasn't my father. He barely spoke to me unless he wanted something. Nobody had to tell me crying is a waste of time and water... all I had to do is watch him... I learned."
"Gibbs. I've never known anybody as strong as he is. From the moment I started working for him I could see it. His eyes, the way he carries himself... That first day, I walked up and asked him if he had any instructions for me. He looked me straight in the eye and said "Never back down, never give up. Stick to that and you and I will get along fine." I never forgot. I live by it. I hate that he knows I'm here... but I couldn't let him wonder what happened to me. I respect him too much for that. Besides, he's my boss... he had to be told. I hate it, though."
"You really believe he'll think less of you for seeking help?"
"Hell, yeah. I broke the rule... I gave up. I couldn't handle things and I ran to somebody else to solve my problems."
"Tony... first off, you've got it backwards. Killing yourself would have been giving up. You didn't do that. Secondly, it takes more strength and courage to admit that you're not in total control anymore than it does to keep faking it and let your depression get worse and worse."
"Depression? You think I'm depressed?"
"After all you've been through, who wouldn't be?"
"He wouldn't. He doesn't surrender to anything, no matter what. I've tried so hard to live up to his example... to be as tough and steady as he is... and it kills me that I fell short of that. It just... pisses me off that I'm not everything he wants me to be..."
"Has he ever said that? Has he ever actually told you that to your face?"
"You're a trained investigator, Tony. If you made an assumption about a case and arrested someone, without the facts to back it up, what would Gibbs do?"
"Kick my ass... and make me go back and do it right."
"Something to think about. Here," Lewiston responded gently, holding out Tony's pills. "take your meds and try to get some more rest, alright? I'll see you tomorrow."
Tony grumbled under his breath, but he downed both pills with the last of his milk. As Lewiston left with the tray, his young patient lay back down and pulled the blankets over him, but with so much whirling through his mind, it took a long time for even the powerful medicine to drag him down into sleep.
MTAC: 10:00 P.M.
"You ready, McGee?"
"As ready as I can be, boss. Do I get to know what we're doing and why I'm running the comm. equipment instead of the usual tech?"
"Not from me, but if you keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut..."
"Got it, boss. Shutting up."
"Good. Do it."
McGee pushed buttons and did some rapid typing and within a minute or two, the large screen in front of Gibbs flared to life and a man's face came into focus.
"Good evening, Agent Gibbs."
"You're not who I was expecting."
"I am his representative. If I decide that your message has merit, then, and only then, will you speak to him. If the arrangement is not to your liking..."
"No. I understand the need for security better than anyone. Tell him we need to talk about her."
"He'll know. Tell him a decision needs to be made and I have information that will help him do that. There are things noone has told him... secrets he has the right to hear."
"That is all you are willing to say?"
"At this time... yes."
"I will pass on your message. You will repeat this contact two nights from now at the same time. I should have your answer by then."
"I'll be here."
The image vanished from the screen and McGee produced a relieved sigh, gazing at Gibbs with a mixture of wonder and fear.
"Was that who I think it was, boss?"
"So your plan is to... boss, can I just say..."
"No, you can't. I know what I'm doing, McGee."
"I'm not questioning that..."
"Damn right, you're not. Good job tonight. Now go home and get some sleep."
McGee nodded and hurried out of MTAC and down the stairs, wondering how Gibbs thought he'd be able to sleep. If his boss was doing what Tim suspected, the young agent was fairly sure that safety and peaceful rest would become precious commodities in all their lives until the plan was complete and perhaps for a long time afterward.
When Ziva arrived at work the following morning she frowned at the large package taking up most of the space on her desk. Checking the label, she noted that it was addressed to her at NCIS headquarters. She knew that since the near fatal mistake made by the screeners, policies and procedures had been tightened considerably, so she wasn't worried about it being anything that would harm her. Shrugging, she retrieved a utility knife from her desk and slit the tape securing the top flaps of the carton. When she got it open and peered inside, however, the sight that met her eyes caused her to screech, leap backwards and trip over her chair, landing in a less than graceful heap somewhere between her desk and Tim's. McGee moved swiftly to help her to her feet, admirably repressing his urge to laugh in her face.
"Are you alright, Ziva?"
"I will be... after I've tortured a few of the screeners in the mail room... to death."
"Why? What happened?"
"The box... I thought..."
"Go sit at my desk. I'll check it out."
As McGee was carefully looking into the box for himself, Ducky rushed in, his entrance precisely timed and his expression schooled to insure his innocence couldn't possibly be doubted. He halted just inside the bullpen and, seeing Ziva, closed his eyes and groaned faintly.
"Oh dear... I'm too late. I was afraid I might be."
"Ducky... what are these things?" Tim asked, backing away from the box. He knew perfectly well what the box contained, as he'd been as thoroughly informed of the plans of the ME department as they had been of his and Abby's.
"Centipedes and millipedes. Specifically, these are some of the world's largest species. Dead and mounted, of course. Couldn't send them through the mail live, could we? The lovely things would never survive the trip. Let's see how they came through the less than certain care of our national postal service..." he clarified, beginning to extract one of the mounting boards from the box. Ziva's bellow stopped him before even one of the insects could be seen.
"Hmm? Oh... oh, I'm so sorry, my dear. I completely forgot about your aversion to such things. I'll just take this down to my lab where it belongs." He told her, his sincerity seemingly beyond reproach, no matter what the truth might be. He hefted the box and turned to go, but stopped when Ziva questioned him in a hostile tone.
"How did it end up here in the first place? And why was it addressed to me!"
"The museum made a shipping error. They only just now called me. I rushed up to ensure that noone got a nasty surprise, but I didn't make it in time. Again, my deepest apologies..."
"That thing looks heavy, Ducky. Lemme give you a hand with it."
"It is, actually. Thank you, Timothy."
Somehow, McGee managed to wait until he, Ducky and the box made it into the elevator and were on their way down before he collapsed in helpless laughter.
"Ducky... oh my God... that was..."
"Yes. I only hope what I missed was as satisfactory as what I witnessed. I trust Abigail's done her part."
"I guarantee she's... pulling the whole thing... off the footage from her secret camera... and burning it to a CD as we speak."
"Good." Ducky replied, a wicked smile curling his lips. "When you see Jethro next will you let him know that I've taken the afternoon off?"
"Of course. Setting up another practical joke?"
"No. I'm going to have lunch... and then visit Anthony." he said, sobering rapidly.
"Oh... right. I wish..."
"So do I, Timothy, so do I. He'll change his mind, I'm sure. When he's ready... we'll all get our chance to grovel and make our abject apologies."
"You weren't there, Ducky. You have nothing to apologize for."
"Oh, but I do, dear boy. In fact... I see myself as far more culpable in Tony's breakdown than any of you."
"Ducky, no. You couldn't have known..."
Tim would have continued, but the elevator was approaching the morgue level and the older man grabbed his box, which was actually quite light.
"The plan you and Abby have concocted is set to go off this afternoon?"
"Yeah. I'm sorry you'll miss her reaction first-hand."
"The visual record will do just fine. I'll look forward to both your accounts of the carnage, however. See you in the morning, Timothy." Ducky said as he stepped out, leaving McGee behind. Tim began the ride back up to the bullpen in a much more solemn mood than he'd been in on the trip down.
"Can I help you?"
"I sincerely hope so. My Name is Dr. Donald Mallard... I believe I've been approved to visit Anthony DiNozzo?"
The nurse's bright smile put Ducky a little more at ease, but didn't completely alleviate his anxiety. Knowing Tony was locked in this place, in distress and without a single person he knew by his side, twisted the older man's stomach into knots.
"You absolutely are, Doctor. It's very good to see you. Sometimes just the idea of a friend or family member being here can make visitors too afraid to even try." she said as she came around the desk.
"Oh, dear lady... I'm one of the unfortunate, I'm afraid. I've had to witness a loved one in a much worse place than this and in much worse shape than Anthony. A lovely, clean facility such as this, where I know Tony will be helped and well cared for... it could never frighten me."
"Yes, so was I at the time."
"If you'll follow me, I'll take you to his room. The doctor said if you decided to visit that you could have half an hour." the nurse informed him as she led the way down the hall and through two sets of secured doors.
"Is he doing well?"
"He seems to be. The pain medication he's taking for his arm means he's sleeping a lot, right now, so don't be surprised if he drifts off on you."
"But other than that..."
"I don't really know. If you'd like to talk to the doctor after your visit, I can arrange it."
"Yes, please. I'd appreciate that very much."
As they walked up to the door of Tony's room, the nurse lifted her keys and started to unlock the door, but stopped when Ducky gasped and raised a hand to the viewing window.
"I... I'm sorry, my dear. I simply... well, even as wonderful as I'm sure this place is, seeing Tony locked away, knowing the reason... it's very difficult. Please, go ahead."
"I understand. He really is getting the best care, believe me. Dennis Lewiston is one of the most knowledgeable, compassionate doctors I've ever worked with. If anyone can guide your friend through this, he can."
"I'll trust to your judgment. Still, speaking with Tony will ease my mind..."
"Oh, of course. I'm sorry too. You seemed so upset, it was automatic to try to reassure you. Nurses instinct." She told him with a chuckle. "He seems to be awake." she commented as she turned back and opened the door. "If you'll stay here for just a second, I'll see if he's feeling up to seeing anyone."
After a brief exchange with Tony, which Ducky was relieved to see had animated the young man considerably, the nurse returned, leaving the door open a little.
"He's eager to see you. Go on in. Half an hour..."
"I remember. Thank you so much."
"No problem. I'll contact the doctor while you're visiting. By the time you're done, I should know if he has the time to see you today."
The sound of the door closing and locking behind him drew a slight wince out of Ducky, despite how quiet the noise actually was, but his discomfort only lasted a moment. The sight of Tony sitting up and holding out his good arm in welcome shifted his focus back where it belonged. In a moment, the older man was sitting beside Tony on the bed and holding him in a powerful embrace.
"Anthony... you silly, silly boy..."
"I know. It's so good to see you, Duck. I wasn't sure..."
"I wanted to rush right over the minute I heard you were willing to see me, but work and plotting a bit of nasty revenge kept me busy until now." Ducky told him, pulling away and swiping at his cheeks.
"Yes. One of my better efforts, if I do say so myself."
"It's nothing that will get me in trouble, I assure you. Merely a little payment in kind for the cruelty Miss David perpetrated on you and the rest of my family."
"I don't understand..."
"Your doctor hasn't passed on our message?"
"No. We've been kinda busy working through some old stuff. We're not up to that night yet. You tell me."
"Ziva lied to all of them, Tony. She led them to believe that you had been extended an invitation and refused it. Her reasoning for the deception was petty and childish and you don't need to hear that right now. What you must know is that none of us knew the truth."
"Don't include yourself in that apology, Ducky. I know you weren't there."
"You... but how?"
"Why would you blow off a chance to spend your anniversary alone with Gerald? A dinner party could never compare with that."
"My God... How long have you... when did you..."
"Please. You guys were always discreet, but anyone who really looked could see how you felt about each other. I mean... when he was shot, the look on your face... it was like that bastard had reached in and crushed your heart." Tony explained, his eyes lowered. When he met Ducky's gaze again, concern was evident in his expression. "I never told anyone. I wouldn't do that..."
"Oh, I realize that. Don't give it another thought. It's just... oh well. It's almost a relief, I suppose. We've been hiding for so long... I don't like to think about that night. I came so close to losing Gerald... even that piece of filth being dead hasn't rid me of my anger completely. Jethro is just as upset on your behalf, you know."
"Don't. Don't go there."
"No. I can't."
"But you've gone through the same situation. Having to watch you dying in that isolation unit almost killed Jethro. Still, through that whole ordeal he was stronger and more in control than I've ever seen him... at least until he knew you were going to survive."
Tony's immediate reaction to this statement shocked Ducky. The younger man stumbled to his feet and backed away, his eyes wide.
"What? Why would I? I don't..."
"You're lying! He wouldn't... not over me, not over anything."
"Of course he cries. When he lost his daughter he spent the better part of two days utterly lost... he sobbed in my arms as if he were a child himself..."
"Tony... what's wrong?"
"He has to be perfect... he has to be... otherwise it isn't safe..."
"What isn't safe?" Ducky asked, moving to stand by Tony and gently touching his shoulder.
"Tony... my God. I suspected... but I was never quite sure..."
Abruptly, Tony began to panic and gripped Ducky's bicep frantically with his good hand.
"You can't say anything! Promise me you won't! Please, Ducky, you have to swear to me you won't tell him!"
"I do, I do. You have my solemn vow. You must calm down, Tony. Here, come back and sit down. You're trembling..."
After a few moments of hesitation, Tony nodded and allowed Ducky to lead him back over to the bed and help lower him to the mattress. "There... you'll be alright now."
"I wish. I never should've opened my mouth. Forget you ever heard it, okay?" Tony pleaded, his head dropping forward as if he were too tired to hold it up.
"Oh, no." Ducky declared gently as he reclaimed his chair. "That I will not do and you shouldn't either."
"You don't understand..."
"I'll freely admit that. You explain it."
"It won't make sense."
"Few things in the world do these days. May as well try."
Tony sighed and surrendered.
"It's easy for me to give, Ducky. Anything you need, whatever it is, you've got it. I'll give 'till I'm homeless and naked. Taking... I'm not so good at. I can do one-sided love, I understand how it works. When the other person starts wanting it to go both ways, though... I just don't know how to handle that. If Gibbs isn't what I thought he was... if there's even a chance he might feel something for me, I'd have to leave. The job, if not the state."
As Ducky reached out a hand to brush easy fingers over Tony's brow he caught sight of his watch and realized his limited time had almost run out. Inside, he deeply regretted all that he hadn't yet said, but for Tony he produced a gentle smile.
"Oh, Tony... you must know it's far too late to expect us not to feel affection for you. I took to you the moment we met and as for Abby... well, if you ever tried to tell her she wasn't allowed to care about you, I shudder to think what she might do. Even McGee and Mr. Palmer respect you, as much as you use sarcasm and exaggerated irritation to keep them at a distance. Gibbs, I'm afraid, moved beyond affection long ago. Foolish, silly boy..."
A moment later the door opened and the nurse stepped just inside the room. Ducky looked over his shoulder briefly to acknowledge her presence then turned back to Tony. "I'm so sorry, Tony. They've only given me so much time today..."
"It's okay. I understand."
Reluctantly, Ducky stood and stepped away.
"I will be back. Have no fear of that."
"I don't. Your promise..."
"I won't forget. Take care... don't give the staff too difficult a time, hmmm?"
"I'll keep it to a minimum. Thanks for showing up. Bye."
"No. See you soon."
As the door closed behind him, Ducky leaned against the wall slightly and ran a shaky hand over his face.
"I'm alright. Guilt is simply more draining than I remembered."
"I won't try to tell you not to. It's something every family member feels when something like this happens." She commented as they walked away.
"Believe me, the lack of platitudes is appreciated. Were you able to contact Tony's doctor?"
"I was, actually. He'll be down to speak with you in about five minutes if you can wait."
"I absolutely can. I must thank you for your kindness and encouragement today. It helped a great deal."
"No problem. It was the least I could do. You can sit in the waiting room if you like. I'll send Dr. Lewiston right over when he comes down."
3: 00 -- NCIS :
For the fourth time in less than two hours, or it could have been the fifth (she'd lost track) Ziva sat back away from her monitor and watched a performance she dearly wished would cease. This time her frustration level was such that her hand strayed to the drawer where her gun was stored. Tim caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and moved to her side, gazing at the screen.
"I won't help. I mean, it'd make you feel better, yeah, but they'd take the cost of the monitor out of your paycheck."
"I don't care." She growled at both Tim and the annoying image.
"Up to you I guess. I swear, I just don't understand this. None of your data seems to be affected?"
"No. I get this... thing walking around my screen for several minutes and then normal function is restored."
"Then why do it at all? And why a duck?"
"I'm sure I don't know but I want it repaired now!"
"I'll see what I can do, but... whoops. Gone again. I'll have to wait until it happens next time. Sorry."
"I'm not. Now I can get back to work." Ziva sighed, sitting forward again with an expression of intense relief. Her restored mood didn't last long, however. Within minutes, a tall man in workers coveralls strode into the room carrying a ladder and set it up close to her desk.
"Sorry, miss. The conduit I have to reach is just up here. I won't be long, I promise."
Ziva growled again, but turned back to her computer and tried to resume her current task. Unfortunately, she didn't have much success as not only was the worker continually nudging her with his leg and foot, pieces of debris periodically rained down on her head and shoulders as he worked. For an hour or more she withstood it, flinching and avoiding dust and bits of ceiling tile as best she could, but eventually she screamed through clenched teeth and vaulted out of her chair.
"That... is it! I give up! I'm going home!"
"What should I tell Gibbs?"
"Show him the... the spud all over my desk! He'll understand."
"You mean crud. Yeah, I guess... Hey, I think I just figured out what the problem with your monitor was all about. It was somebody's weird way of warning you the repair guy was coming. You know duck? As in look out?"
"Yes, well, if I find out who it was, they'd better take their own advice!" Ziva threatened, grabbing her bag and coat from under the rubble and stalking off. Tim waited until he was sure the elevator had started down then looked up and called to the man on the ladder, fighting to speak through his giggles.
"You can come down, Barry. She's gone..."
Once the other was on solid ground again, he and Tim high-fived.
"I really enjoyed that." The taller man said, grinning from ear to ear.
"I swore I was about laugh and get myself shot... thanks so much for agreeing to do this."
"Hey, after what my brother told me she did, I jumped at the chance. I only met Tony once or twice, at holiday parties and such, but he seemed like a really nice guy."
"He is. Way beyond nice. I can't wait to tell him..."
Tim's face fell and he lowered his eyes.
"Yeah. Jimmy told me that too. Just one more reason to help get a little revenge on the bitch."
"You want help cleaning this up?"
"Nah. I've got a dustbuster in my tool bag. Won't take but ten minutes. Oh, before I forget, Jim asked me to remind you about the game you promised him tonight. He'll meet you online at seven-thirty."
"I remember. Thank him too, when you see him. The duck thing... was inspired."
"I will. I keep tellin' him he needs to let everybody know how good he is at programming, but he says he loves what he's into right now and wouldn't trade working with Dr. Mallard for anything."
"Man, that reminds me. You missed a classic moment this morning..."
Just as the sun was setting, Lewiston quietly made his way into Tony's room, once again carrying a tray. Stretched out on his bed facing the wall, Tony turned over quickly and sat up, hoping that Ducky was returning. Seeing the doctor disappointed him, but he covered the reaction.
"Evening, Tony. I brought dinner."
Tony shrugged and accepted the meal, setting the tray on the bed beside him, but he didn't make any immediate effort to do anything with it. Lewiston smiled and responded. "You do want out of that sling ASAP, right? Eating equals healing."
His patient grimaced, but he lifted the tray into his lap and cracked open the bottle of cold juice that had been provided, taking a healthy swig. He carefully placed the drink on the floor at his feet before reluctantly picking up half of the sandwich and nibbling on it. "I hear you had a visitor today."
"You don't have to tell me about it. Whatever you said is between the two of you."
"But nothing. What we discuss in these sessions is pretty much up to you."
"Pretty much... there's the qualifier I was waiting for."
"You know what I'm saying. We need to talk about certain subjects, like why you felt suicidal that night and how your past might have set you up for being in that place emotionally. Other than those critical issues, it's your ball and you decide when to play and what the rules are."
"You're welcome. Speaking of your emotional state... how about a status check?"
"It's not like it was that night... but the urge is still there. I need it all to just... stop... and some part of me doesn't wanna give up on the idea of a permanent solution... not just yet anyway."
"I wouldn't expect you to. It's early days, Tony. You'll get there, I promise. I'm not giving up and I don't want you to either."
"I haven't. It's... I don't know. I guess I didn't think about having to walk through all the pain to get beyond it and feel okay again."
"You've been going around, over and under it for a long time. Old habits die hard."
"That... is the understatement of the century, doc." Tony stated wearily, finally pushing aside the remnants of his sandwich. He laid the tray on the floor and picked up his juice, draining it in a few swallows. He didn't relinquish the clear plastic bottle, however, holding it by the neck and slowly twisting it back and forth in front of his face, as if it were a prism or a kaleidoscope. Lewiston gave him a few minutes of peace and contemplation before he gently interrupted.
"What are you looking for?"
"A way out, I guess. Hell, Alice did it with a mirror. Who says it won't work with a juice bottle?"
Lewiston lit up with an easy smile.
"Nice dream. Just jump into a hole or through the looking glass and leave all your baggage behind."
"It's not that easy..."
"No, I'm afraid it isn't."
Abruptly, Tony dropped onto his side and curled into a fetal position, his good hand covering his eyes. Lewiston moved from the visitor's chair to the edge of the bed in a flash. "Tony? What is it? What happened?"
"I love what I do... I'm a good investigator, damn it..."
"From what I've heard, you wouldn't be working for Jethro Gibbs if you weren't. You sound like being good at your job is a negative thing."
"No... leaving will be."
"Why do you have to leave? Do you actually think you'll get fired for seeking help when you needed it?"
"You don't get it..."
"No, I don't."
Slowly, Tony's hand fell away and he sat up again, swiping at the tears he wished he could control.
"You... you ever see any Lloyd Webber musicals?"
"One or two."
"How about Jesus Christ Superstar?"
"Film and play."
"There's a song... it's Mary's signature..."
" 'I Don't Know How To Love Him ' ?"
"That's the one. If you don't go deeper than the title, you won't understand what the song is really about. She knows how to cherish and take care of Jesus... how to shut his mind down for a while so he can sleep. She shows that in another song, ' Everything's Alright'."
"That's a really good point. Go on, I'm following you so far."
"See, ' I Don't Know How To Love Him ' ... the truth of the song is in the last verse."
"It's been too many years. Can you remind me?"
Tony's head dropped forward and he began to pick at the blanket he was sitting on. Eventually, he responded, but his voice was barely audible.
"That's where she says that her real problem is being afraid that he'll love her back. She finally admits that if he ever spoke the words she'd be lost and scared... and she wouldn't be able to handle it. She'd choose to run instead of taking the risk."
Lewiston reached out and tipped Tony's chin up, wanting the younger man to look at him when he asked his next question.
"So who is it you'd be running away from?"
"Saying the name won't commit you to anything and it might give you a little peace."
"I... I have to leave my job... leave Gibbs."
"Your friend that visited today... he told you that your boss might have feelings for you?"
"Ducky's known Gibbs a lot longer than I have. If he said it... he believes it."
"Accepting love is a terrifying idea for you, isn't it?"
"It's more than that. Trusting is too hard. I carry enough pain and regret around already. Who needs somebody else adding to it by breaking my heart one more time?"
"And if he said he wanted to take some of your burden away, you'd swamp yourself with guilt about putting your weight on his shoulders."
Tony squeezed his eyes partially shut and gazed at Lewiston critically.
"You're trying to get me to realize how little sense that makes, aren't you?"
"Your intuition is intact. That's a good sign.." The doctor praised, patting Tony's shoulder gently. Taking the juice bottle, he walked into the attached bathroom, half-filled the container with cold water, returned and handed it to Tony with his meds, which the young man stared at, brooding, before finally swallowing them.
"Am I... will I need more medication when I get out of here?"
"I don't know yet. I'm hopeful we can avoid anti-depressants in your case. You're so open and willing to work with me, I think there's an excellent chance that traditional therapy will be enough and you won't need pills."
"But you can't be sure."
"As I said, it's early days. My feeling is that our talks are already making a difference. Give me a little more time, alright?"
Tony nodded then turned away slightly, looking as if he were settling in for a long stretch of heavy thinking. Lewiston grabbed the tray and bottle and left quietly, not wanting to disturb him. Once he was in the hall, he strode quickly to the elevator, headed up to his office to make notes on his conversation. He had ideas percolating in his head that would take some convincing to get Tony to agree to, but he was determined. There were things he needed to know and he couldn't find them out from his patient.
10:00: ABBY'S APARTMENT
Curled up with Abby on her couch, Tim stroked her hair gently then kissed her softly on the forehead. She sighed and looked up at him without lifting her head off his shoulder.
"You didn't have to come over, Tim. I know how much fun you and Jimmy have online..."
"Of course I had to. When you call and say you need me... I'd find a way out of heaven or hell to get to you. You scared me, you know..."
"Me too." Abby replied meekly, snuggling closer.
"I've never heard you that upset. What happened?"
"Ducky called me earlier. He wanted me to meet him for a drink. When I saw him, I wanted to cry and punch something at the same time. He looked... old, Timmy. He never looked like that to me before..."
"He is, Abs. I know he doesn't act like it most of the time, but Ducky could have retired ten years ago probably. He stayed on because he loves what he does and he loves all of us. I think seeing how raw Jimmy was and how much he needed guidance made him hang on a little longer, too. After Kate died and he had to do the autopsy, though... I was sure he'd be gone. "
"You think he'll leave now?"
"Yeah. I love Ducky, too, but... I hope he will. As much as he wants to help Jimmy, Ducky misses Gerald more."
"He really does. I don't want him to go... but you're right. Tony being so hurt might have been the last straw. What we've done to Ziva isn't enough. I need to really hurt her..."
"Gibbs is handling it. You just have to trust that he knows what he's doing."
Finally, Abby lifted her face up and looked curiously at McGee.
"What is he doing? I know you know, you were right there in MTAC with him the other night..."
"I have an idea, but I can't say anything. He told me to keep my mouth shut until everything is over... just in case."
"Will somebody else rearrange her internal organs?"
"No guarantee, but if Gibbs' plan works... who knows? She'll be massively unhappy, that I'm sure of. She won't be the only one, either. We'll know soon. That's all I can tell you."
Smiling for the first time since Tim had arrived, Abby returned her head to his shoulder and wrapped her arms around his waist, drawing him close.
"Okay. I can wait then."
FOLLOWING MORNING: BETHESDA
When Dr, Lewiston entered Tony's room just after breakfast the next morning, he found Tony sitting up on his bed, his functional arm wrapped around his bent knees. The young man appeared somber and contemplative, as he'd expected. Tony, however, did have a major surprise in store for his therapist.
"The nurse told me you ate well. Are you feeling a little better physically?"
"Some. The stitches are starting to itch, and that's usually a good sign."
"It is. I'm glad to hear that. Do you think you're ready to cut down on the pain meds?"
Tony lit up.
"I love seeing that smile. Okay, I'll let the nursing staff know to start reducing it gradually. You've got a ways to go on the antibiotics though. Those you'll have to stay full schedule on until Dr. Harris says you're fully healed."
"I understand. I don't have to like it... but I understand."
"Nobody likes them, but they're a necessary evil and stopping them before the course is finished can mean serious problems the next time you get sick or hurt."
"I know, I know. Been there, done that. Look... can we change things up today? Is that doable?"
"I... I need to talk a few things out... but I need you not to comment until I ask you to. Alright?"
"That's fine. Start whenever you're ready."
For a long moment, Tony was silent, simply drawing and expelling deep breaths, as if he were preparing to attempt a free-dive for the first time. Eventually, he settled his gaze on the far wall and began to speak.
"What I wanted to talk about is alcohol... and anger. See, over the past few years, I've been doing some research and I know that it isn't necessarily specific addictions that are hereditary. It's the addictive personality that can get passed on. Still, there's the ' learn what you live, live what you learn ' thing... Talking about my past so much, it's stirred up memories I wish had stayed buried... mostly about my father. Last night I lay awake for hours, going over and over things I've done... moments I really regret. I realized that as much as I've tried not to become him... that's where I'm headed if I don't do something."
Tony paused for another round of slow breaths and Lewiston stayed quiet, as much as he wanted to help erase the anguished, lost expression on Tony's face. He knew the young man might be about to open some very painful doors and any interruption now could cause him to decide they'd be better off shut and triple locked.
"My father was addicted to booze and fury... I've known that for a long time. Back in the day, that meant dear old pops had a big dilemma. There he was, a major name in the corporate world, but he was also a rage-aholic. He couldn't afford to lose it out where his cronies or the media might see, so he brought it home. Me, he just threatened and scared the hell out of. My mom was the one who got his fists and backhands. I remember... most nights I used to pray for him to start drinking instead of her. It sounds weird, I know, but alcohol mellowed him out. The fights only really happened when she drank. See, when she got plastered, that was the only time she had the courage to try and get out from under his thumb... the only time she wasn't his ideal wife. He couldn't stand that. I've since learned that some rage addicts explode because their need for total control is overwhelming. That level of... of perfection is something they can never achieve, though... especially not in the people closest to them. That's why their families are the ones who usually get hurt when the addict blows."
Tony paused again, running his fingers through his hair and shifting position to stretch limbs that were going numb. When he resettled finally, he was sitting with his legs over the side of the bed and his gaze was now riveted to the floor.
"I know, all that was the extreme long way around to get to the point... but I do have one. I swore to myself I'd never become the son of a bitch my father was and I'd never be a drunk... like most kids in that situation do, I guess. Thinking about the past few months of my life, though... I'm suddenly scared shitless. The one moment that's really throwing up a red flag is an undercover assignment I was on a few weeks back. I can't give you details, but I'll tell you what you need to know to understand. I went in with another agent, a woman. The assignment got twisted and off course, and we ended up back to back, tied into our chairs. Total cliché, I know, but true. Anyway, I knew my partner could handle herself, but not if she wasn't free, so I told the black hats that only she knew where we'd hidden the item they wanted. One of the two bad guys took her to go get it... and the other one... he left off beating the living hell out of me and pulled out this huge knife."
Hearing about the beating made Lewiston's anxiety step up another notch. Not speaking and not comforting Tony became even harder to resist, but he continued to hold back, sensing the story was close to an end.
"I saw it... and I knew I was done if I didn't change things. From that point on... that's where it gets really scary for me, because... I don't remember anything else until my partner and Gibbs busted in. It's not like I blocked out the memory... I think I'd feel different if that was the case. That few minutes just... doesn't exist in my head. According to Gibbs, when he and Ziva showed up I had the second suspect trapped between the beds in this hotel room. I was still tied to the chair, but I managed to find a way to kick the bastard into unconsciousness, apparently. I found out later he was in a coma for three days. It's so weird... I mean, I remember seeing the knife... and feeling this mixture of fear and anger flood over me. Then I was standing over a motionless man and telling Gibbs something about a divorce... probably because Ziva was driving me crazy. That night I went home, flushed the pain pills Ducky gave me... and drank until I passed out. Thank God I had a couple days off thanks to my injuries, because the next morning... I couldn't move. I managed to lean over and barf into my bedside trashcan a few times, but that was about it."
For several minutes, silence finally reined in the room, though the words that had been spoken left the atmosphere feeling oppressive and tense. At last, Tony looked up and directly into his doctor's eyes. "Okay. Your turn."
Instantly, Lewiston was beside Tony on the bed, touching his shoulder gently and turning the young man to face him.
"First off... wow. When you said you wouldn't be holding much back you really meant it. That had to be incredibly difficult for you to talk about... and you were incredibly courageous to put it out there. I'm very proud of you for risking yourself like that, especially considering how often you've been betrayed and hurt. Second, what happened to you in that hotel is a rage blackout. That's what I call it at least. I'll admit it does concern me, but we'll work on it another time. Right now, I want to discuss the points you raised. You're right about addiction. We think it's the susceptibility that gets passed on, but environment definitely influences what direction a child of addiction might go when they get tempted. In your case, I'm not too worried about you following in your father's footsteps. Your awareness and understanding of addiction, and his motives specifically, make it much less likely that will happen."
"But... the hotel, and what I did after..."
"Mitigating circumstances in both instances."
"Tony, have you ever been so angry you hurt someone close to you? Your co-workers or friends?"
"Has drinking ever seriously affected your work? Have you ever come in drunk or had a hangover so bad that you couldn't do your job?"
"No. I faked a few hangovers... just to keep up appearances, but the few times I've screwed up at work, it had nothing to do with booze."
"Then you aren't in trouble yet and I don't think you ever will be. As I said, the blackout isn't exactly a good sign, but we'll talk about it. Once we both understand why it really happened, I can help you develop strategies to keep it from happening again. I tell you what. You took such an amazing step this morning... how would you like a reward?"
Tony studied Lewiston warily.
"Half an hour in the sunroom."
"What? I'm not ready yet. It's only been a few days... what if... I told you the feelings that put me here aren't gone. I could freak out. I really could. You understand that right?"
"I trust you to talk to me if you get overwhelmed. You deserve this, Tony, and I'll be with you every minute."
Tony stood and tugged Lewiston up with his good hand then began to straighten the blankets, sheets and pillows. "What is it, Tony? What's scaring you?"
"Nothing... not really. I just like it in here. It's nice. Kind of bland with all the white and beige... but nice."
"You mean it's safe."
"I'm not shoving you out the hospital doors today, Tony. Eventually, you will have to face the world again, but all I'm suggesting right now is a little sun."
Tony sighed and abandoned his attempt at neatening the bed.
"Sometimes I think I'm really strong... then something knocks me on my ass and I'm drowning in doubt all over again. It sucks..."
"You are strong. My God, do you think a weak man could have admitted the things you did today? Not in a million years. C'mon. Session's over. Let's go catch some rays and relax, hmm?"
"You won't leave?"
"I won't leave."
Wrapping one arm around Tony's shoulders, Lewiston led him slowly to the door. He opened it and waited for his patient to decide he was ready to move beyond the threshold. It took several minutes, but Tony eventually shuffled forward a single step, blinking in the brighter light of the corridor. Joining him, Lewiston smiled and lightly squeezed the young man's shoulder.
When they made to the sunroom and dropped side by side onto a window seat, Tony closed his eyes and turned his face up to the warmth and natural light streaming through the glass. The other man gave him a few minutes to unwind then asked a question designed to take Tony's mind completely away from any thought of the stress he'd been under for so long.
"So... what's your favorite ice cream?"
"You're Barbara Walters now? If I were a tree, I'd be an oak." Tony replied, never turning away from the sunlight.
"Do I have to pick just one?"
"I can't bring ten different bowls with your dinner tonight, now can I? The staff nutritionist would have me drawn and quartered."
10:00 THAT NIGHT: MTAC
"You ready, McGee?'"
"Anytime you are, boss."
"Atta-boy. Do it now."
Once again, Tim typed and punched a button and the screen above Gibbs came to life. The face was the same one as before, but the status-quo didn't last long. After a brief greeting, his former contact stepped aside and a new man took his place. Silver hair shone from his temples, while the rest remained a glossy black, and his proud bearing told Gibbs that this was the man he had hoped to see.
"Director David. I appreciate this."
"As well you should. What is this news you have concerning my daughter?"
"Yes... my apologies. I hope you can understand how difficult this is for me. I'm a soldier... I follow orders and I've been ordered never to discuss this with anyone. Most especially not you. But now with the situation what it is... I can't justify staying silent."
David's irritated expression slowly evolved into one that showed his intense interest and focus.
"First of all, if you would, sir... I'd like to know what you've been told about the death of your son."
"Yes, sir. I know they were brother and sister."
David didn't respond for several seconds and Gibbs felt the tension step up several levels and the temperature drop the same amount.
"I was informed one of the scum he was involved with took his life."
Gibbs expertly feigned a regretful, pained reaction.
"I'm sorry, sir... but you were lied to."
"I'm afraid so. If you want to hear it... I'm prepared to tell you the truth."
"And receive what in exchange?"
"Their lives. All I ask is that they not be killed."
"They? Who else are we... ah. You are referring to your present agency director."
"Do I have your assurance, sir? I'm doing this because I felt you deserved to know what happened, but..."
"My guarantee, Special Agent Gibbs. Whatever you tell me... their lives will not be forfeit. Now, I beg of you... speak."
"Yes, sir. I assume you're aware that your son mur... shot and killed a member of my team."
"I am. A tragedy of massive proportions. The boy was out of control... and far beyond my influence."
"Understandably, I was a little out of control at the time myself. Grief and anger eroded my judgment and if I could have found him... I don't like to think what might have happened. I have enough violent deaths on my conscience."
"As do I. The justifications others provide can never wash away the stains completely, at least in our own eyes."
"Well said. As it happened, I never had to face that moment. He came looking for me. He confronted me in my home and he died there... but not at my hand."
David's eyes went cold and he breathed out heavily before asking the question.
"Your daughter's...at the instigation of Director Sheppard, but I didn't discover that until recently. Jen apparently convinced her that she could have a wonderful life here, and a permanent position on my team, if she wasn't afraid to show our government that her loyalties lay with the U.S. She must have followed her brother to my house that night. I didn't even know she was there until she fired."
"Your life was in danger?"
"Absolutely. I was grateful... I've even come to like and respect your daughter. When I found out what Director Sheppard had done, though..."
"Of course. My... thanks for your integrity and courage, Special Agent Gibbs."
"It won't make a difference to the fact that I just blew my career to hell... but I appreciate it, sir."
"Yes... do not plan your retirement just yet. I must take some time to absorb this information and decide what to do. Expect to hear from me soon. Perhaps not directly, but... you understand."
"I do. Take care, sir."
David nodded curtly just before the screen shifted over to static. A moment later it went black as Tim shut it down. He looked at Gibbs, but seemed to be too in shock to speak right away. Gibbs stepped close to him and asked a soft question. "Why is he going to believe me, McGee?"
"Uh... well, you were respectful and polite. You said soldier, not Marine. Instead of raising potential American-Israeli cultural barriers, that put you on common ground. The plea to spare Ziva and Director Sheppard's lives showed you had compassion... and that you were willing to stand up for your principles, even if it meant giving up on telling him what he wanted to know. You never used Ari's name. Not only could that have upset and sidetracked Director David, which was the last thing you wanted, avoiding the name was an acknowledgement of his grief. Lastly, you didn't place the blame squarely on Ziva's shoulders. That allows him to forgive her... meaning he doesn't have to lose both children. He'll be grateful to you for giving him that out."
"But he'll also owe you, which could come back to bite you in the ass later."
"Never miss a trick, do you? Good man. Finish up and head out." Gibbs told him, turning and exiting the room. Tim grinned, reveling in the rare words of praise as he completed the one or two tasks necessary to place the equipment in overnight monitoring mode then rose and left by a separate exit, assuring that he and Gibbs would not be observed leaving MTAC together.
FOLLOWING MORNING: BETHESDA
"Hey. So what are we doing today?"
"Nothing. You made such progress yesterday that you've earned a day off."
"Seriously. I only stopped in to bring your breakfast and ask your permission for something I'm planning."
"Which would be?"
"I'd like to talk to your co-workers."
"They know you better than I do. I'd like to hear their perspective on things."
"The stress you've been under the past few months, what they were thinking when they treated you so cruelly that night... how they see you in general."
"You have to?"
"Not if you don't agree."
"But it would help."
"I think so. Noone exists in a vacuum, Tony. The people around you now have as much influence on your decisions and reactions as the ones in your past. The better handle I can get on the people closest to you, the better handle I can help you get on them... and on why they hurt you the way they did."
"Ducky... he said they were lied to... that they didn't mean to be such jackasses."
"That's entirely possible."
"You're working up to making me talk to them, right?"
"Terrific..." Tony grumped, making Lewiston smile.
"I swear I won't even bring it up again until you tell me you're ready."
"Good. If you really need to do it... you've got my permission, though I can't figure out why you'd bother asking. I can't stop you from talking to Gibbs and the others."
"Don't you think it's about time someone started getting your opinion before they screw with your life?"
Tony's mouth gaped open and he could only stammer a response.
"It's okay. You'll have a lot of quiet time today to think about an answer. If you feel like going back to the sunroom for a while, one of the nurses will take you. Just let them know when they come to deliver your pill. Thank you for agreeing, Tony."
"Yeah... you're welcome."
Lewiston turned and left, heading back to his office to make the call and set up the group session.
"You want what? I don't... yes, of course, but... okay. If it'll help you help Tony... that'll work. I'll make sure security knows you're coming. Yeah. No, thank you. Anything we can do to make up for... for what we did. Yeah, I'll think about it. Okay. Thanks, doc. Bye."
"What's up, boss?" Tim asked.
"I'm buying you dinner tonight."
"You are? Can I ask... why?"
"We're skipping lunch. Tony's doctor asked for some time to talk to all of us and I said yes."
"Wow. That's great, boss. I'm there, definitely. Ziva, I wouldn't be so sure about..."
"She's the cause of the problem. She'll show up or I'll know the reason why. Go let Ducky and the others know, would you?"
Tim hurried off to do as Gibbs had asked and Jethro turned his attention to some overdue paperwork. A few minutes later, however, his uncanny sixth sense made him grimace and lift his head, though he didn't turn to look over his shoulder.
"My office, J... Agent Gibbs."
"I have work to do."
"I know where Tony is."
Eyes shutting briefly, already hating the headache he knew the upcoming battle would cause, Gibbs rose and followed her upstairs.
***Next part of Help, I Need Somebody.
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